hen you're a Cambion, balance is paramount.
Never lose control, never allow emotions to run wild, and never, ever forget who you are and what lives within you. Such discipline requires a sound mind, a thick skin, and a high tolerance for all things weird, because one wrong move and it's over. No matter how tempting it is at first, in the end there's nothing more tragic, more excruciating, than losing yourself.
Well, except maybe high school.
I swam against the rough current of swinging backpacks, sharp elbows, and whipping ponytails, all in hopes of reaching the auditorium in one piece. The corridors overflowed with foot traffic, disorganized chatter, and the rowdy boom of slamming lockers. The floor rumbled from the stampede fleeing the fourth class of the day.
The varsity team hooted victory chants to the trophy gods behind the glass case in front of the main office. Teenyboppers huddled together in tight clusters, sharing magazines and gushing over the latest fad. Straight ahead lay the obstacle course of shameless make-out bandits who needed to rent a hotel room and stop blocking the hallway. The only thing missing was the cheesy pop soundtrack and the CW logo in the bottom corner. TV high school looked a lot cleaner though, and I bet it didn't reek of bleach and dried ketchup.
I hid my face behind my compact mirror while trying to ignore the dagger stares aimed in my direction, especially if the owners of those eyes had a boyfriend nearby. Even Lilith, my “internal roommate,” bristled at the laser beam of hate that shot my way.
My peers had dubbed me the freak of James City High School, not because of the red and white stripe in my hair or my butterball figure, but because of the avid attention from the males who crossed my path. 'Twas the curse of the dreaded possession, I'm afraid.
I wouldn't have been able to explain what a Cambion was three months ago, or known such a thing as human-demon hybrids existed. But now I knew from firsthand experience what it meant to have a soul of a succubus inside me, draining my energy, and luring unsuspecting males to their death to get more. Nothing much I could do about the long, hungry glances and the not-so-subtle whispers. All I could do was avoid eye contact, stay out of trouble, and pray for June to come quickly. I only had eight months to go.
Flashing lights attacked my retinas as soon as I entered the auditorium. Two murky gray backdrops were stationed in the center of the stage, where hired photographers captured our final year for posterity. Two lines ran at opposite ends of the platform steps and leaked into the aisles.
I trotted down the steep incline where teachers directed students to the photo table. I found my name on the list, grabbed my ticket and one of those cheap plastic combs nurses use to check head lice, and then got in line. A good number of students stood ahead of me, fixing their hair and retouching their makeup. The rest sat in the rows of seats, in no rush to go to class.
Not even a moment after I stood in line, my best friend rested her head on my shoulder, her whole body trembling with laughter. “Girl, did you see what Courtney G. is wearing? It's what you would call âa piping-hot mess.' ”
I blotted my nose and chin. “Now, now, Mia. Be nice. We all can't be a fashionista like you.”
“Of course not, but I expect the basic principles of coordination. I mean, really?” Mia shook her head, her whiskey-brown eyes widened in dismay. “Another thing, when are these kids gonna learn that you don't keep wearing your new clothes the first few weeks of school? You slowly blend it into your existing wardrobe.”
There was the fashion police and there was the one-man Gestapo called Mia Moralez. How she passed dress code with the getups she wore was the magic trick of the century. And today's eye-popping number was no exception. She showed more breast and thigh than an eight-piece combo meal, yet never got called to the office. How did that work? I envied her bravery and her slim physique, but as of late, I envied her ability to ace pre-cal without breaking a sweat. The girl was a walking Pentium chip with expensive taste.
“Ohmigod! What happened to your face?” She spun me around and pinched my cheeks between her fingers. “Sam, who did this?”
Why do people feel the need to poke and prod at a victim's injuries? Ducking her curious fingers, I answered, “Stray dodgeball to the dome.” I took a deep breath, knowing I wouldn't get two feet without telling her the whole story.
Female aggression had reached critical mass today when the girls in third period gym decided to use me for target practice. A simple game of dodgeball had led to a thirty-minute death match, and even the gym teacher had turned a blind eye to the ambush.
Caleb, my main squeeze and fellow Cambion, had experienced his share of rabid females. He'd warned me about our powerful allure and told me to expect hostility from other girls, especially the insecure ones. But oh no, I had to be hardheaded and shrug it off. The daily dose of haterade was bitter and hard to swallow, leaving my thirst for female camaraderie unquenched.
“Those evil bitches!” Mia shrieked again after hearing my tale of woe. “Of all the days to get a black eyeâPicture Day! These are our senior pictures, the ones that are going into the yearbook, for the world to see. Now look at you, a shell of what you once were. Don't worry, I'll take 'em down.” She searched around the auditorium as if one of my attackers lurked in the shadows.
And the award for best actress in an over-dramatization goes to ...
It wasn't that bad, nothing a little concealer couldn't fix, and the swelling had gone down considerablyâa little puffiness near my cheekbone. “Forget it. I can take care of myself,” I assured.
“I know, but they can't justâ”
“Let it go, Mia. I don't want any more trouble. I want to survive the year without further bloodshed.”
It took a few minutes, but she finally let the subject drop. Folding her arms, she studied me from head to toe. Her long, dark locks rested over her right shoulder in one enormous curl, accenting her exotic, island features. “You're not gonna wear those contacts for your picture, are you? It would add a little flare to the aesthetics, but it might draw more attention to your shiner.”
I froze mid primp. I knew I'd forgotten to do something when I left the house this morning, but I'd been running late and pretending to be normal took a lot of prep work. For the sake of appearances, I'd had to order a lifetime supply of brown contacts to pass as my old color, thanks to the sentient being living inside me. Lilith's occupancy made my eyes extremely sensitive, and she hated weird window dressing obstructing her view. To give her peace, I switched up every few days and I took them out as soon as I got home. As far as anyone knew, my emerald-green eyes were fake, not the other way around.
“Well, I wanted to make my mark,” I replied with a bit of sass.
“Suit yourself. I'm out. Catch you later,” she said just as I caught Malik Davis entering the auditorium from over her shoulder. I knew as soon as he saw me, he would try to spark a conversation.
I turned to Mia in a rush of panic. “You're done?”
“I was the first in line. Had to get it over and done with. It's hard work to look this good all day.” Mia sauntered away before I could grab her and use her as a shield.
Normally, I wouldn't be so clingy, but I so didn't feel like having another run-in with Malik. It was bad enough my black eye would be immortalized in eight-by-ten gloss; I didn't need him rubbing it in.
Malik Davis, a senior and my new shadow, fueled the wet dreams of every girl in school. As if he needed more attention, Malik had become an overnight celebrity when his truck wrapped around a tree last month and he walked away without a scratch, a heroic tale that he never grew sick of telling. Who wouldn't want to hang on the arm of the sexy basketball captain who cheated death? Oh yeah, that would be me.
“How you doin', Shorty?” he drawled in that smooth, magnolia tone that could melt butter. The solid wall of his body brushed my back.
The nickname grated my ears and made my skin crawl. True, the top of my head barely reached to his shoulders, but I wasn't a garden gnome, and pointing out someone's faults was not a good way to spark a conversation.
“Great, thanks. And yourself?” I stepped away as the line moved forward.
“It's a good day, especially after seeing you,” Malik whispered in my ear.
“You give me too much credit. You shouldn't need a girl to make you happy. If so, you have plenty to choose from.”
“Maybe so, but you've got my undivided attention, girl. I don't know why I never noticed you before; we've got a bunch of classes together and all that. But I like light-skinned girls, and your contacts are hot. They look so real.”
Here we go. If I had a quarter for every time someone mentioned my eye colorâ
“Let me ask you something. What's a fine sistah like you doing with that white boy? You know he's using you, right?”
I stopped. “For what?”
His gaze slid down my body at leisure. “What you think?”
I wasn't even going to dignify that with an answer, but it served to remind me why I couldn't stand him in the first place. Since tenth grade, Malik had made my mixed race a subject of ridicule, judging my choice of friends, my vocabulary, my taste in music, and now my boyfriend. The words
were commonly used in our brief exchanges. “Fine sistah” had never been included, but was a new moniker, courtesy of my roommate's influence, no doubt.
“I don't mean no harm by it,” he said. “I justâ”
“Just what, Malik? 'Cause I don't like your tone.”
“That Caleb guy will never take you seriously, Samara. He's just gonna take what he wants, then leave.”
“And let me guess, you're so much better for me, because we all know you would never get with a girl and leave her high and dry,” I bit back.
The photographer's perky assistant yelled for the next pair to approach the stage, which was Malik and me.
After handing the assistant his ticket, the cause of my growing headache turned to me. “Look, I'm just watching out for you. How could you even stomach being with somebody like that?”
That did it. Evidently, people didn't get anywhere in life by being polite in this school. Turning on the balls of my feet, I glared up at him. He looked amused, but that didn't last long.
“Look here, there's no nice way to put this, so I won't even try. It's none of your damn business what I do with my boyfriend. I'm sure it eats you up inside that I'm not sniffing behind you like the rest of the herd, or that you will never in life get to sample any of this luscious I got going on, but seriously, you need to get off my ass, or else I'll break my foot off in yours.” I strolled to the stage, leaving Malik standing with a stunned look on his face.
The assistant directed me to the stool and ordered me to sit up straight. Malik sat in the station to my left, his stare burning at my profile, but I wouldn't give him the satisfaction of caring.
There was just something about him that didn't sit well with me, even more than usual. An air of danger loomed around him, an unnatural aura that gave me the willies. Lilith felt it as well, voicing her disquiet with sharp tingles up my spinal cord, and worrying the network of nerves lining my midsection. While the photographer arranged my chin and shoulders in the right position, I snuck a glance at Malik.
He was good-looking, hotter than my boyfriend, though I would never whisper that to a living soul. It shamed me to admit that I'd had a few fantasies of him, most involving a hot tub and a vat of cookie dough ice cream, but that secret will follow me to the grave. Besides, looks meant nothing if you were an asshole, a self-righteous tool who turned into a skeleton in sharp lighting.
Wait, what theâ?
I blinked and spun my stool completely in Malik's direction. Did I just see what I thought I did? As soon as the camera flashed, his clothes, skin, and all external material vanished, leaving a framework of bones sitting on the stool. The weird X-ray vision only lasted a second, but that was enough to freak me out.
When the photographer finished, Malik rose to his feet and strolled to the opposite side of the stage. He spared me a fleeting glance and smiled with more humor than the occasion called for. A quick glint of gold flickered in his dark brown eyes, then disappeared.
“Face this way, hon. Shoulders straight.” The voice of my own photographer snapped me back to attention.
My heart tapped Morse code against my ribs as I tried in vain to make sense of what I'd just seen. Forcing the worst smile in history, I waited for the camera flash.
Nothing outside of the natural surprised me anymore, but my curiosity would never die. The events of the summer had taught me well never to ignore those feelings, but to embrace them and expect the unexpected. Maybe I wasn't the only freak getting their learn on at James City High School. Perhaps it was a new power I had acquired that I was just now tapping into, an ability to foresee danger, like in those
movies. More than likely, it was my overactive mind running wild, something that happened a lot lately.