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The Year of Second Chances, Page 7

Jessica Sorensen

"You'd be surprised by that answer." Kai sets his phone down on the coffee table and reclines back on the sofa, sliding his arm behind my head. "People tend to let their guard down when they think no one's paying attention."

  I munch on some popcorn. "You say that like you're speaking from experience."

  He steals a handful of popcorn. "I kind of am. Back when I used to hang out with Kyler and his friends, I spent a lot of time being quiet and observing."

  I press my hand to my chest, mocking shock. "Kai Meyers being quiet. It must be the end of the world."

  "Ha, ha, you're so funny." Releasing a sigh, he drags his knitted cap from his head, the strands of his blond hair sticking up in every direction. "But seriously, I'm kind of wondering if maybe Garth was out here to keep an eye on you."

  I slant forward to put the bowl on the table. "Why?"

  "I'm not sure yet." He tickles my shoulder blades as he scoots closer to me. "But I'm kind of thinking maybe it has something to do with those texts you've been getting."

  I nearly drop the bowl. "You think the texts are connected to the murder case somehow?"

  His fingers find the back of my neck and begin gently massaging the knots in my muscles. Okay, I so could get used to this.

  "I'm not sure yet, but what I am sure of is that your mom might be innocent, which would mean two things." He holds up one finger. "One, the killer's still out there." Another finger pops up. "And two, someone could've very likely framed your mom, and you're her daughter, so ..."

  The truth of his words steals my next breath.

  He could be right. The killer could be someplace close, watching me, messing with me. But why? What do they want from me?

  Chapter 8


  "Are you nervous?" Kai asks me with concern as he fiddles with the volume on the stereo.

  We're sitting in my car in the school parking lot with the pale pink morning sky stretching above us. I'm rocking a cute outfit: black jeans and a maroon off-the-shoulder top, along with boots and a choker. My hair is in a braid, and my lips are stained a fiery red. Kai told me I looked really, really good, but I don't think even a nice outfit is going to distract the entire school from the fact that they know my mom's in jail for murder.

  "Kind of." I watch people lollygag around in the parking lot and along the outside quad in front of the entrance doors.

  He gives my hand an encouraging squeeze. "Don't worry. I won't let anyone do anything or say anything to you."

  "I really want to believe you, and I think your heart's in the right place, but ..." I sink my teeth into my bottom lip until it stings. "I don't think you can control an entire school."

  A conspiratorial grin spans across his face. "Wanna bet?"

  I reach for my bag in the backseat. "Um ... With that look on your face, no."

  He winks at me. "Just you wait. No one's going to bother you. I promise."

  I nod, wanting to believe him. However, I'm not sure even Kai has the power to persuade an entire school to keep their mouths shut. Although, he does look cute today, rocking dark jeans and a grey, long-sleeved shirt. His hair is messy, but in the sexiest way possible, so maybe he'll be able to coax some of the girls in my school ... and a couple of guys, too.

  Hitching my bag over my shoulder, I haul my scaredy-cat behind out of the car and meet Kai around the front. The feeling of his palm against mine brings me a hint of ease, but my legs wobble like Jell-O as we make our way across the parking lot and toward the school.

  "Everyone's staring," I whisper, wanting to shrink inside myself.

  Kai sketches his thumb across the back of my hand. "Hey, did I tell you that there's this guy coming to look at my car? I guess he has the same model and needs a bunch of parts." He lifts his free hand with his fingers crossed. "Fingers crossed that shit works out."

  A thankful smile graces my lips as I realize what he's doing. "Thanks for trying to distract me. And I'll keep all of my fingers and my toes crossed all day. Maybe even my eyes."

  He grins, softly tapping my nose with his fingertip. "I'd rather you not keep your eyes crossed. They're way too pretty."

  My cheeks turn cherry gumdrops red. Dammit! Am I ever going to get over this embarrassment? He's just giving you a compliment for heck's sake.

  Smiling, Kai opens the school door and tows me in with him as he enters the crammed hallway. And just like that, my giddiness fizzles as everyone turns to gawk and people start whispering.

  I feel like I've time traveled back to junior year when Hannah would spread rumors about me, and everyone would laugh and point.

  "Deep breaths," Kai whispers with his hand in mine, acting as a lifeline. "I'm here for you."

  I try to do what he says, but my heart thrashes madly, making it difficult to get any oxygen.

  Deep breaths. Deep breaths. In and out.

  By the time we've made it to my locker, though, I'm on the verge of passing out. Then my anxiety doubles when I spot a flyer taped to my locker with "Like mother, like daughter," scribbled across it in bright red ink.

  "What the fuck is wrong with people?" Kai yanks the flyer from my locker, shreds it to pieces, and then chucks it in the trashcan. "Seriously, people, get a fucking life."

  His outburst draws attention, and I want nothing more than to get the heck out of the hallway and into class where there will be fewer people.

  I quickly collect my books, keeping my head tucked down, reminding myself to get air in and out of my lungs.

  "We should get you to class," he says as I close my locker. "I need to go take care of some stuff."

  "There you go, sounding all mobster again," I attempt to joke but epically fail, sounding way too miserable. "Please promise me you won't do anything that'll get you into trouble. I'd rather deal with this crap than have you stuck in detention all week or something."

  "I'll try my best." He smiles, all rainbows and sunshine.

  I wish I were there with him. Right now, I'm a fog of dark grey clouds, getting ready to rain.

  "Hey, chin up, okay?" Kai says, trying to be encouraging. Then he looks at me, and I mean really looks at me, before cupping my cheek and slowly leaning in, kissing me right there in front of most of the senior class. When he moves back, he winks. "But I can't promise no one else will be getting into trouble."

  That almost gets me to smile.

  I should never doubt the power of Kai's persuasion. That's what I learned today in school, because what started out as a shitty morning ends up turning into a decent day.

  Sure, it's not amazingly fantastic at first, but around second period, the gawking-at-me-like-a-nut-job fades into casual glances. Around fourth period, I discover why.

  Someone has spread a nasty rumor that Bradon has an STD and gave it to, like, five girls from Hannah's old clique. And I'm fairly certain I know who started the rumor.

  "You did this, didn't you?" I ask Kai as I exit the classroom and find him waiting there for me. He's leaning against the wall with a textbook tucked under his arm and a casual smile on his face.

  "Did what?" He straightens and thrums his finger against his lips. "I've done a lot of things today, so you might have to be more specific."

  I hitch my bag higher onto my shoulder. "You spread a rumor about Bradon to distract people from the rumors about me."

  "I have no idea what you're talking about." But the devious twinkle in his eyes suggests otherwise. "But, if I did spread a rumor of this magnitude, I'd make sure that the person deserved what they got."

  "So, Bradon deserves for everyone to think he has an STD?" I ask suspiciously. "I thought he was your friend."

  He reaches to take my hand, a flicker of anger flaming in his eyes. "Used to be my friend. He hasn't been for a couple of weeks now."

  I do a mental recap of the stuff that occurred a couple of weeks ago. One memory sticks out in particular.

  "Does this have anything to do with what's going on with T?"

  He shrugs as we amble down the hallway, squeezing past
people who are gossiping and laughing. "Maybe."

  I inch closer to him as we pass a group of girls who are whispering and giggling, casting glances in my direction. "Well, if that's true--if this has anything to do with you getting your ribs broken--then I agree with you. He does deserve to have an STD."

  "Well, he really doesn't have an STD. I just made that up."

  "I know, but he deserves to get one. And from what I hear, he's kind of slutty, so"--I raise my crossed fingers--"here's to hoping."

  He chuckles as we push out of the exit doors and into the sunlight.

  "You're becoming as evil as me."

  "Ah, shoot." I snap my fingers, pretending to grimace. "Guess I'll have to change my comic and give us both new names."

  "Good," he says. "I never liked Ego Man."

  I bump my shoulder into his. "But it was so fitting."

  "No way." Then his lips twitch into an impending smile. "Okay, maybe it is just a little bit."

  I start to smile, but then my phone vibrates, and all my smiles evaporate as I check the screen.

  "It's from the unknown again."

  Kai halts, his hand stiffening in mine. "What's it say?"

  I take a deep breath and read, "You may have escaped the rumors, but we're not done with you yet." A chill slithers up my spine. "This is getting really old."

  "Yeah, it is." His jaw clenches as he stares off into empty space. "But don't worry. I have a feeling that, in few days, it might stop."

  My brows dip. "Why would you think that?"

  He shrugs. "I have a hunch."

  Shock whips through me. "Wait. Do you know who it is?"

  He avoids eye contact with me. "Maybe."

  I wait in anticipation for him to explain, but his seemingly everlasting silence starts to drive me mad. "Are you going to tell me?"

  Appearing torn, he shakes his head. "Not yet. I want to talk to this person and make sure first."

  "Kai, I don't think that's such a good idea. What if they're ... dangerous?"

  "They're fine," he assures me. "Look, I need you to let me handle this one and trust me that everything will be okay."

  I don't want him handling this. I've already dragged him too deep into this mess to begin with. However, the determined look on his face lets me know he isn't going to back down. I only hope, whoever the unknown text sender is, they aren't a whack job.

  Chapter 9


  Tuesday and Wednesday pass by in a blur. My grandma Stephy informs me that the lawyers said that getting a phone call with my mom might be extremely difficult, crushing my hope into smithereens. It feels I might never get to talk to her unless I go against my grandma Stephy's wishes and drive out to Virginia to see her.

  Thursday afternoon, Kai and I take a break from all the drama and spend some time kicking some zombie ass. Or, well, Kai kicks some ass. Me, I'm kinda sucking big time.

  "Man, I thought watching all those zombie movies would help," I sulk, aiming my paintball gun at the practice paper zombie.

  We've been stuck on the practice course for about an hour because I refuse to go to the main course until I hit my target. I was pretty optimistic about this at first, thinking my abundance of apocalyptic movie knowledge would help me eliminate the target like a badass mofo. But zombie, oh, zombies, do I suck balls. I suck so badly that, if I were starring in a zombie movie right now, I'd be that person who dies two minutes in.

  "You need to relax." Kai points his paintball gun at the target in front of him, pushes the trigger, and a paintball shoots out and splatters across the head of the paper zombie target, like a total badass. He even looks the badass part, wearing a black shirt, matching jeans, combat boots, and a studded belt that matches the leather bands on his wrists. "This is supposed to be fun, remember?"

  I stick out my tongue at him, being a poor sport. "Easy for you to say. You hit the target in the head every single time." I lower my gun to my side. "I haven't hit a single one. If this were really a zombie apocalypse, I'd be dead."

  Kai turns to me with a smile on his face. "I'd never let you die. I'd die first before I'd ever let that happen."

  I roll my eyes. "If you're trying to make me swoon, it's not going to happen." I raise my gun again and aim at the target. "I want to be able to keep myself from dying."

  He chuckles, reclining against the counter in front of us. "Wow, you're a tough crowd to please."

  I rest my finger on the trigger. "I just want to know that, if the end of the world comes, I won't be a damsel in distress." I push the trigger, and a paintball pops out of the barrel then soars to the left, hitting Kai's target instead of mine.

  "Well, at least you hit a target that time," he jokes.

  I glower at him, and he laughs like I'm the funniest girl on the planet.

  "If you want, I can help you."

  I shake my head, determined to become a rock star zombie slayer on my own. "No, thanks." But after shooting three more times and missing every single one, I surrender. "Fine. You can help me."

  Humor dances in his eyes. "Oh, I can, can I?"

  I nod. "Yep, you sure can. And you're welcome for the awesome privilege."

  "You're so feisty sometimes." He straightens his stance with an amused grin. "You know what? I'm not sure I want to help you anymore. Not until you say pretty please and make me feel like I'm awesome."

  I give him a tolerant look before setting my paintball gun down on the counter and bowing to him with my palms pressed together. "Come on, oh great zombie paintball expert, teach me how to be as awesome as you. Please, please, pretty please."

  He snorts a laugh. "You are seriously the strangest girl I've ever met, but in the best way possible."

  We trade a smile, and the sight of his turns my heart into a dancing fool. After everything that has happened, we've both been so on edge that I wasn't even sure if we should even come here. Kai was right, though, when he said we needed some fun. We did. We both did.

  He moves up behind me, lining his chest against my back. "Okay, pick up your gun," he instructs, molding his hands around my hips, "and aim at the target." I do what he says as his fingers delve into my waist, rotating me sideways. Then he leans over my shoulder, dipping his lips toward my ear. "Now line the barrel up with the target." He glides his hands to my upper arms, and I fight back a shiver as goose bumps sprout across my skin. "Hold the gun higher ... about right here." He returns his hands to my waist, brushing his fingers along the sliver of skin peeking out of the hem of my black T-shirt. "Now try to hold your breath and keep the gun steady."

  Hold my breath? Is he kidding me? I can barely catch my breath with him touching me like this.

  "Take a deep breath," he says, noting my spastic, uneven breathing. "You don't need to be nervous."

  Easy for him to say. He's not the one who can't stop thinking about the last time we stood like this, how he licked and bit my skin.

  While he's given me a few kisses here and there, he hasn't nibbled at my neck since then. And we haven't really kissed yet. I want to, though. Boy, do I want to. Like, right now. I almost can't resist. He smells so amazing, like soap and cologne and everything that's Kai. And he feels so warm, like fresh-out-of-the-oven, homemade chocolate chip cookies. Mmm ... cookies ... It makes me want to turn around and take a bite ...

  "You okay?" he whispers in my ear, tracing circles on my hip. "You seem nervous."

  Get a grip on yourself, Isa. Jesus. He's not actually a cookie.

  "Yep. I'm just peachy." I clear my throat, hoping to clear the lustful thoughts clouding my judgment. It helps a drop, but not enough to entirely distract me from Kai's fingers wandering across my body. "I just really want to hit the target."

  "I have a feeling you're going to this time." He sounds absolutely confident.

  I'm not sure I agree with him. In fact, I question if my aim will be even worse with him "helping" me like he is now.

  I give it a go, anyway, and pull the trigger. Surprisingly, I manage to hit the pap
er zombie. Definitely not badass zombie slayer worthy, but it's a start.

  "See? There you go." He steps back and raises his hand for a high-five.

  I tap my palm against his, too aware that we've entered buddy-buddy mode again. Then he captures my hand and kisses my knuckles.

  "Well, aren't you just Prince Charming." Sarcasm drips from my tone, thick like melted caramel.

  "Don't pretend you don't like it," he teases with a wink.

  Pressing back a grin, I shake my head and shoot at the target again. It takes me five shots to hit the paper zombie in the head. Then Kai and I gather our stuff and hike down to the main course, which is a flat section in a large warehouse decorated with hay bales that create several winding mazes.

  A twenty-something-year-old guy with floppy brown hair greets us as we walk in and tells us to wait until he starts the timer. I'm unsure what he means by a timer, but I note two different entryways into the maze.

  I turn to Kai in confusion. "Wait a minute. Which side are we supposed to start on?"

  "We're each going in a different one." He grins deviously as he points up to a large digital timer on the wall. "Because we're going to be competing against each other. The person who shoots the most zombies and makes it through their course first wins."

  I put on my best pouty face. "That's so not far. You're going to kick my butt."

  "Now, that's no way to start out a competition." He tsks at me, looking as though he's enjoying this way too much. "Where's your optimism?"

  I hitch a finger over my shoulder. "It's back on the practice floor along with the crap-load of splattered paintballs I accidentally shot on the floor."

  He struggles not to laugh. "I'll tell you what. I'll give you a head start."

  "No way. We're doing this fairly." I face the entrance on the right with my chin held high, and my shoulders squared. "That way, when I kick your ass, you won't have an excuse for why you lost."

  With a grin, he gently tugs on the end of my ponytail. "There's that optimism I love."

  His smile is contagious, and I feel a grin pull at my own lips.

  "Man, that smile almost makes me feel bad," he says with a guilty look on his face.

  My smile falters, my forehead creasing. "For what?"

  "For this." He grabs my hand and spins me around like a ballerina until I'm so dizzy I can barely stand. Then he lets go of my hand and races forward, taking off into the maze.