"I keep thinking that hubris is eventually going to bring Aphrodite down," Damien said.
"Hubris," Stevie Rae explained, "having godlike arrogance."
"I actually know that one," I said, still staring after Aphrodite and her mob. "We just finished reading Medea in English class. It's what brought Jason down."
"I'd love to knock the hubris right out of her bobble head," Erin said.
"I'll hold her for you, Twin," Shaunee said.
"No! Y'all know we've talked about this before. The penalty for fighting is bad. Really bad. It's not worth it."
I watched Erin and Shaunee pale at the same time and wanted to ask what could be so bad, but Stevie Rae went on talking, this time to me.
"Just be careful, Zoey. The Dark Daughters, and especially Aphrodite, can seem almost okay at times, and that's when they're most dangerous."
I shook my head. "Oh, nu uh. I'm not going to their full moon thing."
"I think you have to," Damien said softly.
"Neferet okayed it." Stevie Rae said as Erin and Shaunee nodded in agreement. "That means she'll expect you to go. You can't tell your mentor no."
"Especially when your mentor is Neferet, High Priestess of Nyx," Damien said.
"Can't I just say that I'm not ready for...for...whatever it is they want me to do, and ask Neferet if I can be--I dunno, what would you call it--excused from their full moon thingy this time?"
"Well, you could, but then Neferet would tell the Dark Daughters and they'd think that you're scared of them."
I thought about the major crap that had already passed between Aphrodite and me in such a short time. "Uh, Stevie Rae, I might already be scared of them."
"Don't ever let them know." Stevie Rae looked down at her plate, trying to hide her embarrassment. "That's worse than standing up to them."
"Honey," Damien said, patting Stevie Rae's hand, "stop beating yourself up about that."
Stevie Rae gave Damien a sweet, thank-you smile. Then she said to me, "Just go. Be strong and go. They won't do anything too awful at the ritual. It's here on campus; they wouldn't dare."
"Yeah, they do all their bad bullshit away from here, where it's harder for the vamps to catch them," Shaunee said. "Around here they pretend to be all sickeningly sweet so no one knows what they're really like."
"No one except us," Erin said, sweeping out her hand so that she included not just our little group, but everyone else in the room, too.
"I don't know, y'all, maybe Zoey will actually get along with some of them okay," Stevie Rae said without any touch of sarcasm or jealousy.
I shook my head. "Nope. I won't get along with them. I don't like their kind-- the kind of people who try to control others and make them look bad just to feel better about themselves. And I don't want to go to their Full Moon Ritual!" I said firmly, thinking about my stepfather and his buddies, and how ironic it was that they seemed to have so much in common with a group of teenagers who called themselves the daughters of a goddess.
"I'd go with you if I could--any of us would--but unless you're one of the Dark Daughters you can only get in if you're invited," Stevie Rae said sadly.
"That's okay. just deal with it." Suddenly I wasn't hungry anymore. I was just very, very tired, and I really wanted to change the subject. "So explain to me about the different symbols you wear here. You told me about ours--Nyx's spiral. Damien has a spiral, too, so that must mean he's a...I paused to remember what Stevie Rae had called freshmen, "a third former. But Erin and Shaunee have wings, and Aphrodite had something else."
"You mean besides that cob stuck straight up her skinny anus?" Erin muttered.
"She means the three Fates," Damien interjected, beating Shaunee to whatever she was going to add. "The three Fates are children of Nyx. The sixth formers all wear the emblem of the Fates, with Atropos holding scissors to symbolize the end of school."
"And for some of us, the end of life," Erin added gloomily.
That shut everyone up. When I couldn't stand the uncomfortable silence anymore I cleared my throat and said, "So what about Erin and Shaunee's wings?"
"The wings of Eros, who is the child of Nyx's seed--"
"The love god," Shaunee said, adding a seated gyration of her hips.
Damien frowned at her and kept talking. "The golden wings of Eros are the fourth formers' symbol."
"'Cause we're the love class," Erin sang, raising her arms over her head and shimmying her hips.
"Actually, it's because we're supposed to be reminded of Nyx's capacity to love, and the wings symbolize our continuous movement forward."
"What's the symbol for fifth formers?" I asked.
"Nyx's golden chariot pulling a trail of stars," Damien said.
"I think it's the prettiest of the four symbols," Stevie Rae said. "Those stars sparkle like crazy."
"The chariot shows that we continue on Nyx's journey. The stars represent the magic of the two years that have already passed."
"Damien, you are a good little student," Erin said.
"I told you we should have gotten him to help us study for the human mythology test," Shaunee said.
"I thought I told you we needed his help, and--"
"Anyway," Damien shouted over their bickering, "that's about all there is to the four symbols of the classes. Easy-peasy, really," he looked pointedly at the now silent Twins. "That is, if you pay attention in class instead of writing notes and staring at guys you think are cute."
"You're really prudey, Damien," Shaunee said.
"Especially for a gay boy." Erin added.
"Erin, your hair's looking kinda frizzy today. Not to be mean or anything, but maybe you should think about switching products. You can't be too careful about those kinds of things. The next thing you know you'll be getting split ends."
Erin's blue eyes got huge and her hand went automatically to her hair.
"Oh, no no no. I do not believe you just said that, Damien. You know how crazy she is about her hair." Shaunee started to puff up like a mocha-colored blowfish.
Damien, meanwhile, just smiled and returned to his spaghetti-- the perfect picture of innocence.
"Uh, y'all," Stevie Rae said quickly, standing up and pulling me with her by the elbow. "Zoey looks beat. Y'all remember what it was like when you first got here. We're going to go back to our room. I have to study for that vamp sociology test, so I probably won't see you until tomorrow."
"Okay, see ya," Damien said. "Zoey, it was really nice to meet you."
"Yeah, welcome to Hell High." Erin and Shaunee said together before Stevie Rae pulled me out of the room.
"Thanks. I really am tired," I told Stevie Rae as we backtracked through a hall that I was happy to recognize as the one that would lead to the main entrance to the central school building. We paused while a sleek, silver-gray cat chased a smaller, harassed-looking tabby across the hall in front of us.
"Beelzebub! Leave Cammy alone! Damien is going to rip your fur out!"
Stevie Rae made a grab for the gray cat and missed, but he did stop chasing the tabby and instead streaked back down the hall the way we had just come. Stevie Rae was frowning after him.
"Shaunee and Erin need to teach that cat of theirs some manners; he's always up to something." She glanced at me as we left the building and walked out into the soft, pre-dawn darkness. "That cute little Cameron is Damien's cat. Beelzebub belongs to Erin and Shaunee; he chose both of them--together. Yep. It's as strange as it sounds, but after a little while you'll be like the rest of us and start thinking that they must really be twins."
"They seem nice, though."
"Oh, they're great. They bicker a lot, but they're totally loyal and will never let anyone talk about you." She grinned. "Okay, they might talk about you, but that's different, and it won't be behind your back."
"And I really like Damien."
"Damien's sweet, and really smart. I just feel bad for him sometimes, though."
"Well, he had a roommate when he first got here about six months ago, but as soon as the guy found out Damien was gay-- hello, it's not like the boy tries to hide it--he complained to Neferet and said he wasn't going to room with a fag."
I grimaced. I can't stand homophobes. "And Neferet actually put up with that attitude?"
"No, she made it clear that the kid--oh, he changed his name to Thor after he got here"--she shook her head and rolled her eyes--"doesn't that just figure? Anyway, Neferet let it be known that Thor was way out of line, and she gave Damien the option of moving into another room by himself or staying with Thor. Damien chose to move. I mean, wouldn't you?"
I nodded. "Yep. No way would I room with Thor the Homophobe."
"That's what we all think, too. So Damien has been in a room by himself since then."
"Aren't there any other gay kids here?"
Stevie Rae shrugged. "There're a few girls who are lesbians and totally out, but even though a couple of them are cool and hang with the rest of us they mostly stick together. They're way into the religious aspect of Goddess worship and spend most of their time in Nyx's Temple. And, of course, there are the moronic party girls who think it's cool to make out with each other, but usually only if some cute guys are watching."
I shook my head. "You know, I've never understood why girls think making out with each other is the way to catch a boyfriend. You'd think it would be counterproductive."
"Like I want a boyfriend who only thinks I'm hot when I'm kissing some girl? Blech." "What about gay guys?"
Stevie sighed. "There are a few besides Damien, but they're mostly too weird and girly for him. I feel bad for him. I think he gets pretty lonely. His parents don't write or anything."
"The whole vampyre thing freaked them out?"
"No, they didn't really care about that. Actually, don't say anything to Damien because it hurts his feelings, but I think they were relieved when he was Marked. They didn't know what to do with a son who is gay."
"Why did they have to do anything? He's still their son. He just likes guys."
"Well, they live in Dallas, and his dad is big into the People of Faith. I think he's some kind of minister or something--"
I held up my hand. "Stop. You don't have to say another word. I totally get it." And I did. I was way too acquainted with the narrow- minded, "our way is the only right way" ideas of the People of Faith. Even thinking about it made me feel exhausted and depressed.
Stevie Rae opened the door to the dorm. The living-room area was empty except for a few girls who were watching That '7os Show reruns. Stevie Rae waved absently at them.
"Hey, do you want a pop or something to take upstairs with us?" I nodded and followed her through the living room and into a smaller room off to the side that had four refrigerators, a big sink, two microwaves, lots of cabinets, and a pretty white wooden table that sat in the middle of it--just like a regular kitchen, only this one was weirdly refrigerator-friendly. Everything was neat and clean. Stevie Rae opened one of the fridges. I peeked over her shoulder to see that it was filled with all kinds of drinks-- everything from pop to lots of juices and that fizzy water that tastes nasty.
"What do you want?"
"Any brown pop is fine." I said.
"This stuff is for all of us," she said as she handed me two Diet Cokes and grabbed two Frescas for herself. "There're fruit and veggies and stuff like that in those two fridges, and lean meat for sandwiches in the other one. They're kept full all the time, but the vamps are pretty obsessed with us eating healthy, so you won't find bags of chips or Twinkies or stuff like that."
"Yeah, there's some really expensive chocolate in the cabinets. The vamps say chocolate in moderation is good for us."
Okay, so who the hell wants to eat chocolate in moderation? I kept the thought to myself as we walked back through the living room and headed upstairs to our room.
"So the, uh, vamps"--I kinda stumbled over the word--"are big on healthy eating?"
"Well, yeah, but I think basically just fledglings eating healthy. I mean, you don't see fat vamps, but you also don't see them chewing on celery and carrots and picking at salads. Mostly they eat together in their own dining room, and rumor has it that they eat well." She glanced at me and lowered her voice. "I heard that they eat a lot of red meat. A lot of rare red meat."
"Eeesh," I said, not liking the bizarre visual image I suddenly got of Neferet gnawing on a bloody steak.
Stevie Rae shivered, and went on: "Sometimes someone's mentor will sit with a fledgling at dinner, but they usually have just a glass or two of wine and don't eat with us." Stevie Rae opened the door and with a sigh I sat on my bed and pulled off my shoes. God, I was tired. Rubbing my feet I wondered about why the adult vamps didn't eat with us, and then I decided I didn't really want to think about that long. I mean, it brought to mind too many questions like what are they really eating? And what will I have to eat when/if I become an adult vamp? Ugh.
And, part of my brain whispered that it also made me remember my reaction to Heath's blood yesterday. Had that been only yesterday? And also my more recent response to the blood of that guy in the hall. No. I definitely didn't want to think about either of them--at all. So I quickly refocused on the healthy-diet issue.
"Okay, they don't particularly care about eating healthy, so what's the big obsession with us eating healthy?" I asked Stevie Rae.
She met my eyes, looking worried and more than a little scared.
"They want us to eat healthy for the same reason they make us exercise every day--so that our bodies are as strong as possible, because if you start getting weak or fat or sick, that's the first sign that your body is rejecting the Change."
"And then you die," I said quietly.
"And then you die," she agreed.