Firelight, p.5
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       Firelight, p.5
 

         Part #1 of Firelight series by Sophie Jordan
Page 5

  Author: Sophie Jordan

  The door behind me opens and shuts. Mom lowers down beside me and stares ahead. I follow her stare. The only thing to see is the backside of Mrs. Hennessey’s house.

  “Maybe we can get her to change her mind about the pool after we’ve been here awhile,” Mom says. “It would be nice to swim this summer. ”

  I guess this is her way of trying to cheer me up, but the only words I hear are after we’ve been here awhile.

  “Why?” I snap, swishing my legs faster. “You could have chosen a thousand other locations. Why this place?”

  She could have picked anywhere to live. A small town nestled in cool misty hills or mountains. But no, she chose Chaparral, a sprawling city smack in the middle of a desert, ninety miles outside Vegas. No cooling condensation to nourish my body. No mists or fogs for cover. No easily accessible hills or mountains. No arable earth. No escape. It’s just cruel.

  She inhales. “I thought it might make it easier for you—”

  I snort. “Nothing is easy about this. ”

  “Well, it will make the choice for you. ” She reaches out and brushes the hair off my shoulder. “Nothing like a barren environment to kill off a draki quickly. I should know. ”

  I cut her a glance. “What do you mean?”

  She sucks in a deep breath. “I lived here during my tour. ”

  I pull back and stare at her. Lots of draki take a tour to gain exposure to the outside world. For a short time anyway. A year, maybe two. But never to someplace hot and dry. Never in a desert. A draki needs to know how to fake being human for survival. Occasionally, rarely, a draki chooses to remain in the human world.

  “I thought you went to Oregon. You and Jabel took your tours together and shared an apartment there. ”

  Mom nods. “I started my tour with Jabel, but after a few months I decided…” Here she pauses for breath. “I decided I didn’t want to go back to the pride. ”

  I straighten. “How come I never knew this?”

  Her lips twist. “Clearly, I came back. I didn’t need everyone to know that it took a bit of arm-twisting. ”

  Then I get it. I understand who did the arm-twisting. “Dad,” I say.

  Her smile softens. “He never toured, you know. There wasn’t any point. He never wanted to be anything but draki. ” Her lips wobble and she touches my cheek. “You’re a lot like him. ” Sighing, she drops her hand. “Anyway, he visited me once a month in Oregon…and every time he tried to persuade me to come home with him. ” Her smile grows bleak. “He made it very difficult. ”

  She looks me squarely in the face. “I wanted to get away from the pride, Jacinda. Even then. It was never for me, but your dad didn’t make it easy. So I ran. I came here. ”

  “Here?”

  “I figured your dad wouldn’t find me here. ”

  I rub one of my arms. My skin already feels dry and chalky. “I should think not. ”

  “Almost at once my draki began to wither. Even when I broke down and risked flight a few times, it wasn’t easy to manifest. It was working. I was on my way to becoming human. ”

  “But you went back. ”

  “I finally faced reality. I wanted to give up the pride, but I missed your father. He couldn’t live without being a draki, and I couldn’t live without him. ”

  I stare out at the water’s surface, still and dead without the faintest ripple of wind, and try to imagine loving someone that much. So much that you would give up all you ever wanted for yourself. Mom did that.

  Couldn’t I make a sacrifice for those I loved? For Mom and Tamra? I’d already lost Dad. Did I really want to lose them, too?

  The hunter, Will, flashes in my mind just then. I don’t know why. Maybe it was because he let me go. He didn’t even know me, but he let me go…even though he was trained to do the opposite. He fought what doubtlessly came naturally to him. Hunting and destroying my kind. If he could break from his world, then I could break from mine. I could be that strong.

  Mom’s voice rolls over me. “I know it’s hard to accept right now. That’s why I chose this town. The desert will take care of things for you. Eventually. ”

  Eventually. I only have to wait until my draki is dead. Will I be glad then? Will I thank Mom one day like she seems to think?

  She squeezes my knee. “Come inside. I want to go over some things with you and your sister before we enroll you in school. ”

  My chest clenches at this, but I stand, thinking about all Mom has given up for me, all she’s lost. And Tamra. She’s never had anything of her own. Maybe it’s finally time. Time for both of them.

  “Jacinda Jones, come up here to the front and introduce yourself. ”

  My stomach twists at these words. It’s third period, which means it’s the third time I’ve had to do this.

  I slide out from my desk, stepping over backpacks as I move to the front of the room to stand beside Mrs. Schulz. Thirty pairs of eyes fasten on me.

  Mom enrolled us last Friday. She insisted it was time. That attending high school is the first step to assimilating. The first step to normal. Tamra is thrilled, unafraid, ready for this.

  All last night, awake in my bed, sick to my stomach, I thought about today. I thought about the pride and all I was giving up. So what if daylight flight was forbidden? At least I could fly. The rules I chafed against with the pride suddenly pale beside this new reality. I’m not even sure why I resisted Cassian so much anymore. Was it only for Tamra? Or was there something within me other than loyalty to my sister that opposed being with him?

  Teenagers surround me. Human teenagers. Hundreds of them. Their voices ring out, loud and nonstop. The air is full of false, cloying scents. A draki’s worst hell.

  It’s not that I never expected to live in the outside world. Among humans. I would probably have taken a tour. But no one tours during adolescence. Only as an adult, as a draki strong and fully developed, and never in a desert like this. All for good reason.

  I resist the urge to scratch my arm. It’s only spring, but the heat and dryness make my skin itch. Beneath the buzzing fluorescent glare, a sick, wilting sensation coils through me.

  Clearing my throat, I speak in rusty tones. “Hi, I’m Jacinda Jones. ”

  A girl near the front twirls a strand of her hair. “Yeah. We already know that. ” She smiles, her lips obscenely glossy.

  Mrs. Schulz saves me. “Where are you from?”

  Mom drilled these answers into me. “Colorado. ”

  An encouraging smile. “Lovely, lovely. Do you ski?”

  I blink. “No. ”

  “Where did you go to school?”

  Mom covered this, too. “I was homeschooled. ” It was the easiest explanation to get us enrolled. We can’t exactly ask the pride to forward my school transcripts.

  Several kids laugh outright. The girl twirling her hair rolls her eyes. “Fuh-reak. ”

  “Enough, Brooklyn. ” Mrs. Schulz looks at me again, her expression less welcoming now. More resigned. Like I just confessed to reading at a first-grade level. “I’m sure that has been an interesting experience. ”

  Nodding, I start for my desk, but her voice stops me, holds me hostage.

  “And you have a twin sister, right?”

  I pause, wishing the interrogation would end. “Yes. ”

  A boy with a patchy red face and small ferret eyes mumbles, “Double the pleasure. ”

  Other kids laugh. Boys mostly.

  Mrs. Schulz doesn’t hear, or pretends not to. Just as well. I want this over so I can slink back to my seat and work at being invisible.

  “Thank you, Jacinda. I’m sure you’ll fit right in. ”

  Sure.

  I return to my desk. Mrs. Schulz dives into a one-sided discussion on Antigone. I read the play two years ago. In its original Greek.

  My gaze swings to the window and the view of the parking lot. Above the gleamin
g cars’ hoods, far in the distance, mountains break the sky, calling to me.

  I’ve decided to try to fly. Mom did it when she lived here. It’s not impossible. Right now it’s hard to sneak away. Mom sticks so close. She’s determined to pick us up and drop us off from school like we’re seven-year-olds. I’m not sure if it’s because she’s afraid the pride will track me down at school or if she’s worried I’ll run. I like to think she trusts me enough to know I wouldn’t do that.

  Sneaking away to stretch my wings for a little while isn’t stopping Mom and Tamra from having the life they want so badly.

  I shift in my seat, the crinkle of the city map in my pocket my only hope right now. I’ve pored over it several times already, memorizing every park in the area. Just because I live here doesn’t mean I’m willing to wither away. The thought of flying again is the only thing keeping me going. Risky or not, I’ll taste the wind again.

  The bell rings, and I’m on my feet with everyone else.

  Ferret Eyes turns to me and introduces himself. “Hey. ” He nods slowly, giving me a full appraisal. “I’m Ken. ”

  “Hi,” I manage, wondering if he somehow thought his “double the pleasure” remark won me over.

  “Need help finding your next class?”

  “No. I’m good. Thanks. ” Stepping past him, I hurry to my locker, head down.

  Tamra’s waiting for me. “How’s it going?” she asks brightly.

  “Fine. ”

  Her smile slips. “You have to be open to it, Jace. Only you can decide to be happy. ”

  I work the combination, mess up, and try again. “Enough with the psychology please. ”

  She shrugs and fingers her iron-flat hair. It took her an hour in the bathroom to accomplish the feat, but she saw it in a magazine and wanted to match the picture. My own red-gold hair trails down my back in a frizzy, crackling mess. Wild with static. Like the rest of me, it misses the mist.

  I survey her, so chic in her snug red top, dark jeans, and knee-high boots she bought over the weekend at a thrift store. Several guys walk past and do a double take. She’s at home in this world, not suffering any of my unease, not even pining for Cassian anymore. And I’m happy for her. Really. If only her happiness wasn’t my misery.

  “I’ll try,” I promise, meaning it. It’s not like I want to ruin this for her.

  “Oh. I almost forgot. ” She digs in her satchel. “Look. They’re having tryouts for next year’s cheerleading squad. ”

  I glance down at the bright orange flyer in her hand and wince at the cartoons of tiny pom-poms and somersaulting, short-skirted girls.

  She waggles the paper. “We should try out together. ”

  I finally get my locker open and swap out textbooks. “Nah. You go ahead. ”

  “But you’re so”—her amber gaze sweeps over me meaningfully—”athletic. ” She might as well have said draki.

  I shake my head and open my mouth to stress my unwillingness, then stop. My flesh shivers. The tiny hairs at my nape prickle in alert. A textbook slips from my fingers, but I don’t move to pick it up.

  Tamra lowers the flyer. “What? What is it?”

  I stare over her shoulder, down the crowded hall. A warning bell peals, and everyone’s movements become frenzied. Lockers slam and the soles of shoes squeal against the tiled floor.

  I remain still.

  “Jace, what?”

  I shake my head, unable to speak as my gaze darts over every face. Then I find him. See him. The one I sought before I even realized it, before I even understood…. The beautiful boy.

  My skin snaps tight.

  “Jacinda, what is it? We’re going to be late to class. ”

  I don’t care. I don’t move. It can’t be him. He can’t be here. Why would he be here?

  But it is him.

  Will.

  He leans against the lockers, taller than everyone around him. Twirly-hair Brooklyn plays with the hem of his shirt, shamelessly leaning into him, glossy lips moving nonstop. He smiles, nods, listens as she chatters, but I sense that he doesn’t really care, that he’s somewhere else…or wants to be. Just like me.
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