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The fallen star (fallen.., p.8
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       The Fallen Star (Fallen Star Series, Book 1), p.8

           Jessica Sorensen
 

  Part of me wondered, as I ducked beneath it, if he would drop it on me. I know the thought was ridiculous, but after everything that had happened, could you really blame me?

  Although he didn’t drop it on me, my hair did get tangled around it. I struggled to get my hair loose, but my fingers were too cold and numb and wouldn’t work properly. Plus, my neck was tipped back in this awkward position that made things even more difficult.

  “Hold on,” Alex said. I could feel him moving around and then my hair being gently pulled on. He was standing so close to me and touching my hair; it made my head buzz like a beehive full of bees.

  “There,” he said, and my head was freed from the uncomfortable position.

  I had been holding my breath the whole time, and I let it out, a white puff of smoke rising in front of my face. I quickly scooted out of the way so Alex could slip underneath the branch and let it go.

  He dusted the snow off of his hands while I smoothed my now damp hair back into place. Well, as much in place as it had been to begin with.

  Alex watched me, seeming amused. “You good?”

  I zipped up my coat and tucked my hands in the pockets. “Yeah, I guess.”

  “Alright, then.” He brushed past me and headed down the trail again.

  With every step I took, my heart beat fiercer. We were distancing ourselves farther and farther from the car, and the trees were becoming denser. For all I knew, any spot could have been “the spot.” The spot where I kept dying over and over again in my nightmares. It was hard to tell though, because a forest was a forest. Everything looked the same. And in my nightmares, my death took place during the night, when the sky was black and the ground was a giant shadow.

  I have never been in a forest in real life before. I was quickly learning that despite the stillness the air held, there was a lot of chaos. I could almost feel the things hiding out in the bushes and trees that surrounded us. Things that I wasn’t sure I really wanted to see.

  Every time the wind blew, I swear it was whispering danger. The branches of the trees canopied above me, making it seem darker than it truly was. Then there was Alex. Amazingly, he had been fairly quiet. He was too quiet, if you ask me. Maybe he was being that way because of the electricity firing between us. I couldn’t be certain how much of an effect it was having on him, but personally I felt fully awake and alive because of it. Every single one of my senses felt sharp. My skin was tingling from head to toe, which helped fade out some of the cold, so I guess that was a plus.

  As I was plucking a piece of a dead pine needle out of my hair, I heard a branch snap from behind me. I skidded to a halt and spun around, my gaze skimming through the trees. But I couldn’t see anything but branches and snow. I was about to turn back around when a huge gust of wind whipped through the air. I heard another snap, this time much, much closer. Okay, okay. It’s just an animal…a deer or something.

  Yeah, maybe it was some kind of forest animal, but I wasn’t going to take any chances. I whirled back around and hurried to catch up to Alex.

  As I tried to catch my breath and calm down, I heard it. Not a snapping twig. No, this sound was way worse. A crackle, like the one I heard in the school parking lot the day I saw the glowing yellow eyes. Fear rocketed through me. I had no idea what to do. Turn and sprint back to the car? Try and explain to Alex what was happening to me? Neither sounded appealing.

  My heart drummed in my chest as I shot a glance over my shoulder. There were only trees and snow. I turned back around, only to end up slamming straight into Alex. My forehead banged against his shoulder, and a fire ignited under my skin. I gasped, backing away from him.

  Holding his hands out in front of him, he cautiously stepped away from me. “You okay?”

  I nodded, rubbing my forehead. “Sorry. I wasn’t watching where I was going.”

  “Yeah, I got that.” He nodded at the trees behind me. “What were you looking at back there?”

  “Nothing.” My voice squeaked. “I just thought I heard something, but it was nothing.”

  He eyed me over, then, apparently satisfied by my answer, spread his hands out to the side of him. “Well, this is it.”

  “Huh?” I stared at him blankly. “This is what?”

  “This is what I wanted to show you.”

  Funny, but my near panic attack had made me forget why we came up here in the first place. “Okay…” I glimpsed at all of the trees and snow around us. What was so special about this particular spot? It looked just like every other spot. “It’s…nice, I guess.”

  He laughed a genuine, heartfelt laugh. The kind of laugh that made his green eyes light up. “Gemma, this right here,” he pointed to a spot on the ground in front of him, “is what I wanted to show you.”

  For a brief second, I got lost in the way he said my name in a normal, anti-hating voice. But I quickly forgot about it when I caught a glimpse of what he was pointing at. In the middle of the crisp white snow, right between our feet, a small spot of dirt showed through like the snow instantly melted away when it landed there. And the dirt wasn’t brown, but black and ashy.

  I looked back up and found Alex watching me with curious eyes.

  “What?” I asked. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

  He shrugged. “No reason.”

  I shook my head. Whatever. “So what is it?” I asked, pointing at the ashy spot.

  “Well…” He tapped his finger on his lips. “See, there’s this legend that about twenty years ago, a star fell from the sky and landed right here.” He pointed to the strange spot. “And I’m not talking about a meteorite, but an actual star.”

  I frowned. He had to be joking. “If a real star hit the Earth, then you and I wouldn’t be standing here talking.”

  “Now that’s where you’re wrong,” he said simply. “It wasn’t a whole star that fell, but a small piece that broke loose when the star began to spin too quickly. And when the piece hit this spot, the snow has never been able to stick here. It’s like the heat of the star is still trapped there, and it melts the snow away.”

  “I’ve never heard of anything like that,” I told him. “Are you sure you’re not just trying to…”

  “Trying to what?”

  I sighed. “Pull one over on me.”

  He grinned. “Now why would I do something like that?”

  I rolled my eyes. “I think the real question is why wouldn’t you do something like that?”

  He deliberated this. “Yeah, I can see where you’re coming from. But I’m not.”

  We both stood there for a moment, staring at one another, my blood boiling from the electric heat.

  “So if this actually did happen, then why haven’t I heard of it before?” I asked, breaking the silence.

  “Because hardly anyone knows about it.” He paused before adding, “Even some mediocre high school astronomy teacher.”

  “Mr. Sterling isn’t that bad,” I said. “And he knows a lot about astronomy.”

  He lifted an eyebrow. “He isn’t that bad? Wasn’t he the one who put you and me together in a group?”

  That stung. “Yeah…but…” I had no idea what to say.

  “Relax.” He cracked a smile. “I’m just kidding.”

  I tucked my hands up into the sleeves of my coat. “Kidding about the star or Mr. Sterling?”

  His smile broadened. “Mr. Sterling.”

  As much as I was glad to hear that, I still wasn’t feeling too ecstatic about the idea that he was still trying to convince me that an actual piece of a star had fallen. The idea was absurd. A real piece of a star—I have never heard of anything so insane. Okay, I take that back. I guess I have.

  “So, why is it that people don’t know about this ‘fallen star’?” I asked, making air quotes.

  “Well, for starters, the piece was only about the size of a baseball.” He hesitated, shifting his weight to the side. “And …well supposedly there was this secret group who came and collected it before anyo
ne could discover it had fallen.”

  I stared at him like he was crazy. And, who knew, maybe he was.

  “You think I’m lying.” He crossed his arms and leaned in toward me. My heart reacted with a jolt that nearly knocked the breath out of me. “But I’m not.”

  I had to catch my breath before I spoke. “How am I supposed to know whether you’re lying or not? I don’t know you at all. I mean for all I know, you could be the world’s greatest liar.”

  He pressed his lips together, pausing before he said, “Yeah, you’re right. You don’t know me. But taking you out here was me trying to let you get to know me.” He moved in closer to me, and I could feel the warmth of his breath on my face. “But you’re not making it very easy for me.”

  “I…” My mind clouded, and it wasn’t until he moved away from me that I could think clearly and process words again. “So what you’re saying is there’s a group that took the fallen star?”

  He nodded. “That’s what I’m saying.”

  “So who is this group?”

  “Now that’s a secret I can’t tell you.”

  I sighed. I was so confused. “So, what happens if I touch the spot?”

  “Why don’t you try it and find out?”

  I stared apprehensively at the ashy spot. There was something off about it. The color, the charcoal texture, the way the snow didn’t cover it.

  “Don’t worry,” Alex said, “I’m pretty sure you won’t set on fire or anything.”

  “Pretty sure,” I muttered. Well, that was reassuring.

  I took a deep breath and bent down, letting my fingers brush up against the spot. It didn’t feel hot or anything. Not even warm. But there was something off about it. Something different, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. It almost felt sparkly….or maybe it was more electric.

  “Feel anything?” Alex asked.

  “Not really.” I let the tips of my fingers rest against the spot for a few seconds longer, then pulled my hand away and stood up. “It’s not even warm.”

  “Huh…” He furrowed his eyebrows as he studied me over.

  My pulse sped up like a bolt of lightning had shot out from the sky and zapped me in the chest. You would think after a couple of weeks of feeling the sparks I would have gotten use to it. You would think being the key words. But that wasn’t the case. In fact, I could still barely remember how to breathe whenever I felt it.

  The wind started to pick up again, twirling flakes of snow around in the air like pixie dust. The sky had become shaded with clouds. Sundown was nearing, and it looked as if a storm might be moving in.

  “Well.” Alex ran his fingers through his hair. “We should probably get going before it gets dark.”

  “Sounds like a good idea,” I agreed.

  I had been so swept up in Alex’s story about the star that I temporarily pushed the yellow-eyed death monsters out of my mind. But when we started the walk back to the car and the silence set in, my mind raced back to the what-if’s. What if the monsters were hiding out there? What if they were real? What if they showed up and tried to kill me?

  Needless to say, I was beyond thankful when we made it safely back inside the car. It was then that I silently vowed to myself that I would never go up into the mountains again, unless it was absolutely necessary.

  By the time Alex was turning the Camaro onto the main road, darkness had settled around us. The glow of the headlights glistened against the icy roads as we inched nearer to town. Alex and I hadn’t spoken a word to each other since we headed back to the car, and I was still confused as to why he had brought me up to the mountains in the first place. To tell me about the fallen star? It seemed like a really strange reason.

  “So.” he dimmed the headlights for a SUV passing by in the opposite direction. “You live with your grandparents?”

  “Huh?” It had been quiet for so long that his voice startled me. “Yeah, I do. But how did you know that?

  He shrugged. “And you like to be by yourself a lot too, I’ve noticed.”

  “I guess.” Like always, I was confused. “What’s with the analysis?”

  “I’m just curious…about you.” He gave me a sideways glance. “I find you fascinating.”

  “Fascinating?” I gave him a doubtful look. “I highly doubt that. I think the word you’re looking for is annoying.”

  He chuckled softly, shaking his head. “I already told you, I’m just a moody person.”

  “You can say that again.” I paused, realizing it was kind of a bitchy thing to say. I made what I hoped looked like an apologetic face. “Sorry.”

  He laughed. “Well, there’s a cute side of you.”

  I chewed on my lip, replaying his words. Cute? Had he meant it as a compliment?

  Suddenly, the radio, which had been playing quietly in the background, cut out and static screeched through speakers. The sound was like nails on a chalkboard, and I threw my hands over my ears.

  Alex hurried and turned the volume down. He pointed to the visor above my head. “Grab one of those CD’s and put it in, would you?”

  I lowered my hands from my ears and flipped the visor down. Oh, my word. I was in heaven. Okay, so let me explain why. I have developed a huge obsession with music over the last couple of months. An obsession that has played a bit of a part in the whole Marco and Sophia vs. Gemma showdown because, apparently, blasting music is a very rude thing to do. Sophia had threatened to take my computer away if I didn’t stop listening to music. But I love music way too much to quit listening to it completely. I was in love with the lyrics, the rhythm, and the way it could sweep me away to another world.

  What was exciting here was that Alex had a great selection. Chevelle, Hawthorne Heights, Dashboard Confessional; they were all such great bands.

  I decided on Rise Against and slid it into the CD player. Five seconds later, the intro popped on.

  “You like Rise Against?” He sounded somewhat shocked.

  “Yeah.” What was with all the weird questions? “Why do you sound so surprised?”

  “I just hadn’t pegged that about you.”

  “Pegged what about me? That I wouldn’t like music? Or that I wouldn’t listen to Rise Against?”

  He pressed the skip button, skipping the CD to the next song. “That you are the kind of person who likes listening to music.”

  “Why?” I felt my skin warm. And it was not from the electricity. Nope, I was getting pissed. “What kind of person would I have to be to like listening to music?”

  He frowned. “Gemma, I’m not trying to insult you I’m just trying to get to know you better. That’s all.”

  “Oh.” I wasn’t sure if he was telling the truth or not. He sounded like he was though. “Well, I like music, especially the soul speaking kind.”

  His expression fell into a look of horror.

  “What’s wrong?” I asked. Had I said something offensive? After all, I was a bit of a newbie at the whole socializing thing, but he was saying a lot of strange stuff too, so…I don’t know.

  “It’s nothing.” He shook his head. “Sorry.” His smile returned, but it looked forced. He fiddled with the heater, turning it up full blast. Then he cranked up the volume of the music so loud the windows vibrated.

  I took it as a very unsubtle hint that our conversation was over, so I stopped talking.

  Neither one of us made so much as a peep until he pulled back into the school parking lot and parked his Camaro next to my Mirage, which was now covered in a thin layer of snow.

  He turned the volume down and said in a polite tone, “Thanks for taking a break with me.”

  Matching his polite tone, I replied, “Well, thanks for the break.”

  “Yep, no problem.”

  I opened the door and climbed out into the cold night. The parking lot was empty except for my car and his. There was only a single lamppost that actually worked, so it was basically dark.

  I went to shut the door, but then Alex sai
d my name so I paused.

  “Sweet dreams,” he said, in a soft voice that made goose bumps sprout up on my skin.

  I smiled as I closed the door. Then I jumped in my car and let it warm up just long enough for the ice to melt away from the windshield. To my surprise, Alex waited for me to leave before he did. He followed me out of the school parking lot, staying close behind me until I made a right turn onto Main Street. There, he turned left, his headlights disappearing and taking my sense of comfort right along with them.