Storm Page 13

All that air left her lungs in a rush. She stared right back at him.

’’In.’’

Chris counted the rust-colored cinderblocks of the detention room. Twice.

When the bell rang, he scowled through the lecture about a next time and hustled up the stairs to the front hall. Gabriel and Nick weren\ exactly patient.

They weren\ exactly there, either. The bench by the double doors sat empty.

Chris swore.

It was only three miles. He\d walked it before.

The last time sucked.

But Michael\s work truck sat idling in the fire lane, a massive red pile of steel with their last name on the door. The diesel engine roared over the extracurricular students spilling through the double doors, a low thrum that moved the pavement.

Michael was working on something, his head bent over a notebook.

Chris was halfway through the crosswalk when Michael\s voice caught him. ’’Don\ screw with me, Chris.’’

Whatever. Chris climbed into the cab and flung his backpack on the floorboards. The truck perpetually smelled like mulch and grass clippings and always reminded him of his father.

He didn\ look at his brother. ’’What are you doing here?’’

Michael flipped the notebook closed and shoved it into the center console. ’’It seemed as good a place as any to catch up on paperwork.’’

This would go on forever and a day if Chris let it. ’’Would you just say whatever you came to say?’’

Michael waited for students to clear the road before pulling the truck away from the curb. ’’I think you\ e the one who needs to do some talking.’’

Chris had no idea what that meant. Did Michael know about what Tyler had said? About the deal? He kept his mouth shut.

Michael glanced over. ’’You picked a fight in class?’’

Christ, this was worse. ’’The school called you?’’

’’No. I\m psychic. What the hell is wrong with you? First that crap with Seth and Tyler, and now this?’’

Chris felt his hands curl into fists. It wasn\ like he\d laid a hand on Dunleavy and that was the rule. No contact, no parents. Now he wished he\d just slammed that stupid prick in the face. ’’I didn\ pick a fight.’’

’’Chris ’’

’’I didn\ .’’

Michael said nothing for the longest time, and Chris felt his hands start to unknot. He leaned back against the headrest and stared out the window as the trees raced past.

’’Then tell me,’’ Michael said finally.

’’They shouldn\ have called you.’’ Chris picked at the upholstery on the door. ’’I didn\ even touch him.’’

’’Why don\ you tell me what you did do?’’

’’I told him to f**k off.’’ Chris sighed. ’’That\s it.’’

’’Wow, just like that. Middle of class. No provocation at all ’’

’’God, would you shut up? He was hassling someone, okay?’’ Chris expected that to launch a new round of interrogation, but Michael looked back at the road and didn\ say anything.

He was thinking, though. Chris could practically feel that.

Finally, he couldn\ take it anymore. ’’All right, what?’’

’’Was this \someone\ a girl?’’

This felt like a trap. Chris hesitated and decided not to say anything.

Michael glanced over. ’’Could it be the girl who dragged you home? The one who conveniently showed up last night?’’

Maybe his brother was psychic. ’’How the hell do you know that?’’

’’Because I\m not an idiot. I know you helped her get away from me that night.’’

Chris scowled and looked at the trees again.

’’Stay away from her, Chris.’’

’’Jesus, could you sound more dramatic? I already told you, she\s got nothing to do with Tyler. She\s just a girl in my class.’’

’’Average girls don\ jump into the middle of a fight between three guys. Stay away from her.’’

Like it mattered. ’’Fine.’’

They drove in silence for a mile, both staring through the windshield at nothing.

’’Look,’’ said Michael, and his voice was low, quiet. ’’Even if she\s an average girl you don\ have the control for a relationship, Chris.’’

’’I\m not in a relationship!’’ God, he should be so lucky. He\d give his left arm for someone outside this family to talk to. Chris rounded on him. ’’Besides, don\ you think maybe you should be having this talk with Gabriel, who might actually be screwing half the cheer squad right now, or Nick, who has to beat girls off with a stick?’’

Michael hit the turn signal to pull into the driveway. The twins were tossing a basketball at the hoop over the garage. ’’They don\ worry me.’’

’’Oh, but I do.’’

’’Yeah.’’ Michael glanced over. ’’You do. Emotion and elements they\ e too closely tied, Chris. Control it can snap like that.’’

Chris sighed.

’’Trust me,’’ said Michael. ’’What if you hurt that girl? What if you ’’

’’What if I hurt her?’’ Chris swung his head around. ’’You\ e one to talk.’’

For an instant, he thought he\d pushed too far, that Michael would come after him the way he\d gone after Gabriel.

But Michael just pulled the truck beside the garage and shifted into park, his jaw set, his hands tight on the wheel.

Chris knew he should apologize. He didn\ want to. ’’Look,’’ said Michael, his voice rough. ’’Just let this mess with Tyler and Seth blow over, and they\ll leave you alone again ’’

’’Are you crazy?’’ Chris glared at him, the rage so pure he could barely speak around it. ’’Do you know they tried to kill Gabriel? Seth had he had his hands he was going to ’’

The cab door swung open. Gabriel stood there, a basketball under his arm.

He met Chris\s eye, then glanced past him at Michael. ’’Still being a kon***?’’

’’Shut up,’’ said Michael. ’’Close the door.’’

’’Chris want to play?’’

’’We\ e talking,’’ said Michael.

Chris grabbed his backpack and swung out of the cab. ’’No, we\ e not.’’

Then he slammed the door, flung his bag by the corner of the garage, and caught the ball Gabriel passed him.

CHAPTER 10

Becca was standing in the kitchen when her mom came down at seven, wearing an old tee shirt and threadbare sweatpants instead of her nursing scrubs.

Becca stared at her. ’’What are you doing?’’

Her mom yawned and headed for the refrigerator. ’’There were too many nurses on, so they canceled me. Did you already eat?’’

’’I found something.’’ Becca dug her nails into her palms. Her ’’dinner’’ had consisted of a glass of chocolate milk she was so nervous the thought of eating made her want to puke.

Her mom started pulling food out of the refrigerator. ’’Isn\ this nice? Maybe we can rent some pay-per-view or something.’’

’’Um, Quinn and I were going to catch a movie, actually,’’ she said. ’’I\m supposed to pick her up ’’

’’What are you seeing?’’

What is this, the Spanish Inquisition? Becca took a gulp of her chocolate milk. ’’I forget. Quinn picked.’’

’’Well, let me put some jeans on. I haven\ been to a movie in ages.’’

Becca almost dropped her glass. ’’You want to go? Mom it\s kind of a girls\ night out... .’’

Her mom rolled her eyes. ’’I\m a girl, Becca. I haven\ seen you all week ’’

’’And whose fault is that?’’

Crap. Becca winced, wishing she could suck the words back into her mouth.

’’Becca, you know I started working nights so I could be home during the day.’’ The refrigerator door swung closed, and her mother came to lean on the cooking island, a stern expression on her face. Becca couldn\ remember seeing gray hair threaded along her mother\s temples before, but it was sure there now.

She wondered if her mom knew her father had called. Twice.

’’Look, Mom, I know ’’

But her mom was already off and running with the lecture. Becca resisted the impulse to keep glancing at the clock.

When it seemed like she was winding down, Becca sighed and played the guilt card and glanced up at her through her lashes. ’’Mom, it\s really about Quinn,’’ she said in a hushed voice. ’’I think she wants to get away from parents for a while.’’

That was probably true. Quinn was more than likely sitting in her living room, staring out the front picture window, desperate for Becca to pick her up.

So they could drive to Drew McKay\s house.

Maybe a movie with Mom wouldn\ be such a bad idea.

Her mom studied her. ’’Just you and Quinn?’’

Becca averted her eyes and downed the last of her milk. ’’Yeah, Mom, who else?’’

’’Well, you look very pretty.’’

’’It\s just an old pullover.’’ Thank god the house had been chilly. Otherwise her mom might have seen her in that silk top that exposed half an inch of midriff and made it look like she had a chest to write home about.

Monica can kiss my ass.

’’I meant your hair. The makeup.’’

That had taken forty-five minutes. She\d actually had to hunt for the curling iron.

Becca started to put her glass in the sink, then thought better of it and rinsed it for the dishwasher since her mom was standing right there. ’’It\s a Friday night. You know.’’

’’I know.’’ Her mom was leaning against the refrigerator now.

Becca bit the inside of her cheek, sure she was blushing.

’’Wow,’’ she said, looking in the general direction of the clock, though her brain was too addled to register the time. She grabbed her bag and her car keys. ’’I\d better get going if we\ e going to get popcorn and stuff.’’

Her mom was still watching her just a little too carefully. ’’Be careful, Bex. Not too late, okay?’’

’’Sure, Mom.’’ She\d almost made it to the front door.

’’I\ll be up when you get home.’’

Can\ wait.

Then Becca was out the door and into her car, well aware her mom watched her pull down the driveway, roll down the street, and waited at the window until she made the turn toward Quinn\s house.

Quinn wore a beaded tank, Capri pants, and strappy sandals, an outfit that demanded nicer weather. Her blond hair hung straight and shiny down her back, swinging when she jumped into the car.

Quinn was fishing through the glove box for gum. ’’Why didn\ you let Hunter pick you up?’’

Because that meant it was a date. This wasn\ a date. This was a dare. Becca started to bite at her cuticles, then told herself to knock it off. ’’I wanted a getaway car.’’

Quinn laughed but when Becca didn\ join her, she stared. ’’Seriously?’’

’’Yep.’’

’’What do you think Drew\s going to do, throw you down and rape you right in front of the soccer team?’’

That was probably number five on her list of worries. ’’I\m hoping Drew doesn\ notice I\m there.’’

’’I\m proud of you.’’

’’Thanks, Mom.’’

’’Seriously.’’ Quinn sounded hurt.

’’Thanks. Seriously.’’ But Becca didn\ feel like she\d done anything to be proud of.

Drew lived down off River Bay Road, in an old shore house that could fit two of hers inside it. The house backed up to one of the many tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay, and sported a thirty-foot span of beach beyond his backyard. The water was nothing you\d want to swim in, but the beach was nice in the summer;just enough sand to make you feel like you were vacationing all the time.

She remembered it well.

She had to park down the road a ways, and they could hear the music from here. Some kids already had fires going in a couple of drums down on the beach. Smoke and charcoal wrapped around her and flavored the air.


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