Narrator: Adrian "Arrow" DeFlèche
Everyone is watching him. Every girl; every boy. He exudes charisma and bent truth like a politician does, and that runs in the family -- Jake is the mayor's son, after all. As he emerges from the vehicle, I can see my charge watching him.
Yes, she is my charge now, I remind myself. I am, from now on, to be her protector.
No, wait -- in hindsight, her Protector. Capital 'P', Mom would remind me if she were here, and were anything more than a pile of ashes. Sacred duty or some such thing!
These words seem like nonsense, I know. But we're dealing with more than the common person knows, more than the common person believes -- far more!
She approaches him, but there are too many people in the way.
Jake is blushing. I can see it through the crowd around him. They love it when he blushes. But his eyes are on me, and they're green with envy. Bright green, like grass that looks toward the shade longing and wishing that it was hidden from the assault of the sun.
I am the shade. I am protection.
Then he grins, seeing that she too is drawn to him like all the other sheep.
I feel the need to remind him that he is not her shepherd, or anyone's for that matter. But Jake is my friend. At least, he is when we're not at school.
It's always the three of us: Blaze, Jake and I. Every Saturday, at Blaze's mother's, my Aunt Eleanor's. Crowding around the red leather cover of the First Deflèche Tome. Somewhere in those thousands of pages, we lose ourselves for hours.
Then Aunty Ella feeds us.
And then we head into the backyard. And the backyard soon becomes the forest. Crossing the river, we hit the swamp. And a few miles down, we've found the old woods - thicker than the forest, and teeming with ether and magic. We cross over into the underside of reality, where our knowledge and power is welcome, weaving in and out of it as we roam. There, we put our reading to the test, in those cavities and pockets of a deeper life. Our weekends and spare time are rich with the extraordinary. Sure, Sunday we devote much of the day to homework and studying - and sometimes chores. But still we remain more than students.
It used to be like that at school, too, but at some point the hormones and gossip, the fashions and fads, the cat-calls and the cliques... they all became too much for him. And now I don't know which is the real Jake. And if I lose my cousin too, I might have nobody left.
I look around, and I wonder, Where is Blaze?
She seems to be late.
I look back.
Jake begins to walk towards her. Towards Luna.
Drat! I almost say it aloud. But it's caught painfully in my knotted throat.
Blaze steps in the way. Brown hair with blond streaks tied up in a bun. And then her arms are around him. And she kisses him on the cheek, "Hey there, tiger."
I gape. I stare. My head feels like it's reeling with confusion, but I seem to be perfectly still. What's going on? Why are they being so close? Why did she call him a tiger?
"I missed you," he tells her. It's so unlike him.
A wave of jealousy ripples through the crowd around him, and some disperse.
There's a curious frown on Luna's face. Her study partner has stopped to stand beside her. They're like birds perched on the curb of the sidewalk beside the parking lot. There's an exchange of whispers I can't hear.
It dawns on me then how inevitable it was that one of them would make a move on the other. After all, there are certain things they can't share with mortals. But something about it doesn't sit well with me. I can't help but wonder how it will seem come the weekend.
Jake begins to walk away, toward Luna.
Blaze grabs him by the arm, "Not so fast, mister!"
I take that as my cue. He wants to be everything I am. And Aunt Eleanor advised me against that. He's not ready to be anyone's Protector. Especially not that of one so special.
I brush a hand over my face, leaving a lopsided grin there as I adjust my silver necklace nervously. Then I step out from behind the tree and into their view, "Hey!"
"Hello," says Luna's study partner.
Luna herself looks down at her shoes. There seems to be a quiet anger on her face.
"No more private school?" her friend asks.
I can't remember her name. I shake my head, "Nope. We're in with everyone else for the next two years." I can't be Luna's Protector if I'm not at the same school and in all her classes.
In the distance, Jake takes a step towards us. He's already kissed one girl today, so it'll look really bad if he tries to seal the deal as Luna's Protector.
I shoot him a glare. I clench my left fist, wishing for the handle of my bow. I've never felt so angry at him. And it hurts more to know that he's my friend. The three of us, there's a blood pact between us. That counts for something, right?
"So, uhmm... Luna, is there something you wanted to ask Arrow?" says her friend.
I turn towards her. Black hair dangles between us. My feet tremble. She's unbelievably cute. An odd warmth that isn't really there flows through me.
"C'mon," she whispers to Luna. "The bell's gonna ring soon."
"This is private," says Luna. Her voice is so calm, it's uncanny.
"What is it, Luna?" I ask. "You can ask me anything. You know that, right?"
Luna nods. "It's not you that's invading privacy," she tells me.
I don't think her companion heard a word of that.
"Damn, you're nervous!" exclaims the other, misreading Luna entirely.
Skyla! That's her name! I think to myself, as I look up at the sky and let out a delighted sigh. As I look back down, I can see Blaze and Jake. They're further off now, and she seems to be giving him some pretty harsh words. I struggle to keep my left foot from trembling.
"Guhh... I was w-wondering," Luna began. She stops. She looks Skyla in the eye, and something unsaid passes between them.
"Go for it," mouths Skyla.
My lip-reading needs work.
I remain standing. Patiently.
The bell rings.
It rings again.
"Fine!" yells Skyla. "Don't kiss him!" And then she storms off.
Luna looked away, her face turning red.
I smile. And then I start laughing. I can't help myself. It is a soft chuckle.
And then, she starts laughing too!
We make eye contact, but neither one of us can stop laughing. And we have forgotten what we are laughing about before a teacher sticks his head out the school window and yells, "You two! Move along! Get to class!"
I take her by the hand, "Let's go!"
And we run. Together. We pass locker after locker. And students rushing every which way. We never let go.
My anger is gone, for there is something in my hand that feels better than my bow.
She stops. We stop.
"This is my class," she says, loosening her grip and turning toward the doorway of Room 109.
I smile. "Mine too."
White teeth flash back at me. White like an orb I'd seen three years ago.
She walks through the doorway.
A shiver runs down my spine, and I turn around by instinct.
The hallway is empty, except for one student. They are short. I can't tell if they are a boy or a girl. Probably fifteen or sixteen years old. Their face is shadowed by the green hood of a windbreaker.
I turn back to the classroom.
And then something unseen knocks me over with alien momentum. I fall five feet into the room, knock my head on the door and then fall to the floor. Blood from my nose splashs across the tile floor.
Someone in the room screams. The teacher gets up abruptly. Students gather around me with tissues and paper towels.
And back out in the hall, I hear two sets of laughter.
There are reasons why Luna needs a Protector. More reasons than I yet know.