Julio snuck away from the clubhouse once everyone had went to bed. He found an empty lot behind several connected buildings and waited.
From the shadows, a darker shadow emerged. Julio smelled him before he saw him. The alcohol was like a cloud of disinfectant, surrounding the man. He wore a fedora and trench coat and a comfy pair of leather shoes.
“Are the rumors true?” the man in the fedora asked, his breath stinging Julio’s eyes.
“I don’t know. What rumors?” Julio asked.
“The rumors that you single-handedly fought a vampire for a whole hour?”
“It wasn’t that long. I mean, it felt that long, but I wasn’t down there for more then ten minutes,” Julio said.
“Nice. The pills are really working, then.”
“Kinda,” Julio said, scratching his head.
“Better than kinda. You look and feel like an honest to God sync. Even the Selector was fooled.”
“It… the vampire… It said that Professor Rivera and Professor Salvador both knew where my sister was.”
“Do you believe it?” the man asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“Hmm. I suspected their involvement,” the man said, rubbing his chin. “It’s not really proof, though, is it?”
“It’s all we have,” Julio sighed. Then he remembered the reason he’d ended up down there in the first place. He pulled the red memory string from his pocket. “And this.”
“Ah. Nice. This is a meaty clue. I’ll have to unravel it before we can use it, but I can sense your sister in here. An accident of some kind from a year ago. Yeah, this will definitely help,” the man said, stuffing the string in his coat pocket.
“Great. And when are you going to come here and help me?” Julio asked, waving his hand through the transparent man.
“Once you do your part.”
“Relax. It’ll be okay. We’re so close to finding her.”
“I hope so.”
“I know so, kid. Keep digging. Once you’ve got the proof you need on your side, disable the generator like I showed you and then I can be there to help you in person.”
“Okay. Okay, yeah.”
“Don’t give up.”
“Never,” Julio replied with a determined look.
“Good. Adios,” the man said, before melting back into the shadows.
Julio lingered for a moment, letting the events of the past week play in his head before shaking himself loose of it and sneaking back to his room. He half expected to see Amanda wandering around with her flashlight, but she was long gone by now. What was it she asked the vampire? Right, her family. She had snuck into the Potter school in disguise and risked censorship to save her family. Julio understood that completely. It was a shame she’d been such a byotch about it, though. He might have helped her if he knew. But she wasn’t a team player. Then again, neither was he.
Julio lit his hands up with white fire, ready to yell a war cry. The fire illuminated Zach’s tired face and the pile of munchies he was carrying in both arms.
“Oh. It’s you,” Julio said, extinguishing his hands.
“Sneaking around again?” Zach asked.
“I wasn’t sneaking. I was just clearing my head,” Julio replied.
“Club Tildi gets ten demerits every time you’re caught outside after curfew, you know. If you’re not careful, we’ll lose our chance at getting the Club Prize.”
“Well, I’ll make sure that doesn’t happen,” Julio said.
They were silent for a spell.
“Wanna midnight snack?” Zach asked.
They want back to the boys’ sleeping quarters and split several bags of crisps, chips and sweet wafers. Zach didn’t say it was because Julio had backed him up when they were late for class the first day, but Julio could feel it in the air. It was savory and sweet, a mélange of gratitude and good feelings.
“So, what’s your deal?” Julio asked.
“What do you mean?” Zach replied.
“Why are you here at the Potter School? What’s your life’s… I don’t know. Your dream or whatever?”
“Oh. Well, my family comes from a long line of chefs.”
“Yeah. Going back centuries. We’ve cooked for kings and peasants alike. A lot of my distant cousins still cook for presidents and diplomats and stuff all over the world.”
“That’s pretty sick, bro.”
“Yeah. It is.”
“So you want to be a chef?”
“I want to be… something,” Zach said.
“I don’t know. Something big. Something important. It doesn’t have to be cooking related or whatever. It just has to be great. The Li family has so many great people. Chefs and cooks and sous chefs and stuff, but also catering directors and CEOs of food companies and FDA administrators and seneschals.”
“Like, executive helpers. Club Zinta types, if you know what I mean.”
“I really don’t,” Julio replied.
“My family tree sprouted branches that flowered all over the social ladder. Every rung of society has a Li somewhere in it. I want to do something that shoots me to the very top.”
“How come?” Julio asked, munching on a pizza flavored chip.
“It’s stupid,” Zach said, sheepishly rubbing his head.
“Probably. You should tell me anyway,” Julio said. Zach eyed him with a blank expression. Then he gave the tiniest of grins.
“Okay. My specific branch, my family on my dad’s side going back three generations, we haven’t done anything to live up to the Li name. We’re barely on the family radar anymore.”
“Huh. I guess that sucks.”
“I don’t really have any family,” Julio said, hiding his pain with a sad smile. Zach still felt it, though. It was a bitter taste. Hard to miss.
“I guess you’ll have to make some of your own,” Zach said, offering his barbeque crisp bag. Julio’s smile got a little less sad.
“Yeah. Yeah, I guess I do.”