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   Chapter 14 NO.14

Damsel[ed] Rescue Required (3 of the Damsel[ed] Series) By m i c h e l l e p a k Characters: 14234

Updated: 2018-03-14 12:20


Angelos.

I used to love to sleep. I loved burrowing deeper into my sheets and slipping back into whatever dreams I had, but then the nightmares arrived. Once they threw down their bags behind my eyelids the thought of wrestling with my conscience for eight or more hours in total darkness lost its appeal. So today, I felt no sting setting my alarm clock to 4:00 A.M.

I butter bread and fry grilled cheese sandwiches, take Kepler to the park, shower, and have my butt back in bed at seven, before the first touches of purple swirl the sky.

Then the nightmares begin.

The city is a smolder, the sky a whirl of purple and black, the flickers of orange glow a glint on a burnt horizon. The fire is so thick I can taste it, and it tastes like chemical ash. Through a curved, soot-smeared window, I see the billows of black smoke. And all around me, my father's inky aura presses into my flesh and gnaws me down to the bone, eating me alive. Even my tears burn.

I twitch and claw to open my eyes, but I'm paralyzed, I'm paralyzed. And then the BEEP-BEEP-BEEP of my alarm shreds the aura, the fire, the window, and catapults me back into my own reality, the white white white bedroom and my sweaty sheets and the pink stripes of light slashed across the pillows, and Gats. His wiry, alabaster body is pressed against mine. He draws in sharp inhales. His exhales are sighs. Listening to the still boy breathe, watching the dips and rises of his chest, it blurs the fire, distracts from the crisp chemical taste still sloshing in the back of my throat. As Gats groans to consciousness I slide the clock's alarm to 'off, ' pad across carpet that squishes through my toes, and brush my teeth over the bathroom sink.

By 4:20 I've taken a scalding shower, bound my wings with gauze, slipped into my uniform and tied a fresh blazer around my waist. By 4:30 I've pocketed Storm's faux leather wallet, fed the wolf, fashioned her a leash out of a scarf, and begin my jog down the stairs and toward the park. I've forgotten the crisp chill of a spring wind, the slow morph of colors brought by a sunrise, Starlight City's car-exhaust and wild grass smell come from the park. Kepler loves it. She paws the grass, rolls in the mud, howls happily at the rising sun. I wonder how long she's been kept in that dirty basement, and once she's panting, her tail wagging so quickly she gusts grass into my eyes, I make a Whole Foods run. The cashier is so groggy she doesn't seem to notice the wolf tangling up my ankles in scarf or the wet-dog smell of her fur, just hands me my receipt and fifteen pounds of meat and vegetables.

By 5:45, I have my Kiss The Cook apron thrown over my uniform and am already sauteeing green beans in olive oil with minced mushroom, chilli peppers, and onions, lost to the crackle of the juices and the heat rising off the steaks in the cast-iron skillet. I'm swinging my hips to George Gershwin, awaiting the rice to fluff and the coffee in the percolator to bubble. Perhaps it's freedom. Perhaps it's knowing I've survived something horrible, but here I am, dancing alone in my kitchen, alive enough to tell the tale. Or perhaps it's because I'm already drinking my coffee, brewed so thick it goes down the throat like chowder.

"Do you normally cook steak for breakfast?"

"Aiyee!" I whip around, crouched as low as my center of gravity will take me and my fists lifted in a guard in front of my face. A short boy with a black ponytail blinks up at me, in a tee shirt and pink-lamb pajama pants. He shuffles forward, tattered slippers squeaking on the floor, and in one hand he clutches a drawing tablet. "You must be Angelos." He rolls his shoulders back, smiles good-naturedly, and waves at the percolator. "May I have some of that, please?"

Nodding, I shake the green beans over their burner, flip a steak, reach up for the cupboard, and pour him a mug. "So, uh, who are you, exactly?"

"Shiro." He draws a long sip. "I'm, uh, supposed to be living with you."

"Oh." My shoulders relax. "Typical Storm and June. Naw, man, steak at Six A.M is weird, but I was in the mood to cook something heavier, you know?"

He nods. Gives his drawing tablet a squeeze as if out of understanding. Takes another sip of coffee and makes a l

ighest calorie foods to feed him. His foot turns over and he slams his heel into my ribcage. I double over, draw a breath through clenched teeth, and drag myself across the living room. "Why can't you just leave me alone!"

"Cause you can't fail out of school and the play needs its best actor." I carry him, a kicking, clawing lump, and toss him onto the mattress. He scrambles to his feet, but I'm already leaned up against the inside of the door, awaiting his next attack. His lip curls up into a snarl. But I'm not scared of him, even if he has miniature blades growing out of his fingertips. I made up his bed and left his uniform folded on the sheets beside his beanie.

"Breakfast is waiting. You can get dressed in the bathroom or I'll turn around, but I'm not leaving until you do."

Gatsby grabs fistfuls of his hair, which has grown thick and unruly. His eyes flick up my body, and I know he's sizing me up. Agility versus strength. Apparently, strength wins out because he slumps, his eyes lifted to meet mine. He cups his hands together, starting to pace. "They'll laugh at me."

I point at my beanie. "By lunch, half the school will be wearing one of these. It'll be the Hair Revolution II."

He shakes his head. "I'll fall asleep during class."

"I've packed two thermoses of coffee in your backpack. Three packets of sugar, a dash of cinnamon, and a ? cup of cream. Just the way you like 'em." I cross my arms over my chest. "Can't get out of this, Gats."

He cups his face in his hands. "What if we're attacked?" His knees wobble together. His eyes are blue glints. He looks so small and young, nothing like the suave charmer I'm used to seeing. "Angel, I'm really scared."

I place a hand on his head, ruffle his hair between my fingers. When he tenses, I stoop to his eye-level, which is a real ache in the thighs. "It's over. Nothing's gonna happen to you. Owl is dead."

"But Fallout—"

"Just wants me. I promise, Hev and me won't let anything happen to you. And if anything does, we'll kick the butts of whoever laid a hand on you."

Gats wipes his eyes, nodding. Even smiles, and though his eyes are ringed with dark circles, if you didn't know him, you'd think it genuine. No wonder he's the drama teacher's little darling. "Thanks, Dad."

"Two minutes. You try to climb out the window and I will swoop down and catch your skinny butt, so don't even think about it."

"Jeez, it's like having two Heavens." Gats rolls his eyes, the fear so clear in his expression melting into a signature smirk. He peels the clothes from the sheets and scurries into the bathroom, slamming the door behind him.

As soon as he's gone, I slide down the wall.

Yeah, Gats, I'm really scared too.

***

Apologies for the late chapter. I kind of forgot to post. Eh heh heh heh. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it!

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