The next few days went by at a quick pace. I spent my lunches with Marc until Veronica would show up, and he would excuse himself. My afternoons were filled with mixtures of homework and video games with Marc. My life was actually looking pretty good, despite my two new friends not even trying to get along with each other. Apparently neither one was going to make a big enough deal about it to try and convince me not to see the other, and that was fine with me.
I was able to learn more about both of them. Marc was really into Pagan studies, and apparently fancied himself an “amateur expert” on the subject. His words, not mine. I was lectured time and again on the druids and how they had lived, and by the end of the week I was convinced that I would never match the expert side of his title. There was way too much to know.
His parents remained a mystery, even though I had been to his house a couple times. He explained that his mother’s work kept her quite busy, and his father preferred writing at the local coffee shop, claiming that the atmosphere there helped him be creative. I just shrugged and thought nothing of it at the time, and then proceeded with shooting him. We had a lot of our deeper conversations over killing each other in video games.
Veronica had been a very different story. She answered almost all of my questions with cryptic responses, alluding that I would get full details if I kept up the relationship. Most of the information I learned from her was about her tastes in music, movies, and books. She enjoyed talking about entertainment, but when we switched to personal lives, she often switched the subject quickly. I attributed it to the thought that she probably didn’t have a very good life at home.
She didn’t seem to notice her hypocrisy though, when she would demand answers from me about my own life. It was almost as if I couldn’t keep myself from sharing the truth with her, like she had some dominating power over me. It was probably just the hormones again, but it was still a little disconcerting. Sharing with her wasn’t all that bad though. A comforting hug that lasted several minutes was the best reaction I had ever received from a girl regarding the revelation of my mother’s death. I could tell that she was genuinely empathetic, and not just trying to manipulate me.
I really liked Veronica, and I was excited for our date. We had decided we were going to meet for dinner at a small restaurant downtown, and then she would show me around from there. It would be one of my first times driving in the city, but I knew it would be a good experience for me. I was excited to see the town, but it was going to be even better having her with me.
When school got out on Friday, Marc and I walked home together as usual, but I could tell by his demeanor that he was upset. I knew what was on his mind. We hadn’t spoken about it that much over the days leading up to it, but I knew he was still displeased with me going on the date. I wanted to reassure him that whatever happened nothing would change between us, but I knew it would be wasted breath. He knew that something was going to happen, though he wouldn’t tell me what it was. I didn’t know what could possibly occur that would change my feelings for him as a friend at all, and I still had yet to see what Veronica “showing her true colors” would mean.
We did our homework at my house in near silence. Unlike before, this silence was awkward, and I grew more uncomfortable the more time went on. An hour before I was supposed to leave, I told him that I had to get ready for my date, and that he was welcome to stay if he wanted, but I would be busy up until I left. He nodded simply and turned the page in his math book, though I noticed a shift in his posture that betrayed his disappointment.
I gathered my outfit together for the evening and then jumped in the shower. The warm water against my skin relaxed me, and I stopped thinking about the problems between my friends. I didn’t stop thinking about my friends themselves though. Sex was just as common to my mind as it was to any other teenager, and I was one who enjoyed exploring that side of things while in the steam and heat of the shower. My thoughts were conflicted, as they had been for days. As I engaged in my fantasizing, my thoughts constantly shifted between Marc and Veronica, and even when I achieved release I was not certain which one had dominated my thoughts.
Quickly washing the evidence of my fun down the drain, I let my mind dwell on the subject a little while longer. I had not come close to a decision as to who I liked more, though I knew that was what would eventually end my friendship with one of them. For some reason they both were into me, and though I was okay with that, I knew that it would be easier on them both if I would come to a conclusion about which one I wanted to be with. The problem was that I wanted both of them to be my friends, even if I did eventually decide that one would become my significant other. I only wished that the release brought on by my sexual desire had been able to also remove my frustration.
When I toweled off I headed back into my room to change and Marc was nowhere to be seen. I saw a note on my bed and immediately went to retrieve it. Fear began to rise in me that he was breaking up with me as a friend. When I finished the note the fear was replaced with relief. It had simply said that his dad had called him home, and he would see me the next day. That was something I could live with, even if it had been abrupt.
I finished getting ready a little faster than I had expected, and decided that it would be better if I left a little bit early anyway, since I wasn’t familiar with the downtown area yet. I hopped in my Taurus and drove off, hoping that the head start would keep me from being too late. Driving had never really been my thing, even though I knew it was something a lot of kids looked forward to. Walking everywhere had always had a certain pull for me, like I was more connected to the world by taking the extra time and having my feet in direct contact with the ground. Walking to the restaurant was out of the question though, as I certainly didn’t have time to walk the ten miles. I also was not about to trust a public transportation system that I had never used, at least not when I had an appointment for a specific time.
It didn’t take me long to find the restaurant, despite it all being new to me, but it was more difficult to find parking. The area had a lot of businesses crammed together, and it seemed as if most of them were quite busy. The restaurant itself didn’t seem too crowded, but all of the parking spots in their lot were taken, so I ended up parked around the corner. Like I said, I enjoy walking, so it really wasn’t that big a deal for me to park that far away.
I walked through the doors of the quaint Italian place and quickly assessed the attractive but dimly lit dining room. There was only two tables occupied in the restaurant, one with two men in suits eating quietly, and at another table that rested against the wall Veronica sat smiling. She had not dressed any differently than normal, and I immediately felt overdressed. I wasn’t normally one to wear button up shirts and dress pants, but I had worn such to the dinner. I was glad that I hadn’t gone with the tie I had been considering adding to my outfit. She didn’t seem to notice the difference between our states of dress though and waved me over to the table.
I sat down quickly and said, “I thought I was early. We did say six, right?”
“Oh yeah, but I wanted to be able to direct you in case you got lost, so I made sure I was here early enough to talk you through it,” she replied with a smile and laid her hand on mine.
I smiled back and said, “I suppose that makes sense. Should we decide on what to order then?” She nodded and we both opened our menus, and then began to scan the items listed inside.
“This is the first time we’ve met up outside of school Damien,” she said suddenly, bringing my gaze up from the menu to meet her blue eyes. There was something in her expression that I hadn’t seen before in her. It was a mixture of determination and uncertainty, and her usual playfulness was gone. I set down my menu and kept her gaze, willing her to go on. After she knew that she had my attention, she continued, “We need to talk about Marc.”
“What about him?” I asked while trying to keep the nervousness out of my voice. This was not how I wanted to have this conversation.
“Has he spoken to you about me?” She replied, the uncertainty heavy in her voice.
“You mean telling me that he doesn’t like you? Yeah he has, but what does that have to do with our friendship? And how do the two of you know each other anyway? That first day it was as if you guys already had history, but that’s pretty much impossible considering he only moved here recently.”
Almost all the determination was gone, and she looked as if she was on the brink of tears. I couldn’t understand what it was that was making her so upset. As far as I knew we were getting along great, but this was a completely different Veronica. It took her a moment before she finally gathered up the courage to explain, “You could say that we have a little bit of history yes, but that’s not important yet. I need to ask you one more question, and I promise that if you answer it you’ll get all the information you want, okay?”
I nodded slowly, and she reached into her pocket, pulling out a necklace comprised of a metal disk with a large Celtic knot featured prominently on its face strung on an intricate metal chain. I recognized the knot instantly as the first one on my dragon statue at home, and my eyes widened in surprise. She nodded and said quietly, “I suppose I don’t even have to ask the question now, but do you recognize this?”
Nodding again, I reached for the necklace only to have my arm suddenly grabbed from the side and wrenched painfully behind my back. I tried to turn to see who was grabbing me when a large hand gripped the back of my head and forced it down to the table. I could hear Veronica shouting something that sounded like her pleading for them not to hurt me, but I was in such a state of shock I couldn’t even process it through the pain.
A moment later I gained control of my senses, and I realized that I could barely hear Veronica, and her voice was getting further and further away. I could just see out of the corner of my eye that there was a large man standing next to the table, and he was drawing what looked like a very long knife from within his suit coat. My instinct kicked in suddenly and I realized they were about to kill me, and I began to struggle against the one who held me still, but it was no use. I watched the knife raise in the man’s hands and come slicing through the air toward my neck. I closed my eyes and prepared for death as best as I could.
It never came. Instead I heard a flurry of movement off to my side, and I again opened my eyes to see that my would-be killer had been tackled to the floor. I was shoved hard against the table and released, as the man that had been holding me, an even larger male with a dark suit and even darker complexion, pulled his own knife from his belt and stepped in to join the wrestling match.
Now free, I could get a good look at what was happening, and what I saw surprised me. Marc was just finishing with pounding his fist into the face of the man he had tackled, the other man approaching quickly from behind with his knife poised to strike at my best friend. I cried out and Marc spun around, in the same moment the knifeman lunged forward. I thought Marc had been stabbed, but Marc had managed to slide to the side at the last moment, and had the man’s hand in some sort of lock, which caused the knife to drop onto his companion who lay unmoving on the floor. Marc managed to turn the hand lock into a full pin as he used his opponent’s momentum against him and pulled him forward then down, so that he was lying atop the other one. Marc proceeded to give three hard palm strikes to the back of the man’s head, and he stopped moving as well.
I stared at my friend open-mouthed, and he smiled nervously, then grabbed my hand and pulled me to my feet. “I’ll explain later, but now we have to move. These are not the only ones who are after you. Let’s get to your car.”
I nodded dumbly and followed him out to the sidewalk. We were halfway down the road toward the corner when I realized that he was leading the way to my car and not me. I made note to ask him how he knew where I was parked when we finally stopped running. We were almost to the corner when another man in a suit came around the corner toward us. Marc doubled back and pulled me into the narrow alleyway that ran between two nearby buildings and told me to keep running. I did so until I realized that he was no longer following me and I turned back to see him squaring off against the new enemy. In short order he had him down and at his mercy, and was rendering him unconscious just as he had done to the man in the restaurant. I was about to head toward him when I felt a blade get pressed up against my throat.
A voice began whispering in my ear in a language I could not understand, though the words rang with power and a feeling of complete acceptance to my fate began to overcome me. I could see a glow begin to emerge from my peripheral vision, and though my ability to care about it had been stripped from me, I quickly discerned that the glow was coming from my captor’s arm.
That was when all my notions of what was normal in the world completely erupted. I felt something deep within me start to stir, as if it were some memory I had placed in a dark a secluded section of my mind, to only touch under certain circumstances. It was apparent that I had met those circumstances now, and as I tapped into this unknown piece of myself, I felt a power like nothing I had ever experienced overwhelm me.
The man who had held the knife to my throat was suddenly thrown backward and slammed into the wall of the building at the back of the alley. I didn’t know how I had done it, but I knew that the power within me was responsible. Surprise took over the man’s face, and then fear replaced surprise. I felt the power surge within me, and I was about to use it again to blast the man who had sought to harm me when just as suddenly as it had appeared, it was gone. I slumped to the ground with a fatigue I had never felt before. I looked up at the man who was now grinning wickedly, and approaching me with his knife, the glow once again returning to his form.
His grin faded when he had closed to within ten feet of me, and I soon learned why, as a large form rushed past my kneeling self. The form was monstrous yet somehow familiar, as if something out of a dream. It was black and scaled. It sported large leathery wings on its back, and a tail whipping back and forth between its legs. From the back of its scalp protruded two long horns that came back and curved very slightly downward. I could only see it from behind as it tore into the glowing knifeman, but the tatters of cloth that remained around its waist on its otherwise naked form gave me a hint to its identity. I had seen those same black jeans before.
“Marc!” I shouted, now knowing the identity of my fearsome but familiar savior. Despite the demonic form before me, I was not afraid of him. I couldn’t explain it, I just knew that he was on my side and no harm would come to me. I trusted the monster before me completely. He turned around at the sound of my voice and I got a good look at his face. Where his nose had once been was now flat, with two narrow slits for nostrils. His mouth had widened and sported wickedly sharp teeth. The eyes drew me in and I knew that everything was going to be alright. Where they had once been brown with flecks of gold, now an amber flame burned within them, but more importantly, that same sparkle greeted me and gave me the strength I needed.
He released the bloody mess that had been my attacker and I was given a new sight to ponder as his form began to shift back to that of Marc, although he was missing a great deal more clothing than I was used to seeing on him. In only the small bit of black denim that he now wore around his waist, I was able to finally see the perfectly toned muscle and figure that he had, and despite the danger we were still in, I was completely turned on.
“Come on, let’s get to the car,” he said quickly and brought me out of my musings. I nodded and got to my feet, hurrying as best I could in my exhaustion. We kept to the alleyways and made our way to the side street where I had parked. When we got to my car I hurried around to the driver’s side to get in as Marc climbed into the back, motioning for me to hurry and get the car started. Two more men in suits turned the corner as my car roared to life, and I screeched down the road like a bat out of hell.
“Alright, tell me what that was all about,” I ordered as I turned to look at Marc. I almost crashed into a pole as I got my next surprise of the evening. Marc was nowhere to be seen.
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