Firelight, p.8
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       Firelight, p.8
 

         Part #1 of Firelight series by Sophie Jordan
Page 8

  Author: Sophie Jordan

  “Oh. ” I nod, remembering the girl from my English class. Then, I shrug. After running for my life from hunters, a girl with too much lip gloss doesn’t register on my fear radar. I’ve dealt with girls who didn’t like me before. Miram, Cassian’s younger sister, leaps to mind. That girl hated me. She couldn’t stand the amount of attention her family gave me—her father, Cassian. Even her aunt doted on me in a way that always creeped me out. Like she thought she was my mother or something. But because Catherine is looking at me like I should say something more, I add, “I’m not going after him. ”

  “Good. Since you’re the new girl, Brooklyn can make your life hell. ” She winces and readjusts the strap of her backpack on her shoulder. “Well, really if you’re any girl, she can make your life hell. Take it from me. I’ve been there. ”

  I shut my locker. The sound bleeds in with all the other slams ricocheting down the hallway. “Then it doesn’t really matter either way, does it?”

  “Just a warning. She’s probably already heard that he sat with you and is plotting your slow demise as we speak. ”

  “So he sat with me. ” I shrug. “We hardly spoke. ”

  “This is Will Rutledge we’re talking about,” she reminds me, as if that means something. And of course, it does. But not in the same way it does for other girls.

  With Will, I feel connected, drawn. Every fiber of my being remembers those moments in the cave, prey and predator finding communion in each other. But because the last thing I want to do is reveal that Will is anything special to me, I say, “So. ”

  “So?” She stresses the word. “He doesn’t date high school girls. He hardly talks to any of us. No one knows that more than Brooklyn. Just watch your back around her. ”

  “So if Brooklyn can’t have him no one can?”

  “Pretty much,” she replies.

  Incredible. I’ve only been here a day and I already have an enemy? “Why are you telling me this?”

  “Call me a Good Samaritan. ”

  I smile and decide that I might like Catherine. Maybe I could find a friend in this place, after all. I’m not opposed to friends. I miss Az like crazy. Not that Catherine could ever replace her, but she might make being here more bearable. “Thanks. ”

  “Sit with me in study hall tomorrow. ”

  Instead of Will. As if Will might want to sit with me again. “Sure. ”

  “Great. ” She shoves off the lockers and tosses her choppy bangs back from her eyes. “Can’t miss my bus. See you tomorrow. ” As she disappears into the throng of students, I spot Tamra walking between a guy and a girl. She hasn’t spotted me yet. She’s smiling. No, beaming. Happier than I’ve seen her since Dad died. Even further back than that. Since it became clear she wouldn’t manifest.

  I can’t help feeling sad. Sad and lonely as I stand in a crowded hall.

  Mom’s one of the first at the curb when we step outside. Heat blurs the air. It tastes like steam in my mouth and nose. My skin itches, roasting in the hot, drying atmosphere. I press my lips tight and hurry toward the car.

  Our blue and rust-stained hatchback noses to the head of a long, coiling serpent of vehicles.

  Tamra groans next to me. “We need our own car. ”

  I don’t bother asking how we might pull that off. When Mom traded in the wagon several towns ago for the hatchback, she still had to toss in some cash. And there is the small matter of survival…keeping a roof over our heads, food in our bellies. We barely scratched enough together to cover rent and a deposit on a place to live. Thankfully, she starts work tonight.

  Tamra slides me a look. “Not that you would be allowed behind the wheel. I’ll have to drive us. ”

  I roll my eyes. It’s a running joke in the family. I can fly, but I can’t drive to save my life. No matter how many times Mom has tried to teach me, I’m hopeless behind the wheel.

  Tamra takes the front seat. I climb in the back.

  “Well?” Mom asks, all loud and peppy. Too bad she can’t try out for cheerleading with Tamra. She has the enthusiasm down pat.

  “Great,” Tamra offers. As if to prove her point, she waves out the window to the kids I saw her walking with in the hall. They wave back.

  I feel sick. Lean to the side and let my face rest against the warm, sunbaked glass.

  Mom looks over her shoulder. “What about you, Jacinda? Did you meet some nice kids?”

  Will’s face floats in my mind.

  “A couple. ”

  “Fantastic. See, girls? I told you this move would be great for us. ” Like we collectively decided to make a fresh start and didn’t abscond in the middle of the night. Like I had been given a choice.

  Apparently Mom can’t hear the misery in my flat voice. Or she chooses to ignore it. The latter, I suspect. It’s easier for parents to ignore, to pretend that everything’s great and then do whatever they want while convinced it’s something you want, too.

  Thankfully the car moves forward, turning into the busy parking lot. We jerk to a stop several times as students reverse from spaces with reckless abandon, cutting in front of our car. All except the kids who linger, loitering in groups around their cars.

  Then, I spot it. A vehicle I’ve seen before. With the memory comes fear…filling my mouth, as metallic and coppery as blood. My skin tightens, eager to fade out. I fight the manifest, shake off my fear. The draki instinct intended to protect me works against me now.

  The gleaming black Land Rover with a light bar on top is parked backward in its slot like it might need a quick escape. This vehicle serves a function. It’s more than a status symbol.

  It’s a machine designed to bring me down.

  Old springs groan beneath me as I lean forward. “Can we get out of here?”

  Mom motions to the cars before us. “What do you suggest? I just plow through the line?”

  I can’t help myself. I glance at the Land Rover again. A group of girls loiter near the front bumper, close to Xander and Angus, who lean against the hood. Brooklyn is there. She talks with her whole body, tossing her shampoo-commercial hair, hands hopping on the air.

  I sink down in the backseat, wondering why he is not among them, both glad and disappointed he isn’t.

  And almost as if I’ve summoned him, I feel him arrive. My skin shivers, and the tiny hairs at my nape stand on end. Like in the hall today before I even saw him, but knew he was near.

  Given the pattern, I sit higher and search the parking lot. He emerges between two vehicles, striding with the ease and confidence of a jungle cat. The sun hits his hair, gilding it.

  Seeing Will again makes my chest tighten and lungs burn. I breathe air deeply through my nose, trying to cool the heat rising inside me.

  I must have made a sound, a gasp maybe. I don’t know, but Tamra looks back at me. Maybe it’s just the twin thing. It reminds me of when we were still connected. She gives me a funny look, and then peers out the window. I can’t help it. I look, too. I can’t not look.

  Will stops, lifts his face. Like he’s scented me on the air, which is impossible, of course. He can’t sense me the way I sense him. But then he finds me.

  For a moment, our gazes lock. Then his mouth curves into a smile that makes my stomach flip. He resumes walking. Brooklyn skips toward him. He doesn’t break stride for her and she falls behind him, struggling to keep up.

  Tamra mutters something beneath her breath.

  “What?” I ask, defensive.

  “You’re not manifesting, I hope. ”

  “What?” Mom demands in her old voice. The high-pitched anxious tone that I’m so used to hearing. No more pep.

  “Jacinda nearly manifested at school today,” Tamra tattles in that singsong voice of whiny kids everywhere. It reminds me of when I would take her dolls and give them haircuts.

  Mom’s eyes find me in the rearview mirror. “Jacinda?” she demands. “
What happened?”

  I shrug and look back out the window.

  Tamra is nice enough to answer for me. “She started to manifest when she saw this cute guy—”

  Mom asks, “What guy?”

  Tamra points. “That one over—”

  “Don’t point,” I snap, fresh heat washing over my face.

  Too late, Mom looks. “You just…saw him?”

  “Yes,” I admit, sliding lower in my seat.

  “And started to manifest?”

  I rub my forehead, feeling the beginnings of a headache. “Look, I didn’t try to do anything. It just happened. ”

  Through the grimy window, I watch as Will gets behind the wheel. His cousins hop inside, too. For not liking them much, he definitely spends a lot of time with them. It’s a needed reminder. He belongs with them.

  Brooklyn watches him, too, next to her friends, arms crossed tightly across her chest.

  “Jacinda. ” Mom says my name softly, with such disappointment that I want to throw something. Yell. It hurts that I’m such a frustration for her. It makes me feel like she can’t love me as I am.

  Dad loved me—had been so proud when I first manifested. And beyond proud when it became obvious I was a fire-breather. The first in generations.

  Not Mom. Never Mom. With Mom there had only ever been wariness…as if I were some dangerous being she gave birth to. Someone she had to love, but wouldn’t have chosen.

  Our car moves at last. I resist staring after the Land Rover as it pushes through the throng of cars.

  Tight lines edge the sides of Mom’s mouth as she pulls out of the school. She nods her head, as if the motion is convincing her of something.

  “It’s okay,” she says. “As long as you don’t actually manifest…which shouldn’t be easy to do here. ” She tosses me a stern look. “It’s like a muscle. It will lose strength if you don’t exercise it. ”

  Like with her. I have only vague memories of Mom manifesting. It’s been years. Even when she could, she rarely did, preferring to stay home with Tamra and me while Dad flew. She gave it up altogether when Tamra failed to manifest. “I know. ”

  Only I’m not like her. As stifled as I felt with the pride, uncertain of myself around Cassian…living in this desert, deliberately killing my draki, is worse.

  “Just to be safe, keep your distance from that boy. ”

  It’s my turn to nod now. “Sure,” I say, even as I think no. Even as I think I might hate my mother just a little bit. Because even though I know I should stay away from Will, I’m tired of her making all my decisions. Could what the pride had in store for me have been so bad that we needed to come here to be safe? Is Cassian really that bad? It’s not that I didn’t like him. I just didn’t like him being chosen for me. Especially since my sister had wanted him from the age of three. He always gave Tamra piggyback rides even though Mom would shout at him to put her down. Me, I just tried to keep up. And then I didn’t have to anymore. Cassian manifested and forgot us both. He didn’t notice me again until I manifested. And Tamra…well, never manifesting sealed her fate. Cassian forgot her completely.

  Safe. Safe. Safe.

  That word comes up a lot with Mom. Safety. It’s everything. It’s led me to this. Leaving the pride, killing my draki, avoiding the boy who saved my life, the boy who awakened my draki in the midst of this scorched sea—the boy I want very much to know.

  Can’t she understand? What good is safety if you’re dead inside?

  8

  Mrs. Hennessey stares at us through her blinds. She must have been waiting for us to come home. We enter quietly through the back gate, careful not to let it clang after us.

  And yet, as quiet as we are, she is ready, peering at us from the security of her house. She’s done that a lot since we moved in. As if she’s not sure she didn’t rent her pool house to a family of convicts.
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