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The Sidhe are shape-changers; they can grow small or grow large, they can take what shape they choose;…they are as many as the blades of grass. They are everywhere.
—Visions and Beliefs m the West of Ireland by Lady Augusta Gregory (1920)
When Aislinn walked up the steps to Bishop O.C. the next morning, she saw them: fey things lingering outside the door, watching everyone, and seeming strangely serious.
Inside more faeries clustered at the doorway to the principal's office. WTF? They usually avoided the school— whether from the rows of steel lockers or the abundance of religious artifacts, she didn't know. Both, maybe.
By the time she reached her locker, the presence of faeries overwhelmed her. They weren't to come here. There were rules: this was supposed to be a safe space.
She turned. Standing beside Father Myers was the one faery she was supremely unprepared to face.
"Keenan," she whispered.
"You know one another?" Father Myers nodded, beaming now. "Good. Good."
He turned to the two other—equally visible—faeries standing beside him. If she glanced at them quickly, they looked like they weren't much older than her, but the taller of the two had a strange solemnity that made Aislinn suspect that he was old. He had unusually long hair for such a serious demeanor; under his glamour it glittered like thick silver cords. A smallish black sun tattoo was visible on the side of his throat, exposed by his tightly plaited hair. The second faery had almost shorn wood-brown hair, and a face that would be somehow forgettable but for the long scar that ran from his temple to the corner of his mouth.
Father Myers assured the faeries, "Aislinn's an honor student, and her schedule is the same as your nephews. She'll help him get caught up."
She stood there, trying not to bolt, refusing to look at Keenan—even though he watched her expectantly—while several more faeries walked up behind Father Myers.
One of the ones whose skin looked like bark—crackled and grayish—caught Keenan's gaze. He gestured at the others who were fanned out at the entrance and said, "All clear."
"Miss Foy? Aislinn?" Father Myers cleared his throat.
She looked away from the retinue of faeries that had invaded Bishop O'Connell. "I'm sorry, Father. What?"
"Can you show Keenan to Calculus?"
Keenan waited, a battered leather bag over his shoulder, looking at her attentively. His "uncles" and Father Myers watched her.
She had no choice. She forced her fear away and said, "Sure."
Wait them out? Not likely. Every rule she'd lived with, that'd kept her safe, they were all failing her.
By midday, Aislinn's control of her temper was steadily being worn away by Keenan's false humanity. He followed her, talking, acting like he was safe, like he was real.
She shoved her books into her locker, scraping her knuckles in the process. Keenan stayed beside her, an unwanted shadow she couldn't shake.
They watched each other, and she wondered again if it would hurt to touch his metallic hair. The copper strands glistened under his glamour, compelling her attention despite her best efforts.
Rianne stopped and leaned hard against the row of closed lockers. The clang made people pause to stare.
"I heard he was edible, but"—Rianne put a hand on her chest as if she was having trouble breathing and looked at Keenan—slowly and appraisingly—"damn. Definite finesse."
"I wouldn't know." Aislinn blushed. And I'm not going to, either. Whatever the weird compulsion to touch him was, she was stronger than any instinct. Just focus.
Leslie and Carla joined them as Rianne pushed off the wall of lockers. She stepped closer to Keenan and examined him as if he were a slab of meat on a plate. "Bet you could."
Carla patted his arm. "She's harmless."
Aislinn grabbed her books for the afternoon classes. Her friends shouldn't be talking to him; he shouldn't be in her space. And he definitely shouldn't radiate that inviting heat, making her think of lazy days, of closing her eyes, of relaxing…Control. Focus. She could do this. She had to.
She sorted her things, so what she'd need to take home was on top of the stack in the locker. When the day ended, she'd be ready to make a quick getaway.
With a forced smile, she shooed her friends away. "I'll catch up. Save me a seat."
"We'll save two. You can't let that"—Rianne waved her hand at Keenan—"morsel wander around unsupervised."
"One seat, Ri, just one."
None of them turned around. Rianne waved her hand over her shoulder, dismissively.
After a steadying breath, Aislinn turned to Keenan. "I'm sure you can figure out lunch without help. So, umm, go make friends or whatever."
And she walked away.
He sped up to stay beside her as they entered the cafeteria. "May I join you?"
He stepped in front of her. "Please?"
"No." She dropped her bag into a chair next to Rianne's things. Ignoring him—and the stares they were attracting—she opened her bag.
He hadn't moved.
With a shaky gesture, she pointed. "The line's over there."
He looked at the throng slowly progressing to the vats of food. "Can I get you something?"
"A little space?"
A flare of anger flashed over his too-beautiful face, but he said nothing. He just walked away.
She wanted to believe she'd get rid of him by her refusal to be drawn in by his attention. I can hope. Because if not, she didn't know what she would do. He was compelling, pulling her attention away from all that she knew as wise and good.
At the far side of the cafeteria, Rianne had left her spot in line and was talking to him. They both looked over at her: Rianne smiling conspiratorially, Keenan looking pleased.
Great. Aislinn unpacked part of her lunch, pulling out a yogurt and spoon. Stalker-faery has a new ally.
While she was alone, Aislinn made a quick phone call to request the cabbie she and Seth had met at the tat shop a few months ago. The cabbie had told them how to get dispatch to send him specifically and assured them that he'd be on time or get a friend to be there if they requested him. So far he'd been as good as his word.
She kept her voice as low as she could in hopes that Keenan's guards wouldn't hear.
One of them was already moving closer to her.
Too late. She hid her brief smile—any success against them was a pleasure—as she disconnected.
She stirred her yogurt and wondered yet again why Keenan had singled her out. She knew it wasn't about the Sight; she'd lived by the rules, done everything right.
So why me?
All day girls had tried to talk to him, offered to show him around. He was polite but adamant that he needed Aislinn to show him around, not them.
Pretty girls, cheerleaders, geek girls, everyone was lusting on him. It felt good to be the one they all looked at with envy for a change. It'd feel better if he were a normal guy, like Seth.
Along with half the students at school, Keenan's faeries watched them, unabashed as the fey always were. They seemed tired, shifting in and out of the school in small groups. Although the metal-laden building must be painful for them, they stood alert and observant, keeping Keenan in their sight at all times. They treated him reverentially. Why wouldn't they if Keenan is a faery king?
She thought, for a heartbeat, that she was going to be sick from the flood of fears and horrible images that came rushing over her. A faery king…and he's stalking me.
With no small effort, Aislinn managed to push down the rising worries as Leslie and Carla headed her way. Panic wouldn't help. A plan was what she needed; answers were what she needed. Maybe if she had answers, if she knew why he'd fixated on her, she could find a way to get rid of him.
As she watched Keenan walk toward her, Aislinn saw a fleeting image of sunlight rippling over water, bouncing off buildings, strange flickers of warmth and beauty that made her want to run toward him. He looked at her, smiling invitingly, as he followed Rianne through the crowded cafeteria.
Rianne was chattering animatedly to him, looking for all the world like they were long-lost friends. Leslie laughed at whatever Keenan said, and Aislinn realized that her friends had all accepted him.
And why wouldn't they? As much as she wished they would ignore him, there was nothing she could say. She couldn't explain why she wanted him gone. She couldn't tell them how very dangerous he was. It wasn't a choice she had. Sometimes that lack of choices, the pressures of dealing with the fey, made her feel like she was smothering, like the secrecy was a physical weight bearing down on her. She hated it.
After her traitorous friends brought him to the table, she tried to ignore him. It worked—for a while—but he kept watching her, directing most of his comments to her, asking her questions. All the while he sat on the opposite side of the table staring at her with those inhuman green eyes.
Finally he pointed at over-steamed green beans and asked something inane and she snapped, "What? Too common for someone like you?"
Where's my control? More and more, her lifetime of emotional control seemed to be faltering, sliding away.
He was frighteningly still. "What do you mean?"
She knew better than to provoke a faery, especially a faery king, but she barreled on, "You'd be surprised at what I know about you. And you know what? None of it impresses me. Not one little bit."
He laughed then—joyous and free, like the anger that'd flared in his eyes hadn't existed. "Then I shall try harder."
She shivered in foreboding, in sudden longing, in some uncomfortable mixture of the two. It was worse than the simple compulsion she'd felt to reach out toward him: it was the same disquieting tangle of feelings she'd felt at Comix when he'd first spoken to her.
Leslie whistled softly. "Give him a little something, Ash."
"Drop it, Les." Aislinn fisted her hands in her lap under the table.
"PMS." Rianne nodded. Then she tapped Keenan's hand and added, "Just ignore her, sweetie. We'll help you wear her down."
"Oh, I'm counting on that, Rianne," Keenan murmured. He was glowing—like a bright light radiated from inside his skin—as he spoke.
Aislinn could taste rose-heavy air, could feel the too-tempting warmth from him.
Her friends stared at him as if he were the most amazing thing they'd ever glimpsed. I am so screwed.
Aislinn stayed silent until it was time to go to afternoon classes, her fingernails digging small half circles— like slivers of the sun—into her palms. She concentrated on the pain of those suns, only partially visible in her skin, and wondered if she had any chance at all of escaping from Keenan's attention.
By the end of the day, Keenan's proximity had grown intolerable to Aislinn. A strange warmth seemed to permeate the air when he stood close to her, and after a few moments, it was near painful to resist touching him. Her mind told her to, but her eyes wanted to drift shut; her hands wanted to reach out.
I need space.
She'd learned to deal with seeing the fey. It was awful, but she did it. She could do this, too.
He's just another faery.
She concentrated, repeating the rules and warnings in her mind like a prayer, a litany to keep her focused. Don't stare, don't speak, don't run, don't touch. She took several calming breaths. Don't react. Don't attract their attention. Don't ever let them know you can see them. The familiarity of the words helped her push back the edge of desire, but it wasn't enough to make it anywhere near comfortable to be around him.
So when they walked in to Lit class and one of the cheerleaders offered him an empty seat—a seat gloriously far away from hers—Aislinn gave the cheerleader a big smile. "I could kiss you for that. Thank you."
Keenan flinched at the phrase.
The cheerleader stared back at Aislinn, not sure if it was a joke or not.
"Seriously. Thank you." Aislinn turned away from the less-than-pleased Keenan and slid into her seat, grateful to have a respite—however brief it was.
A few minutes later Sister Mary Louise came in and passed out a stack of papers. "I thought we'd take a Shakespeare break today."
Appreciative murmurs greeted her, quickly followed by groans when people saw the poetry on the handouts. Ignoring the grumbling, Sister Mary Louise scrawled a title on the whiteboard: "La Belle Dame Sans Merci." Someone in the back muttered, "Poetry and French, oh joy."
Sister Mary Louise laughed. "Who wants to read about the 'Beautiful Woman Without Pity'?"
Utterly unself-conscious, Keenan stood and read the tragic tale of a knight fatally entranced by a faery. It wasn't the words that had every girl in the room sighing: it was his voice. Even without a glamour, he sounded sinfully good.
When he was done reading, Sister Mary Louise seemed as stunned as the rest of them. "Beautiful," she murmured. Then she pulled her gaze away to drift over the room, pausing on the typically vocal students. "Well? What can you tell me?"
"I've got nothing," Leslie murmured from across the aisle.
Sister Mary Louise caught Aislinn's eye expectantly.
So after yet another steadying breath, Aislinn said, "She wasn't a woman. The knight trusted something inhuman, a faery or a vampire or something, and now he's dead."
Sister Mary Louise prompted, "Good. So what does that mean?"
"Don't trust faeries or vamps," Leslie muttered.
Everyone but Keenan and Aislinn laughed.
Then Keenan's voice cut through the laughter, "Perhaps the faery wasn't at fault. Perhaps there were other factors."
"Right. What's one mortal's life? He died. It doesn't matter if the faery, vamp, whatever it was felt bad or didn't mean to. The knight is still dead." Aislinn tried to keep her voice calm, and mostly succeeded. Her heartbeat was another matter entirely. She knew Keenan watched her, but she stared at Sister Mary Louise and added, "The monster's not suffering, is she?"
"It could be a metaphor about trusting the wrong person, right?" Leslie added.
"Good. Good." Sister Mary Louise added several lines to the scrawl on the board. "What else?"
The discussion veered onto several other topics, until Sister Mary Louise finally said, "Let's look at Rossetti's 'Goblin Market' for a moment and then we'll come back to this."
Aislinn was unsurprised that Keenan volunteered to read again; he had to know how his voice sounded. This time he stared straight at her as he read, barely glancing at the words on the page.
Leslie leaned toward Aislinn and whispered, "Looks like Seth has competition."
"No." Aislinn shook her head and forced herself to hold Keenan's gaze as she answered, "No, he doesn't. There's nothing Keenan could offer me that I want."
Her voice was low, but he heard her. He stumbled briefly, confusion flitting across his too-beautiful face. He stopped mid-poem.
Aislinn looked away before he could see how tempted she really was, before she admitted to herself how much she wanted to ignore all reason.
Sister Mary Louise stepped into the silence. "Cassandra, please continue from there."
Please. Let him go away.
Aislinn didn't glance his way once for the rest of the class. Afterward she all but ran from the room, hoping the taxi would be waiting as promised. If she had to face much more of Keenan's attention, she was afraid of what she might do.
Äàòà äîáàâëåíèÿ: 2015-09-15; ïðîñìîòðîâ: 8; Íàðóøåíèå àâòîðñêèõ ïðàâ