Jules smiled. “Elliot failed to mention that you know about Kjirsten.”
“Did Elliot kill her … or did you?” I asked on a cold snap of inspiration.
“I had to test Elliot’s loyalty. I took away what was most important. Elliot was at Kinghorn on scholarship, and nobody let him forget it. Until me. I was his benefactor. In the end, it came down to choosing me or Kjirsten. More succinctly, choosing money or love. Apparently there’s no pleasure in being a pauper among princes. I bought him off, and that’s when I knew I could rely on him when it came time to dealing with you.”
“You haven’t figured it out yet?” The light highlighted the ruthlessness in his face and created the illusion that his eyes had turned the color of molten silver. “I’ve been toying with you. Dangling you by a string. Using you as a proxy, because the person I really want to harm can’t be harmed. Do you know who that person is?”
All the knots in my body seemed to come undone. My eyes moved out of focus. Jules’s face was like an Impressionist painting—blurred around the edges, lacking detail. Blood drained from my head, and I felt myself start to slip off the chair. I’d felt this way enough times before to know I needed iron. Soon.
He slapped my cheek again. “Focus. Who am I talking about?”
“I don’t know.” I couldn’t push my voice above a whisper.
“Do you know why he can’t be hurt? Because he doesn’t have a human body. His body lacks physical sensation. If I locked him up and tortured him, it wouldn’t do any good. He can’t feel. Not an ounce of pain. Surely you’ve got a guess by now? You’ve been spending a lot of time with this person. Why so silent, Nora? Can’t figure it out?”
A trickle of sweat crept down my back.
“Every year at the start of the Hebrew month of Cheshvan, he takes control of my body. Two whole weeks. That’s how long I forfeit control. No freedom, no choice. I don’t get the luxury of escaping during those two weeks, loaning my body out, then coming back when it’s all over. Then I might be able to convince myself it wasn’t really happening. No. I’m still in there, a prisoner inside my own body, living every moment of it,” he said in a grinding tone. “Do you know what that feels like? Do you? ” he shouted.
I kept my mouth shut, knowing that to talk would be dangerous. Jules laughed, a rush of air through his teeth. It sounded more sinister than anything I’d ever heard.
He said, “I swore an oath allowing him to take possession of my body during Cheshvan. I was sixteen years old.” He shrugged, but it was a rigid movement. “He tricked me into the oath by torturing me.
After, he told me I wasn’t human. Can you believe it? Not human. He told me my mother, a human, slept with a fallen angel.” He grinned odiously, sweat sprinkling his forehead. “Did I mention I inherited a few traits from my father? Just like him, I’m a deceiver. I make you see lies. I make you hear voices.”
Just like this. Can you hear me, Nora? Are you frightened yet?
He tapped my forehead. “What’s going on in there, Nora? Awfully quiet.”
Jules was Chauncey. He was Nephilim. I remembered my birthmark, and what Dabria had told me.
Jules and I shared the same blood. In my veins was the blood of a monster. I shut my eyes, and a tear slid out.
“Remember the night we first met? I jumped in front of the car you were driving. It was dark and there was fog. You were already on edge, which made it that much easier to deceive you. I enjoyed scaring you. That first night gave me a taste for it.”
“I would have noticed it was you,” I whispered. “There aren’t many people as tall as you.”
“You’re not listening. I can make you see whatever I want. Do you really think I’d overlook a detail as condemning as my height? You saw what I wanted you to see. You saw a nondescript man in a black ski mask.”
I sat there, feeling a tiny crack in my terror. I wasn’t crazy. Jules was behind all of it. He was the crazy one. He could create mind games because his father was a fallen angel and he’d inherited the power.
“You didn’t really ransack my bedroom,” I said. “ You just made me think you did. That’s why it was still in order when the police arrived.”
He applauded slowly and deliberately. “Do you want to know the best part? You could have blocked me out. I couldn’t have touched your mind without your permission. I reached in, and you never resisted.
You were weak. You were easy.”
It all made sense, and instead of feeling a brief moment of relief, I realized how susceptible I was. I was stripped wide open. There was nothing stopping Jules from sucking me into his mind games, unless I learned to block him out.
“Imagine yourself in my place,” said Jules. “Your body violated year after year. Imagine a hatred so hard, nothing but revenge will cure it. Imagine expending large sums of energy and resources to keep a close eye on the object of your revenge, waiting patiently for the moment when fate presented you an opportunity not just to get even, but to tip the scales in your favor.” His eyes locked on mine. “You’re that opportunity. If I hurt you, I hurt Patch.”
“You’re overestimating my value to Patch,” I said, cold sweat breaking out along my hairline.
“I’ve been keeping a close eye on Patch for centuries. Last summer he made his first trip to your house, though you didn’t notice. He followed you shopping a few times. Every now and then, he made a special trip out of his way to find you. Then he enrolled at your school. I couldn’t help but ask myself, what was so special about you? I made an effort to find out. I’ve been watching you for a while now.”
Nothing short of dread gripped me. Right then, I knew it was never my dad’s presence I’d felt, following me like a phantom guardian. It was Jules. I felt the same icecold, unearthly presence now, only amplified a hundred times.
“I didn’t want to draw Patch’s suspicion and backed off,” he continued. “That’s when Elliot stepped forward, and it didn’t take him long to tell me what I’d already guessed. Patch is in love with you.”
It all clicked into place. Jules hadn’t been sick the night he disappeared into the men’s room at Delphic.
And he hadn’t been sick the night we went to the Borderline. All along it was the simple fact that he had to remain invisible to Patch. The moment Patch saw him, it would all be over. Patch would know Jules—Chauncey— was up to something. Elliot was Jules’s eyes and ears, feeding information back to him.
“The plan was to kill you on the camping trip, but Elliot failed to convince you to come,” Jules said.
“Earlier today, I followed you out of Blind Joe’s and shot you. Imagine my surprise when I found I’d killed a bag lady dressed in your coat. But it all worked out.” His tone relaxed. “Here we are.”
I shifted in my seat, and the scalpel slid deeper into my jeans. If I wasn’t careful, it would slip out of reach. If Jules forced me to stand, it might slide all the way down my pant leg. And that would be the end of that.
“Let me guess what you’re thinking,” said Jules, rising to his feet and sauntering to the front of the room. “You’re starting to wish you’d never met Patch. You wish he’d never fallen in love with you. Go on. Laugh at the position he’s put you in. Laugh at your own bad choice.”
Hearing Jules talk about Patch’s love filled me with irrational hope.
I fumbled the scalpel out of my jeans and jumped from my seat. “Don’t come near me! I’ll stab you. I swear I will!”
Jules made a guttural sound and flung his arm across the counter at the front of the room. Glass beakers shattered against the chalkboard, papers fluttering down. He strode toward me. In a panic, I brought the scalpel up as hard as I could. It met his palm, slicing through skin.
Jules hissed and drew back.
Not waiting, I plunged the scalpel down into his thigh.
Jules gaped at the metal protruding from his leg. He jerked it out using both hands, his face contorting in pain. He opened his hands, and the scalpel fell with a clatter.
He took a faltering step toward me.
I shrieked and dodged away, but my hip clipped the edge of a table; I lost my footing and tumbled down. The scalpel lay several feet away.
Jules flipped me on my stomach and straddled me from behind. He pressed my face into the floor, crushing my nose and muffling my screams.
“Valiant attempt,” he grunted. “But that won’t kill me. I’m Nephilim. I’m immortal.”
I grabbed for the scalpel, digging my toes into the floor to stretch those last, vital inches. My fingers fumbled over it. I was so close, and then Jules was dragging me back.
I brought my heel up hard between his legs; he groaned and went limp off to one side. I scrambled to my feet, but Jules rolled to the door, kneeling between me and it.
His hair hung in his eyes. Beads of sweat trickled down his face. His mouth was lopsided, one half curled up in pain.
Every muscle in my body was coiled, ready to spring into action.
“Good luck trying to escape,” he said with a cynical smile that seemed to require a lot of effort. “You’ll see what I mean.” Then he sank to the ground.
I HAD NO IDEA WHERE VEE WAS. THE OBVIOUS THOUGHT came to me to think like Jules—
where would I hold Vee hostage if I were him?
He wants to make it hard to escape and hard to be found, I reasoned.
I brought up a mental blueprint of the building, narrowing my attention to the upper levels. Chances were, Vee was on the third floor, the highest in the school—except for a small fourth floor, which was more of an attic than anything else. A narrow staircase accessible only from the third floor led up to it.
There were two bungalowstyle classrooms at the top: AP Spanish and the eZine lab.
Vee was in the eZine lab. Just like that, I knew it.
Moving as quickly as I could through the darkness, I felt my way up two flights of stairs. After some trial and error, I found the narrow staircase leading to the eZine lab. At the top, I pushed on the door.
“Vee?” I called softly.
She let out a small moan.
“It’s me,” I said, taking each step with care as I maneuvered up an aisle of desks, not wanting to knock over a chair and alert Jules to my location. “Are you hurt? We need to get out of here.” I found her huddled at the front of the room, hugging her knees to her chest.
“Jules hit me over the head,” she said, her voice rising. “I think I passed out. Now I can’t see. I can’t see anything!”
“Listen to me. Jules cut the electricity and the shades are drawn. It’s just the darkness. Hold my hand.
We have to get downstairs right now.”
“I think he damaged something. My head is throbbing. I really think I’m blind!”
“You’re not blind,” I whispered, giving her a small shake. “I can’t see either. We have to feel our way downstairs. We’re going to leave through the exit by the athletics office.”