“I don’t want…” she hesitated and looked down. “He’s annoying. And bossy. A know-it-all…and my best friend.”
The longer they sat there, Alice picking at her stew, the more of the story came out. She told him about how Ben leapt into her head on her 13th birthday. How hard it was to manage school work or activities because he demanded constant attention. She talked about hunting ghosts and raising the dead and the irritating way he recited the Book of the Dead every night before bed.
By the time she got to the contest and the part where she decided to go after The Owl, they were cuddled together on the bench.
“And then I said yes…because I wanted to be normal. I wanted everything I didn’t have because he was stuck in my head.”
That’s why she was unsure. Like him, she wanted The Owl to fix something about herself, but other desires stood in the way.
He must’ve said it out loud because she sat up angrily. “That’s not why…it’s not always about you and me and whether or not we’re going to bone!”
“My whole life is in shambles!” she snapped. “Ben is missing! Everything I wanted is gone and all you want to do is talk about is a relationship we don’t even have!”
She was clearly in denial. Ben wasn’t missing, he was gone, sacrificed so she could have a fighting chance. And as for them having nothing…Vlad’s expression darkened. “Everything you want is gone? Everything, Alice? Tell me, what have you lost? What dreams are not fulfilled because of this supernatural life?”
“I-I don’t…” she sputtered. “LIFE!” she finally exclaimed, throwing up her hands.
“Am I not, in a manner of speaking, alive?” he demanded, his voice dangerous. She didn’t take the bait, and he was glad because a wiser part of him knew she didn’t mean it like that.
“I want normal stuff! Like…like…buying a house!”
“Do supernatural creatures not buy homes?” Vlad shot back.
“Having a career, with meetings…and coworkers.”
Meetings? She wanted to go to meetings? Ha. Vlad gave her an impassive look. “I assure you even the immortal are not immune to meetings.”
“Going on dates and hanging out with friends,” she said hotly, “Doing fun activities with people and not having them look at you like a freak!”
“And when, Alice Martin, did I ever make you feel like a freak?” he growled, feeling his irritation rising. Why couldn’t she see what this was really about? “You haven’t described a single thing that you don’t already have or can’t get. The only difference is that you think you need The Owl to do it and the rest of us understand that’s not how it works!”
Her eyes widened. He didn’t mean to raise his voice.
“This is stupid,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with what I want.”
“Alice,” he scrubbed a hand over his face. “That’s not what I’m saying—”
“I’m tired,” she announced. “I’m going back to sleep.”
He followed but she turned around and gave him a mutinous look.
“You know what’s not normal?” she exploded, gesturing angrily at the room. “Fucking murders! Calling the flames of the Underworld! A boyfriend who enjoys literal fucking bloodshed! Magical statues! And for the record, telling me The Owl won’t fix all my motherfucking problems is especially rich coming from you, since the only reason why we met was because you intended to use me to get it!”
When she was finished shouting she turned on her heel, muttering about the cottage’s distinct lack of doors, and threw herself down on the bed.
Vlad didn’t correct her. Technically, he had discarded the idea of using her pretty early on…mostly because he didn’t think she could win. But that was unlikely to go over well. And perhaps he had been a small amount of denial himself about The Owl, but that was the key word: small.
Either way, he was right: she would feel something again. Even if it was anger, which now that he knew she was a god and capable of smiting him off the face of this world, kind of turned him on. Cognizant of her need for space, he cast about for something to occupy himself with when he froze…
…had she…had she called him her boyfriend?