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The Golden Lily Chapter 4

SONYA DIDN’T SAY ANYTHING about the mysterious encounter to the rest of the gang at Adrian’s, so I respected her silence.Everyone else was too preoccupied with dinner and the experiments to notice much else.And once they conducted the second wave of experiments, even I grew too distracted to give much thought to the guy on the street.

Sonya had said she wanted to see how Eddie and Dimitri responded to direct spirit.

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This was accomplished by her and Adrian focusing their magic at the dhampirs one at a time.

“It’s sort of like what we’d do if we were trying to heal them or make something grow,” Sonya explained to me. “Don’t worry – this isn’t going to make them supersized or anything.

It’s more like we’re coating them with spirit magic. If Dimitri’s got some lasting mark from when he was healed, I’d imagine it would react with our magic.” She and Adrian coordinated their timing and did Eddie first. Initially, there was nothing to see – just the two spirit users staring at Eddie. He looked uncomfortable under the scrutiny.

Then, I saw a silvery shimmer run over his body. I stepped back, amazed – and unnerved – at seeing a physical manifestation of spirit. They repeated the process on Dimitri, with the same results. Apparently, on an unseen level, things were the same too. There was nothing notable about Dimitri’s response. All of them took this in stride as part of the scientific process, but seeing that magic actually embrace the two men had creeped me out.

As Eddie and I drove back to Amberwood that night, I found myself sitting as far away from him as I could in the car, as though residual magic might leak over and touch me. He chatted with me in our usual, friendly way, and I had to work hard to hide my feelings. Doing so made me feel guilty. This was Eddie, after all. My friend. The magic, even if it could’ve hurt me, was long since gone.

A good night of sleep went a long ways to shake both my anxiety and guilt, leaving the magic a distant memory when I woke and prepared for classes the next day. Even though being at Amberwood was an assignment, I’d kind of come to love the elite school. I’d been homeschooled before this, and while my dad had certainly taught tough curriculum, he’d never gone beyond what he felt was necessary. Here, even if I surpassed what my classes were learning, there were plenty of teachers ready to encourage me to push farther. I hadn’t been allowed to go to college, but this was a nice substitute.

Before I could get on to it, I had to chaperone a training session with Eddie and Angeline.

Even though he might want to avoid her, he wouldn’t – not with Jill’s safety on the line. Angeline was part of Jill’s defense. I settled down in the grass with a cup of coffee, still wondering if he wasn’t just imagining Angeline’s interest. I’d recently acquired a one-cup coffee maker for my dorm room, and while it couldn’t compare to a coffee shop, it had gotten me through a number of rough mornings. A yawn smothered my greeting as Jill sat down beside me.

“Eddie never trains me anymore,” she said wistfully, as we watched the spectacle. Eddie was trying to patiently explain to Angeline that headbutting, while suitable in a bar brawl, was not always the best tactic with Strigoi.

“I’m sure he will if he gets more time,” I said, though I wasn’t sure at all. Now that he could admit his feelings for Jill to himself, he was nervous about touching her too much. That, and a chivalrous part of him didn’t want Jill risking herself anyway. It was ironic because Jill’s fierceness in wanting to learn self-defense (rare in a Moroi) was what had attracted him to her.

“Angeline was recruited as protection. He’s got to make sure she can handle it.”

“I know. I just feel like everyone’s trying to coddle me.” She frowned. “In PE, Micah won’t let me do anything. After I had all that trouble starting out, he’s now paranoid I’ll hurt myself. I keep telling him I’m fine, that it was just the sun… but well, he keeps jumping in. It’s sweet…

but it drives me crazy sometimes.”

“I’ve noticed it,” I admitted. I was in the same PE class. “I don’t think that’s why Eddie won’t train you, though. He knows you can do it. He’s proud that you can… he just thinks that if he’s doing his job, you shouldn’t have to learn. Kind of weird logic.”

“No, I get it.” Her earlier dismay shifted to approval as she turned back to the training session.

“He’s so dedicated… and, well, good at what he does.”

“The knee’s an easy way to disable someone,” Eddie told Angeline. “Especially if you’re caught without a weapon and have to – “

“When are you going to teach me to stake or decapitate?” she interrupted, hands on her hips. “All the time, it’s hit here, dodge this, blah, blah, blah. I need to practice killing Strigoi.”

“No, you don’t.” Eddie was the picture of patience and back in the determined, ready mode I knew so well. “You’re not here to kill Strigoi. Maybe we can practice that at a later time, but right now, your priority is keeping mortal assassins away from Jill. That takes precedence over anything else, even our lives.” He glanced over at Jill for emphasis, and there was a flash of admiration in his eyes as he looked at her.

“Seems like decapitation would kill Moroi just the same,” Angeline grumbled. “And besides, you did have a Strigoi problem last month.”

Jill shifted uneasily beside me, and even Eddie paused. It was true – he had had to kill two Strigoi recently, back when Adrian’s apartment had been Keith’s. Lee Donahue had led the Strigoi to us. He was a Moroi who’d once been Strigoi. After he was returned to his natural state, Lee had wanted desperately to become a Strigoi again.

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He was the reason we’d learned that those restored by spirit seemed to have some Strigoi resistance. The two Strigoi he’d called to help him had tried to convert him but ended up killing him instead – a better fate than being undead, in my opinion.

Those Strigoi had then turned on the rest of us and inadvertently revealed something unexpected and alarming (if not to them, then to me). My blood was inedible. They’d tried to drink from me and been unable to. With all the fallout from that night, no one among the Alchemists or Moroi had paid much attention to that small detail – and I was grateful. I was terrified that one of these days someone would think to put me under a microscope.

“That was a fluke,” said Eddie at last. “Not one that’s likely to happen again. Now watch the way my leg moves, and remember that a Moroi will probably be taller than you.” He did a demonstration, and I cast a quick look at Jill. Her face was unreadable. She never talked about Lee, whom she’d dated briefly. Micah had gone a long way to distract her on the romantic front, but having your last boyfriend want to become a bloodthirsty monster couldn’t be an easy thing to get over. I had a feeling she was still in pain, even if she did a great job at hiding it.

“You’re too rigid,” Eddie told Angeline, after several attempts.

She completely relaxed her body, almost like a marionette. “So, what? Like this?” He sighed. “No. You still need some tension.”

Eddie moved behind her and attempted to guide her into position, showing her how to bend her knees and hold her arms. Angeline took the opportunity to lean back into him and brush her body suggestively against his. My eyes widened. Okay. Maybe he wasn’t imagining things.

“Hey!” He leapt backwards, a look of horror on his face. “Pay attention! You need to learn this.”

Her expression was pure angelic innocence. “I am. I’m just trying to use your body to learn what to do with mine.” So help me, she batted her eyelashes. Eddie moved back even farther.

I realized I should probably intervene, no matter what Eddie had said about handling his own problems. An even better savior came when the school’s thirty-minute warning bell rang.

I jumped up.

“Hey, we should go if we want to get to breakfast in time. Right now.” Angeline gave me a suspicious look. “Don’t you usually skip breakfast?”

“Yeah, but I’m not the one putting in a hard morning’s work. Besides, you still need to change and – wait, you’re in your uniform?” I hadn’t even noticed. Whenever Eddie and Jill trained, it was always in casual workout clothes – just like he wore now. Angeline had actually come out today in an Amberwood uniform, skirt and blouse, that were showing the wear and tear of a morning’s battle.

“Yeah, so?” She tucked in her blouse where it had started to come undone. The side of it was smudged with dirt.

“You should change,” I said.

“Nah. This is fine.”

I wasn’t so sure, but at least it was better than the jean shorts. Eddie did leave to put on his uniform and never came back for breakfast. I knew he liked his breakfasts, and since he was a guy, he could change clothes pretty quickly. My guess was he was sacrificing food to stay away from Angeline.

I heard my name called as we entered the cafeteria and caught sight of Kristin Sawyer and Julia Cavendish waving to me. Aside from Trey, they were the two closest friends I’d made at Amberwood. I still had miles to go in ever being socially savvy, but those two had helped me a lot. And with all the supernatural intrigue my job involved, there was something comforting about being around people who were normal… and, well, human. Even if I couldn’t be fully honest with them.

“Sydney, we have a fashion question for you,” Julia said. She tossed her blonde hair over one shoulder, her usual sign that what she was about to say was of utmost importance.

“A fashion question for me?” I was almost ready to glance back and see if maybe there was another Sydney standing behind me. “I don’t think anyone’s ever asked that.”

“You have really nice clothes,” Kristin insisted. She had dark skin and hair, as well as an athletic air that contrasted with Julia’s more girly nature. “Too nice, actually. If my mom were ten years younger, cool, and had a lot more money, she’d dress just like you.” I didn’t know if that was a compliment or not, but Julia didn’t give me a chance to ruminate.

“Tell her, Kris.”

“Remember that counseling internship I wanted next semester? I scored an interview,” Kristin explained. “I’m trying to decide if I should wear pants and a blazer or a dress.” Ah, that explained why they were coming to me. An interview. Anything else they could have pulled from a fashion magazine. And while I could admit that I probably was the authority on such practical matters… well, I was kind of disappointed that was what I’d been summoned for. “What color are they?”

“The blazer’s red, and the dress is navy.”

I studied Kristin, taking in her features. On her wrist was a scar, the remnant of an insidious tattoo I’d helped remove, back when Keith’s shady tattoo ring had run rampant. “Do the dress. Wait… is it a dress you’d wear to church or to a nightclub?”

“Church,” she said, not sounding happy about it.

“Dress for sure then,” I said.

Kristin flashed a triumphant look at Julia. “See? I told you that’s what she’d say.” Julia looked doubtful. “The blazer’s more fun. It’s bright red.”

“Yeah, but ‘fun’ isn’t usually what you want to portray at an interview,” I pointed out. It was hard to keep a straight face with their banter. “At least not for this kind of job.” Julia still didn’t seem convinced, but she also didn’t try to talk Kristin out of my sound fashion advice. A few moments later, Julia perked up. “Hey, is it true Trey set you up with some guy?”

“I… what? No. Where’d you hear that?” Like I had to ask. She’d undoubtedly heard it from Trey himself.

“Trey said he’d talked to you about it,” said Kristin. “How this guy’s perfect for you.”

“It’s a great idea, Syd,” said Julia, face as serious as if we were discussing a life or death matter. “It’d be good for you. I mean, since school started, I’ve gone out with…” She paused and silently counted out names on her fingers. “… four guys. You know how many you’ve gone out with?” She held up a fist. “That many.”

“I don’t need to go out with anyone,” I argued. “I have enough complications already. I’m pretty sure that would add more.”

“What complications?” laughed Kristin. “Your awesome grades, killer body, and perfect hair? I mean, okay, your family’s a little out there, but come on, everyone has time for a date now and then – or lots, in Julia’s case.”

“Hey,” said Julia, though she didn’t deny the charge.

Kristin pushed forward, making me think she was more suited to a legal internship than a counseling one. “Skip homework for once. Give this guy a shot, and we can all go out together sometime. It’d be fun.”

I gave them a forced smile and murmured something noncommittal. Everyone has time for a date now and then. Everyone but me, of course. I felt a surprising pang of longing, not for a date but just for social interaction. Kristin and Julia went out a lot with a larger group of friends and love interests and often invited me on their outings. They thought my reticence was because of homework or, perhaps, no suitable guy to go with me. I wished it were that simple, and suddenly, it was as though there was a huge chasm separating me from Kristin and Julia.

I was their friend, and they had welcomed me to every part of their lives. Meanwhile, I was full of secrets and half truths. Part of me wished I could be open with them and able to confide all the woes of my Alchemist life. Heck, part of me just wished I really could go on one of these outings and let go of my duties for a night. It would never work, of course. We’d be out at a movie, and I’d probably get texted to come cover up a Strigoi slaying.

This mood wasn’t uncommon for me, and it began lightening as I started my school day. I fell into the rhythm of my schedule, comfortable in its familiarity. Teachers always assigned the most work over weekends, and I was pleased to be able to turn in all that I’d done on my plane rides. Unfortunately, my last class of the day derailed all the progress of my mood. Actually, class wasn’t the right word. It was an independent study I had with my history teacher, Ms. Terwilliger.

Ms. Terwilliger had recently revealed herself to be a magic user, a witch of sorts or whatever those people referred to themselves as. Alchemists had heard rumors of them, but it was nothing we had a lot of experience with or facts about. To our knowledge, only Moroi wielded magic. We utilized it in our lily tattoos – which had trace amounts of vampire blood – but the thought of humans producing it in the same way was crazy and twisted.

That was why it was such a surprise when Ms. Terwilliger not only revealed herself to me last month but also ended up kind of tricking me into wielding a spell. It had left me shocked and even feeling dirty. Magic was not for humans to use. We had no right to manipulate the world like that; it was a hundred times worse than what Sonya had done to the red lily on the street. Ms. Terwilliger insisted I had a natural affinity for magic and had offered to train me.

Why she wanted this, exactly, I wasn’t sure. She’d gone on and on about the potential I had, but I could hardly believe she’d want to train me without a reason of her own. I hadn’t figured out what that might be, but it didn’t matter. I’d refused her offer. So, she’d found a workaround.

“Miss Melbourne, how much longer do you think you’ll be on the Kimball book?” she called from her desk. Trey had picked up “Melbourne” from her, but unlike him, she seemed to constantly forget that wasn’t my actual name. She was in her forties, with mousy brown hair and a perpetually cunning glint in her eyes.

I looked up from my work, forcing politeness. “Two more days. Three at most.”

“Make sure to translate all three of the sleep of spells,” she said. “Each has its own nuances.”

“There are four sleep spells in this book,” I corrected.

“Are there?” she asked innocently. “I’m glad to see they’re making an impression.” I hid a scowl. Having me copy and translate spell books for research was how she taught me. I couldn’t help but learn the texts as I read them. I hated that I’d been ensnared, but it was too late in the school year to transfer out. Besides, I could hardly complain to the administration that I was being forced to learn magic.

So, I dutifully copied her spell books and spoke as little as possible during our time together.

Meanwhile, I simmered with resentment. She was well aware of my discomfort but made no attempts to alleviate the tension, leaving us in a stalemate. Only one thing brightened those sessions.

“Look at that. It’s been nearly two hours since my last cappuccino. It’s a wonder I can function. Would you be kind enough to run to Spencer’s? That should finish us out for the day.” The last bell had rung fifteen minutes ago, but I’d been putting in some overtime.

I was already closing the spell book before she finished speaking. When I’d begun as her assistant, I’d resented the constant errands. Now, I looked forward to the escape. Not to mention my own caffeine fix.

When I reached the coffee shop, I found Trey was just starting his shift, which was great – not just because he was a friendly face, but because it meant discounts. He began making my order before I even placed it since he knew the drill by now. Another barista offered to help, and Trey gave him meticulous instructions on what to do.

“Skinny vanilla latte,” said Trey, grabbing the caramel for Ms. Terwilliger’s cappuccino.

“That’s sugar-free syrup and skim. Don’t mess it up. She can sniff out sugar and 2% milk a mile away.” I suppressed a smile. Maybe I couldn’t reveal Alchemist secrets to my friends, but it was nice to know they at least knew my coffee preferences backwards and forwards.

The other barista, who looked to be our age, gave Trey a droll look. “I’m well aware of what skinny means.”

“Nice attention to detail,” I teased Trey. “I didn’t know you cared.”

“Hey, I live to serve,” he said. “Besides, I need your help tonight with that lab write-up from chem. You always find things I miss.”

“It’s due tomorrow,” I chastised. “You had two weeks. I’m guessing you didn’t get much done in your cheerleader study session.”

“Yeah, yeah. Will you help me out? I’ll even go to your campus.”

“I’ll be up late with a study group – a real one.” The opposite sex was banned from our dorms after a certain hour. “I could meet you on Central Campus afterward if you want.”

“How many campuses does your school have?” asked the other barista, setting down my latte.

“Three.” I reached eagerly for the coffee. “Like Gaul.”

“Like what?” asked Trey.

“Sorry,” I said. “Latin joke.”

“Omnia Gallia in tres partes divisa est,” said the barista.

I jerked my head up. Not much could have distracted me from coffee, but hearing Julius Caesar quoted at Spencer’s certainly did.

“You know Latin?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said. “Who doesn’t?”

Trey rolled his eyes. “Only the rest of the world,” he muttered.

“Especially classical Latin,” continued the barista. “I mean, it’s pretty remedial compared to Medieval Latin.”

“Obviously,” I said. “Everyone knows that. All the rules became chaotic in the post-Empire decentralization.”

He nodded agreement. “Although, if you compare it to the Romance languages, the rules start to make sense when you read them as part of the larger picture of the language’s evolution.”

“This,” interrupted Trey, “is the most messed-up thing I’ve ever seen. And the most beautiful.

Sydney, this is Brayden. Brayden, Sydney.” Trey rarely used my first name, so that was weird, but not nearly as weird as the exaggerated wink he gave me.

I shook Brayden’s hand. “Nice to meet you.”

“You too,” he said. “You’re a Classics fan, huh?” He paused, giving me a long, considering look. “Did you see the Park Theatre Group’s production of Antony and Cleopatra this summer?”

“No. Didn’t even know they performed it.” I suddenly felt kind of lame for not having known that, as though I should be up on all arts and culture events in the greater Palm Springs area.

I added by way of explanation, “I only moved here a month ago.”

“I think they have a couple performances left in the season.” Brayden hesitated once more. “I’d see it again if you wanted to go. Though I’ll warn you – it’s one of those reinterpreted Shakespeare productions. Modern clothes.”

“I don’t mind. That kind of reinterpretation is what makes Shakespeare timeless.” The words rolled automatically off my lips. As they did, I suddenly had one of those epiphany moments where I realized there was more going on than I’d initially thought. I replayed Brayden’s words. Between that and Trey’s enormous grin, I soon had a startling realization. This was the guy Trey had been telling me about. My “soul mate.” And he was asking me out.

“This is a great idea,” said Trey. “You kids should totally go see that play. Make a whole day of it. Grab some dinner and hang out at the library or whatever it is you do for fun.” Brayden met my eyes. His were hazel, almost like Eddie’s but with a little green. Not as much green as Adrian’s, of course. No one’s eyes were that amazingly green. Brayden’s brown hair occasionally picked up glints of gold in the light and was cut in a no-nonsense way that showed off the angles of his cheekbones. I had to admit, he was pretty cute. “They perform Thursday through Sunday,” he said. “I’ve got a debate tournament over the weekend…

could you do it Thursday night?”

“I…” Could I? There was nothing planned, so far as I knew. About twice a week, I took Jill to the home of Clarence Donahue, an old Moroi who had a feeder. Thursday wasn’t a scheduled feeding night, though, and technically I wasn’t obligated to go to experiment nights.

“Of course she’s free,” Trey jumped in before I could even answer. “Right, Sydney?”

“Yes,” I said, shooting him a look. “I’m free.”

Brayden smiled. I smiled back. Nervous silence fell. He seemed as unsure as I was about how to proceed. I would have thought it was cute, if I wasn’t so worried that I looked ridiculous.

Trey elbowed him sharply. “This is the part where you ask for her number.” Brayden nodded, though he didn’t look like he appreciated the elbowing. “Right, right.” He pulled a cell phone out of his pocket. “Is it Sydney with a y or i?” Trey rolled his eyes. “What?

I’m guessing the former, but as naming conventions become increasingly untraditional, you never know. I just want to get it right in my phone.”

“I would have done the same thing,” I agreed. I then told him my phone number.

He looked up and smiled at me. “Great. I’m looking forward to it.”

“Me too,” I said, and actually meant it.

I left Spencer’s in a daze. I had a date. How on earth did I have a date?

Trey hurried out to me a few moments later, catching me as I was unlocking my car. He still wore his barista apron. “Well?” he asked. “Was I right, or was I right?”

“About what?” I asked, though I had a feeling I knew what was coming.

“About Brayden being your soul mate.”

“I told you – “

“I know, I know. You don’t believe in soul mates. Still,” he grinned, “if that guy isn’t perfect for you, then I don’t know who is.”

“Well, we’ll see.” I balanced Ms. Terwilliger’s cup on top of the car, so I could drink from my own. “Of course, he doesn’t like modern Shakespearean interpretations, so that might be a deal breaker.”

Trey stared at me in disbelief. “Seriously?”

“No,” I said, giving him a look. “I’m kidding. Well, maybe.” The latte Brayden had made me was pretty good, so I was willing to give him the benefit of a doubt on the Shakespeare thing.

“Why do you care so much about my romantic life anyway?” Trey shrugged and stuffed his hands into his pockets. Already, beads of sweat were forming on his tanned skin from the late afternoon sun. “I don’t know. I guess I feel like I owe you for everything that went down with the tattoos. That and all your homework help.”

“You don’t really need my help with that. And the tattoos…” I frowned, as an image of Keith beating on the glass flashed through my mind. Keith’s vampire blood ring had resulted in high-inducing tattoos that had wreaked havoc on Amberwood. Trey, of course, didn’t know about my personal interest in the matter. He just knew I’d gotten rid of those who were using the tattoos to unfair advantage in sports. “I did it because it was the right thing to do.” That made him smile. “Of course. Still, it’s saved me a lot of grief with my dad.”

“I should hope so. You don’t have any competition on the team now. What more could your dad want?”

“Oh, there’s always something else he thinks I could be the best at. It’s not just football.” Trey had hinted at that before.

“I know what that’s like,” I said, thinking of my own father. A moment of silence fell between us.

“It doesn’t help that my perfect cousin’s coming into town soon,” he said finally. “Makes everything I do look completely lame. You got a cousin like that?”

“Er, not really.” Most of my cousins were on my mom’s side, and my dad tended to shy away from her family.

“You probably are the perfect cousin,” Trey grumbled. “Anyway, yeah, there’re always these expectations in the family… always these tests. Football’s given me some respectability for now.” He winked at me. “That and my awesome chem grade.” That last comment wasn’t lost on me. “Fine. I’ll text you when I get back tonight. We’ll make it happen.”

“Thanks. And I’ll give Brayden a talking-to so he doesn’t try anything on Thursday.” My mind was still full of Latin and Shakespeare. “Try what?” Trey shook his head. “Honestly, Melbourne, I don’t know how you’ve survived this long in the world without me.”

“Oh,” I said, blushing. “That.” Great. Now I had something else to worry about.

Trey scoffed. “Between you and me, Brayden’s probably the last guy in the world you have to worry about. I think he’s as clueless as you are. If I didn’t care about your virtue so much, I’d actually probably give him a lecture on how to try something.”

“Well, thanks for keeping my best interests at heart,” I said dryly. “I always wanted a brother to watch out for me.”

He studied me curiously. “Don’t you have, like, three brothers?” Oh no.

“Er, I meant figuratively.” I tried not to panic. I rarely slipped up on our background story.

Eddie, Adrian, and Keith had all been passed off as my brothers at some point. “None of them are really that concerned about my dating life. What I’m concerned about, though, is getting into air conditioning.” I opened my car door, and a wave of heat rolled out. “I’ll talk to you tonight and help you with the lab.”

Trey nodded, looking like he wanted to get back inside as well. “And I’ll help you if you have any more questions about dating.”

I hoped my scathing look told him my opinion on that, but once he was gone and I was blasting the car’s air conditioning, my arrogance faded. Anxiety took its place. The question I’d asked myself earlier repeated in my head.

How on earth was I going to get through this date alive?

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