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       Firelight, p.6

         Part #1 of Firelight series by Sophie Jordan
 
Page 6

  Author: Sophie Jordan

  I can’t look away.

  Honey brown hair falls over his brow carelessly, and I remember it darkly wet and slicked back from his face. I remember the two of us alone in a cave, his hand on mine and that spark that passed between us before his face became so stark and angry. Before he vanished.

  Tamra sighs beside me and twists around to see. “Ah,” she murmurs knowingly. “Yummy. Too bad though. It looks like he’s got a girlfriend. You’ll have to set your sights on someone else—” Facing me, she gasps. “Jace! You’re glowing!”

  That jerks my attention back. I glance down at my arms. My skin blurs in and out, shimmering faintly, like I’ve been dusted with gold.

  The draki in me stirs, tingling, yearning to come out.

  “God, get a grip, jeez!” Tamra hisses, leaning closer. “You see a hot guy and start to manifest? Have some control. ”

  But I can’t. That’s what Tamra never understood. When emotions run high, the draki surfaces. In times of fear, excitement, arousal…the draki comes out. It’s the way we are.

  I look back at Will and pleasure whips through me. And beneath it, fear at what his being here means.

  My sister grabs my arm and squeezes almost cruelly. “Jacinda, stop it! Stop it now!”

  Will’s head lifts with the suddenness of a predator scenting its prey and I wonder if hunters are really human at all. If maybe they aren’t just as otherworldly as the draki. He looks around, searching the hall as I struggle to get myself under control. Before he sees me. Before he knows.

  My lungs start to smolder, the familiar burn catching the exact moment his hazel eyes lock on mine.

  The slam of my locker jars me and I tear my gaze off him. To Tamra. Her hand presses flat my locker, her fingertips white where they dig hard into the metal.

  The last bell sounds.

  With a quick dip, she grabs my books off the floor and drags me toward the bathroom. I glance over my shoulder as bodies empty the hall in a rush of unnatural scents. Perfumes, colognes, lotions, hair sprays, gels…they clog my senses. Here, nothing feels real. Except the boy staring after me. He watches. His gleaming gaze following, stalking me like the predator I sense in him. He moves away from the lockers in a loping, catlike motion.

  My draki continues to stir, awake and alive at the hungry way he watches me. My skin quivers, the flesh of my back tingling, itchy where my wings push. I keep them buried. Buried, but not dormant.

  Tamra’s hand tugs harder, pulling me. And I lose sight of him. He’s swallowed up in the flurry of humankind around me, like so many moths bumping and dancing around a light, congesting the hallway.

  But I still feel him. Yearn for him. Know he’s there even when I no longer see him.

  My nostrils flare against the harsh bite of astringent. Instantly, my draki withers at the unnatural odor. I press a hand to my mouth and nose. The hint of fire in my lungs dies. My back stops tingling.

  Tamra’s gaze slides over me, and she exhales, clearly satisfied to see it’s me again. The me she approves of, the only me she wants around. Especially here in this new world she hopes to conquer for her own.

  “You’ve stopped glowing. Thank God! Are you trying to blow it for us?”

  I stare toward the bathroom door. Almost like I expect him to follow. “Did he see?”

  “I don’t think so. ” She shrugs one shoulder. “He wouldn’t know what he saw anyway. ”

  That’s true, I suppose. Even hunters don’t know draki manifest into human form. It’s been our most carefully guarded secret. Our greatest defense. And it’s not like I was unfurling my wings in the hallway. Not quite, anyway.

  I hug my arms as the invigorating hum fades from my core. This is my chance, I realize. I can tell her about Will…confess just how much I risked that day in the cave with him…confess how much I risk right now. I can declare everything as I stand in this putrid bathroom. Tamra squints at my face. “Are you going to be okay? Should I call Mom?”

  I consider this. And more. Like what Mom would say if I tell her everything. What would she do? And instantly I know. She’d yank us out of school. But she wouldn’t take us back to the pride. Oh no. She would just plant us in some other town. Some other school in another desert. In a week, I would be redoing this wretched first day all over again, suffering the heat and climate somewhere else without a beautiful, exciting boy around. A boy whose mere presence has revitalized my draki—the very part of me that hasn’t felt alive since we left the mountains. How can I walk away from that? From him?

  Tamra shakes her beautiful mane of hair off her shoulders as she surveys me. “I think we’re okay. ” She wags a finger at me. “But stay away from him, Jacinda. Don’t even look at him. At least not until you’ve gotten yourself under better control. Mom says it shouldn’t take long before…”

  She must see something in my face. She looks away. “Sorry,” she mutters. Because she’s my sister and she loves me, she says this. Not because she’s really sorry. She wants my draki dead as much as Mom does. Wants me normal. Like her. So we can lead normal lives together and do stuff like cheerleading.

  My stomach cramps. I take my books from her. “We’re late. ”

  “They’ll cut us some slack. We’re new. ”

  I nod, plucking at the severely dog-eared corner of my geometry book. “See you at lunch?”

  Tamra moves to the mirror to check her hair. “Remember what I said. ”

  I pause, staring at her beautiful reflection. Hard to believe I’m a twin to such a polished creature.

  She drapes a perfect strand of her red-gold hair over her shoulder. The end curves slightly inward. “Stay away from that guy. ”

  “Yeah,” I agree, but even as I walk out into the deserted hallway I stop and scan to the left and right of me, looking, searching. Hoping. Dreading.

  But he’s not there.

  6

  I hide during lunch. Cowardly, I know, but when I faced the double doors leading to the cafeteria, the volume alone made me feel sick. I couldn’t bear the thought of going in.

  Instead, I walk the halls, ignoring my hungry stomach and the guilt I feel at not being there for Tamra. But somehow, I know she’ll be fine. At least I convince myself of this. She’s been waiting for this day since we were kids. Ever since I manifested and she didn’t. When Cassian began to ignore her and became a dream forever beyond her reach.

  I find the library. Immediately, I inhale musty books and savor the silence. I slide into a table near the windows that faces the quad and rest my head on the cool Formica until the bell rings.

  I float through the rest of the day. Relief seizes me when I make it to the last class of the day. Almost done.

  My seventh-period study hall is packed with people who either opt out of athletics or lack the requisite GPA to play sports. This I learn from Nathan, my shadow ever since fifth period.

  He slides in beside me. His fleshy lips spit out each word with a faint spray of saliva. “So, Jacinda. What are you?”

  I blink, inching back, before I understand. Of course. He couldn’t mean that. “Uh, I don’t know. ”

  “Me?” He juts a thumb to his swelled chest. “I can’t pass English. Which is too bad, because our football team might actually win a game if I was on the line. What about you?” His gaze travels my long legs. “What are you doing in study hall? You look like you could play basketball. We got a good girls team. ”

  I tuck a wild strand of hair behind my ear. It springs loose again and falls back in my face. “I didn’t want to join any teams midsemester. ” Or ever.

  The room is comprised of several black-topped tables. Mr. Henke, the physics teacher, stands behind a larger version of our table at the front of the room. He stares out at the class with a dazed, bleak expression, as if unclear where the overachievers from the previous period went. “Find something to do. No talking. Study or read quietly, ple
ase. ” He brandishes an orange pad. “Anyone need a pass to go somewhere? Library?”

  Nathan laughs as half the class lines up for passes. The bell hasn’t even sounded, but it looks like most of the kids will be gone before it does.

  “And there goes the herd. ” Nathan looks at me, leans in conspiratorially. “Want to get out of here? There’s a Häagen-Dazs not far. ”

  “No. My mom is picking me and my sister up after school. ”

  “Too bad. ” Nathan crowds me. I scoot closer to the edge of the table. His gaze flits over me.

  My elbow knocks over one of my books, and I gratefully hop off the stool to pick it up. Squatting there on the grimy tiles, my hands reaching for a book, the tiny hairs at my nape start to vibrate. My breath goes faster. I press my lips together, trying to quiet the sound. My flesh pulls and tightens with awareness, and I know it’s him before he enters the room.

  I know it. And I want it to be him, even with Tamra’s warning ringing in my head. Wiping a sweaty palm on my jeans, I peer at the door from beneath the table. Recognition burns deep in my chest, but I remain where I am, huddled close to the floor, watching as he steps inside.

  I hold myself still, waiting. Maybe he’ll get a pass, too. Disappear with the others.

  But he doesn’t get in line. He moves into the room, a single notebook clutched loosely in his hand. Then, he stops, angling his head strangely. Like he hears a sound. Or smells something unusual. The same way he looked in the hall today. Right before he saw me.

  I toy with my book, letting the pointy corners bite into the sensitive pads of my fingers.

  “Hey, you okay?” Nathan’s voice booms above me.

  Wincing, I force myself to stand, crawl back onto my stool. “Yeah. ” I can’t hide forever. We’re in the same school. Apparently the same study hall.

  I stare straight ahead, at the chalkboard. Anywhere but at him. But it’s impossible. Like forcing my eyes to remain wide-open when biology demands I blink. So I look.

  His gaze finds me. He walks toward our table. I hold my breath, wait for him to pass. Only he doesn’t. He stops, the sliding scrape of his shoes on the floor a long scratch down my spine.

  This close, I stare into eyes that can’t decide on a color. Green, brown, gold—if I look too hard I get lost, dizzy. I remember the ledge—the two of us, enclosed in that damp, tight space. His hand on my draki skin. The word that I think he said.

  Shivering, I break free of his gaze and stare down at the table, concentrate on inhaling slow even breaths. I look back up at the sound of his voice, ensnared in the velvet-smooth rumble.

  “Mind if I sit here?” he asks Nathan while looking at me.

  “Guess not. ” Nathan shrugs, shoots an uncertain look at me as he grabs his backpack. “I was heading to the library anyway. See you later, Jacinda. ”

  Will waits a moment, stares at the vacant stool before sitting. As though he expects me to say something. Stop him? Invite him? I don’t know.

  He turns slightly on his stool and smiles. Just a small smile, but lovely. Sexy.

  A dangerous warmth begins to build inside me. Unwanted right now. My skin pulls tight, eager to fade into draki skin. The familiar vibration swells up through my chest. A purr grows from the back of my throat. Instinct takes over and I’m almost afraid that if I do say something, it will be in the rumbling cadence of draki-speak.

  Funny. In this desert, I worried my draki would shrivel, die as Mom wants. But around this boy I’ve never felt so alive, so volatile. I chafe a hand over my arm, willing my skin to cool down. For my draki to fade. At least for right now.

  In silence, we sit. And it’s the strangest thing. He knows about me. Well, not me. He couldn’t possibly know that this me is that me. He knows about us though—my kind. He saw me. He knows we exist. He saved me. I want to know everything about him. And yet I can’t speak, can’t say anything. Not a single word. I’m too busy focusing my thoughts, on keeping the core of me cool, relaxed. Keeping the draki away. I want to know him better, but without breathing, without speaking, I can’t see how.
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