By Chris Bedell
“Such a poor little girl,” roared a voice.
I turned around, not even caring about still being in the locker room. I wasn’t going to Science Class since I had bigger issues to deal with in my life. One of them even stared me in the face right now. I counted to 30 under my breath. I had no choice but to remain calm, as Julian had answers. And if closure meant being nice, then so be it.
I shook my head at him. “You can’t keep showing up when you feel like it, Julian. If you want to help, that’s fine. But no one likes a tease.”
He devoured the rest of the carrot. Yet I would give him one thing. At least he didn’t litter this time. There were only so many times I could take seeing a half-eaten carrot on the floor before rolling my eyes. “Relax, Esme. I meant what I said the other day. I’m going to help you.”
“Fine.” I snarled, revealing flared nostrils. Patience was a luxury I couldn’t afford. “But you should answer a couple of questions. It could go a long way in allowing me to trust you.”
Julian’s arms fell to each side of his waist. “Ask me anything. I have no secrets.”
“How come Steven and Chace didn’t see the blood during the sleepover?” I asked.
“That’s simple. You’re the only person who can see it because it was your mom that died in the house. Anymore questions?” He snapped his fingers, making another carrot appear. It must have been nice to have magic. There were a lot of things I would like to make appear and disappear. But I wasn’t meant to have my way since the universe always had to be cruel.
My heart thumped inside my chest. Dealing with an “unreal” reality was that stressful. “How do I prove Horatio killed my mom? It’s not like I can go back in time and record that moment.”
“No, you can’t. But you’re missing the whole picture. His betrayal is bigger than you think.”
I grimaced. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
His smirk returned. “That’s for me to know, and for you to find out.”
Fighting the urge to scream was necessary since I would get angry later. I needed to get more information out of Julian. He was my only link to bringing down Horatio, which meant he was my way out of this tragedy. I just knew it. “Could you at least give me a hint? You’ll never turn back into a human again unless I get rid of Horatio.”
My response was true. My head was about to explode like a computer trying to do too many things at once. Julian should have been delving answers out to me. He probably enjoyed torturing me, though. My opinion wasn’t a stretch. He was trapped in a rabbit’s body, which would be enough to unnerve anyone. But I couldn’t blame him. Not now at least. I would have hated being an animal. Unless that meant not dealing with Horatio. Because that would have been great.
His mouth widened. “I’ve always been fascinated with modern day technology. Haven’t you? It gives even the most desperate person like you a place to look. You just have to follow the bread crumbs.”
My jaw twitched. “Could you at least be more specific?”
He expelled a scream. “How much more specific do I have to be? Get Chace to help you hack Horatio’s email. He’s a geek, right?”
Wow. Julian had a good idea despite appearing stubborn like Horatio.
I nodded. “Yeah. I suppose I could do that. But I do have one more question if you don’t mind. How come I’m the only one that can see you in Social Studies Class?”
“That’s easy. I’ve only revealed myself to you because I had to. I have a cloaking spell, which shields me from anyone I don’t want to see me. It’s genius really. Anyway, see you around!”
He snapped his fingers, disappearing into a funnel of fog.
Vanishing was typical Julian behavior, as he couldn’t be 100 percent honest. He could have been more specific about what to look for if he knew about the email. He also should have cared more about becoming human again. One would think that would have been a great motivator. But no! I would never understand him. Yet his evasiveness didn’t matter because Julian deserved slack. After all, he was helping me. The only problem was he had a funny way of showing genuine behavior. Although he was the only help I had besides Steven and Chace.
What was that saying Mr. Tanner told us last week? Oh, yeah. Beggars can’t be choosers. There was no doubt the expression applied to me in this situation. The only question was how to improve my situation and get the most out of Julian.
There was one more thing I was sure of. I would never be so blunt in front of Horatio again. Doing so was a mistake, and I had to flash him more phony smiles. It didn’t matter if they were fake, as I only had to make myself believe the lie. That was the biggest key to the whole situation. Then and only then would Horatio believe me! There was no use in worrying about it. Not at the moment. I had to go to the nurse’s office and feign cold symptoms. Letting my Science Class absence be unexcused was another problem I didn’t have time to deal with.
Lying to Steven about Chace hacking Horatio’s email also wouldn’t help me sleep at night. It would just be another thing I had to live with. I hissed before making my way out of the locker room and down the corridor. There were only so many things a person could deal with before reaching a breaking point. Luckily for me, I never gave up easily. A person would see that with Mom’s death. I still thought she was alive even after Horatio told me the truth. However, my reaction was understandable. I never saw Mother’s body.
Chace came over the following day after school, and I would have offered him soda and a snack if I didn’t want to risk running into Horatio. Lingering in the kitchen paved the way for variables, and that wasn’t on the menu. My plan to take down Horatio once and for all was complicated enough already.
We sat down on the floor by the bed after I shut the door behind me. It was a shame I couldn’t lock the door since the door didn’t have a lock. I thought about it some more. Let Horatio walk in! There wasn’t a thing he could do about it. I didn’t even care about needing what my teachers called an “attitude adjustment.” Horatio was my target, and I wasn’t going to stop till I vanquished him.
He pressed the power button on his laptop before a clinking sound rang through the air.
Chace turned to look at me while his laptop warmed up. “How did things go with Horatio? Did you get the smoking gun?”
Wow. I wasn’t the only one who loved a good conspiracy theory. Although most kids our age probably didn’t even know the term “smoking gun.” I scratched my head. It was a safe bet Mr. Tanner used that phrase at some point even if I couldn’t recall anything concrete. That still didn’t change how most kids probably didn’t know what it meant, though.
I looked away, choosing to stare at the cheetah pattern rug on the floor. “He must have known I was recording him. He stole my iPhone during gym class the other day.”
He clapped his hand over his mouth. “I had no idea. I’m sorry.”
I continued to look away from Chace. “It’s not a big deal. The important thing is you can help me.”
“You know I would do anything for you,” Chace said.
“Yes. I know that. And that means more than you can ever know.”
Chace coughed into his right sleeve, attempting to shake the scratchiness from his voice. “What do you need me to do?”
“I would like you to hack his email.” I took something out from my jacket pocket, sliding the piece of paper over to him. “This is his email address.”
Wow. I discussed hacking. That was another word a twelve-year-old shouldn’t have used. But I had, and I wouldn’t apologize. Horatio needed to be thwarted ASAP so I could have a normal life.
Fine. Nobody might have been normal. However, life would at least be calmer after getting rid of Horatio.
“Okay. Thanks.” He took the piece of paper from me, placing it on the ground next to him.
“There’s something else I wanted to talk to you about, Chace.”
His head was still focused on his laptop screen. “Of course.”
I twirled a strand of my hair. “I want you to know it’s okay to be different. Steven isn’t going to judge. He’s a great guy. And neither will I; I swear it.”
“What’s your point?” Chace asked.
That was a good question. There were a million times I could’ve let Chace know it was okay to be different, and I didn’t know why I picked this afternoon. Perhaps I was desperate for conversation. It wasn’t like I placed Chace on the spot since he didn’t have to admit anything. That wasn’t the point. Chace just needed to know the people that mattered would never cast him aside.
I took my coat off, tossing it aside. The sweat clinging to my face proved leaving my coat on any longer was dumb. “I don’t know, Chace. That’s a good question. It’s just I can’t help but notice some things.”
I picked the excess part of my nail, causing it to peel off. “Like some of your taste in television shows. There’s nothing wrong with liking Pretty Little Liars or Gossip Girl because I like them too. But most boys don’t watch those shows…”
He pressed a few keys on his keyboard, still refusing to look me in the eye. “Does it really matter?”
I scratched my neck, attempting to satisfy an itch. “Of course not.”
I craned my head, taking a good glance at Chace. It wasn’t just his taste in television shows I questioned. He always sported a polo shirt or button downed shirt and jeans. The jeans were one thing. But the polo shirt or button downed shirt were another. No matter how important it was to care about appearance (regardless of gender), I still didn’t know any guy who paid so much attention to style. It was almost admirable. There was the possibility of Chace caring about his style so much because it was the only thing he could control. But other people’s reactions were a different story.
My teeth jabbed my lip, making a metallic taste spread through my mouth.
“I think I found something.” Chace handed me the laptop.
“What am I looking at?” I asked after taking the laptop from him.
A smile crept onto his lips. “I found two emails from your stepfather to everyone on your mom’s side of the family. The first one must have been after the wedding. He wrote your mom didn’t want anything to do with them anymore after they were an hour late to the wedding. I’m guessing that was a lie. As for the second email, you can see the truth for yourself.”
I scanned the screen, and hadn’t even finished the email for less than ten seconds before shaking my head. “This isn’t true. I never said I didn’t want them to reach out to me during and after the funeral because I was offended about how they treated Mom at the wedding. But at least now I know why they haven’t reached out to me.”
“You realize what this means, right? He drove a wedge between you and your mom and her family.” He took a tissue from his pocket, blowing his nose before throwing it in the garbage can.
“Why not just kill her then?”
Chace wiped a bead of sweat from the side of his face. He was always one to get nervous when talking about scary things. “I don’t know. Plans take time.”
I shoved the laptop back towards him.
The door opened without any warning.
“Why haven’t you returned any of my calls or texts in the last 24 hours? No offense or anything, but I was starting to get a little worried,” said someone.
I tilted my head. “My bad, Steven. Horatio stole my iPhone and as for the other thing, I kind of felt like being alone.”
Steven huffed. “Fine. But what’s Chace doing here?”
“He’s helping me deal with Horatio. We just found something big.” I continued staring at Steven even hopes that my eye contact would wear him down so that he wouldn’t be mad.
Steven crossed his arms. “Really? Because I was hoping you would drop that.”
A crackling sound echoed before Julian appeared in midair. He picked the worst times to visit. “The party has really begun now.”
Steven and Chace turned to look at Julian, which meant one thing. Julian had chosen to reveal himself to the two of them. Oh, well. So much for life getting less complicated.