I shoved his chest. “Says me!”
“Uh-oh, your girl is getting mad!” a teammate mocked. “You gonna let her carry you like that, Malik? You better handle that.”
He tossed his fellow teammates a sneaky grin before all eight members crowded around me. Only then did I realize the error of my ways. Emotions impaired judgment, and I'd managed to walk into the middle of a trap. No coach or teacher stood in sight, and class had been dismissed hours ago. It was just me among eight hormonal athletes and a thick cloud of BO. Not wanting to be the next Lifetime movie of the week, I backed away toward the double doors.
A boy pivoted to my left, blocking my escape. “Where you going?”
“Don't try to run now. Say what you gotta say,” another guy added as the circle closed in on me.
“Let go of her,” Malik ordered. It was a calm, low-spoken command that the team immediately obeyed. “No oneâand I mean no oneâtouches her but me. You feel me?”
The team nodded as one of the boys shoved me into Malik's arms. My sense of rescue lasted a blink as he gripped my arms and smiled.
“I hear your boy is still in the hospital. He got messed up pretty bad. Looks like you need a new one,” he teased.
I tried to get my anger under control, tried to remember Mom's teachings about the virtue of patience and to be a lady at all times. But this lady was in the middle of a nervous breakdown with a sentient that would Hulk out at any second.
“You guys go ahead. I'll catch up with you in a minute.” He pulled me toward the bleachers.
This was not a good sign. I tugged and jerked my arm free, but my efforts only made it worse. Before a scream could escape, he covered my mouth. His strong arm wrapped around my waist from behind, lifting me off the ground. My legs wiggled and kicked in a fruitless attempt at his shin or kneecap.
A lanky guy tried to step in, but the others pulled him back. “Hey, just let her go, man. We've still got practice. You don't need toâ”
“I'll be out in a second. Samara and I need to talk,” Malik interrupted.
“Let go of me!” I yelled under his hand.
“Now get out and watch the door. Don't let anyone come in.” Malik waited for his crew to file out of the gym one by one.
He carried me behind the bleachers against the wall. In seconds, his big body trapped me in.
“I shouldn't have to work this hard to get a girl's attention. I see how you look at me, trying to get under my skin. Nobody likes a tease, and you're the biggest one in the school.” He finally removed the hand from my mouth.
“Look, Malik, you're obviously seeing something that isn't there. I never gave you any impression that I was interested in you.”
“You did when you kissed me.”
Whoa! I must have missed that episode. “What are you talking about? I never kissâ” was all I could say before his lips crushed against mine, shoving all arguments back down my throat.
Oh, the slimy feeling that curled my body! Hands, lips, and tongue went everywhere, a feeling that could only be boiled away.
Yet somehow, this all seemed oddly familiar.
Purely by instinct, I inhaled the trail of energy radiating from his skin. I knew he was under the draw, but I hadn't realized to what extent. This guy took an all-expenses-paid trip to La-La Land. Scenarios flashed in my head, events that he could swear on a Bible were real.
Perhaps it was the dizziness or the indignant sense of disbelief, but once realization rolled up, so did my stomach. Caleb had warned me about the lengths people would go while under the draw; their desperation to be with us could turn violent at the flip of a switch. But Malik had picked the wrong time and the wrong chick to mess with.
All my torment, all my grief took center stage. The thought of losing my mate and enduring this perv's unwanted touches shot my anger to Defcon one. I snatched away from Malik and pushed him against the wall with strength I'd never known I had. His body slammed against the brick surface, stunned at the sudden change of plans.
“You can't just lead me on and leave me hanging.” Malik grabbed the back of my sweater before I could run. A rough jerk spun me around as his hand latched on to my face. Long, callused fingers dug into my cheeks, making my eyes water. Though I'd watched a basketball shrink to the size of a grapefruit in his grasp, I'd never realized how big Malik's hands were until now. All that strength gathered in one hand, and something as delicate as bone could easily break under its power.
“You gonna play nice, and no one has to get hurt.” Seeing me nod, he backed me against the wall again. “Good girl.”
After licking his lips, his head leaned in for another kiss, but this time I didn't fight him. His dark eyes, runny and crazed, made it clear that no one was leaving until he got what he wanted.
There was only so much one could take before the barricade broke. The floodgates of rage burst free as I opened my mouth wide and unhooked my roommate's collar. I wished I could feel bad about what was about to happen, but human rules and sensibility no longer applied.
And the timing couldn't have been any better. Lilith was hungry.
om flung open the door before I could slip in my key. Her fingers curled into the wood, ready to rip the door off its hinges. Her chest heaved and swelled under a red silk shirt. “Where in the world have you been? You should've been back hours ago!”
My eyes lowered to the floor. “I figured you'd check my status from my bracelet.”
“Answer the question,” she demanded. “What happened to you? How did you get that cut on your lip?”
“Shaving,” I grumbled.
Blue pools of fury told me that she wasn't in a mood for jokes, nor was she about to let me cross the threshold without an explanation.
“I got into a fight,” I said in resignation.
“I figured that much. The principal called my office saying you had an incident in the bathroom. What I don't know is why.”
“Girls at school think I'm stealing their men-folk.”
After several blinks, her heated gaze cooled to a low simmer. “They have no right to lay a hand on you. I should press charges.”
“Mom, I'm fine.” I pushed my way inside. “The girls got suspended and that's that. Don't want any more drama than necessary.”
Mom followed me to the dining room. “You should have called me.”
“It wasn't an emergency. I had a really rough day, all right? I don't need you hounding me.” I moved to the kitchen, but Mom foiled my escape.
“Too damn bad. How long has this been going on? If someone's harassing you at school, you need to tell me.”
“What good would that do? I'm a freak, Mom. Everyone in school knows it. I have a succubus in my body. Girls are naturally hostile to me; nothing's gonna change that. It will continue well after school, and bugging out over every little scrape is pointless. I'm gonna go to bed. I'm tired.” I raced to my bedroom, then locked the door before she could catch me.
The shadow of her feet paced in front of the door. “Samara, talk to me, please? Something happened, and you're scared. Come out and talk.”
The worry in her voice tightened my gut. Instinct begged me to open the door, grief ordered me to wrap myself around her and cry, but fear kept me stationary. “Mom, please, I just wanna be alone right now. I'll talk to you later. Please, just let me sleep it off.”
After several long minutes, the shadow disappeared as she left me to my angst.
I changed into an oversized T-shirt, then fell on the bed and buried my head in a pillow. I knew Mom meant well, but her pep talk would just go to waste. My methods were cruel, but she couldn't know the real reason I was upset. I couldn't understand it myself, and I'd never been so scared and thoroughly freaked out in all my seventeen years. Death had a way of doing that to a person.
Tears didn't come, but a lump emerged and clogged my windpipe. Eventually, sleep took over, surrounding me in darkness, pulling me back to the events of the afternoon as if I needed a reminder... .
I leaned over Malik's body, lapping the traces of life from his lips. The thin string of energy, translucent and delicate as smoke, danced around my tongue and filled my inner being to capacity. Not just a taste, but a feast of life, a five-course meal generating power to my spirit.
I sat back on my haunches and lifted my head to the ceiling, withstanding the euphoric seizure of the intake. I now understood why so many people got drunk. The eye viewed the world through a soft focus lens, and every crisis lessened in gravity. However, my sense of direction shattered to pieces.
And then I saw him, a limp, waxy mannequin stretched across the filthy gymnasium floor, his limbs akimbo. Unblinking eyes stared skyward, engaged in a wordless discussion with Heaven. His mouth gaped open, as if shocked at the reply. His pulse didn't exist, which shriveled my buzz to dust.
I backed away slowly, but returned to the body and wiped his mouth. I checked for stray hairs and other evidence that could lead to me. Though the police would attribute his death to a heart attack, I'd watched enough forensic shows not to leave anything to chance.
Slow, elementary facts drilled in my head, as if rephrasing would somehow soften the blow or facilitate knowledge. A boy was dead. He was no more, no longer among the living. But, no matter the wording, no matter how I sliced it, I was still the one holding the knife.
“Hey, Malik, hurry up, man! The coach is coming!” The voice of one of his teammates echoed against the gym walls.
I didn't know what to think at the moment, but I knew getting the hell out of there was a good start. I stood up and straightened my clothes, trying my best not to look at Malik's body. I stumbled through the labyrinth of support beams and metal framework under the bleachers. Coach Reynolds corralled the basketball team through the side door of the locker room.
I had to stay cool, keep it together, and by no means let them wander behind the bleachers. I inched toward the door, staying close to the walls, hoping to sneak out before anyone saw me. The screech of a whistle ruined that plan.
“What are you doing here, young lady?” With a clipboard in one hand and his eighty-proof energy drink in the other, Coach Reynolds stood in a reprimanding stance. Though he wore a maroon track suit that had probably fit twenty years ago, this ex-Marine was not one to tangle with, unless you wanted to risk triggering his famous war flashbacks. His disapproval was palpable as he zeroed in on my location.
Fellow teammates leered at me in humor. The ones who had left me with Malik offered knowing smirks and shared private comments. If they'd known what had happened to their boy, they wouldn't look so smug.
“I asked you a question. What are you doing here? This is a closed practice,” the coach demanded.
Giving my best impersonation of a deer in headlights, I said, “I-I-I was looking for Malik. I wanted to give him something.”
“I'm sure you did.” A tall kid with cornrows snickered. Others joined in with laughter and high-fives.
“Quiet down!” Reynolds barked before darting his beady eyes at me. “You socialize on your own time. Now see yourself out.” He nudged his head to the exit.
He didn't have to tell me twice. I nearly tripped over my feet crossing the gym, when the coach asked, “Where is Davis anyway?”
Murmurs spilled from the group. “I dunno.”
“Haven't seen him,” another said.
“Oh, for crying out loud!” Reynolds threw his head back and groaned. “Somebody had to have seen him. He was here ten minutes ago.”
I kept moving, not waiting for the fallout, the screams of horror, and the impending police visit to my house. Those boys would know I had been the last one to see Malik alive. Of course they would point me out in a lineup. How was I going to explain this to my mom? I'd cross that bridge when I got there. All I knew was I had to get home.
I pushed the handle of the double doors when the last voice I ever expected to hear called out.
“I'm right here, Coach!”
Slowly, I turned and saw an image that shouldn't have been there, a knowledge I wasn't equipped to comprehend. I blinked several times, but the vision remained, gaining focus with each step.
“Davis! Front and center! Now!” Reynolds yelled with the conviction of a drill sergeant.
Malik emerged from behind the bleachers and trotted toward his teammates. Reaching the group, he said, “Sorry I'm late. Something came up.”
“I'll bet.” Coach Reynolds grunted, eyeing Malik's wrinkled shirt and shorts. “Twenty laps around the gym. Now. The rest of you, pair up and grab a ball.” The quick chirp of the whistle shot everyone into action, including me.
Malik jogged the outer perimeter of the gym, his long, toned body working in a uniform pace, lithe and very agile for a person who had no business being alive.
Glancing in my direction, a slow smile crept to the corner of his mouth as he flashed me a wink.
What had happened behind the bleachers had been real. Malik was dead, an ex-person who ceased to be. I hadn't been seeing things, but the dozen witnesses littering the gym could attest to the contrary. I felt Malik's energy inside me. His life and all it entailed churned and digested within, and Lilith practically belched after her devoured meal.
Given the situation, I should consider myself lucky. If there was no body, there was no crime. I was off the hook. My newfound freedom died quickly as a question crept to the surface.
If I hadn't taken Malik's life, then what the hell did I just eat?
I sprung upright, the dream dissolving into mist, bringing the murky design of my room into focus. My skin itched from where the bedsheets stuck to my sweaty back even through my T-shirt. I rocked on the bed, my pulse racing to keep in time with my rapid thoughts. It was just a dream, but not really; more of a recap of the day's weirdness, the brain counting its earnings once business hours were over.
The thing I really hated about nightmares was waking up alone. No one hid under the bed or lurked in the closet, but the imagination ran wild and every shadow posed a threat. Everything was still, quiet, and set to rest but me.
Needing a drink, I tiptoed downstairs to the kitchen, successfully avoiding a glimpse into the living room. But turmoil persisted, oozing through the woodwork and cracking static in the air.
After clicking on the kitchen light, I headed to the fridge to down the half gallon of orange juice straight from the carton. I thought of Mom's olive oil and the questions it provoked. It piqued my curiosity several times before, but now that interest leaned more toward scientific research. Units of measure, quality, quantity, and religious dogma swirled around my head, thick and greasy as the oil itself.
I checked the top and bottom cabinets, even the pantry off the side of the kitchen, and found no oil. Opening the fridge again, I noticed that the jar of green olives Mom liked was missing from the shelf on the door. She'd probably thrown it away and likely child-proofed the house. She'd even cleaned out my purse while I was in the hospital, which explained how the old dried-up bottle of anointing oil mysteriously disappeared. Tossing the empty O.J. carton in the trash, I made a mental note to hit the grocery store tomorrow.
No sooner did I come to that decision than an eerie vibe locked me in place, a brush of a presence in close range. Something alive and moving occupied the first floor; its energy fluttered around my skin, creating goose bumps. That familiar signal always alerted me of Caleb's nearness, and I reveled at the welcome vibration. I starved for my Cake Boy, and I quietly begged for him to end my famine, to hold me again. I could almost feel his breath on my skin, that warm kiss on the back of the neck.
Lost in emotion, I didn't bother with the plot holes of the scenario, like the impossibility of someone entering my house without tripping the security system or Mom's keen sense of hearing even in deep sleep, or that Caleb, by all logical extremes, should still be hospitalized.
Eventually, reality set in once a whining noise poured from the living room, a low, raspy yelp of an injured animal, or a crying dog. Mom's allergies prevented me from having a pet, yet that failed to explain how a dog had wandered into my house.
I spied the security box by the door, noting the flashing green light indicating its activation. Slowly, I turned to the living room and almost screamed at the tall figure standing by the couch. His back faced me; the light from the window outlined his form, but gave no real detail to identify. What I knew was a man stood still with hands in his pockets and his head low.
Memories of the last home invader had me paralyzed in terror. My heart pounded in my chest and I fought to keep everything in my body in working order. I was going to need all my faculties to go into battle mode, and it would be a fight to the death before another man tried to hurt me. He stood a good foot taller than me, so I had to find a weapon.
I backpedaled into the kitchen, pulled a knife from the rack on the counter, and crept back to the living room entry, all achieved with the deadly silence of an assassin.
My bare feet crossed the threshold, that distinct line where hardwood floor met soft carpet. I lifted the knife in the air when his head turned toward the window, casting his profile in gentle moonlight.
“Lilith, be still.” Though barely a whisper, his voice ricocheted against the walls, summoning unseen forces to his bidding.
Those three words sobered me up quickly, bringing disturbing facts into play. This man standing in front of me operated on a first-name basis with Lilith. What's more, Lilith jittered down my vertebrae at the acknowledgment. If she'd had a tail, it would've been wagging.
The knife wobbled in my hand. “What did you say?”
Instead of a response, he returned his focus to the floor, concentrating on a singular spot near the couch. As a cop would a crime scene, he circled the area. A shadowy hand traced the outline of a shape that only he could see. His whole body engaged in this exploration, crouching lower as he studied what lay there, or rather what once laid there.