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A ping-pong ball smacked off the back of her head before she took another step forward. Whipping around, she rubbed her skull. "Ouch!"
Kimmy cocked her head to the side. "I've been calling your name for the last two minutes. God. Did you zone out or are you just that much of an idiot?"
A red-hot feeling slipped through her veins, a combination of the overheard conversation and Kimmy's pure bitchiness. She picked up the ball and launched it back. The little round piece of plastic was like a heat-seeking tomahawk, finding Kimmy's cheek. A very satisfying thud later, Bethany stalked past a twitching Kimmy.
"I can't believe you threw that at my-"
"My paddle is next," Bethany warned, flipping the paddle in her hand.
Carissa giggled from her partnerless table. "That was hilarious."
Kimmy turned on the girl, about to pull a Linda Blair, no doubt. "Are you laughing at me?"
"Um." Carissa pushed up her glasses. "I think so."
"Oh, you just-"
Coach Anderson decided to interrupt then. "All right, ladies, eyes on the table-on the game."
Beth squeezed the paddle and took a deep breath. Coach must've realized then that Carissa was all alone and headed toward her just as Dawson and Andrew reappeared, looking like they were two seconds from throwing down in the middle of the gym.
"Unless there's a table behind those bleachers, I'm curious as to what you two were doing back there," Coach said. "Get back to your assigned tables now."
Dawson went to his side of the table, picking up his paddle. "You ready?" he asked Carissa.
She nodded, reaching for the ball, but Andrew's hand swiped across the table, snatching it up. "Here," he said, smiling. "Let me give it to you."
Bethany had a real bad feeling about this.
A slow, cold smile crept across Dawson's face, and she suddenly saw his twin in that expression. It was eerie. "Yeah, you do that."
Andrew cocked back his arm so fast, it was a blur to Beth. He let loose and that little ball had to have broken the sound barrier. Good God, it zinged across the table like a bullet.
Without taking his eyes off the blond, Dawson snapped up his hand and caught the ball. There was a loud thud that made Bethany wince, but he didn't flinch. "Thanks, buddy."
"Christ on a crutch," Carissa murmured.
Dawson grinned as he raised his arms and folded his hands behind his back. The shirt he wore rode up, exposing a flash of taut stomach muscles. Wow. No doubt he had a six-pack in kindergarten. He seemed oblivious to the fact that all three girls were staring at him.
To say the rest of the class was awkward was a massive understatement. After changing, she punched open the door and saw Dawson waiting for her.
His brows knitted. "You doing okay over there?"
"I think I should be asking you that question."
He took her hand, pulling her to him. Bethany pressed her cheek against his chest. "It hasn't been bad. I've gotten to see you."
She smiled and lifted her chin. Their gazes locked. Heat flooded through her. "You always say the right things. A really good skill to have."
His nose brushed along hers. "Only with you."
A knot formed in her throat at the same moment a whole truckload of butterflies took flight in her stomach. "See. There you go again."
"Hmm," he murmured, wrapping his arm around her waist. Never before had she been big on PDA in the halls. Usually she rolled her eyes and made some kind of internal snarky comment whenever she saw it, but she was discovering that she liked being that girl with Dawson.
"Can I come over after school?" he asked.
"I was hoping you'd want to."
"I'll stop by after supper, okay?" He kissed her cheek and pulled back. Taking her hand, he walked her out to the parking lot. At her car, he lifted her hand and pressed his lips against her palm. "I have a feeling there's going to be a meeting of the minds when I get home, so I might be a little late."
She winced. "I wish I could be there with you. It's not right that you have to defend yourself and me all alone."
Tenderness filled his brilliant green gaze. "I've got it covered."
Dawson kissed her palm again, and the sweet gesture simply floored her. "Don't worry about them. I don't want you to worry at all." He let go of her hand and started backing up. "I'll be over as soon as I can."
"I'll be waiting."
Intervention Round Two went as expected.
In other words, it consisted of everyone taking turns bitching him out and sometimes more than one at a time. Dee and Adam were the only ones who didn't take part. Sitting side by side on the couch, they had identical somber expressions.
Matthew wanted to go to the DOD, like they were supposed to in cases of exposure, but Daemon and Dawson managed to convince him that the risk wasn't high. After an hour of straight arguing, he relented reluctantly.
"This is so risky," Matthew said, pacing the living room. "If she tells a single-"
"She won't tell anyone. I swear to you."
Ash shook her head. "How can you be so sure?"
"Look. This is a done deal," Daemon said, cutting her off. "We're not going to the DOD or to the Elders. It's over."
"This isn't moveon.org, Daemon," she snapped back. "This affects all of us. And with her glowing-"
"I will protect her. I will also make sure no Arum gets close enough to even see her." Dawson crossed his arms.
Ash gaped. "This is going to blow up in your face-in all of our faces. There's a reason why humans don't know about us. They are fickle and insane!"
Even Dee's eyebrows rose on that. Ash was pretty damn nuts when she wanted to be.
Then Ash twisted toward Daemon, her cheeks flushed. "I can't believe you're allowing him to do this. Next thing we know, you'll be dating a human."
Daemon busted out laughing. "Yeah, not going to happen."
The bitchfest went on for another hour before the Thompsons left. On the way out, Adam pulled Dawson aside while his siblings stewed in the car.
"Look, I don't care if you're in love with the girl-"
"Don't even say you're not in love," Adam said, glancing at the empty house next door. "I don't care if you do or don't. It's really not the point, but you have got to be careful."
Dawson folded his arms. "I am being careful."
"Dude, this isn't careful. Everyone is pissed. This is going to affect Bethany." He took a breath. "I'll try talking some sense into those two, but your problems aren't just the Arum or the DOD, if you get my drift."
Aw man, the kind of rage that shot up his spine was enough to rain down some wrath. "If they do anything, I will-"
"I know, but you have to expect this. Even with Daemon and Matthew backing your…lifestyle, it's not going to be easy."
Now he was starting to lose his patience. His "lifestyle" was him wanting to be with the person he cared about. As if that was a bad choice or something. "Adam-"
"You're my friend." Adam clamped his hand on Dawson's shoulder, meeting his eyes. "I got your back, but you need to be real sure about the road you're traveling down."
Dawson exhaled roughly. "I…don't know-shit. I don't know what you want me to say." Mainly because he didn't even know how to begin to put what he felt for Bethany into words. Maybe Adam had a point. Maybe it was the big L.
A keen sense of understanding marred with sadness crept across Adam's face. "Look, what kind of future do you have with her? Is she worth pissing off and alienating everyone?"
"I think the answer to that is pretty obvious."
"True," he said, dropping his hand. "But this is huge. Know of any Luxen and human that have made it work? Lived to talk about it?"
Yeah, now entering Downersville, population one.
Adam gave a little smile. "I don't envy you, because I really don't think we can help how we feel. God knows I'm well familiar with that." He winced, and Dawson wondered if he were talking about Dee. "I just worry, because I don't think Dee and Daemon could deal if something bad happened. And I don't think you could if something happened to Bethany."
Dawson watched his friend leave. Adam had given him a lot of food for thought. Bad, cheap, leftover yuck food for thought.
But mostly, he was consumed by how he felt for Bethany. Because he was risking everything and everyone, and that was selfish. God, there was only one thing that could cause anyone to be that self-centered.
It didn't take Bethany long to realize that there weren't many Team Dawson-and-Bethany fans. Over the next couple of days, Daemon spent the bulk of English class glaring at his brother and ignoring her, even when she tried to be civil.
It also became easy for her to tell Andrew and Adam apart. The nice one was distant whenever they crossed paths or when he chatted with Dawson, but he smiled at her. The other, evil alien twin scared the living bejeebus out of her. Daemon's glares had nothing on Andrew's. He was someone she didn't want to cross paths with alone. Luckily, Dawson stuck close to her side and by Friday, good news. Her trace had faded. Six days was all it took.
She and Dawson spent the weekend together, holed up in her bedroom. Door kept open, of course. Mom popped her head in, but each time, she brought cookies. There was a good chance that Dawson was falling in love with her mom.
The boy could eat.
He explained once, after his third Big Mac, that it had to do with their metabolism and the amount of energy they used. Trying not to be jealous, Bethany had poked at her cheeseburger, which she knew would go straight to her butt.
The boy could also cuddle.
When they felt relatively sure that her mom wouldn't bust up in her bedroom or the living room, Dawson would hold her close, as if he needed to be touching some part of her. At times, his whole body vibrated.
She didn't get to see him in his true form again, because of the trace it would leave behind, but with each passing day, Dawson loosened up around her. His new favorite pastime seemed to be popping out and appearing right in front of her, giving her a minor stroke each time he did it. He also moved a lot of things without touching them. These little actions didn't throw off a lot of energy, but they were really neat to see.
Things were going well. And then she met Ash, formally, on Monday.
She'd seen the blonde in the halls every once in a while. Hell, it wasn't like you could miss her. Like Dee, she was gorgeous, almost too beautiful to be walking the halls of high school. Ash seemed better fit for the catwalks of Milan.
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