“Nothing,” I replied.
Roth leaned back in his seat, letting his arms dangle at his sides.
“I call best-friend bullshit on that.” She knocked her leg against mine. “You disappeared again yesterday. You were with him, weren’t you?”
The lie rose to the tip of my tongue, but I was so incredibly sick of lying. I didn’t respond, which was answer enough. Roth’s chair rose onto its two back legs, balancing precariously in a way that only he could manage without toppling over like an idiot.
Stacey sucked in a breath. “What about Zayne?”
My heart squeezed as if someone had shoved it into a juicer. Good question. I’d screwed up last night and I’d hurt Zayne more than I probably even realized. When he’d driven me to school this morning, he hadn’t spoken. Neither could I because at this point, words were cheap and useless, full of empty promises and expectations.
Roth’s elbows rested on our table, and Bambi stirred restlessly on my stomach. She’d disappeared as soon as I got home last night, most likely to feed. When I’d awoken with only half an hour to get ready for school, she’d been curled up in my dollhouse.
Mr. Tucker cleared his throat. “I know we’ve learned very tragic news today about one of your fellow classmates.”
My gaze drifted to where the boys had sat behind Dean. Lenny still hadn’t returned to school, but Keith was there. Based on the way he was slouched in his seat, legs stretched out in front of him, I could tell he wasn’t too torn up by the news.
“I’ve been advised that there are grief counselors on the premises for anyone who would like to speak with them,” Mr. Tucker went on, moving the slides back and forth in his hands, causing them to wave at the classroom.
The next breath I drew in got stuck in my throat as the feeling from the hallway seeped into the classroom, like a dark, thick cloud passing over the sun. I couldn’t help but shiver.
I laid my pen down on my notebook as I glanced around the room. Everything looked normal, but something was off.
Roth tilted his head to the side, and I knew he was feeling it, too.
“There’s nothing to be ashamed of if you feel as though you need to talk to someone,” Mr. Tucker continued. “No one will hold it against you. Death is a hard thing to deal with, no matter how old you are.”
The light above Mr. Tucker flickered and went unnoticed by everyone but Roth and me. He lowered his chair to all four legs. The light above the substitute teacher stopped blinking, but the one in front of it began to—and once that stopped, another started, cutting a clear path down the middle of the aisle, until the overhead light above the desk Keith sat at flickered wildly.
Keith glanced up at it, frowning.
“So ask any of your teachers and we’ll get you set up with one of the counselors...” Mr. Tucker trailed off as his gaze moved to the light in turn. The slides stilled in his hands.
There was a beat of silence and every muscle in my body tensed as an icy breeze washed over my skin. I stiffened at the familiar feeling. Something was about to happen. I knew it—I knew the feeling. The bone-deep chill that had seeped into my being was the same thing I’d felt right before the windows exploded and Maddox fell down the stairs.
I started to stand, and Stacey grabbed for my arm.
The light above Keith suddenly exploded in a shower of sparks and glass. The room filled with shrieks and the sounds of chair legs screeching across the floor as people came to their feet in surprise.
“Here we go,” muttered Roth, now sitting straight.
Mr. Tucker dropped the slides as he rushed forward. “Everyone stand back. There’s glass every—”
Keith bumped into the empty chair beside him, shaking his head. Tiny pieces of glass fell from his hair. I turned to move around Stacey when Roth shot to his feet as a dark blur came from the corner of the classroom, moving too fast for any human eye to track.
Goose bumps broke out across my skin.
A wraith—there was a wraith in the classroom—and I was willing to bet a year’s supply of sugar cookies it was Dean.
The shadowy form, no more than three feet tall, barreled into Keith’s legs, knocking him over the chair. To everyone in the class it probably looked as if he just lost his balance, but I knew better.
Keith hit the floor hard, letting out a grunt. His legs kicked into the chair and the shadow blurred as it moved again. The chair flipped up and backward, slamming into Keith’s face.
“Holy shit!” exclaimed Mr. Tucker, and God, any other time I would’ve laughed, but nothing about this was funny.
The shadow skittered to the far corner of the classroom, lingering near the door as Mr. Tucker bent down, helping up a bloodied and shaken Keith.
Stacey turned to me, her face pale and eyes wide. “I’m beginning to think it’s time to transfer schools.”
“That might be a good idea,” remarked Roth as he moved toward the center aisle.
I tracked the shadow as it darted toward the door. It collapsed into itself, becoming a murky puddle before it slipped under the door. The Warden in me demanded I give chase.
“What are you doing?” Stacey reached for me again, but I was already too far away.
“I’ll be right back,” I called over my shoulder.
Mr. Tucker and half of the class were too wrapped up in tending to Keith, who was rambling incoherently, to pay attention to what I was doing.
I slipped out the door and turned to my right, spying the wraith immediately. It glided down the hall, nothing more than a misty cloud of creepiness. Tapping into energy I didn’t realize I had, I kicked off the floor and started running.
The wraith stilled for a second and then a low chuckle echoed down the hall a second before the locker doors flew open. As though an invisible spring had been released, books and jackets flew out of the lockers, joined by notebooks and loose paper.
I yelped as a particularly heavy history textbook slammed into my thigh, then pushed forward, losing sight of the wraith in the storm of books.
Out of the mess of swirling school supplies, my eyes widened as pens and pencils turned into mini instruments of doom. They zoomed through the air, plunking off the walls.
The cloud of books and pens beat at my arms. I knocked a few down only to be fighting against more.
Suddenly Roth was there, smacking a book to the floor before it knocked me upside the head. “Chasing after a wraith probably isn’t the smartest idea.”
“What do you suggest we do, then?” I ducked a large makeup bag. “Let it hurt someone else?”
Roth opened his mouth to respond, but the chaos stopped. Books and paper hung suspended in midair before smashing into the floor.
The hall looked like a back-to-school sale gone terribly wrong.
Staff poured into the hallway, taking one look at the mess before turning to where Roth and I stood. Looks of disbelief crossed their faces, quickly followed by suspicion.
“Crap,” I muttered.
* * *
I stared at the butter-yellow slip of paper in my hand as I stood out in front of the school. My face felt frozen in a frown.
One of the doors opened behind me, but I didn’t need to look to know who it was. The sweet scent gave him away. “You got suspended, too?” he asked.
Sighing, I folded up the paper and placed it in my jeans pocket as Roth came to stand beside me. “Yeah. Their ‘no tolerance’ policy.”
Roth chuckled as he shoved his hands into his pockets. “At least it’s just for the next couple of days. Thanksgiving break is next week. We’re unsuspended after that.”
The principal and administrative staff had taken one look at the hall and had blamed Roth and me for the mess, citing before-break high jinks or some crap like that. And what could we have said in our defense? That a wraith had done it?
Yeah, that would’ve gone over smoothly.
“Are you going to be in trouble?” he asked when I didn’t respond.
I squinted up at the bright sun, shivering. “Probably.”
“That’s not good.” He angled his body toward me, blocking some of the brisk wind whipping across the pavilion.
Nodding slowly, I turned my attention to the street.
“How much trouble did you get in for last night?”
I tugged the sleeves of my sweater down over my fingers and held the material tight. “Zayne covered for me. The rest of them had no idea I was missing.”
“That’s good, then.”
Turning to him, I raised my brows. He stared straight ahead, lips pursed. “You told Zayne I wasn’t with you.”
“You know why I did.”
“He didn’t believe you.”
He raised his chin. “Does that matter?”
“You let me sleep until three in the morning,” I said, voice thin. “If Zayne hadn’t covered for me...”
“But he did.” His gaze shifted to me. “I didn’t want to wake you.”
“Because you were afraid I was going to throw myself at you again?” The question burst out before I could stop myself.
Roth cocked his head to the side. “More like I was afraid you wouldn’t and that’s the problem.” He went down a step and turned to me. “I left you alone because if you woke up and you asked me to kiss you, I wouldn’t be able to stop a second time around.”
His words had a warring effect on me. A rush of molten heat coursed through my veins, causing tight little coils in the pit of my stomach, but that was wrong for a multitude of reasons.
“You don’t have to worry about a second time,” I told him. “I was high.”
One side of his lips curled up and he laughed softly. “You are such a terrible liar.”
“I’m not lying.”
Roth came back up the step, crowding me. As he dipped his head so that his mouth nearly brushed mine when he spoke, I refused to back away. “I know why you say that. I even understand it, Layla. I get it. I hurt you and deserve every single one of your lies.”
I stilled as his warm breath danced over my lips.
“But there is so much you don’t know or understand,” he said, tilting his head so that his words brushed the lobe of my ear, sending a shiver down my neck. “So don’t claim to know what I really want or what I would do to protect it.”
Roth spun on his heel as I blinked stupidly. He went down the wide stairs, taking the steps two at a time. I pressed a hand against my neck as I watched him walk off. There was so much I didn’t know?
When it came to Roth, I was beginning to believe that was true.
* * *
I found myself in Abbot’s study the moment he woke up and my name was bellowed through the house. It had sounded as if the Cloverfield monster was about to knock down walls or something.
Right now, Abbot kind of actually reminded me of the Cloverfield monster.
“Suspended?” he said, holding the sheet of paper.
I nodded. “There was a wraith at school. It attacked this kid Keith and then it went out to the hallway. I followed it and it just went crazy, tearing open lockers. What was I supposed to say when the teachers came out?”
Abbot dropped the slip of paper on his desk and pinched the bridge of his nose. He didn’t say anything, but Nicolai, who’d been standing to his right, inclined his head. “Since the boy’s passing, we knew there’d be a wraith created. That is what happens once a soul is stripped from a human.”
I sent Nicolai a grateful look.
“I know,” Abbot murmured, rubbing his brow. “The fact that the wraith went straight to the school is concerning.”
Crossing his arms, Zayne pressed his shoulders against the wall he was leaning into. He’d been quiet again when he’d picked me up and hadn’t said much while we spoke to his father. His gaze met mine briefly before looking away.
I sank a little in the chair. As Abbot talked about plans for scoping out the school tonight, I replayed what happened in class. Keith could’ve been seriously hurt and unless we got the wraith out of there, everyone was in danger. The chill that settled over my skin caused me to hunker down in my sweater—the chill.
The cold air I’d felt before the wraith attacked had felt familiar. How could I have forgotten that? I leaned forward in the chair. “Wait a second. Before the wraith attacked in the classroom, I felt a burst of cold air. The same thing I felt before the windows exploded and Maddox fell down the steps.”
Abbot’s fingers stopped along his brow as he looked at me. “Are you telling me that there’s a wraith in our home?”
It sounded crazy, but it wasn’t impossible. Protective wards against demonic activity inside the house was pretty much nil due to me being in here. And wraiths weren’t technically demons anyway.
“Why would there be a wraith here?” Abbot answered, lowering his hand to the top of his desk as he studied me. “Typically they are drawn to locations familiar to them when they were alive.”
Dez shifted from where he sat in one of the oversize leather chairs. A contemplative look crossed his face. He didn’t speak and I didn’t know what he was thinking, or if it was along the same lines of where my mind went.
A wraith was created when a soul was stripped from a human. Only certain demons could do that—Lilith, a Lilin, and...and me. Wardens also had souls, pure souls. And I’d taken Petr’s soul the night he’d attacked me. It had been self-defense, because he would’ve surely killed me if I hadn’t, but the act of taking a soul, no matter the cause, was strictly forbidden.
And something horrific had happened to him. He hadn’t died like a human would when the last wisp of soul was stolen away. He had morphed into something diabolical, more frightening then an Upper Level demon. But then Roth had killed whatever he had become.