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The fallen star (fallen.., p.17
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       The Fallen Star (Fallen Star Series, Book 1), p.17

           Jessica Sorensen
 
I’m not sure how long I was in the air—or if I even was in the air. It was hard to tell with the thick blanket of blackness all around me. When I finally did see light again, my face was inches away from the floor, about to smack into it, hard.

  And hard it sure did smack.

  With my limbs aching in protest and my brain swirling dizzily, I got to my feet. I was no longer on the bus, but in a room with red walls and an ash-black hardwood floor. An L-shaped leather sofa trimmed the far back corner, and there were bookshelves all over the place. Dark curtains blocked all the windows so I wasn’t sure what was outside.

  “Where the heck am I?” I said.

  A hand came down on my shoulder, sending a surge of electricity spiraling down my arm. I spun around, knocking the hand away from my shoulder. Alex stood only inches away from me, and right behind him was Aislin. For a split second I was overwhelmed with the impulse to run to him. But the feeling quickly dissipated as the memories of what had just taken place hurricaned though my mind. I stumbled away from him, my hands shielded out in front of me. But a razor-sharp pain radiated up my left rib, and I let out a moan as I hunched over and wrapped my arm around my waist.

  “What’s the matter?” Alex asked, concern lacing his voice.

  I held up one hand, keeping the other on my aching ribs. "Stay away from me.”

  “Gemma, I’m not going to hurt you,” he said, sounding very convincing. But I wasn’t buying it. “You need to hold still. You’re hurt.”

  Something warm and sticky dripped down along the back of my hand. Blood. I lifted up the edge of my coat. A small piece of glass was lodged in my skin. I gasped.

  “Just relax.” The tone of his voice was tolerant, not relaxing at all. He turned to Aislin. “You better go find Laylen and see if he has a first aid kit or something. Although, I’m not even sure why you brought us here in the first place.”

  Aislin blushed. “I wasn’t trying to. It was an accident. You should just be grateful I got us out of there before…” She glanced at me and trailed off. “I’ll go find Laylen,” she said and whisked out the door.

  “Who’s Laylen?” I asked.

  Alex motioned at the L-shaped couch. “Go sit down so I can look at that.”

  I shook my head, my hand still grasping my wounded side. “Not until you tell me where we are. And how in the world we got here. And—”

  Alex cut me off. “I really don’t think that’s the most important thing right now, considering you have a piece of glass sticking out of your rib.”

  He had a point, I guess, but I deserved some answers. “Fine. I’ll go sit down. But I’m not going to drop this. You are going to tell me what’s going on.”

  He studied me with a curious expression. “You know, you’re nothing like what I thought you would be.”

  “I don’t even know what that means,” I said hotly. “You always say things that make no sense at all.”

  He sighed. “Just go sit down and I’ll try and explain things the best that I can.”

  I was stunned. Had I actually won the argument? “Are you serious?”

  He nodded. “But hurry up. You’re bleeding all over the floor.”

  After settling on the couch, I let my questions pour out of me. “Okay, so how did we get here? And what were those things back there? Those...Death Walkers? And how do you know about them? And how do you know Sophia, because I could tell by the way you two were talking that…” The way Alex was staring at me made me trail off. He looked totally baffled.

  “Are you going to give me a chance to talk?” he asked. “Or do you want to just keep going?”

  I bit my bottom lip. “Sorry. Go ahead.”

  He pressed his lips together and stared off into empty space. “Take off your coat.”

  I blinked. “What?”

  He met my eyes. “In order for me to get the glass out, you have to take off your coat.”

  “Oh.” For some stupid reason, I suddenly thought about the kiss we shared. It could barely be considered a kiss, really soft and brief like the touch of a butterfly’s wings. Still, I could feel the lingering sparkle where his lips had brushed against mine.

  I carefully eased my coat off, wincing as the glass shifted.

  Alex took off his gloves and coat and pushed up the sleeves of his long-sleeved black thermal shirt. Then he reached for me.

  “What are you doing?” My muscles tensed as I leaned away from him.

  He pointed at my ribs. “I’m going to look at that.”

  “Oh,” I said stupidly. I took a deep breath and held as still as I could.

  He lifted the edge of my shirt up just enough so he could see the piece of glass sticking out of my blood-covered skin. He examined it, gently tracing a circle around the cut with his finger.

  I held my breath, trying to hold in the gasp that desperately wanted to escape my lips. It would end up being the good kind of gasp—the kind of gasp that might get him thinking I was okay with everything. And I wasn’t. Not by a long shot.

  Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he moved his hand away. His face looked dead serious—worried even. It made me anxious.

  “Is it bad?” I asked in a high-pitched voice.

  His mouth curved into a grin. “No, it’s not that bad at all. The piece of glass is small, and you’re barely bleeding anymore. I should be able to get it out and stitched it up without any problems.” He rested back against the couch and glanced at the door. “Just as soon as Aislin gets here.”

  I tugged down the corner of my shirt and frowned. “That wasn’t funny. You had me thinking I was seriously hurt or something.”

  He laughed. “Actually, it kind of was.”

  I glared at him. “Do you even know how to do stitches?”

  “What, don’t you trust me?”

  I chose not to answer that. “How about you answer some of my questions?”

  He frowned. “I would rather not.”

  “But you said you would,” I protested. “I mean, is it really that bad that you can’t tell me?”

  “Yes,” he said.

  A shiver crawled up my spine. “Well, I still want to know.”

  He locked eyes with me. “Are you sure about that?”

  I swallowed hard and nodded.

  “Fine.” He waved his hand. “Ask your questions.”

  “Okay…” My mind suddenly seemed blanked. “Um…where are we?”

  “Laylen’s. He’s a friend of Aislin’s and mine.” He drew back the curtain that was behind us. “He lives in the Nevada desert.”

  If it wouldn’t have been for the sunlight, lighting up the sky, and the golden-brown sand, dusted with cacti, that stretched as far as my eye could see, I wouldn’t have believed him. But there it was, right outside the window.

  “How—” I stammered. “I mean—how?”

  He let go of the curtain. “That’s where all of this becomes confusing.”

  “Becomes confusing? It’s already been confusing for quite awhile.”

  “Has it?” he muttered.

  I wasn’t sure if it was a rhetorical question or not, so I didn’t answer. “So…how exactly did we get to Nevada in just a split second’s time?”

  He hesitated. “Aislin transported us here.”

  “Transported,” I said, very slowly, like the word was foreign. But the way he used it was foreign. “I remember hearing you guys say that word back on the bus, but what does it mean exactly?”

  He hesitated again. “It’s a form of magic.”

  A burst of laughter escaped my lips. “Are you being serious? Because, just so you know, magic isn’t real.”

  “It isn’t, huh?” He gestured around the room. “Then how do you explain this?”

  I shrugged. “It could be a delusion brought on by the trauma of those things—those Death Walkers things—trying to kill me.”

  He stared at me, astounded. “So, let me get this straight. What you’re trying to say is that you believe in something like the
Death Walkers who, by the way, are demons, but you don’t believe in magic.”

  “Umm….” Okay, so he had a point, but still, it was all too strange. “I don’t know what I believe in.”

  “Well, if you can’t believe in something as simple as magic, then there’s no point in me trying to explain the rest of it. Because out of everything, magic is the sanest sounding thing of all.”

  I thought about what he said, but it still seemed unreal. “So what you’re trying to say is that Aislin’s a witch?”

  He nodded. “But by your sarcastic tone, I’m guessing you’re still not buying it.”

  “I’m trying.” I really was. “But it’s kind of hard to accept something that sounds so…crazy.”

  He eyed me over, causing my skin to electrify. “So tell me this. How can you accept the feeling that I know you’re feeling right now, but you can’t accept that Aislin’s a witch? Because, on a crazy level, they’re both about the same.”

  “What feeling?” I asked, knowing full well what he meant.

  Before I could stop him, he rested his hand on my cheek. Electricity sung through my veins, and under no control of my own, I let out a gasp.

  “That feeling,” he whispered, the palm of his hand still cupping my cheek.

  Growing up with Marco and Sophia—the two most unaffectionate people ever—I never came close to even getting a pat on the back. So Alex touching me like that felt very strange. Yet somehow, at the same time, it felt very familiar.

  He dropped his hand, and we both just sat there, staring at one another.

  “Okay,” I finally said, breaking the silence. “I believe you so you can go on.”

  He forced a fake smile. “Can I?”

  “Yeah, you can.”

  He shook his head, looking like he was trying hard not to smile, then he turned to face me. “Look, I’ve broken a lot of rules here.”

  I tilted my head to the side, confused. “What rules?”

  “Nothing. Never mind,” he said quickly. He ran his fingers roughly through his hair “God, how the heck am I supposed to explain to you how important you are?”

  “How important I am?” I gave him a doubtful look. “Trust me, there’s nothing important about me. At all.”

  “You have no idea how wrong you are.” The intensity in his eyes made me shrink back.

  I gulped. “I don’t understand what you mean—”

  “Here it is,” Aislin announced. as she entered the room carrying a first aid kit.

  Alex practically leapt off of the couch. “Took you long enough.”

  Grimacing, she shoved the first aid kit at him. “It took me a minute to find Laylen.”

  “Sure it did,” Alex said, his tone insinuating something. Something I was certain I didn’t want to know.

  “Whatever, Alex.” She flipped her golden blonde hair from her shoulder. “And just so you know, Laylen's going to stay away until…” She glanced at me, then leaned in and dipped her voice quieter.

  After that, I could only make out half of what she was saying. Being able to lip read would have come in handy right now. All I was able to catch was something about “staying away” and “blood.” Maybe Aislin couldn’t stand the sight of blood…I don’t know.

  “I guess, but she’s not bleeding that bad.” Alex’s voice rose loud enough for me to hear him. He tucked the first aid kit underneath his arm. “Why don’t you go and try to get a hold of Stephan? Let him know what’s happened and see what he wants us to do.”

  Who was this Stephan?

  “What about the other problem?” She nodded in my direction.

  He shrugged. “I’m going to tell her.”

  “Tell her!” Aislin exclaimed. “Are you crazy!?”

  Uh…Hello, I was sitting right here. Jeez people.

  “We really don’t have a choice,” Alex said. “After what she just saw.”

  I wondered if they forgot I was in the room. Then again, being subtle had never been their thing.

  Aislin sighed. “Fine. Do whatever you want. I’ll go call Stephan.” She stomped toward the doorway, but turned around before walking out. “But just for the record, this is all on you.”

  “Thanks for clarifying that,” he said in a sarcastic tone.

  She shot him a glare before stepping out of the room.

  Alex came over to the couch, knelt down on the floor, and opened the first aid kit.

  “Who’s Stephan?” I asked.

  “My father,” he said without looking up.

  “Your father.” That sure as heck wasn’t what I expected.

  He grabbed a throw pillow from the foot of the couch and set it down beside me. “Lay down so I can get that piece of glass out of you and get you stitched up. And I’ll try to explain everything while I do.”

  “So, by try, do you mean try to explain the whole truth? Or just the parts of the truth you want me to hear?”

  He stared at me quizzically. “You’re kind of difficult, you know that?”

  “Gee, thanks,” I replied, my voice rich with sarcasm.

  He shook his head, but I caught a glimpse of a faint smile. “I’ll tell you everything as in everything.”

  I lied down on the couch as carefully as I could and rested my head on the pillow.

  “Alright.” He rubbed his hands together. “Try to hold as still as possible while I pull out the glass.”

  I cringed. I couldn’t help it. I took a deep breath and fixed my eyes on the ceiling, trying to think of something else. But the red color of the ceiling reminded me a lot of blood, and I was very aware of the tug as Alex removed the glass. I threw my arm over my face and shut my eyes, taking slow breaths.

  “You doing alright?” he asked.

  I nodded, but my ribs were on fire.

  “This little thing right here is what was in you,” he said.

  I opened my eyes. In the palm of his hand was a piece of blood stained glass about the size of a quarter.

  “That’s it?” Sticking out of my skin, it had looked so much bigger.

  “Yep, that’s it.” He dropped the glass into the first aid kit, and it plinked as it hit the plastic. He took out a cotton ball and poured rubbing alcohol on it. “Gemma, I’m really sorry.”

  His “sorry” momentarily perplexed me. Before I could figure out what he meant by it, he had already pressed the cotton ball onto my cut. It felt like someone had dumped gasoline on my skin and lit a match. I squeezed my eyes shut and bit down on my lip, trying not to scream bloody murder.

  Finally, after what seemed like hours, he moved it away. “Sorry about that. I just thought it would be better if I caught you off-guard. That way you wouldn’t anticipate it and try to move away.”

  I was in too much pain to respond.

  “Now I just have to stitch it up.” He tossed the blood soaked cotton ball into the first aid kit. “The cut’s not very big, so it shouldn’t take me that long.”

  “’kay,” I said through my shallow breathing.

  He began unwinding a spool of clear string.

  “So, are you going to explain to me why you think I’m so important?” I asked, watching him unwind the string like a cat.

  “Give me a second.” He snipped the end of the string off with a pair of scissors. “Before I do, though, you have to promise me two things.”

  “Depends on what those two things are.”

  He gave me a look as he withdrew a shiny needle from the kit.

  “Sorry.” I tried again. “So what are the two things I need to promise?”

  “First, you have to promise that you’ll try to keep an open mind.”

  “Okay.” Keeping an open mind seemed easy enough. “And the second promise?”

  “That you’ll let me finish talking before you start freaking out.”

  That one wasn’t as easy. My gut churned. “How do you know I’ll freak out?”

  He looped the piece of clear string through the needle. “Because you will.”

 
; Jeez. How bad was it going to be?

  I swallowed the lump in my throat. “Alright, I’ll try not to freak out until you’re done talking.”

  He raised his eyebrows. “You’ll try?”

  I suddenly felt very aware that I was about to hear something very bad. “Fine. I won’t freak out until you’re finished.” But after that, all bets were off.

  He held the needle just above my ribcage. I flinched—I absolutely, one hundred percent hate needles. With all their sharpness and being pointy—their sole purpose was to stab you.

  “I’m not even sure where to begin with all of this,” he muttered, and let a hiccup of silence go by. “Do you remember that story I told you about? The one about the fallen star?”

  “Yeah…I remember.”

  “Hold still,” he said as he tipped the needle down and vigilantly guided it through my skin.

  It stung…Bad. My eyes snapped shut, and I clutched on to the edge of the couch.

  “Breathe,” Alex reminded me.

  My eyes flew open and I sucked in a breath of air.

  “You good?” he asked after a second had ticked by.

  “Yeah, I think so.” But my voice trembled.

  “Are you sure?”

  “Yeah…but can you get this over with quickly? Please.”

  He nodded, and then weaved the needle into my skin again. “So, where was I?”

  “You were talking about the fallen sta—" I gasped as he pressed the needle into my skin again.

  “Oh yeah, the fallen star. All of what has happened has to do with that.”

  “How?”

  “You remember the story, right? Twenty years ago a star fell from the sky.”

  I nodded. “But that doesn’t mean I believe it.”

  He paused, the needle a mere sliver of air away from piercing into my skin. “You promised me you would keep an open mind, remember? And you need to believe in the fallen star story, otherwise the rest of this is going to sound like a lie.”

  “But you are a liar, right?” I asked, knowing I was treading on thin water here. He was the one holding the needle, after all. But still, it needed to be said.

  “Liar’s such a strong word. I prefer to think of it as me omitting some of the details.”

  I rolled my eyes.

  This time when he snaked the needle through my skin, he placed his free hand on my stomach. My bare stomach. All of my focus centered on how his fingers were touching my bare skin. The warmth. The buzzing. It even numbed out the pain a little.

  “Gemma?” His voice pulled me back to him.

  I blinked dazedly. “Huh?”

  He stared down at me, his forehead creased. “Did you hear what I said?”

  As much as I hated to do it, I shook my head. “Umm…no.”

  “I asked if you remembered when I mentioned the secret group that hid the star.”

  I nodded, still somewhat distracted by his warm hand touching my stomach. “Yeah, I remember.”

  “Well, the secret group is called Custodis of Vita.”

  There was so much electricity. “The awhata?”

  “The Custodis of Vita,” he repeated, sounding irritated.

  That’s it. It was too hard to focus with his hand touching me like that. I reached down and lifted it off me.

  He gave me a strange look, glanced at his hand, then back at me.

  “What is that? Like Latin or something?” I asked, hoping to distract him.

  “Yeah…it means Keepers of life. But for short we call ourselves The Keepers.”

  “Keepers of life.” I raised my eyebrows. “It sounds like a cult.”

  A soft laugh escaped his lips. “It’s not, though. We actually protect the world from dangerous things”

  “We?” I studied his expression; so serious and, at least as much as I could tell, so not the expression belonging to someone who was lying. However, Alex was an excellent liar. “So you’re saying that you belong to this Keepers group?”

  He nodded. “And Aislin. And…” His voice got quieter. “Marco and Sophia.”

  I lay there, motionless, letting his words sink in. “So, what you’re trying to tell me is that Marco and Sophia, the people who’ve raised me since I was one, belong to some secret group that protect the world from evil?” It sounded way too fictional. All saving the world from evil and demons and vampires. Yeah, I know, he hadn’t actually mentioned vampires but…God, what if there were actual vampires? “No. There’s no way. You’re lying. You have to be lying.”

  “That’s the second time you’ve said that in the last five minutes, which is really frustrating since this is one of the few times I’ve ever told the truth.” He seemed so angry it was hard not to believe him. Besides, something else had just occurred to me. Something that might back up part of what he was saying. “Is that why you and Sophia were talking the other day? Did it have something to do with all of this?”

  He gave a slow nod. “That night we were discussing….something.”

  I felt a sharp tug as the needle snagged my skin. I let out a whimper and my hand instinctively flew toward the pain. Luckily, Alex caught my fingers before they touched the stitches.

  “Whatever you do, don’t touch it,” he warned.

  I drew my hand back and cradled it against my chest. “So, if you’re telling me the truth—which I’m still not one hundred percent certain you are—then why hasn’t anyone mentioned this to me before?”

  He hesitated, looking stressed. “I don’t even know how to begin to explain the rest of this to you.” He let out a frustrated sigh as the needle slipped through my skin. “Okay, so that star I was telling you about held a lot of power. That’s why we—the Keepers—went and got it in the first place. If it fell into the wrong hands then…”

  Silence grasped the air.

  "Then, what?” I wished he would just spit it out.

  He shook his head. “Nothing.” He paused, seeming torn about something. “Okay, let me try this again. There are these people who have the ability to see into the future. Kind of like psychics, but we call them Foreseers. But, anyway, one of these Foreseers made this prediction—or a prophecy, I guess you could call it—that this fallen star would prevent the end of the world from happening.” He picked up the scissors and trimmed the end of the string off. “You’re into astronomy, right? So I’m sure you’ve heard of December 21, 2012?”

  I stared at him, dumbfounded. End of the world. WTF.

  “Gemma?”

  “Um…yeah…Dec. 21, 2012? Aren’t the planets supposed to align or something?”

  He nodded. “At the exact same moment the winter solstice takes place.” He tossed the scissors back into the box and pulled out a roll of tape and gauze. “When I say ‘end of the world’, what I mean is there’s this portal that’s supposed to open up at the exact moment the planets align.”

  “A portal,” I repeated with skepticism. I mean, I’ve heard theories on what people believed was going happen on December 21, 2012, and a couple of them had discussed the possibility of the world ending. But a portal? Really?

  He cocked an eyebrow. “You still seem like you don’t believe me.” He positioned the gauze over the stitches and secured it with two strips of tape. Then he set the roll of tape back into the first aid kit and snapped the lid shut. “I’m all done now, so you can sit up if you want. Just be careful, though. And don’t move too fast or you might rip them open.”

  I tugged the edge of my shirt down and slowly sat up. My side felt all strange and tight, and the skin burned.

  Alex set the kit down on a nearby table and dropped down on the couch beside me, his knee brushing against mine and making my muscles tense as electricity coiled up my thigh.

  “So, what is that?” I asked abruptly. “That electricity thing I feel whenever I’m around you?”

  He shrugged. “I have no idea.”

  I eyed him over suspiciously. “You have no idea what it is?”

  He shook his head. “N
ope. I’ve never felt anything like it until you came along.”

  “Yeah, me neither,” I muttered. “Until the first time I was by you.”

  He looked surprised. “Really?”

  “Yes, really. Why do you look so surprised? You just said the same thing.”

  “Because it’s different with you.” Before I could yammer out a bunch of questions about that, he shifted the direction of the conversation. “But anyway, back to the portal. See, if it opens up, it will let out a ton of Death Walkers. So I’m sure you can imagine how the end of the world is supposed to happen.”

  I stared down at my hand, remembering the bluish-purple color. “By ice.”

  “Exactly.”

  “So how come I started freezing to death, and my fingers turned all funky and blue, but you seemed completely unbothered?”

  “Eventually mine would have turned out the same way,” he explained. “Your reaction to the Death Walkers’ chill is just a little worse than mine.”

  “Why?” I asked. “I mean, is there something weird about me?”

  “I’m getting to that.” He fiddled with a loose string hanging off one of the throw pillows. “There’s this guy named Demetrius, who is the leader of all the Death Walkers, and he wants this portal to open. And basically, this fallen star is the only thing that has enough power to keep the portal from opening, so you can imagine how important it is to keep the star away from him.”

  “Do you still have it?” I was confused by how weird it sounded. It had to be some twisted, freaky dream. Or maybe I’d had a meltdown and created my own personal fantasy world inside my head. There was no way this could be real. But then, why did it feel like there was more truth to his story than anything I had ever been told?

  A funny look flickered across his face. “Yeah, we still have it.” He kept his eyes on me for an instant longer, before forcing them away. “We kept it hidden so Demetrius couldn’t find it and destroy it. For the first few years, we had a Shifter transfer the star’s energy into different objects to keep its location a secret.” He stopped. “Do I need to slow down? You look lost.”

  “Kind of lost. Kind of overwhelmed,” I admitted. “But you can go on.”

  “Okay, but just so you know, the next part is going to be very hard for you to hear. And you need to stay as calm as you can.”

  I swallowed hard, my stomach churning. “I’ll try.”

  He took a deep breath and surprised me when he reached over and took my hand. “An accident happened three years after we found the star. Theron, the Shifter I told you about, was attacked by Demetrius while in possession of the object that was holding the star’s energy. He ended up panicking and accidently shifted the power into something it should have never gone into.” He paused. “It went into a woman.”

  “A woman?” My eyes widened “What happened to her?”

  “Well, the energy didn’t end up in her exactly. She was pregnant when it happened, and it ended up going into her unborn child.”

  I froze. Why did this seem so familiar? And why did the incident back at the telescope—the one where I had been sucked away to the field—pop into my mind? “So what happened to the mother and the baby?”

  “They both lived and everything, but the star’s energy got trapped inside the baby. And it’s still there. For some reason—and no one knows for sure, because no one’s ever come across anything like it before—no Shifter could transfer it out of her.” He pressed his lips together, his hand tightening on mine. “A few years after it happened, the mother ended up passing away. But her death had nothing to do with the star.” He watched me closely. “She was a Keeper, and her name was Jocelyn.”

  “Jocelyn,” I repeated. “Why does that name sound familiar? Did I know her?”

  He nodded. “You did, and very well.”

  “How?” But before he could answer, I realized why. Because I had seen the name before on my Birth Certificate.

  Jocelyn was my mother.

  Chapter 14