Chelsea glared at Caleb across the table.
“What did I tell you about Chase?” she asked. “We shouldn’t talk when we see him. We kick his butt and hand him over to Mister Crowley. But instead you not only let him run his mouth, showing how totally crazy he’s become, but you let him escape?”
Caleb sipped at his soda, then held a finger to his lips.
“Yeah, yeah,” Chelsea said, leaning back in the booth. “Public place and all that.” She sighed, looking out across the dining room of Murphy’s, a favorite pizza place in Grimoire. It was the lunch rush, so it was packed, and quite noisy. It was unlikely people would overhear their conversation, but it wasn’t worth taking chances. Chelsea returned her attention to Caleb, glaring, lowering her voice. “The point still stands. Will, why didn’t you stop him?”
Will sat next to Caleb, closest to the window. He’d brought his laptop with him and was typing away, but at Chelsea’s query he picked his cell phone off the table, tapped away on it a bit, then held up the message.
I told him it was a bad idea.
“He’s stubborn,” Lorelei, seated between Chelsea and Gwen, said. “He wouldn’t have stayed away even if we’d all tried to stop him. Besides…” she stared at Caleb, “you wanted to save him, right? No one wants to believe a good friend is now an enemy.”
Caleb nodded. He was uncharacteristically silent, and had been ever since he’d decided to go off on his own last night. Chelsea was glad she’d sent Will after him, but…
Don’t be like this, Caleb. You’re usually an open book. Now I feel like you’re shutting me out. Which makes it more obvious that you’re hurting.
I know all about pain. Don’t hold it in. It’ll only destroy you.
“This is really delicious,” Gwen said, holding up her cream soda. “I’ve never tasted anything like it. Can we come here every day?”
Chelsea couldn’t help but laugh a little. “You have too many foods and drinks to try out while you’re in Grimoire to come to the same place every day,” she said. “But if you insist, we’ll come back here again.”
“Acting like it isn’t your favorite place in the entire city,” Lorelei said, nudging Chelsea teasingly.
Caleb leaned over to look at Will’s laptop. “Whatcha working on?” he asked. Will held up his phone with a message, and even though it was tilted towards Caleb, Chelsea could just barely see it.
Next book. Deadline’s coming up.
“We’re supposed to be having a meeting, Will,” Chelsea said, frowning. “Why are you working?”
Will just tilted the same message towards her, not changing it. Chelsea sighed.
“Deadlines are deadlines,” Lorelei said. “And he’s paying attention. Right, Will?”
Will nodded, returning his attention to his computer. Chelsea rather liked Caleb’s best friend, but he could be difficult for her to deal with at times. He didn’t talk much, and most of the time insisted on “talking” through text messages. He always wore those same headphones, no matter where he went, and Chelsea always wondered what he was listening to. When asked, though, he’d just shrug and say “music.”
And he always seemed to have his attention elsewhere. Which wasn’t at all what Chelsea wanted right now, when she’d called this meeting of grave importance.
Caleb wasn’t helping, either, and now all of her plans were slipping away in her frustrations with the two boys seated across from her.
“When do we get to try this ‘pizza’ that you’ve praised so much?” Gwen asked, so delighted by new experiences that she barely noticed the tension in their booth. “I’m starving.”
This is a total disaster. I’ve gotta get it under control somehow.
“This is a total disaster!” Shana moaned, leaning against the window and staring mournfully across the street. The trolley rolled by, and once it passed, Shana could gaze longingly at the place she’d wanted to go – Murphy’s.
“You got outvoted,” Kathryn said, taking a long drink from her milkshake. “Besides, you know you like the food better, here. And the atmosphere, too. Murphy’s is too crowded for lunch.”
“I was betrayed!” Shana said dramatically, pressing her hands and face against the window as if she could phase through it and be free to chase after the pizza she so desperately craved. “I thought you were my friends!”
“You’re the one who left it to a vote,” Kathryn said, grinning mischievously. “Besides, you can have pizza another day. This is our traditional meeting place. You can’t buck tradition over a craving.”
Shana sat back in her seat, pouting, and directed her attention directly across the table at Shias, who was conspicuously avoiding her gaze. “My own twin brother even voted against me.”
“I wanted a burger,” Shias said softly, scratching the back of his neck self-consciously.
“We can get pizza for dinner,” Rae said, leaning forward so she could be seen past Kathryn, who sat between her and Shana. “Right?”
Shana leaned over, bumping against Kathryn, reaching her hands across the table to grasp Rae’s. “Rae! My only friend! The only one who voted with me!”
“Murphy’s doesn’t serve milkshakes,” Ben said, across the table with Shias. “Or smoothies.” As proof, he held up a drink in either hand – a chocolate milkshake, and a wild-berry smoothie.
“I want to know how you can drink two of those so fast and not get brain freeze,” Kathryn said, slurping down the last dregs of her milkshake, when Ben hadn’t made it halfway through either of his frosty drinks. “And we’re supposed to be having a meeting. Why’d you bring your homework?”
“Because we’re weeks behind,” Ben said. “And Shias said he’d help me.” Both boys had textbooks and notebooks piled in front of them on the table, and they’d spent most of the time so far taking notes and discussing problems.
Shana sighed mournfully. “This is not going at all the way I’d hoped or planned,” she said.
Kathryn leaned forward, staring out expectantly into the dining room. “Where’s our waitress, anyway? I’m starving.”
“Are you ready to order?”
“Oh, gosh, yes, please,” Chelsea said, nodding enthusiastically, feeling her stomach grumble. “We are, right?” She cast a meaningful stare across the table at the two boys, who also nodded.
“Will?” Caleb asked. Will held up his phone.
Garlic bread. Lots. Please.
Laughs went around the table, and even Chelsea couldn’t help but chuckle. In the end, they ordered “lots” of garlic bread, as well as eight extra-large cheese pizzas. The waitress, June, wasn’t surprised – she’d been Caleb’s waitress enough times to know he ate a crazy amount of food for his size.
“How come we’re only getting one kind of pizza?” Gwen asked, holding up the menu. “Look at all of these options! Can I try them all?”
“Can you eat them all?” Chelsea asked.
Gwen pursed her lips, staring at the menu intensely. “Then… well…” She looked up at June. “What’s your favorite item on the menu?”
June blinked for a moment in confusion, then smiled sweetly. “I’m a big fan of the Grimoire Special. I know it’s the obvious answer, but it’s been a hot seller for years for a reason.”
“I’ll take it!” Gwen said, golden eyes glittering with excitement.
“And is this going to be all together, or on separate checks?” June asked.
“All toge–” Caleb and Chelsea both started at once, then suddenly stared at each other.
“I’m paying,” Chelsea said, softly but firmly.
“No, let me,” Caleb said, flashing a charming smile.
“It’s all together,” Lorelei said, rolling her eyes. June nodded and walked away. “I’m paying. You two are impossible.”
Will held up his phone.
Why not let me pay?
Lorelei groaned, resting her head against the back of the booth. “Why don’t we all argue over who’s going to spend way too much on this lunch?” she asked. “Will, don’t pay. And don’t let the two lovebirds fight over it, either.”
Okay. Thanks, Lorelei.
“I swear,” Lorelei said, shaking her head. “Every time.”
“It wouldn’t happen every time if Chelsea would just let me take the check,” Caleb said, his voice dripping with so much sweet innocence it made Chelsea sick.
“It wouldn’t happen every time if Mister ‘I Don’t Want to Spend Money, I’m Trying to Save Up’ would stick to that title and not try to pay for exorbitant meals,” Chelsea said, glaring.
Caleb stared back at her, for a moment, keeping up the overly innocent-charming act, but finally, mercifully withered under her intense gaze. Caleb sighed, putting down his soda before it was halfway to his lips. “Hey, Chelsea?” he asked.
“What?” Chelsea asked, still glaring.
“I’m sorry,” Caleb said, looking up and meeting her eyes.
How do two stupid little words make all the anger just drain right out of me?
“I want to be angry at Chase like you,” Caleb continued. “I want to just kick his butt and turn him in, but… I can’t. Even when we were talking, and it was so obvious that my words weren’t having any effect… I couldn’t do anything else but try to talk. I want to be angry, but I’m just sad. I feel heavy and strange and I didn’t know how to talk about it last night, and I didn’t know how to talk about it earlier, and I don’t want to talk about it. I just… hurt.”
Chelsea stared at the table, speaking softly. “The pain doesn’t just go away by itself. You can stay silent about it forever, and it’ll just burn inside of you. You have to talk about it.”
Caleb sighed. “Yeah. But I also…” Caleb stared out the window, a faraway look in his eyes. “I want to save him from himself.”
Chelsea nodded. Of course. That was exactly like Caleb, after all. “Just don’t get yourself killed trying, okay?” she asked softly.
“I swear, this is gonna be the death of me,” Ben said with a groan. He erased furiously, then started writing again, following Shias’ lead as he walked him through the problem.
“Homework’s not gonna kill you, Ben,” Kathryn said. “Starvation, on the other hand… that’ll kill anyone.”
“Where’s our fooooood?” Shana asked, stretching her arms out across the table as she rested her head against its cool surface. Her hands reached Shias’ arm, and she gripped the sleeve of his jacket, fidgeting with it. She was so hungry she’d forgotten all about her pizza craving. She was so hungry she’d forgotten how to think, and she was certain that if this went on much longer her life was going to come to a painful, dreary, sudden end.
“Have some of my shake,” Kathryn said, sliding her glass towards Shana. Shana sat up slowly, plucked her straw out of her own drink with her lips, stuck it into Kathryn’s, and took a sip, that turned into several sips, that turned into several gulps, that turned into brain-freeze and Shana was forced to relent, groaning as she leaned back against the booth.
“I’m so hungry I can’t even taste it,” Shana said. “My taste buds can’t feel anything over the sound of my stomach screaming for fooooooooood.”
“I don’t think that’s how taste buds work,” Rae said, though Shana noticed the small girl was giggling and trying to hide it.
“Hey,” Shana said. Kathryn was leaning forward, so Shana could see Rae through the gap between Kathryn’s back and the booth, and Rae sat back to meet Shana’s eyes, her own gazing back at her questioningly. “You’re letting your hair grow out?”
“Ah – uh – um…” Rae started, words failing as she flustered. Her cheeks went red, and her hands fussed over her hair.
“It looks good,” Shana said with a smile.
Rae blushed so hard she ended up ducking her head to hide it, but Shana heard a small “thanks,” come from her.
“Oh, hey, food’s here!” Kathryn said excitedly, and everyone looked up at once. Ben and Shias slid their books aside to make room, and their waitress arrived, passing plates around. Burgers and fries for each of the five, each choice slightly different.
Shias was plain and simple, as always, just getting a single burger on a white bun with a single slice of cheese. No condiments, no veggies, nothing extra. He hadn’t ordered a side – he never did – and yet, as usual, his plate was filled with fries, which he, as usual, stared at with the slightest pout for a moment before shrugging and digging in.
Ben had the biggest, greasiest burger imaginable, so big it barely fit in his hands, and it was a wonder he was able to bite it without breaking it down into individual components first.
Rae was small, but she always ordered large, with a double cheeseburger and a heaping helping of curly fries. Dainty and slow was how she always ate, with small bites and lots of breaks in between for sips from her shake.
Kathryn and Shana both had their burgers on pretzel buns, though Kathryn liked to add extra veggies to hers, while Shana preferred a more balanced burger. Kathryn also had her plate stacked – and an extra, smaller plate, too – with curly fries.
Ben’s hand went for the salt shaker, but before he could begin to salt his fries, Kathryn’s hand shot out, grabbing a handful off of Ben’s plate and plopping them on hers.
“Every single time,” Ben said, glaring.
“Someone has to save them from your salt flood,” Kathryn said smugly. Ben proved her point a second later when he started pouring – not sprinkling – salt onto his fries, until they were thoroughly coated in the white substance. Just watching Ben eat the first one made Shana grimace.
“You always go too far,” Shana said, shaking her head. Now that a refill for her shake had arrived, she moved her straw from Kathryn’s glass to hers and drank happily in between bites. Kathryn occasionally slipped her own straw over to Shana’s drink, getting a taste of hers.
“We’re having a meeting, right?” Shias asked.
“Oh! Right!” Shana said.
“You were so hungry you forgot why we were here?” Shias asked dryly.
Shana pouted. “Don’t be mean.”
“So?” Kathryn asked. “What’s the meeting about?”
Shana took another bite from her burger, chewed, swallowed. “So… okay. There’s a lot to say, so I’ll try starting from the beginning.”
Shana ended up all over the place as she told the story of her trial through Nightmares and the final vision she saw there, of the strange black owl and the bleak landscape, of the message she received and the new task she was given. In the midst of that, she also talked about her vision of Bronn and his phone call, of the danger facing Grimoire. Finally finished, she sat back and waited for the responses.
“What I’m confused about is why you’re worried about Grimoire,” Kathryn said, receiving surprised stares from everyone. “I’m just saying that, well, your parents are on it, and the Hunters are on it, and they seem to know a lot about what’s going on. So I get you’re worried, but we should focus on your quest, right? You’ve seen the darkness and the dangers beyond our world. I think, if you’re being tasked with saving some strange being in a far-off land, that probably is important – maybe even more important than the immediate danger to Grimoire, right? Because if we don’t fight against the darkness, it might one day come here, or something. I don’t really get how it works, but it wants to swallow up all life, everywhere, right? That includes here at home.”
Ben raised his hand, hastily swallowing a mouthful of food. “So I’m definitely on board with letting the adults and Hunters handle the problems here in Grimoire,” he said, and his sudden “Ow!” made it clear that Kathryn had kicked him under the table. “What was that for?”
“Because you’re still being all cowardly about taking on problems for yourself,” Kathryn said, glaring.
“But this is like, a really huge and dangerous thing, right?” Ben asked. “I mean… are we even remotely qualified to deal with, well… whatever it is that we’re going to be dealing with?”
“We saved Annabelle from professional warriors,” Kathryn said. “And Shana handled the Nightmares. She defeated the darkness at the Library, when no one else could. Think of what she can do if she has all of us on her side.”
“I’m worried about the darkness, too,” Rae said. “And actually, I think… well, I think we should talk to my mother. I’ve heard her mention things like ‘living darkness’ before, and I never paid much attention, but now I think I should have. And I think… well, I think we’re better suited for something like this, where it comes down to strengths other than fighting.”
“Then what was the point of all of our training?” Ben asked.
“To get stronger,” Rae said. “But not just physically, I mean, well… but mentally, too, right?”
Kathryn put an arm around Rae’s shoulders. “That’s right,” she said, grinning. “We’ve gotten really skilled, but we’re also braver than we ever were before. Especially you, little Rae. You’re so different from when we started all of this.” Rae ducked her head, blushing bright red.
“I know you’re worried about the city,” Shias said, eyes on Shana, “but mom and dad, Caleb and Chelsea, they can handle things. I’m sure of it. We’ve shared all of our knowledge with them, and they know more than we do. There’s a part of me that wants to fight against the villains endangering our home alongside Caleb and the others, but… I think, knowing what little we know about you and the Dreamer’s Heart and the living darkness, your quest is more important. And we might be the only ones able to do it. Everyone else needs to defend Grimoire, but the five of us are more free to move as we need to on quests and tasks beyond home.”
“But we have so much schoolwork to catch up on already,” Ben said. “That’s what we’re all forgetting, here. All those other adults are adults. They don’t have to worry about school, and for all of them, their job is fighting and defending Grimoire, so they’re not missing work, either. But we’re missing so much, and if we fail our classes –”
“Then worst case scenario, we have to repeat a semester,” Kathryn said with surprising nonchalance. “So what? We put our lives and dreams on hold for a tiny bit of time to save the freaking universe. Get your priorities straight, Benjamin.”
“And if we’re not gone too long,” Rae said, “we can still catch up, as long as we work together. If we all study and do homework together, we can probably catch up on everything so far in just a few days.” She pushed her empty plate forward, and Shana stared for a moment in shock. Despite always eating so politely and slow, Rae had done it again – she was the first one finished eating, as if her food had magically disappeared when no one was looking.
“And we have Shias,” Kathryn said, grinning. “He’s super smart, so if all else fails, he can do our homework for us!”
“Not happening,” Shias said. “But I’ll be glad to help.”
Ben sighed. “Our parents are never gonna agree to this.”
“Ben, let me ask you something,” Kathryn said. “When you and Shias fought Platina, when you kept her from doing anything useful in that entire battle to save Annabelle… how did that feel?”
Ben stared at Kathryn, for a moment expressionless. Then, slowly, his eyes lit up, his mouth turned upwards in a smile. “It felt… really freaking cool. I was really proud of myself.”
“Have you ever felt that kind of pride from getting an A on a test, or making the honor roll?”
Ben stared at his food, sighed. “No. Never. But this isn’t just about how it makes us feel –”
“I know,” Kathryn said, holding up a finger. “But you felt that way – we all felt that way – because we did good. Real good, more good than we’ve ever done at school. We saved a little girl’s life. And we can do more good, still, if we stick together and follow Shana down whatever dark path she’s got ahead of her.”
Ben stared out the window for a long, silent moment, his fingers drumming a staccato rhythm on the table. Finally, he nodded. “Yeah. Okay. I’m in. But that means you guys have to help me explain things to my parents, because I can’t just keep running off and vanishing like that.”
“Your parents love me,” Kathryn said, smiling. “They’ll be okay as long as I explain things.”
“So the next question is,” Shias said, “where do we start?”
“We need to know where to start,” Lorelei said. “There are a lot of factors at play here, and we have a lot of enemies.”
“We can start with my mom’s notebook,” Chelsea said. “Lorelei and Gwen and I already took a good look through it, and there are some very useful clues.” She paused as she saw June coming to their table, with help from other waiters and waitresses to bring over their nine pizzas and many baskets of garlic bread. “Oh, finally. Let’s take a break and eat, I’m starving.”
The five of them dug in, all words and other distractions forgotten. Chelsea, Caleb, Lorelei, and Will – all Hunters who had been through the ringer last night – ate tons of food incredibly fast, but Chelsea was surprised at Gwen. She’d only seen her eat a few times, and she’d always come across as fairly polite and reserved, but now she tore into the Grimoire Special with enthusiastic delight.
Maybe it’s because she’s gotten close to us, so she isn’t holding back anymore. I know how it is with new friends – it’s hard to be yourself.
It’s nice to see this side of her. She’s a lot more fun than I first gave her credit for.
The five of them hadn’t ordered nine pizzas and so much garlic bread because they could actually finish it all in one sitting – though Caleb and Will especially made a very strong effort of it – but because this pizza was so good. Even reheated it was excellent. So they always ordered a little bit more than they needed, and always ended up splitting at least half a pizza – sometimes an entire pizza, if their appetites were struggling – to take home.
And Chelsea was so happy they’d chosen pizza. Not just any pizza, either – Murphy’s pizza. This was the good stuff, the very best place to eat in Grimoire, as far as Chelsea was concerned. There was a buttery, salty lightness to the crust, and the blend of cheeses with their special sauce combination was just… Chelsea had no words. She didn’t know exactly what ingredients they put together for this culinary masterwork, but the cheese pizza here was perfection, not to ever be tainted by additional toppings.
And yet Gwen was enjoying her Grimoire Special, which had a sparse, scattered combination of meats and veggies, along with an extra layer of parmesan cheese that extended out to the very edges of the crust, so it wasn’t like toppings ruined Murphy’s pizza. Her golden eyes shimmered with delight, and Chelsea was glad to see it.
Somehow Will kept working on his laptop while eating, typing with one hand while he kept all of the greasy food to his other hand. Caleb kept leaning over and watching him write, and eventually asked, “Which book are you on now?”
Apparently, that was the wrong question. Will stared at Caleb with something like a glare – he wasn’t usually very emotive, so it wasn’t easy to tell, but his eyes narrowed a bit, and he stopped eating entirely. Caleb blinked back at him innocently. “What did I say?” he asked. Will sighed, tapped out a message on his phone, and held it up.
You haven’t been buying – or reading – them at all, have you?
Caleb’s eyes widened a little in an obvious expression of guilt, and he sat back, holding up his hands innocently. “Well, you know, I mean, I get easily distracted and stuff, and I’ve been away for a while, and…”
What’s the last one you read?
Caleb looked away, and Will reached over, shoving his phone in Caleb’s face. Caleb sighed, relenting. “I… well… Volume II.”
Do you intend to catch up?
“Yeah, of course!” Caleb said, shaking his hands frantically. “Definitely! I just need to get back on track, that’s all. You know how I am.” He leaned forward a little. “So… um… how far behind am I?”
Will sighed and turned back to his laptop, but he held up one last message on his phone for Caleb.
Figure it out.
As they were slowly winding down on eating, Chelsea began to relay the clues her mother had imparted to her in the notebook. Unfortunately, they were coded, and it would take Chelsea – with Lorelei and Gwen’s help – some time to reveal the entirety of the notebook’s contents. But what she did know so far was a promising start.
“The Shadows have their base somewhere beneath Grimoire,” Chelsea said in a low voice.
“Beneath Grimoire?” Caleb asked. “But… where?”
“Apparently,” Lorelei said, “there were plans to build a subway system almost a hundred years ago. The plans went so far that they built the tunnels, but when it came time to connect them to the surface and put in the trains, they ran out of money, and were so far over budget that the project was scrapped. The tunnels are still there, but they don’t show up on any normal maps, and they don’t have any official entrances from above.”
Will held up his phone.
So how do we get down there?
“We’ll have to search for an entrance,” Chelsea said. “I’m guessing mom left the location to at least one entrance in her notebook, but we haven’t figured that out, yet. And she talked so much about how the Underground was dangerous, and her path was too deadly for her to explore more than once. We should try to find another path, something less conspicuous that hopefully isn’t guarded.”
“And here I thought I knew everything and everywhere in this city like the back of my hand,” Caleb said. He had a puzzled look in his eyes for a moment. “Wait… you know, there’s something odd about the public library. Those tunnels below it… I always thought they were just service tunnels, but,” he looked at Chelsea, “you mentioned something was strange about them, and now I’m wondering.”
“Maybe they’re worth exploring,” Chelsea said. “They did seem out of place alongside the rest of the library. And that door doesn’t even look like one that’s supposed to open, almost like it’s a secret or sealed door rather than a normal entrance.”
“On top of exploring, I think we should look at training as a team,” Lorelei said. “We got out okay against the Shadows last night, but we need to be stronger if we’re going to face them again. And since Bronn was nowhere to be seen, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Shadows we fought are just grunts, ordinary recruits, while their commanders and elite soldiers stayed out of the fight.”
“And we did hear that apparently their main plan is for the Lunar Festival,” Caleb said. “So it’s no surprise their best fighters would be biding their time for now.”
“Or working on something secret and worse than open combat,” Gwen said. “They make their base beneath the ground in secret passages, they hide their identities, they call themselves ‘Shadows’… it’s very unlikely that open war is their chief aim.”
“So we definitely need to be ready for them,” Caleb said. Will held up his phone.
Where should we train? We need to be at least somewhat secretive about it.
“Greyson Manor’s got the perfect training room,” Caleb said with a grin. “It’s huge, too – plenty of space for all of us to train together.”
Are the five of us enough? Should I bring in Jackson and Claire?
“Oh, heck no,” Chelsea said, pointing a finger at Will. “You keep Jackson as far away from this as possible.”
But he’s trustworthy. And strong.
“He’s also the most annoying and frustrating person I’ve ever had the displeasure of knowing,” Chelsea said with a glare. “I can’t abide him.”
“Why’d you also include Claire in that?” Lorelei asked.
She’s on our team, too, now.
“Claire is?” Chelsea asked. “I know we’re supposed to be in teams of three now, but… she’s a weird choice to go along with you two.”
She and Jackson both requested it.
“They both requested it?” Chelsea asked. “But why?”
Will blinked in confusion, then his eyes flashed with recognition and he typed out a new message.
Oh, right, it started while you were in the Dominion. Jackson and Claire are dating, now.
Chelsea’s soda was halfway to her mouth, but this revelation made her jaw drop – and her soda, too, which was only barely saved by Lorelei’s quick reflexes. “Jackson and Claire?” Will nodded. “What on Earth possessed her – I don’t –” Chelsea stopped, staring at the table. “I never thought she would sink so low.”
Caleb spoke at the same time as Will held up his phone, and their responses were identical:
“Come on, Jackson’s not so bad.”
“He’s one of the most honest guys I know,” Caleb continued. “And he’s a good friend. I mean, sure, he can be annoying, but –”
“He’s loud,” Chelsea said. “Obnoxious. He has no respect for anyone but himself. I’d take Claire in a heartbeat, but not if that means taking Jackson, too.”
“I think you’re exaggerating a little bit,” Caleb said, but he shrank under Chelsea’s glare.
They’re on my team, so I won’t be able to hide this from them very well.
“So just keep your investigations to the daylight hours,” Chelsea said.
I usually spend time with them during the day, too. They’ll get suspicious.
Chelsea folded her arms, scowling. “Let them get suspicious. I don’t care.”
“I think it’s a good idea,” Lorelei said, and Chelsea’s jaw dropped again as she stared at the person she trusted more than anyone else in the world. Lorelei met her shocked expression with a small smile and a slight shrug. “You don’t like Jackson, but Claire’s great. And they’re both good people. Maybe we can make a rule that you and Jackson aren’t allowed to talk to each other or about each other. That would help, right?”
Chelsea glared at Lorelei, but Lorelei stared back steadily. Chelsea was the first to break eye contact, and she sat back, staring at the ceiling, groaning. “How did it come to this?”
“If it ends up being terrible,” Caleb said, “I can get him to leave. But I think it’s worth a shot. He’s definitely not a Shadow.”
Chelsea had to agree there. As distasteful as she found Jackson, he would never be a villain.
Then again, part of the reason why he’d never be a villain was an aspect of his personality that drove Chelsea insane. And it wasn’t just Jackson alone – when he was at the same table with Caleb and Will, all three boys got a little less mature and a lot more annoying.
“He gets one shot,” Chelsea said, holding up a finger. “And we tell him as little as possible. Also, not today. I can’t handle him today. Let’s go train or something so I can get over my best friends betraying me.”
Caleb laughed – because of course he did – and that only irritated Chelsea more.
“Training sounds great,” Lorelei said, and Gwen and Will both nodded in agreement.
“Shall we?” Caleb asked. June returned with the check, and as Caleb and Chelsea both reached for it, Lorelei’s hand shot out between them and took the check for herself.
“Honestly, you two,” Lorelei said, shaking her head as she started to count out cash. Caleb and Chelsea both started to reach for their wallets, but Lorelei started ushering them out of the booth. “We’re going to the Greysons’ house to train. Stop wasting time trying to pay for stuff that’s already paid for.”
And then they left. Out on the main street, Caleb’s hand slipped into Chelsea’s, his fingers gently twined with hers, and her heart lightened a little. She smiled, and then elbowed him in the ribs.
“If I have to boot Jackson out, I’ll be blaming you,” she said.
Caleb laughed. “I know. But I think he’ll surprise you.”
“Ah, I’m stuffed!” Shana said happily, pushing away her empty plate.
“And we’re all set with everything else, too,” Kathryn said, smiling. “It’s been a good day so far.”
“But why are we still going to be training?” Ben asked, yelping as Kathryn kicked him under the table.
“Team-building,” Shana said with a smile. “It’s always worthwhile for us to be stronger and better at facing the dangers ahead, but training together also helps us grow closer, right? And we’ll want to be as close as possible.”
“I’m excited to get closer to my best friends!” Kathryn said, pulling Rae and Shana into a group hug. “So when do we leave?”
“You guys go ahead,” Shias said, grabbing the check off of the table. “I’ll pay and then follow.”
“My dearest brother!” Shana said dramatically, reaching across the table and taking Shias’ hands. “You’re so kind and generous.”
“Thanks,” Shias said, a small smile playing across his lips. The girls got up and left, but Ben stayed behind with Shias until he’d paid and they followed. Out on the main street, the five waited for the trolley to pass on its northward journey, and then headed off south and east towards Greyson Manor.
I was so worried, so confused, Shana thought. And it turns out I was worried for nothing. I’m so grateful for these four. And whatever comes next, we’ll be ready for it. I don’t have to face it alone.