Storm Page 11

Lightning flashed, illuminating his features for a moment. For an instant, he looked frightening.

Then the lightning was gone, and he smiled in the darkness. ’’I have absolutely no idea.’’

And with that, he swung her door shut and turned for the house.

CHAPTER 8

Chris wanted to sit on the porch and feel the rain. But Michael would eventually come out and ruin it, so he went back to his bedroom, where he could lock the door and sit by the window.

The heart of the storm was drawing closer, sending a strong breeze through the screen to ruffle pages of the notebook sitting there. Nick had claimed the desk chair to prop his feet on the bed. Gabriel was rolling a silver Zippo lighter across his knuckles, making it click every time it changed direction. Chris leaned against his dresser and looked out the window, watching the lightning flash in the distance.

Then he just waited.

’’So she doesn\ like rain,’’ said Gabriel.

Nick smiled. ’’I kind of like the irony.’’

’’Jesus, you are such a nerd.’’ Gabriel flung the lighter at him. ’’Stop using big words.’’

’’Five letters is a big word?’’

Chris sighed. ’’No one likes rain.’’

’’You do,’’ said Nick. He flung the lighter back to his brother.

Gabriel caught it. ’’Maybe we should put some money on it, see how long it takes Chris to get her wet.’’

Chris ignored the double entendre and glanced at the pile of makeup work still sitting on his desk. ’’Could we maybe speed this up?’’ He could feel the rain pooling on his windowsill again. The red tail sharks in his tank circled and chased, slicing through the water until the less aggressive ones hid among the driftwood at the bottom.

Nick gave a low whistle. ’’Leave him alone, before the fish kill each other.’’

Chris gave a pointed look at the door. ’’Why don\ you both leave me alone.’’

Gabriel laughed and made no move to leave. ’’You have got it bad for this girl.’’

Like that mattered. She\d been pretty clear where he stood. ’’Tyler shouldn\ be hassling her.’’

’’He\ll back off,’’ said Nick. ’’He\ll realize she\s got nothing to do with us.’’

’’I don\ know about that.’’ Chris glanced at the fish. They helped him manage his temper he didn\ like riling them. But they seemed to be settling. ’’He threatened her. He told her the deal is off.’’

Nick pulled his feet off the bed to sit up straight. ’’He said that?’’

Chris nodded. ’’Well. She said he did.’’

Gabriel rolled the lighter across his knuckles again, slowly now. ’’Because of last night?’’

Chris met his eyes, then shrugged.

He still didn\ regret it.

’’The deal can\ be off,’’ said Nicholas. ’’They can\ just decide ’’

’’They can do whatever they want,’’ said Chris, the words tasting bitter.

Nick stood. ’’We have to tell Michael. He\ll ’’

’’He\ll do nothing,’’ said Gabriel. ’’Don\ tell him.’’

His twin looked at him like he was nuts. ’’Are you crazy? We have to ’’

’’No.’’ Gabriel sat up, any trace of humor gone from his expression. Thunder rolled in the air outside. ’’You saw him last night. He doesn\ give a crap what they do. All he cares about is letting them have their way.’’

’’So what do we do?’’ said Chris. He thought about the way he\d felt the water freeze into Tyler\s skin. That had been a good storm. A powerful one. He wondered how much damage he could do if he practiced.

The thought scared him, a little. But it comforted him, too.

’’Tyler says the deal is off.’’ Gabriel flipped the lighter in the air and snapped it, lighting it as it spun. The flame danced between his fingers. ’’He\s not going to hold to it. Right?’’

’’Don\ be stupid,’’ said Nick. He knew his twin.

Chris knew him, too. But he liked the note of danger in Gabriel\s voice, the promise. It reminded him of that moment of solidarity last night. ’’Right ... ?’’

Gabriel smiled. ’’That means we aren\ held to it, either.’’

Her mom was working the night shift again. The sheer irony was that any kid with a normal social life would envy Becca\s freedom.

Quinn was sitting in the kitchen, but schoolbooks were spread across the table tonight. She looked up at Becca through a fall of blond hair. Her voice was small. ’’Hey. Your dad called again.’’

Swell. Becca hung her jacket in the hall. ’’What, you\ll speak to me when you need a place to stay?’’

’’You\ e the one who didn\ answer my texts.’’

’’Maybe if you hadn\ bolted from the lunch table, I could have mentioned that I broke my phone last night.’’

Quinn didn\ say anything for a long moment. Becca grabbed a soda from the fridge and swung into a chair. She glanced down at the notebook on the table. Quinn was struggling with Trigonometry.

’’So you want me to leave?’’ said Quinn.

Becca rolled her eyes and popped the can. The storm seemed to be sticking around thunder still boomed every few minutes and lightning threw silhouettes against the glass. ’’You are such a drama queen.’’

Quinn flung her textbook closed. ’’Well, at least it\s better than being a liar.’’

Becca sat up straight. ’’A liar? What the hell did I lie about?’’

’’Self-defense class? You could have just told me you were sleeping with Chris Merrick.’’

’’Who said wait what the are you crazy?’’ Becca couldn\ string a sentence together. ’’You think I\m sleeping with him? Why on earth would you think that?’’

’’Gee, I don\ know.’’ Her voice dropped to a mocking baritone. ’’I\m just here to thank Becca for last night.’’

Becca stared at her, unsure whether to laugh or cry. ’’Quinn ’’

’’You could have told me, you know.’’ Quinn doodled on the margin of her notebook. ’’I didn\ even know you liked him, Bex... . I mean, after all the stuff with Drew ’’

’’I did go to self-defense class. And I didn\ sleep with Chris.’’ Becca paused, waiting for Quinn to look up. ’’When I came out, Seth Ramsey and some college guy were beating the crap out of him in the parking lot.’’

’’Why?’’

The question made her stop. It was a good one. ’’I don\ know. But I chased them off with the car.’’ She told Quinn everything, including what had happened in the pet store and her visit to the Merrick house.

’’You should call the cops,’’ Quinn said.

’’And tell them what? I don\ even know Tyler\s last name.’’

’’You know Seth\s.’’ Quinn\s voice was careful.

’’I\d rather not get involved, Quinn.’’

’’Bex ’’

’’Leave it.’’ Becca glared at her.

Quinn rocked back in her chair. ’’So you aren\ interested in Chris?’’

’’Please. He doesn\ really want to go out with me.’’

’’I think the sixty-dollar thing is kind of adorable.’’ Quinn chewed on the end of her pencil and glanced up.

Becca groaned. ’’You\ e not helping.’’

’’I\m just saying maybe people are over the Drew thing.’’

’’Tommy Dunleavy\s note today asked me if I give a happy ending.’’

Quinn winced. ’’Okay, maybe some people are over the Drew thing.’’

Becca replayed her comments to Chris, the way she\d lashed out at him over the lunch table. She frowned, but then scowled. ’’Still. A soccer game? That can\ be a coincidence.’’

’’Yeah, well.’’ Quinn flipped the textbook open, her eyebrows raised. ’’Guess you\ll never know now.’’

’’You suck.’’ Becca grinned and shoved her notebook at her.

Then Quinn shoved it back, a little more pointedly. She tapped her pen where a number was scrawled. ’’You going to call your dad or what? I can only be a bitch for so long.’’

’’You sure about that?’’

Quinn made a face. ’’You know, that\s a local number.’’

Becca stared. She hadn\ noticed. Did that mean he was in town?

Did it matter?

Becca tore the piece of paper from the notebook.

Then, just like last night, she crumpled it up, shoved it in the trash, and carried it out to the curb.

CHAPTER 9

By Friday, Chris still looked like crap, and Becca wanted to call him on it. But in third-period English Lit, he sat across the room and didn\ make eye contact once.

Fine.

She must have beaten Chris to World History, because New Kid was sitting in the same seat as the day before Chris\s usual spot. He\d paired a rust-colored tee shirt with dark jeans and black Vans today. Average, nothing-special clothes that looked striking and exotic just because he was wearing them.

Monica Lawrence was sitting at the desk next to him, leaning into him, giggling at something he\d said. She called Tommy Dunleavy her boyfriend, but you wouldn\ know it from the way she was putting her assets front and center.

Not that New Kid seemed to mind.

Guess he doesn\ need the dog to pick up chicks after all.

Becca swung her bag higher on her shoulder and moved down the aisle to her seat, carefully avoiding Monica\s eyes.

New Kid looked up when she passed. ’’Hey ’’

’’Ohmigod, no,’’ said Monica. Her manicured hand latched onto his arm and a spill of blond hair pooled on his desk. Her boobs were going to explode from the neckline of her shirt in a minute.

Then she leaned in close and whispered into his ear, breaking off to glance at Becca more than once.

Yup, that had lasted about five minutes.

’’Grow up,’’ Becca muttered. She dropped into her chair, busying herself with pulling a textbook from her backpack, finding a pen, and establishing the mental fortitude for the abuse that would start when Tommy sat down.

’’Hey.’’

It was Chris Merrick\s voice, his tone almost aggressive and so startling that she jerked her head up, sure he was talking to her.

But he was standing next to New Kid, a hand braced on the nylon strap of his backpack. ’’You\ e in my seat.’’

New Kid lifted his head, a slow, deliberate movement. Becca watched him size up Chris but his eyes widened fractionally when they got to Chris\s face. The bruising along his cheekbone and jaw had lightened, turning a mottled yellowish blue. His lip was healing, but you could still see a split.

Monica was staring, her lips slightly parted. ’’What happened?’’ she said, her voice soft with awe.

’’Wow. Yeah.’’ New Kid settled back in his chair a clear refusal to move. One eyebrow lifted, and his voice was dry. ’’Someone sit in your seat?’’

Monica snorted with laughter and giggled behind her hand.

Chris leaned down, his blue eyes dark, like the ocean at night. The bag slipped off his shoulder to hit the floor.

Mr. Beamis chose that moment to step into the classroom. He cleared his throat. ’’Mr. Merrick. I presume you\ e welcoming our new student?’’

Chris put a hand on New Kid\s desk. ’’Welcome. Move.’’

’’Keep moving, Mr. Merrick,’’ said Beamis. His tone drew the attention of the rest of the class, and conversation died. ’’There\s a seat farther down. I suggest you find it.’’

Chris didn\ move. Neither did New Kid.

Beamis dropped his briefcase on the top of his desk and snapped the latches. ’’Or would you prefer to find a seat in the office?’’

Half the class did that stupid ’’Oooh’’ thing. Then laughed. Chris grabbed his bag and sighed, then walked six feet to drop into the next empty seat in the row.

Right next to Becca.

He didn\ even glance at her, just pulled a textbook from his bag.


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