Firelight, p.23
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       Firelight, p.23

         Part #1 of Firelight series by Sophie Jordan
 
Page 23

  Author: Sophie Jordan

  A chill rasps the back of my neck as I contemplate how I might do that without making him wonder at my sudden change of heart.

  A bird calls outside. The sound is bewildered, desperate. A yippy ka-kaa-ka-kaa. And I wonder at the stupid creature. Picture it sitting on its branch as the rain beats down on its frail, slight body. Wonder why it doesn’t take shelter. Seek cover. Hide. Why it doesn’t know any better. Maybe it’s lost, like me—out of its element. Maybe it can’t go home. Maybe it has no home.

  My contented smile melts away. I shiver at a sudden cold in the room. Pull the bedspread higher, up to my chin, and try to get warm.

  Rolling into as tight a ball as possible, I squeeze my eyes shut and try to block out the sound.

  I feel Mom kiss my cheek, brush the hair back off my forehead like she used to do when I was little. The room is dark. Not morning yet. The barest light spills in from the kitchen.

  She must have come home after her shift to pick up her things. The amber. My heart seizes with the memory.

  I inhale, detect the nutty musk of coffee in the air. She’ll need it to help her stay awake on the drive. Wherever she’s going can’t be close and she’s been up all night.

  “Be good,” she whispers just like I’m six again. She would say that every day when Tamra and I walked out the door for school. “I love you. ” Yeah, she said that, too.

  Through slit eyes, I watch her shadow move to Tamra, asleep in her bed. Hear Mom’s lips pat her cheek. Another hushed good-bye.

  Then she’s gone from the room. Gone to sell our family’s legacy. A piece of my soul I may never get back.

  The light in the kitchen disappears. Snuffs out like a doused match. The front door lock clicks into place behind her. I resist jumping to my feet, running out the door, grabbing her, stopping her, throwing myself in her path and begging her to see me, love that part of me she could never love inside herself.

  Tamra rustles in the bed opposite me, settling back to sleep and peaceful oblivion.

  Then, quiet. A funereal hush. Only I’m awake. Aware.

  My heart bleeding.

  22

  We hurry out the door and rush along the pebbled path circling the pool. Without Mom here to push and prod us, we’re running late. Again.

  Last night on the phone, she promised to be home in time to pick us up from school today. I’m glad at least we won’t have to take the bus anymore. I hate the smell, the choking exhaust that finds its way inside.

  Mrs. Hennessey’s television blares from her house and I see the blinds snap apart. A red chipped fingernail holds down a slat. Checking on us while Mom’s been gone has failed to significantly alter her normal routine of spying. Now she just has an excuse.

  Tamra speed-walks in front of me. She’s always eager to get to school, but today especially. Today, she tries out for the squad.

  I’ll be there after school. Watching and clapping. Showing my support. Even as I plot to leave it all behind. An unpleasant lump rises in my chest. Maybe even leave her behind.

  When the time comes, I hope she and Mom will join me with the new pride, but I know it’s more likely that I will do it on my own. Regardless, it’s a chance I have to take. Just like the chance I’m taking in leaving…in locating a pride that will accept me and not cut me down before I have time to explain myself to them.

  Walking through the side gate, I sip from a travel mug. Mom doesn’t usually let us have coffee, but then, she’s not here.

  Tamra jerks to a halt in front of me. Her Pop-Tart tumbles to the ground, only one bite missing. I collide into her, hissing as hot coffee dribbles over my fingers.

  “What are you—”

  “Jacinda. ” She bites out my name like she does when I do something really annoying. Filch the carefully buttered roll from her plate. Steal the drink off the counter that she just poured for herself. Replace her matched socks for one of my mismatched pairs.

  The tiny hairs on my nape prickle. I follow her gaze to the street. A black Land Rover waits at the curb. Motor rumbling. The driver door swings opens and Will steps out. Approaches slowly, digging his hands deep into his pockets.

  I freeze. He’s been gone the last few days—another hunt, I’m sure—delaying my plans to pump him for information. He steps onto the sidewalk and rocks on the balls of his feet. He looks beautiful standing there, and a familiar ache starts in my chest as I wonder how I can love and fear the sight of someone with the same intensity.

  I don’t move. My chest starts to hurt.

  “Breathe,” Tamra commands quietly beside me.

  Right. I inhale through my nostrils. That eases the ache a bit. But there’s still the hot vibrations starting at my core, the need to purr welling up inside me.

  “What are you…” The pathetic whisper of my voice fades.

  Tamra drops back beside me. Our shoulders brush. I shoot her a look. She’s glaring at me like I have something to do with Will standing on our curb.

  In the distance, the bus approaches. The roar of its choking engine growls louder. Any moment it will round the corner of our street.

  I shake my head at her. She says my name again. Stretches it out like a long hissing wind. “Jacinda. ”

  “I didn’t do anything,” I deny.

  Will speaks at last. “I thought you might like a ride to school. ”

  We gawk at him.

  “Both of you,” he quickly adds, lifting one hand out of his pocket and motioning to each of us. Tamra and I exchange glances.

  The bus turns the corner.

  “Does this normally work for you?” I try for boredom, diffidence, but my voice is all wrong. Rings with something like anger.

  He looks confused. “What?”

  “Show up uninvited on a girl’s lawn—smile sweet and expect her to jump in the front seat with you?”

  “Easy,” Tamra whispers, and I wonder if it’s because she’s afraid I’ll lose my temper and manifest in front of him or because she actually wants me to get somewhere with the guy she warned me to stay away from. But why would she want that? So I’ll fit in and like it here?

  He nods, ducks his head. Looks sweetly—disgustingly—humble. Like he can read my mind, he says, “Only once before. ” His lips curve in a slow, conspiratorial smile. I can’t help it. I blush madly and my face tightens in that dangerous way as I recall the night I first hopped in his car.

  “Hi,” Will says to Tamra, as if just remembering he has never met her. Officially, anyway. He stretches out his hand so very adultlike. “I’m Will—”

  “I know. ” Tamra doesn’t shake his hand. Cutting her eyes to me, she announces with a sigh, “C’mon. Get in the car. ” She moves ahead of me.

  Will holds the door open for her. She climbs in the back as the bus rumbles past us.

  Will flashes a crooked smile at me. “Missed your bus. ”

  “Yeah. ” We stare at each other for a long moment before I finally ask what’s burning through me. “Why are you here?”

  His chest lifts on a deep breath. “I’m done. ”

  “Done with what?”

  “Done letting you avoid me. ”

  I cock my head. I hadn’t run him off? Could it be so simple? So easy? Poof! He’s here whether I like it or not. I didn’t even need to convince him that I had changed my mind? “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

  Because I’m not. Like the truest coward, when presented with my self-professed goal, doubts assail me. I’m not sure I’m ready for him. Even if being with him gets me the information I need about other prides, I’m still left with the issue of manifesting whenever I’m too close to him. And I want to be close to him. Can I be with him without being with him? In my true form?

  Am I capable of that kind of control?

  “I’m sure,” he answers in a firm voice.

  “You ever heard of the expression ‘
be careful what you wish for, you just might get it’?” It’s as close as I’ll ever come to warning him off.

  Tamra calls from the car, “Are we leaving?”

  Will’s smile returns, warms my already over-warm skin. “Want that ride?” he coaxes.

  Like I have a choice. “I missed the bus,” I remind him as I stride past, climbing in the front before he can move to the door.

  A moment later, as he pulls away from the curb, I’m assuming the ride to school will be awkward with my sister in the back. It’s confirmed when she asks, “So what’s the deal with you and my sister?”

  He laughs shortly and rubs the back of his neck like something is there, tickling, tapping.

  “Tamra. ” Clutching the dashboard, I turn and glare at her. “There is no deal. ”

  She snorts. “Well, we wouldn’t be sitting here if that was the case now, would we?”

  I open my mouth to demand she end the interrogation when Will’s voice stops me.

  “I like your sister. A lot. ”

  I look at him dumbly.

  He looks at me, lowers his voice to say, “I like you. ”

  I know that, I guess, but heat still crawls over my face. I swing forward in my seat, cross my arms over my chest and stare straight ahead. Can’t stop shivering. Can’t speak. My throat hurts too much.

  “Jacinda,” he says.

  “I think you’ve shocked her,” Tamra offers, then sighs. “Look, if you like her, you have to make it legit. I don’t want everyone at school whispering about her like she’s some toy you get your kicks with in a stairwell. ”

  Now I really can’t speak. My blood burns. I already have one mother doing her best to control my life. I don’t need my sister stepping in as mother number two.

  “I know,” he says. “That’s what I’m trying to do now—if she’ll let me. ”

  I feel his gaze on the side of my face. Anxious. Waiting. I look at him. A breath shudders from me at the intensity in his eyes.

  He’s serious. But then he would have to be. If he’s willing to break free of his self-imposed solitude for me, especially when he suspects there’s more to me than I’m telling him…he means what he’s saying.

  His thumbs beat a staccato rhythm on the steering wheel as he drives. “I want to be with you, Jacinda. ” He shakes his head. “I’m done fighting it. ”

  “Jeez,” Tamra mutters.

  And I know what she means. It seems too much. The declaration extreme. Fast. After all, we’re only sixteen….

  I start, jerk a little.

  I think he’s sixteen. I don’t even know. I don’t know anything about him other than his secret. That sort of eclipses everything else. But he has to be more. More than the secret. More than a hunter. More than a boy who doesn’t want to be a force of destruction. More than the boy who saved my life. The boy I’ve built a fantasy around. I don’t know the real him. Xander mentioned Will being sick, and I don’t even know what happened to him.

  But then I don’t feel bad about that for long. Because he doesn’t know the real me either. And yet he still wants to be with me. Maybe it’s perfect because I want to be with him, too. And not just because I need to get close to him and use him for information. Although there is that. Something I would like to forget but can’t let myself. Forgetting is resigning myself to a life here. Forever. As a ghost. A small voice whispers through me, a tempting thought…. Not if you have Will.

  23

  As soon as Will parks, Tamra leaves us. I watch her walk quickly through the parking lot. She waves to several people. Drops into step with a girl whose name I don’t know. They start chattering like they’ve known each other all their lives.

  Will and I sit in silence. From our spot, far in the back of the parking lot, we watch other cars fly past us for better spots near the doors.

  I can think of only one reason he parked so far in the back. So no one can see us together.
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