After school the following day, Alicia and Jacob were back on the track field, practicing for the three-legged race.
It was difficult for Alicia. Being in such close proximity to Jacob made her devil instincts go crazy. She normally didn’t feel it because they weren’t touching, but now, with their legs tied together, hips practically joined, the divine power from Jacob’s angel half leaked into her like she was a sponge soaking up water.
She hated it. She hated how being this close made her feel so on edge, how it made her raise her guard unconsciously, without even realizing it or wanting to.
Alicia didn’t want to raise her guard around Jacob, but her body wouldn’t let her do anything else. The fine hairs on her arm were raised, the back of her neck tingled, her body was telling her that Jacob was dangerous. And she despised it.
“One. Two. One. Two. One. Two.”
But she did her best, for Jacob’s sake if not her own, to not let it bother her. It was getting easier with time. Alicia felt like, given a few more days of close proximity, she might even be able to let her guard down completely. Then…
'And then what? What would I do then?'
Alicia didn’t know the answer to that question. Matilda had mentioned that Jacob had become important to Alicia, and she would not deny this as he had, indeed, become one of the most important people in her life. However, just how important and what this meant for her relationship with him, she didn’t know. It wasn’t like she had ever dated anyone before.
'Aside from that, there’s also…'
She shook her head. Best not think about those things right now. Besides, the chances of that person still being interested in her were slim.
“One. Two. One. Two. One. Two. One.”
With her arm around his back and his around her shoulder, she and Jacob jogged along the track. They were getting better. They hadn’t tripped today since they started practicing. Really, the only problem she had were her own mixed feelings. His closeness, the feel of his skin, and the scent of his body, it was both a blessing and a curse. As much as it put her on edge, she also enjoyed this closeness.
Alicia didn’t know how long they practiced. Time seemed immaterial. She couldn’t even begin to keep track of it. What she did know was that by the time they were finished, both she and Jacob had worked up a light sweat.
“I think we’re doing pretty good,” Jacob said as he grabbed the hem of his shirt and lifted it to wipe his face. The action caused the bare skin of his torso to be revealed. Despite being skinny, Jacob had well-defined muscles, including stomach muscles.
“Y-yes?!” Alicia squeaked as she jerked her eyes from his stomach. Jacob was frowning at her.
“Everything okay?” he asked.
“Yes. I was just… distracted.”
“Distracted? With what?”
“It was…” Realizing that she had been speaking without thinking, Alicia thought quickly to cover up her blunder. “I was just wondering if you were heading out again today. You didn’t come home until really late yesterday. Should I tell Matilda that she doesn’t need to prepare a meal?”
It was a nice save. While her original plan had been to broach this subject with subtlety, being straightforward like this could work. Jacob was no politician. What’s more, he was genuinely honest. Even though he hadn’t told her what he was doing, he hadn’t lied about it either. She had the feeling that he didn’t want to lie, yet at the same time, he didn’t want to tell her about what he was doing after school.
That was the impression she got.
“Oh, um…” Jacob scratched the back of his head. He had been doing this a lot recently. Alicia wondered if it was a quirk that he did when nervous. “”Y-yes, I do have some plans to go out again today. I’m sorry. Don’t worry, though. I’ll still come back in time to watch that anime with you again.”
Last night they had completed the Right Arm of the Saint arc. The next arc was From the Warlord's Empire.
“I understand.” Alicia smiled with what she hoped was understanding. It bothered her that he wasn’t telling her where he went after school, but it wouldn’t matter after today. “In that case, I’ll tell Matilda to put your dinner in the oven so you can eat it once you get home or save it for later.”
“Oh!” Alicia suddenly remembered something and, ignoring the slight chill from touching someone with a divine presence, she grabbed Jacob’s hand and pulled him along. “Follow me, please. I have something that I want to give you.”
Without waiting for him to reply, she dragged him to the girl’s locker room. After asking him to wait outside, she went in, opened her locker, and pulled out a bag. Then she went back outside and held it out for him.
“The other day when we practiced, someone had stolen your towel and school uniform. I…” Alicia felt a flash of embarrassment, but she pressed on, pushing the bag into his hands. “I brought a spare towel and a change of clothes for you just in case, so, p-please use them.”
Jacob didn’t respond. Alicia looked up. He was staring at the bag with eyes wide enough to match hockey pucks. His lips were trembling. She spotted the tears gathering along the rim of his eyelids.
“Jacob? Why do you look like you’re about to cry?”
“I’m not about to cry.” Jacob hurriedly wiped at his eyes, and then smiled at her. “Thanks for this. It means a lot to me.”
“You’re welcome,” Alicia said.
As Jacob went to the boy’s locker, which was on the opposite side of the hall, Alicia headed back inside, stripped off her clothes, grabbed another towel, and headed into the showers. As she stood under the hot spray of water, her thoughts went to Jacob.
He was so touched that I brought a spare towel and clothes for him that he was nearly in tears.
It was another indication of the life he’d led up to now. That such a simple, small gesture could make him almost cry was more proof that his life had been one of hardship.
Alicia understood hardships, thanks in no small part to her father being one of the Seven Kings of Hell. Her mansion had been attacked when she was only twelve, she had been forced to escape into the human world, where she had lived alone for four years.
Those years in the human world had been spent on the run. She had never stayed in one place for more than a week. Any longer and Belial’s peerage would have found her. They even had found her one time, though she’d managed to escape by collapsing the New York Subway on top of that person.
At sixteen years old, Alicia would like to say that she understood hardship, that she understood pain. But even she couldn’t comprehend what Jacob must have been feeling every day of his life.
Her life might have included four years of difficulty. Jacob had been dealing with it for his entire life. The mere fact that he would allow those human bullies to walk all over him was proof enough.
Children are malleable. They can be shaped in the way another person desires simply by interacting with them on a daily basis. If you tell a child that they are amazing over and over again, they will eventually begin to believe it. Consequently, if you tell a child that they are worthless, they’ll believe it.
Alicia believed that Jacob was one such child. If she were to go under the assumption that the way people treated Jacob had been happening his entire life, then it stood to reason that he had been dealing with abuse and hatred for sixteen years. By this point, he must have become so used to being beaten, to being hated, that he probably believed it was natural. He probably believed that he deserved it.
'I wonder how I can get him to stop thinking that way…'
Getting dressed in her school uniform, Alicia pondered this problem as she walked to the front gate. There were many other students still around despite the late hour. Alicia had learned that in Japan, most of the students stayed late for club activities. It was very different from the schools she had infiltrated for short stints during her times in the United States and Europe.
Jacob arrived at the gate five minutes after her. They left school together, traveling down the road until it branched off.
“I’m heading off to the library,” Jacob said.
“Okay.” Alicia waved at him. “I’ll see you when you get home.”
Jacob waved at her as he left, and she watched him until he was out of sight, then looked at a wall several meters to her left. It didn’t look unusual. There was nothing out of place. It was just a regular wall made from cement.
But there was a cat sitting on the wall. Yellow eyes greeted her. The black cat leapt off the wall and transformed into a human before her eyes. Legs elongated and fur receded. Paws became padded feet. It's front legs shifted and moved, turning into human arms and hands. By the end of her transformation, the only thing about her that wasn’t human were her ears and tail.
“You really should learn how to hide your nekomata parts,” Alicia said with a sigh. Yūgure just frowned at her, causing Alicia to sigh again. “Well, nevermind that for now. Let’s hurry up and follow Jacob.”
Yūgure nodded and together they tailed after Jacob, who had long since disappeared. He had said that he was going to the library. Alicia had never been there before. However, she did know where it was… approximately—or so she thought.
“Don’t look at me like that. I know where we’re going,” Alicia said to Yūgure, whose flat stare could have squashed a bug.
They had been wandering for about fifteen minutes now, which was about the time it should have taken to reach the library. Did that mean they weren’t in the right area? Had she taken a wrong turn somewhere? As Alicia was wondering whether or not she should turn back, a familiar figure appeared in her peripheral vision. She turned her head.
It was Jacob. He was walking down the sidewalk in his school uniform, and he wasn’t alone. With him was a young woman whose age Alicia couldn’t determine, though judging merely from her appearance, she would have placed the other female at a year or two older than herself.
The person with Jacob was a woman with blonde hair that went down to her lower back in gentle waves. Several bangs framed a porcelain face. Blue eyes. Small nose. Soft lips. She was about a head shorter than Jacob, but her lithe figure, adorned by a simple, pale blue dress, was the kind Alicia expected from models. The way she walked, with a muted elegance, spoke of a commanding presence that caused several heads to turn.
She was certainly gorgeous, Alicia couldn’t deny that. She felt a spike of something ugly. It felt like there was a monster inside of her.
Shaking her head and trying to ignore the strange feelings bubbling inside of her, Alicia frowned at the woman, or more specifically, her chest, and then looked down at her own chest.
'At least my breasts are bigger than this woman’s… but what if Jacob likes women with a smaller chest? Could it be that he prefers lithe girls? Why am I even thinking about this?'
Alicia looked back up again. Jacob and the blonde woman were talking about something. She narrowed her eyes.
'Who is that girl?'
Was she the reason that Jacob had been going off after school? He was meeting with this woman? Alicia didn’t know if she could call it jealousy, but there was no denying that she did not like the idea of Jacob meeting up with some woman she didn’t know.
She gripped her chest. There was a dull ache inside of her, which throbbed sharply when the woman grabbed onto Jacob’s arm.
Yūgure tugged at the sleeve of her sailor fuku uniform.
“Come on,” Alicia said. “Let’s follow them.”