I reach for it gingerly, trying to keep my ears as far away from his voice as I can, just in case he decides he has something else to say. I now understand exactly what Flint was warning me about. Too bad I can’t run down to the nearest drugstore and pick up a pair of earplugs before next class.
Turns out keeping my ears as far out of range as possible was a good move on my part, because I’ve barely got the textbook in my hands before he continues. “But you’ve chosen to return on the day we’re taking the class midterm—something you are obviously ill-equipped for. So after I get everyone started on the test, come up to my desk with Mr. Montgomery. I’ve got a job for the two of you.”
“Flint?” His name pops out before I even know I’m going to say it. “Doesn’t he have to take the test?”
“Nope.” Flint pretends to buff his nails on his shirt before blowing on them in the universal gesture for I’ve got this. “The person with the highest grade in the class is exempt from the midterm. So I am free to help with whatever you may need.” The grin he shoots me as he says the last word is absolutely wicked.
I’m not about to argue with my teacher on my first day of class, so I wait while Mr. Damasen hands out thick test packets to everyone else in the room. Only after he’s answered the numerous questions that go along with the test do I make my way up to his desk at the front of the class, Flint hot on my heels. I can feel everyone staring at us—staring at me—and my cheeks burn in response. But I’m determined not to let anyone know that they’re getting to me, so I just look straight ahead and pretend Flint isn’t standing so close that I can feel his breath on my neck.
Mr. Damasen grunts when he sees us and reaches into the top drawer of his desk to pull out a yellow envelope. Then, in a voice that I’m pretty sure he thinks is a whisper but is really more like a near-shout, he tells us, “What I need you to do is go around the school and take pictures of everything on this list and return the photos to me within two weeks. I need to use them as references on an article I’m writing for May’s edition of Giant Adventures.” He looks back and forth between us. “Your uncle said it wouldn’t be a problem.”
Trust Uncle Finn to try to fix everything—typical. “No, no problem, Mr. Damasen,” I say, mostly because I don’t know what else to say.
He hands it to me, then waits a little impatiently for me to open it. “Any questions?” he asks in a thundering timbre the second I set eyes on the list.
About a hundred, but most of them have nothing to do with what I’m supposed to photograph. No, my questions are all about how I’m supposed to spend the next hour and a half with the boy who, not very long ago, wanted me dead.
Just Call Me
“Are you okay with this?” Flint asks after we’ve gotten to the hallway. For once, he’s not joking around as he asks. In fact, he looks deadly serious.
The truth is, I’m not sure if I’m okay or not. I mean, I know Flint isn’t going to hurt me again—with Lia dead and Hudson who knows where, there’s absolutely no reason for Flint to try to kill me to keep me from being used in Hudson’s bizarre resurrection. At the same time, I’m not super excited about rushing off to some of the (very) isolated places on that list with him, either. Fool me once and all that…
Still, an assignment is an assignment. Plus, if my doing this means I don’t have to eventually take the midterm, I’m all for finding a way to make it work.
“It’s fine,” I tell him after a few awkward seconds go by. “Let’s just get it done.”
“Yeah, sure.” He nods at the list in my hand. “Where do you want to start?”
I hand the stack of papers over to him. “You know the school better than I do. Why don’t you choose?”
“Happy to.” He doesn’t say anything else as he starts perusing the list. Which should be a good thing—I mean, the last thing I want is for Flint to think we’re good friends again. But at the same time, I don’t like the way this feels, either.
I don’t like the distance between us. I don’t like this serious Flint who isn’t joking around and teasing me. And I really, really don’t like that every minute we spend in this hallway seems to make things more awkward and not less.
I miss the friend who roasted marshmallows for me in the library. Who made a flower for me out of thin air. Who offered to give me a piggyback ride up the stairs.
But then I remember that that friend never really existed, that even when he was doing all those things, he was also plotting to hurt me, and I feel even worse.
Flint keeps glancing at me over the top of Mr. Damasen’s list, but he doesn’t say anything. And that only makes everything feel even more off, until the silence stretches between us, taut and fragile as an acrobat’s wire. The longer it goes on, the worse it gets, until, by the time Flint finally finishes reading the list, I’m about to jump out of my skin.
I know he feels it, too, though, because this boy in front of me isn’t the same one who teased me when he first walked into the classroom today. His voice is more subdued, his attitude more hesitant. Even his posture is different. He looks smaller and less confident than I’ve ever seen him when he says, “The tunnels are on this list.”
His words hang in the air, haunting the space between us. “I know.”
“I can do them myself if you want.” He clears his throat, shuffles his feet, looks anywhere but at me. “You can photograph something else on the list, and I can run down to the tunnels and take the pics Mr. Damasen needs really quick.”
“I can’t take any pics on my own. I lost my phone in the whole…” Instead of saying the word out loud, I wave my hand in what I hope he understands to mean gargoyle debacle.
“Oh, right.” He clears his throat for what feels like the fourth time in a minute. “I mean, I can still go down to the tunnels alone. You can just wait here, and then we can do the rest of the castle together.”
I shake my head. “I’m not going to make you do that.”
“You’re not making me do anything, Grace. I offered.”
“Yeah, well, I didn’t ask you to offer. I’m the one getting a grade on it, after all.”
“True, but I’m the one who was a complete asshole, so if you aren’t fine going down to those damn tunnels with me, then I totally get it, okay?”
I rear back at his words, a little shocked by his sudden mea culpa but also a little pissed off about how flippant he sounds, like there’s something wrong with me for wanting to protect myself. Even knowing he felt like he didn’t have a choice—even knowing that he probably couldn’t have killed Lia without setting off a war between dragons and vampires—doesn’t absolve him of what he did.
“You know what? You were a total asshole. Beyond an asshole, actually. I’m the one still sporting scars on my body from your talons, so why the hell are you suddenly the one standing here looking all sad and wounded? You’re the one who was a terrible friend to me, not the other way around.”
His eyebrows slash down. “You think I don’t know that? You think I haven’t spent every day of the last four months thinking about all the ways I fucked you over?”
“Honestly, I don’t know what you’ve been doing for the last four months. I’ve been stuck as a damn statue, in case you’ve forgotten.”
And just like that, all the fire seems to leave him, and his shoulders slump. “I haven’t forgotten. And it really fucking sucks.”
“It does suck. This whole mess sucks. I thought you were my friend. I thought—”
“I was your friend. I am your friend, if you’ll let me be one. I know I already apologized to you, and I know there’s nothing I can say or do to make up for what I did—no matter how many punishments Foster gave me. But I swear, Grace, I’ll never do anything like that again. I swear I’ll never hurt you again.”
It’s not the words themselves that convince me to give him another chance, though they are pretty persuasive. It’s the way he says them, like our friendship really matters to him. Like he misses me as much as I’m finding out that I miss him.
It’s because I do miss him, because I don’t want to believe that all those moments that meant something to me didn’t also mean something to him, that I make what may be my worst mistake yet. Instead of telling him to go to hell, instead of telling him it’s too late and I’ll never give him another chance, I say, “You better not, because if you ever pull anything like that again, you won’t have to worry about killing me. Because I promise, I’ll get to you first.”
His whole face breaks out into that ridiculous grin I’ve never been able to resist. “Deal. If I try to kill you again, you can totally try to kill me back.”
“There won’t be any try about it,” I tell him with my best pretend glare. “Only death. Your death.”
He places a hand over his heart in mock horror. “You know what? You say that with a lot of conviction. I actually think you mean it.” Contrarily, his grin only gets bigger.
“I do mean it. Want to test me out?”
“No way. I was in the hallway the day you turned to stone. I saw what happened to Hudson,” Flint says. “You’ve become a total badass, Grace.”
“Excuse me, but I have always been a badass. You were just too busy trying to kill me to notice.” It’s pretty hard to look down your nose at someone taller than you, but here, in this moment with Flint, I’m proud to say I manage it.
“I’m noticing now.” He waggles his brows. “And I definitely like it.”
I sigh. “Yeah, well, don’t like it too much. This”—I gesture back and forth between the two of us—“is still a probationary thing. So don’t mess it up.”
He puts his hands on his hips, his stance wide like he’s bracing for a blow he’s totally willing to take. “I won’t,” he says. And he sounds surprisingly serious.