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- My editor also has a lot of questions - and she has read ahead a couple of chapters. So yes, there's generally a lot of questions to this story so far…
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- Great reflections
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And then his hand left my hair and his fingers brushed along my jawline, and coldness seeped into my soul. I froze. So did Max. I was still not looking at him, but I could feel the worry and fear in the small tremble of his fingers against my skin as an evasive fragment of a memory fluttered through my brain. Something that screamed at me to step away from him. To get away from his hands.
His hands. Danger.
I took an abrupt step backwards, my lower back crashing into the pile of trays, which skated to the floor like a big thick pack of cards. We both jumped at the loud sound of plastic trays hitting and spilling out across the floor, but we didn’t turn towards the incident that had hushed the conversations of the rest of the canteen.
Max’s hand was frozen, mid-air, where my face had been just a second ago. His face was pale and there was fear with a chilling touch of panic in his eyes, tempting me to wrap my arms around him and pull him in for a hug. His expression screamed ‘Lost little scared boy’ at my maternal instinct and I wanted to protect him and ease away his worries.
Instead my mouth opened and bleak words were whispered, “I have to go.”
I turned and felt his hand brush against my arm, “Wait.”
His voice was unrecognizable, pleading, frightened. I didn’t wait. I didn’t turn.
I dreamt of hands. Of his
I dreamt of them touching my arm, my face, my body, in whispered reverence. As if his hands were trying to talk to me; tell me something with deep urgency.
My eyes followed them across the parts of me that weren’t covered by clothing, making the small hairs on my skin stand up, goose bumps erupt and nerve endings send signals of pleasure to my brain.
I tried to look up at him. To confirm that the hands belonged to whom I suspected. But I couldn’t look away from his hands. Those strong, masculine hands with their soft touch.
I desperately yearned to look into his eyes, to see the gold flicker inside the amber, the black darken his pupils, the myriads of emotions blend into one another.
Just as I thought I had won back control of the dream, a soft yellow light spread out from beneath his palms. I felt my whole being gasp in fear, my brain freezing in recognition of a memory that I had forgotten.
As I mutely followed the trail of glowing yellow across my skin the dream flashed to the past. To his house. To that party.
My breathing escalated as my heart beat tripped and I watched the same light, from those same hands, flow across the bloody injury on someone else’s arm. It didn’t last long, and when he removed his hand, the glow was gone.
So was the injury.
I bolted out of the dream, sweat plastering my hair to my forehead, my breathing shallow and erratic, my hands fisting the sheets of my bed.
Max Evans was not at school that next day. Or the day after.
On the third day without Max Evans’ almost constant presence following me, my hands were shaking with nervousness and a faint sense of panic was settling into my very bones. The details of the dream were deeply imprinted into my memory and I needed to talk to him about it. To confront him. I needed to confirm that my crazy dream was just that. A crazy dream.
But the longer he was gone, the more I started to rationalize the facts of the dream. In some way it made sense that Max having some magic powers would be the big secret that he and his friends were trying to hide. A secret big enough to warrant Max stalking me every day since that party. So why not? Maybe he actually had powers of some kind. Maybe he actually was a freak.
What frightened me most, though, was that I might have been right all these years. That there was something odd and peculiar about Max Evans and possibly his friends. Maybe they were not vampires
, which I had so vehemently claimed to anyone that had the energy to listen, but there was possibly something X-filey about them.
On the other hand, I didn’t want Max to return. I was afraid to face him, afraid of what he might do now that I had possibly figured out his secret.
“What is wrong with you?”
Maria’s irritated voice brought me out of my thoughts. My gaze flickered from the apple which I had been holding in my hand, staring at it unseeingly for the past ten minutes, to my friend’s smooth, light fawn face.
“Huh?” I mumbled, putting the apple back down on the tray.
Maria narrowed her eyes, brushing a loose blonde curl behind her ear with hurried impatience. “You’ve been acting weird ever since…” She looked at me closer, as if my face was some kind of puzzle that she needed to solve. Her eyes brightened somewhat as she added, “Well, ever since Max Evans left.”
So she had noticed, huh?
I couldn’t hide the surprise on my face and I groaned inwardly at her triumphant smile. She wasn’t going to leave the subject alone now.
The smile stretched across her lips as she asked, “You thought I hadn’t noticed?” She released me from her attention and picked up the sandwich from her tray. Balancing the multilayered meal between her long slender fingers, she added, “It’s not unusual, you know. For him to disappear for a couple of days.” She took a big bite of her lunch and seemed to ignore how my eyes widened in mixed feelings of intrigue and surprise.
Why hadn’t I noticed that? How could I not notice that someone in our class took some days off from time to time?
As if reading my unspoken questions, Maria answered around a mouthful, “Dou were doo busy twying to avoid dem to notish, I guess.” She shrugged.
I looked away, my eyes automatically drawn to the table where Max used to share his lunch break with his shadows - Isabel and Michael. Isabel and Michael were there, but the third chair looked abandoned and lonely without Max’s presence.
I guess, when you work so hard on trying to not bump into the trio, you wouldn’t care too much if one of them disappeared.
At least, that had been the case before whatever had happened had happened this weekend.
“What intrigues me,” Maria said next to me, placing her half-eaten sandwich back on the plate and brushing some mayonnaise off the corner of her mouth with her index finger, “is that you’ve finally noticed.”
I forced myself to roll my eyes in casual indifference. “The guy’s been following me around like some pitiful homeless dog these last couple of days, Ria.” I raised a pointed eyebrow. “Is it really that odd if I would notice his sudden absence?”
Maria looked at me closely again, letting her gaze linger on my face a second too long for comfort and I shivered at the prospect of her possibly being able to see into my brain with that penetrating gaze of hers. With an interested “Huh”, she turned away from me and picked up her sandwich again.
“What?” I asked, getting annoyed. Her one syllable had provoked me with its tone.
“Nothing,” Maria mumbled, but she couldn’t hide the pleased smirk on her lips before she sank her teeth into her sandwich again.
I crossed my arms protectively across my chest and unconsciously leaned away from her, feeling judged and on edge. I couldn’t keep the defensive tone out of my voice as I asked, “So, what does he do? Why does he go missing on occasion?”
She put the sandwich back down and briefly looked at me out of the corner of her eye before focusing her attention on the ‘Vampire’-table. “Why the sudden interest?”
I groaned, “Just tell me, Ria.” I was really not up to her games. I knew, and she knew, that when it came to school gossip, she was the Queen. Of course, she wanted to rub that in as much as possible.
She picked up a napkin from the tray and systematically and meticulously wiped her mouth with it, before meeting my increasingly antsy face.
“Well,” she said slowly, airily, “The information being given on that topic - by his two accomplices, mind you -“ She gestured in the direction of Michael and Isabel, emphasizing with a wink the probable degree of credibility of that information, “is that Max Evans is helping his father out at work.”
I frowned. What kid, in today’s society, would take days off school to help their parents out? It would probably not be so odd fifty years ago, if he had been a farmer’s boy or something. But Max Evans lived in a castle. Not a farmhouse.
“Isn’t his dad a surgeon?” I asked, perplexed. What in the world could a sixteen year old boy contribute at work with a father who was a surgeon?
Maria nodded slowly, her eyes wide with excitement at - for once - having my full attention when she was retelling gossip. “It’s weird, isn’t it?”
“I mean, what parent - especially a well-educated one - lets his son miss several days at school to ‘help out’ at his work?”
Maria scrunched her nose up in agreed disbelief. “I know. Right?”
My dream flashed in front of my eyes; a hand knitting skin together, removing blood. All blood drained from my face at the realization as my mind put one abstract clue with another.
What if Max was healing people at the hospital?
Maria obviously hadn’t noticed my sudden lack of facial color, since she continued on the brink of explosive excitement, “And get this; Michael and Isabel also have days off.”
My attention was back on my friend, my silent revelation only a few seconds prior subdued to mere trembles in my hands, “They help out their fathers too?”
Maria’s face furrowed in concentration. “I’m not sure…” She picked up a can of Fanta and opened it with a sizzle. “I don’t know what Michael’s parents do, but Isabel - of course - share the same parents as Max.”
“How often does this happen?” I asked, following the movement of her bringing the can to her full lips and swallowing three big gulps of carbonated sweetened liquid.
She shrugged. “A couple of days per month.”
“For how long?” I asked tensely. When her face smoothened into blankness, I added, “How many consecutive days are they gone each time?”
“He should probably be back again on Monday,” Maria said lightly, setting the can down on her tray.
Monday. Today was Friday.
It was going to be a long weekend.
“Damnit,” I grumbled as a freshly made club sandwich skidded off the plate I was holding and ended up in a terrible colorful catastrophe of vegetables, bread, mayonnaise and meat on the linoleum floor.
“You’re off your game today,” Maria’s voice declared simply as she walked past me, brushing an elbow into my side to tempt me to smile along with her.
But there was nothing funny about the situation. When I was younger, I had enjoyed working at my dad’s restaurant. I had enjoyed helping out, making myself useful, getting a small salary. But that period of my life was long gone.
Basically, that period of my life disappeared when I hit puberty and started developing breasts and a sense of mortification about wearing rather short turquoise dresses and a headband with antennas on my head. Even though I found most guys at school ridiculous and not much worthy of my time, I failed to convince myself that their opinion of me didn’t matter. I couldn’t fool myself to believe that they didn’t make fun of my dress or how I had to serve them greasy food practically every day.
I was pretty sure that dropping food on the floor didn’t help my case. Something that was emphasized by the snickers and sporadic applause I received as I fell to my knees in front of the mess I’ve made and started cleaning up.
Maria was right. Of course. I was
off my game. My dream featuring glowing hands haunted me every night, making my sleep quality interrupted and poor. Which resulted in me becoming even more on edge than the day before. Because, the more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that the dream was true. That it was a memory.
And even though Maria would claim that I was one of the most rational, logical and scientific people on the face of the planet, my most rational, logical and scientific explanation to Max’s behavior these last couple of days was that he possessed magical powers. Like some freaking wizard. Or someone blessed by God himself. Even him being a vampire had taken on a more serious and plausible quality.
Which was certainly ridiculous. But there was no other way to explain why it made sense
for Max to be able to heal. It would answer all my questions and explain all the suspicions I’ve had about him over the years.
I made a half-hearted attempt at brushing back a strand of my hair behind my ear with the side of my hand while getting to my feet with a broken sandwich on a plate in my right hand and a dish rag in my left. Making a half-turn to get the plate onto the counter behind me, my body slammed into a hard wall.
I looked up.
Not a wall exactly.
Amber-colored eyes locked with mine and my body slightly rocked at the impact. His hands grabbed onto my upper arms and a jolt of heat went through me.
His face was impossible to read as he stared at me intensely. Then his face softened and amusement formed small crinkles around his eyes.
“We have to stop meeting like this,” he said, his voice husky and an unwelcome shiver raced through me.
I narrowed my eyes. “Maybe you should watch where you’re going.”
He quirked on eyebrow in something akin to amusement. “I
should watch where I’m going?”
“Where have you been?” I felt cold as soon as the sharp, annoyed words left my mouth.
What had possessed me to say that?
It implied, in every way possible, that I had not only been conscious of his absence but that I had also missed his presence.
Max obviously reached the same conclusion since he actually looked surprised for a second, before a small smile spread across his lips. My eyes traveled briefly to his lips, before I realized that doing that wouldn’t really help my case right now.
“You missed me?” he asked and winked at me.
I inhaled deeply and was just about to come up with a retort when I became consciously aware of his hands on my arms.
I pulled backwards, sharply, almost tripping over my own feet. But his grip was tighter than I had realized and me almost falling on my face only made his hold on me tighten even further.
“Let me go
,” I ground out, my voice low and full of warning.
His hands fell away from me as if I had been the one burning him, not the other way around, and I watched the color drain from his face, the previous amusement having evaporated.
His eyes searched my face, eye movements frantic, pupils dilated with fear and something very tangible creeping into his irises.
He grabbed my arm and before I had time to react or voice my protest, he was dragging me towards the back, through the doors marked ‘Staff Only’.
“No,” I mumbled, bewilderment at his actions momentarily smothering my reactions. “What are you doing?”
He pulled me into the back room, the doors flipping closed behind us, his eyes searching the surroundings, looking for something.
“Let me go,” I bit out between my teeth and tried to pull free. But he was strong. Much stronger than me.
Fear rolled through me again. What would he do to me? If he could heal with the touch of his hand, could he also kill by that same touch? Would he really kill me? For something as simple as me trying to get away from him, telling him to not touch me? For me knowing his secret?
The thoughts were burning through my head as Max spotted the small staff toilet and dragged me in that direction. I pushed my heels into the ground and attempted being a human brake, but it didn’t help. I was pretty sure that he could pick me up and carry me out of there without breaking a sweat if he wanted to.
He pulled the toilet door open and swiveled me into the small room. It was one of those small toilets, where the sink was almost placed on top of the toilet seat due to a severe lack of space.
Consequently, when Max shut the door behind us and switched on the light in the windowless closet-like space, we were almost standing on top of each other.
But he didn’t seem to care that we were basically breathing each other’s air or that I could feel the heat being emitted from his body. He opened his mouth to speak, closed it again as he turned to the door and moved his hand over the lock. I was about to point out to him that the lock didn’t work when I heard the familiar clicking sound of a lock locking.
“How…” I whispered, but had evidently forgotten how to form any more words than that.
“You remember,” Max stated, pulling my attention from the mysterious locking of the door to his face. His face looked calm now, as if the locked door between us and the rest of the restaurant would protect him.
My heart was beating faster and the walls were closing in on me. He wasn’t touching me any longer, but due to the confined space he was all around me. His presence, his smell, his eyes… His eyes were undressing me, layer by layer. And not in some sexual way, but more as if he was burrowing into my very soul.
“You…” I tried to take a deep breath, but I couldn’t concentrate. The air was warm around us and I took a step back, my back immediately hitting the wall.
When my words failed me, he continued, “You saw me. That night. At the party. What I did to Isabel.”
He stared at me intently and I tried to sort out my thoughts. Would I be safer telling him what he obviously already knew or would I be safer by denying it? Would he really leave me alone if I did? Judging by how he seemed to search my face for hidden unspoken answers, I had the feeling that I wouldn’t be able to lie to him anyway.
I licked my suddenly dry lips and held his gaze, while stating in a small voice, “You made her wound go away.”
Something flickered in his eyes and I frowned at the misplaced emotion. Sadness.
“Yes,” he whispered and dropped his eyes.
Air whooshed into my lungs as his gaze let me go and I became aware of the nervous energy in my body, of the trembles of my being, of the sweat that was dampening my palms.
“I did,” he filled in and looked up at me again.
The look in his eyes made me freeze and my breath stop cold. He was looking at me with regret. Like one of the bad guys in movies just before they kill someone only because they didn’t have any other choice.
“No,” I whispered, fear wetting my eyes as I pressed myself into the wall behind me.
He closed the small distance between us and my breath hitched as my body craved oxygen, only to get stuck on the way to my lungs due to the touch of his hands against my face. I tried to hold onto the sadness and warmness in his eyes as my fear escalated even as the palms cupping my face were gentle.
His eyes moved to watch his thumb catch the first tear sliding down my cheek and I thought I heard a break in his voice when he whispered, “I won’t hurt you. I would never hurt you.”
“Then let me leave,” I answered, my voice cracking with effort.
“I can’t,” he replied softly, regretfully, while his thumbs gently brushed back and forth across my cheeks. “Things have to go back to the way they were. You have to forget.”
Another tear tumbled down my cheek as my lips trembled in agitation. “Please, don’t hurt me.”
“Never,” he whispered and the word floated between us for a second, marking what I would forget the next.
Max Evans didn’t kill me that day. Nor did he hurt me, per say. But I suddenly couldn’t remember things the way they actually had happened. And I certainly didn’t remember anything about glowing hands and the magical healing of wounds.