Laura caught Jeremy before he reached the group around Matthew. “Whatever you do, don’t upset Zeke,” she said. “We can’t afford to lose him to the dark force.”
Jeremy nodded. “I’ll do my best,” he said.
Zeke’s voice rang out just then. “I promised to shake your hand, fag, but I didn’t promise to like you. You don’t belong here.”
Laura walked faster, almost running. She broke through the circle of kids. The only calm face she saw belonged to Matthew. He held up his hand to stop her from speaking. “Nice to meet all of you,” he said. “Especially you, Zeke. You are Zeke, aren’t you?”
Laura stepped to Matthew’s side and wrapped her hand around his arm. “Let me handle this,” he whispered so softly she wasn’t even sure she heard him. After she squeezed gently, she let go and smiled weakly at the group surrounding them. Five boys and two girls stood there, all except Zeke looking a little sheepish. Jeremy entered their ranks.
“Wow,” Matthew said, speaking loudly. “I’m not sure I belong here, either. I’m not very good at magic. You guys are probably all experts, right?”
Laura saw most of their heads bobbing up and down. One boy blushed instead. “I can heat a cup of hot water,” he said. “That’s about all.”
“That’s cool,” Matthew said. “I can’t do that one. Will you teach me?”
The boy blushed again and turned to Zeke, who shrugged. “What can you do, reptile?” Zeke asked.
There was a murmur from the other kids. “Yeah,” one girl said. “Show us.”
“It’s pretty pathetic,” Matthew said. He started muttering, then slowly vanished from sight. Laura tuned into him. He was walking through a gap between two of the kids. She knew Zeke could follow him; she saw him turn his head. A few other kids watched, too, including Jeremy, but two of the boys and one of the girls looked annoyed and confused.
“Ta da,” Matthew said, reappearing.
There was another murmur from the group. “Not bad,” the girl who’d made friends with Laura earlier said. “Who says you’re not a witch?”
“Parlor tricks,” Zeke said, sticking his nose up in the air. “I bet he can’t do this.” He waved his hand. A ball of fire filled it. He extinguished the flame and laughed, a cruel, mocking sound. “He hardly has any witch genes.”
“And what about his reptile genes?” the other girl, the one who couldn’t see through Matthew’s cloak, asked.
“Any one of you could give into the dark forces,” Matthew said. He smiled kindly at her. “You’ll have to get to know me to see for yourselves if I would.”
A bell chimed. It continued until Jeremy reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. He fiddled with a switch and the noise stopped. “Five minutes until our guest arrives,” he said. “Have all of you shaken Matthew’s hand like you promised? If not, you’d better do that and find a seat.”
He walked off. Laura heard his thought that she should meet him in the corridor right away. She left Matthew alone with his antagonists. He might not make friends, but no one would attack him right now, either.
As soon as they were away from the others, Jeremy asked: “How’d you do it?”
“Zeke has no idea how much magic you have. Otherwise, he’d be at your throat.”
“Special cloak,” she said. “I can choose what anyone sees. I knew that my real powers would be too much tonight, not just for Zeke, but for everyone. He mind reads, so I hid a lot of my thoughts from him, too.”
“But that’s impossible.”
She laughed. “Obviously not. Heather taught me. I’ll teach you, if you want. It could save your life someday.”
He nodded. She heard the thought: “Not sure it’s safe to spend that much time with you,” loud and clear. She ducked her head. How should she deal with his obvious interest?
His phone chimed again. “We have to go back in,” he said, but he didn’t start towards the door. Instead, he asked: “Do you think they’ll ever accept Matthew?”
“If anyone can win them over, he can.”
“Good. We need him.”
“Why do you say that?”
“I’ll explain later.”
She tried to read his thoughts, but there were too many of them competing for his attention. He touched her arm briefly, leaving a tiny burn behind, then headed into the meeting room.