Chapter Twenty

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I walked home in a daze, struggling to think coherently while still feeling the pressure of Justin's lips on mine. I shivered in the twilight, giddy with adrenaline.

By the time I turned the corner onto my street, I had nearly convinced myself that my parents' mind wipe was a good thing. Maybe this new development would be a blessing in disguise; if no one in my house knew what I really was, there wouldn't be as much tension and fear as there had been.

"I'm home!" I yelled, happy to be able to walk in the front door without worrying what new issue I would find waiting for me.

"How's Justin?" Mom looked up from her book with a smile. I smiled back, feeling really happy for the first time in weeks.

"He's good. We didn't do much, just hung out."

"I know better than that!" My dad's voice drifted around the corner from the kitchen, and Mom laughed.

"Stop teasing her, Richard. Darlena's allowed to have some fun." She looked at me and her expression darkened slightly. "Just not too much fun, right, sweetie?"

I nodded, embarrassed. It was a good thing she didn't know that Justin wasn't the one who wanted more in our relationship; she might have locked me in my room and thrown away the key if she'd had any inkling that I wasn't the good little girl she thought I was. I kept my face blank, glad that Mom couldn't read my mind the way Aphrodite seemed to.

Dad came into the living room with a glass in one hand and a dish towel in the other. "I'm glad you got home when you did. I wouldn't want you to miss curfew on a school night."

"A school night?" Confused, I looked at my parents. They smiled at me, and I felt a shiver run across my neck.

"It's Sunday night, Lena. You can't be so infatuated with Justin that you forgot what day it is, right?" Mom's voice was light and teasing, but her eyes were fixed firmly on mine. I drew a deep breath.

"Right. School. I didn't forget. I just ... wish I didn't have to go back tomorrow."

"Now, sweetie, that's no way to talk. I know it's hard now that you've found your path"—Dad patted my shoulder consolingly with the dish towel—"but you still have to get your diploma. You never know when you'll need it; magic isn't enough to make a living!" He chuckled, and Mom smiled up at him.

"Lena's a good student. I know she takes her studies very seriously."

I leaped at the chance to leave the room. "I do. Actually, I just remembered that I have a test tomorrow, so I really should go upstairs and finish studying."

Mom nodded and Dad grinned. "That's our girl. Just don't stay up too late!"

"Don't worry. I'll keep an eye on the clock."

As I went upstairs, I glanced over my shoulder and caught Mom's eye. Did a flicker of sympathy cross her face? Dad had already turned back to the kitchen to finish the dishes, and Mom broke off her gaze almost immediately. I must have been imagining things.

***

Once I was safely inside my room, I sat down at my desk, puzzled. I had thought Mom and Dad's ignorance might be a blessing in disguise, but I'd never considered they wouldn't remember that I had been kicked out of Trinity. Obviously, I would have to get ready tomorrow morning and leave the house, but I couldn't go back to school. Principal Snout had made that very clear, and frankly, I wasn't sure I wanted to go back to my old life. I had enjoyed the time I'd had at home, studying and trying to discover the limits of Red magic. How would I continue my training outside the house?

"You could just go to the mall." I jumped out of my chair, startled. Aphrodite was standing beside the window.

"Don't you ever knock?" I asked, irritated. She glared at me, and I reminded myself that this was my patron, my only protection from Hecate. I needed to keep her on my good side, and being grumpy and rude wasn't likely to do that. I took a deep breath and tried to start over. "I'm sorry. I was thinking, and you startled me."

She smiled wryly. "I could tell." Glancing around my room, she wrinkled her nose. "Haven't you tidied up in here since my last visit?"

"You just left this morning! Besides, I like clutter. It helps me think."

"Well, it's not doing a very good job of that, now, is it?" She smirked at me, and I had to fight to control my thoughts.

Her eyes narrowed. "You shouldn't try to keep secrets from me, Darlena. I'm disappointed in you for even thinking such a thing."

"How do you do that, anyway?"

She batted her eyes innocently. "Do what?"

"The mind-reading trick."

"It's not a trick! Don't think to compare me to some fortune-teller at a street fair. It's magic, and it's magic that I could teach you—if you didn't insist on being so rude."

I rolled my eyes. "If you teach me, won't you stop being able to read my thoughts?"

She laughed. "I can teach you the magic of mind reading without teaching you how to guard your own mind, silly child." Aphrodite crossed the room and took my chin in her hand. "Don't presume to outthink a goddess. And don't believe everything you read in those silly novels. Real magic isn't always a two-way street."

Her nails bit into my chin, and her stormy blue eyes were making me feel hot and cold in turns. I nodded my head, but she stared at me a moment longer before releasing me. I rubbed my jaw and felt the indents left by her fingernails.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend you." I lowered my head in a bow and held my breath. She laughed lightly.

"Submission does not become any Red, but most especially not a Witch who is sworn to me. See that you save your sass for someone other than your patron in the future, and spare me your apologies." She crossed my room and again stood by the window, looking up at the sky. "Come here, Darlena."

I hurried to her side, tripping over my discarded backpack as I did. Maybe she's right; I need to clean things up a bit. She smiled, but didn't say anything to my unvoiced thought. I was grateful.

"Look at the moon." She pointed to the window, and I drew in my breath in awe. I had been so wrapped up in fear the past few weeks, I had stopped paying attention to the moon. It was almost full, riding low on the horizon: a true harvest moon, tinged orange and floating like a magical orb.

"The moon is just a rock, floating in space. But," Aphrodite continued, "she is also a goddess."

"But one of those things is scientific, and the other isn't."

The goddess laughed in her tinkling voice. "Everything in life is a contradiction. Nothing is ever only one or the other. Remember that."

I looked at the moon, and I thought about what she had said. Perhaps the goddess was trying to help me view Red magic as something more than chaos.

"That will come to you with time and practice." She spoke softly and I met her eyes. "Tonight, I only want to teach you to look at the moon."

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