As Chelsea raced to her class, one thought kept repeating: My hair is sticking up in the back.
She’d tried to sneak out without waking Jackson, and that meant no shower. The monster hunter had only to peer up her with those brilliant green eyes and she would have skipped Renaissance Art History, again.
Chelsea needed this. She needed something normal. Since the vampire, the type Jackson called a nightling, had killed her friend, Dink, she’d been drifting; floating further and further away from school and her normal life.
She made it to the door just as Sister Mary Clarence was about to shut it. The nun flashed an irritated smile. “I see you’ve finally decided to join us again, Miss Childling.”
Chelsea grinned at the older woman and fought not to laugh. “Yes, sister.”
Mary Clarence had gone to school with Chelsea’s mother. The nun’s sour exterior held a big heart. She worried about Chelsea, even more since her parents’ death.
My parents and Dink. I am a death magnet.
Chelsea blinked away tears as the lights dimmed. She finally was back in class, this was something to be happy about. She loved Art History, and Sister Mary Clarence gave amazing lectures. The projector flickered and a round-limbed woman grimaced as a skeleton molested her.
“Death and the Maiden,” said Mary Clarence. “A motif started in the Late Medieval Period, but it’s threaded throughout the Renaissance. The Black Plague and various bad harvests kept it in the front of people’s minds. Live well today, for tomorrow…”
The picture blinked to black, and then another chubby woman passively accepted Death’s embrace. Only her frightened face showed what she thought of her circumstances. The nun’s voice faded to a background buzz that Chelsea couldn’t make out.
Picture after picture of red-haired women, if not so vibrant as Chelsea’s, being felt up by Death lit the classroom. Chelsea stared at them in muted horror, frozen to her seat, until Sister Mary Clarence flicked on the lights.
Chelsea bolted out of the classroom. The nun called to her, but Chelsea couldn’t stop. She ran all six blocks to her dorm, never once feeling the biting cold. There Sister Mary Ignatius stood as Chelsea ran sobbing past her. Chelsea didn’t pause then, either.
The stairs provided some release for her angry, sorrow, and mindlessly growing terror, far more than the elevator would have. Unfortunately, Chelsea’s shaking hands couldn’t get her key in her door.
Jackson opened the door after her third attempt. Concern painted his face. “Chelsea?”
She collapsed on him. He held up her dead weight, closing the door as he dragged her into her room. He slipped an arm under her legs, carried her to the bed, and laid down with her.
“What happened?” His hand ran over her hair. She shook her head, pressing her face into his chest. Warm lips pressed into her head, but that only brought its own pain.
He’s temporary. This will not last. I’m half surprised he hasn’t already moved on.
The sobs came harder and faster, robbing her of breath. Jackson never moved, except to pull her closer.
Eventually, her turmoil subsided. She pulled in a deep breath and the scent of Jackson. He hadn’t showered yet, either. He smelled of clean sweat, and her perfume.
She kissed his chest and slung a leg over his. Jackson didn’t let her down. Before she quite knew what had happened, her clothes littered the floor. Neither she nor Jackson made a sound though. He only stared at her, intensity rolling off of him as he moved her onto her back.
She closed her eyes, trying to lose herself in sensation.
Chelsea woke sometime later, head fuzzy and eyes swollen. It took her a moment to realize that someone pounded on her door. She glanced around for Jackson. Seemingly alone in the tiny single, she pulled a robe out of her closet and opened her door.
Sister Mary Clarence stood there, worry lining her face. “Chelsea, child, are you okay?”
Chelsea nodded. “I’m fine, sister. This morning… well, art is powerful and invokes a reaction.”
The nun’s smile still showed worry. “Will I see you on Wednesday?”
Mary Clarence looked like she wanted to say more. Instead, she awkwardly patted at Chelsea’s shoulder. “Get some lunch.”
“I will, sister.” Chelsea shut the door with lead-heavy arms. The last thing she wanted was food of any sort.
The second to last thing she wanted slipped out of the bathroom in his underwear, all ropey muscle under his various scars. “I thought she was about to knock the door down.”
Chelsea averted her eyes, pulled on her discarded clothes, and refused to get distracted, again. “I have to get to class.”
“Yeah.” He sounded distant. “Okay.”
Chelsea dug her charcoal pencils out of their cubby, avoiding every part of Jackson Hawk. Her hand on the door, he finally spoke again.
“Amber spotted a minion outside that house. There are definitely nightlings in there.”
She froze. She’d pushed him about hunting the nightling that had killed Dink. But finding out that there was no way of knowing which nightling had done it… Chelsea didn’t know what to do.
So she nodded, and rushed away, not bothering with her gloves or hat. The brisk February wind scoured her warm skin, making her outside match her frozen core.
The bright studio provided no solace. Three objects sat on the center table, a red apple, a white rose, and an aged skull. Chelsea pushed away every memory of her mother in the garden and concentrated on lines and shadows.
When the two hours were over, her brain felt like a rung out dish towel and her fingers ached. Chelsea trudged out of the studio, unsure where to go.
A familiar voice called out. “Hey! Chelsea!” She raised her eyes to Amber. The Asian woman could have come straight from the paintings Mary Clarence had shown that morning. All round and fleshy, her pretty face mirrored the same concern Chelsea had ducked all day.
Chelsea turned away from the monster hunter. She didn’t want to talk about the hunt for the nightlings. She wanted to stop thinking.
She trudged away from the parking lot and campus. The sidewalk petered out half a mile beyond the studio. Under the cold, bright sun, Chelsea’s mind finally blanked.
She walked along the shoulder of the road, ignoring the cold, just letting herself move. As the sun hurried off to bed, the cold grew more intense. Her shivers could no longer be ignored.
Chelsea turned back to campus, feeling no better than when she had walked away. To her shock, a most familiar car rumbled up the road. Dark blue, the body was American, the doors Japanese, and the purring engine German.
She found her hands on her hips as Jackson pulled her car over to the shoulder. He climbed out, grinning madly. “You look cold.”
“You took my car.”
He shrugged. “I was worried. Amber called, said you had run off. It’s too cold out here to be wandering around.” He reached in the car and pulled out her hat and gloves. “Here.”
Chelsea tugged the wool and leather over her stiff fingers. “Thank you.” Her voice came out small and tired, exactly how she felt. She climbed in the passenger seat, grateful for the blowing hot air.
Jackson clambered in beside her. “Want to talk?”
She shook her head. “No.” His grin grew. “I have a surprise for you.”
A small glimmer of curiosity sparked in her soul. “Really?”
He pulled off the shoulder and rumbled towards the edge of town without a word. Chelsea leaned towards him, resting her head on his shoulder.
You need to make a decision.
It was the truth, but she’d be damned if she was even sure of what the choices were.
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