The Secret Circle: The Hunt Chapter 3
Pink and white banners advertising the spring dance hung on all four walls of the school cafeteria. On a different day, or maybe in a different life, Cassie would have been excited for the dance. But this afternoon’s lunch was going to be all business. Suzan arrived a few minutes after the others and dropped her tray on the table with enthusiasm, seemingly oblivious to the group’s mood. “Is it that time already? We have to go shopping before all the good dresses disappear.”
“Is that seriously what’s on your mind right now?” Melanie said, her mouth half full. “A stupid dance?”
Suzan crossed her arms over her cerulean blouse. “We’re supposed to act normal, right? So we don’t seem suspicious to the principal or anyone else. I’m just acting normal.”
“You can act however you want, as long as you don’t perform any magic,” Cassie announced. “The principal knows who we are. We confirmed that this morning.”
Suzan took a seat between Faye and Deborah. “Oh.” She pushed her tray away dejectedly. “Nobody told me. I’m always the last to know everything.”
Cassie looked around the table at her friends. Of course the hunters had figured them out. Not only were they always together, but none of them seemed average, even when they were alone. Adam and Nick, the Henderson brothers, and even Sean carried themselves with a pride and independence that set them apart from other guys at school. Their fellow students were terrified and awestruck by them. It was no different for the girls. Diana was the most admired, and Faye the most feared – but Laurel, Melanie, Deborah, and Suzan were no less intriguing to their classmates. Something about them sparkled. They were unlike all the other girls in school; their problems were so much larger than boys and clothes. It was stupid of Cassie to assume any of them could have remained unrecognized by the hunters.
“After what happened earlier today,” Diana said quietly, “school is no longer safe for those of us who’ve been marked.” She’d directed the comment at Laurel, but Laurel just played with her sandwich, not eating and not looking up. Cassie had never seen her this depressed, even when the hunters first burned their symbol onto her front lawn.
Faye also pretended not to hear Diana’s warning. She refused to acknowledge that she’d been marked at all. Cassie noticed she was still wearing the opal necklace Max had given her, the one he’d stamped with the hunter symbol.
“You can take that off,” Cassie said, pointing to the necklace. “You don’t have to keep wearing it like some kind of scarlet letter.”
Faye shook her head. “I’m not about to let on that I know about the mark. He’s not the only one who can pretend to be someone he’s not.”
Deborah nodded, pointing her plastic fork at Faye like a spear. “You should give him a taste of his own medicine. Max played you, and now you have to turn it around on him.”
“There he is.” Sean shifted his beady eyes across the cafeteria toward Max, and Faye quickly applied a fresh coat of red gloss to her lips.
“Do you honestly think revenge is the best idea right now?” Diana asked. “We’ve already had one close call with a hunter today. We don’t need another.”
“Relax, D.” Faye curled her lips into a smile. “We need information on the hunters and he’s our way to it. I’m going to pump him for intel, double agent – style. Watch and learn.”
Without another word, Faye stood up and jogged over to Max, meeting him halfway as he approached. He was dressed to go to lacrosse practice and carried a duffel bag. Faye took the bag from him, dropped it to her side, and pretended to be just as in love with him as ever. She pulled him in close and kissed him passionately on the mouth. “I’ve missed you,” she said, loud enough for the Circle to hear.
Max touched his fingers to his lips, now lightly coated in the same red gloss as Faye’s. “And I missed you,” he said.
Max was tall and muscular with light brown hair. His voice was rugged, and he wore a perpetual cocky grin. He was just the kind of guy that made Faye swoon. It’s no wonder she’d let her guard down enough to get marked by him.
The rest of the Circle watched as Faye whispered into Max’s ear and he murmured back to her in a soft voice.
“Do you think he’s falling for it?” Sean asked.
“Seems like it,” Doug said, nodding his wild head of blond hair. “He’s acting the same as before. Like a lovesick wimp.”
“But who knows if she’ll be able to get any information out of him,” his twin brother said.
Melanie was dubious, as usual. “There’s no way he’s going to give up anything on the hunters. Whether he thinks Faye’s on to him or not, he’s not stupid.”
“But Faye might be able to trick him into leading us to more of them,” Nick said. He was sitting on the cafeteria table, bent over with his feet on a chair. “There have to be more hunters in town than just Max and his dad.”
Melanie rolled her gray eyes. “Yeah, I’m sure Max will be happy to introduce us to all his hunter buddies. Maybe he’ll even host a cocktail party.”
Cassie continued watching Max and Faye’s back-and-forth. It was almost comical, both of them pretending to be into the other when they were actually sworn enemies. But Max’s face betrayed nothing more than he intended it to. He was running this show and Cassie could see he was too good at it to crack under a little pressure.
After a few minutes of the charade, Faye finally gave up. She leaned in and kissed Max one last time before returning to the group. Max waved as he passed them on his way to the gym, flashing his perfect smile – but Cassie thought it looked like he was grinning at Diana in particular.
“Well, that was a bust,” Faye said. “He’s either a really good actor or he doesn’t know anything about what happened earlier in the principal’s office. I mentioned my friend Laurel and he asked which one she was.”
“We still shouldn’t push our luck,” Diana said. “I think it’s time for you to distance yourself from him and his dad.”
“I think Diana’s right,” Cassie said. “We need to lay down some new rules.”
“Just what this Circle needs.” Faye returned to her seat at the table. “More rules.”
“What do you propose?” Diana asked, speaking over Faye. “We’re listening.”
Cassie realized she had the whole group’s attention. They watched her hopefully, like she might have some secret panacea to solve all their problems. She cleared her throat and tried to think of something fast.
“Well, we know the hunters can’t mark someone without witnessing them doing magic. But once they’re marked, the next step is the killing curse, which means death. Ultimate death.”
“Is this supposed to be a pep talk?” Sean called out.
“Let her finish.” Nick glared at Sean with a deep mahogany stare.
“I think we need to enact a buddy system. One hunter can’t perform the killing curse on a witch alone. The best thing we can do is make sure we’re not alone either,” Cassie said.
Deborah let out a whoop of laughter. “That’s your big idea? For us to hold hands in the hallway like preschoolers?”
“I never said it was a big idea,” Cassie said defensively. “It just makes sense for those of us who are marked to be with another Circle member at all times. Including overnight.”
Faye’s honey-colored eyes blazed. “No way. I won’t agree to having a babysitter. I’d rather die.”
“You just might die if you don’t agree to this,” Melanie said. “It’s the only way we can be sure you and Laurel remain safe.”
Laurel looked up from her untouched lunch. She didn’t appear any more eager than Faye to accept this new rule. “But Cassie, you said before that you’ve been talking to your mom about your father, and that you’re learning ancient things that could help us.”
Cassie felt herself tense up. She could sense Adam’s cavernous eyes watching her, and she swore she could actually hear Diana’s jaw unhinge before any words escaped her mouth.
“What ancient things?” Diana asked, with a hint of suspicion in her voice.
The entire cafeteria seemed to fall silent and Cassie shifted uncomfortably. “I was just telling Laurel that my father once saved someone who was marked. I’m trying to learn more about how he did it.”
Diana furrowed her brow at Cassie’s discomfort. She was unwilling to let the matter drop. “Do you think he used something similar to the witch-hunter curse we memorized from my Book of Shadows?”
“Probably something like that,” Cassie said, trying to sound nonchalant and upbeat.
“Why don’t we just use the witch-hunter curse from Diana’s book now? We know Max and his dad are hunters,” Suzan said. “I don’t understand what we’re waiting for.”
“I second that,” Nick said.
Diana released a frustrated breath. They’d been over this before. “Because this is our chance to use the hunters’ ignorance for more information. We still have surprise on our side. They don’t know we know who they are. And we also don’t know for sure how that curse works, or what it’ll do. It’s a very rough translation, so it’s our absolute last resort. If we try it and it doesn’t work, then we’ll all be marked in a matter of seconds.”
“In other words,” Faye said, “we have no clue if those words we memorized are a witch-hunter curse or a fairy tale.”
Diana was quiet for a few seconds. She chewed on her lip nervously.
“We can’t rely on that mediocre, pieced-together translation from Diana’s book,” Adam said. “No offense to you, Diana, but whatever curse Black John used, that’s the one we want when we go up against the hunters.”
Diana nodded and looked down at her hands. Adam turned to Cassie. She could tell he was struggling to restrain himself from telling the group about Black John’s book, but she also knew he’d never betray her trust, no matter how difficult it was for him.
“What about the protection spell?” Laurel asked. “Shouldn’t that keep me and Faye safe enough so we can at least continue leading normal lives?”
“It seems to be intact.” Diana raised her head, hesitantly. “But we don’t know how long it’ll last. That spell is kind of a one-shot deal, and once it wears off, that’s it.”
“And,” Melanie said, “even if it does last, we can’t be sure it’s strong enough against the hunter’s killing curse. It probably isn’t.”
Faye stared off into space, for once too upset to argue.
Cassie momentarily considered her own situation. If the protection spell wore off, she’d really be powerless against Scarlett. As it was, she was jumping at every shadow and freezing up at the sight of every redhead who walked by.
“How are you going to do it?” Faye called out to Cassie, like she’d just snapped out of a daydream. “How do you plan to figure out the curse Black John used?”
Cassie glanced at Adam, but his expression kept her secret safely hidden.
“I’m trying to learn what I can from my mother,” Cassie said. “She’s blocked out a lot of the past, but when I get her talking sometimes things come to light.”
It was a good answer for being put on the spot, and even true. But Cassie knew it would take more to save her friends and defeat the hunters than simply getting her mother to talk about the past. She had to get her father’s book back.