Windswept, Book 3 in The Airborne Saga
Two years ago, Avery never could have pictured willingly living with the supernatural civilization that had attempted to kill her. Not to mention joining that society when its monarch is in absolute upheaval. Naturally finding herself in the middle of it all, Avery is still fighting to stay in one piece. That is with or without the Willow magic.
ISBN 13: 9781481870825
Where to find Windswept:
The first three chapters are as follows:
ISBN 13: 9781481870825
Where to find Windswept:
The first three chapters are as follows:
Her time running short and the likelihood of being caught keeping her nerves on edge, Avery hurried. She held both arms out in front of her and spread her fingers wide. Cross-legged on the carpet floor, she summoned. The magic didn’t come easily or quickly. Hotness burned through her veins, prickling her skin from the inside out, but did little to manifest tangibly in her hands.
She exhaled a hissing breath and glanced towards the door. It remained shut and the quiet room remained undisturbed. She clenched her fists and jaw. Avery focused now on the blood-red tattoo, which twisted up her arm like wiry branches of a decrepit tree. The base of the design rooted at her palm, where the Willow magic had originally seeped into her body, determined to remain there to grow and live. But now it refused to manifest outside of her being.
“Work for me. Do not abandon me now,” Avery whispered.
She felt an unnatural pulse react in her chest and mentally grabbed at it. The magic snapped from a simmer to an inferno and ripped through her blood. The magic tore from her fingertips like an electrical current. The jolt of light hissed, crackled, and flickered—the roar of warmth now external and brutally strong.
Then the pain followed.
Agony trailing the path of the magic, she sprung backwards. Her hands separated and the bolts of mini lightning dissipated with a pop. Her elbows smacked the floor and she found herself staring at a spinning ceiling. She gasped to fill the hollow expanse of her lungs with air. The door clicked. Avery jumped up and ran for the bed. She dove into the sheets and rolled when her torso hit the springs. The door opened and Avery didn’t need to see the person to know who had entered.
“Avery!” he hollered. Struggling to find the strength, Avery propped herself up and offered a sideways smile.
“Hi, Mason,” she chirped, but her attempt to look cute was futile. The man standing at the edge of the bed didn’t return her smile. Twitching wings surrounding his lean figure, he wasn’t exactly a man either.
Mason was the harpie who plunged her into the world of the supernatural. Six foot seven, he barely fit in the room that was structured just for his race. He’d obviously flown partway here because his brown mop of hair never managed to stay in any semblance of order. It only grew worse when he didn’t trim it. Hanging over his ears and framing his strong jaw line, he looked more like an indie rocker than ever.
“You would be crazy enough to pull a stunt like that!” Mason hissed, on par with his notorious attitude.
She blinked innocently.
“I don’t know what…”
“Give it up. I could feel that aura of the Willow magic a mile away! What are you doing? Why are you trying to summon it?” Despite his tone, she knew Mason was actually genuinely worried.
She’d known him for almost a year now and the Willow magic was the reason they’d met. The Willow magic was a harpie invention, but one that didn’t quite live up to its creator’s plan. It had escaped from an amulet and taken Avery as its new vessel. She was once able to use the magic. As of two weeks ago, that had changed. She voiced her frustration.
“Mason, it’s not supposed to be doing this. It acted fine until recently. Now I can barely feel the bloody thing at all. Not to mention it hurts when I’m trying to use it.”
Avery had been desperate to use it today, to prove it still worked. Mason perched on the edge of the bed.
“It’s not like that. You used it so much with Mikhail…it’s just acting up. Give it time. I don’t even try to use mine,” Mason said.
She cringed at the name Mikhail. Recently, she and Mason had fought to the death with Mikhail—one of the most dangerous harpie criminals in the world. Only out of luck and mild ingenuity did they survive it all. Mason was another vessel for Willow magic, but unlike her, he exhibited no interest in using it now. He’d also snapped back to health disturbingly quickly, and only traces of purple facial bruises remained from the confrontation with Mikhail.
Avery changed the subject.
“How go things on the outside?” she asked, certain it never left his mind.
On top of being a supernatural harpie, Mason had something even stranger going for him. When they’d first met, he was the banished son of a harpie prince. His father, Jericho, had died, spurring their more gothic star-crossed encounter, and Mason was finally in line to take his late father’s throne. Avery honestly didn’t know much about monarchies or kingdoms, having lived in twenty first century Nowhere, Alaska. She did know, however, that being prince of anything was a big deal.
“Things haven’t really happened yet. We’re still in this grace period. Once the council feels it wise to announce me as the crowned heir, chaos is going to start. The vultures—I mean the press— are going to descend on the island. Then we’ll never get a break.”
“We’ll never get a break? You mean you’ll never get a break. I’m no one special.”
Mason laughed dryly.
“You are special to them, and I’m worried about that part. About you.”
“About how they’re going to perceive you dating me, a human girl?” That’d make the headlines. Mason and Avery were a very unofficial official couple now. She had stayed in his room for the past week—big news probably. The part the press wouldn’t know was that Mason was far too worried about her health to even touch her. As long as he kept up this delicate charade, Avery had to suffice for the more platonic relationship they’d had for the months prior. Like bunk buddies. It was…frustrating, but Avery still managed to keep the thoughts to herself. And maybe she was still in a little bit of pain. A few days in, when the magic evened itself out, she reasoned that ache would disappear.
“Dating a human girl is one thing. Dating you is something else. I know how you will take the harassment,” Mason referred to the exact reason he didn’t want her to join him on the island originally. He was worried that the pressure would change her character, like it had done to people before her, and for some reason, Mason liked her current sappy human qualities. “I need to keep them away from you. I need them to love you, not to demonize or attack you. I need to introduce you carefully.”
“Ouch. I told you I’d be okay.” She feigned hurt but fantasied about how exactly Mason intended to deal with that problem. Apparently, even he didn’t have a complete plan.
“I think you should keep laying low for a few weeks or at least until I can figure things out,” he continued.
Avery reacted suddenly to his words, wheels in her head spinning madly. She needed this opportunity. Dropping the pillow she held, she scooted closer until she could feel the distinct heat radiating off of his body.
“So, Leela called me again…” Avery had barely gotten out the first sentence before Mason turned the full weight of his green eyes on her.
“Let me guess, same as always with the human?” he asked in a snarky tone.
Avery stopped herself from reminding him that she was also very much a human. Instead, working to make it as painless as possible, she just smiled.
“If you mean she wants me to go back to Mayweather, then yes, it’s the same. But Mason, keep in mind that I have to graduate. I still have obligations in the human world. Plus, it’ll give you time to figure things out. It’s perfect.”
“I don’t care about the human world,” he mentioned but corrected his tone quickly. “You going home to graduate isn’t the problem. I think you should. But you know that’s not why Leela is so eager to get a hold of you. Avery, even I know that she doesn’t want you to come live with me or associate with harpies anymore period. That’s why you haven’t told her yet.”
“Hey, that’s not the only reason.” Actually, Avery just wouldn’t admit that was mostly the reason. Her best friend was Leela, a petite brunette who could still manage a stubborn streak to rival any harpie. The girl had good reason for her skepticism, unfortunately having only been exposed to the worst of harpies in the short time she knew them. The girl had mentioned before, and continued to mention, her desire for Avery to escape the supernatural world too.
Avery had a much different plan. During their last battle with Mikhail, Avery had agreed to move in with Mason. The jump in the relationship still made her heart pound but Avery had no doubts. She wouldn’t let Mason vanish from her life. Now explaining that to Leela would be another thing entirely.
“A month with her and I imagine you’ll back out of our deal,” Mason continued with his little overdramatic charade.
Avery sucked in a breath, the sudden hint of a migraine starting. She was beginning to feel like a rag doll in the middle of her best friend and her boyfriend.
“Mason, I appreciate your opinion, but I’m not asking permission to be friends with Leela or go home,” she reminded him firmly.
“And who would protect you while you were there?”
“Just me, Mason. Mikhail’s gone now. There’s no harpie in the world stupid enough to attack me after we just took him out. Besides, your last shot at giving me a bodyguard went way off course. The best thing is just having no one even know where I am.”
She watched him consider the idea. When his shoulders dropped, Avery went in for the kill. She wrapped her arms around his torso and turned her cheek to rest on his chest. “I just need to graduate, Mason. Then I’ll come back, just like I promised.” Her words were muffled but she knew he understood. He refused to touch her back, unable to admit defeat with any sign of affection.
“I know,” he answered, just as softly. He actually gave up the fight. “I’ll send a nurse to check you over. If you’re okay, then go. Just be careful.”
She pulled away and gave him the brightest smile she could muster. When he finally smiled back, she grabbed her phone. Mason agreed and she had people to alert. As if he’d read her mind, he backed up and she dialed the digits.
“Leela!” Avery hadn’t spoken to her friend all that long ago, but felt the need to hit her name in a high pitch. A fresh wave of energy flooded her veins and she pressed the Nokia close to her ear.
“Are you okay?” her friend asked immediately.
“Psh, I’m invincible. You all know that,” Avery said, directing a pointed look toward Mason at the same time. He grunted. Avery maneuvered away from him, toward the window, until she stood in the warm sun-rays. She was happy. She didn’t need a harpie scowl right now.
“So I’ve got good news,” Avery continued, “I’m heading back up there tomorrow. Not missing the last chance I have to be a senior.”
“Are you serious? Don’t screw with me, Avery,” Leela answered.
“I’m not kidding. You know I had to come back.” A smile crept up on her lips. The girl wasn’t as excited as she thought, but she enjoyed delivering good news anyway.
“Is Mason coming with you?” Leela asked next.
Avery shook her head, though the act was invisible.
“Nope, it’ll be just us.”
There was a sustained lag on the line and Avery double checked the screen. The call hadn’t dropped. Pressing the phone to her ear again, she repeated herself.
“Mason can’t leave the harpie island. Too much stuff going on. I’ll be okay on my own.”
Leela finally agreed, but with skepticism dripping from her voice.
“I hope to see you soon then. Have a safe trip, please,” Leela said.
Avery bid her a quick goodbye when a persistent knock sounded at the door. Mason went to open it just as Avery put the phone away. Mason returned from the door with company.
“Avery,” Mason spoke as he approached. Beside him stood another harpie. Wide shoulders like a linebacker, the other harpie’s age was only distinguished by his graying wings and sun damaged skin. His brown eyes immediately spied her in a concentrated stare that lasted the entire walk to Avery’s side.
Mason held out a guiding hand.
“Avery, this is Head Councilman Stern. He’s now the liaison in lieu of Samuel.”
She could only pretend to recognize the positions of government. Making a mental note to work on it later, she plastered a smile and held out her hand.
“It’s nice to meet you.”
“Very nice indeed,” he parroted, but never accepted her hand, looking instead at her Willow tattooed arm.
After a second, she hugged herself instead. Mason picked up the conversation like a professional diplomat.
“He’s going to be my right hand through the monarch’s transition.”
“And you his left,” Stern spoke again, his voice rumbling out of his chest. “You may not have a role in government but if you affect Mason, you affect all of us as well. I would not ignore you, nor should you ever hesitate to seek me out if necessary.”
The invitation didn’t manage to come off as very inviting. His stare started to make her skin crawl.
“Thank you,” she still said.
Luckily he felt no need to stick around after that.
Alone with Mason, she went for his arms again and he happily embraced her. She’d miss him—ticklish feathers, musky scent and all.
“Go back, graduate, and then come home to me,” he whispered.
Avery’s grin stole her face, and she tilted her chin. Mason went in for the kiss.
“Silence!” the harpie hissed as he slammed his hand over her mouth and pinned her back against the tree. Shoulders hitting the bark, Avery froze. Her eyes scrambled to the harpie’s but his unfamiliar blues stared off in the distance.
Darkness still lingered in the sky and, combined with the massive trees in the area, visibility was poor. Struggling to breathe, Avery wrenched her face free from the harpie’s grasp.
“What are you doing?” she demanded, caught between fright and anger at the harpie’s rough treatment. She didn’t know the man in front of her—only that he was a “delivery” harpie ordered to take her home. The trip had been awkward and irritating but they’d arrived in Alaska close to dawn.
The harpie disregarded her statement, eyes still on the woods, until he felt done with his search.
“I think there are others in the area…” he said after a long minute.
“Others?” she cued before her face blanked. “You mean others, as in harpies? No way. Where?”
“I haven’t seen them though, it’s a suspicion,” he added before she could panic.
She stared at him, shocked for a moment, before she let out a long breath. She passed up a plane flight for this. At the time, Mason assured her this harpie was one of the best. He’d get her there in no time at all, and she wouldn’t be spending large amounts of money on a plane ticket. Whether or not this harpie was careful, he was not quick. He’d circled the skies a few times already with no apparent direction before opting to set them down in the woods. She didn’t recognize the area and had no way of guessing their location.
“A suspicion?” she inquired.
He puffed up his chest.
“I am supposed to deliver you safely. And to do my job properly, I must take precautions,” he said.
She pulled her phone from her pocket and checked the time. A few missed calls lit up her screen and she scrolled through them. All of them were from her mother. Avery’s stomach did a backflip. Her mother almost never called. The woman was very busy with her job—something Avery had learned well since childhood—and calls were special occasions.
“Look around, get it out of your system, and then take me home already,” Avery told the harpie. Swiftly, he was up in the sky again. She waited until the dust cleared, dialed her voicemail, and listened to the message.
“Avery, it’s your mother,” she started with the obvious. “You never told me your graduation dates. I need to know in advance to take the time off. I know it’s coming up. It can’t be that hard to look at a calendar and tell your mother. And remember to let Chase know, get on his case to buy the ticket. I can’t babysit him too. Get going!”
The harpie returned before she finished the message and based off his face, she guessed he had found nothing.
“Are we good?” she asked, trying to regain some patience. He was trying to do his job, and she had to appreciate him for that. He nodded but the concern never left his person.
“I might have been thrown off. I just thought…”
“Don’t worry about it. Better safe than sorry,” she agreed.
Flying with a harpie was always uncomfortable. When the harpie wasn’t carrying her like a sack of meat, the harpie held her to his chest. It was the most professional version of cuddling she knew, and she reluctantly readied herself for it the last time around.
He watched her for just an extra second before opening his arms.
“We’ll return you home now,” he said.
The last half of the flight went by mercifully quickly. The delivery harpie never panicked again, but his head spun on a pivot. She had him land thirty feet from the campus, in a clearing in the woods. It made for a long trek back to the actual, paved campus, but the harpie needed to avoid human detection. They walked from there on, a quick stride, until she saw the gates.
“This is as far as you can take me,” she said.
She expected a brisk goodbye, but got a question instead. “Does it always do that? The magic?”
Avery blinked, noticing for the first time that his eyes did not rest on her but on the space around her form. The Willow magic gave off an aura—or at least that’s what she’d been told. She couldn’t see the energy, but could feel it radiate from others and knew it well.
“Do what?” she proceeded slowly.
“The magic appears to be flickering. It’s like a light…but one that’s about to go out. Sometimes I see it shine brightly. Sometimes I can’t see it at all.”
“No. I mean…I don’t know what you mean.”
The harpie took her dead panned face as the new cue to leave. He headed back for the woods and some unseen location wide enough he could take off in flight. Venturing forward alone, she crossed onto the campus a few moments later. Mayweather, even for Alaska, was a massive academy. It was truly the only boarding school of its kind in the entire state. It had well over ten dormitories for students and staff, full dining halls, a recreation hall, and half a dozen school buildings. The Mayweather property crawled down the side of a steep hill and found its base in the valley.
Avery had known the place as home for four years of her life, and it couldn’t be more different from the harpie island. She headed straight for the main office. After disappearing in a hurry two weeks ago, she couldn’t quite slide right back into regular life. It was just the latest instance in her double life interrupting her school schedule. How the office staff could help her this time, she wasn’t sure. Slipping into the warmth of the office, the secretary called her out before she even reached the desk.
“Avery Zane,” the old woman snipped, apparently awaiting the nightmare of paperwork. “I heard you were coming. Sit.”
Avery went to plop down on the couch when she spotted a man nearby.
“Nate!” she exclaimed before she caught herself. He sat in the corner of the room, splayed across three of the stiffest chairs in the world. His boots were in the air but he’d lost the typical leather jacket for a rich hue of brown. With his hair much longer now, he’d also lost the traditional playboy look for that of a well-dressed hippie. His sideways smirk was what really grabbed her attention.
“Miss me?” he croaked.
“Hardly.” Avery didn’t actually hate Nate. Their situation was complicated at best. He was the ex, the best-friend’s new lover, and the friend. They’d bonded over a harpie attack and, even though they weren’t wearing BFF charms, Avery had regained a fair lot of respect for the guy.
“It’s okay. I can’t believe you’re still alive. I thought Leela was lying to me for awhile there.”
“Oh gee, thanks.” Avery stealthily double-checked her appearance in the shiny surface of her phone. She hadn’t seen a mirror since they landed but she’d taken pains to braid her hair and cement her foundation so she wouldn’t look like a zombie today. From what she could see without the mirror, she didn’t look bad.
“You were gone so long, I’m not sure why you wasted your time coming back. Hardly seems worth the trip,” Nate reasoned.
“It’s my senior year. I’m here for the senior experience. I can’t get that anywhere else,” Avery cringed when she said it. Somehow that spiel sounded so much better when it came from Leela’s mouth. Nathan arched an eyebrow.
Avery nodded furiously. She picked a seat and settled down before it occurred to her.
“Why are you here?” she quizzed him. She doubted that Nathan had any sudden interest in his GPA. He shrugged.
“Got busted for bringing in booze for the official senior bash. They’ll just call my father and let me go.”
“Senior bash, huh? So I haven’t missed it?”
Nathan sobered up a bit. Sitting up in the chair, he didn’t immediately answer and Avery remembered they still sat in the main office. She cringed, mouthed “sorry”, and dropped the subject. She knew Nathan wouldn’t be deterred from throwing the event, so he’d fill her in later.
The door to another room opened. Nathan twitched uncomfortably but they summoned Avery into the room instead. On her way in, Nathan catcalled her.
“Have fun with your experience!”
She rolled her eyes but the gesture was lost when the door shut behind her, sealing her in the tiny office. The office smelled of old espresso and the offending espresso machine was perched on top of a filing cabinet. Avery dropped into the chair to find it painful and stiff, her muscles already aching from the flight here.
“Yes, you may sit,” the woman said after the fact, no stranger to disdain for high schoolers. She circled the desk, pulled out a manila folder, and sat. After a long few minutes of perusing the folder in silence, she finally addressed Avery.
“I don’t know how we’re going to do this,” the woman said bluntly.
Avery tried to read the folder’s contents from where she sat, but the tiny text didn’t lend itself to being read upside down. She had gathered it was her schooling record—just thick enough to make up the last three years—but nothing more.
“Do what?” she asked.
“Ms. Zane, we have laws that force us to mandate a minimum amount of seat time for every student. Seat time being the time you are actually physically in class. If a student cannot complete that minimum, they cannot graduate.”
Avery’s breath hitched in her throat.
“I know there’s seat time, but I was told last semester that I could make it up with online classes. That they have these programs set up for people with health problems!” Avery had health problems. Just unique health problems.
“We do and that is an option. But even if you try, you are not on track to graduate in May,” the woman said. She pulled out a legal pad and started scrawling lines for every day Avery had missed, according to the school calendar. Every time her ballpoint pen scraped across the paper, Avery cringed.
“So what does this all mean?” she quizzed.
“I mean that you won’t be walking in May with your class. You won’t possibly be done by then.”
“No, no, no! There’s got to be a way! Hell, I don’t even care about the paper diploma but you have to let me walk with my friends. I’m not that far behind. I will finish around May regardless,” she protested. The woman ignored her, scratching a mark for every missed day.
Avery closed her eyes, desperate to keep her calm. She’d survived a harpie attack. She could not cry over this or she’d never forgive herself. But then her mind went to other things. Her mother might have worked all of the time, looked the other way on a ton of things, but Avery couldn’t explain missing graduation. Her brother Chase never walked at graduation. Her mother had her hopes and sparse vacation time pinned on Avery.
When she opened her eyes, she stared down the rows of jagged lines that comprised missed days for both semesters. The woman watched her from across the table.
“So what?” Avery finally asked, her voice dropping.
“I have to run it by the principal. It’s ultimately her call on how to deal with these special circumstances. I just needed to make you aware of your rights and responsibilities if we cannot have you graduate this time around.”
The woman rambled on for some time, but Avery long since tuned out. She had to graduate with her friends. She had to, end of discussion. By the time the woman finished her rant, Avery was ready to sprint out of there. Instead, the woman blatantly blocked Avery’s path.
“I’m going to present the principal with the information, and you will know in due time of her decision.”
“She’ll try to help me graduate with my friends, right?”
The old woman with the face of a bulldog certainly wouldn’t. Avery considered asking Ms. Morrison for some help too—her favorite faculty member had been around here long enough to have some pull. Avery’s effort combined with her willingness to make anything work had to mean something.
“Due time,” the woman repeated.
“And in the meantime?”
“Actually attend your classes. Get decent grades. You’re still going to graduate, Ms. Zane. Eventually.”
She opened the door, releasing Avery from the prison. Avery walked outside with her eyes burning. Luckily, she didn’t run into Nathan a second time around.
Avery worked on regaining her composure as she made back for her dormitory. The early birds already wandered the campus, but had no classes on the weekend. She kept her head down as she walked swiftly. It’d take one wrong person to spy her and start a conversation. Or one wrong person to start a vicious rumor. This was the half of high school that she had forgotten.
She reached the gates of her dormitory and paused.
Avery whirled to find Leela standing by the concrete benches, in front of the hall. The mousy girl wore a sly grin on half of her face, which Avery couldn’t help but match. Leela was the one person in the world she needed to see. Crossing the space quickly, Avery embraced her in a tight hug.
“You came back after all!” Leela’s high-pitched voice squealed in Avery’s ear. “I can’t believe it!”
Leela refused to let go. She squeezed harder until Avery struggled for breath. When she finally released, Avery gasped a clean gulp of woodsy smelling air. This was it. This was home for a while.
She tasted ink, a bitter bland flavor on her tongue. She spit out the pen she chewed on and pulled her legal pad closer. Her eyes burned from staring at the same few lines of small print for so long. The words made less sense by the second.
Looking up from her paper, she spied Leela across the table. The girl’s nose was in a book. Beyond Leela, the rest of the library was quiet and empty, allowing them room to spread out. They took two tables near the windows, to bask below the air vent and in the sunlight at the same time. The environment was perfect, but Avery could not concentrate.
“Is there a sparknotes version of this anywhere?” Avery finally spoke up. Her voice rang harshly against the silence, but Leela apparently didn’t hear her. Avery drummed her fingers on the desk to draw the girl from her daze, and then Avery repeated her question.
“That is the sparknotes version,” Leela said. When Avery shut the book and her eyes, Leela’s tone changed. “You had to know that you couldn’t learn weeks’ worth of information overnight. It’ll take you a little while to catch up.”
Avery whimpered a bit.
“No one told the teacher that. Or did you forget what happened this morning?” she asked, though hating herself for not forgetting it either. Avery had chemistry lab this morning as her first class back to Mayweather. It was an interactive lab with workstations and real experiments that connected to their chemistry lecture class. She was never an expert but she typically looked forward to the engaging set up. Today, however, had to be difficult.
From the second Avery walked in, half the class stole shameless glances her way. Most people were aware she’d been absent for weeks, but had no idea why. It was uncommon in such an isolated school to have secrets, but she certainly wasn’t telling. She circled the classroom before awkwardly realizing this lab required partners. Halfway through the semester, partners were already assigned. She’d have to ask someone who would gape at her like she was alien. Before she could though, the teacher called her out and partnered her with a very reluctant jock. That jock had zero interest in helping out. Avery took a swing at the experiment on her own, but one wrongly measured test tube later, her experiment was a failure. The teacher called her out on it.
“This isn’t just laziness or a failing grade. This is an example of unsafe behavior in a lab. You need to know what you are doing before you get here. You need to pay attention in class!” he’d barked. Her jock partner seemed completely unfazed while Avery’s cheeks burned red.
“I couldn’t help it. I’ve been out,” she’d stammered. She had too much work and too little time. Did these teachers not expect her to sleep?
He eyed her suspiciously, waiting for a better follow-up, a new excuse for her circumstances.
“You can just go home today, Ms. Zane,” he finally decided.
“I can’t. I need the attendance!”
“Then I suggest you find a good group to observe with.”
She refused to flee to Leela. Laying her eyes on her best friend and her best friend’s look of sympathy would cause tears that Avery actively fought off. Instead, Avery spent the rest of the hour at the table next to her, exhibiting little interest until the miserable class ended. The rest of the school day wasn’t quite as brutal. Her history professor hardly noticed she existed, even today. Her algebra teacher gave her a look of absolute mercy. By the end of the day, she was ready to collapse. It made coming to the library all the more brutal.
“That teacher was always a jerkoff. Always. It’s what happens when your big science degree doesn’t work out for you anywhere else,” Leela said, coming to her defense.
Avery managed only a weak smile.
“Maybe, but I wish I had some clue about what I was doing. I’m not trying to be a slacker. I’m just so tired.”
Her phone buzzed and she smacked it against the table to silence it. The Nokia lit up persistently, but didn’t make a sound again. She had Leela’s full attention now—her meltdown more interesting than studying.
“I’ll send you my notes and give you the answers for next period, at least until you catch up,” Leela said after a moment. “You know, honestly, your time might be better spent focusing on other classes. On other things. You aren’t going to college to become a science major.”
“No way,” Avery agreed.
“Did you ever choose a college?” Leela then asked. The girl leaned forward in her seat, falling right into interrogation mode.
Suddenly being in chemistry lab didn’t seem so bad. College itself was stressful enough. However, it wasn’t just about college with Leela. The girl already disapproved of some of Avery’s recent lifestyle choices. In particular, the notion that Avery might give up her life to join harpie civilization was downright horrifying. College was important, human, and not something that Avery should give up.
Her interrogation, her pointed statements, and encouragement for Avery to go to college now were wasted. Avery had already made the decision. She was going to live with Mason after this and wouldn’t change her mind. When they clashed on the subject, Avery knew it would start another fight—something she wasn’t willing to risk now. Avery wished desperately for a way to avoid the subject without exactly lying.
“I’ve been accepted a few places. You already know that,” Avery said. Mayweather Academy was prestigious and part of that prestige was forcing seniors to apply early. She’d relied on her better grades at the time and received responses from a few universities. One of which was in California, near her brother, and not too far off from the harpie island. Avery hadn’t given it much thought though.
“You know if you don’t accept an offer within a certain amount of time, they give up your position for the fall semester.”
Avery shut the book, finally deciding she was hallucinating the text moving around the page.
“I know. I have time,” she emphasized. Leela arched an eyebrow. She was so rarely convinced that Avery was on top of things. Though irritating, Leela was also helpful. She sat with Avery in the library, a long time after classes had ended. Avery tried to remember that fact and appreciate Leela for exhibiting interest.
“More time has passed than you think, Avery,” Leela insisted.
Avery’s phone buzzed again. She snatched the Nokia from the table and looked at the screen this time.
“Who is it?” Leela inquired.
“Just my mother,” Avery said, “I guess I have to answer this. I’ll be right back.”
“Okay. Take your book back to the reference desk. The library is closing soon,” Leela said. Avery obeyed silently as she answered the phone and maneuvered toward the hallway, outside the quiet section of the library.
“Hi, mom,” she said, as cheerfully as she could muster.
“You never called me back,” her mother said plainly.
“I’ve been studying all day. My brain is super fried,” Avery said.
“Too fried to tell me about graduation? You know how plane tickets are! The price of them will double in a week.”
“I know Mom, I’ll text you the date tonight. It’s still far enough away that the prices aren’t going to jump dramatically,” she promised and lied. She wouldn’t be texting her mother any graduation dates until the principal decided on her case this week. Thinking about it, her stomach wound in knots. How could she focus with that in the back of her mind?
Her mother took a long moment to answer.
“Okay. I’m really looking forward to it so chop chop.”
Avery didn’t answer. She hung up the phone, rather than speak and reveal the quiver in her voice. It was unfair to spend money on a ticket that would never be used. Avery took a moment to compose herself before walking back inside and stopping by the reference desk. The attendant was missing so she settled on leaving the book on behind the counter. She circled back to their table only to find that Leela wasn’t alone. Nathan craned over Leela’s chair, efficiently blocking her from view. Avery froze. She was more used to them dating now, but that wasn’t what stopped her. Their words were exchanged in harsh whispers. The tone was very clear where the conversation was not. Before they could spot her presence, Avery hurried behind the nearest bookshelf. Their voices escalated. Avery vacillated between leaving them in peace and listening in for a clue. Curiosity got the better of her morality. She listened.
“I don’t care, do what you want. Get away from me,” Leela snapped.
“You have to talk to me.”
“I have to study. I have to work. I have to get good grades and graduate. I don’t have to talk to you.”
“You’re taking this too seriously, Leela, just…”
Avery heard a crash. She maneuvered carefully to see through the gaps in the shelf. Leela had slapped Nathan’s hands away from her books, and as a result, they crashed onto the ground.
“Don’t be crazy!” Nathan hollered. Avery could have been anywhere in the library and heard that. Leela hissed something that followed, probably shushing him.
Avery hesitated. Her curiosity diminished and she was ready to leave but couldn’t without her keys or bag sitting at the table. She didn’t want to wait for Leela to return to the room with them to let her in—even assuming Leela returned tonight.
The library was closing in ten minutes. Maybe they’d argue it out in ten minutes. Maybe she’d resurface just as the library was closing and be able to feign ignorance.
“So what, are you breaking up with me now?” Nathan asked. Leela stayed silent for a moment. Two moments. Avery’s heart sped up, though she had no place in this fight.
Finally the girl cracked.
“No. Just don’t be such an asshole all of the time.”
“Get your stuff, and get out of here. The library is closing,” he said. Standing up, he abandoned her side and made for the door. Leela didn’t follow and after exchanging a parting gesture, Nathan was gone.
The electronic doors clicked loudly as the automatic locking mechanism slid into place. Avery was finally forced to move. She walked all the way around the shelf, out of her way, just to create the appearance of initially arriving. Leela never looked up when she reached the table and gathered up her things.
“You ready?” Avery finally hedged. Leela nodded. Her eyes were glassy but she didn’t cry. They made it outside without a word and then Leela finally addressed the pink elephant following them around.
“I know you heard,” Leela said.
Avery made a face but didn’t lie.
“I think everyone on that floor heard.”
“They’ve been hearing a lot of it, I’m sure. Won’t spur anymore gossip.”
Avery replayed the words in her head until she was certain she’d heard correctly. The other students were hearing a lot of arguments between the two? When did their trouble start? They were happy when Avery had left. She’d missed something major and was embarrassed to admit it.
“Should I ask?” Avery cued.
“You know you want to…”
“Yea, but I don’t want to upset you either,” Avery said. By the looks of Leela, the girl couldn’t take another hit. Her shoulders dropped a little more.
“It’s fine. We’ve just been fighting a ton. I guess fighting is expected after you steal your boyfriend’s credit cards, lie to him, and run off to Portland.”
A lump grew in Avery’s throat. The incident Leela referred to happened a few weeks ago. Leela had gotten tangled up with harpies. She’d stolen Nathan’s credit card and ran away to reunite with Avery and the harpies. Avery hadn’t condoned this behavior but she was still at the center of it. Leela was involved with harpies because of her. Nathan was involved with harpies because of her.
“I didn’t think about that,” Avery admitted. It’d been weeks ago now—ancient history in the world of high school. When she returned and they were still together, Avery just assumed everything had blown over. It was foolish. That wasn’t the kind of thing to blow over with anyone else. “So he’s still mad about it?”
“It’s really not about the money and frankly he blames you for the harpie thing. Since that time though, we haven’t been okay. It’s just complicated. Really complicated,” Leela explained as if it answered all the questions in the world. It only left Avery more curious but continuing to pry on the subject was dangerous. She settled instead for reassurance.
“I’m sure you can work it out. You two have survived thus far…”
Leela laughed a bit hysterically.
“All right, let’s drop the subject. You should be thinking about chemistry, not about dating,” she said dismissively. Avery hurried to get in one more word
“Look, I know I haven’t been a great friend in the past. We’ve had lots of trouble communicating, being honest.” It hurt Avery to go on, but she pushed forward before she lost her nerve. “But please know you can talk to me about this or anything now. From here on, no more secrets. I want to be best friends again.”
Leela stopped in her tracks to give Avery a long look of genuine consideration.
“Yea, I’d like that. No more secrets. Best friends,” Leela said, “Just don’t listen to the rumors in the meantime.”
Leela continued down the sidewalk while Avery lingered. She realized one thing, at that moment, which left her feeling dumbstruck. So much had changed in the human world since she’d been gone. Avery hardly felt part of it anymore.
© Copyright 2013 by Constance Sharper