“Why don’t you start with the day that Gemma’s soul was detached,” my mom patiently suggests. “Do you remember what happened that day?”
He glances at me and I raise my eyebrows at him as I lean back in the chair, thrumming my fingers against the armrests, implying to go ahead because I’m dying to hear what he has to say about this.
He shuts his eyes, his chest expanding as he breathes in the ocean air. “She and I were hiding out in that little fort in the side of the hill,” he says, his eyelids fluttering open. “Because earlier my father told us that Gemma had to go away and I didn’t want her to. So I ran away with her, very stupidly thinking that if we did, he wouldn’t make her go when he found us.”
I touch the palm of my hand and outline the faint scar, remembering the vision I saw. He’d cut my hand and his, saying the words forem as we pressed our palms together. What does the damn word mean?
Alex balls up his own hand as if he’s trying to hide his scar. “He ended up taking her away from me and I never saw her again... Well, until my dad made me enroll in college so I could try to get to the bottom of why her emotions were surfacing again.”
“And what happened during all those years when you didn’t see Gemma?” my mother asks.
His jaw goes taught and he clenches his hands even tighter, yet his expression is surprisingly stoic. “Basically, my father beat the shit out of me so I’d learn to feel pain over emotion. He said it was an important part of being a Keeper or whatever.” He slumps back in the chair and flexes out his fingers. “Who the fuck cares?”
Laylen and I trade an astonished look, seeming equally as surprised, though my mom and Aislin appear rationally calm, like they expected it.
“What about you Aislin?” she asks. “What was your life like?”
Aislin scrapes at her nail polish and tucks a leg underneath her. “I was taught to be a very confident Witch. I didn’t go to Wicca school, though. I was trained at home by a Witch named Estella.”
“Estella Evernandy?” my mom says sullenly. “Of the Evernandy Clan.”
“Yeah, that’s the one,” Aislin replies, coiling a strand of her hair around her finger. “But why do you sound so upset?”
“Do you know anything about the Evernandy Clan?” my mom asks, her voice attentive.
Aislin shrugs, putting her foot back onto the floor as she unwinds the hair from her finger. “Yeah, that they come from a very powerful bloodline.” She gathers her golden blonde hair and secures it in a messy bun with a rubber band that’s on her wrist.
“A black magic bloodline,” my mom explains. “Aislin, your father had you taught to learn black magic.”
Aislin shakes her head in denial. “No, he wouldn’t do that,” she insists. “I know it.”
“Yes, he would,” Alex mutters, staring at his lap with his brows furrowed. “Don’t deny things that are clearly possible.”
“Shut up.” Aislin slumps back in the chair and stomps her foot on the deck. “We don’t know her. She might be lying.”
“I doubt it.” Alex frowns at my mom. “But I really don’t get what any of this has to do with the star’s power and the end of the world, which is what we should be focusing on; not Aislin and mine's fucked up pasts.”
“This stuff has everything to do with it—you two have just as much to do with it as Gemma does,” my mother tells him. She rolls up the sleeves of her shirt and crosses her legs, fanning the front of her face with her hand as the heat overwhelms her. “I have one more question and then I’ll get to the point.” She pauses. “Were you near Gemma the day her emotions first came back to her.”
“Why the hell would you think that?” Alex’s voice is sharp and rumbles with fury as he sits up straight, slamming his hands down on the handles of the chair. “I wasn’t supposed to see her.”
“I understand that.” My mom’s demeanor is professionally calm. “However, I need to know if you went behind Stephan’s back and snuck off to see her almost as though it was out of your control.”
Alex glances out at the ocean, his eyes pools of black in the moonlight. “It was something I couldn’t help…going there, I mean. I didn’t think anything would happen.” He rips his concentration away from the water and rotates in the chair to look at me. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner.” There’s genuine honesty in his voice.
I gape at him unfathomably. “Why didn’t you say something?” I lean in and lower my voice. “After everything we’ve been through, it doesn’t make any sense.”
He lets his knee fall to the side and rests it against mine as his back bends and his body moves closer to mine. “At first it was because I thought I couldn’t—because I was still my father’s puppet. Then… well, I had just left you there, crying in the middle of the parking lot surrounded by a ton of strangers. I didn’t want to own up to doing that. ”
I swallow hard, remembering the day when I fell to my knees and cried for the very first time in the middle of the University of Wyoming’s parking lot, my chest feeling like it’d been ripped open. I could barely get up afterward and I had such a hard time dealing with it that when I got home I thought about taking very drastic measures to turn it off—I thought about ending my life.
“I’m sorry,” he repeats, lacing our fingers as he takes ahold of my hand. His skin is deliciously warm and is humming with electric sparks that briefly make everything around us—problems and people—vanish. “I wish I could take it back—do things differently—but I can’t.”
“Okay.” It’s all I say—all I can say. Not because I’m angry with him, either. I actually feel very sorry for him. Beaten up by his father and taught to be unemotional. No wonder he’s so complicated.
I turn to my mother. “What’s the point of all of this? I don’t understand.”
“The point is that all of you are connected,” she says. “And that connection is why you’ve all had such messed up paths.”
“What’s the connection?” Alex asks, looking at me and not her, as though he’s trying to see into my thoughts.
My mom takes a deep breath and glances up at the starry sky. “The star.”
“The star,” Alex, Aislin, and I say simultaneously while Laylen opts to stay quiet, his eyes locked on the space of deck in front of his feet, his expression undecipherable.
“How does that connect to all of us?” I question. “It’s only in me, so…” I trail off as a gut-wrenching thought occurs to me. Electricity that flows between two people. Sparks. An irrational, overwhelming, obsession with each other. Always melting into each other’s arms. Every time I’m around Alex it’s there. I can feel it buzzing right now, a gentle current flowing off his fingers and onto mine as he holds my hand.
“Does… Does Alex have a star’s power in him, too?” I ask and I feel his fingers tremble.
Alex’s head whips in my direction. “Are you crazy?”
“Maybe,” I say and then hold my breath as I wait for my mom to answer.
She reluctantly nods. “Not a separate star, but the same one.”
Alex shakes his head in refusal of accepting the ugly truth. He tugs his fingers through his hair, forgetting to let go of my hand and my fingers end up going with his hair too. “No… There’s no way.” He stands to his feet and pulls me with him, then sits back down and I fall back into my chair. I think about taking my hand away from him, but I’m worried he might break apart if I do. He looks so defenseless and lost right now. After a lot of heavy breathing and cursing, he collects himself and says, “How?”
“Because what happened with the star wasn’t an accident,” my mother explains, gesturing at all of us. “None of this was. All of this—all of you—happened for a reason. The star being split up and placed inside you two, Aislin learning black magic, and Laylen turning into a Vampire. None of that was an accident.”
My heart thuds in my chest as I remember what Nicholas said in the forest. I glance over Laylen and his head is hung low, his elbows stationed on his knees. He almost looks like a statue cut from marble, created to portray the definition of anguish.
“So what you’re saying,” Laylen says, looking up, and the lack of emotion on his face is frightening, “is that I was changed into a fucking monster on purpose—that Stephan had me turned?”
Pressing her lips together, my mom nods. “Stephan has been planning for years, ever since he found out the portal could be opened… He’s been looking for a way to free Malefiscus almost forever because of the mark. No one knew about his mark, though, because his parents cut it off and tried to keep it hidden. I didn’t even know he had it until it was too late.” She swallows hard. “Stephan is a descendent of Malefiscus, but I’m not sure how it’s possible.”
“Why have all the Keepers thought the mark died with Malefiscus?” Alex asks.
“Because there are no records saying he had any offspring to pass the mark to,” my mother replies gravely.
“Maybe it just appeared on him,” I say. “Like it did on Malefiscus. I mean, marks have to start from somewhere.”
“No, he has the bloodline,” my mother insists. “I heard him talking about it right before he… he threw me into the lake.”
“Well then, Demetrius is a descendant of him, too,” I tell her. “I saw it in a vision.”
“I know,” she says and I wonder just how much she does know, not to mention how she learned about it. How did she find all this out? “But the question is: how? We need to find out so we know what we’re going up against.” Her blue eyes momentarily flick to Alex. “And we need to find out how the marks surface without Stephan putting it on them.”
Alex slips his hand out of mine and starts anxiously tapping his foot against the floor. “I still don’t get it, though. You say all of us play a part in this, but play a part in what exactly? Opening the portal?”
My mom nods. “And freeing Malefiscus,” she explains. “He’s been trapped in the portal since the sentencing.”
“But I thought he died.” I scoot forward in the chair. “I thought he was hung.”
She shakes her head. “Not a lot of people know this, but during Malefiscus’s reign, it wasn’t just the Death Walkers who were terrorizing people. There were Witches, Vampires, Fey, and even a couple of Foreseers who had joined his reign of terror because Malefiscus has Fey, Witch, Vampire, and Foreseer blood in him,” she says, recapping most of what Nicholas has already told me. “When his brother, Hektor, finally captured Malefiscus, the Keepers had to come up with a way to make his followers surrender with him and be free of their Mark of Evil, so they put Malefiscus in a portal and sealed it with the blood of three individuals; a Keeper who also was a Vampire, a Keeper who was also a Witch, and a Keeper who was also a Faerie. That way the Fey, Witches, and Vampires who followed Malefiscus would be bound to the portal as well, without the Keepers having to track them all down.” She gazes up at the luminous moon. “The final step was to seal the portal with the energy of a fallen star.”