Ember x, p.31
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       Ember X, p.31

         Part #1 of Death Collectors series by Jessica Sorensen
Page 31


  She is under observation and we can’t see her until a full mental analysis is completed. We hardly speak to each other and Ian heads straight up to his studio. He doesn’t know what really happened, which is good because he can’t handle what he does know: that my mom overdosed and that she cut up her forehead and wrists.

  “If you need anything,” I call out as he trudges up the stairs. “Please come get me. ”

  “Sure,” he mutters, slipping off his shoes at the top of the stairs. “I’m just gonna go paint for a while. ”

  I doubt he’s going to paint. He’ll probably lock himself up in his room and smoke himself into a stupor. As soon as he is upstairs, I collapse on the sofa with my feet kicked up over the back. “All I want to do is sleep forever. Please just let me sleep forever. ”

  I stare at the window as a raven flies just outside, back and forth, back and forth, then it lands on the windowsill. It spans it small wings and shakes off a few feathers.

  “Go away. ” I throw a couch pillow at the window.

  Tucking its wings in, it spins in a circle and I toss another pillow at it. Parting its beak, it caws. I begrudgingly drag myself off the couch and place my hand on the glass. “Why won’t you just go away?”

  Granting me my wish, it flaps away in the direction of Cameron’s house. It’s late, so most of the houses are dark, but the light in Cameron’s attic is on. I’m possessed by a rage that doesn’t belong to me, blazing uncontrollably like a wildfire. As if my feet no longer belong to me, I march out the front door and across the street. I’m still wearing the pajamas I wore at the police station and blood still stains my shirt and hands, but that’s okay. I’m not going there to impress him.

  His Jeep is parked out front and the tires are covered with chunks of mud. I cup my hands around my eyes as I peek through the back window, wondering if I’ll find rope and a roll of duct tape, like the kind I saw on Mackenzie in her death omen.

  “Find anything interesting?” Cameron’s amused voice is startling close.

  Slowly, I turn to face him. He’s standing closer than I expect and my foot slips off the edge of the curb with the shift of my weight.

  “Easy there. ” He catches my arm and balances me onto the curb. He’s wearing faded jeans, no shirt, and his skin almost glows beneath the dim trail of moonlight. There is also dust in his blonde hair and on his hands, which is strange.

  I wrench my arm free and his dusty handprints mark my skin. “Why did you do it?”

  He knows exactly what I’m talking about—it’s clear in his stoic expression. “But I didn’t do it. ”

  “Yes, you did. ” I dust the dirt off my arm. “You were the only one who knew the exact location of my car. ”

  “Am I?” He shakes his head and dust falls from his hair. “Because I was under the impression that you didn’t get yourself out of that car the night you crashed. ”

  “Who gave you that impression?” I ask. “And why is there dirt in your hair? Have you been digging graves up again, looking for your—” I make air quotes, “‘family jewel’?”

  “Actually, I ended up finding that in the strangest place. ” His eyes travel up my body and linger on the hole in my shirt. “And I think I should be the one asking you the questions. Starting with why you look like you just committed murder. ”

  “Tell me, Cameron. ” I struggle to maintain my composure, but end up jabbing my finger against his chest. “What happened to Mackenzie last night after I left?”

  He reaches above my head and sets his hand on the roof of the Jeep. “Why? Are you jealous?”

  “Jealous that I wasn’t the one who got killed?” I back up against Jeep and cross my arms.

  “You know, it seems like I’m the only one you have this spitfire attitude toward. ” He leans in and his eyes darken. “Everyone else I’ve seen you with, you’re nicer than can be. And you were like that with me at first, but now… what happened?”

  “You blew me off at the lake,” I admit, leaning away from him as much as I can, but I’m pretty much already pinned up against the Jeep door. “And then told the police where my car was, after Mackenzie disappeared. ”

  “I didn’t tell the police where your car was,” he says and his hand finds my hip. “What was one of the first things I ever told you about me? That I don’t lie. ”

  “I think that’s the liars’ motto. ”

  He lowers his head in frustration and his hair tickles my nose. “Ember, Ember, Ember, what am I going to do with you?” He raises his head back up and the sorrow in his eyes is restored. “Is this because I was flirting with Mackenzie, because the only reason I did that was to make you jealous—like how I felt when I showed up at your house and some guy was sleeping in your bed. ”

  “You know what?” I duck under his arm, but he tightens his grip on my hip and tugs me back to him, slamming me against the door. “I don’t even know why I came over here. It must have been a crazy impulse. ”

  “Because you wanted to see if I killed her,” he says, pulling me against him. He wets his lips with his tongue and starts to lean like he’s going to kiss me.

  Shaking my head, I pry his fingers off me and this time he releases me. I storm across the street, but halt when he says, “That’s what you think. That I’m a killer, but you’re wrong and I can prove it. ”

  I glance over my shoulder. “I’m calling your bluff. ”

  He waves for me to follow him as he walks backward across the lawn. “Come with me and I’ll prove it to you. ” He enters his house and leaves the front door wide open. Seconds later, a light turns on inside.

  I make my way to the edge of the front path. “Does he really think I’m going to go in there?” I mutter to myself. Then again, it seems I can’t die, so what does it matter.

  Like a shadow, he transpires in the doorway with the light of the house shining behind. “Are you coming in or are you going to just stand out there in the dark and stare at the house?”

  I shake my head, stopping at the bottom of the front porch. “Whatever you want to show me, you can show me outside. ”

  He sighs and slinks back into the house. Minutes later, a blonde girl pokes her head out.

  “Ember, would you please just get your creepy ass in here,” Mackenzie says with a trace of pleading in her tone. “Before someone figures out I’m here. ”

  I peer over my shoulder at the houses lining the street as I come to the mind-blowing conclusion that I’m probably losing my mind, like certain poets of the past. Or like a Grim Angel.

  I jog up the stairs, past Mackenzie and through the entryway. Cameron shuts the door and we go into a living room that has deep red walls and a brick fireplace. The mantle is ornamented with plastic plants and photos. Above it is a mirror trimmed with a gold frame and the air smells like cinnamon and apples from the candles burning on the shelf in the corner.

  “This isn’t how I pictured your house,” I remark, sitting down on a sitting chair. Cameron and Mackenzie sit down on the sofa across from me. Mackenzie wearing an oversized flannel shirt and a pair of boxers and I wonder if they’re Cameron’s clothes. And she has leather bands on her wrists and neck, like she’s suddenly decided to try a semi-gothic look.

  “The cops think I killed you,” I tell her. “They brought me down to the station a couple of nights ago for questioning. ”

  “Wow, Killer Girl speaks,” she says snidely. “You were so quiet at school I thought you were a mute. ”

  Cameron lays a hand on her bare knee. “Easy, remember she knows you’re here now, so play nice. ”

  She crosses her arms and huff exasperatedly, “Yeah, but only because you made me let her in. Personally, I don’t give a crap if she thinks you’re lying or not. ” Cameron tilts his head at her and she recoils. “I’m sorry. And I’m sorry too, Ember. Look, it’s just that… Well, I was having problems at home. And things were just really bad and I was telling this to Cameron at the lake and he suggested
I disappear for a while and take a break. ”

  “You know everyone is looking for you, right?” I press the severity. “There are flyers all over the town with your face posted on them. This is really messed up. ”

  “Messed up?” She laughs, and then tears start to fall from her eyes. “No, messed up is growing up in a house like I did. ”

  “A lot of people have bad home lives,” I say unsympathetically. “It doesn’t mean we run away. ”

  “Oh yeah, what’s so messed up in your life?” Tears stream down her sun-kissed cheeks as she scratches under the leather band on her neck. “Did your dad use you to close job deals with old perverted men? I just wanted to get the hell away from it for one moment, just breathe. Haven’t you ever wanted to just breathe?”

  “Every single day of my existence,” I whisper.

  Cameron catches my eye and raises his eyebrows accusingly.

  “So you just hid her somewhere and then scattered feathers all over the shore and painted it up with an X and an hourglass?” I ask him, ignoring his accusing gaze.

  Cameron’s eyebrows knit together as he drapes his arm behind Mackenzie. “I hid her, but I didn’t do the feathers and weird paint thing. Why would we do that?”

  “To make her disappearance look like the rest of them,” I say.

  “As good of an idea as that is, we didn’t do that,” he responds.

  “But that’s what the detective said. ” I fall back in the couch with my forehead creased. “Why would she do that?”

  “To mess with your head probably, see if you would let something slip. ” Mackenzie shrugs and rearranges the bands on her wrists. “It’s kind of their M. O. ” When Cameron and I gape at her, she adds, “What? I watch a lot of Law and Order, okay?”

  I tap my foot on the floor, bubbling with anxious energy. “They think I killed you… and they think I killed Laden. ”

  “No, they don’t. They just don’t have any other leads. ” Cameron’s eyes travel down my body. “Although, if they saw you now, they’d probably lock you up. ”

  I wrap my arms around myself. “I had an accident. ”

  He points over his shoulder. “Is that why there was an ambulance at your house?”

  I focus the interest back on Mackenzie. “What am I supposed to do? Just pretend I never saw anything and let them keep investigating me?”

  “Would you?” she asks, hopeful, overlapping her hands in front of her, pleading. “That would be really great, at least, until I can figure out somewhere else to live. ”

  I rub my exhausted eyes. “I don’t mean to sound rude, but can’t you just tell someone what’s going on?”

  She laughs, but it’s forced. “You don’t think I’ve tried? But my mom always sides with my dad, saying I’m doing it to draw attention to myself. And my dad is a big funder of the Hollows Grove Police Department. ”