Now I was just… I didn’t know what I was anymore.

“Lexie?” She leaned forward, snatching the spoon and carton from my hands. “I’ll eat and you tell me what the idiot boy did.”

I smiled. “It’s all my fault.”

She swallowed a mammoth chunk of ice cream. “As your mother I am obligated to disagree.”

“Oh, no.” I flopped on my back and stared up at the ceiling fan. “You’re going to change your mind on that one.”

“Let me be the judge of that.”

I scrubbed my hands over my face. “Well, I kind of… got into a fight with two guys on the beach.”

“What?” I felt the bed shift as she straightened. “What did they do? Did they try to hurt you? Did they… touch you inappropriately?”

“Oh! Gods no, Mom, come on.” I dropped my hands, frowning at her. “It wasn’t like that. Not really.”

Thick strands of hair blew back from her face. Simultaneously all the curtains in the room lifted, reaching toward the bed. The book beside her flew off the bed and landed somewhere on the floor. “What happened, Alexandria?”

I sighed. “Nothing like that, Mom. Okay? Calm down before you blow us out of our own home.”

She stared at me a few moments, and then the winds died down.

“Show-off,” I muttered. Pure-bloods like my mom could command one of the elements, a gift the gods had bestowed upon the Hematoi. Mom had a thing for the element of air, but she wasn’t very good at controlling it. Once she blew over a neighbor’s car—try explaining that to the insurance company. “These guys started messing with Matt and one of them grabbed at me.”

“Then what happened?” Her voice sounded calm.

I prepared myself. “Well, they kind of needed to help each other off the ground.”

My mom didn’t immediately respond to that. I dared a quick look at her and found her expression relatively blank. “How bad?”

“They’re fine.” I smoothed my hands down the front of my dress. “I didn’t even hit them. Well, I kicked one of them. But he called me a bitch, so I think he deserved it. Anyway, Matt said I overreacted and he wasn’t into violence. He looked at me like I was a freak.”

“Lexie…”

“I know.” I sat up and rubbed the back of my neck. “I did overreact. I could’ve just walked away or whatever. Now Matt doesn’t want to see me anymore and all the kids are going to think I’m some kind of… I don’t know, weirdo.”

“You’re not a weirdo, baby.”

I gave her a droll look. “There’s a statue of Apollo in our living room. And come on, I’m not even the same species as them.”

“You’re not a different species.” She dropped the spoon in the carton. “You’re more like the mortals than you realize.”

“I don’t know about that.” I crossed my arms, scowling. After a few seconds, I glanced at her. “Aren’t you going to yell at me or something?”

She arched a brow and seemed to consider it. “I think you’ve learned that action is not always the best response, and the boy called you such an ugly name…”

A slow grin pulled at my lips. “They were total douchebags. I swear.”

“Lexie!”

“What?” I giggled at her expression. “They are. And douchebag isn’t a cuss word.”

She shook her head. “I don’t even want to know what it is, but it sounds revolting.”

I giggled again, but sobered up when Matt’s horrified face flashed before me. “You should have seen the way Matt looked at me afterward. It was like he was afraid of me. So stupid. You know? Kids like me would have applauded that, but no, Matt had to look at me like I was the antichrist on crack.”

My mom’s brows puckered. “I’m sure it wasn’t that bad.”

The painting of a goddess on her wall became a sole focus to me. Artemis crouched beside a doe, a quiver of silver arrows in one hand and a bow in the other. The eyes were unnerving, painted completely white—no irises or pupils. “No. It was. He thinks I’m a freak.”

She scooted closer, placing a gentle hand on my knee. “I know it’s hard for you to be away from… the Covenant, but you’ll be okay. You’ll see. You have your whole life ahead of you, full of choice and freedom.”

Ignoring that comment and wherever it came from, I took back my ice cream and shook the empty carton. “Boo, Mom, you ate it all.”

“Lexie.” Cupping my cheek, she turned my head so I faced her. “I know it bothers you being away from there. I know you want to go back and I pray to the gods that you can find happiness in this new life. But we can never go back there. You know that, right?”

“I know,” I whispered, even though I really didn’t know why.

“Good.” She pressed her lips to my cheek. “With or without a purpose, you’re a very special girl. Don’t ever forget that.”

Something burned in the back of my throat. “You’re like totally obligated to say that. You’re my mom.”

She laughed. “That is true.”

“Mom!” I exclaimed. “Wow. Now I’m going to have self-esteem problems.”

“That is one area you are not lacking in.” She sent me a saucy grin as I smacked at her hand. “Now get off my bed and go to sleep. I expect you up bright and early. Your little butt better be out on that balcony, cleaning up that mess. I’m serious.”

I hopped from the bed and shook my butt. “It’s not that little.”

Her eyes rolled. “Good night, Lexie.”

I skipped to the door, glancing over my shoulder at her. She was patting the bed, frowning.

“Your windstorm knocked it on the floor.” I went over and picked the book up, handing it to her. “G’night!”

“Lexie?”

“Yeah?” I turned back around.

My mom smiled and it was such a beautiful smile, warm and loving. It lit up her entire face, turning her eyes into jewels. “I love you.”

I smiled. “Love you, too, Mom.”

CHAPTER 5

After dumping the empty carton and washing off the spoon, I scrubbed my face and changed into a pair of old jammies. Restless, I tinkered around with the idea of cleaning my room, an impulse that lasted long enough for me to pick up a few socks.

I sat on the edge of the bed, staring at the shuttered balcony doors. The white paint was cracked, showing a deeper layer in a pale shade of gray—like a cross between blue and silver, an unusual shade that struck an old yearning inside me.

Really, after all this time, to still even think about a guy I’ll never see again was freaking ridiculous. Worse yet, he hadn’t even known I’d existed. Not because I’d been some kind of wallflower, wilting away in the shadows at the Covenant, but because he hadn’t been allowed to notice me. Here I was, three years later, and chipping paint reminded me of his eyes.

That was so lame it was embarrassing.

Annoyed with my own thoughts, I pushed off the bed and went to the little desk in the corner of my room. Papers and notebooks I rarely used in class covered the top. If there was anything I loved about the mortal world, it was their school system. Classes out here were a piece of cake compared to what went on at the Covenant. Knocking the clutter to the side, I found my out of date MP3 player and earbuds.

Most people had cool music on their players: Indie bands or the current hits. I decided I must’ve been high on something—Apollo’s bay laurel fumes?—when I’d downloaded these songs. I clicked through—that’s how out of date this thing was—until I found Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl.

There was something about the song that turned me into a walking cheese ball from the very first guitar riff. Humming along, I danced around my room, picking up discarded clothing and stopping every few seconds to flail about. I threw the pile in the basket, bobbing my head like a deranged Muppet Baby.

Starting to feel a little better about things, I grinned as I shimmied around my bed, clutching a pile of socks to my chest. “Sha la la, la la, la la, la la, la-la tee da. La-la tee da!”

I winced at the sound of my own voice. Singing was not a personal strength, but that didn’t stop me from mutilating every song on my MP3 player. By the time my room was fairly decent, it was past three in the morning. Exhausted but happy, I tugged out the earbuds and dropped them on the desk. Crawling into bed, I flipped off the lamp and dropped down. Usually it took me a while to drift off, but sleep came easily that night.

And because my brain liked to torture me even while I slept, I dreamt of Matt. But the dream-Matt had dark, wavy hair and eyes the color of storm clouds. And in the dream, when his hands roamed under my dress, I didn’t stop him.

***

A strange, satisfied smile pulled at my lips when I awoke. I kicked back the covers, stretching lazily as my gaze fell on the balcony doors. Thin sheets of light broke through the creases under the shudders and slid over the old bamboo throw rug. Specks of dust floated and danced in the rays.

My smile froze when I spotted the clock. “Crap!”

Throwing the bedspread to the side, I swung my legs off the bed and stood. “Bright and early” did not translate to waking up at noon. My mom had gone easy on me last night, but I doubted she’d feel the same if I added not doing my chores for the second day in the row. A quick glimpse at my reflection in the tiny bathroom mirror while I stripped confirmed I looked like Chewbacca. I took a quick shower, but the hot water still went cold before I could finish.

Shivering from the wrath of the evil water heater, I changed into a pair of worn jeans and a loose shirt. Towel drying my hair, I started toward my door. I stopped, smothering a yawn. Mom was probably already outside in the tiny garden in the front. It was right below the balcony, facing the apartment buildings and row homes across the street. I tossed the towel on the bed and threw open the balcony doors like some kind of southern belle greeting the day, all ladylike and delicate.

Except it all went wrong.

Wincing from the glare of the bright Florida sun, I shielded my eyes and stepped forward. My foot snagged in an empty flowerpot. Trying to shake it off, I lost my balance and careened across the balcony, catching myself on the railing before I could topple over it headfirst.

Death by flowerpot would be a hell of a way to go.

Underneath my arms, the rickety-ass wooden plant stand swayed to the left and then the far, far right. Several pots of green and yellow tulips shifted all at once.

“Crap!” I hissed. Pushing off the railing and dropping to my knees, I hugged the plant stand to my chest. Kneeling there, for once I was grateful that none of my old friends had been around to see that.

Half-bloods were known for their agility and grace, not for tripping over things.

Once I got everything back to where it was supposed to be without killing myself in the process, I stood and leaned carefully over the railing. I scanned the flowerbeds, expecting to find Mom laughing her butt off, but the yard was empty. I even checked by the fence, where she had planted a row of flowers a few weekends ago. I started to turn back when I saw the gate was open, hanging to the side.




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