Firelight, p.26
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       Firelight, p.26

         Part #1 of Firelight series by Sophie Jordan
 
Page 26

  Author: Sophie Jordan

  I start a little, wondering if she means that. I haven’t felt like I’m “holding up. ” I feel like I’m barely hanging on.

  Mom puts the car in drive and rolls out of the parking lot. “A week at home might be just what you need. ”

  “A week at home?” Tamra twists around to glare at me. “You were suspended?”

  Mom continues, “Maybe I rushed you, Jacinda. Shouldn’t have stuck you in school right away. All of this…has been a lot. ”

  “I wanted to go to school,” Tamra’s voice rings out.

  “I shouldn’t have expected you to change overnight. We’re almost through May. If you can just make it until summer, I’m sure by the time school starts again in the fall—”

  “Can anyone hear me?” Tamra exclaims. “I lost something I really wanted today!” She beats a fist against her thigh.

  Mom looks at her, startled.

  Tamra shakes her head side to side, as if she just can’t understand. “Why is it always about Jacinda?”

  Mom’s voice soothes. “Give it time, Tamra. Soon all this will be over—”

  “You mean I’ll be dead,” I insert accusingly. “Why don’t you say what you mean? You mean that my draki will soon be dead. Can’t you ever stop? Quit acting like killing a part of me…killing me is this inevitable thing that you’re happy about. Why can’t you just accept me for me?”

  Mom’s lips press into a thin line. She stares at the road.

  Tamra drops her head against the back of her seat with a disgusted grunt.

  And I realize both of them will never do that. They’re the only family I have left, but they may as well be strangers for how disconnected I feel from them.

  I’ve lost Will. Exposed my draki. Alienated my family. Even my pride wants to break me.

  I have nowhere to go, no escape.

  But I can’t stay here.

  My sister has a date that night. The same night Will was supposed to take me out for our official first date. The irony isn’t lost on me. Dinner. Movies. Popcorn. She’ll have that. Not me. I don’t expect Will to come now. Not after today. And yet when I hear the knock at the front door my heart skips and butterflies dance with hope in my belly.

  I recognize her date from school as he stands nervously in our small living room, rubbing sweaty palms on his jeans. His name is Ben. Cute with nice eyes. Blond. Not quite as tall as Tamra and I are.

  I try not to think about Will and what I’m going to do now that he knows. I can’t expect him to pretend he didn’t see me the way he did. Any moment he and his family could storm through the door and snatch me up. It’s the memory of the first time we met that keeps me going, that gives me hope. He let me go then. Certainly knowing me as he does now, he couldn’t bear to see me hurt, couldn’t turn me over to his family. Right? A family he wants no part of. That he hates.

  Still, it’s a huge leap of faith. I should come clean with Mom so we can leave Chaparral, but I just can’t make myself say the words. Words that will take me forever away from him. Not that I have any hold on him. Especially now. Stupid, Jacinda. I can’t just do nothing. Can’t risk my family this way…can’t count on the fact that Will won’t become the hunter he was bred to be and expose me to his family.

  As I watch Tamra and Ben from the window, I sit in silence, saying nothing.

  I feel terrible. Not because Tamra’s on a date and I’m not, but because I didn’t know she’d even been asked out. I didn’t know she liked anyone. I can’t say anything to ruin this for her. At least not tonight. Maybe tomorrow…

  She’s right. It’s always about me. That realization leads to another. One that makes tears spring to my eyes.

  Soon it will only ever be about me.

  When I leave this place, I have to go alone. Be alone. Maybe forever.

  26

  I’m awake when Tamra leaves for school on Monday morning, but I don’t get up. I pretend to be asleep as she dresses. When she and Mom are gone, I rise and make a cheese omelet like Dad used to make and eat it in front of a morning talk show with dull awareness.

  In the afternoon, I’ve had enough of the tomblike stillness of the house. Enough worrying over what Will will or won’t do. I take a walk. Within five minutes, I’m plucking at my tank clinging to my sweating body. When I reach the golf course, I pause to feast my eyes on the verdant expanse so out of place in the midst of dry, cracked earth. I park myself on the edge of the green and run my fingers through the grass until I earn curious stares from silver-haired retirees in bad pants. Vowing to try another flight this week, I head for home, plotting my next move—breaking into Will’s house and getting another look at that map.

  When I arrive, Mrs. Hennessey is outside watering her plants. “So you’re the one. ”

  I stop. “Excuse me?”

  “Your mother told me one of you got suspended from school. ”

  Great. I’ve fulfilled her every suspicion that she let a family of miscreants rent her pool house.

  “I guessed it was you,” she adds with a certain amount of relish.

  Nice, I think, slinking toward the pool house.

  “I made goulash,” she calls out.

  I pause. “What’s that?”

  “Beef, onions, paprika. Little sour cream on top. ” She shrugs. “In case you’re hungry. I made plenty. Never did get used to cooking for one. ”

  I stare at her for a moment, reevaluating my opinion of her. Maybe she’s not nosy so much as lonely. Especially stuck all day and night alone in a quiet house. Lonely, I get.

  “Sure,” I reply. “When?”

  “It’s hot now. ” She shuffles inside.

  After a moment, I follow.

  The next day, I don’t wait for an invitation. I head over to Mrs. Hennessey’s soon after Mom and Tamra leave.

  Mrs. Hennessey doesn’t talk much. She cooks. And bakes. A lot. She wasn’t kidding about always making too much food. She feeds me like I’m an invalid who needs fattening up. It’s kind of nice.

  The company helps keep my mind off Will.

  Over a breakfast of French toast sprinkled liberally with powdered sugar and dripping syrup, I hear a sound. Knocking. I lower my fork to my plate.

  Mrs. Hennessey hears it, too. “That your door?”

  I shake my head, rising and moving to her living room window. “I don’t know who it could be,” I say as I peer through the blinds.

  Will stands at the pool house door.

  I freeze, weighing my options. Can I drop to the floor and hide without him catching the movement? I’m not ready for this. For him.

  “Is that your boyfriend?”

  I angle my head. “No…yes…no. ”

  Mrs. Hennessey laughs, the sound rusty. “Well, he’s something to look at, that’s for sure. Why don’t you go talk to him?”

  I swing her a glance.

  “What? Bad idea?” she asks. “What’re you afraid of?”

  I shake my head a little too fiercely. “Nothing. ”

  But it’s a lie. Yes, I’m afraid. Afraid of what he’ll say. Afraid of the words that he failed to say in the girls’ bathroom but were there, in his eyes. And now, he would have them solidified, ready to fling at me like barbed arrows.

  I scoot to the side of the window, peering out. Watching him knock again.

  He calls my name through the door. “Jacinda?”

  Mrs. Hennessey squints through the open blinds. “If you’re not afraid, why are you hiding? He’s not abusive, is he?”

  “No. He wouldn’t hurt me. ” At least I don’t think he would. He didn’t the first time we met. But now…I snort. Bury shaking hands in my shirt.

  My skin tightens. I scan the backyard as if I expect to see his cousins hiding in the bushes, waiting to pounce. I glance upward through the blinds. No buzzard-circling choppers.

  I remember him in that bathroom. L
ooking over the stall at me. I haven’t been able to shake off the expression on his face. The wide-eyed horror. The shock as he looked down at me—a girl he liked—transformed into the very creature he’d been raised to hunt. Such a contrast from the last time he saw me in draki form. That difference is what makes my stomach twist into knots.

  “Well, then what are you waiting for?” Mrs. Hennessey asks.

  For it to get easier. For life to stop being so hard.

  Since that’s not going to happen, I send Mrs. Hennessey a shaky smile and step outside.

  “Hi, Will,” I say softly.

  He spins around. Looks me over like he’s checking for something. What? Does he expect me to stand before him in full manifest? Wings, fiery skin, and all?

  His gaze shifts over my shoulder and I know he sees Mrs. Hennessey in the window.

  “Let’s go inside. ” I quickly walk past him into the pool house, into the blast of icy air that acts like a salve to my steaming skin. I turned the thermostat lower when Mom and Tamra left, craving the coolness, the frigid air on my skin.

  I’m especially glad for it now. With him here.

  I hear the door close after me. In the middle of our small living room, I turn and face him. Dig my hands deep into the pockets of my shorts. The waistband rides low. “Shouldn’t you be in school?”

  He stares at me. His eyes intense. Bright. More gold today than brown or green, and my heart pinches a bit as I’m reminded of the amber Mom sold, a piece of my soul lost. His eyes have always been piercing, but this is different. It’s like he’s seeing me for the first time.

  And I guess, in a way, he is.

  It’s there in those expressive eyes. The hurt. The betrayal. I did that to him and can’t hide from it. Hurting him hurt me. More than I could ever expect. The pain is up there with losing Dad. With leaving the pride, leaving Az and Nidia. With feeling my draki slip away like mist between my fingers. And betraying my kind…even if they were planning to clip my wings and betray me.

  “I took the day off,” he announces. Like I asked.

  “Your dad just lets—”

  “I don’t ask my dad. For pretty much anything. As long as I don’t flunk out, he doesn’t care. ” The grooves along his cheeks deepen. “He cares about other things. ” He nods slowly at me. My stomach cramps. “You can guess what those things are. ”

  The cramping takes a severe twist. Here we go. I might as well say it. Get it out there. He knows I know.

  “The family business,” I volunteer.

  His lips press into a grim line. “Yeah. My family business is hunting your family. ”

  I inhale, hate to ask, but have to know. “Did you tell them about—”

  His voice bites out, “Do you really think you would still be alive if I had?” His angry eyes claw me.

  I sink onto the couch, pluck at the edge of my shorts. “I guess not. ”

  He shakes his head. “You saw that room at my house—”

  “Yes,” I say quickly, not wanting to discuss his family’s trophy room. It haunts me every time I close my eyes. “I know what your family is capable of. ”

  “And you still came to my house?” he snaps. “Do you have a death wish?”

  “I didn’t have much choice!” I hug myself, squeeze tightly as if I can shield myself from his anger.

  Sighing, he lowers himself beside me. Closer than I expect. Closer than I want him right now. I smell his soap. His skin. Slowly, the smolder builds in my chest until I taste heat in my mouth. Smoke in my nose.

  “Guess you’re not an enkros,” he says. “You’re a…dragon. ”

  I can tell he has a hard time saying this. I almost smile. “No. I’m not an enkros. And we’re not dragons. Not in a long time. We just descend from them. We call ourselves draki. ”

  “Draki. ” He nods slowly, then leans in close, eyes angry. “You’ve had a good laugh over all this, huh?” His voice is as soft as a feather dragging across my waking skin.
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