"I thought something was wrong with you today," he said. "Especially at breakfast, when Angeline called a tomato a vegetable and you didn't correct her." I managed a half smile at his joke. "Yeah. Well, it's the kind of thing that sticks with you. I mean, maybe not for you guys. Random sword attacks in dark alleys are normal for you, right?"
He shook his head, face serious. "You can't ever take any attack in stride. People who do get careless. You have nothing to feel bad about."
I'd been stirring some sketchy looking mashed potatoes and finally gave up. "I don't like being unprepared. For anything. Don't get me wrong - I've been there when you and Rose fought Strigoi. I was helpless then too... but that's different. They're larger than life... beyond a human's scope. I don't really expect myself to be able to fight then. But what happened last night - even with the sword - was only one step away from a mugging. Mundane. And they were human, like me. I shouldn't have been so ineffectual."
"Do you want me to teach you some tricks?" he asked kindly.
That brought my smile back. "What you do is a little larger than life too. Maybe I'd be better doing something a little more suited to my level. Adrian said I should get a gun or take a self-defense class."
"That's good advice."
"I know. Scary, huh? The Alchemists do gun-training, but I'm not a fan. I do pretty well at classes and theory, though."
He chuckled. "Very true. Well, if you change your mind, let me know. After working with Angeline, I'm ready for anything. Although... to be fair, she's backed off a little." I thought back to my last real conversation with her. Her fight and suspension had only been yesterday but felt like years ago. "Oh. I sort of had a talk with her."
"What kind of talk?" he asked, surprised. "I told you not to worry about my personal life. It's my problem."
"I know, I know. But it just kind of happened. I told her that her behavior was out of line and that she needed to stop. She was pretty mad at me, though, so I wasn't sure if it had gotten through."
"Huh. I guess it did." The next words obviously were a big concession. "Maybe she's not as bad as I thought."
"Maybe," I agreed. "And look at it this way. At least her suspension means you don't have to worry about her at the dance."
From the way his face lit up, it was clear he hadn't realized that yet. A few moments later, he toughened up again. "If there are attacks going on like this, I'm going to have to be extra cautious with Jill - especially at the dance." I hadn't thought there was any way Eddie could be more cautious, but probably he'd prove me wrong. "I kind of wish Angeline was going." Most of my classes were distracting enough to keep me from thinking too much about last night, but Ms. Terwilliger's independent study was different. It was too quiet, too low-key. It gave me a lot of time in my own head, bringing back all the fear and self-doubt I'd been trying to ignore. For once, I copied and notated the spells without really memorizing them. Usually, I couldn't help myself. Today, my mind wasn't there.
We were almost halfway through the period when I finally tuned in enough to really process what I was working on. It was a spell from Late Antiquity that allegedly made the victim think scorpions were crawling on him or her. Like so many of Ms. Terwilliger's spell books, the formula was convoluted and time consuming.
"Ms. Terwilliger?" I hated to ask anything of her, but recent events weighed too heavily on me.
She looked up in surprise from her paperwork. After the cold war we'd entered into, she'd grown used to me never speaking unless spoken to. "Yes?" I tapped the book. "What good are these so-called offensive spells? How would you ever use them in a fight when they require concoctions that take days to prepare? If you're attacked, there's no time for anything like that. There's hardly any time to think."
"Which one are you looking at?" she asked.
"The scorpion one."
She nodded. "Ah, yes. Well, that's more of a premeditated one. If you've got someone you don't like, you work on this and cast it. Quite effective for ex-boyfriends, I might add." Her face grew distracted, and then she focused back on me. "There are certainly ones that would be more useful in the kind of situation you're describing. Your fire charm, if you recall, had a lot of prep work but could be used quite quickly. There are others that can be cast on extremely short notice with few components - but as I've said in the past, those types require considerable skill. The more advanced you are, the less you need ingredients. You need a lot more experience before you're at a level to learn anything like that."
"I never said I wanted to learn anything like that," I snapped. "I'm just... making an inquiry."
"Oh? My mistake. It almost sounded like you were, dare I say, interested."
"No!" I was grateful that the healing magic in my tattoo had cleared up most of the bruising on my face from last night. I didn't want her to suspect that I might have serious motivation for protection. "See, this is why I never say anything in here. You read too much into it and just use it to further your agenda to torment me."
"Torment? You read books and drink coffee in here - exactly what you'd be doing if you weren't here."
"Except that I'm miserable," I told her. "I hate every minute of this. I'm almost ready to stop coming and risk the academic fallout. This is all sick and twisted and - " The last bell of the day cut me off before I said something I'd regret. Almost immediately, Trey appeared in the doorway. Ms. Terwilliger began packing up and looked over at him with a smile, as though everything in here was perfectly normal.
"Why, Mr. Juarez. How nice of you to show up now, seeing as you couldn't make it to my class this morning."
Looking back, I realized she was right. Trey hadn't been in her history class or our chemistry class. "Sorry," he said. "I had some family stuff to take care of."
"Family stuff" was an excuse I used all the time, though I doubted Trey's had involved taking vampires on a blood feeding run.
"Can you, uh, tell me what I missed?" he asked.
Ms. Terwilliger slung her bag over her shoulder. "I have an appointment. Ask Miss Melbourne -
she'll probably explain it more thoroughly than I can. The door will lock behind you when you two leave."
Trey sat down in a nearby desk and pulled it up to face mine while I produced our history and chemistry assignments, since I assumed he'd need the latter as well. I nodded toward the duffle bag he had on the floor beside him.