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The whispered word dripped with disgust and pierced the excited, nearly euphoric, bubble that had surrounded me since the rally had begun. Christ, not two minutes ago, I’d been flying high—happy to be doing something meaningful and important and hoping to spend some time with the beautiful blonde with the big blue eyes.
I’d had some doubts earlier when I’d seen Delia throw away the flyer, but convinced myself it didn’t mean anything. So many handed flyers and pamphlets to anyone who crossed their paths out on the quad. I’d tossed more than I could count without even looking at them. I figured that was what had happened. Seeing her while I was addressing the crowd seemed to confirm that.
“What do you mean everything?” I asked.
She just shook her head.
“Why don’t we just head to the café?”
I didn’t know why I suggested it. I didn’t even know her well enough to push this. Seriously, I should be walking away right about now. It wasn’t as if campus was lacking options when it came to pretty girls. Walking away was definitely the way to go, but…fuck it. There was just something about her I didn’t want to walk away from.
“Come on,” I continued. “We’ll have coffee and talk and figure this out.”
“There’s nothing to figure out,” she spat. “It may be hard for you to understand, but I don’t want to go anywhere with you. I don’t want to be around you. I don’t want to see you.”
My gut soured, and a cold sweat broke out all over my body. The vehemence in her tone, in her stance… I’d never been on the receiving end of something so harsh. It didn’t sit well with me, and I struggled to understand where the hell it was coming from.
“It’s not like I’m going to force you to spend time with me, but…” I frowned. “You seemed interested before. No, you were interested before. I didn’t just imagine that.”
“No, you didn’t,” she said slowly, gripping the strap of her bag so tightly her knuckles whitened. “But that was before.”
“Before what?” I stepped forward, freezing when she flinched.
She recovered quickly and squared her shoulders, meeting my gaze fully. “Before I realized what you are.”
Anger flared at the contempt in her voice. “And what is that exactly?”
“A hate-mongering, prejudiced asshole.”
My jaw dropped; shock coursed through me frigidly. She was a Sympathizer, I realized, and had misunderstood what I’d said at the rally. She didn’t understand what I was trying to do.
“I’m not,” I protested. “I want to help magic users. I don’t hate them, Delia, and I’m not trying to make anyone hate them. I’m as much a Sympathizer as you are.”
Her shoulders shook as she laughed, a false and empty sound that grated. “Oh yes, you sympathize and care about the animals, the abominations. That much was very clear.”
“I never called them that!”
“Oh, you’re right. You didn’t,” she sneered. “You just compared them to rabid animals. Called their magic an abomination. Never mind that it’s a part of them.”
“You’re misunderstanding what I—”
“No, I’m not. You’re calling for magic users to be banned from campus, to be caged like animals, kept separate from the good normal folk. But it’s okay, because you sympathize and find it oh so sad, right? You arrogant prick. Stay the fuck away from me.”
She turned on her heel and jogged away as I stood in the middle of the pathway staring after her like an idiot. How had that gone so spectacularly wrong?
* * * *
“Fuck, what is going on with you?”
I looked over as Mark Greenley bumped shoulders with me. On my other side, Kevin Johns snorted. A bunch of us were hanging out in the quad between classes, enjoying what was sure to be one of the last warm days of the year. Books were out and open around us…and ignored.
I rolled my eyes. “Nothing’s going on with me.”
“Bullshit,” Mark said. “This is the first time in two weeks you’ve even hung out with us.”
“Yeah, you’ve been a moody fucker ever since the rally.” Wes Anders didn’t bother opening his eyes or shifting from his position stretched out on his back.
“Which is stupid, because it was awesome. A great turn out, tons of support,” Kevin chimed in.
I didn’t answer. My lack of good mood had nothing to do with the rally, and everything to do with a certain girl. Who happened to be sitting at one of the tables on the other side of the courtyard with a group of people. As much as I’d tried not to think about her the last couple weeks, Delia was never far from my thoughts—neither were the things she’d said. The way she’d said them. And if that weren’t bad enough, it seemed like she was everywhere. I saw her when I was walking to classes, when I swung by the café, when I was studying in the library or the commons. She was every-fucking-where.
“You’re pissed ‘cause the bleeding heart Sympathizers are doing their own rally now, aren’t you?” Mark nodded knowingly.
“What are you talking about?” I snapped.
There was a reason I’d never identified myself as Sympathizer to my friends, even though I’d told Delia the truth—I honestly saw myself as one. I didn’t want to see anyone hurt, and I wanted magic users to be free of the burden they carried.
“I thought you knew,” Mark said. “You keep looking over at them, frowning. I figured… The tiny brunette at the table you’re staring at is organizing a little event.”
I shifted my gaze from Delia to the girl sitting next to her. Their heads were bent together as they talked, and at that moment, Delia threw her head back and laughed before wrapping her arm around the other woman’s shoulders in a half-hug.
“Since we had a rally, the magic users and their supporters, their ‘Sympathizers’,” Kevin air quoted, “argued it was only fair they be able to hold one of their own on campus. And they were given approval. Can you believe that?”
“It’s their right,” I pointed out.
“It shouldn’t be,” Mark muttered. “They shouldn’t even be here.”
Everyone murmured their agreement, and the discussion took off about the dangers of magic users, not only on campus but anywhere. It was familiar and, as I watched Delia smile and talk with her friends, nauseating. My jaw ached from clenching it so tightly. I didn’t know what my problem was. Nothing was being said I hadn’t heard before—it wasn’t anything I hadn’t said before. Yet, I couldn’t bring myself to join in the conversation. And I couldn’t stop looking at Delia.
When she stood and left the quad, I grabbed my books, shoved them in my bag and jumped up. Ignoring the calls of my friends, I took off in the direction Delia had gone. I hurried through the pathways between buildings, scanning until I saw her.
“Delia!” I called, sprinting to catch up.
She turned, and my chest tightened when her smile immediately morphed into a frown when her gaze landed on me. She sighed loudly as I came to stop in front of her.
“What do you want?”
I chuckled even though her resigned tone cut. “Just wanted to say hi since we seem to keep crossing paths.”
“Yeah, that’s unfortunate. You think on a campus this size we could avoid that altogether, wouldn’t you?” She patted me on the arm. “We’ll just have to try harder.”
I covered her hand before she could pull away, capturing against me. “Maybe I don’t want to avoid seeing you. I actually rather like it.”
Her fingers flexed, digging in, but she didn’t try to pull away. It might have been me being desperate, but I took it as a good sign.
“Maddock,” she whispered.
“Look, I hate that you think I’m a prejudiced ass. Hate it,” I admitted, trailing my fingers over her knuckles, dipping my head slightly to meet her insanely gorgeous blue eyes. “Can’t we just get that coffee?”
She pressed her lips together then slowly drew her hand away. “I…I don’t think so.”
“No,” she interrupted. “We’re too different.”
“You don’t know that,” I argued. “Because you don’t know me. You saw me speaking to a group, that’s it. Give me a chance to explain, to clear up what you misunderstood.”
Her expression softened, and the corners of her mouth quirked up. “I didn’t misunderstand. You are a very effective public speaker, and were very clear in what you were saying.”
“I can’t stop thinking a lot about what you said.” I shoved my hand through my hair in frustration. “If you thought I meant those things…”
Delia took her phone out and looked at the display. “I have to go.” She stepped away but stopped to gaze at me, her smile small and sad. “Maybe there’s a reason you can’t stop thinking about it, Maddock. Maybe a part of you—even a tiny, tiny part—realizes what you’ve been saying and fighting for is wrong.”
Heart pounding, I called out after her. “Are you always going to be running away from me?”
She spun around, but kept moving, walking backwards. “As things stand now? Yes. But…”
“Show me you’re someone I want to be running to.”
Click the banner below to read Chapter Two of Kris Norris’ amazing Red Sky Dawning.