Ember x, p.22
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       Ember X, p.22

         Part #1 of Death Collectors series by Jessica Sorensen
 
Page 22

 

  “How were you planning it to go?” I ask, wondering if he ever meant to kiss me and feel me from the inside.

  He puts the parking brake on. “A little less bar fighting and a lot more making out in the back of the bar. ”

  I look at him to see if he’s being serious and he stares at me with hunger in his eyes. “How did you learn to fight like that?” I ask, unclicking my seatbeltbefore leaning over and placing a finger to his injured lip. “You were kind of amazing. ”

  His jaw tenses. “My dad taught me. ”

  “Yeah, mine too,” I say, lowering my hand away from his mouth.

  He relaxes a little, his shoulders unstiffening. “Yeah, I saw you knee that guy… You didn’t so much as hesitate. ”

  “Hesitation shows weakness,” I say robotically. “At least, that’s what my dad used to say. He was a do-or-die kind of guy. ” I pause, scratching nervously at my neck. “I didn’t kill him. ”

  “I know. ” His voice is steady, his gaze fierce.

  I lower my hand to my lap. “So you don’t believe the rumors?”

  He shakes his head and a wisp of his hair falls into his eyes. He leans over and sketches along my lower lip, before reaching for the glove compartment in front of me. “Come on, there’s something I want to show you. ” He grabs a flashlight and then hops out of the car.

  I climb out and meet him at the front of the car. We hike down a dirt path, holding hands, and he lights the way with the flashlight. An owl hoots from in a tree and the crickets sing a melody that haunts the night. It’s strange but peaceful knowing we’re the only two out here and that we’re sharing a private moment no one else can ever touch.

  Asher unexpectedly makes a sharp turn off the path and ducks into the trees. The leaves and twigs crunch under our shoes as we hike deeper into the woods.

  “Where are we going?” I whisper, forcing my eyes to adjust to the night as branches claw at my skin.

  He shoves a branch aside and lets me walk through first. “There’s something out here I want to show you. ”

  “What? A roll of tape and a shovel,” I say sarcastically.

  He spots the flashlight on my face. “Am I scaring you?”

  Shielding my eyes with my hand, I shake my head. “I think it would take a hell of a lot more than a creepy walk in the forest with a really hot guy to scare me. ”

  “You think I’m hot, huh?” It’s nearly pitch black, but I hear the smile in his voice.

  I roll my eyes, playing off my slipup. “So what’s really—”

  He silences me with his lips by crushing into mine and our bodies weld together and steam up the woods as he presses himself against me. His fingers find my waist and he grips at my skin like he can’t get enough of me. I kiss him back, gripping onto his arms for support, wondering if it’s possible to stay like this forever, in the darkness of the woods, away from the world and death.

  He pulls back, breathing ravenously. “You’re beautiful, you know that?” He rubs his lips together. “Especially when you’re embarrassed. ”

  “I don’t get embarrassed,” I assure him, rolling my shoulders back. “Only uncomfortable. ”

  We finish the rest of the walk holding hands and taking in the serenity of each other’s company until we finally emerge from the trees onto a flat spot of land. Asher sweeps the light across the area, highlighting a stone statue of an Angel with feather-carved wings aimed at the sky and its head and back is curled inward toward the earth. Surrounding it are petite wooden crosses covered with vines of rose bushes.

  “How did you know this was here?” I make a path through the tiny cemetery, feeling as though I’m stepping on forbidden territory. “And does anyone else know it’s back here?”

  “My father took me here when I was younger. ” He watches me with the flashlight in his hand. “And I don’t think anyone else knows it exists. ”

  “How’d your father know about it?” I stare up at the Angel statue.

  “His father showed it to him. ” He spotlights an engraving on the foot of the statue.

  Bending down, I read it aloud, “To guard the Earth from the wrath of death, we must use vigilance. For those we seek to guard could destroy us and themselves. ”

  “Do you know what it means?” I run my fingers along the elaborate lettering. “It feels like I’ve heard it before. ”

  He walks up behind me, crouches down, and puts his mouth beside my ear. “Some people believe that Angels are the guardians of humans’ deaths. However, most humans have a general fear of anything involving death. They have the potential to destroy themselves and their protectors. A long time ago, people used to slay anyone they suspected were Angels of Death. ”

  “Did they have black-winged feathers,” I half joke, but am half serious, thinking of all the feathers I’ve come across during my life.

  “Are you speaking of Laden’s crime scene?” Asher asks gravely as I angle my face back, resting it against his chest. “Or of something else?”

  “You know about the feathers on Laden’s crime scene?”

  “Everyone knows about the crime scene. ”

  “Do you know it was almost exactly like my dad’s crime scene?”

  He places a hand on my hip and gives it a gentle squeeze. “Yeah, I heard that. ”

  Silence capes us as my memories drift back to the night my dad disappeared; the panic that led to my stupid decision to run away and who ran away with me.

  “Do you know that some people believe that Angels exist?” he asks. “And that they walk in disguise, looking for the Grim Angel who will save them?”

  “That’s not too hard to believe, I guess. I mean, there are a ton of strange things in this world. ” Like me. “But what’s the wrath of death?”

  His fingers travel up my forearm, scorching hot against my skin, and my stomach quivers with the desire to be closer to him. “The Grim Reaper,” he whispers and I’m slapped back to reality.

  I jolt away, standing up, and accidentally step on a cross. I quickly pick it up and stab it back into the moist dirt.

  “What’s wrong?” Asher asks, standing up too. “Did I say something that makes you uneasy? Because if I did, you can tell me. ”

  It’s like he knows. Tipping my chin back, I gaze up at the statue and then at the crosses in the ground around it. “No… it’s just getting late. I should probably get home. ”

  He nods, not pushing me to divulge. “Yeah, we can go back. ”

  As we backtrack through the trees, I think about the Grim Reaper. In my head, I picture walking inside my house and he’s waiting for me on the couch with a cup of tea, like we’re old friends. But I’m too old to be seeing imaginary people, let alone drinking tea with them.

  “Do you think that… do I come off as a little crazy?” I abruptly ask when we approach the edge of the turnout where the car is parked.

  He stops in his tracks, and slipping his arm around my back, he pulls me close to him so that I can see the honesty in his eyes. “I think there are a lot of people that are considered insane, but they just see and go through more than the average person can understand. ” He kisses me on the forehead and I bask in the warmth and silence of his lips.

  I nod and we move away from each other and climb in the car. He starts up the engine and places the flashlight back in the glove box.

  I watch him with a guarded expression as I ask, “Asher, why did you bring me here?”

  He places an arm on the back of my headrest. “Because I wanted to show you that people tend to fear the different, even when the different is good. ”

  “Like Angels?”

  “Yeah, like Angels, and like people who are out of the ordinary. ” His fingers brush the back of my neck.

  “But what does this have to do with Garrick and the Anamotti?” I ask. “Or can you not tell me that yet?”

  “Do you want me to tell you now?” He waits patiently for my answer, tracing circles on my shoul
der.

  I hesitate briefly, nervous what the answer could be. “Umm… yeah?”

  “The word ‘Anamotti’ means death. And they believe that Angels exist,” he says in a controlled tone. “And they want to destroy them. ”

  Angels? “Are you part of this group?” I tread with caution.

  He shakes his head. “I’m not, but I know people who are. ”

  I take in the dark alteration of the night. “What does that have to do with me?”

  Hooking his finger underneath my chin, he tips my chin up and claims my gaze, looking past my eyes and into my soul. “I can tell you, but I want you to make sure you’re ready for that answer, because it’s… it might be hard for you to take in, especially when you’ve got so much stress in your life already. I want you to really make sure, whether you believe me or not, that you can handle whatever it is I tell you. ”

  “How do you know about my stress?” I ask, unable to look away from his binding gaze.

  “Because of the sadness you always carry. ” He sweeps the tip of his fingers along the corner of my eye. “It’s in here, all the time. So please, if you’re not ready, it can wait. ”

  It’s frightening how much he sees me.

  He gives me a moment to contemplate and my mind reflects back to Garrick and his multiple death omens. To Raven. And Ian. My alcoholic, manic-depressant mother. My dad’s disappearance. Angels and secret societies? There is so much going on in my life and for once I have an escape—Asher. Tonight has been one of the best nights of my life and I want to hold onto the feeling of bliss for as long as I can. Whatever he’s about to say will change it. Perhaps even destroy it—I can sense it through the tone in his voice, the way he moves, and the way his eyes watch me.

  “Can you take me home?” I fear having to deal with what’s before me and worry that I’ll crack and end up going insane. “It’s getting late. ”

  He nods with understanding in his eyes and then pulls his hand away, placing it on the steering wheel. “Whatever you want, Ember. And I mean that. Whatever you want, I’ll give it to you. ”

  I wonder if he really means it.

  ***

  All the interior lights in my house are off when we pull up. Either the power is still out, my mom and Ian are in bed, or no one’s home.

  “Is anyone here?” Asher asks, staring at the house. “It doesn’t look like anyone is. ”

  “Well, it is,” I glance at my watch and my eyes spring wide. “One in the morning. Shit, how’d it get to be that late?”

  “Time flies when you’re having fun,” he teases with a soft laugh and an inside-melting grin.

  The darker side of tonight has dissolved from my body and the ride home was filled with light conversation about music, school, art, and writing. I refuse to think about Angels, the Grim Reaper, and the Anamotti for the moment. I want to just be free from death and everything that is related to it.

  “Tonight was fun, though. ” I jerk on the handle and push the car door open. “And I needed some fun. ”