Ember x, p.7
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       Ember X, p.7

         Part #1 of Death Collectors series by Jessica Sorensen
Page 7


  He captures my arm and turns me to face him. “You can’t go running off like that—you might have a concussion or something else and your shock’s just numbing the pain. Honestly, I don’t even know how you made it out alive. ”

  Neither do I. It happened just like my Death Omen said. Yet I’m standing here, breathing, my heart beating. “I have to find my friend Raven… that girl with the pink hair. She drove off with this guy who I… who was drinking. That’s what I was doing… I was trying to chase her down. And I couldn’t get a signal on my phone. ” I pat my empty pockets. “How far is your car?”

  “It’s just up the road, at the turnoff. I didn’t want to leave it parked in the street and cause another accident. ” He grabs my hand and we hurry to the turnoff, where a black 1960s GTO, with red racing stripes, is parked. The door is open and the headlights and engine are running, the exhaust huffing out smoke. He hops into the driver’s seat and checks the bars on his cell phone.

  “No signal,” he mutters, chucking it into the cup holder.

  I tap my foot anxiously on the ground, eyeing the forest. Rav, where are you? I’m worried.

  “Let me take you to the hospital so you can get checked out,” Asher says. “I’m sure your friend’s made it home by now, and if not, you can call her once we get a signal. And you should call the police”

  “No thanks. I’m feeling pretty okay now. ” Hospitals are overflowing with death and I avoid them at all costs. “And no police. ”

  “I think you should go. You might feel fine now, but you could just be in shock. ” His gaze moves to my head. “And you got a pretty wicked cut on your head. ”

  I walk around the front of the car, heading for the passenger door. “Can you please take me home? I’ll get my mom to take me, after I tell her about the car. ” I pause as another memory resurfaces. “Did you see anyone else driving around, like maybe right in front of you?”

  He ducks his head as he climbs out of the car. “I haven’t seen anyone else on the road. ”

  I grip the door handle as a spout of dizziness crashes through me. “Dammit. I was hoping you might have seen who hit me. ”

  He hikes through the mud, rounding the front of the car, and stops when he reaches me. “Do you remember anything at all about what the car looked like?”

  I shake my head and start to pull the door open. “I only saw the headlights. ”

  “Here, let me get that. ” He extends his arm out and then opens the car door.

  “Thanks,” I say, picturing Asher in a fedora and pinstriped suit, like it’s the 1940s and guys were gentlemen.

  Ducking my head, I slide into the car and he slams the door shut. The inside of his car is nice. Reupholstered leather seats, a crack-free dashboard—this is what my dad wanted to do to the Challenger. But now it’s gone, resting at the bottom of a lake, along with my death, which I can no longer see, feel, or taste.

  I sigh heavily. What does it mean if my death has vanished?

  Asher hops into the car and buckles his seatbelt, then he glances at me and frowns. “What’s wrong?”

  “It’s nothing. ” I fasten my seatbelt. “I was just thinking about my car sitting at the bottom of the lake. It was actually my dad’s car. ”

  “I’m sorry, Ember. ” He gently squeezes my hand and then shoves the shifter into gear, still holding my hand. I tense from the contact, but relax as tranquility eases through my body.

  “It’s okay. ” I stare out the window at the profiles of the trees as he brushes his thumb across the inside of my wrist and my breath falters. “It was old and falling apart anyway, which is why the brakes probably went out. ” But deep down, I wonder if it had anything to do with the creeper at the party or the guy he supposedly saw in my car.

  “What kind of car was it?” Letting go of my hand, he cranks up the heat and the warm air feels nice against my damp clothes.

  I wrap my arms around myself. “A 1970 Dodge Challenger. ”

  He lets out a slow whistle. “Fuck, that sucks. ”

  I shrug again, watching the road as we curve through the mountains and around the lake. “It was just a car. I’ll live. ”

  “So were you close with your dad?” His voice edges cautiously.

  I pick at the black fingernail polish on my thumbnail. “Yeah, we were pretty close. I moved in with him when I was four and lived with him until he vanished. ”

  “How did he die?” he asks and adds, “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. ”

  “I’m not sure,” I say quietly. “The cops never found his body, but they found his car parked up in the mountains and his… blood was everywhere. ”

  His grey eyes expand. “That has to be hard for you—not knowing what really happened to him?”

  I nod, leaving out the details of the hourglass painted in blood on the windshield, the massive X staining the grass in front of the car, and the black feathers everywhere. “It is and I really don’t like to talk about it. ”

  He offers a sympathetic look and wisps of his damp hair fall into his eyes. “I get it. Even though my mom loves to talk about my dad, it still hurts sometimes. ”

  “How did he die?” I ask. “If you don’t mind me asking. ”

  It’s quiet for a moment as we arrive at the rim of the mountains and breach through the trees and out into the valley. The town is silent, everyone tucked away safely in their beds, and porch and streetlights speckle the fields and houses like fireflies.

  The speed limit drops and he taps the brake, slowing down the car. “He was killed on the… job. ” He avoids eye contact with me, staring out the window with a confused look on his face.

  It seems like he’s holding back details. “Where did he work?”

  He swallows hard and his knuckles whiten as he picks up his cell phone and checks the screen. “I’ve got a signal now if you want to call your friend. ”

  I don’t press the subject. If anyone can understand the need for secrecy it’s me. I give him the directions to my house and then dial Raven’s number. After a few rings, it sends me to voicemail.

  “Hey Rav, I was just wondering if you were okay, since you bailed out on me with Goth Boy. I’ve had a crazy night and lost my cell phone. But I’ll call you as soon as I get home. ” I hang up and hand Asher his phone.

  “Okay, so I have to ask and please don’t take it the wrong way, but how did you two end up being friends?” Asher asks, licking his lips. “You seem like opposites. ”

  “We are, but she’s my best friend,” I reply, biting my nail. “My only friend, really. ”

  His eyebrows knit. “Your only friend? That’s pretty hard to believe. ”

  My tone drips with sarcasm. “Really?”

  Cranking the wheel to the right, he turns down my street and then smiles at me. “Why does that surprise you? You’re easy to talk to, beautiful, and you like cars. ”

  I bite my lip to press back a grin. “So I don’t get points docked for making you jump into a lake to rescue me?” I eye his crinkled clothes flaked with dried dirt. “And ruining your clothes. ”

  He parks in front of my house, a narrow two-story townhome in desperate need of a paint job. “Are you kidding me? You let me fulfill my life dream of being a hero. ” He winks at me.

  “Yeah, yeah, we’ll see. ” I open the door, stifling a smile. “I’m sure after tonight you’ll forget about little old me. ”

  “Little old who?” he teases me with a grin.

  “See, you’ve already forgotten,” I joke and swing my legs over the seat to climb out.

  “Wait. ” He leans over the console, his fingers enfolding my elbow.

  I pause, angling my head to meet his eyes, breathing in the freedom of his silent touch. “Yes. ”

  He wets his lips with his tongue. “Make sure you at least go get checked out by a doctor, just to make sure you’re okay. ”

  Pressing my lips together, I nod. “Okay. ”

And no one could ever forget about you, Ember. Trust me. ” His eyes sparkle with a look that makes my skin warm, then without warning he moves closer and gently kisses the corner of my mouth. My blood and adrenaline soar as his hands slide down my arms, my waist and finally rest on the tops of my thighs.

  When he pulls away, he looks at me through hooded eyes, but doesn’t say anything. Having no idea how to react, I get out of the car and shut the door, waving as he drives off.

  “Yeah, we’ll see if you feel the same way when we cross paths again,” I mumble under my breath, but a smile breaks through as I touch my fingers to my lips.


  “Yo, where the hell have you been?” Ian hollers from the living room sofa. He’s eating a bowl of Fruit Loops and watching a movie starring people who have thick French accents.

  “I told you before I left that I was going to a party. ” I slip my jacket off and toss it on the banister.

  He glances over his shoulder and his mouth falls open. “Why does it look like you went swimming in a lake with your clothes on?”

  “Haven’t you heard? It’s what all the cool kids are doing. ” I drag my ass up the stairs.

  “Since when have you been cool?” He yells as I reach my bedroom door.

  I slam the door, flip on the lamp, and slip off my waterlogged boots. I groan with each movement, my legs and arms heavy, and my head is pounding. “Those were my favorite pair of boots. ” I trudge to the closet to put them away, hoping they’ll dry out and won’t be ruined.

  Suddenly, the sound of sobs drifts from the back of the closet. I freeze. “Hello?” I pull back the curtain. “Who’s in there?”

  Raven rushes out and throws her arms around my neck. “Oh my God! Where were you?”

  Rain, water, blood. She can’t breathe. I pat her back, but I’m irritated. “Where was I? I think I should be the one asking where the hell were you. You just left me there. And you left with a guy who I had a death omen about. ”

  “I know. ” Her tears soak the shoulder of my shirt. “I’m sorry, Em. I just thought… Well, I don’t know what I was thinking. It’s hard to remember anything. ”

  I draw away from her and frown. “Raven, you didn’t drink from a cup someone offered you, did you?”

  She bites on her lip, looking guilty. “I needed another drink and you dumped mine in the trash. So I drank one that this really cute guy offered me. Well, except for this weird X tattoo across his eye. ”

  “Raven. ” I take a frustrated breath, reminding myself to be patient. “I love you and everything, but sometimes, you’re an idiot. How many times have we talked about drinking from cups from people we don’t know? Especially ones like what you just described. Because I think I met that guy and he wasn’t cute—he was a creep. But you were too drunk to notice it. ”

  “I know,” she wails. “And I’m so sorry. ”