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The Next Generation (Conversion Book 4), Page 2

S. C. Stephens

  Out in the parking lot was another group of guys; a couple of them were attempting to keep a small ball in the air. I could hear their conversation as well. It mainly seemed to be a discussion about the shorter skirt lengths on the cheerleaders’ uniforms this year.

  Turning my gaze away from them, I looked over to the football field. A couple of boys were tossing a football back and forth. There was some good-natured ribbing coming from them, but other than that, they were blissfully silent. It was a rarity among teenage boys. I’d overheard so much more than I’d ever cared to hear, and I knew more about what the male populace in this school thought than any girl should ever know. And the boys here mainly thought about sex.

  It seemed horribly cliché, and I’d tried hard to find pockets of conversation that didn’t include it, but unless guys were discussing sports or homework, girls and sex were the focus of most of their conversations. It made the prospect of dating one of them not that attractive. I didn’t want to be looked at like a piece of meat. I wanted someone to look at me the way Dad looked at Mom—glowing, adored, worshipped, loved with every fiber of their soul. I knew I was too young to hope for such a thing, but still, I found myself looking for it, and none of these…youths…had it.

  Shaking my head at Arianna, I shrugged. “Sorry, I just haven’t found anybody who catches my eye yet.”

  Tucking her hair behind her ear, Arianna gave me a sympathetic smile; she knew what I was looking for in a man, and she also knew I probably wouldn’t find it here. “While I totally understand, I just want to remind you…my mom will only let me go on dates if I double with a friend. No pressure, but my love life is completely depending on you finding someone.” Leaning over, she playfully poked me in the stomach.

  A slice of anger ran up my spine—I shivered with the strength of it. As I closed my eyes, intense, rolling hatred seared my body, tightened my muscles. I wasn’t angry at Arianna’s comment; I actually found it rather amusing. No, the anger scorching my soul wasn’t coming from me, but from Julian. And it was strong. He was pissed.

  My eyes snapped to where I could feel him in the gym. He was moving away from the massive room, hopefully coming out to join me. Curiosity and concern blossomed in my chest. I really wanted to know why Julian was so angry. Although, knowing him, I did have one guess…

  “I’ll work on that…” I murmured to Arianna as I felt Julian leave the gym and enter the boy’s locker room. Frowning, I wondered what the heck he was doing. His anger had spiked as he’d left the gym, not diminished. My concern heightened. I should go see what’s wrong with him.

  Knowing Julian could feel me just as well as I could feel him, I tried to squelch the worry bubbling inside my stomach. I even tried sending calming feelings Julian’s way, but it wasn’t working. Whatever had him riled up wasn’t letting go; he was getting angrier and angrier.

  Arianna laughed, then she started going into elaborate detail about all the dates she wanted to go on, and which boy she wanted to take on them—she had about five or six mapped out already. Tuning her out, I tried listening for my brother. I couldn’t hear him through the people and structures in the way though. My ears just weren’t enhanced enough. It irritated me sometimes that my family’s gifts were weaker in Julian and me—the two of us were much more human than vampire. But that allowed us to feel more normal than the others, and I did appreciate that fact. The limitations were just really inconvenient at times. While any of the other vampires in my family could have easily picked out the conversation Julian was having, all I was getting was low, husky murmuring. But his emotions were simmering, and that was all I needed to know.

  Glancing at Arianna, I gathered all my stuff and zipped up my bag. She raised an eyebrow, but didn’t pause in telling me all about her imaginary date rock climbing with Jake McKinley. Giving her a soft smile, so she didn’t get too suspicious, I started to stand. “I’ll be right back, Arianna, I—” Dread locked up my muscles, and I halted mid-sentence and mid-stance. Fear. Julian was feeling fear now. His anger had been rising to a boiling point, but now it had shifted to stark terror, and I had no idea why. Dropping my bag to the ground, I hauled ass across the football field.

  “Nika? Where are you going? What’s wrong?”

  I ignored Arianna’s concern and kept running. I had to get to Julian. I could have blurred to him in a split-second, but hampering my abilities had been drilled into me since birth, and I wouldn’t go against that training unless the situation absolutely demanded it. And when Julian’s fear shifted to panic…I began to believe that the situation demanded it.

  But knowing that Arianna was staring at me as I ran away curbed the desire to blur to Julian. I wouldn’t freak out my friend if I could help it. And aside from extreme panic and lingering fear, Julian was okay. Well, he wasn’t in pain at any rate.

  Pulling open the doors to the gym, the metal singing in complaint at my force, I suddenly felt a rush of agony. Gasping, I paused in my step. The zing of hurt had exploded over me, almost like I’d felt it myself. I hadn’t, though; it was separate from my own feelings of fearful concern. The pain had come from Julian…and renewed anger came right behind it.

  Once I was inside the gymnasium, my hearing finally picked him up. He was cursing, and there was a lot of scuffling. It sounded like he’d gotten himself into a fight. Odd. Julian wasn’t one to pick on people. But then again, if what had happened earlier in the gym to make him so happy was what I was afraid it was…then yeah, he might have started this fight.

  Cursing under my breath as another bout of pain lashed Julian’s body, I glanced around the empty halls. Seeing it was clear, I sped off after Julian. In mere seconds, I was at the edge of a group of people in the boy’s locker room. They were all cheering on a couple of guys going at it in the center. Two bodies were sprawled on the tile floor of the open shower, wild punches being slung everywhere.

  From the blood bond and our emotional connection, I knew Julian was amid the melee. Silence shocked me for a second as I stood on the periphery and watched my brother through the cracks in the teenagers surrounding him. He’d gained the upper hand and was straddling a senior: Russell Morrison. I watched in horror as Julian successfully landed a punch to Russell’s jaw. So many racing heartbeats thudded in the room…it was nearly deafening. What the hell?

  Knowing that our supernatural strength was superior to every other kid at this school made fear cut through my startled state. Julian could seriously hurt Russell if he wasn’t careful, and with the amount of pain and anger Julian was feeling right now, he didn’t seem to be worried about being careful anymore. He was completely out of control.

  “Julian!” I screeched, an edge of panic to my voice. He could not get in a fight with a pure human. He’d accidentally kill him.

  Feeling my presence, hearing my tone, Julian snapped his head up. Eyes as pale as a spring sky locked onto mine. He was panting, sneering, as adrenaline and hatred poured through him. I shook my head, sadness and disappointment washing over my fear and worry. Feeling my heartache and grief, Julian’s face relaxed, and he averted his eyes from me. Still underneath him, Russell took Julian’s moment of distraction as an opening. His punch was successful, landing right along Julian’s eye. Pain flashed through my brother, and he tumbled back. With a vicious grin, Russell wormed his way free and sprang up to attack Julian again.

  I elbowed my way through the people to run to Julian’s side. Stepping in front of him, I shoved my hands against Russell’s chest. “That’s enough!” I yelled, careful to push him only as hard as a normal human girl my size would.

  Russell moved back an inch and leered at me. “The little Adams to the rescue. Typical.” Sneering at Julian over my shoulder, Russell added, “Gonna hide behind your sister, chicken shit?”

  Julian sprang to his feet and stepped toward Russell. The punch Julian had received had opened his skin, and a bright red trail of blood was rolling down his cheek. I wanted to sigh in frustration. Men! Why did violence always come fir
st with them? Twisting around, I put my hands on Julian’s shoulders. “Stop,” I whispered below human hearing. “One wrong move and you could kill him.”

  Julian’s pale eyes flashed to Russell. “He deserves a beat down, Nick,” he murmured.

  Digging my fingers into his shoulder, I exhaled the words, “Dad wouldn’t want you to do this…”

  Julian slowly returned his eyes to me. Then he sighed and hung his head in defeat. To Russell, it probably looked like he’d won, like Julian was whipped, defeated, but I felt the tension in my brother’s body, felt the fire in his emotions. He could have easily knocked Russell into the next county if his conscience hadn’t agreed with me…and if I would have let him.

  Slumping against the cool, tile wall of the shower, Julian kept his head down. Russell laughed, and the rest of the boys joined in with him. Releasing Julian, since he no longer seemed inclined to fight, I faced Russell. He eyed me up and down, mentally undressing me, and I lifted my chin in defiance. Feeling my own rage start to mix with Julian’s lingering anger, I balled my fingers into fists and waited for the jerks to leave.

  Russell looked between the two of us, shook his head, then spat at our feet. Considering Julian had landed a solid hit and his lip was cut, Russell’s slimy gift was laced with blood; I could smell it. He pointed a finger at Julian. “You stay the fuck away from my girlfriend, or I’ll do a hell of a lot more than cut up your face…Julia!”

  All the boys laughed at Russell’s “clever” nickname, and Julian snapped his head up. His eyes narrowed as his lips curled into a sneer. The anger he’d been trying to suppress instantly flared up again, and my sharp eyes caught the subtle outline of fangs underneath his skin; Julian was about five seconds away from ripping Russell’s throat out. Mom and Dad would be crushed if he attacked a student. Halina…would probably be proud.

  One of Russell’s friends smacked his shoulder, telling him, “Good one,” like Russell had just made the joke of the year. I wanted to roll my eyes, but I was too nervous about what Julian might do if they didn’t leave.

  My brother was normally a calm person, not easily ruffled or riled, but Russell was his exception. Consequences aside, Julian would fight him to the death in a bathroom, and drain him dry in an alley; he hated him to the core. And all because Russell was dating the woman Julian was infatuated with: Raquel Johnson.

  Raquel was the girl Julian wouldn’t shut up about. They were lab partners for a semester last year, and had developed some sort of friendship during class. But while they talked on occasion, and Raquel seemed to like Julian well enough, Russell was the moon and stars in her eyes. And he treated her like dirt. It was all very tragic, and sometimes I wondered if Julian was only attracted to Raquel because he wanted to save her. He wanted to be her knight in shining armor, wanted to be a hero, like our father. Only problem in this situation was that Raquel didn’t seem to want a knight. Some damsels preferred being in distress.

  Just when I was about to yell at Russell to leave already, he and his entourage finally backed away from the shower area. Julian’s body was still tight with anger as the sounds of Russell and his gang started to dissipate. When the heavy door to the locker room banged shut, Julian opened his mouth, exposing his fangs to the boys who were no longer there.

  Annoyed, I put my hands on my hips and faced him. “What the hell were you thinking, Julie?”

  Julian stepped away from the shower wall; his eyes were still firmly locked on the locker room exit. “You didn’t need to rush in here, Nick. I had everything under control.”

  I wiped a smear of blood from his cheek. Holding my red finger in front of his gaze, so he’d concentrate on me and stop staring at the door, I murmured, “Yeah, I see that.”

  He glanced at the blood and sighed. “Damn it.” Tenderly, he touched his fingers to his face; when he pulled them away, they were red.

  I momentarily considered sucking the swath of his blood from my finger—the vampire in me growled in delight at the idea—but I easily ignored the desire. Grabbing Julian’s elbow, I pulled him to the sink.

  Looking at the cut near his eye in the mirror, Julian grimaced. “Great.” His face contorting around his fangs, he asked, “How am I gonna explain this to Mom and Dad?”

  Turning on the water, I let the cool stream wash away the yummy goodness that a part of me yearned for. “Well, since I’m still waiting for an explanation, why don’t you try out your excuse on me?”

  Sliding his fangs back in, Julian shook his head; his pitch-black hair instantly reminded me of our father. Julian was right, Dad wasn’t going to like hearing about him fighting. “It was nothing,” he murmured, his expression sheepish. “Just Russell being a dick because I was talking to Raquel.”

  Sighing, I moistened a paper towel so Julian could clean himself up. “Didn’t feel like nothing, Julie. It felt like…” Remembering his fear and panic, I bit my lip and handed him the towel. That had been a lot more than Julian just reacting to Russell being a jerk. That had been…primal.

  As Julian took the towel, his light eyes silently begged me to not finish my statement. Knowing his feelings when he didn’t want me to know them felt intrusive, so I decided to respect his reluctance as much as I could. “It just…felt like something,” I told him.

  Julian hissed in a breath as he dabbed the towel against his cut. Unfortunately, since we were living vampires, Julian and I didn’t have the fast-healing ability that our undead family members had. Julian’s wounds would have to close the old-fashioned way. “I was just having a…moment,” he whispered, glancing at me in the mirror.

  With sympathy in my heart, I nodded at his reflection. Julian’s panic attacks had subsided over the years, but they crept up now and again if he was put in the right circumstances. Dealing with Russell must have put him over the edge.

  I said nothing more about it as Julian wiped away the bloody evidence from his face. I could feel the lingering bumps and bruises Julian felt, shared the ache stinging his cheek. Pain wasn’t necessarily an emotion, but our bodies processed it as such. Ever since birth, I had known when Julian was hurting, physically and emotionally. My long, lean limbs felt fine, but I was aware of his injuries, and was going to be aware of them for the next several days while he healed. Yeah, double-edged sword.

  When Julian was as cleaned up as he was going to get, I nodded at the doors. “We should go. Starla is gonna be here soon.”

  Julian nodded and grabbed his backpack from where it had been haphazardly tossed to the floor. After we left the locker room, I felt a wave of hope wash through Julian as we walked past the open door leading into the heart of the gym. But as his eyes scoured the empty room, his hope shifted to disappointment. I clapped his shoulder. “I really wish you’d stop liking her. She’s not worth fighting over.”

  Julian twisted to look at me and frowned. “Yes, she is.” Like sunshine breaking through the clouds, warmth blossomed in his chest, and he smiled in a clearly love-sick way. “She’s wonderful, Nick. You just don’t know her like I do.”

  That I had to agree with. I didn’t see anything overly wonderful about the woman Julian adored. But I didn’t talk to her like Julian did, and by the feelings that sprouted in his chest whenever she was around, it was clear he had found something in her worth obsessing over.

  Hating to burst his bubble, I cringed. “You know you can’t date her, right?” Julian furrowed his brows at me in confusion and I let out a weary exhale. “Even if she left Russell to be with you, Julian, you can’t date her. You can’t tell her what you really are…so you can’t be with her. It’s as simple as that.”

  “Why couldn’t I tell her?” Looking back at me, hope in his eyes and his heart, he said, “Dad told Mom.”

  Knowing the story well, I shook my head. “They were older, Julian, and Mom is…different than Raquel. I just don’t think she would be as accepting as Mom.”

  Julian raised his chin. “But you don’t know that. You’re just assuming she’ll react badly…and
I don’t think she will.”

  Shaking my head, I started heading for the front doors. “Well, it doesn’t really matter anyway, since she’s with Russell.” I looked back at Julian silently following me. “And I don’t think she’s leaving him anytime soon.”

  Lowering his head, Julian kicked a rock down the stone steps. “Yeah, I know that, Nick,” he bitterly stated.

  As we reached the bottom step, Arianna began walking toward us from the field. “What happened, Nika?” she said, still perplexed as to why I’d run off.

  Waving at her, I murmured to Julian, “You know, Arianna would date you in a heartbeat if you asked.”

  Stepping beside me, Julian smirked. “I know that too, Nick.” There was no bitterness in his voice this time, just amusement.

  Arianna handed me my backpack when she was in front of us, but her eyes were solely focused on Julian. “So, what was the emergency?” she asked. “Everything okay?”

  I felt a wave of embarrassment flood through Julian as he was scrutinized by my best friend, a woman who clearly only had eyes for him, even if we both acted like half the guys at school interested her. Humor at my brother’s uneasiness bubbled through me, and Julian glanced over and rolled his eyes. “Not funny,” he murmured, too low for Arianna to hear.

  Smiling, I shrugged and answered Arianna as best as I could. “I forgot a book in the gym…had to go get it.”

  Arianna lifted a light brown eyebrow. “A book…really? It seemed like…more.”

  I shrugged. “It was a really good book.” Arianna looked about to question me more, but I grabbed Julian’s arm and tugged him forward. “Look what else I found.”

  Even more embarrassment flashed through Julian as he nearly collided with Arianna. The giddy girl giggled and put her hands on Julian’s arms. “Hey, Julian. We were just wondering where you were.”

  Julian looked back at me, an amused smile on his lips. He knew I never wondered where he was. I didn’t have to. Trying to distance himself from Arianna without openly offending the woman, he murmured, “Here I am.”