Storm Page 21

She looked away, out the windshield, and now he knew she was putting two and two together.

Stupid. He shouldn\ have said anything.

’’Am I in danger?’’ she said. ’’Right now?’’

Chris shook his head. He didn\ hear fear in her voice, but he felt like a freak anyway.

Now she cleared her throat. ’’So with Michael why did the others care that he was a ... a pure Elemental?’’

’’Because we\ e not supposed to be allowed to live.’’

She didn\ say anything, so he kept talking, just so he wouldn\ have to sit there with that sentence hanging out in the silence. ’’According to legend, pure Elementals used to control the others. Apparently it wasn\ pretty. There were battles for territory, uprisings, rebellions, you name it. If you look back through history for natural disasters, I can almost guarantee each one fell around the time of an Elemental war.’’

’’Like ... tsunamis and ’’

’’Think broader. How about the great Chicago fire?’’ He glanced over. ’’Or the Spanish Flu?’’

’’You can spread sickness?’’

’’Nick can control air. That includes things in it.’’

’’Holy crap.’’ She was staring out the windshield again.

’’It was getting out of control. So about a hundred years ago, a bunch of the strongest got together and started a sort of law enforcement to take down pure Elementals. It\s not like the cops. We all stay the hell away from them.’’

’’Is that what the Guides are?’’

He swung his head around. ’’Where\d you hear that?’’

’’From Tyler. He said he\d called them. And then Seth said it on the patio.’’

’’The Guides are people who were born on the fifth point. They can control all the elements. They\ e rare it\s like hitting the genetic lottery. Just like people are supposed to report a child who shows the potential to be a full Elemental, they\ e also supposed to report a child who shows the potential to be a Fifth.’’

Her eyes were wide again. ’’That\s a lot of dead kids.’’

’’They don\ kill the Fifths. They track them to see if they come into their full power, and then they train them.’’

’’To do what?’’

’’To kill the full Elementals.’’

She whistled softly through her teeth. ’’Holy crap.’’

Chris looked back at the road. ’’When Michael hit thirteen or so, Tyler\s parents told our parents they were going to call the Guides, that Michael had to be turned in.’’

Her breathing sounded shallow. Was he frightening her?

’’So ...’’ She sounded like she was reasoning this out. ’’Why didn\ they?’’

’’At first, because my parents were well liked. Mom and Dad were good people. But not everyone felt the same. The kids started hassling us. Some of the adults started threatening our parents.’’

Chris stared out the windshield again, hearing resentment in his own voice. Michael had gotten the worst of it, back then. He\d wanted to fight back their parents wouldn\ hear of it.

’’Give it time,’’ Dad had said. ’’Arrogance and aggression come from insecurity.’’

Michael hadn\ liked that. Talk about aggression Chris could still remember the fights his oldest brother had had with their father.

Not unlike, Chris realized with a start, the ones Michael had with Gabriel now.

’’My parents put up with it. I mean, they were caught between a rock and a hard place as long as it was threats and stuff, no one was killing Michael. I think they wanted to leave, but they were scared, you know? If we left, would our former neighbors send the Guides after us? This went on for months.’’ He shook his head. ’’Years.’’

’’But why didn\ they just call the Guides? Why do all the threats?’’

’’You know how when someone\s hassling you at school, and you tell the teacher, and the teacher yells at the person causing the problem?’’

She hesitated, staring out the window. ’’Sure.’’

Something in her voice caught him. He\d forgotten about that note from Dunleavy. That guy was a complete tool had she taken it personally?

’’What are you looking at?’’ She hunched down in the seat and crossed her arms over her chest.

He snapped his eyes to the road. Christ, now she probably thought he was a complete lech. ’’Well when the Guides come, they don\ just look at the accused. They look at the accusers, too.’’

’’They were afraid to turn you in.’’

’’Yeah. And when we started school, Tyler and Seth and the rest of them started ragging on us.’’ He glanced over. ’’It sucked. So then we started fighting back, and then we got in trouble for fighting back, and we hated them more ’’

’’I get it.’’

She didn\ get it. Not really. She\d seen one fight. What did she know about feeling powerless?

She saved your ass.

He ran a hand through his hair, pushing the wet strands out of his eyes again. ’’My parents offered them a deal. The others would swear to never call the Guides. And my parents would swear to keep us from causing harm.’’

’’They agreed.’’

He nodded. ’’My parents were smart. Because once the others made that bargain, it gave my parents leverage. The others could get in just as much trouble for keeping us hidden so long.’’

She shivered again, then twisted in the seat and began fishing in the back for something. It put her shoulder against his, just for an instant, then the curve of her side. He could feel every drop of water on her skin.

His breath almost caught, but he shifted away.

’’I just want my pullover,’’ she said.

He nodded.

She pulled a fleece over her head and dropped back into the bucket seat. ’’So everyone was happy.’’

Chris shrugged, resisting the urge to clear his throat again. ’’You\d think so. But no. The parents were fine it was the kids. They treated us like shit.’’

’’All of them?’’

He thought back, remembering. ’’No. Not all of them. Tyler\s older sister, Emily, was in Michael\s class.’’

’’Yeah?’’

There was hope in her voice. He should shut up, before he crushed it. ’’She was nice, I guess. She didn\ hassle him any of us, really. I think he liked her, but they were juniors in high school, and basically on opposing sides of a long-standing fight. I mean, it\s not like he asked her out or anything.’’

’’Kind of the start of a whole Romeo and Juliet thing?’’

’’Maybe.’’ Chris shrugged. ’’She drowned in that old rock quarry just south of Severna Park.’’

The atmosphere in the car seemed to flicker. He\d shocked her. ’’Wait. So she she ’’

’’She died.’’ His voice was flat. He didn\ know any other way to say it. ’’It was the summer before their senior year. Lots of kids used to sneak in to swim there they still do. There\d been a lot of rain. One of the rock walls was loose, and started to slide. People were diving, goofing off, the same stupid crap kids do every day. A large rock fell and hit Emily. She went under and drowned.’’ He paused. ’’Michael was there.’’

Becca didn\ say anything to that, and Chris wondered what she thought. They were close to his road, so he hit the turn signal.

’’They all thought Michael had something to do with it,’’ he said, his voice a bit softer now. ’’He was fighting with Tyler. I don\ even remember why. But it got out of hand. And it made people start to wonder if he\d started the rock slide.’’

Chris had only been eleven. He distinctly remembered Tyler\s parents coming to the door. He\d never seen his father argue like that with anybody. Mom had sent him and his brothers upstairs, telling them to lock the door. Funny how his mind latched onto every detail of that moment, the gray yoga pants she\d worn, the soft tank top with stains from working in the yard. The way her hair had been tied into a ponytail, bangs dusting across her forehead. The way she\d stared hard at Michael. Lock the door. Do you understand me? Lock it.

They had, all of them bunched into their parents\ bedroom because it had the biggest bed. They\d tried to listen. Michael had been shaking.

He\d never forget that, either.

Chris pulled into his driveway and killed the engine. The SUV wasn\ back but the porch lights were on. Becca made no move to get out of the car.

Chris didn\ , either. He was in no rush to see Michael. ’’You want me to keep going? Or are you too cold?’’

She nodded quickly, then must have realized he\d asked two questions. ’’Keep going.’’

’’You ever see those old movies, where a mob goes through the village with torches and pitchforks, looking for the monster?’’

’’Yeah?’’

’’That\s what it was like, when they came after Michael. First it was Tyler\s parents. That was just an argument, but I get it. Their daughter was dead. They wanted someone to blame.’’ Chris gave a humorless laugh. ’’By midnight, we had twenty people in the living room, demanding that my parents turn Michael over. It stopped being an argument, and it started to get physical. We could hear every word then furniture was breaking, glass, you name it ’’

Chris stopped. This was over five years ago, but the memory still had the power to grab his throat and hold on.

’’We were hiding upstairs,’’ he continued softly, as if he could sneak the story in before the panic caught up with him. ’’We had the door locked. Someone started pounding on the door. There\s still a crack in the wood. Mom started screaming I don\ know if they were doing something to her, or if she just panicked to get to us. But every lightbulb in the house exploded, and half the lamps caught on fire.’’

’’Gabriel,’’ she murmured. ’’He would have been twelve or thirteen?’’

He nodded. ’’I don\ think he even knew he was a Fire until that day. It cleared the house. The adults didn\ know who it was, but they knew it was one of us, and they were afraid. You saw what he did on the beach. Our level of power it\s not subtle.

’’Everything was worse after that. The adults started hassling my parents saying they hadn\ kept up their end of the deal. My folks threatened right back. So the others started spreading rumors, destroying equipment from the company. We used to have a storefront in Annapolis, but they set it on fire ’’

’’They were never caught?’’

Chris gave a short laugh. ’’Becca, everything is natural. With what we are it\s easy to commit a crime without any evidence. Very easy.’’ He paused, thinking of the wave he\d called from the water. He\d wanted to drag Tyler and Seth under, to convince the water to hold them until they stopped fighting.

Water clung to his skin, to hers, reminding him it was still willing. He stared out at the night. ’’Too easy.’’

Becca looked away from him.

Chris wondered if he\d frightened her again. His voice came out tight. ’’Right after Michael started his senior year, Tyler and a bunch of his friends ambushed him when he was out working a job for Dad. They tied him up, drove him to the quarry, and threw him in.’’

Chris had been with him. He\d just started middle school, and he loved going along on jobs, having a purpose, feeling useful. The windows had been down, their skin full of sweat and sunshine, and Michael had just asked if he wanted to hit the batting cages before sundown.

Then Tyler had tried to run them off the road.

They were driving Dad\s truck Michael wasn\ going to wreck it. They\d pulled over. Michael had gotten out. Chris remembered thinking his brother wasn\ afraid of anything.

He stared out the window again, running a finger along the weather strip.

’’How did Michael get free?’’ she asked, her voice rough in the silence.


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