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The Year of Second Chances, Page 3

Jessica Sorensen

  I growl in frustration as my curiosity gets the best of me. Tapping my finger against the screen, I open the message, and my heart drops.

  Unknown: If you thought the flyer thing was bad, just you wait.

  Unknown: Round two is going to start soon.

  Chapter 2


  "Dammit, I hope she can handle this," I mutter, yanking my fingers through my hair as I stare at the files on the computer screen. "This is going to be a lot to take in."

  But Isa can handle it. She's strong, beautiful ... and tastes fucking amazing, which yeah, I know is totally off the point, but still ...

  I replay the moment in my mind, starting with the kiss she gave me on the cheek. It was a friendly kiss--I knew that--but I couldn't help taking it a step further.

  God, her lips are so damn soft. Seriously, I'd kiss her all day if I knew she wanted me to. The problem is, I'm not sure we're on the same page. Sometimes, it feels like we might be, like when she let me lick and bite her neck. But there are other times when it feels like she sees us as just friends, like when she gives me high-fives and tells me I'm a great friend. I've been wrong before about how a girl felt about me. I've been wrong a lot of times, actually. Many of those times had to do with a girl using me to get to Kyler.

  Fucking Kyler. Everything is always about him. In my parents' eyes, he's the better son who excels at sports and school. Me, I'm the loser who quit every team so he could wander around and get into trouble. Kyler is the more outgoing and popular one, while I'm looked at as the stepping stone to get on his good side.

  I've been used more times than I can count, and I spent years being jealous over the fact that he is better than me. But I cut ties with my jealousy the day I quit sports and took a new route in life. A route filled with people who don't give a shit that my brother is Kyler Meyers. For about eight months, I was okay with living on that path, all the way up until Isa came home from her trip overseas.

  Her outer appearance had changed, and suddenly, Kyler no longer looked at her as the nerdy girl next door who had a crush on him, but as a hot girl he wanted. The stupid thing is that Isa is the same, beautiful, quirky, and amusingly entertaining girl she's always been. She just shows off her beauty more. Kyler was just too blind to see her before the whole makeover thing and is shallow enough to want her based solely on the fact that he thinks she's sexy. He doesn't even know her, not like I do.

  Isa's been infatuated with Kyler since we were in middle school and doesn't see him for who he really is. I've never felt more jealous of my older brother than the day I had to witness the two of them flirting and hanging out. They haven't been on an official date yet, but I know he's asked her, just like I know he kissed her on the corner of the mouth.

  The only hope I have that maybe they aren't officially dating yet is that Isa hasn't talked to Kyler since last weekend. At least, from what I understand. She hasn't told me why, though. I don't know whether it's because they're fighting, if she's just been too busy, or if it's from the whole neck biting, licking thing that happened between us.

  As I begin to overanalyze every single sexy moment that's happened between Isa and me, my laptop screen flashes like a strobe light.

  "What the fuck?" I click a few keys then tap the mouse, but that only seems to piss it off more.

  I think about pulling the flash drive out just in case my computer has a virus, but then I'll have to go through the process of cracking the codes again, and I'm not sure if I can replicate how I did it the first time.

  Okay, stay calm, I think to myself. Just run an anti-virus program and clean everything up.

  As if the computer senses my calmness, an error warning repeatedly flashes across the screen. Then I really start to panic when all the craziness stops and a timer box pops up, ticking backward from five minutes.

  Suddenly, it clicks. Big Doug does this stuff all the time. He probably put this on there in case I wasn't the one to find the files.

  Shit! When the clock reaches zero, I'm screwed. And so are the files on Isabella's mom's case.

  I grab my phone from out of my pocket and begin taking photos of the computer screen as I open the files. I get a total of about five before the timer reaches zero.

  "TIME'S UP" illuminates across the screen, along with a circular symbol with a hieroglyphic code--Big Doug's watermark. A second later, the screen goes blank, and then the computer dies.

  I blow out a stressed breath, relieved I at least read most of the files and got a few photos so I can give Isa a recap.

  "Kai!" Isa says breathlessly as she runs into the living room, wild-eyed.

  I jump to my feet, ignoring the pain shooting up and down my side. "What's wrong?"

  "I ... there's ... something ..." She gasps for air, her eyes flooded with panic.

  She gets this way sometimes whenever she's about to have a panic attack. Knowing I need to calm her down before she starts hyperventilating, I step toward her and cup her cheek.

  "You have to calm down," I say. "Deep breaths, okay?"

  She sucks in a breath through her nose and unsteadily exhales through her mouth. She does the movement over and over again, looking into my eyes the entire time. Eventually, her breathing returns to normal, but the fear in her eyes remains.

  "Better?" I ask, and she nods.

  Withdrawing my hand from her cheek, I slip my fingers through hers and guide her to the couch. Once she's sitting down, I take a seat beside her and tuck a stray strand of hair behind her ear.

  "Now, do you want to tell me what's got you so freaked out?"

  She shuts her eyes and takes another breath. "I-I got another text from that unknown caller." She opens her eyes and hands me the phone. "I think it might be another threat, and I think it might be worse than the flyer thing this time."

  Pressure builds in my chest as I read the message. "If you thought the flyer thing was bad, just you wait. Round two is about to start."

  Rage burns inside of me at the mention of those fucking flyers someone put all over the school. They declared Isabella's mom a killer and had a photo of Isa on the flyer that looked like it was taken while she was playing basketball with Kyler. I have my suspicions that Kyler might have taken the photo, that he might be in on this somehow.

  I haven't told Isa my theory, because I worry it'll crush her, and she's already been crushed enough in her life.

  "What do you think they'll do?" she whispers. "I don't even know what could be worse than telling the whole school about my mom."

  "I don't know." I wish I had an answer to give her, but I feel as lost as she does. "But I'm going to do everything I can to find out."

  Her brows furrow. "What're you going to do?"

  Talk to Kyler and threaten his dumb ass.

  "I'm not going tell you what just yet. I don't want to bring you into this mess."

  She glares at me. "Um, hello, this mess is my problem. This person texts me, threatens me. Technically, it has nothing to do with you, and you know what? I think I might stop showing you the messages and handle the problem myself to keep you out of getting into trouble."

  "I'm already in trouble," I remind her. "This is nothing compared to that."

  "I don't care," she fires back. "I'm not going to add myself to your trouble list."

  "My trouble list?" I wrestle back my amusement. Some of the stuff she says is so fucking adorable. "What the heck is that?"

  "You know, the list of people you're in trouble with ... like T and your parents. I don't need to be put on it. I want to stay on your un-trouble list."

  "My un-trouble list?" Okay, I can't restrain a laugh this time. "Where do you come up with this stuff?"

  She playfully swats my arm. "Hey, don't make fun of my awesome wordage."

  "I'm not making fun of you," I promise her through a laugh. "I just think it's cu--"

  "Don't even say it," she cuts me off, holding up her hand. "I don't want to hear you say cute to me ever again, not after you purposefully said it jus
t to make me blush."

  "All right, then." I roll my tongue in my mouth to stop myself from laughing. "From now on, I'll just call you adorable."

  She stares at me, unimpressed, but I get rewarded when a flush creeps across her cheeks.

  "Or you could just stop calling me pet names," she insists, folding her arms.

  "Nah. I'd rather not."

  She huffs, pretending to be angry, but deep down, I know she likes it from the way she stops protesting.

  "Fine. Call me whatever, but I still don't want to be on your trouble list."

  "Okay," I agree with a nod.

  She relaxes and reaches back to take her phone, but I tuck it behind my back.

  "I'm going to have someone else look into the number," I tell her. "I doubt they'll be able to trace it, but it doesn't hurt to try."

  "That sounds sketchy." She frowns. "Kai, I don't want you getting into more trouble because of me ..." She trails off as I place a finger over her lips.

  "I won't get into trouble," I promise, fighting the desire to remove my finger from her lips and silence her with a kiss, instead. "I'm just going to someone who's kind of a friend of mine and who knows how to trace phones way better than I do. Plus, he owes me a favor."

  She swallows hard. "You promise it won't cost you anything? And if it does, you'll let me pay?"

  "I promise it won't cost me anything," I say, drawing an X over my heart.

  She gives a wavering nod. "All right, I'll back off the trouble list thing. Just, please be careful. I worry about you, you know."

  My heart does this ridiculously stupid girly fluttery thing. No one has ever said they worry about me, not even my parents. I want to believe this means she cares about me, maybe as much as I do about her, but doubt still plagues the back of my mind as I think about how love-struck she looks whenever she's around Kyler. Probably about as love-struck as I do right now.

  I blink a few times, hoping to God Isa can't see my feelings written all over my face. While I'm pretty sure I might be falling in love with her, I'm not ready to declare that.

  A curious look crosses her expression. "Is everything okay?"

  I clear my throat and glance at the time. "Yeah. I'm just thinking we should probably take off soon."

  She rubs her lips together, studying me closely. I'm so damn terrified she'll see right through my bullshit. Before she can dig too deeply, though, I stand up and stretch my arms above my head.

  "I'm going to go change, and then we should probably take off. There's a bus leaving around ten that'll take us to a spot that's in the middle of all the places we need to go."

  "Kai, we can take my grandma's spare car," she says, getting to her feet. "Indigo's gone, so my grandma said I could use it whenever I need to."

  "Yeah, but ..." I yawn. "If you have to drive, then that kind of takes away my present, doesn't it?"

  "No." She rolls her eyes. "After everything you've done for me, I should be giving you presents and driving you everywhere."

  "You do drive me everywhere," I point out. "But if you really don't mind, then I'm cool with driving because the last time I took the bus, I ended up sitting by a guy who spent his thirty-minute bus ride clipping and cleaning his toenails. One almost hit me in the eye."

  "Ew." Her face contorts with disgust. "That's so gross."

  "Yeah, it was," I agree, picking up my duffel bag from off the floor. "And I've avoided taking the bus ever since." I start for the hallway, yawning again. "Give me five minutes to shower, and then we'll take off to have some awesome zombie fun."

  I'm almost to the entrance of the hallway when she tentatively says, "Kai?"

  I turn toward her. "Yeah?"

  "You slept last night, right? Because you look really tired, and I'm starting to worry maybe you haven't been getting enough sleep."

  "I'm fine." Total lie. I didn't sleep at all last night. I was trying to crack the code to get into the flash drive. But if I tell her that, she'll spend the day stewing in guilt, and that's not what today's supposed to be about.

  "All right." She seems unconvinced. "But maybe if you're tired, you could try taking a nap. I'm worried you might be trying to do too much and forgetting to take care of yourself."

  "Always caring about my wellbeing." I wink at her, acting nonchalant when, really, her words touch me in ways I didn't think were possible.

  By the time I leave the living room, I feel more relaxed and upbeat than I have in a while. Then my phone dings with an incoming message from T, and my mood deflates as I read it.

  T: If I don't see some cash in four days, I'm going to pay you a little visit and remind you of what'll happen if I don't get my grand.

  Me: I thought I still had time left to pay it?

  T: I want some proof that you're working on getting me the cash, and I think the perfect way to do that is for you to get me three hundred by Tuesday.

  Me: I don't know if I'll have that much by then.

  T: This isn't a fucking request. You'll give me three hundred by Tuesday, or you'll pay the consequences. And this time, it'll be a helluva lot worse than a tiny punch to the ribs.

  A tiny punch to the ribs? The dude smashed his fist against my side until my bones cracked.

  I press my fingers to the brim of my nose. Goddammit! Why did I have to vouch for Bradon? I knew his reputation and still let him con me into feeling sorry for him.

  Sighing, I lower my hand to my side. I can dwell all I want, but it's not going to get me anywhere.

  I text T back that I'll get him the three hundred. Then I duck into the bathroom, knowing that, come Tuesday, I'll probably be getting my ass beat.

  Chapter 3


  When Kai leaves the living room, I turn to his computer to sneak a peek at the files on the flash drive. I don't know if I'm crossing a line--whether Kai will get mad at me for snooping--but not knowing what's on there is eating away at me.

  When I tap the mouse pad, the screen doesn't flip on. Figuring he turned the computer off, I push the power button. Nothing. I try plugging the power cord in. Nope.

  I scratch my head. "What on earth is wrong with it?"

  I'm sitting on the sofa, frowning at the blank computer screen, when Kai strolls into the room, wearing a pair of black jeans, a matching long-sleeved shirt, and a studded belt. His hair is damp from the shower, and an array of leather bands cover his wrist, including the one I gave him.

  When he notes me staring at the screen, his mouth curves downward. "What're you doing?"

  "Trying to look at the files." I feel a drop of guilt land in my stomach. "I'm sorry. I was just trying to distract myself from the texts." I gesture at his laptop balanced on the coffee table. "But it won't turn on."

  "It might need to be fixed after what happened," he says, stuffing his wallet into the back pocket of his jeans.

  My eyes widen. "What happened?"

  "I think Big Doug put a virus on the flash drive. Don't worry, though. I took some photos of the files before they crashed. And I read most of them." He approaches the couch with his hand extended toward me. "Now stop worrying about stuff and come on. We have some zombies to kill."

  I don't know how he thinks I'm not going to worry with everything going on. Yet, somehow, I feel better when I place my hand in his, as if touching him offers me enough comfort to reduce some of the stress.

  Wrapping his fingers around my hand, he lifts me to my feet.

  "You ready to kick some zombie ass?" he asks as we walk hand in hand toward the door.

  "Heck, yeah." My smile's as shiny as a disco ball reflecting in the sunlight.

  Kai smiles as he reaches for the door, but I pull him to a stop as my phone pings from inside my jacket pocket.

  "Hold on. I just got another message."

  Fear pounds through me at the thought that the text might be another threat from the unknown number. I tense, stuffing my hand into my pocket to retrieve my phone.

  "Who's it from?" Kai asks, leaning over my shoul
der to read the message.

  "It's from Indigo." Relief washes over me. "I haven't heard from her in days."

  Kai rests his chin on my shoulder. "You think everything's okay?"

  "I don't know... She's asking me to stay inside tonight when it storms. I'm going to call her really quickly." I punch in her number and put the phone to my ear.

  "Hey," she answers after four rings. "What's up?"

  "I was just about to ask you the same thing." I wander toward the sofa. "Why haven't you been answering any of my messages? And what's up with the weird message you just sent."

  "Sorry. I broke my phone a few days ago and just got a replacement," she says apologetically. "I would've used my mom's phone, but when she went on a bender, she forgot to pay the bill. I'm probably going to have to check her into rehab." She heaves a sigh. "But anyway, you got the message I just sent, right?"

  "Yeah... But why do you want me to stay inside today?"

  She pauses again and my worry soars through the roof all the way to the sky.

  "Indigo, whatever's wrong, just tell me," I say. "You have me worried."

  "I'm not trying to worry you." She forces a laugh that sounds all sorts of wrong. "I just had a dream last night that something bad was going to happen tonight during the storm. I don't think it's really going to happen, but I just felt like... I just need you to... stay inside when it's storming, okay? And Grandma Stephy too."

  Her request is so bizarre, but the fear haunting her tone scares me enough to agree.

  "All right, I will." I sink down on the sofa. "You don't have like premonitions or anything, do you?"

  She laughs. "Of course not. That stuff isn't even real. Seriously, you read way too many sci-fi books."

  "No way."

  "If you say so," she replies, the uneasiness creeping into her tone again.

  I catch Kai's gaze from across the room.

  Is everything okay? He mouths.

  I shrug. I don't know. And I really don't. Something seems off in her tone, distant, worried, haunted.

  "So you promise, promise you won't go out tonight during the storm?" she double checks.

  "If that's what you need me to do, then I will," I tell her. "I just hope everything's okay."