Here we go! This chapter is just a little bit late. Sorry about that! My usual schedule went out the window this week. I hope the chapter turns out to be worth the short wait.
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Willow tried to keep up hope that they would find a way for Yuri to return home. As the days dragged on and they scoured her neighborhood, her hometown, and the surrounding countryside for another portal, she started to realize that she was going to have him around for a lot longer than a short visit. With each failure, she acknowledged more and more that she needed to make more permanent arrangements for him.
“You know, people are starting to wonder who you are. This is a small town so word gets around fast. People want to know why you’re staying with me.”
Yuri considered her statement for a moment. “I guess you aren’t inclined to tell them the truth, then.”
She shook her head. “Some people aren’t as much of a skeptic as me, having them believe your story might be even worse. There are a lot of superstitious people around here and they’re going to think you’re a demon.”
“Maybe I am a demon.” He flashed a roguish grin.
She punched his arm, playfully. “Don’t even joke about that.”
“Around here we chase demons back to hell.”
He considered that idea for a moment. “Maybe that’s just what I need.”
“You think your home is hell?”
“It doesn’t sound nearly bad enough to be hell if you ask me.”
“If you don’t want to tell them the truth what do you want to tell them?”
“I could say you’re a friend visiting from out of town.”
“That’s true enough,” he agreed.
“Yeah. We’ll just say that you’re visiting from out of town and try to change the subject. No sense in trying to make up a bunch of details that we’d have to memorize.”
There was a devilish twinkle in Yuri’s eyes the next time he spoke. “Or we could say I’m your foreign lover here for a visit of indeterminate length.”
Willow blanched at the thought of that story spreading around town. Then she regained a bit of her composure and prepared to shoot down his proposal. “We can’t do that. The whole point is to come up with a story that will get people to ask fewer questions. If you make up a story like that we’ll have a lot of explaining to do.”
He leaned in tantalizingly close. She could feel the warmth radiating from his skin. Her pulse quickened and a blush involuntarily rose to her cheeks. She did not know why she was responding to his proximity like this. None of it made sense to her. This was Yuri and he was teasing her. She knew this and still, she felt bashful.
He tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear. “We could make it more than just a made-up story.”
Willow backed away. She was not sure what had just happened, but she had not seen this coming. She thought she could read situations than this.
“You’re kidding, right?” she asked just to check.
He blinked, pulled back out of her space and settled back into his seat. If Willow did not know any better she would have doubts as to whether or not anything had happened at all. Amazed by his composure, she felt as though everything was all out of whack now and somehow he still seemed just fine.
He met her eyes, looking completely serious and answered her question in a way that did not at all answer her question. “I’m only kidding if you want me to be.”
She stared. She had no idea how she was supposed to respond to that. She was not even sure she wanted to respond to that since any response on her part might end up giving too much away. This sort of reaction was not what she expected of herself at this age. This was middle school behavior. She was not that naive or innocent. She had boyfriends before, but something about Yuri seemed to be nullifying all that. She did not like it.
“So?” he asked.
“Do you want me to be kidding?”
“How can I even answer that? I barely know you.”
“Well, what better way to get to know me better, right?”
“You’re trying to get back to where you came from. I belong here. I’m not interested in getting involved with someone that’s actively trying to disappear.”
“Then I guess we’re just friends and I’m visiting.”
“Yeah. I guess so.”
She expected to feel better to have that matter settled, but for some reason, she felt even worse than before.
Aspen just showed up at Willow’s apartment out of the blue. Willow counted her lucky stars that she was at least at home when it happened. She did not want to consider what might have happened if her aunt had met Yuri without her around to run interference. She had a feeling it would result in even more humiliation than she was currently enduring.
The way her aunt was looking at her she knew Aspen somehow managed to overlook or ignore all of the evidence that Yuri was sleeping on the couch and not anywhere in closer proximity to Willow. She wanted to bring it up just to make sure that all the facts were on the table before Aspen left and updated her parents on their only daughter’s life. The opportunity never seemed to present itself. For his part, Yuri was all smiles and charm when it came to Aspen. She could not blame him for that since he had been stuck with only her to socialize with all this time. He was probably desperate for anyone else to talk to at this point.
Aside from the looks she was getting from Aspen, everything about the visit seemed to be going smoothly. She doubted she would be able to change her aunt’s opinion about her current arrangement with Yuri anyway so she decided to just let it go. She trusted her parents to take whatever they heard from Aspen with a grain of salt. Whether or not they would take her description and run with it in the right direction or the wrong direction was harder to guess.
Willow did not have much time to sulk and fret about such things because Aspen, as she so often did, kept her on her toes by changing the subject back to the family business. She cringed internally when Aspen brought it up because she did not even hesitate for a second to speak plainly about it in front of Yuri. Willow did not know if her family just assumed that everyone else knew the world to be the way they saw it or expected people to just accept what they said without causing panic in certain individuals. Regardless of the reason, Willow thought that somehow she had managed to develop at least a speck of tact against the odds of a genetic predisposition to the contrary.
“Willow, we have another house call scheduled for next week,” Aspen announced in a cheerful tone that only reminded Willow how much she dreaded these things.
She sighed. Her life had been blissfully exorcism free lately and she considered herself lucky because she had her plate completely filled up by her day jobs and running all over the place with Yuri looking for another pathway back to his world. She did not need something else to take up her time at this point, but she also needed the money.
Her expenses were usually covered just fine by her day jobs and any money she made from the occasional exorcism could be considered a bonus on top of the earnings that actually paid her bills, but now that she had Yuri living with her suddenly everything became so much more expensive. Her current income meant that their living situation was not sustainable long term. She and Yuri had both hoped that he would be back in his own world by now. Every day it seemed less and less likely that would happen. She would have to accept any extra source of income that came her way, even if it did take time away from their hunt. She supposed that she might even come across a way home for Yuri on her travels for the exorcism gig.
Worse than any of her other concerns about this was the fact that Yuri seemed to perk up and pay even more attention to the conversation now that the subject had changed to something that Willow would much rather not have to discuss with him. She quickly tried to guess the likelihood of her being able to push him out of the room without raising any sort of suspicion or protest. She knew almost instantly that this was a lost cause.
“What sort of house call?” Yuri asked.
Willow wanted to slam her head against the wall. Nothing was going her way today.
Aspen brightened up at Yuri’s question. She loved “educating” the masses. Once again Willow was reminded of the fact that her aunt was not at all well attuned to the world of magic and demons since she did not seem to think anything was out of sorts when it came to Yuri. She wondered If it was at all a good idea to allow someone that could not even tell that Yuri was something other than human just by looking at him to be the one to explain the concept of exorcism to him. Willow did not want to even consider what his reaction might be to the concept. She tried to keep her mind a complete blank as she waited and listened to her aunt’s answer. As long as she avoided thinking she could stop herself from interjecting and getting mired in this mess herself.
“We’ll be going to exorcise a demonic presence from a farm house about forty minutes from here,” Aspen explained.
“As demonic presence?” Yuri asked.
Aspen nodded. “Yes. Demons and apparitions tend to run amok in this part of the world. It used to be even worse, but we keep it pretty well under control these days. When we get the call we go out and send the creatures back where they came from. Believe it or not, Willow is a real pro at it.”
“Really?” Yuri asked as he looked over at Willow as though he was seeing her in a completely different light.
She expected to be judged. She expected him to think she was awful, after all, he was something other than human himself, but if anything he seemed impressed by the news of her ability. She did not know what to say so she just nodded. She would have to clarify that she was fairly certain that everything she did was fake later. Bringing it up in front of her aunt would only lead to an awkward situation where they both tried not to start an argument in front of Yuri.
“Fascinating.” The thoughtful look on his face made Willow suspect that she would be hearing some sort of plan from him later.
She tried to subtly nudge her aunt toward the door. Not only was she cutting into their time to go out and search for a hole leading back to Yuri’s home, but there was also just the unsettling idea of having her aunt spend too much time with Yuri and giving him ideas — wrong ideas — about her and the sort of life she lived.
“Well, it’s been nice seeing you, but we have things we need to do today, and now I need to call into my job and make sure I can rearrange my schedule for next week too. Busy busy busy,” she said with a slight giggle slipping through at the end. She could not believe she had said that or the hysterical edge she thought she heard in her voice. None of it made a bit of sense.
This entire day seemed to be turning out to be nonsense. She hoped that it was not catching and her aunt would take it with her when she left.
“Okay. I get it. I’m still cool enough to take a hint.” Aspen got up to leave. Before the got to the door she turned and addressed Yuri. “You be sure to take care of my niece. I don’t care if you’re not her boyfriend, you better not go around hurting her.”
“I promise I will do everything in my power to keep her safe,” Yuri vowed with unnecessary sincerity.
Willow rolled her eyes. She might be safe from whatever zaniness seemed to permeate from her aunt’s very pores, but it seemed as though Yuri was still susceptible.
She followed her aunt to the door. “Will you email me the rest of the details later?”
“Sure thing. Look, I know you said you’re just friends with this Yuri guy, but he seems really sweet. Why not give him a chance? It’s not like you’re seeing anyone else right now.”
“It wouldn’t work out. He’s not going to be in town for long.”
“So? A long distance relationship isn’t the end of the world.”
“He’s not really my type.”
“Willow, I’ve known you since you were a baby. I’ve been there for all of your crushes and past boyfriends. If you’ve got a type this guy is it.”
“Okay. Okay. Your cool aunt advice is duly noted.”
“All right then. I’ll be going. Have fun!”
Willow really wished she would have closed the door fast enough to miss Aspen’s obnoxious wink, but she was not that lucky and now had that image emblazoned in her mind.