Chapter Two

Chapter Two

A Chapter by Sarah and Ashleigh

When Iris wakes it is to a heavy arm laying across her chest and hot air being exhaled into her ear. A tired smile tugs at her lips as she presses back into him, letting out a content breath. Sage’s body naturally responds, curling around her more and holding onto her tighter for a moment before relaxing again. She lays still briefly before attempting to turn face to face with him, stopping when her nose hits a wall of stale alcohol and sweat. Settling for nudging him on the shoulder, Sage’s face twists in protest of opening his eyes. When he tries to cuddle closer, Iris pushes him back.

           “Oh, no you don’t,” she rasps. “You’re going to need about five showers before you come any closer.”

           At that, one eyelid cracks open and a bleary green eye looks at her. His bottom lip pops out. “But my brain is pounding through my skull. It’s probably going to explode and I’m going to die. Don’t you want to be holding me as I go?”

           Iris chuckles at his dramatics and brushes frizzy curls from his forehead. “That’s what you get for drinking so much. I refuse to pity you.”

           “Hey, you would have been just as plastered if we hadn’t left early.”

           Iris lifts her head over Sage’s shoulder to find Athena’s bed empty, the white bedding made as if she hadn’t slept there at all. “Right. I hope she’s feeling better.”

           “I’m sure she’s better and being a good little student.” He wraps his arms around Iris’s waist, fingers teasing beneath her old t-shirt she had stolen from him their senior year of high school. “But I’m going to stay right here all day. Or until my inevitable brain explosion occurs.”

           Iris pushes him away again. “I’m serious, Sage. Five showers.”

           He groans. “I want a divorce.”

           “You’ll have to marry me first.”

           That makes his face soften, the corner of his flushed lips twitching up. He brings fingertips up to trace her jaw and, as if this is the first time he stared at her so longingly, Iris finds herself holding her breath and waiting for a reply. “One day. One day, Iris Woodridge, I’m going to marry you.”

           His gaze traces her face, long eyelashes blinking slowly, and suddenly Iris doesn’t care about the sweaty smell. She wants to be as close to him as she can get, she wants him to never leave her bed. She wants to forget about school, about her father sitting alone in his old empty house, about everything. “We could do it right now,” she says, only half joking. “We could run away to the courthouse.”

           Sage’s smile grows. “Don’t test me, I just might.”

Iris opens her mouth to say something stupid, maybe about how she feels like she’s not joking, but the widening of Sage’s eyes stops her.

“Test,” he blurts out. Leaping out of bed, he runs his hands along the mattress until he finds his phone wrapped in the sheets and checks the time. “I have a test! A really important test that I can’t miss, but I forgot so I’m going to fail out of college and be deported back to England.” He checks Iris’s phone that’s on the dresser as if his was lying to him. “Okay, okay, if I go now I can just make it.”

Grabbing a pen he finds sticking out from beneath the bed, he’s about to run out the door, but then he remembers what he’s wearing.

Iris,” he says, like it’s her fault. “I can’t face Professor Klein flaunting myself like this!” He pulls at the shorn jersey looking absolutely mortified and Iris tells him to take a breath, but he doesn’t make it to the exhale before his eyes land on something and light up. “It’s a good thing I have a shirt here then, isn’t it?”

It takes a moment, but Iris finally figures out what Sage is going on about, her stare trailing down to the grey t-shirt she’s wearing and lifting back up to Sage incredulously. “I believe this shirt is already taken.”

Sage begins to slink towards the bed, lowering down like a lion preparing to pounce. “Not for long.”

And then he leaps and Iris shrieks, making a valiant attempt to escape his grasp, but then fingers dig into her sides and it’s over, dissolving into laughter while Sage shouts in triumph, pulling the shirt over her head. He stays straddling her while he changes and she glares up at him, but then he’s staring at her like he was before, eyes trailing over her with longing, and she wants to pull him back under the covers.

“One day.” He leans down to press a quick kiss to her lips and rushes out the door, leaving her with an old football jersey on her bare chest and a dream of the future in her head.

~~*~~

The first of November brings a chill, the wind prickling Iris’s cheeks pink as she walks, but the crunch of fallen leaves beneath her boots and crisp smell of autumn in the air is well worth it. Pine Crest University of Upstate New York is a fall advertisement come to life. Every building is made of brick, chipped walls of dark reds and browns laced with ivy. The sun never seems to beat down relentlessly, even at the peak of summer, nor does it ever hide away for too long when winter arrives. It always seems to paint the place in perfect vibrancy, making the fountain at the center of the courtyard sparkle, the marble cherubs who pour water from goblets shining with honor.

It is exactly how it looked on the front of the brochure she had gotten in the mail over three years ago, the one she had hung up over her bed, the one she spent sleepless nights staring at, dreaming over with her eyes open. It’s the place her father ripped up the acceptance letter for, the place where she finally found an escape. She still can’t believe she’s here.

Spilt Milk is the the little café just off of the courtyard, small and familiar, the catch phrase coffee to cry over scrawled above the door. It’s where everybody goes to get their caffeine fix and it’s where Iris is headed, the promise of warmth beckoning to her, when suddenly something is pulling her gaze to the left.

A man is watching her, walking towards the coffee shop on the perpendicular pathway. His hands are shoved deep into the pockets of a black sweatshirt, head hanging low, and the thin bow of his lips and something held in his dark stare is familiar. The man from the party. The man who wiped blood from his chin.

Iris’s feet come to a halt just as he tears his gaze from her and quickens his pace, passing Spilt Milk and heading towards the math wing. Though his head hangs and shoulders curve, his gait is strong, and with every unfaltering step Iris wants to follow. It’s the same feeling she had standing in Emerson’s kitchen, the one that begs her to figure out who he is. The man she swears she knows.

So, taking a look around as if someone is watching from behind the line of trees that shadow the campus, Iris turns right, following the man to wherever he’s going and trying to think of what she plans to do once they get there.

~~*~~

Athena doesn’t sleep that night. She doesn’t even try to. The only tossing and turning is done by the thoughts in her head while she stares into the darkness above her.

Why had she felt so indescribably endangered? Why did she feel like it had a lot to do with the man shrouded in black? She remembers the way he had moved, like a shadow, and there’s an uneasy tingle down the line of her spine. She sits up, twisting her long, loose braids to rest on top of her head and rubbing her hands over her face. When her eyes adjust to her surrounding, she stands, taking one look at the two sleeping bodies in the other bed before grabbing a jacket and car keys, stepping out into the hall.

It is two in the morning, but she knows the woman she needs to see will be awake, probably waiting for her arrival. Hopefully with answers in her hand.

~~*~~

Nobody knows what to expect when it comes to Edith Quinn, not even her granddaughter. Athena stands in front of the old farmhouse for the hundredth time and still finds herself bouncing from foot to foot, wondering how her grandmother would greet her and half expecting one of the feral cats that seem to gather beneath the rotting porch to come clawing after her first. They always seem to be protective of the older woman, even if the visitor is family.

Athena raises her hand to the discolored wooden door just as it swings open.

“Well, it’s about time. You had me waiting up all night,” Edith mutters, the invitation to come in made by the door being left open as the little grandmother turns back into the shadows of the house. “And leave the door open, will you? I like the breeze.”

The house is packed to the brim, dim lamps and candles flickering over shelves upon shelves of glass jars and bowls filled with herbs. Old rust-red furniture fills the floor space, their imprint discoloring the creaking old wood from being in the same spot for so long. Edith runs the back of her hand along them as she goes, using the feeling to guide her to the kitchen, though Athena knows she doesn’t need to.

“I’ve made ginger tea for you, and drink all of it because I can smell the alcohol on you from here.”

The kitchen is just as small as the sitting room, and the counters are covered in various bottles and greenery as well, the windowsill crowded with terracotta pots. A short round table is in the middle of the space, covered in a faded floral tablecloth and, sure enough, two tiny china tea cups, steaming with yellow tea.

“I’m not drunk, Grandma,” Athena says, taking a seat in an old brown dining chair that shifts distrustfully beneath her. She places her finger on the fragile handle of the cup and slowly spins it around, breaking the stillness of the liquid. “How do you always know when I’m coming?”

It’s something she is used to with her grandma; always preparing dinner for her before Athena even decides to stop by, asking about events in Athena’s day that were never told to her. Edith has done it ever since Athena was a child. Before her parents forbade any visits between them, that is.

“Oh, Athena, don’t you know by now.” Edith sits in the chair across from her, the wood not bending beneath her weight, already so sure of her presence. She reaches out a pointed fingernail and lifts her granddaughter's chin. “I see all.”

Edith’s eyes stare into Athena’s, the pupils clouded and gray.

When Athena was young her mother would always remind her that Grandma Edith was blind before she arrived at their house, but Athena had thought it was a joke. The older woman moved around the house, running the back of her hand along furniture, but stepping over toys Athena had accidentally left in the hall without falter. She would look directly into the eyes of whoever she spoke to and Athena knew that there was no way the woman in front of her had lost her sense of sight.

One night, when her parents were asleep and Athena lay awake, something pulled her out of bed and downstairs, for some reason she had to go look. What she found was Edith Lin moving around the kitchen like a gentle breeze, grabbing vials from her giant bag and sprinkling the contents into a mug of hot water. Only a single light was on above the sink, and when Athena stepped into the light, her pink knitted socks silent on the tile, Edith stilled for only a moment.

“I’ve made some tea for you,” she said. There was no motion made to beckon Athena closer, but it felt as though an invisible hand had circled her wrist and moved her forward. “To heal insomnia.”

“Oh,” is all Athena had replied with, though her eyebrows furrowed.

“To help you sleep,” her grandmother clarified.

Athena stood silently while Edith stirred the tea with something that resembled a thin twig. She watched with wide brown eyes, took in her grandmother’s halo of short curly hair and the patches of gray throughout it. She watched the lined hands work as hazy eyes followed their movement.

“Your eyes are cloudy,” Athena had said, voice soft and unsure. “How do you see?”

Edith turned to the child and slowly leant down until they were face to face. She handed Athena the mug, who held it tightly in her small hands, heart rabbiting. Her parents had always warned her about her grandmother, said that her mind wasn’t quite right. But then Edith placed a gentle finger between Athena’s eyebrows and a wave of ease fell over her like a veil.

“You have the gift, young one. One day it will awaken in you, and you will realize that though your two eyes may close, there is one that never does.”

Those eyes had sent a chill through her then, just as they do now.

Edith sits back. “So, you’ve seen him.”

Faded irises stare directly into hers and a hooded shadow flashes back into her memory. “Who is he?”

Edith stands suddenly though the old chair beneath her doesn’t make a single creak. “Come with me, child. You have so much to learn.”

           When Athena stands, the teacups rattle and the chair scrapes back. “What’s going on, Grandma?”

           “Haven’t you felt it? The buzzing beneath your fingertips? It needs to be released.”

           “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Athena snaps. But now, when she brings them to attention, her fingerprints fizzle. She flexes them to try to bring blood back. “You’re talking crazy.”

           While Athena grows antsy, voice raising in volume, Edith stays calm. She says it almost like she’s bored. “I’m talking witchcraft.”

           "I don’t even know why I’m here.” Athena shakes her head to rid it of the image of that hooded man. A man who was just wearing a costume, attending a Halloween party. A man who shouldn’t be putting her on edge like this. She makes her way to the door, past shelves of vials and jars that seem to be standing at attention. “I should get to sleep, I have class-”

The front door slams closed. Athena jumps but, thinking it has to be the wind, reaches for the handle anyway. When she does, the lock clicks into place.

“I said,” Edith snaps, standing in the dim light of the hallway with a thin eyebrow raised. “Come with me.”

~~*~~

           He slinks behind the concrete building of the science wing, unaware of Iris right behind him. When she peeks around the corner to where he disappeared, she finds him speaking to a girl.

           “Yeah, that’s definitely her,” the man’s voice floats over, so low that she almost misses it. The girl’s face is mostly hidden behind his hooded head, but Iris can see hair cut sharply at the jaw, dark as coal. She doesn’t see the girl’s lips as she replies, though, and it comes too quiet to hear.

           “It’s the hundredth year,” He says. “It has to be now.”

           “Don’t rush things, Gabriel.” Her voice is louder now, like she’s already losing patience.

    Gabriel. Iris nearly says it out loud.

           “It’s been decades. You call that rushing?” He growls.

           And then there is nothing to be heard but the breeze. The girl shifts and Iris can almost see her face, if she just moves her head out a little more…

           The wind grabs her hair and blows it out, over her face and into the open. She jerks her head back behind the brick, brushing the dark locks back, and when she peeks out again the girl is looking right at her.

           No, she breathes with relief. Just past her. With blue eyes so sharp that they nearly glow. Iris holds her breath, not daring to move an inch. And then Gabriel is turning around, too. Looking just past her.

           Cassandra. The name whispers around her, the air carrying it away as quickly as it came when the hooded man turns back around.

           “It’s nothing,” the girl says. “All of these kids running around. It’s messing with me. I need to be back in there.” She tilts her head towards the forest border behind them.

           “She’s here, too, you know? The witch,” Gabriel says like the girl hadn’t muttered a word. “They’re… friends. I don’t get it.”

           “Her family isn’t stupid. I mean, look at where we are. They always have been one step ahead.” Iris watches the girl take slow strides backwards, towards the trees. Her clothing is dark, jeans and shirt clinging to her lithe figure. “I really should head back. And you should, too. Someone is going to start noticing you creeping around.”

Gabriel doesn’t say anything, or if he does it’s too quiet to reach behind him. The girl turns and takes off, running into the trees, instantly disappearing from sight.

When Iris moves her attention from the disturbed leaves, Gabriel is facing her. In a flash she sees blood dripping from his chin. Then, just as quickly, it disappears. He doesn’t seem alarmed at the fact that she had been following him, listening in on his conversation. His dark eyebrows soften over curious eyes. A soft smile tilts up the corners of his lips and he looks as if he’s about to coo to one of the timid kittens that hide beneath Athena’s grandmother’s house. He lifts a hand, waving a few fingers in invitation, and Iris is worried at the pull she feels to approach him.

Someone is going to start noticing you creeping around, the girl with him had said. He doesn’t belong here. She should call someone, go tell the dean or campus security.

Instead, she runs back towards her dorm building without looking back.

~~*~~

Like the rest of the house, Edith’s library is flickering with candle light and packed to the brim. Shelves filled with old books line every wall except for the far one where a fireplace with melted candles covering the mantel occupies the space. Dried wax spills down the brick, giving away how frequently they’re used, stopping only a few inches from the ground. There’s only one window, just beside the fireplace, showing a dark slate of night until the wind pushes a thin tree branch against it, only long enough for the leaves to brush the window pane before it’s pulled back into shadows.

A fine layer of dust covers the books piled up in stacks on the table in the center of the room, candles set on top of a few covers. Wax spills down the bindings of some and Athena notices that these candles must’ve been recently replaced; still long and slender, small drops of wax frozen halfway down the length of them.

           It brings an eerie feel to the space. The air is thick when Athena steps through the doorway, dust and smoke tickling her nose. There’s so much filling the room that it feels hard to breathe when Edith steps in and shuts the door behind her.

           “These are a lot of books for a blind woman, Grandma. Are they all in braille?” Athena tries for a joke to lighten the air, knowing very well what the answer is. Edith doesn’t humor her with an answer, just turns to one of the walls. The prominent joints move her slender fingers like a dance across a row of bindings and she hums something to herself. She’s almost to the corner and Athena expects her to move onto the next wall, expects to wait until the woman has touched each and every book in the room like a ritual, but Edith stops at the last one in the row. After slowly feeling across the faded title, she yanks it from it’s place and spins around. Just as Athena had expected the chair to creak or table to move with the force of Edith’s movements, the books tightly packed around the chosen one should have tipped or even just slightly shifted. They stay in their place.  

           Edith brings the book to the table, setting it open over the ones already there. Only when Athena walks to her do the floorboards creak.

           “I was hoping you would begin to feel it soon,” Edith says. “If only the Hawkins boy could have stayed away a while longer.”

           When she opens the book, the same dreadful feeling from the party creeps into Athena’s chest. It isn’t a book at all, but a photo album. She moves to hover over Edith’s shoulder, looking down at the images curiously. Staring back at her in the middle of the page is a boy no older than her, dark hair cut close and face stoic. The photograph is gray and grainy, the date November 17, 1884 scrawled on the space of paper below it.

           On the next page there is another old photo of the boy, but this time a girl stands beside him, his hand on her shoulder. Curls twist down around her, framing her face. The both of them hold chilling stares. No date is assigned to this one, but there are the names Gabriel and Scarlett Hawkins in elegant script.

“You’ve seen him,” Edith says, perfectly tracing the curvature of the boy’s face in the first image. Athena follows her grandma’s finger past the faded line of his forehead and the point of his nose, and though her stomach rolls with nausea, it sparks no recognition.  

           “I don’t know him. I don’t know anyone from the 1800’s.” Athena states, glancing at the profile of her grandma in confusion.

           Edith stabs her finger into the middle of the image, making Athena start. She looks at her granddaughter, eyes seeming to flare through the cloud. “What do you feel when you look at him?” She asks. “You’ve felt that before. You’ve seen him.”

           Athena’s eyebrows furrow as she tries to comprehend what Edith is telling her. There’s no way she could mean the boy at the party. The room begins to shrink around her. “It couldn’t be-”

           She stops short, not sure how to push words past the tightening of her throat when Edith turns the page to reveal Iris. There, in stark black and white, with the same soft smile she has in every yearbook picture. Athena steps away from the table.
           “This isn’t funny.”

           “It’s not meant to be.”

           “Grandma, what is this?”

           Edith’s eyes bore into Athena’s. “Your past. It’s about time you learn about it.”

           Athena considers leaving, bolting for the door. But she can’t stop looking at the picture. Her eyes move to the thin handwriting on the page beside it and she steps closer to see it clearly. Cassandra Woodridge, 1886.

           “But, Iris…”

           “It isn’t Iris,” Edith says, face turning back to the book. “Not really. Her name was Cassandra.”

           Athena rolls the name over in her mind, only noticing then that the feeling of dread has not left her. Edith turns the page.

           “Our family was so much bigger back then,” she continues to explain, fingers skimming over the images. “Our family held so much power at their fingertips. We’re still strong but nothing like in the past. The boy, he disturbed everything.” The edge in her voice sharpens and she flicks to the next page. An image of a family fills both sides, cut down the middle to fit. They are all standing outside of a weathered house, and when Athena squints, leaning in, she realizes it’s the one she’s in now.

           “You had just been preparing to take place as High Priestess of our family Coven.”

           “Me?” Athena asks, mind reeling.

           “Your ancestor.” Edith places a pointed fingernail at the chest of a girl who stands at the edge of the first page. At a girl with the same face as Athena. “I knew you were the reincarnate we have been waiting for the moment you took your first breath. I asked your mother to name you after her, after my grandmother’s cousin. It’s the one thing she granted me, and now it is time for you to bring honor to it.”

           Athena can't wrap her mind around what her grandmother is saying. Her head starts to ache and she steps back from the table again, making Edith stop to turn towards her. Everything her grandmother has said so far has been insane. Witches? Covens? Reincarnates? Athena decides that it's official and Edith has lost her mind like how her mother had been insisting for years now.

           “This is crazy! Absolutely crazy! We’re witches and Iris is what? A witch too? Or is she some other unreal creature? What supernatural thing is she, Grandma?” Athena’s voice simply gets louder and louder. Every candle in the room flickers, the one closest to her blows out but she pays it no mind. She came here for comfort and a sense of protection after that awful stomach twisting feeling at Emerson’s party, but now her Grandma is rambling on about witches and she can't take anymore of her eccentric babbling. “I'm going back to my dorm.” She finally huffs out, her Grandmother simply staring up at her, lips pursed. She assumes that is as much of a goodbye as she is going to get, but as long as her grandmother isn’t stopping her, she’ll take it.

She spins around towards the door, but in an alarming surge of electricity and pulsing shades of black falling over her, the door is not what she faces.

Smoke clears her vision and Athena is standing on a road. The night air is warm with the feeling of fallen rain and she looks down to black, pointed boots on slick cobblestone. She wants to gasp at the dress she’s draped in, the dark red skirt falling to her feet, bodice tight. It looks like something from a Jane Austen novel and she tugs at it, not expecting it to feel so real. Her heart picks up speed, and she wants to look around, wants to figure out where the hell she is and how she got here, but it’s like she has lost control of all functions, trapped inside of her own body as her head turns toward the side of a building. It’s a huge house, several stories looming toward the clouds, and it seems as if every window is lit. Through the parting of a cream curtain, Athena can see the flash of a man passing by, a woman’s hand reaching out for something.

A street lamp glows from the sidewalk corner, but Athena strides away from it’s light and towards the dark alleyway behind the building, only a bystander of her actions, her eyes like movie screens.

Two men stand at the back door of the house. They’re clearly arguing about something while trying to keep contained, not wanting attention drawn to themselves. Her feet continue towards them, moving brisker now, though. Athena wants to look at them but her stare focuses down on the ground.

“You must grow a backbone soon if you expect to survive.”

“There must be some other way to do this.”

“Don’t be so human. You’re not one of them anymore.”

Athena’s gaze unexpectedly flicks up now, heart racing uncontrollably, eyes locking instantly with one of the men. A smile that can only have wicked intentions spreads across his features.  She gasps sharply once she registers the sharp yellow color of his irises, the body she’s trapped in freezes.  The man reaches a hand out towards her, not once breaking eye contact.

“Come,” he purrs and gives a slight nod, grin growing impossibly wider as she moves towards him. “Good girl.” He laughs with dark amusement as his hand encircles her bicep, yanking her between the two of them. “Relax, lovey.”

Athena feels her heart slow.

“I can’t do this,” the other man speaks up. When the saffron eyes turn from her to glare at him, Athena looks, too. Right into the face of Gabriel. Athena’s mind reels as she recognizes the boy from the photo.

“Yes, you can. Go on.” The man holding her twists a hand into her hair, forcing her head to tilt and expose her throat. Gabriel runs a hand through his hair, glancing around the alley before settling his stare back on his friend. He huffs out a breath, shoulders slouching.

“No, Matteus.”

Athena doesn’t need to see the man behind her to know he’s rolling his eyes. In a whisp of air he is in front of her again, a strong hand still holding her head to the side. His tongue sweeps over thin lips and he tsks, seeming inconvenienced by it all though his being seems to hum with some sort of hunger.

“I have to do everything myself.” Matteus growls.

His head darts forward, and the hot swipe of a tongue across her neck leaves a feeling of flames burning her skin away. She wants to scream and her instincts tell her to hone into the hot static buzzing in her palms, but she can’t do either.

Teeth sink into her jugular and the flames take over, turning her being to ash.

When the orange cloak of pain subsides, she returns to her own body screaming. She is facing Edith again, who is standing with pursed lips. Her veiled eyes don’t waver as Athena recognizes her surroundings again and her screaming quiets down to nothing but heavy breathing.

What,” Athena exhales, unlocking her fingers from the fists at her sides to bring them to the fading sting at her throat. She expects them to come away covered in blood, but she’s only looking at shaking palms. “What was that?” she nearly screeches.

“A memory. One that belonged to my grandmother’s cousin, Athena,” Edith says, voice steady. “Do you believe me now?”

With a swallow that seems to scrape down her esophagus and return a pulsing pain below her jaw, Athena looks back to the family photograph of her relatives, and steps up to the table again. He fingertips crackle as she grips the edge of it. The candles around her flicker brighter.

“Show me what I can do.”




© 2017 Sarah and Ashleigh



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Added on November 5, 2017
Last Updated on November 5, 2017
Tags: supernatural, vampires, werewolves, witches, romance, contemporary


Author

Sarah and Ashleigh
Sarah and Ashleigh

Grand Island, NY



About
We have been writing together since we were babies and published our first novel in May and are excitedly working on our next project. We write when we can and always work together. Anything involving.. more..

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