That was enough reason for me, but apparently, not enough for Matt. “Ren grabbed at me. I’m sorry. I’m not down with that.”
Matt just stared at me.
I bit back the string of curse words that were forming in my mind. “Okay. Maybe I shouldn’t have done all that. Can we just forget about it?”
“No.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “That was too weird for me. Sorry Alex, but that was just… freaky.”
My ever tenuous hold on my anger started to thin. “Oh, so next time you want me to stand here and let them kick your ass and molest me?”
“You overreacted! They weren’t going to kick my ass or molest you! And there won’t be a next time. I’m not down with violence.” Matt shook his head and turned away from me, plowing his feet through the mounds of sand, leaving me standing all alone.
“What the hell?” I muttered and then louder, “Whatever! Go save a dolphin or something!”
He whirled around. “It’s a whale, Alex, a whale! That’s what I’m interested in saving.”
I threw up my arms. “What’s wrong with saving dolphins?”
Matt ignored me at that point, and about two minutes later, I truly regretted yelling that. I stormed past him to retrieve my sandals and bag, but I did so with grace and dignity. Not one single disparaging remark or cuss word escaped my tightly sealed lips.
A couple of kids glanced up, but none of them said anything. The few friends I had at school had been Matt’s friends, and they liked saving whales too. Not that anything was wrong with saving whales, but some of them threw their beer bottles and plastic wrappers in the ocean. Hypocritical much?
Matt just didn’t understand. Violence was a part of who I was as a half-blood, ingrained in my blood since birth and trained into every muscle in my body. It didn’t mean I was going to snap and body slam someone for no good reason, but I would fight back. Always.
The walk home sucked butt.
I had sand between my toes, in my hair and up my dress. My skin chafed in all the wrong places and everything freaking sucked. Looking back, I could admit that I might’ve overreacted a tad. Ren and Stimpy hadn’t been particularly threatening. I could’ve just let it slide. Or acted like a normal girl in the situation and let Matt handle it.
But I hadn’t.
I never did. Now everything was going to be screwed up. Matt would go to school on Monday and tell everyone how I’d gone Xena Warrior Princess on the douchebags. I’d have to tell my mom, and she would freak. Maybe she’d insist we move again. I’d actually be happy about that; there was no way I could back to school and face those kids after Matt told them what’d happened. I didn’t care that school would be ending in a few weeks, anyway. I also wasn’t looking forward to the major bitch-fest coming my way.
One I knew I deserved.
Clenching the little purse in my fist, I picked up my pace. Normally the neon lights from the clubs and the sounds of the nearby carnival put me in a happy mood, but not tonight. I wanted to punch myself in the face.
We lived three blocks off the beach, in a two story bungalow Mom rented from some ancient guy who smelled like sardines. It was kind of old, but it had two tiny bathrooms. Bonus points there—we didn’t have to share. It wasn’t exactly in the safest neighborhood known to man, but an iffy side of town wasn’t anything that would scare my mom or me.
Bad mortals we could handle.
I sighed as I navigated the still crowded boardwalk. The nightlife was a big thing here. So were fake ID’s and super-tan, super-skinny bodies. Everyone looked alike to me in Miami, which wasn’t very different from my home—my real home—where I’d once had a purpose in life, a duty I’d be obligated to fulfill.
And now I was pretty much a loser.
I’d lived in four different cities and attended four high schools in three years. We always picked large cities to disappear in and always lived near water. So far we’d only attracted a little attention, and when we had, we’d run. Never once did my mom tell me why, not even a single explanation. After the first year, I’d stopped getting mad when she wouldn’t tell me why she’d come to my dorm room that night and told me we had to leave. I’d honestly given up asking and trying to figure it out. Sometimes I hated her for all of this, but she was my mom and where she went, I went.
Dampness settled in the air, the sky overhead quickly darkening until no stars shone down. I crossed the narrow street and kicked open the gate of the waist-high, wrought iron fence surrounding our little patch of grass. I winced at the screech as it swung open, scraping along the sandstone pavers.
I stopped in front of the door, looking up as I searched my purse for the key. “Crap,” I muttered as my eyes roamed over the little garden balcony. Flowers and herbs grew like crazy, overflowing their ceramic pots and climbing the rusty railings. Empty urns I’d stacked in a pile weeks ago had toppled over. I was supposed to have cleaned up the balcony this afternoon.
Mom was going to be pissed for a lot of reasons in the morning.
Sighing, I pulled out the key and shoved it in the lock. I had the door halfway open, thankful it hadn’t creaked and groaned like everything else in the house did, when I felt the most unfamiliar sensation.
Icy fingers ran up my spine, and then down. All the tiny hairs on my body stood up as the unerring sense of being watched came over me.
I quickly turned, my gaze darting over the little yard and beyond. The streets were empty, but the feeling only increased. Unease gnawed at my stomach as I stepped back and reached behind me, wrapping my fingers around the edge of the door. Nobody was there, but…
“I’m losing my mind,” I muttered. “I’m getting as paranoid as Mom. Nice.”
I went inside, locking the door behind me. The uncanny feeling slowly eased off as I tiptoed through the silent house. I inhaled and nearly gagged on the spicy aroma filling the living room.
Groaning, I turned on the lamp beside the secondhand, shabby couch and squinted into the corner of the room. Sitting beside our TV and the magazine rack full of US Weekly was Apollo. A fresh wreath of bay laurel wrapped around the marble cast of his head. Of all the things my mom had forgotten to pack the many times we moved, she’d never forgotten him.
I loathed the statue of Apollo and his stinky bay laurel wreath my mom replaced every godsforsaken day of my life. Not because I had anything against Apollo. I guessed he was a pretty cool god since he was all about harmony, order and reason. It was just the gaudiest damn thing I’d ever seen in my life.
It was only the bust of his chest and head, but engraved across his chest were a lyre, a dolphin, and—if that wasn’t enough symbolic overload for the masses—there were a dozen tiny cicadas perched on his shoulder. What the hell did the annoying, buzzing insects that got stuck in people’s hair even stand for? Symbolizing music and song my rosy left butt cheek.
I’d never understood my mom’s fascination with Apollo or with any of the gods for that matter. They’d been on the absentee list since mortals had decided sacrificing their virgin daughters was a totally uncool practice. I didn’t know a soul who’d ever seen a god. They’d run around and bred a hundred or so demigods and then let them have babies—the pure-bloods—but they never showed up on anyone’s birthday bearing gifts.
Holding my hand over my nose, I walked over to the candle surrounded by more laurel and blew it out. Being a god of prophecy, I wondered if Apollo had foreseen that. Gaudiness aside, what was shown of his marble chest was pretty nice.
Nicer than Matt’s chest.
Which was something I’d never be seeing or touching again. With that in mind, I grabbed the carton of double chocolate fudge ice cream out of the freezer and a large spoon. Not even bothering with a bowl, I climbed the uneven steps.
Soft light spilled out from the gap between my mom’s bedroom door and the floor. Stopping in front of her door, I glanced at my room and then down at the ice cream. I bit my lower lip and debated bursting into her room. She probably already knew I’d snuck out earlier and if she didn’t, the sand covering half my body would give it away. But I hated the fact that my mom was home alone on a Friday night. Again.
“Lexie?” The soft and sweet voice called from behind the door. “What are you doing?”
I nudged open the door and peeked inside. She sat at the head of the bed, reading one of those smutty romance novels with half-naked guys on the cover. I totally stole them when she wasn’t looking. Beside her on the small bedside table was a pot of hibiscus flowers. They were her favorite. The purple petals were beautiful, but the only scent came from the vanilla oil she loved to sprinkle over the petals.
She looked up, a slight smile on her face. “Hi, honey. Welcome home.”
I held up my carton of ice cream, cringing. “At least I’m home before midnight.”
“Is that supposed to make it okay?” She pinned me with a look, her emerald eyes glittering in the dim light.
My mom sighed, setting her novel down. “I know you want to go out and be with your friends, especially since you started seeing that boy. What’s his name? Mike?”
“Matt.” My shoulders slumped and I eyed the ice cream eagerly. “His name is Matt.”
“Matt. That’s right.” She gave me a brief smile. “He’s a really nice boy, and I understand you want to be with him, but I don’t want you running around Miami at night, Lexie. It’s not safe.”
“I’ve never had to… what do they call it? When privileges are suspended?”
“Grounding.” I tried not to smile. “They call it grounding.”
“Ah, yes. I’ve never had to ‘ground’ you, Lexie. I really don’t want to start now.” She brushed back the thick, wavy brown hair from her face as her gaze drifted over me. “Why in the name of the gods are you covered in sand?”
I inched inside her room. “It’s a long story.”
If she suspected I’d rolled around in the sand with the boy whose name she kept forgetting and then kung foo’d my way through two other guys, she didn’t let on. “Want to talk about it?”
She patted the bed. “Come on, baby.”
Feeling a bit dejected, I sat and tucked my legs under me. “I’m sorry about sneaking out.”
Her bright gaze dropped to the ice cream. “I believe you may be wishing you’d stayed home?”
“Yeah.” I sighed, cracking open the lid and digging in. Around a mouthful of ice cream, I said, “Matt and I are no more.”
“I thought his name was Mitch?”
I rolled my eyes. “No, Mom, his name is Matt.”
Looking at her was like staring in the mirror, except I was more like a mundane version of her. Her cheekbones were sharper, nose a little smaller and her lips more lush than mine. And she had those amazing green eyes. It was the mortal blood in me that watered down my appearance. I’m sure my dad must’ve been hotness to have caught my mom’s married eye, but he had been very human. Hooking up with humans wasn’t prohibited by any means, mainly because the children—half-bloods like me—were extremely valuable assets to the pures. Well, I couldn’t be included as an asset any longer.