A sudden chill woke Raven.
He opened his eyes.
Missy was gone.
Raven crawled out from underneath the desk.
And there she was – sitting on top of the desk with a closed book in her hand. An algebraic equation of X’s and Y’s stretched across her mouth.
“Are you all right, miss?”
“Why are you crying?”
“I’m scared. I don’t want to go back to The Institute. They’ll steal my voice away again. They’ll—” She gulped down a cry. “They’ll turn me into a mindless, voiceless weapon that they can sell to whoever or whatever wants me. I won’t be Missy anymore. I’ll just be XQ.”
“Then, don’t return.”
“I want to. I have to. The Institute is…It’s my home. I have to go back. No matter how many times I run away, I always have to go back.”
She burst into full-blown tears. “And I don’t want to. But I have to.”
“What will it take to make you stay?”
Her crying simmered down. “What are you offering?”
He backed away from her. “Nothing, miss. I was only—”
She set the book onto the desk.
“—I was only asking. I wasn’t…”
She got off the desk and encroached into his personal space. “Hm. I think someone like you could make me stay put.”
“Miss. I hardly know you. I don’t…I couldn’t—”
She hugged him.
He pulled his arms back. “Miss, I don’t think…This is too sudden. This is all too soon. It’s not right. I couldn’t. I can’t. I—”
“Just hold me.”
Raven shook his head.
“Please? It’ll make me feel better.”
He hesitantly lowered his arms and circled them around her.
“I’m sorry. I can’t. Please let me go. Let me go. I can’t. I can’t!”
She released him and tilted her head. “Did I do something wrong?”
He backed away from her and smoothed his rumpled clothes. “I’m a vampire. I know how to seduce my prey into coming with me, into surrendering their lives to me. But this. This. It’s too forward. It’s too familiar. I never. I.”
“What are you afraid of?”
“It isn’t fear. It isn’t proper. It. I’m sorry. I must go home.”
“It’s still day.”
“Is it? Ah. Yes. Of course, it is.”
“So, I did it again. I acted without thinking things through. And I lost the one person I liked.” She returned to her hiding spot under the desk. “It’s going to be just like Fresno. Just wait and see. Just like Fresno.”
He walked out of the room and stepped into the hallway.
Daylight streamed in through the rectangular windows.
So much daylight.
How will I ever make it back home? I don’t even know how to get home from here. I’d be stumbling in the daylight, growing weaker and weaker until I collapse.
He glanced back at the dark classroom lit only with constellations and math equations and chemical formulations.
So nice and dark.
He went back inside and closed the door.