Ember x, p.9
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       Ember X, p.9

         Part #1 of Death Collectors series by Jessica Sorensen
 
Page 9

 

  I jerk my eyes away and rise to my feet. “What happened to you last night? I was really worried. ”

  She bites at her bottom lip, suppressing a smile. “Well, things kind of got out of hand and I think I might have overreacted. ”

  “Overreacted?” I question. “About what?”

  “Um… Laden being a jerk. I mean, he totally tried to put the moves on me, which is fine—I’m used to it. But I really wasn’t in the mood to screw. ”

  “I think I might have seen him standing in front of the house this morning. ” I point over my shoulder at the spot.

  Her body goes rigid and her eyes enlarge. “What was he doing?”

  “Staring at me like a weirdo. ” My tone is light, even though the subject is a little twisted. “What exactly did you do to him last night? Break his heart into pieces?”

  She shakes her head, gazing off across the street. “I didn’t do anything to him. He was the one who tried to push me too far. ”

  “So that’s why you were crying?” I ask, watching crisp autumn leaves blow down the street. “Because he pushed you too far?”

  “Pushed too far…” She pulls her hair into a bun and secures it with an elastic off her wrist. “Look, Em, I know I freaked out on you last night, but I swear it isn’t what you’re thinking. No one slipped me something and I wasn’t as drunk as you thought. ”

  We jump back from the curb as the sprinklers turn on. “Then what was that talk about seeing death?”

  “What are you talking about?” she asks as we throw our arms over our heads and sprint to the edge of the driveway, out of the reach of the sprinkler. Our shoes and the bottoms of our legs are wet.

  I lower my voice, wringing out my hair. “You said you saw death last night. ”

  She wipes the water from her face, takes a pack of gum out of her pocket, and pops a piece into her mouth. “I did?”

  “Yeah, and you were more than just upset—you were freaking out. ”

  She pops a bubble, trying to remember. “Hmm…. Maybe I wasn’t as sober as I thought. Or maybe your gift was confusing my head. ” She chews on her gum slowly, considering. “Well, I don’t know why I was talking about death, but I was upset because this really hot guy totally wasn’t that into me, so I wandered off with Laden because he was interested. ”

  “I’ve never seen you that upset, except for once. ” Right after she found her mom. “Guys are disposable to you. How could you be so upset because one blew you off?”

  “Okay, first off, he didn’t blow me off. ” She tosses her hands into the air and bobs her head with attitude. “He was just distracted. And besides, that’s not the only reason I was upset. Laden left me on the side of the road like a total douchebag. ”

  I gape at her. “How did you get home?”

  “I walked,” she explains nonchalantly. “We were just on the bridge, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. ”

  “It seemed like a big deal last night,” I point out.

  She sighs and sits down on the curb. I sink down beside her and we stretch our legs out into the road as the warm sunlight shines down on us. “Remember when we used to sit here and wait for my dad to come home?”

  I give her a small smile and lean back on my hands. “He always used to bring something for us, like a candy or Play-Doh. ”

  She laughs at the memory and her eyes crinkle at the corners. “God, he always seemed like such a great dad, but he turned out to be a total jerk, bailing on his kids like that. ”

  “It wasn’t your fault he left. ” I stare at the jack-o’-lanterns on the porch of the house across the street, remembering when Raven’s dad helped us make one that looked like a cat. It was one of our rare perfect moments, full of weightless laughter, pumpkin seeds, and the gentle autumn air.

  “I know. It was my mom and her stupid drug habit. ” She pauses, her jaw taut. “How did we end up with such crappy parents?” Her eyes widen. “Oh crap, I didn’t mean that. Your dad was a good guy. He just had some bad habits. ”

  “Like stealing cars,” I mutter, gazing up at the clear sky.

  “I said I was sorry… Look, I’m still pissed off about that guy last night and I don’t even know why I’m saying this stuff. ”

  “It’s fine. ” I flick a gnat off my knee. “But I have to know something. ”

  She rubs some lip gloss over her lips. “What’s up?”

  I know what she wants me to say—what will make her feel better. “How hot was the guy?”

  Her eyes light up and she squeals, kicking her feet up and down. “Oh my God, he was so fucking hot. Seriously, Em, like hotter than any of the losers in town. ”

  “And how old is he?” I wonder. “He wasn’t old, like that one guy you dated a few months ago… and he wasn’t married, right?” With her, I have to check. Raven’s list of guys is endless and there are no limits with her. She will date anyone who she deems hot worthy, which has gotten her into a lot of trouble. I keep waiting for her to change, mature, but she never does.

  “I think he’s the same age as us. . . He actually just moved here from New York. ”

  A lump rises in my throat. “Oh yeah? New York, huh? That’s pretty awesome. ”

  “It’s not pretty awesome. It’s amazing. ” Her smile is bright. “And he’s got these really beautiful dark eyes and his sexy eyebrow ring. ”

  “Sounds like your type. ” Jealousy burns under my skin as I realize who she’s talking about. Asher. My Asher. No, not really, but I wish. “But I mean, you said he wasn’t into you, right?”

  She narrows her eyes at me. “Not yet, but he will be. And you’re going to help me. ” She pulls me up by the arm, her nails digging into my skin, and I wince. “His first day of school is tomorrow so I have to look fabulous. ” Her eyebrows furrow as she stares at the empty driveway of my house. “You never told me where your car was. ”

  “I wrecked it last night,” I say with no desire to explain it to her. “On my way home. ”

  “Oh no, Emmy, I’m so sorry. ” She gives me a big hug and kisses me on the cheek.

  I hold my breath, balling my hands into fists. “It’s okay. ” I give her a soft pat, desperate for her to let me go. “It was just a car… Raven, can you let me go please?”

  “Oh, sorry. ” She steps back, freeing me from the burden of her death. “Is the car fixable?”

  “Not unless we can get it out of the lake. ” My tone is sunny, but my heart is charred.

  “Wait a minute. You drove it into the lake?” She swats my arm and I flinch. “Why didn’t you tell me last night when I made that comment about your clothes?”

  “You were upset. ” I scuff the toe of my boot against the rocks in the driveway. “I didn’t want to make it worse. ”

  “I’m sorry. ” She frowns. “I’m a terrible friend. ”

  “You’re not a terrible friend,” I assure her. “You were just distracted by your own problems. ”

  She nods in agreement as we wander down the sidewalk toward her townhouse right next door. The street is quiet and the air is gentle against my skin. Crisp leaves flurry from the branches of the trees and cover the lawns with pink and orange. It’s late October and the lawns are ornamented with Halloween decoration: witches, fake tombstones, and plastic skeletons.

  “Em, how did you get out of the lake?” She pauses to readjust a loose strap on her sandal. “Alive?”

  “All those survival tips my dad always crammed into my head finally came in handy. ”

  “You got out by yourself? How? And how are you walking around completely okay?”

  “I guess I’m just really lucky. ” I don’t know why I lie. It’s like there’s this part of me that doesn’t want her to know.

  “Lucky? More like a freaking, walking miracle. ” She moves to the side and steps in front of me, looking me in the eyes. “I can’t believe I wasn’t there for you. I’m so sorry. ” She pauses, considering something, and then shifts the subject, stepping out
of my way. “Come on. You and I are going shopping because you need some cheering up and I need a sexy new outfit for school tomorrow. ” She skips up her driveway.

  I follow her and wait by her Corolla while she runs inside the house and gets the keys. That’s the thing I love about Raven. She hardly asks questions. She didn’t ask how I got home. What I was going to do about my dad’s car. Why I didn’t go to the hospital. But as much as I love not being grilled, I wonder if there is something wrong with our friendship, if she should have asked those questions. I once read a quote by William Shakespeare about friendship: “A friend should bear his friends infirmities. ” If I told Raven the wrong thing—something she didn’t want to hear—would our friendship end?

  “Okay, so we have to stop and put some gas in because it’s low. ” She swings the keys around her finger as she exits her house.

  “I think I might stay home,” I tell her, leaning against the car door. “I’m feeling kind of sick. ”

  She points a finger at me as she trots down the front steps. “No way. You have to come be my fashion advisor. ” She eyes my clothes over as she stops in front of me. “Or at least keep me company. ”

  I surrender and climb into the car. “Can we at least stop and pick up a new cell phone? Mine is somewhere at the bottom of the lake. ”

  “Sure. ” She climbs into the car, then backs down the driveway, but slams on the brakes as a U-Haul drives up the road, followed by a red Jeep Wrangler. The U-Haul parks in the driveway of the house across the street and two doors down, and the Jeep parks out front. It’s one of the larger brick houses on the street, two stories with an upper deck and flourishing rose bushes in the yard.

  “It looks like someone is finally moving into Old Man Carey’s home,” she says with inquiring eyes.

  Two guys climb out of the moving truck, dressed in grey coveralls; movers, I assume.

  We’re pulling onto the street when long legs stretch out of the Jeep, a guy hops out, and Raven slows down the car again. His blonde hair glimmers in the sunlight and hands in his ash eyes, which burn with intensity as he takes in the house. Jeans hang loosely on his hips, boots cover his feet, and a tight-fitted Henley shows off his rock-solid abs and lean arms.

  “That’s the guy from the cemetery,” I mutter aloud, taking in the sight of him in daylight.

  “What guy from the cemetery?” Raven watches him like he’s something delicious as he struts across the lawn. She fans herself. “Good God, he’s hot. ”

  “We should get going. ” I reach over and shift the car into drive for her. “I promised Ian I’d be back by dinnertime. ”

  We’re parked in the middle of the street and it’s obvious we’re staring at the new neighbor. He starts to head across the lawn, but then stops in the middle, titling his head in our direction, and he watches us, an amused smile playing at his deep red lips.