Shadowed(Legend of the Ir'Indicti,Book 2)(24) by Connie Suttle
"As you all know, each instructor has an equal vote in the essay contest," Principal Billings began, sounding very much as if he regretted that fact. "The winners are as follows: Third place and one hundred dollars goes to Emily Jackson. Ms. Jackson, if you'll come forward, please."
The crowd clapped while Emily's eleventh-grade classmates cheered. Emily, a pretty werewolf, blushed as she accepted the envelope and congratulations from the Principal. When she was seated again, Principal Billings cleared his throat and frowned. "Second Place and three hundred dollars goes to," he hesitated as if unwilling to say the name, "Rowdy Hankins." Many students gasped and whispers swept through the room—they'd all expected Rowdy to receive first prize. Wow, Sali mouthed at Ashe. A dark horse would take first place for the first time in years.
Rowdy accepted his envelope with a wide smile, while Principal Billings congratulated him effusively and patted Rowdy's shoulder. Then, Billings cleared his throat a second time. "Now, for the first-place winner. I must say that this was a hotly contested race between first and second place, with one eventually triumphing over the other." Ashe could tell from the Principal's sour expression that he hadn't voted for the first-place winner. "First place and five hundred dollars," Principal Billings announced as if he were delivering a eulogy at a funeral, "goes to Ashe Evans."
Sali stood and pumped his fist in the air, shouting, "Woot, woot," Cori, Dori and Wynn were clapping and screaming Ashe's name and Ashe's other classmates were shouting their support. All while Ashe remained in his seat, unmoving and completely stunned.
"Stand up, son," Aedan whispered, knowing Ashe would hear. Ashe never remembered the walk to the podium or Billings' begrudged congratulations. He was the second youngest student ever to win the contest. The youngest had been Randy Smith, and Billings had despised him, too.
Sali held a hand up beside his ear, imitating a cell phone there. Ashe nodded numbly as he sat down beside his parents again. A few last announcements were made about the fall semester, a few encouraging remarks were given and the assembly was over. "Hold on," Aedan clapped a hand on Ashe's shoulder as everyone else exited the school cafeteria, all talking and laughing. Only graduation was left and then the summer would be theirs.
"Ashe, your punishment is this," Aedan said while Ashe's mother looked on. The cafeteria was now empty—Ashe could hear the noise from the crowd as it filtered in from the hallway outside. "You may not use that money to purchase a cell phone. You will wait until you turn fifteen as we originally planned. We won't tell you what to do with the prize money otherwise." Ashe stared at his father as if he'd been struck by lightning. He and Sali had hoped and prayed to win the contest, just to get a cell. That option had been wiped away in the space of a blink with only few words from his father.
"Then I know what I want to do with it." Ashe rose stiffly from his chair and walked toward the door. Aedan spared a glance at Adele before following his son into the hall.
"Cori, this is yours. To help out when you go to college this fall." Ashe held the envelope out to Cori while Aedan and Adele walked up. Adele stifled a gasp—Ashe was giving the money away.
"Ashe," Cori shook her head, her pretty, blonde hair swinging a little.
"Cori, I want you to take it. As a graduation present." Ashe grabbed Cori's hand and stuffed the envelope into it. "I hope you get something really nice with it." Ashe walked away swiftly before a stunned Cori could hand the envelope back.
"Mr. Evans, I can't take this. Ashe worked so hard on his essay," Cori's green eyes were worried as she extended the envelope to Aedan.
"Cori, keep it. We just told him he could do what he wanted with the money, except buy a cell phone. This is what he decided." Aedan moved so smoothly around Cori she almost didn't see it.
"Congratulations, Cori. I hope you enjoy college," Adele gave Cori a tremulous smile and followed her husband down the hall.
* * *
"Aedan, he'll never try to win that contest again." Ashe had gone straight to his room and shut the door the moment they'd arrived at home. Adele's arms were crossed tightly over her midriff and she was close to tears. She thought, as had Aedan, that Ashe would spend the money on books or electronics. Instead, he'd gone straight to Cori and handed the money to her. He hadn't spoken a word on the short drive home, and neither parent missed the lost look on Ashe's face. They hadn't missed Billings' attitude, either—the Principal had waged war against Ashe's winning the prize and handed it over with anger and reluctance. Now, his own parents had taken the reward for Ashe's hard work and turned it into a punishment. What should have been triumph had metamorphosed into crushing defeat.
"When they notified us on Wednesday that Ashe had won, I thought this would be a fitting punishment. I don't know what to do, now." Aedan rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably.
* * *
"I have no platitudes." Ren appeared and sat on the end of Ashe's bed as he usually did.
"I'd like to be alone now, if you don't mind." Ashe rubbed wetness from his face before turning around to look at Ren.
"Understood. Are we still friends?"
"Yeah." Ashe turned to face his computer again.
"I'll see you soon, then." Ren disappeared; Ashe turned to make sure.
Dude, what happened? Sali instant messaged Ashe.
Not now, Sali.
Never mind, I just heard from Hayes, who heard from Dori, who talked to Cori.
Rumor mill, Sali? How unlike you. Signing off, now. Ashe shut down his computer with a sigh.
* * *
Josiah mailed the envelope reluctantly. He should never have promised half the money to his spy. A third or a fourth, maybe. But all the spy had to do was talk to the right ones here and there and information was given freely. Josiah dumped the payment into the mailbox with a sigh and turned to walk down the cracked and broken sidewalk in Amarillo.
At the age of one hundred fifty-four, Josiah wanted to retire. Soon. His hair was still a dark brown with no gray, but another thirty years and that would no longer be true. Dark-brown eyes scanned the parking lots of local businesses on the north side of Amarillo as he walked toward his car. Obediah never suspected that Josiah and his handpicked spy were acting as double agents, selling information to him and to the Bright Elemaiya. Obediah kept the Dark Ones informed while Josiah and his associate handed nearly the same information to the Bright side.
Wildrif had given Josiah the idea in the beginning, in exchange for a working cell phone. With the money coming in from both sides of the fence, Josiah didn't mind paying Wildrif's phone charges every month. Josiah had no idea what Wildrif might want with a cell phone and didn't really care. But if Obediah discovered that his clairvoyant and his top spy were selling information to the other side, neither Josiah nor Wildrif had any illusions as to what might happen afterward. The Cloud Chief spy's name had always been hidden from Obediah, although Josiah felt that Wildrif somehow knew. Wildrif knew just about anything if he wanted to know it. Shaking his head as he walked down the darkened sidewalk, Josiah's keen eyes raked the street, searching for the car he'd parked two blocks away.
* * *
"Ashe, will you carry these boxes out for Mrs. Wilson?" Adele was already frazzled and it wasn't even lunchtime. Saturdays at Cordell Feed and Seed usually were busy during spring planting season. Ashe lifted the box of tender plants his mother had carefully packed for one of their regular customers—an elderly woman who still insisted on doing her own gardening. Even so, Mrs. Wilson, a widow for more than ten years, still carried herself upright and dressed nicely for her weekly visits to Cordell to do her shopping. She'd already been to the grocery store and carefully explained to Ashe what she'd purchased there as he carried her box of plants to an old Cadillac parked nearby.
Adele spared a glance at Ashe as he pushed the door open with an elbow and held it while Mrs. Wilson slowly made her way to the sidewalk outside the store. Ashe had barely spoken all day, and he'd been completely silent over breakfast that morning. Sighing in frustration, Adele turned to a customer who needed help in the fertilizer aisle.
* * *
"Where's Ashe? I was hoping we could play Frisbee again," Edward asked Sali, who'd brought a jug of ice water for Trace and Trajan. The werewolves stood guard as usual outside the temporary housing behind Ashe's home. Edward shaded hazel eyes from bright sunlight as he waited for Sali's answer.
"His parents own Cordell Feed and Seed, so he's helping his mother at the store," Sali handed the jug to a waiting Jason. Trace had gone to walk the perimeter surrounding the five remaining mobile homes—Luanne and her parents were packing up at Old Harold's house to move into the home recently vacated by the Frasiers, while the O'Neills and the Thompsons had gone to help.
"Really? I wish I could help. That sounds awesome." Edward's words were wistful.
"Maybe some other time, young 'un," Jason smiled at Edward. Jason and Trace had taken to Edward. Luanne, Macy and even Keith and Bryce talked to the werewolves often, but Philip remained sullen and generally uncommunicative.
"Maybe you can go with us, sometime," Sali said. "I would have gone to help but Mom made me stay home and clean my room today."
"Kiddo, wherever you go, you have to be protected. Don't count on going into Cordell with Sali and Ashe," Jason told Edward gently.
"I know. Lizzie's dead." Edward ducked his head and toed a clump of grass uncomfortably.
"Yeah." Sali agreed. "Edward, don't leave Cloud Chief unless somebody is with you. Promise?"
"I promise." Edward shivered slightly in the warm Oklahoma air. His father hadn't given complete details on how Elizabeth Frasier had died; just that she'd been killed, somehow. That was incentive enough for Edward to remain where he was unless accompanied by an adult and a strong one at that. Ashe's father, Aedan, came to mind. After all, Edward had seen the chunk of granite Aedan had casually snapped off the Frasier's kitchen counter. He'd put his hands experimentally on his kitchen counter, but it hadn't budged a millimeter.
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