Relentless, p.5
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       Relentless, p.5

         Part #1 of Relentless series by Karen Lynch
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  * * *

  “I heard her bike gang did it. He’s lucky he’s alive.”

  “Seriously?”

  “Yeah, I think Greg McCoy just got out of prison or something.”

  “I had no idea she ran with such a hard crowd.”

  “You guys are all way off base. I say she did it herself, and knowing him, he deserved it.”

  I glanced up from my book, and the whispers died as the students at the surrounding tables suddenly found their lunch trays interesting. Resisting the urge to roll my eyes, I dabbed a french fry in ketchup and popped it in my mouth. I should have been used to it by now. When you keep to yourself, people will fill in the details about your life themselves. But a bike gang? Really?

  I looked at the end of my table where Jeffrey Crumb sat eating his hamburger and fries. He gave me a lopsided smile, sharing in my amusement over the gossip before he bent over his own book again. Blond and painfully thin, Jeffrey was two years younger than me, and he lived with his grandparents, one street over from me. I heard his mother was a serious drug addict who had gotten pregnant at eighteen and Jeffrey was born with a bunch of health issues. He was pretty smart but small for his age, and he found it hard to talk to other kids. We started sharing a table a few years ago because we both liked to read at lunch, even when Greg chose to sit with us. No one dared mess with Jeffrey after that, most likely because they were afraid I’d sic Greg on them. Greg might be gone now, but it looked like some of his reputation had rubbed off on me. I didn’t mind if it kept people from bothering us.

  I wondered how word got out about the fight because I knew Scott and Ryan would not tell anyone. I’d gotten a glimpse of Scott in Chemistry second period, and I’d had to suppress a gasp at his black eyes and swollen nose. Apparently no one was buying his story about swerving his car to avoid hitting a deer, but how on earth had they connected his bruises to me?

  I gave a mental shrug and went back to my well-worn copy of Jane Eyre. As long as they left me alone, they could think whatever they wanted.

  The chair across from me scraped over the floor as someone pulled it out and sat down. I didn’t bother to look up. “Go away. I’m busy.”

  A hand snaked out to grab one of my fries. When I didn’t object, it reached for another one. I pushed the plate toward the hand. “Help yourself.”

  “Hmm, I don’t see any bruised knuckles. What did you do, take a baseball bat to him?”

  I lifted my gaze to Roland Greene’s laughing blue eyes. He leaned toward me, and his dark bangs fell over his forehead. “So?” he asked, pushing his hair back. It was a useless gesture. I kept telling him he needed to cut it, but he said the girls liked it that way. Based on the number of girls making cow eyes at him right now, he was probably right.

  “So what?”

  Roland snorted. “Don’t even go there. What happened?”

  I picked up my Coke can and took a long swallow, debating whether or not to tell Roland the truth. He wouldn’t repeat it if I asked him not to, but there was no way he’d be able to hide his gloating and that would just confirm everyone’s suspicions. Scott wasn’t on his favorites list either.

  “Hey, did you guys see Scott Foley’s face? I heard some gang beat him up.” Peter Kelly took the chair next to Roland, his cheeks flushed and his rusty hair sticking out at all angles as usual. His green eyes flashed as he leaned in and lowered his voice. “Of course that’s not half as interesting as the other story I heard.” He gave me a meaningful look.

  I shook my head. “Sorry to disappoint – ”

  “Sara almost made him cry.”

  My mouth fell open as I swung my head to stare at Jeffrey.

  Roland smirked at me and slid his chair over next to Jeffrey. “Is that so? Why don’t you tell us about it?”

  I shook my head. “You weren’t there, Jeffrey.”

  “Ha! So you did do it,” Roland crowed.

  Peter’s eyes widened. “You really beat up Scott Foley? How is that possible?”

  “Hey!”

  “No offense, Sara, but Scott is way bigger than you and… well, you’re a girl.”

  “Gee, thanks for pointing that out.”

  “She’s the best fighter I ever saw,” Jeffrey declared. “I was on the wharf, and I saw it all. She was super fast, too.”

  Roland grinned wickedly and moved back across from me. “So now are you gonna tell us what happened?”

  “I hit him. He hit me. We went our separate ways.”

  “Nice try. We want details,” Peter said.

  I took another sip of Coke, wondering how much I could tell them. “Scott was tormenting a cat,” I said in a low voice, not wanting to share with the whole cafeteria. “I overreacted a bit and hit him. There’s really not much to tell.”

  “She kicked him in the privates, too,” Jeffrey piped in loudly, making Roland and Peter wince. I heard snickers from the table closest to us.

  Peter looked at my hands. “How is it you hit him hard enough to break his nose and your knuckles aren’t even red? And I don’t see any bruises on your face either.”

  “You know I hardly ever bruise. Besides Scott barely touched me.” And I have the world’s best first aid kit at home.

  Roland shook his head. “I don’t know what it is with you and Scott. He always gets weird around you.” He chewed another fry. “He’s never going to live down getting his butt kicked by a girl. Sorry, Sara, but it’s true. I’d feel bad for him if he wasn’t such an ass.”

  I could only shrug because I wasn’t proud of what I’d done. It was true that I didn’t like Scott, but I’d attacked him, not the other way around. And I knew, even if Scott didn’t, that it wasn’t exactly a fair fight.

  I glanced at my watch. I still had about twenty minutes left before English, but I had no desire to sit there and relive the whole Scott thing again. “Well, boys, it’s been fun, but I gotta run.”

  “Wait.” Roland laid a hand over my book before I could take it. “Friday night Pete and me are going to hear Dylan’s new band play at the Attic. You want to come?”

  I made a face. “Is he still doing that rap thing?”

  “Nah, his new band is more rock… kind of like Pearl Jam. They’re pretty good.”

  “I don’t know.”

  Roland tilted his head to one side and gave me a dimpled smile. “Come on. We haven’t hung out in ages.”

  I rolled my eyes at him. “You know that doesn’t work on me, right? Besides, don’t you guys have camping or something this weekend?” For the last few years, Roland and Peter had been going on weekend outdoor trips with their cousins once a month. Their families were close, and they did a lot of things together. Roland complained about having family always up in his business, but I envied him. My dad and I were close like that before he died.

  “We just got back.” Peter shook his head at Roland. “I can’t believe we were gone a whole weekend and she didn’t even notice.”

  Roland put on a wounded expression. “That hurts.”

  I grinned at their lame antics. “After a weekend in the woods, I’m surprised you don’t have a date lined up for Friday night already, Roland.”

  “Sara, you know you’re the only girl for me.” He laid a hand over his heart. “I’m just passing time until you realize that.”

  Out of the corner of my eye I saw two girls at a nearby table watching his display with equal expressions of jealousy and dismay. “Yeah, okay. Cool it, Romeo,” I said, laughing. “Before you break every heart in here and start a lynch mob after me.”

  “What?” he asked innocently.

  I shook my head because I knew Roland was not as clueless about his effect on the opposite sex as he let on. Girls had started chasing him around long before he began to notice them. Then he went through a growth spurt in eight grade and bam – instant heartthrob. His casual disregard for rules added just enough bad boy to his image to make the entire female student body lust after him. I couldn’t fault a guy for having
good genes, but I often thought Roland was a little insensitive where girls were concerned. He dated a girl a few times, and as soon as she started to get serious, he ended it. He was always nice about it, which probably made it even worse for them. Whenever I said anything about it, he argued that no one’s heart gets broken after two dates. But I’d seen the pining faces more than once. I loved my friend, but he was an idiot when it came to matters of the heart.

  “I’ll cool it if you say you’ll go to the Attic with us. Come on, we’ll have a blast.”

  “I’ll think about it,” I said, taking my book from him and stuffing it in my bag.

  I left the two of them finishing my plate of fries. No one else spoke to me as I made my way to the door, but I heard the whispers. Already, Jeffrey’s comments were circulating the cafeteria.

  The door swung open just as I reached it, and I had to step back to avoid getting whacked in the face. The malicious smile on the face of the pretty blond standing in front of me told me she had been aiming for me. I wasn’t surprised. Faith Perry and I weren’t friendly on a good day, and I didn’t expect her to be happy after what had happened to her boyfriend.

  “Excuse me.” I started to walk past Faith, but she moved to block my way. I groaned inwardly as the cafeteria fell silent behind me. It was only the second week of my senior year, and already I was wishing for graduation.

  “Are you happy?” she hissed, her venomous green eyes glittering.

  I pasted an innocent expression on my face. “About what?”

  Faith tossed her long, straight hair back over her shoulder. “I’m talking about Scott.”

  At that moment, I spotted Scott and Ryan coming down the hallway toward us. They stopped walking when they saw me and Faith. Scott’s eyes flashed angrily then looked away as if he couldn’t face me.

  I shrugged. “Seriously, Faith? You honestly think I could have done that?” I spoke loud enough for my voice to carry to the people behind me. “Do I look like I was in a fight?”

  That brought her up short, and she stared at me as if she noticed my lack of bruises for the first time. I felt Scott’s gaze on me, and I knew he must be wondering how I didn’t have a fat lip today.

  “How the hell do I know?” Faith scoffed. “For all I know you had those loser biker friends mess him up. I wouldn’t put it past you.”

  I bristled. If anyone here liked to hurt other people it was Faith. She’d been a bully ever since we were little kids, and she’d only grown worse as we got older. When I started school here, Faith was not happy that Scott wanted to be my friend and did everything she could to make my life miserable. I was already devastated from losing my dad, and she might have broken me if it wasn’t for Roland. His friendship had filled some of the aching void inside me and gave me the strength to stand up to Faith. I’m not sure what made her dislike me more – not being able to hurt me anymore or the fact that Scott had liked me first – but she’d hated me ever since. I usually kept my distance from her because it was just not worth the hassle.

  “You know what, Faith?” I took a step toward her, and she stumbled back. I leaned toward her, and I could sense everyone in the cafeteria craning forward in their seats. “If I were you,” I whispered in her ear, “I’d be less worried about whether or not a girl beat up my boyfriend and more concerned about why my boyfriend wasn’t with me.”

  Faith’s mouth fell open. It probably wasn’t wise to stir her up like that. After years of crushing on Scott, Faith had finally gotten him, but she was very jealous where he was concerned. If she weren’t such a bitch, I would have told her not to worry because she and Scott were made for each other.

  I pushed past her, leaving behind a room full of curious onlookers. More people had stopped in the hallway to hear our exchange, and I ignored their stares as I walked past them. Scott stepped aside when I reached him and Ryan, and our eyes met briefly. I could see the confusion and suspicion on his face, and I knew he was wondering why I’d denied hitting him when I could have totally humiliated him in front of half the school. I just walked by because I had no desire to explain my actions to him or anyone else. Let him think what he wanted.

  The rest of the afternoon was quiet. There were no more run-ins with Faith, and Scott kept his distance as well. Neither of them was going to forgive or forget any time soon, but I had a feeling Scott would keep a wide berth from me for a while. I hoped they both did because I didn’t like the person I became around them.

  I was on Market Street on my way home after school when I started to feel like someone was watching me. It was an eerie sensation, but I shook it off and cut though the small parking lot between the pub and the antique store, emerging on the waterfront. Our place was the seventh one down at the end of the row.

  Just as I passed the pub, the feeling of being watched came over me again, stronger this time. Was someone following me? I stopped and listened for footsteps, but this close to the beach the gulls and waves drowned out a lot of noises. It was the middle of the afternoon so I was not afraid, but I was growing annoyed.

  “Scott or Faith, if that’s you, you’d better turn around and go home right now if you know what’s good for you,” I called, not really expecting an answer.

  After a few seconds I resumed walking. It was a warm afternoon, and there was barely any wind, save for the light breeze on my ankles. I watched absently as leaves from the lonely maple tree in front of the coffee shop swirled around my feet then tumbled ahead of me like a playful puppy all the way home.

  “What the – ?” I came up short when I rounded the corner of our building and came face-to-face with a mini whirlwind of leaves and dirt hovering directly in my path. I stood and watched the leaves spinning faster and faster as the little cyclone picked up more of them and began to form a blurry outline about three feet high. My mouth fell open, and I snapped it shut as a creature I had only heard about took shape before me. I knew about elementals of course, but I had never dreamed I’d see one up close in my lifetime. I didn’t know whether to be scared or excited by the rare appearance.

  “Um, hello,” I said hesitantly.

  The sylph made a movement that looked like a bow, and not knowing the proper etiquette for elementals, I bowed in return. That seemed to please her because she moved closer until I could hear a soft whispery sound, almost like the wind in the fireplace flue during a storm. When I listened closely I could pick out words. “Hello, Sara Grey,” she said in a breezy voice. “I am Aine.”

  I swallowed and sat down hard on the bottom of the stairs to our apartment. She knew my name. Why would an air elemental know my name? A lot of the People in these parts knew me for my healing, but I doubted a sylph needed my help in that area. I wouldn’t even know where to start anyway.

  “Do you need my help, Aine?” I asked, and I heard a whispery laugh.

  “I have watched you and seen your power and how good you are to the People. You are a kind child.”

  “I’m almost eighteen.”

  The sylph laughed again, and I could not help but smile. She had lived countless lifetimes, and compared to her I was an infant.

  I didn’t know a whole lot about elementals except that they were super powerful and they pulled their power from the earth. They were highly revered by the People, including the trolls. Remy talked about elementals sometimes, but even he had never met one.

  “Aine, do you know where my power comes from?” If anyone could answer that question, it was an elemental. Maybe she was here to give me the answers I desperately wanted.

  Aine moved closer until I could feel her brush against my legs. I wanted so much to lean down and touch the distorted shape, but I was afraid she might vanish.

  “All power comes from the earth,” she answered cryptically. She moved away again. “Why do you heal the People, little sister?”

  The question caught me off guard; no one had ever asked me that before. “I don’t understand. Why wouldn’t I heal them?”

  “Humans fear the
People. You do not.”

  “No. Some of them are my friends.”

  “And what of the ones who don’t wish to be your friend? Do you help them?”

  I wished I could see the sylph’s face clearly to understand the reason for her questions. “I’ve never had to make that decision, so I honestly can’t say what I’d do. I guess I would help most creatures.”

  Aine seemed to hang in the air in front of my eyes. “Most – but not all?”

  “Well, I’m not going to heal something that will turn around and kill humans, if that’s what you mean. I know there are some who aren’t nice, but they aren’t evil either. I’d help them if they asked for it.”

  “And you decide who is evil and who is not?”

  I let out a short laugh. “I think the evil ones are easy enough to identify.”

  A long moment passed before the sylph nodded. “You are wise for one so young. I am glad I came to meet you.”

  “I’m glad, too.” This was one of the strangest conversations I’d ever had, and I half expected to wake up in my bed and find out it was all a dream.

  “I think we will meet again, little sister.” The swirling mass of air began to move away until it suddenly dissipated, leaving a loose pile of dirt and leaves on the ground.

  An elemental. I just met an elemental!

  I sat on the steps for a good ten minutes after she disappeared because it took me that long to recover from the shock of my encounter. Elementals were extremely elusive beings, and I could not fathom why Aine would come here just to talk to me. I had a little power, yes, but it was nothing compared to her immense magic. And she said she had been watching me? For how long and why?

  Nate was in his office when I finally schooled my face into a somewhat normal expression and went inside. I grabbed a blueberry muffin from the kitchen to tide me over until dinner and went upstairs, calling hello to Nate as I passed his door. Throwing my backpack on my bed, I changed my clothes, put on some Carly Simon, and sat at my laptop. I was dying to know if Wulfman had found out anything for me. It was probably too soon to hope for something, but I felt like anything was possible after my encounter with Aine.

  To my surprise there was an email from Wulfman in the mailbox I used for the message board. I opened his message, curious about what he’d found out already.

  It looks like you were right. There were several suspicious deaths in Portland about ten years ago. Your friend was one of them. I’m still waiting to hear from all my resources. Hope to get back to you in a few hours.

  I stared at the screen. In a few hours I could be closer than I’d ever been to getting answers about my dad’s murder. All these years the biggest question tormenting me was why him? He was a good person, and we had lived a very quiet life. What drew them to that neighborhood, to our little house that looked like every other house on the street? That question was a fire inside me, and it would never stop burning until it was answered. The truth would not help me get over what happened to him, but maybe it could bring me some kind of closure.

  Grabbing the muffin, I nibbled it as I paced the room, my eyes going to the laptop with every turn on the floor. The cat lay across the back of the couch watching me as I walked back and forth, his head following me around the room. I tossed him a small piece of muffin and he watched it bounce off the couch in front of him, but he made no move to catch it before it fell to the floor.

  “Two days ago you would have been glad to get that,” I scolded softly as I bent to pick up the crumb.

  A tiny shuffling sound behind the attic wall caught my ear, and I smiled behind my hand. Breaking off a large piece of muffin, I unlatched the small attic door and set the food on the floor in front of it. Then I retreated to the couch to watch. It took a few minutes, but I was rewarded when the door squeaked and a tiny pale arm reached out from the shadows to snatch away the piece of muffin. I heard a gleeful snicker as the little fiend retreated with its prize.

  “You’re welcome, you ungrateful little wretch,” I called after him.

  The only response I got was a muffled burp from inside the wall. Little buggers never said thank you.

  I shook my head and finished my muffin. Some houses had mice – mine had imps. Imps were the vermin of the supe world, notorious thieves and the devil to catch. For a while I couldn’t leave anything of value lying around or it would disappear – until last fall when one of the little beasts got caught in an old mousetrap in the storeroom. I freed him and fixed him up even though he tried to bite me in the process. Remy said I was nuts, but I couldn’t stand to see a creature in pain. I guess one good turn did deserve another because nothing had gone missing since that day. Of course, the imps weren’t any friendlier, but what could you expect from six-inch tall kleptomaniac demons with sharp teeth?

  I forced myself to do homework for an hour before I finally gave in and went to my laptop to check my email. Nervous excitement twisted my stomach when I saw a message requesting a chat. I clicked okay, and Wulfman responded immediately.

  Wulfman: Have something. Not sure it’s what you want.

  PixieGirl: What is it?

  Wulfman: One of my sources lost a friend when you lost yours. Same M.O.

  PixieGirl: And he thinks it was vampires?

  Wulfman: He’s sure of it. He knows a lot.

  PixieGirl: So what now?

  Wulfman: He wants to talk to you. But it has to be in person. You up for that?

  PixieGirl: You trust him?

  Wulfman: 100%

  PixieGirl: Ok but it has to be very public.

  My cell phone vibrated where it lay on the desk. The corner of my mouth lifted when I saw the text message from Roland. Fri night?

  PixieGirl: I think I know of a place. Have him ping me and we’ll talk.

  Wulfman: Will do. Let me know how it goes.

  PixieGirl: Thanks, I will.

  I leaned back in my chair. Was I insane to agree to meet a total stranger even if he might know something about my dad? I’d heard enough stories about girls disappearing after going to meet someone they met online. But then this wouldn’t be the first time I’d made contact with someone this way. It was how I met Malloy the first time, and there were several others I’d dealt with before him. I was always careful, and it wasn’t like I’d be alone with the guy.

  And it might be my only chance to learn the truth about what had happened to my dad. After all these years, there was no way I could pass up this opportunity. I was willing to take a few risks to finally get the answers I sought.

  My mind made up, I picked up my phone. I’m in.

 

 
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