2. Death was talking to her

“Dat’s good son. Da gurl is right dare witin yor reach. Don worry bout de Death. De gurl’s soul don mean notin to him.” Father stepped out in front of me as I started up Pagan’s sidewalk. His top hat was cocked back on his head, which meant he’d been drinking heavily and was in a very good mood.

“Thanks but I’m already late. I don’t want to get on her bad side tonight. She isn’t a fan of me yet.” But she would be. I was going to make sure of it.

“Jes get de gurl. You don ‘ave time for anytin else. Dankmar is close on her heels.” With one final ring of smoke from his lips he disappeared. He was right of course. I had to find a way into Pagan’s heart and fast.

Pagan opened the door almost immediately. The look on her face wasn’t promising. Crap. I’d pissed her off again. Flashing her my most sincere smile I began apologizing. “I’m really sorry about this. I feel bad you’re having to work around my schedule. I know seven is late and, well, I’m sorry.”

Her anger vanished and the easy smile I’d hoped to see appeared on her face. She was beautiful.

“That’s okay. Go ahead and sit at the table and I’ll get us something to drink. Do you like root beer?” She asked turning and walking away from me. I followed her inside. I wasn’t sure I’d ever had a root beer but that admission would sound odd.

“That’s great, thanks.” I replied.

Her living room wasn’t new to me. I’d been here so many times before. Watching over her. Consoling her. Now, she was helping me. This time she would remember my being here. Just knowing that what we had would finally be real to her was exciting.

When she walked back into the room I decided to ease the nervous tension surrounding us. This should be easy. “I brought the schedule for class and what all is expected in this course. I have one week before the first speech is due and it needs to be on something I feel strongly about.”

She sat the soda down in front of me. “So, we need to decide what you’re passionate about.”

I couldn’t keep the smile off my face. Passionate. That was a loaded word. One I knew a lot about.

“What?” she asked frowning.

“What I’m passionate about?” I asked still grinning.

She rolled her eyes, “You know, something you feel strongly about. Like your purpose or platform.”

There was only one thing I felt passionate about but it wasn’t time I admit that just yet. “Passionate, I like that. Let’s think of something I’m passionate about.”

The prissy look on her face as she puckered her lips and grabbed the notebook was just too damn cute. “Got any ideas?” she asked in a tone that said she already knew I was going to say something superficial and she was prepared to write it down.

I decided I’d throw her little know-it-all ideas for a loop. “The importance of adoption.”

She began to write it down and paused. It was all I could do to keep from laughing out loud. I’d just surprised the hell out of her.

“Okay,” she replied studying me closely. She wanted an explanation. Good thing I had one.

“I was adopted after living in foster homes for five years. I’d given up hope that I would get a family by the time I turned nine because most people want babies. I was given a chance most nine year old foster kids only dream of.”

Her eyes widened in shock, “Oh, wow, I had no idea. I, uh, can see why this would be an important topic for you.”

The expression on her face switched from surprise, to confusion then to what looked liked sadness. I hadn’t meant to make her sad. I’d just wanted to redeem myself somehow. She thought so little of me already.

“You did hear the part where I got adopted, right?” I asked softly with an easy smile in hopes of cheering her up. “You look so distraught. I thought maybe you missed the happy ending.”

“I’m sorry. It’s just, well, I wasn’t expecting that. You kind of surprised me.”

I leaned back in my chair. “It sure seems to me that you’ve got a lot of ideas where I’m concerned. You sure have put a lot of thought into someone you don’t like very much.” The instant blush on her cheeks told me that I’d made some progress. If I could show her I wasn’t the guy she thought I was then I had hope that she’d love me back someday. Preferably soon. “Who knows Pagan, you may like me before this is over.”

She was warming up to me. From the way her eyes followed me down the hall and studied me from across the cafeteria, I knew her feelings toward me were changing. Our nights spent studying were now easy. We talked and laughed with none of the awkwardness that I’d been faced with in the beginning. She wasn’t nervous around me anymore. My only problem was the fact Death was still watching her.

I could feel her gaze on me as she walked down the hallway. She wanted me to turn and look at her. The attraction was like a tingling sensation running through my body. But I couldn’t. Death was near her. He was the cold barrier keeping me from saying anything to her or even meeting her gaze. He’d see me and study me too closely. I didn’t want him to realize the soulless being that he was obviously dismissing was more than he assumed. I wasn’t one of Hell’s many servants. I was the Prince of Voodoo. Dankmar didn’t need to realize that too soon. It would mess up everything.

He spoke … and Pagan heard him. What? Could she see Death too? I knew my claim on her soul allowed her to see lost souls but could it also let her see Death as well? Listening to the guys around me talking about Friday night’s game was impossible. I needed to hear what he was saying. Why was Dankmar talking to a soul? What could he possibly have to say to her? He was here to take her, or at least try to. This was not normal. I needed to speak to my father. He would understand this.

I tuned out everyone around me but Pagan. I couldn’t see Dankmar. I could only feel him. I also couldn’t hear him. But she could. She was speaking to him. How?

“I’m not bothered,” she hissed through her teeth as she opened her locker door. What did that mean? Dammit I needed to hear what he was saying too.

Slowly she turned her head to look at him. He must be beside her. I still could only see her. But she was studying him closely. Was her time drawing near and he was letting her know? Didn’t he normally just do that with children? Why would he be giving her a heads-up?

“Staring at them will only make things worse. Ghede would advise against making a scene,” Kendra’s icy tone reminded me to speak with Father again about getting rid of her. She wasn’t helping things. She’d grown attached to me. That had never been the plan.

“This isn’t your business, Kendra,” I reminded her in a hard voice. If she didn’t step out of my way I would remove her myself.

“I wonder if he’s as sexy as everyone says,” she purred.

“Who says Dankmar is sexy?” An alarm went off in my head. Was Death attractive?

“Everyone who has seen him. I’ve heard he has the bluest eyes ever created and thick black hair that is slightly too long. His smile is always cocky and his body is built for—“

“Okay that’s enough. I don’t want to hear anymore of your bullshit. He’s Death. He can’t be sexy.” That made no sense. I watched as Pagan’s expression turned soft. What was he saying to her? Was she attracted to him?

“It makes perfect sense, my prince. To ease a soul’s fear at its time of death wouldn’t it be easier if the one taking their soul was easy on the eyes?”

“For a girl maybe,” I replied as Pagan turned and walked away from her locker. Death was gone. I let out a sigh of relief.

“Men too. Beauty would ease their fears as well. Something dark and sinister would be terrifying,” she went on explaining. “I’ve heard of others who have seen him and some who have touched him or been touched by him. It’s like nothing they’ve ever experienced. What I’d give to have him crawl between—“

“Enough!” I stopped her from anymore of her lustful thoughts. I didn’t want to hear about the sexiness of Death. I needed to find a way to keep him away from Pagan.

“Hey.” Pagan said stepping back to let me inside her house. Since earlier today when I’d caught her talking to Dankmar, she’d ignored me. I’d been anxious to get here. I needed to fix whatever was wrong. We had been making progress and then— nothing.

“Hey,” I replied studying her closely as I followed her over to the table. The silence wasn’t good. “Safe sex,” I announced hoping to get some reaction out of her. I wanted the Pagan who smiled easily up at me. This quiet reserved Pagan, who ignored me, was unsettling.

She froze and gaped up at me, with her mouth slightly open and mixture of surprise and horror in her eyes. That was more like it, some animation in her gorgeous face.

“I wish you could see your face,” I said unable to keep from laughing.

“You did say ‘safe sex’ then?” she asked, still looking completely confused.

I held up my paper, “The topic for this week’s speech.”

She let out a weak laugh. “Okay, well that was one way to announce it.”

She still appeared unsure. I’d wanted to ease the tension in the room not make her nervous. So, I tried again. “I’m hoping you’re well educated on this topic because I haven’t got a clue.”

“What?” she squeaked in reply.

I couldn’t keep from laughing again at her expression. “I’m sorry. It’s just that you’re so cute when you’re shocked.”

She froze at my words and I immediately stopped laughing. What had I said wrong?

“I think having had actual experience isn’t necessary. It’s basically supposed to be about your beliefs on the subject or the importance of it.” The tightness in her voice alarmed me. She was embarrassed. That hadn’t been my intention.

I reached over and slid my finger under her chin lifting her face up so she would have to look at me. “You’re embarrassed. That’s cute.”

My words once again didn’t get the reaction I’d been hoping for. Her annoyed expression was back. “Please stop saying I’m cute. It’s kind of insulting.”

Insulting? What? I dropped my hand from her chin and tried hard to figure out how that was insulting. Nothing came to mind. “How’s that insulting?”

Pagan shrugged, “It just is. No one wants to be cute. Puppies are cute.” She didn’t make eye contact with me. Instead, she started reading my notes.

“Well, you definitely don’t look like a puppy,” I replied with a chuckle. I’d always thought I was good with females. Pagan was proving me wrong.

“Well, that’s something at least.” She replied in a clipped tone. “Okay, so what are the three main reasons you believe safe sex is important?” She was trying to change the subject. I didn’t want to change the subject. “Are you not sure?” she asked.

I didn’t say anything. I needed to figure out how to fix my latest screw up. “Um, okay, what about teenage pregnancy? That’s a good point. No one needs to become a parent while they’re still a kid.” She continued as if I had responded.

She began writing in my notebook determined that this conversation was over.

“Your feelings are hurt,” I said as the realization came to me. “I didn’t mean to say something to hurt your feelings,” I assured her.

She still wouldn’t look at me, “It’s fine. Let’s get working on your essay.”

Staring down at the paper, I replied, “Teenage pregnancy is definitely one reason.”

“Okay, so what about STD’s?” she suggested writing it down before I could respond. This wasn’t getting us anywhere. She was still upset.

“That’s another good one.” I agreed.

I reached over and took the notebook from her. We were going to settle this. I didn’t like knowing I’d hurt her feelings. I adored her. If only I could tell her exactly how much. “Sorry, but I couldn’t think of any other way to get your attention.” Her silence allowed me to continue. “You aren’t just cute. Yes, you make cute faces and do cute things but you aren’t just cute.” Had I said too much?

“Okay,” she whispered. That was enough for now. I couldn’t say more or I’d give myself away.

I slid the notebook back to her, “Now, let’s see...what about the fact that using a condom takes away from the pleasure, should we discuss that?”

She began choking on her soda and I patted her gently on the back trying hard not to laugh. “Again, you do a lot of cute things but you aren’t just cute.”

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