Firelight, p.12
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       Firelight, p.12

         Part #1 of Firelight series by Sophie Jordan
 
Page 12

  Author: Sophie Jordan

  “Hey, Jacinda. ”

  I look up, startled. The face is familiar. I think she’s in my English class.

  “Hi. ” I nod at her. Don’t remember her name.

  I try to wake up as I move down the hall. Switch off the autopilot. I’ve become like the desert that surrounds me on every side. Dry and barren. Accustomed to living in a state of nothing.

  It is this. The quiet pattern that worries me. The lulling tide of acceptance threatening to pull me under. Mom’s right. Nothing like a barren environment to kill off one’s draki.

  I can’t stay like this. I can’t remain here. I have to find a way out. I have to fly—have to keep trying.

  Before I enter study hall, I take a deep breath. We didn’t see the boys in PE today. They worked in the weight room while we scrimmaged in the gym. I don’t know if Will’s back, but I tell myself it shouldn’t matter either way. I can’t go out with him, can’t let myself rely on him. I won’t.

  Big words. I feel like such a fake. Because despite my vow to forget him, I haven’t. I remember everything about him. I feel his absence. Like the loss of shaded skies, mists, and pulsing earth.

  He cannot possibly be all that I remember, all that I crave to see again. Even as I know it’s wrong. Even as I know that I must avoid him.

  Walking into study hall, my steps falter when I spot Xander and Angus in the back of the room. Cold prickles down my neck.

  They’re back.

  11

  Immediately, I search for Will. See him nowhere.

  My treacherous heart sinks. Xander watches me, his tar black eyes impenetrable. He sends me a hello nod. Angus talks to the girls at the table beside them, his big crushing hands moving the air. He doesn’t notice me.

  Only one desperate thought echoes through my mind. No Will. No Will.

  I sink onto my stool. Face forward. Catherine hasn’t made it to study hall yet. She has a long trek from the art building.

  I rub my hands over my jeans. Everyone begins lining up at the front of the room, eager for a pass, looking for escape. I feel Xander’s stare on my back and consider joining them in line.

  He’s just returned from the hunt. Does draki blood, purple and iridescent, stain his hands? Does he, like a bloodhound, have a nose for prey? For draki? For me? That would explain the avid way he watches me.

  The warning bell rings its ear-bleeding screech. I’ve grown accustomed to the sound. Hardly jerk where I sit. Bleakness swirls through me. I blink once, hard, squeezing my eyes tight. I don’t want to get used to any of this.

  “Hey, Jacinda. Want to go to the library with me and Mike?” Nathan pauses near my table, an easy grin on his boyish, rounded features.

  “Thanks, but no. I’m going to study here with Catherine. ”

  Shrugging, Nathan and his friend step into the pass line, and I wonder if I shouldn’t have joined them. If I still should.

  Then my thoughts of escape grind to a stop. That much-missed vibration ignites in my chest, spreads to my core. My skin snaps alive. My head turns, eyes searching, honing in on Will as he walks into the room.

  Everything about him is brighter than I remember.

  The gold streaks in his brown hair. The gleam of his hazel eyes. His height. The breadth of his shoulders. He makes every other boy look small. Young and silly.

  Suddenly, the days without a glimpse of him feel like forever. I have waited too long for this moment. To see him again. For my lungs to tighten. For my heart to pound and swell against my rib cage.

  To feel my draki stir.

  His gaze lands on me, the hazel eyes bright and hungry in a way that makes my skin flare hotly. But his eyes aren’t the only ones I feel. Behind me, Xander’s stare sinks deep.

  Will approaches my table, and I forget about everyone else. I forget that I’m supposed to stay away from him. This near to Will, I even forget whatever vague fear Xander feeds in me. I only want Will to stop, to say something, work his magic on my withering soul. I need that. He’s almost to my table now. My lungs expand, smolder. Steam wells up in my throat. It feels wonderful. It feels like life.

  My tightening skin heats, flashes a brief shimmer of red-gold. I clasp my arm, my fingers tight and hurtful. As if the press of my hand can stop me from manifesting in a room full of humans.

  He’s so close now I can see the shards of green, gold, and brown in his eyes. One more stride and he’s even with my table.

  I hold my hot breath. Search him for some sign…

  He looks away from me then, over my head to where his cousins sit. Something passes over his face, a ripple that washes clean the rapt intensity. With a bored expression, he walks past me where I tremble on my stool.

  His cold rejection steals my breath. The heat leaves me in a slow sizzle of air out my nose. The blaze in my lungs dies, fades to embers.

  Nothing. Not a word?

  I think of the last time I saw him—his warm attention. I think of the note he left me. It doesn’t make sense. My hands shake. I press them together, squeeze them tightly. I shouldn’t feel so shattered. I’d decided to avoid him after all. To end it before it ever really began.

  The bell rings just as Catherine slides in next to me, those bright eyes of hers luminous beneath the room’s harsh fluorescent glare.

  “Hey,” she says, breathless from her long hike from the art building. “What’s up?” She glances over her shoulder and continues mildly, “I see that they’re back. Oh…and here he comes. ”

  I watch from the corner of my eye as Will passes our table, subtly dropping a note next to Catherine’s elbow.

  Her lips twist into a smile. “I’m guessing that’s for you. ”

  I glare at the paper, resist seizing it. “I don’t want it. Tear it up. ”

  She looks at me in surprise. “Are you serious?”

  I snatch up the note, tear it into small pieces as Will collects his pass from Mr. Henke. When he turns to leave the room, our eyes meet for the barest moment. His gaze slides over the tiny pile of shredded paper. A shutter falls over his eyes, like clouds descending on a forest, and my chest tightens.

  “Oookay. ” Catherine looks from the torn pile of paper to me. “That was dramatic. Want to tell me what’s going on?”

  Unable to speak, I shake my head, crack open my chemistry book, and stare blindly at the page, telling myself that I’m glad he ignored me. I needed this to remember the vow I made to myself to stay away from him. I’m even glad I ripped up his note. Glad he saw the shredded little pile.

  Tonight. Now more than ever, I have to fly, have to give it another try. I have only myself to rely on, and I’m enough. I have to believe that. It’s always been true before.

  Later that night, I slide out from beneath the covers and locate my shoes at the foot of the bed. I was careful to mark where I left them, not wanting to fumble in the dark and risk waking Tamra.

  This late, the room is dark. No outside light slips through the blinds. Tamra’s side of the room is tomb black. Hopefully, the night outside is just as dark. With clouds. Clouds and dark night. The perfect cover.

  Hooking my fingers inside the heels of my shoes, I ease out of the bedroom, wincing when the floor creaks beneath my weight. I hold my breath and speed tiptoe through the house, not even exhaling until I’m safely outside.

  Mrs. Hennessey’s lights are off—luckily her yappy little dog doesn’t break into barking at the gate’s soft clink.

  At the street, I squat on the curb and slip my socks and shoes on, looking to the sky as I tie my laces. Full moon and cloudless. Unfortunate, that. But not enough for me to change my mind.

  On my feet, I set out, walking toward the golf course I’d visited before, telling myself that tonight would be different. I’d manifest easily, lift high, swim on the air like I used to do…like I’m born to do. I cover the five miles in good time. The course lift
s up like a shock of green undulating sea ahead, an abrupt change from the desert and rock everywhere else.

  With a stealthy look around, I cross into a world of pulsing, verdant green. The closest thing I’ve seen to vegetation since I left the mountains. Except for the heat, the dryness that makes my hair crackle and skin itch, I could almost pretend that the desert has vanished.

  Slipping off my shoes and socks, I step onto the green, enjoying the cushion of grass under my feet. I pass a sand trap. A strategically placed set of boulders. Ahead, a pond shines like glass. My pace lengthens as I stride to a small copse of trees. I shed my clothes, and dry heat hugs my body.

  Sighing, I lift my face and inhale the thin, baked air, bringing it inside me, letting it fill my lungs. I stretch out my arms, willing the manifest….

  I close my eyes, focus and concentrate like never before.

  No! It’s even harder than the other times.

  The bones of my face pull, hone to sharply cut lines and angles. My breathing quickens as my nose shifts, ridges pushing forth with a slight crackling of bone and cartilage. It hurts a little. Like my body doesn’t like it. Fights it. Doesn’t want it to happen.

  Gradually, my limbs loosen, lengthen. My human skin melts away, replaced with thicker skin—tight, contracting draki flesh.

  A hot tear slides down my cheek. A moan spits from my lips, pushing me over the edge.

  My flesh blurs, glimmers gold and red. Deep, purring vibrations well up from my chest.

  At last, my wings push free, unfurl, the gossamer width of each one snapping open behind me, circulating the loose air. I push off immediately and want to weep at the struggle of it, the impossibility of it all.

  My muscles burn, scream in protest. Behind me, my wings work, snapping savagely to lift me up on air. Air with no density. No substance. My wings fight for purchase, for something to grasp, struggling to climb higher. So. Hard. So hard!

  I lift up, breathless from the effort. Frustrated tears prick my eyes, blur my vision. Moisture I don’t need to lose.

  Green swells far beneath me. I blink, scan wide, focus on the red-tiled rooftops stretching into the horizon. In the far distance, the lights of cars on a highway look small. Farther still, mountains spill like a splash of liquid against the night.

  I hover, suspended in ink, the smack of my wings on the air jarring slaps.

  My body doesn’t feel right. Even my lungs feel oddly…small. Powerless and ordinary. The coldly functioning human Jacinda feels more natural than this. And that makes me want to scream. Grieve.

  Still, I force it, fly over the green course, struggle to gain speed, too wary to fly beyond in case I can’t hold the manifest. I drink air, forcing it down my throat in gulps. Only it doesn’t help. Doesn’t fill me. Doesn’t expand my shriveling lungs.

  I persist, exerting myself until my ragged breath is the only sound ripping through my head. At last I give up, stop, descend in an unwinding circle. Like the fluttering of a dying moth.

  With a sobbing breath, I touch down, return to the copse of trees. Demanifest. There, I bow at the waist, clutch my stomach, my body punishing me for what it’s no longer willing to do. Spasms rack me as I dry-heave. The wretching sounds are ugly. The agony endless.

  I grab a tree with one hand, dig my fingers into the bark. Feel a nail split from the pressure.

  At last, it ends. With shaking hands, I dress myself, and then fall weakly onto my back, arms wide at my sides, palms open. Limp. The beat of my heart fades to a dull fearful thud perceptible only at the wrists.

  The ground beneath me is quiet. I sense no gems. No energy. Below the carpet of grass there is only hard, dead earth.

  I knot my hand into a fist and beat the ground once. Hard. It doesn’t give. Beneath the thin cushion of grass, the earth sleeps without a heart.

  I stare up at the black night through the latticework of branches. For a moment, I can kid myself. Pretend that my body does not hurt. Pretend that I’m home again, staring up at the night through a thick growth of pine branches. That nurturing forest presses around me. Shielding and covering with a loving hand.

  Az is near me. Together we stare up at the sky, talking, laughing, unworried for tomorrow. I delude myself awhile longer. Smile like a fool in the dark as I enjoy this game of pretend, remembering when everything was simple and I had only Cassian’s dark-eyed stare to endure.
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