Ember x, p.11
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       Ember X, p.11

         Part #1 of Death Collectors series by Jessica Sorensen
 
Page 11

 

  ***

  I’m running late the next morning and if I don’t hurry my ass up I’m going to be late for my English class. There are bags under my bloodshot eyes and I look pallid. I quickly get dressed in torn jeans, grey combat boots, and a black vest over a striped T-shirt. Raven texts me as I’m barreling down the stairs, pulling my hair into a ponytail.

  Raven: Need 2 get ur own ride 2day.

  I halt at the bottom of the stairs and text back.

  Me: Why? Is something wrong?

  It takes her a second to answer.

  Raven: I got things 2 do 2day. Can’t b late.

  Me: Just hold on. I’m almost out the door.

  Raven: Already gone.

  Raven: FYI the news said Laden disappeared the night of the party

  Me: … that makes no sense. I saw him outside the house.

  Raven: whateva u say. U would know how he died though. U saw it remember. It’s why I had 2 hang out with him

  Me: He’s not necessarily dead yet, only missing.

  Raven: If you say so. But anyway gotta go. C u in Biology :)

  I throw my phone into my bag, wondering how the hell I’m going to get to class. I’ve already missed too much and I don’t want to bail. I consider hitting Ian up for a ride, but then I’d have to explain what happened to Dad’s car. And I’m not ready for that yet. The only other alternative is to take the overly crowded public bus that is crammed with unavoidable death omens.

  “What’s up with you?” Ian asks, munching on a Pop-Tart in the kitchen doorway.

  “Nothing. ” I snatch my house keys off the table. “I’m just tired. ”

  “Did Mom say anything to you last night?” he asks. “Like maybe why she hasn’t been taking her meds. ”

  “Does she ever talk about anything?” I snap, shoving my keys into my pocket.

  Ian holds up his hands and backs up. “Sorry. I was just asking a question. But I guess I’ll keep my mouth shut. ”

  I open my mouth to apologize, but he turns back into the kitchen, shrugging me off. I grab my jacket off the banister and step outside. I slip on my jacket and stare at the end of the street at the bench in front of the bus stops. Walk or ride the bus? God, I have no clue.

  Cameron’s Jeep suddenly appears beside the curb. He rolls down his window and crooks his finger at me.

  I start to walk over, but then hesitate.

  “I promise I don’t bite. ” He dazzles me with an exquisite smile. “Unless, of course, that’s what you want. ”

  I start to pant, my chest actually heaving. My feet trot down the steps and across the grass on their own accord and I stop inches away from his door.

  “You look lost,” he says, his dark gaze skimming my body behind his sunglasses.

  “I have to get to class,” I tell him, wrapping my arms around myself. The way he’s looking at me makes me feel naked and I’m not sure if I like it or if it makes me feel uncomfortable. “But my car’s… broken. ” I shift my weight uneasily.

  “Hop in. ” He nods at the passenger seat. “I’ll give you a ride to the college… I was headed down there anyway to enroll for next semester. ”

  “I was going to walk. ” I adjust the handle of my bag. “It’s really not that big of a deal. ”

  He shakes his head and laughs, sliding his sunglasses off. “Hop in, Ember. I don’t mind giving you a ride. Trust me… In fact, I’m more than happy to. ”

  I hold his gaze for a moment, catching onto his hidden meaning, then I glance at the corner of the street where a line of people wait for the bus. “Okay… Thanks. ” I walk around the front and hop into the passenger seat. The inside of the car smells like vanilla mixed with a hint of earthy cologne. Cameron waits for me to buckle my seatbelt, then pushes up his sunglasses up, and drives down the road. He’s wearing dark blue jeans and a black button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled to the elbows. His hand rests on the shifter and his fingers tap to the music murmuring through the stereo. The compulsion to reach over and entwine my fingers with his nearly devours me.

  “So are you always this quiet?” he asks after minutes of silence drones by.

  I turn my head away from the window. “I just don’t see the point of talking unless there’s something to say. ”

  His eyes enlarge. “Okay, sorry for asking. ”

  I fidget with my leather bracelet. “Sorry. I didn’t mean for that to come out so bitchy. I’m just having a rough morning. ”

  He nods and proceeds with caution. “But I’m pretty sure you and I do have something to say, so the question is, do you want to say it or should I?”

  “I wasn’t expecting you to put it out there,” I say, shocked. “But okay. ”

  “The first thing you should know about me is that I hate secrets. They are pointless and request too much energy from an individual, unless the revelation of the secret brings pain to someone. ” His lips move like they are a poet’s pen on a sheet of paper.

  “Okay, so why were you digging up a grave in the cemetery the other night?” I lay it on the table.

  His grin enhances with amusement. “To see if they really do put dead bodies in coffins. ”

  I’m unsure how to respond. “I’m pretty sure they do. ”

  “See, that’s why I think you and I can get along,” he remarks cleverly. “Most people would have jumped out of the car with that response. ”

  I tuck my bangs out of my eyes. “Most people wouldn’t have gotten in the car in the first place. ”

  “Excellent point. ” He flips on the blinker and turns onto the school road. “I was doing my parents’ dirty work. My grandfather—or Old Man Carey as your weird friend calls him—owned a jewel that had a lot of sentimental value to my family. It’s been passed down from generation to generation. But no one can find where my grandfather put it, so they sent me to check in his coffin, just in case he requested to be buried with it and never told anyone except his friend who handled my grandfather’s funeral arrangements. ”

  For some reason, his story reminds me of a 1980s Tom Hanks movie I watched once—The Burbs. “Did you find it?”

  “Again, you’re not fazed. ” He grins, pleased and entertained. “No, I didn’t find it. ”

  “Did you think to ask your grandfather’s friend before you went rummaging around in his coffin?” I question. “It might have been an easier place to start. ”

  “Hmm…” He rubs his chin thoughtfully. “I never thought of that. ” He laughs and smiles. “Of course I did, but it turns out my grandfather’s friend has already passed away himself, only days after the funeral ended. ”

  “That’s weird. ” I’m torn on whether I believe him. “So who was that man doing the actual digging?”

  His smile falters and his face reddens with anger. “You saw him?”

  I nod slowly. “Yeah…”

  His anger alarms me. “He’s my uncle. ”

  “You don’t like him?” I ask.

  He fiddles with the keychain and sadness hues eyes. “He’s… tolerable. ” He turns into the crowded school parking lot and everyone stares. The town has a very low population and an unidentified vehicle is big news. I can almost see the invisible stream of gossip move from car to car. “Wow, it’s like being a movie star,” he comments as he parks in an empty spot.

  A smile curls at my lips. “Oh, it’s going to get a lot worse for you. Trust me. The new guy—it will be the headline of the newspaper. ” I make a motion with my hand. “Well, maybe it won’t be quite that big. Someone else just moved here today too. ”

  He takes the keys out of the ignition. “Do you know who it is?”

  “Yeah, I met him at a party Saturday night. ” I unbuckle the seatbelt. “His name’s Asher Morgan. ”

  A dark shadow possesses his expression. “And you’ve already met him?”

  “Yeah…” My eyebrows scrunch. “At the party, like I just said. ”

  He stares at the dashboard, jing
ling the keys with anxious energy, and then he opens the door and climbs out of the car.

  I hop out and meet him around the back. “You said you don’t keep secrets,” I say as we head for the bricked canopy entrance. “But it kind of seems like you are. ”

  “No, I said secrets were pointless unless they hurt someone. ” He picks up the pace and waves over his shoulder. “See you around, Ember. ”

  The whole female student body watches him swagger up the sidewalk, practically drooling. I roll my eyes and shift directions for the side entrance. By this afternoon, he’ll probably be screwing Mackenzie Baker in the utility closet.

  The side entrance is the mellow area of the small school, leading right into where my English class is. I rummage through my bag as I walk down the hall, pull out my cell phone, and text Raven.

  Me: U at skool yet?

  I wander down the hall decorated with fake spider webs and orange and black confetti, with my head tucked down, waiting for an answer.

  Me: Hey, r u ok?

  Again, no response. I put my phone back in my bag and decide to check in the art room. Sometimes Raven goes in there for fun, when the Professor doesn’t have a class going, because she says it’s the most serene spot to paint with the mountains right outside, along with the football practice field, where the guys run around with their shirts off.

  I poke my head inside, but the only person there is a guy painting in the far corner, so I begin to back out.

  “Ember,” the guy calls out.

  “Asher?” I step into the classroom. “What are you doing in here?”

  He stifles a smile. “Painting. ”

  “But how are you here… I didn’t know you could start class mid-semester. ”

  “I’m not,” he replies. “The Professor is my dad’s brother and I stopped by to say hi… one thing lead to another. ” He raises the paintbush. “I couldn’t help myself. ”

  “So you have connections?” I say in a teasing tone. “I see. ”

  His grin illuminates his slate eyes that are shadowed by strands of his hair. “I guess you could say that. ”

  I grow flustered with the impulse to walk across the room, run my hands up his lean arms, tangle my fingers through his hair, yank him down, and suck his tongue into my mouth.

  “Well, I’ll see you around. ” I wave and step back to depart the room.

  “Aren’t you curious if I’m any good?” He sets the paintbrush down on the tray and motions me over.

  I set my bag on a table and weave through the desks and his eyes never leave me the entire time. By the time I reach him, my skin is sizzling from his gaze and the sexual tension building between us.

  He has a black hoodie pulled over his At the Drive-In T-shirt and his faded jeans are stained with little droplets of black paint, the same look Ian often sports. He brushes his black hair out of his eyes and I notice a small scar along his brow line, right beneath his eyebrow piercing.

  He gestures at the canvas. “So, what do you think?”