Bumble(Legend of the Ir'Indicti,Book 1)(15) by Connie Suttle
"I need to get back to your mother," Aedan pulled Ashe's hands away. "She's not doing very well right now."
"I know," Ashe mumbled.
"Go back to sleep if you can; I just wanted to see you before daybreak."
"Goodnight, son." Aedan left Ashe's bedroom, closing the door noiselessly behind him.
* * *
The April morning was frosty and chill bumps stood out on his arms as Ashe walked toward Cloud Chief Combined. It was the first day of class following spring break and his mother offered to drive him to school. Ashe preferred to walk and think, so he'd turned down her offer. Adele looked as if she wanted to say something, but didn't. She'd have gone to the store late just to drive him and Ashe didn't want to be the reason the store didn't open on time.
Silence greeted Ashe as he shuffled into the Transformational Arts classroom and took his seat. His classmates stared at him, too—several with open mouths. Ashe reasoned it out quickly. Cori had told Dori, Dori had told Wynn and now everybody knew Principal Billings wanted him out. And James was still dead. Ashe wondered how many of his classmates were truly upset over that. James and Marco often teased the younger ones mercilessly. Was that what some of those around him would do when they grew older? Ashe sighed at the thought.
"Class, we won't be transforming today," Mrs. Rocklin walked in and sat at her desk. "Instead, we'll talk about loss."
Ashe felt Principal Billings' gaze on his back as he followed Sali to the lunchroom at noon. The Principal's arms were crossed over his chest and he'd smiled a contented smile as Ashe walked past. Ashe hoped his scent had faded since his visit to Billings' office nearly a week and a half earlier, but figured that the first visit to check Cori's grades was still fresh in Billings' mind. And Cori? She couldn't wait to tell her sister what Ashe had told her, yet there he was, keeping Cori and James's secrets.
"Know why everybody was staring at me in Transformational Arts this morning?" Ashe asked sullenly as Cori set her lunch tray on Ashe and Sali's table. Sali was busy vacuuming up the last of his spaghetti and meatballs, slurping noisily on an extra-long spaghetti noodle and ignoring Ashe's conversation with Cori.
"I'm sorry." Cori turned her head away.
"Me, too," Ashe said, lifting his tray and walking toward the drop-off. He hadn't eaten half his food and he'd been hungry when Cori sat down. Ashe didn't know what to do. He'd trusted Cori and he should have known better. He wondered if she knew that Radomir would be questioning her after darkness fell. Shrugging off that worry, Ashe walked toward the History classroom to sit and mope.
"Here." Sali sat down at the desk next to Ashe's, passing over a folded note. "And I didn't even read it."
"You can read?" Ashe grumped, taking the note.
"Sporadically," Sali grinned.
"Wow. Another five-syllable word. I think you need a brain scan, dude. They may find something yet." Ashe began to open the many-times folded note.
Ashe, the note began, Mom asked me what we talked about. I made it sound like you were the one who needed help. I had to tell her so she wouldn't ask questions. Ashe read the note twice before stuffing it in his book bag.
"Getting lurve notes?" Sali teased.
"Sali, Cori liked James. She just wanted to talk about that with somebody who might be objective over the whole thing."
"So, Cordell Junior High, huh?" Sali said what he wanted to say.
"Sali, the year's not over yet. I have until the start of the fall semester."
"Dude, we'll work on it this summer. You can't fraternize with humans."
"Sali, my dad was human once. He just didn't stay that way."
"Didn't mean to bite your paws, man."
"Is that werewolf humor?"
"You know it."
Ashe and Sali were loaded down with homework at the end of class. In the fall, they'd start geography and algebra. Ashe was looking forward to it. Just for a moment, he wanted to tell Sali not to worry; Ashe had no plans to attend Cordell Junior High. Sali was fretting over the whole thing, Ashe could tell.
"Dude, tell me we're gonna use stem-and-leaf plots in real life," Sali hefted his backpack over a shoulder for the walk home after school.
"I like the geometry lessons better," Ashe admitted.
"You would." Sali walked in silence for a while before speaking again. "Dude, if Marco wasn't in such a funk, he'd drive us to your Mom's store."
"Sali, Mom's not doing that well either, right now. Probably not a good idea."
"Some doctor is supposed to fly in today; Mom had to drive to Oklahoma City to pick him up," Sali grumbled. "So it'll be me and Marco until Mom and Dad get home."
"Where's Mr. Winkler?"
"He said he had errands to run and he'd be back tonight, too. He lives in Dallas—he could have gone home for all I know."
"Yeah, I guess that's true," Ashe agreed. He wondered if the doctor would wait until the following evening to start the autopsy on James's body, since Radomir was supposed to question Cori that evening. Cori's betrayal still stung. She'd done it to protect herself, leaving Ashe vulnerable to the entire school. Now they all thought him a failure, destined to spend his life among humans. Not that humans were bad, but the others were essentially tossing him aside, as if he had no business living in Cloud Chief among them. Ashe knew exactly how Randy Smith must have felt.
"Do you ever wonder what Randy Smith said to get him kicked out?" Ashe asked.
"Nobody will tell me," Sali said. "All I know is that Dad growls every time somebody mentions Randy's name."
"What would your dad do if Randy didn't say those things? What would happen if he really didn't write that letter to Mr. Harris?"
"But Mr. Harris got a letter from Randy," Sali stopped and stared at Ashe.
"What if Randy didn't send it?"
"Then who did? Ashe, that's BS and you know it. Randy broke the law and now he's dead meat."
"Like I'd be dead meat if I contacted you? Sali, listen to yourself."
"Dude, you're smarter than that." Sali started walking again. "Have you decided what you're going to write about for the end of school essay?" Sali asked when Ashe caught up with him. "I can't think of anything, and I really could use that money. Mom said that if I won the contest, I could get a cell phone."
Sali referred to the essay contest the community sponsored every year. The first-place winner received five hundred dollars. Second place was awarded three hundred and third place would get one hundred. Usually someone from the higher grades won. The subject had to be about some aspect of life in their paranormal community. The teachers got together and voted on the winners, who were announced at the end of the school year. The essays were always handwritten, so penmanship was under scrutiny as well.
"I hadn't thought about it yet," Ashe grumped. "Too many other things going on."
"Come on; Mr. Harris said last year that yours was noteworthy," Sali nudged Ashe with an elbow.
"But it didn't win anything."
"But seventh-graders hardly ever get any of the prizes," Sali pointed out. "You can check the list outside Billings' office. All the winners are posted there."
"I know." Ashe had walked past the list for seven years. Students' names were painstakingly engraved on shiny metal strips affixed to a polished wooden plaque, along with the year in which they won. Ashe had never paid much attention to it before. He decided to do that the following day.
"See ya, dude," Sali waved and took off toward his home. Ashe still had a ways to go.
* * *
"Mom, they won't hurt Cori, will they?" Ashe still worried about her, even if she had betrayed him. His father and Radomir left the house shortly after rising to question Cori under compulsion.
"She might be afraid at first, but they only want the truth. Besides, Marcus, Mr. Winkler and the werewolf physician are all going to be there, with Lavonna and Nathan. Nathan won't let anyone harm his girls." Adele placed leftovers inside the fridge before turning her gaze on Ashe.
"What are they going to ask her?"
"They won't pry into her private life. They only want to know the facts surrounding James's death. They'll ask her if she killed him. We know the answer to that already, but it has to be placed in the records that she said it under compulsion. And then they'll probably ask her how she found James. Where he was, what she saw, things like that."
Ashe nodded. If it were he, he'd be scared to death. It didn't matter how many times somebody said that no harm would come to him, compulsion or not. "I think I ought to go do my history homework." Ashe slid off the kitchen chair and walked toward the door leading downstairs. "I'm glad you're feeling better, Mom."
"I felt better the moment your father came home," Adele sighed. "Go do your homework. I know you're worried about Cori, so if I hear anything, I'll let you know."
"Thanks, Mom." Ashe opened the door and clomped down the steps. He found out about Cori sooner than he imagined he might; her father, Nathan, brought her over after the questioning was done.
"She wanted to see you," Nathan said as Ashe stood inside the kitchen, staring openmouthed at Cori.
"I'm sorry I blabbed," Cori hugged Ashe tightly, crying on his shoulder.
"Blabbed?" Adele asked. Of course, Nathan was still listening, causing Ashe to flush to the roots of his hair.
"I told Mom and Dori that Ashe will be sent to Cordell Junior High in the fall because he can't turn," Cori wept, clinging to Ashe. Ashe stood, his arms limply at his side, unsure what to do with the moist affection.
"Ashe, young man, how did you find that out?" Adele now stared at her son, who was peering at his mother over Cori's shoulder. Cori still had a death grip on Ashe's slender body.
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