My assessment about how I wouldn’t be doing the three-legged race was correct. A week after Alicia left, the class marked her as someone who wouldn’t be attending the festival, and since no one had contacted the school about whether or not she’d still be attending, it was unknown if she was just taking a leave of absence or gone. Some of the students had actually worked up the nerve to ask me what happened to her. All I’d been able to do was give them a sad smile as I told them that she had left to be with her family.
The days passed by in obscurity. Life became monotonous again. About the only exciting thing that had happened was when Azazel had called and asked me about what happened with Belial. Apparently, my benefactor had somehow discovered that Belial was coming to kill me. That was why he’d tried to make me leave.
He was pretty shocked when I told him that Belial had been taken care of by Alicia and I. He hadn’t believed me at first. It had taken him two days to get confirmation that Alicia and I had battled Belial and won. After which, he had congratulated me and said he’d take me drinking if he was ever in the area.
Considering I had not seen him since he first gave me the apartment that I was living in, I was pretty positive that he’d never drop in for a visit.
The ringing of a bell signaled the end to class. Like always, all of the students ignored me as they went about their business. I did feel like a set of eyes had been looking at me as I stood up and grabbed my bag, but when I looked around, the feeling vanished. It was probably just my imagination.
My walk home was slow, my steps lackadaisical. There wasn’t much point in going home when there was no one waiting for me. It was just an empty apartment, barely capable of being called “home” by anyone, even a monster such as myself. Maybe I was being selfish, but I had grown accustomed to Alicia’s presence, and I wanted that presence back.
My situation actually reminded me of something I had heard once: people who suddenly receive something precious rarely ever know what to do with it, but once that precious item is gone, they wish to have it in there hands once more, even if they still wouldn’t know what to do with it.
In that same way, I wanted Alicia to come back. I wasn’t sure what I’d do if she ever did return, nor did I understand my own feelings. However, now that I understood how lonely my life had been before Alicia livened it up, I wanted her to come back.
Turning the corner, I arrived at my apartment complex.
Then I blinked.
What stood before me was not an apartment complex. In fact, the four-story building that had once stood in this lot was gone. Standing in its place was a two-story house. Made with a modern architectural style, it seemed like a basic home with a hipped roof, a fence surrounding it, and a small garden that he could see a peek of from the front. There was also a large balcony that spanned a good portion of the second floor on one side.
Someone was waiting in front of the fence. Her crimson hair blew softly as it was caressed by the wind. Eyes reminiscent of fire stared out in the distance. She wasn’t wearing her school uniform, but had instead chosen a red blouse and hip-hugging black shorts. Rocking back and forth on her heels, hands clasped in front of her, Alicia looked nervous.
“A-Alicia?” I stammered.
Her eyes brightened when they landed on me. “Jacob, hi!”
“Um, hi,” I said, wondering what I was supposed to say. “What, uh, what are you doing here?”
“Do you not want me here?” she asked.
“O-of course I do!” I shouted, and then my cheeks lit up as I realized what I said. “I mean, what I mean is that… well, I-I missed you… I guess.”
Now it was Alicia’s turn to blush. “R-really?”
“Yeah.” I scratched at my cheek and turned my head. I couldn’t look directly at her without blushing. “It’s been… really lonely without you.”
“O-oh…” Alicia said, and then fell silent.
Awkward did not really do justice to this moment. I had no idea what to say. Just being in Alicia’s presence again made me feel self-conscious for reasons I couldn’t comprehend. The fact that she wouldn’t say anything and kept looking at me, as though expecting me to start a conversation, only made it worse.
“So, uh, the reason you’re here is…?” I began again.
“R-right.” Alicia took a deep breath. She looked like she was centering herself. “So, I met with my father. As you can imagine, he was pretty excited to see me. That’s why I didn’t come back for the week. I explained what’s been happening to me these past three years, and I told him about how you saved me and defeated Belial with me.”
Well, that was not good. I didn’t want to be upset at Alicia, but I really wished she wouldn’t have told her dad anything about me. The last thing I needed was having the King of the Underworld hounding my tail like an overprotective father.
“He’s really interested in meeting you, but there’s a lot going on in the Underworld right now,” Alicia continued. “It turns out that Belial was just a pawn. The one who sent him after me is still at large, and Father is currently busy trying to track him down.”
It sounded like there was still a lot happening in the Underworld. I was surprised that Belial was merely someone else’s pawn, though. My understanding was that Belial was one of the leader’s in the Underworld. If he really had been at someone’s beck and call, then it meant that person was higher on the food chain than him. That was a scary thought.
“I’m guessing your dad is having you stay in the human world while he tracks down Belial’s master,” I said, going out on a limb.
Alicia smiled. “That’s right. He said that it would be safer in the human world right now, so he wants me to stay here. I might have also mentioned how you could help protect me if someone really powerful came along.”
I felt my lips twitching as I shook my head. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to smile so badly.
“Excuse me, you two,” Matilda, who had just come from inside of the house, shouted as she stood in the doorway. “Could you please get inside? Dinner will be ready in just a moment.”
“Come on,” Alicia said, her eyes shining with the brightness of two carnelian moons. “Let’s go inside.”
“Yeah.” I nodded. “Let’s.”
Together, the two of us walked into my–or perhaps I should say our–house, and for perhaps the first time in my life, my future seemed just a little brighter.