I just need to get as far away from him as possible, I thought. I can't get attached. Not in that way.
"Hey, wait!" He grabbed my arm and it took all of my self-control not to run away screaming. This was the first time I had ever touched a Mortal and I felt a tiny zing of electricity where his bare skin touched mine. I scowled at him. He dropped my arm.
"What?" I demanded.
"Look, I didn't mean to piss you off, I just wanted to know what was up," he said.
"It's nothing, alright. Just leave it."
"Are you gonna talk to anyone about it?"
"Probably not," I replied honestly. Who was there to talk to?
"Why don't you tell me about it?" I gave him my best 'are you fucking kidding me?' look. "No, honestly, I'm a good listener, and I won't judge you, and I promise I won't tell anyone." Looking into his eyes, I wanted so badly to trust him. To tell him everything. To put myself entirely in his power. But I couldn't: it wasn't just about me.
"You wouldn't understand," I told him, turning my back to him and walking off. "You're only Mortal."
I navigated my way back through the shelves until I came to the front desk, where the librarian was busily tapping away at her computer. I flashed her a quick smile as I pushed open the heavy oak door and walked out into the corridor. Compared to the library it was crowded, plasticky and cramped. The library was actually the original building, and over the years the rest of the school had been built around it. It was a two story room, with the main area on the ground floor and a balcony creating a first floor, which contained the more modern aspects of the library such as the computers and various virtual learning rooms.
What I loved was the main floor of the library, which was full of mismatched wooden bookshelves, all placed perpendicular to each other to create a maze of books that I could happily get lost in for days. The floor was a dark hardwood, and the entire room smelt of a musky mix of old wood and old books, transporting me back hundreds of years to a simpler time, when Casters could be themselves in their own world rather than having to live in the Mortal world with the constant fear of detection. It also reminded me of Uncle M's house because it was full of old things, and had the same feeling of care but at the same time dusty abandonment that I loved.
When I found that little table and chair, it reminded me so much of the desk in our cottage that I almost Declared myself right there, choosing Light like my mother. But I knew it wasn't that simple, so I just sat at the desk and traced the engravings on it with my finger, trying to imagine that we were still in our cottage, and that I was sat at the desk writing yet another letter to yet another Caster organisation, asking them to help us. That Malachi was outside playing with Adi so that she didn't realise just how bad things were. That Mum was lying on her bed staring blankly at the ceiling, not paying attention to anything, not even noticing when her youngest daughter was crying with hunger. But at least she was there.
"Ash, there you are!" I turned around to see Dexter and Nate coming down the corridor towards me. "We've been looking for you for ages, where did you go?"
"Library," I replied, gesturing to the door behind me.
"We have tutor, but I'll see you after in English," said Nate. "Do you know where your tutor base is?"
"What tutor group are you in?"
"11C, I think."
"You're in Mr Spiro's tutor," said Dex. "We can't really walk you there, our tutor's on the other side of the school. Oh, Gabe, you're in 11C right?" I whipped around to see Gabriel emerging from the library. He nodded. "Great, you can walk Aislinn there, she doesn't know her way round yet."
"Uh, yeah sure," muttered Gabriel. Nate and Dexter waved and walked off in one direction, whilst Gabe and I turned the other way. We walked through the school in awkward silence, neither of us wanting to bring up what had happened in the library.
When we got to our tutor base Gabe held the door for me and I felt my cheeks heat up as I walked in and went quickly to sit next to Eva.
"What the hell?" I turned around to see Jen sat behind Gabe, whispering angrily at him. "What were you doing with her?"
"She didn't know the way back from the library."
"Oh yeah, sure. I'm not a complete idiot, you know. What, are you cheating on me with her? Do you think she's better than me?"
"Jen, what the hell? We're not even together anymore! You were cheating on me with Chase."
"Stop making excuses," hissed Jen. "You're mine." Her blue eyes glittered with fury, and I could have sworn I saw them flash silver for a second.
"I'm sorry babe," murmured Gabe passively, his expression vacant. "Of course she's not better than you. You're my world."
"That's better," said Jen with satisfaction. She looked up at me and I turned away quickly, looking down at my desk.
"You okay, Ash?" asked Eva.
"What? Oh yeah, sure, I'm fine." At the end of the tutor period the students all around me began to grab their stuff and leave and I followed the flow of people.
As I went through the door I felt someone grab my arm, digging blue-painted fingernails deep into my skin. I expected to feel the same twinge of electricity I had felt when Gabe touched me, but all I felt was the sharp pain of the nails trying to puncture my skin. I whipped around and saw Jen, her eyes glinting with malice and her nails beginning to draw blood. Her minions Kayla and Hannah were standing on either side of me, blocking any exit I could make.
"I don't know what you're trying to play, new girl, but trust me when I say I can play better than you. I invented the game. And I don't appreciate you trying to steal Gabe away from me. He's mine. End of. And if you don't respect that, I'll have to teach you some respect myself. Understand?"
"Look, I didn't do anything, can I just get to my lesson?"
"I said, do you understand?"
"Yeah, whatever," I muttered. Jen smiled smugly and let go of my arm. I saw four deep crescent-moon shaped cuts but said nothing, just turned and quickly walked away, not even knowing where I was going but not caring as long as I got away from Jen. Something wasn't quite right about her.
"Uh, Aislinn?" I turned and saw a girl from my tutor group standing behind me. "English is that way." She pointed back down the corridor where I had come from. I made a snap decision.
"I'm not going to English," I replied, and carried on walking. The girl jogged to keep up with me, looking worried.
"But it's your first day, and that's an unauthorised absence," she said. "You'll be in trouble before you've even been here a full day."
"At this point I honestly don't care." I pushed open a door that led outside and began walking across the hard courts towards the main gate. The girl was still following me and I was seriously considering Declaring myself right there so that I could put a Cast on her to make her leave me the hell alone, but instead I just turned to face her and yelled: "Why the hell are you still following me?"
"I'm trying to stop you getting in trouble! Sorry for trying to help." And then she turned and stormed back inside the building, leaving me speechless on the hard courts. I stood staring after her for a second, then turned back towards the school gates and walked off of the school grounds. Outside of the school gates I sat leaning against a wall and sighed.
"You alright?" I looked up and saw a guy, about my age, standing next to me and smoking. He was wearing faded jeans covered with paint and a t-shirt with a funny slogan. He had glasses and dark, curly hair, and he was cute in a geeky kind of way. I smiled slightly at him.
"I'm fine," I replied.
"I've never seen you here before, are you new?" he asked, blowing out a cloud of smoke.
"Today's my first day," I told him.
"Already sick of it, huh?" I nodded. "Fair enough. It's a shit tip. And don't worry about getting in trouble, they'll let you off because it's your first day and 'it must all be so overwhelming for her, the poor troubled soul' and all that. And if you keep doing it, after a while they'll diagnose you with something like they did with me and then they can't do anything anyway. I'm Jack, by the way. Jack Kingsmill." He held out his hand.
"Aislinn Orviatti," I replied, grinning and taking the proffered hand. He brought my hand up to his lips and kissed it, and I couldn't help thinking how adorable he was.
"So, Aislinn Orviatti, why did you leave?" he asked, gesturing in the direction of the school.
"Just..." I sighed. "People."
"They are a plague on us all," he replied, grinning. "So, you got a plan for the rest of the day?"
"Um..." I hadn't really thought about what I would do once I left, I just knew I had to leave.
"Come with me," said Jack, grabbing my hand and pulling me to my feet. He flicked the end of cigarette to the ground, slung his bag over his shoulder and smiled at me again before leading me along the road, his hand still in mine.
"Where are we going?" I asked, laughing, as he skipped along the road with me in tow. Even though I'd known him a grand total of five minutes I already felt completely comfortable with him, and I could tell he was one of those guys you just had to be friends with.
"It's a secret," he replied, winking.
"Aren't you two supposed to be in school?" demanded a voice behind us. I whirled around and saw an old woman glaring at us. Jack dropped my hand.
"Um..." Then he grabbed my hand again and we sprinted down the road and into an alleyway, only stopping to catch our breath when we had emerged on the other side and were sure that the woman hadn't seen where we'd gone.
"Why thank you," he replied, grinning. "Anyway, come on, let's get where we're going!"
"Where are we going?" I asked as he took my hand again. He tapped his nose and we skipped off down the road again.
When we finally arrived I was panting for breath and leaning against Jack for support, my heart racing and my legs screaming about the unexpected exercise. We were stood at the end of a little road well away from the town centre, practically buried in the woods, in front of an intricate wrought iron gate set into a high stone wall.
"Here we are," said Jack, gesturing to the gate with a flourish.
"It's just an old gate," I said sceptically.
"Ye of little faith," replied Jack. He pulled a big black key out of his pocket and opened the large padlock on the gate. I raised my eyebrows. He pulled at the gate, and after a second of resistance the knotted grass at its base relinquished its hold and the gate swung easily on its hinges, obviously well oiled. "Ladies first." He bowed as he held open the gate for me.
"Wow," I breathed, walking down a little stone path into the high-walled garden.
"What do you think?" asked Jack, making me jump. He was closer than I thought, and I felt a whisper of his breath on the back of my neck.
"Oh Jack, it's beautiful," I told him, hardly daring to talk in case I shattered the peaceful tranquillity of the garden.
I stared around in amazement, barely comprehending that this little garden was in the Mortal world. It looked so much like the Gardens of the Nymphs in my own world that I was half expecting one of the beautiful maidens to emerge from the little pond or behind a tree. I noticed that the trees around the outside of the garden were all rowan, which brought a tiny smile to my face. Rowan is the most powerful sacred protection a person could possibly have, and its presence made me feel instantly safe. The path wound its way through the trees and shrubs in the garden, around the stunning jewel-coloured pool, under an arch of hanging willow branches and disappeared into the undergrowth, hidden by the mass of life surrounding it. As I walked slowly along the path, marvelling at the huge array of colours and shapes in the plants, two tiny butterflies appeared and darted around in front of me. I smiled at them as the blue and purple danced together, then stopped abruptly as I realised what was happening. They weren't just flitting around each other: the purple butterfly was attacking the blue. I remembered Adina's stunning sapphire eyes this morning, and the coldness of Malachi's ice blue, and then looked again at the two butterflies, but they had disappeared. I looked down and saw the blue butterfly fluttering weakly at my feet, unable to lift itself off of the ground, whilst the purple hovered above it in a very unbutterfly-like way.
I stared, stricken, at the beautiful blue butterfly dying slowly on the ground, and a deep sense of forboding filled my heart.