Sarah Rees Brennan (sarahtales) wrote,
Sarah Rees Brennan

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Demon's Covenant Short Story, Continued

And here is the rest of the short story! Again, hints at spoilers in Demon's Lexicon and Covenant, minor and major and just-mentioned characters herein.

"Well,” Jamie said. “This was just like that film the Breakfast Club, except weirder, and also without anyone reforming, any touching heartfelt moments, or any soundtrack to speak of aside from glass breaking.”

Part One found here.

All the other doors to the outside, including the one from the school kitchens that led onto the alley full of rubbish bins, were locked as well.

Mark leaned beside Seb against the countertop and wondered how much trouble they would be in if they broke a window.

“I think that window up above the door might flip open,” Erica said, unexpectedly intrepid. “Tim, help me.”

Tim knelt on the floor and gave Erica a boost, careful of her as he lifted. She caught at the lintel and peered out the window, lifting herself up by her hold on it, standing on point in Tim’s cupped palms. Mark could not help but notice the long lovely line of her legs as she stretched up.

“Quit it,” Tim said between gritted teeth, and glared at him.

“Quit what?” Seb asked. “What? What are you guys talking about?”

“Be careful,” Jamie said uneasily, circling around Erica and Tim as if he could possibly do something to help.

“Erica, get down. If you fall, I think you might break something,” Rachel said. “Did you know if you break your nose just right, you could die?”

“Just a second,” Erica said, straining. “I think I-”

The window broke inward with a loud cracking sound, a burst of noise and light: Mark’s eyes slammed protectively shut, fast and instinctive as flinching away from a hot stove.

He opened his eyes to see only two of them had not frozen, but moved of their own volition.

As opposed to Erica, falling like the broken glass.

Nick had lunged forward and caught Erica, her long fair hair sweeping over the taut curve of his arm, the ends trailing in the shards of glass on the floor, dying sunshine spilling through the broken window and casting a spotlight on Erica’s gold hair and still face, on the muscled bow of Nick’s back and the empty black of his eyes.

For a moment they looked like a tableau from a movie poster. Erica’s eyes opened slowly: she smiled shakily, and said in a trembling voice: “You caught me.”

Nick dropped her. Into Tim’s lap, where they grabbed onto each other to stop themselves from both falling in the glass.

Seb was the other one who had moved: from against the countertop to the next wall. He’d thrown Jamie up against it, out of the way of the broken glass.

Seb and Jamie were both standing looking at each other and looking a bit uncertain.

Then Jamie pushed him away with extreme force.

“Don’t touch me,” he instructed.

“What?” Seb bit out, and went red with rage. “It wasn’t like I – I wanted to!”

“Good,” Jamie said. “Don’t. In fact, let me make myself perfectly clear. If I am ever in any sort of danger, if I am ever being chased down by robot alligators from Mars, please, don’t help me. Don’t do me any favors. I don’t want anything from you.”

He nodded, decisively, and then looked past Seb to Erica, with an expression of concern.

Tim had just managed to get up, and help Erica to her feet. He was looking at Nick with a distinctly unfriendly expression.

“So what’s with you?” he asked. “You’ve got amazing reflexes, but you’re an enormous jackass, is that it?”

Nick leaned against the countertop. “I’m hoping there will be something like that on my tombstone, yes,” he said. “Amazing Reflexes, Enormous Jackass has a certain ring to it.”

“Does anyone know,” Rachel said, her voice slow and careful, as if she was laying out game pieces on a board one by one, “what made the window break?”

Everybody looked at her.

Tim frowned. “Erica?” he asked, and when Erica went stiff with indignation beside him he said: “Not on purpose, baby, obviously.”

Baby? Mark raised his eyebrows in Tim’s direction, but Tim entirely missed this because Erica and Rachel were both glaring at him.

“The glass broke inward,” Rachel said. “How could Erica possibly have done it? Follow-up question: are you the stupidest guy in school?”

“You’re doing this,” Seb and Jamie accused each other at approximately the same time, because apparently they were both completely losing the plot, and they continued to rant about “-think you’re funny-” and “-just stop it-“ as if it wasn’t obviously impossible that either of them were responsible.

Then the two long, dark fluorescent lights above their heads broke, spraying glass everywhere.

Everyone hit the floor except for Nick. When Mark glanced cautiously upward he saw Nick shielding his eyes as if from too-intense sunlight rather than broken glass.

“I could get through that window,” Nick said, sounding entirely calm.

“What,” Rachel said. “And then saunter on home and leave us? Presuming you have anyone to go home to, what, you’re going to be like ‘Hi, honey, I’m home, had a good day at school, abandoned some kids to their deaths’!”

“Honey?” Nick asked. “I live with my mum. Not usually how I refer to her. Also, I am single.”

“And I am shocked,” said Rachel.

Nick’s brows drew together in what might have been an infinitesimal frown as he regarded the window. “I guess I couldn’t just go home and say that I abandoned some kids to their deaths,” he said, and sounded mildly regretful about this.

“Why does everyone keep talking about deaths?” Erica demanded, still kneeling on the floor with broken glass in her hair. Her voice broke as she asked the question, and Rachel put an arm around her.

“I wish Mae was here,” Rachel said into Erica’s hair.

Erica sniffed back tears. “You’d just blame her for all of this.”

“And it would make me feel a lot better.”

The mention of his sister made Jamie’s head go up: he climbed to his feet and went over to the girls. He offered his hand to Erica, who took it, and helped her stand up.

“Come on,” Jamie said. “You were about to full-on escape through a window like some kind of ninja. You’re both fine. And just think about how ticked off Mae is going to be that we all had an adventure without her. Now, I know what we need to do. Have a nice, soothing drink.”

“Oy vey, Jamie, you’re bringing alcohol to school now?” Rachel demanded. “Is that what you were doing, hiding in that bathroom? Tippling? Drowning your sorrows in Whisky River?”

Mark felt his shoulders tense, unhappy guilt like a string inside his body pulled painfully tight. Jamie did not look at any of them: he kept his eyes on the girls and kept hold of Erica’s hands.

“I do drown my sorrows,” Jamie said, pulling Erica toward the fridge and popping it open. “In milk. Who doesn’t love milk? There are little cartons of it right here. Good for keeping you strong. Strong to run away very quickly from any dangers. Come on, they’ve even got the strawberry kind.”

He picked out a strawberry milk carton and tossed it to Erica, who accepted it with a laugh. “Are you going to run with me?”

Jamie grabbed a little milk carton for himself, lifted Erica’s hand and gave it a kiss and her a grin at the same time. “Are you going to keep up with me?” he asked. “Because I’m little, but I’m speedy.”

Rachel came over to them. “Is there chocolate milk?”

Tim sidled closer to Mark. “I hate that guy,” he said, jerking his chin in Jamie’s direction. “I see why McFarlane has such issues with him.”

“Oh my God,” Mark said involuntarily, and then bit his lip and hoped nobody had heard the note of dismay in his voice.

“I mean, what’s so great about him?” Tim asked in a heated undertone. “He’s really short, have you noticed that? And I don’t understand what he’s talking about half the time. Why is he such a devil with the ladies?”

“Uh,” said Mark.

“Can’t he just pick one?” Tim demanded. “Why does he have to have them all? It’s not really cool to be that much of a player. Like, stringing girls along, that’s wrong. Girls shouldn’t be drawn in to his, like, web. Girls should stick with someone who really likes just them even if he’s not so good with words, not that guy. He thinks he’s so smooth. Flirting all the time.”

“I agree,” Seb said, suddenly beside them but glaring over at Jamie. “He really does. All the time.”

Mark felt his eyes cross. Given the fact that his best friends were jealous of Jamie Crawford’s success with women and lightbulbs were spontaneously breaking over their heads, he figured he was in opposites land and could maybe look to Nick Ryves for help and support.

Nick was the only person doing exactly what Mark had expected, which was ignoring them all. He was dividing his attention between the broken window and his watch.

“This is getting more and more stupid,” he observed in his winter-chill voice. “Come on, let’s go investigate.”

He strode off without a glance back at the others, so everyone followed him. That was sort of how school always was, Mark thought, and he was the first to follow, directly behind Nick.

Nick gave him a glance that might have been annoyed and might have been entirely neutral.

“Leave me alone,” Jamie snapped behind them, and Nick’s shoulders relaxed slightly.

“What’s his name?” he asked. “The cranky little blond guy.”

“Uh. Crawford,” Mark said, clearing his throat and trying to sound as normal and manly as possible. He tried for a joke. “And I’m Mark Skinner, in case you forgot again.”

“I did forget,” Nick said, shrugging. “But I didn’t ask.”

Mark deliberately fell back a step, and collided with someone else. He jumped, more shaken by all the shattered glass in the dim school than he wanted to let on, then saw it was Jamie and jumped back farther.

“Sorry,” Jamie said, mouth twisting. “Someone tripped me.”

“Not on purpose,” Seb said.

“No?” Jamie asked. “You just like walking close?” He rolled his eyes.

“Fine, it was on purpose!”

“If he’s hassling you,” Nick said, sounding bored. “Why not hit him?”

Everyone stared at Nick.

Jamie blinked. “That’s what this situation needs, you think? Take this lovely violence and escalate it?”

“My favorite thing to do with violence,” Nick said, but he sounded even more bored than before. He gave up on his attempt to be helpful, as if that was what it had been, and checked his watch again. “The bookshop closes at six on Thursdays, doesn’t it?”

“Oh great, we missed the bookshop,” Rachel said. “Oh, I bet Mae went without us. Oh, I missed the bookshop guy.”

Mark jumped again, as if any of them could read his mind. But nobody seemed to be looking at him, or indeed listening to Rachel. Except for Nick, who did seem to be listening, but Mark doubted he had any particular interest in foxy bookshop guys.

“Why do you care about when the bookshop closes?” Jamie asked. “You’re not much good at rea – ah – oh.”

Nick turned around and looked at Jamie. It was not a neutral look.

“Sorry. I’m really sorry. Skinner,” Jamie said, backing up. “Can I have a word?”

Mark evaded Seb’s glare, which said that Jamie absolutely could not have a word, and nodded cautiously. He followed when Jamie walked back into the room where they’d had detention.

“Look, I know we don’t get on,” Jamie said as soon as they were in the room, and it was weird to have Jamie say something like that to him, so matter-of-fact. “But Rachel and Erica are my big sister’s friends and they’ll want to protect me, I think Tim was dropped on his head as a child, Seb is a psycho and Nick Ryves is like the unholy offspring of a psycho and a great white shark. So that leaves me with you. Could you, I don’t know, talk to Seb and maybe say something like you know what he’s doing?”

“What, you still think it’s Seb?” Mark demanded. “How could Seb do something like this? He’s been with us the whole time. And why would Seb do something like this? He’s not crazy.”

“Really,” said Jamie. “Pardon me. I didn’t realize there was some sort of arbitrary line drawn between torturing me and torturing a bunch of people. I’m sure Seb’s a stand-up guy.”

“He doesn’t – we don’t - torture you,” Mark snapped.

They’d never hit him or anything. Mark told himself that, all the time.

Jamie stood in the middle of the classroom, shoulders hunched up in that spiky, defensive way he had. He put a hand up to his forehead, and hid his eyes.

“No,” he said, and he sounded really tired. “Everything’s great. You guys are cool. I really like my life.”

It had been in a classroom a lot like this that Mark had let Jamie borrow stuff from his pencilcase, the first day of school. He’d just thought Jamie was cool then, that Jamie was his friend. They’d all been happy, and nobody had hurt anybody, yet.

“If you don’t, it’s not my fault,” Mark said. “It’s not. I just wanted to be normal. And it’s not like you don’t have secrets, too.”

Jamie’s hand dropped. “What?”

“You think I don’t know?” Mark demanded. “I don’t know what it is. But the way you – you look guilty at weird times. You’re not scared of the stuff you should be scared of. You’d never talk about weird stuff like – like the pool, back when we were kids-”

“Nothing to talk about,” Jamie bit out, curt as Nick Ryves for once.

“I know what someone’s like when they’re hiding something,” Mark said. “And you are. So don’t pretend like you’re perfect, and you’re honest. You always held people at arm’s length. That’s why you don’t have any friends.”

Jamie just looked at him for a moment, big brown eyes wide and hurt and scared, too.

“None of your so-called friends are honest with each other either,” he said at last. “So that’s not why. And I don’t have to answer to you or tell you any secrets. We’re not friends. Like you said, I don’t have any.”

He walked toward the door, pushing past Mark, and into a commotion. Seb and Rachel were both yelling.

“I was just talking to Erica for a moment-”

“I was having a conversation with Tim-”

“You were glaring at the door is what you were-”

“We don’t know where he went!”

Mark did not need to ask who he was. The absence of Nick, a black void of a person, silent and cold and yet utterly inescapable, was immediately obvious.

“Maybe we should split up!” said Tim, and dashed off. Erica went after him while Rachel grabbed at her jacket and yelled: “No, nobody should ever split up, don’t you watch movies?”

“I think,” Jamie proposed, “I’ll split up by myself.”

“No, you won’t,” Seb said, lunging after him.

Which left Mark on his own. The corridors to the left and the right were covered, so the only way to go was to retrace his steps, back to the kitchen. Mark figured it might be a good idea to check, even though he pretty much suspected that Nick had decided to break out and leave them all. It would be just like him.

Mark walked quietly back, and he pushed the kitchen door gently open in time to see Nick’s feet disappearing through the broken window above the door.

So. He was leaving, just as Mark had thought. Mark was kind of impressed that he could get through that window: he guessed Nick was a tall guy, and strong.

Mark wasn’t really sure why he climbed onto the kitchen counter, and looked through it. There was a cool wind blowing, and jagged shards of glass left in the frame.

It was getting dark outside. There were bins standing like sentries in the little yard, and under the window Mark saw a man he’d never seen before, and Nick Ryves.

It was the sight of Nick that almost made Mark fall off the counter. He had to grip onto the frame, barely even noticing the sharp small pain as splinters of glass slid into his palms.

Nick was holding a sword. A real goddamn sword, sharp-looking, with cool light on the metal, sparking bright off the edge.

“There was no need to get civilians involved,” Nick said.

God, he was crazy.

The other man laughed. “Don’t tell me you care about something like that. Not you.”

“Not me,” Nick agreed easily, the sword slicing easy through the air as he moved forward, and the man moved back. “But the thing about civilians is that they tend to die. That’s messy.”

“This doesn’t have to be messy,” the man said – and God, they were both crazy, this was an adult and Nick was holding a sword and they were crazy – and the stranger’s hands, they lit up, as if he could flick on two lighters with his fingers wrapped around the flames and not be burned.

This time he was the one who moved forward, the same way Nick had, with intent.

“I don’t want to fight,” the guy said. “I only want to talk.”

Mark didn’t see Nick move. He just heard the terrible sound of steel sliding through meat and bone, and saw the sword come out through the other side of the man’s body black with blood.

“Sorry,” Nick murmured, standing close. “I’m not much of a conversationalist.”

The man’s face turned up to the window as his body sagged. His blind eyes were staring right up at Mark’s.

Mark had just seen a man killed.

He couldn’t seem to look away from his face. It was all he could see, the man’s pale face and blackness, dizzy swooping blackness. And Mark had suddenly let go of the frame, fallen on his hands and knees amid the broken glass on the kitchen floor. He wanted to be sick. He wanted to pass out, be unconscious so he wouldn’t have to think.

Except there was a thud on the floor, Nick’s boots landing an inch away from Mark’s hand, and Mark looked up at him and cringed back.

Nick had put his sword away, but there was a crimson splash on his white T-shirt. His face above the bloodstained shirt was completely impassive, completely as usual.

“Come with me,” Nick snapped the command, and Mark got shakily to his feet and did.

He had no idea where Nick was going, and it was a bit of an anticlimax to find it was the guys’ changing room. Nick tried some of the locker doors, rattling them, until he got one of them open and fished out a black aertex shirt from a gym bag.

Mark thought about asking if that was Nick’s locker, and found himself hiccupping out a laugh as he realized that quibbling over Nick stealing a shirt probably wasn’t important compared to the murder.

“If you get hysterical, I will slap you,” Nick said casually, and pulled off his shirt.

His sword was in a black leather sheath, secured around his waist and back with two narrow black straps. The black sheath ran along white skin to the small of his back, the ends of his black hair brushing the hilt.

Mark only realized he was sort of looking at the swell of Nick’s shoulders, the same way he’d looked at Erica’s legs, because they were there, when Nick looked around and his eyes narrowed.

Now guilty panic flooded Mark, along with the horror and fear.

“Look,” Nick said. “I don’t care if this whole school is flaming. And by that I mean, I don’t care if this whole school is actually on fire.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Mark muttered.

Nick pulled on his new shirt and walked over to Mark, the same easy swing to his step as when he’d had a sword in hand. He had to tug the fabric down as he went, over another strap securing another weapon: a small sheathed dagger resting at the hollow of his hip.

“I mean this,” Nick said, softly. “You’re a coward. You spend your whole life tripping over your small stupid fears. You don’t want to know what was happening in the yard, do you? You won’t ask a single question, or tell a single person. Because you’re scared of what happened. And if you’re not scared of that…”

Nick reached out and took hold of Mark’s shirt. He’d never touched Mark before: he didn’t touch many people, Mark had noticed, except girls he was just about to hook up with or boys he was just about to hurt.

“Be scared of me,” Nick murmured.

Mark was scared of Nick, who had murdered someone without changing expression. He was scared of that dead man whose hands had lit up, of windows and lights breaking and doors locking on their own.

He didn’t want to know any of it.

“I won’t tell,” he whispered. “I swear.”

“Good,” said Nick. “I’d rather not kill you. There’s a body I have to dispose of, and I’m already late for dinner.”

It almost made Mark laugh again, sick and dizzy, thinking of someone waiting at home for the murderer. Keeping dinner hot while he disposed of a body.

Oh, he wanted nothing to do with this. Nothing.

“I wish I’d never met you,” he said, his voice crackling hoarse in his throat.

“As far as I’m concerned, I barely have,” Nick said, letting him go and making for the door, already bored. “I don’t even remember your name.”

This was just routine for him, Mark realized, stumbling out of the locker room. This didn’t faze him even slightly: it really was an ordinary day in Nick’s life.

The question of how many people Nick had killed rose to the surface of Mark’s mind and was thankfully drowned out by the sound of his friends’ voices calling his name.

Mark pushed past Nick and went running to them. They were all together, Tim and Seb and Jamie and Rachel and Erica.

“Mark, Nick, thank goodness,” Erica called out. “The doors are open.”

Seb caught Mark’s arm as he came hurtling toward them. “Buddy, you do not look good.”

“I’m fine,” Mark said through stiff lips.

Jamie put a hand to Mark’s forehead, pushing his hair back gently. “I don’t think-”

“Get your hands off him,” Seb snarled, and elbowed Jamie viciously aside.

“Right,” Jamie said, putting both his hands in his pockets. His mouth twisted. “I forgot it was catching.”

“I’ve had it up to here with the way you guys talk to Jamie,” Rachel said suddenly. “You’re all loathsome to him. I think you’re all just generally loathsome. I’m so glad the doors are open, because I couldn’t stand to spend another minute with any of you. I don’t know how you live with yourselves.”

She surveyed them all with utter contempt. Even Mark, pleased as he was to have the attention taken off him, felt himself withering a little under her stare.

Nick, he noticed, was giving her a half-smile. Nick really seemed to take to angry people.

“And don’t even give me that look, Nick Ryves,” Rachel added. “I don’t go out with guys who are loathsome. Or guys who are younger than me. Or guys who look like you do: my mother is a sex therapist, I shudder to think of the diseases you might be crawling with.” She spun around in a small, judgemental circle. “Any girl who went out with any one of you would have to be insane. I don’t mean you, Jamie, obviously.”

“Any girl who went out with me would be in for a terrible disappointment,” Jamie said, and gave her an almost-real smile.

“I agree with Rachel,” Erica said, her voice high and trembling. “You are all horrible to Jamie – you’re all horrible – and I can’t go out with you.”

For a moment Mark thought it was a weird thing to say, until he saw she was looking directly at Tim.

“And that means no more secret making out in supply cupboards and getting caught and put in detention, either,” Erica said, wiping at her eyes. “I thought – you were always so nice to me. I thought you were a good guy. I was a little embarrassed because you’re in the year below but – but it turns out I should’ve been embarrassed because I’m so dumb.”

“Baby, you’re not-” Tim began.

“You’re not dumb, Erica,” Rachel said firmly. “He is, though. And he’s not worthy of you. Come on, let’s go find Mae. Come with us, Jamie.”

“Nah,” Jamie replied, painfully casual, as if he had anything else to do. “You girls go have fun.”

Rachel looked at him for an instant, her hard gaze softening. “Okay,” she said at last, tenderly. Then she looked around at the rest of them. “Burn in hell, guys, mmkay?” she said, and linked arms with Erica, and walked away.

The rest of them went for the open doors as well, at a slightly slower pace so they wouldn’t have to catch up with the scary angry girl. Rachel and Erica were out of sight by the time they hit the playground.

“Well,” Jamie said. “This was just like that film the Breakfast Club, except weirder, and also without anyone reforming, any touching heartfelt moments, or any soundtrack to speak of aside from glass breaking.”

“You talk too much,” Nick said.

Jamie blinked at him. “Did you change your shirt?”

Nick batted his lashes in Jamie’s direction. “This one brings out the color of my eyes.”

“Er,” said Jamie.

“What-” Seb began.

“Guys, don’t-” said Mark weakly.

Nick checked his watch again. “Look,” he said. “I’ve got to go. I’ll see you guys tomorrow. I hate you all.”

With that charming closing remark, he walked off. Mark wondered if he was planning to double back and get the body, and felt like he wanted to be sick.

“Well, what he said,” Jamie told them, then looked at Mark and hesitated. Then he looked at Seb. “Actually, I just hate you,” he said in a conversational tone, and walked off, in a different direction to the way Nick had gone.

Mark looked at both their retreating figures, both of them terribly alone. He was pathetically grateful for Seb’s hand under his arm, half holding him up.

“You know,” Tim said, “Erica’s right. We’re horrible.”

“Mate,” Seb said. “You’re just a bit thrown because the girl dumped you. Don’t worry about it. Nice one, by the way. Older woman.”

He held out his fist. Tim did not bump it.

“Don’t talk about Erica like that,” he snapped instead. “I really like her, okay? She’s really nice. She’s a good person. And we couldn’t even stop pushing around her pal’s brother for the five minutes it took us to get out of our stupid school? I mean, everyone says I’m dumb, but really, making everyone hate us, that strikes even me as too stupid to live. I’m going after her.”

“Jesus, Graves, don’t you have any pride?” Seb snapped.

“Here’s the thing, McFarlane,” Tim said, red-faced. “She’s nice to everyone. Like I said, she’s a good person. Better than you. So what she thinks of me matters a good bit more than what you think.” He ducked his head, seeming half-ashamed to have said this much. “I’m gonna go. I’ll catch you later.”

He kept his head lowered even as Seb called out his name, walking steadily off in the direction Rachel and Erica had gone.

“God,” Seb said. “Fine. He wants to be whipped? Fine.”

They had reached the edge of the playground now. Seb leaned against the wall around it, fists pressed against the brick.

“Hey,” Mark said. He still felt sick, and he was tired, but Seb was his friend. “You’ve been on edge all day. Is anything up – you know, at home.”

As soon as he’d said it, he wanted to bite out his clumsy tongue. Seb wouldn’t talk about his foster parents. Mark should have just invited him to spend the night, and acted like it was normal to have Seb over three nights a week. Mark was too shocky to be as careful as he should have been.

“No,” Seb said, his voice final. “What would be up? Matter of fact, I should be getting home.”

Mark wondered if he’d go home at all. Seb acted like occasionally sleeping rough was fun, an adventure where they’d get some beers and hang out in an abandoned house or a parking lot after dark. Mark always ended up cold and wanting to go home, to warmth and safety.

He wanted to go home now. He looked at the set of Seb’s shoulders and wondered what it would be like not to be able to go.

Even Nick Ryves, apparently, had someone to go home to.

He thought about being fourteen, and believing Seb had no problems.

Now they were sixteen, and it wasn’t as simple as Seb just being a jerk, either.

Mark thought about the cutting tone of Rachel’s voice, of Nick’s empty black eyes looking down at him and what Tim had said.

“There’s – you know, now Tim’s romance is out in the open and all,” he said. “There’s a girl I kind of like.”

“Um,” Seb said. “Yeah?”

“She’s kind of a nerd,” Mark said, and wished he could stop qualifying everything he said, when it really mattered and he really meant it. “But she’s kind of cute. I don’t know. Something about her gets me. And hell, actually going out with a girl would be better than just talking about them and not doing anything about it, the way we always do.”

“Right,” Seb said. His voice sounded brittle, but he was being unusually agreeable, and Mark forged on encouraged.

“We can’t all be like you, mate,” he said, and Seb went still. “Girls throw themselves at you, and you turn them down, and it’s nice of you, you know, you’re a good friend to stick with us. But this way, we can all have girls, maybe. So, I was thinking of asking her out. And Tim’s right, about – about looking good in front of girls. We shouldn’t push anyone around in front of them.”

And since Erica and Abby went to their school, that surely meant hardly pushing anyone around at all. If he could be a better person in front of Abby, maybe that would become true.

“Yeah,” Seb said. “Sure. Actually, I was thinking the same thing myself. Actually. The exact same thing.”

“Oh, yeah?” Mark tried to sound casual instead of massively relieved. “You have your eye on a girl?”

“Yes,” Seb said. “Definitely. I definitely do.”

There was a pause.

“Who is it, then?” Mark asked.

“Ah,” said Seb. “The weird one. You know.” He hesitated. “Crawford’s sister. Mae.”

Mark did not want to tell him that this was a loony idea, or that Mae would undoubtedly put Seb’s eyeballs on ice and use them as marbles if she ever found out the kind of stuff he said to Jamie.

“Crawford’s sister,” he said, instead, trying to delicately suggest the whole marbles thing without coming out and saying it.

“Yes,” said Seb, and after another pause he said: “She’s got really nice-”

“Boobs, no, I know,” Mark said. Mae terrified him, but you couldn’t help noticing.

“That is exactly what I was going to say, it’s like you’re reading my mind,” Seb told him.

“She’s kind of crazy, though,” Mark offered. “Like, not just wearing bat necklaces and stuff. Like, makes that girl Rachel look like a nice walk in the park.”

“I like a challenge,” Seb said.

Mark shrugged. It occurred to him that if Seb was going for Mae, he could hardly go after Jamie. “Okay,” he said. “Best of luck with that.”

“Good luck with your nerd girl,” Seb said, and it was as easy as that. Mark had been worrying over nothing.

“So I’ll catch you tomorrow,” he told Seb, and they exchanged nods.

As Mark went off, making his way home, he slid his phone out of his pocket and called Abby. He didn’t have her number in his phone, but it was okay because he knew it off by heart.

“Hello, Mark,” she said. She didn’t play any games: he knew she had his number in her phone. She sounded a little tired. “You didn’t make it to study with us.”

“No,” Mark said. “I was in detention. I really wish I could’ve made it.”

“Really,” said Abby.

“Abby,” Mark said. “It’s the best part of my week.”

Abby made a sound, half startled and half laughing. “I’m sure.”

“Do you want to go out with me?” Mark asked.

“Er,” Abby said, and Mark’s heart stuttered in his chest. “Yeah,” Abby said, an instant later, open and honest. She didn’t even try to hide the pleasure in her voice. “I’d like that.”

“Yeah?” Mark said. “I’m glad. I was – I was kind of scared to ask you.”

You’re a coward, Nick had said. And he’d got him right, and he hardly knew Mark.

“I didn’t think you were going to,” said Abby, her voice thoughtful and analyzing as if Mark was homework for a moment, and then it warmed again. “But I’m glad you did.”

“Do you think I’m a coward?” Mark asked. “Honestly.”

“I think you are sometimes,” Abby said. “Honestly. But I also think that – we’re all scared of stuff, and we all do things we’re not proud of. Especially in school. But nobody should be defined by the worst things they’ve done, and we can make up for most of it. Most of us wind up being okay, in the end.”

Mark thought of Nick – not killing someone, he couldn’t think of that, but his utter coldness and his calm, still face above a bloodstained shirt. And Jamie, spiky and alone, and Seb, who would be spending the night God only knew where. He wondered if they were all going to wind up being okay.

He sort of doubted it.

But maybe. Maybe they would. Maybe tomorrow school would be just the same, and maybe it would be a bit different.

“I kissed a guy once,” Mark said.

“Mark,” Abby said. “This is quite a phone call. I think I need to sit down.”

“More than once,” Mark said, confessing all. “I – but just the one guy. I don’t want to kiss him any more but I – I did at the time. I’ve never told anyone this before.”

“Can you tell me one more thing?” Abby asked, and she hesitated a little now, and Mark wondered if she maybe hated him. “I just, I do kind of need to know one thing.”


“Who do you want to kiss now?” Abby asked, and Mark realized she didn’t hate him: she was shy. She was afraid, too. “I’d just really – considering the fact you asked me out a minute ago – I’d really like to know.”

“I’m kind of scared to tell you,” Mark said. “But-“ He took a deep breath. “Can I come by your house and show you?”
Tags: demon's covenant, demon's lexicon, my big idea, promotion notion, short story, year of surrender

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