Storm Page 23

Then he snapped his other hand forward, pinched out the flame, and flicked the lighter into the air to snap it closed.

She lifted her eyes to meet his. Impressive, but nothing supernatural. ’’Should I applaud or something?’’

He turned his closed hand over and uncurled his fingers. ’’You tell me.’’

She froze. Fire sat on his palm. Not like his hand was burning, but a suspended flame, as if his hand had lifted the plume of fire off a candlewick. A blue base climbed to orange and red as it flickered there.

’’Let\s see a frat boy do that,’’ said Gabriel. The flame was big enough that it threw light on his face.

She uncurled from the chair and moved closer to the bed, unable to help herself. She reached out a hand to touch it. Her fingers brushed across the tip of the flame, feeling it nip at her fingertips.

’’Careful,’’ said Chris. ’’Sometimes it looks for something real to burn.’’

She couldn\ tear her eyes away. ’’What\s it burning now?’’

’’Energy,’’ said Gabriel.

’’What energy?’’

’’Mine.’’

Did that mean he was ... feeding the fire somehow? She swallowed, almost compelled to touch it again. A breeze whispered through the open window, lifting the ends of her hair. The flame flickered and jumped, biting at her outstretched hand.

She thought of the drums on the beach, the way they\d snapped fire at Tyler and Seth. She pulled her hand back. The fire began to swirl in the breeze, a tiny whirlwind of flame stretching higher in his palm.

Then it lifted clean off his hand, spinning wider and faster until it burned out into nothing. She couldn\ even smell smoke.

’’I\d say you\ e playing with fire,’’ said Nick from the doorway, ’’but it kind of loses effect when you really are.’’

’’You didn\ have to do that.’’ Gabriel rolled the closed lighter across his knuckles again. ’’I had it.’’

’’You had it this time,’’ said Chris. He paused, and there was a thread of envy in his voice. ’’Your control\s gotten better.’’

’’My control?’’ Gabriel grinned. ’’I\m not the one who brought down a tsunami on Sillery Bay.’’

’’Yeah, well.’’ Chris glanced at Becca, and he looked a bit sheepish. ’’That didn\ quite work out like I\d hoped.’’

Becca had thought it was downright amazing, but she didn\ say that. ’’Are you worried about Tyler and Seth coming after you?’’

’’After that?’’ said Nick. ’’They ran.’’

He sounded pleased. She\d wondered earlier what kind of parents Tyler would have, allowing him to run around with a gun. But Nick\s tone reminded her of something she\d read once in a textbook, about how guns were invented so man could level the playing field.

’’They\ e afraid of you,’’ she said softly. After watching the demonstration on the beach, she almost couldn\ blame them.

’’Of course they\ e afraid of us,’’ said Nick, his voice a bit dark. ’’That\s why they\ e breaking the deal.’’

’’They\ll try to prove that we\ e a danger to the community,’’ said Chris. He folded his arms and looked at Gabriel. ’’Some of us try a little harder to stay out of trouble at school.’’

Gabriel sat up straight. ’’I haven\ gotten in a fight yet this year!’’

Despite everything, that made her smile. ’’It\s September.’’

He waved a hand. ’’Details.’’

’’So why do they care about me?’’ she asked. ’’I\m not involved in any of this.’’

’’They\ e really after us, not you,’’ said Chris. ’’We scared them off tonight. That will buy us some time.’’

’’You have any classes with Seth?’’ said Nick.

She shook her head. ’’He\s a senior.’’

’’He\s also an idiot.’’ Then Nick glanced at Gabriel, and he raised an eyebrow. ’’That\s right don\ you have, like, two classes with him?’’

Chris ignored them, watching her. ’’Has Seth ever hassled you at school?’’

Becca froze, then tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. She had to clear her throat. ’’Not since the fight in the parking lot.’’

Chris frowned. ’’But before?’’

’’It\s nothing.’’ She shook her head quickly. ’’What are you guys going to do?’’

’’What are they going to do about what?’’ Michael said from the hallway. He put his hands on either side of the door and leaned in.

’’Nothing,’’ Nick and Chris said at once.

Gabriel flung the lighter at him, hard, with true aggression. ’’Why don\ you quit acting like you give a shit?’’

Michael caught it and flung it back. Harder. ’’Why don\ you quit acting like a smartass kid?’’

Gabriel moved to throw it back, and Becca heard him flick the lid, then saw the flare as it spun free of his hand. She sucked in a breath.

Nicholas stepped into the line of fire and snatched the lighter out of the air. He snapped it closed. ’’Come on. Not tonight.’’

Michael was already backing out of the doorway. ’’Whatever.’’ His voice was tired. ’’I\m going to bed.’’

Silence hung over the room for a moment as he moved down the hallway.

Then he called from somewhere farther in the house. ’’Send her home by midnight, Chris.’’

Becca flinched.

Gabriel rolled his eyes. ’’Stay as long as you want. He\ll turn on SportsCenter and be asleep in ten minutes.’’

’’I\m only here until my clothes are dry,’’ she said quickly.

Chris shifted against the wall. His eyes were flat now, emotionless. ’’Don\ worry. We won\ keep you any longer than necessary.’’

That wasn\ what she\d meant or was it? Did he think she was insulting him?

Something in the tenor of the room had changed. While her brain was stumbling over something appropriate to say, Chris pushed away from the wall and headed for the door. ’’Come on. I\ll turn on a movie or something for you downstairs.’’

From the sudden shift in his demeanor, she half expected him to leave her alone in their living room, but he sat on the couch at the opposite end while one of the Shrek sequels played on cable. The twins had remained upstairs.

She studied Chris, the way the light from the television played off his features.

’’You and the twins don\ get along with Michael?’’ she said.

Chris half shrugged, keeping his eyes on the television. ’’Gabriel fights with him the most. Mom used to say they\d eventually grow up and be best friends, but it sounds like a load of wishful parenting crap to me.’’

’’The twins get in a lot of fights at school, too.’’ She paused. ’’Actually, that night I helped you I thought it might have been them causing trouble.’’

Chris smiled, but it was grim. ’’Nick\s not the fighter. He just takes the fall. It\s almost always Gabriel. Part of it\s his element. They\ e all difficult to control, but fire fire is pretty awesomely destructive. It feeds his temper. I think the only reason he hasn\ picked a fight is because the coach told him he\d be benched all year if he caught him fighting again.’’

She wondered what it would be like to live with someone whose temper could start fires. Gabriel had flicked that lighter at Michael what would have happened if Nick hadn\ grabbed it out of the air?

’’So Nick\s the peacekeeper,’’ she said.

Chris snorted. ’’He always has been. Our parents died when Michael was eighteen. The courts weren\ going to give him custody. It was spring, and he hadn\ even graduated yet. He fought like hell to get it. They still send a social worker around every year to check up on us, but it used to be every frigging month. He\s a freak about making sure we don\ get in too much trouble or draw any attention.’’

Becca tried to think back to middle school. She remembered Chris, of course;had written him off as just another surly preteen floating somewhere in the rotation of classes. Her father had left then, and she\d been so wrapped up in her own family drama that she hadn\ had time for anyone else\s. She\d spent her middle school years rescuing hurt animals so she could prove to her father that she wanted to be just like him.

What a joke.

’’At least he cares,’’ she said.

Chris\s eyes narrowed. ’’Is that what it looks like? Caring?’’

She narrowed her eyes back at him. ’’At least he\s here.’’

’’Ah.’’ He settled back against the cushion and gave her a knowing look. ’’divorce?’’

Startled, she flushed, like it was something to be ashamed of. She brushed hair off her cheek, tucking it behind her ear. ’’Does it make a difference?’’

’’Yes,’’ he said evenly, holding her gaze. ’’It makes a difference.’’

She had to look away, wanting to apologize but unsure whether he deserved it.

Chris was quiet for a long while, but then he sighed. ’’I\m sorry,’’ he said. ’’That was a shitty thing to say.’’

His voice was disarming, rough and guarded and just a little bit vulnerable, his eyes wary the way they\d been in her rearview the night she rescued him.

’’Me too,’’ she said. ’’I didn\ mean your parents ’’

’’I know what you meant.’’ He looked away. ’’But Michael doesn\ give a crap what they do to us. Like the other night. I got a lecture that I shouldn\ provoke Tyler and Seth. I shouldn\ provoke them. Now they\ e breaking the deal, and they\ e threatening to call the Guides, and ’’ He broke off and ran his hands through his hair, the movement tense and agitated. ’’Do you have any idea what it\s like, to have someone treat you like shit, and then feel like it\s your own fault?’’

His eyes were midnight-blue pools in the dim room, and she felt her heart speed up. She rubbed at her neck, feeling a flush crawl up her cheeks. ’’Yeah. I do.’’

Chris drew back, watching her. He must have picked up on something in her voice. ’’You want to tell me the real deal with Drew? Or Seth?’’

She froze, unable to speak.

’’I heard a little of what went on in the driveway.’’ Chris picked at the hem of his jeans. ’’And ... what you said at lunch ’’

’’It\s nothing.’’ She swallowed hard. ’’It\s not a big deal.’’

His eyes flicked up. He said nothing, but she heard his response all the same.

I told you our secret.

Not like hers was a secret at all. ’’Didn\ Gabriel already tell you?’’ she snapped.

He hesitated and that was answer enough.

She couldn\ face him now. Becca shoved herself off the couch, hating that her throat felt tight. ’’I\m going to check on my jeans.’’

For an instant there was nothing but silence.

’’Becca. Wait.’’

She stopped short, afraid to look at him, terrified of what he might say.

’’I\ll get them.’’ Then he was on his feet, stepping around her, his movement brisk. ’’Don\ want to trap you here too long.’’

And before she could think of a retort, he was through the doorway, leaving her in silence, with nothing but second thoughts for company.

CHAPTER 17

Becca woke to the smell of coffee and the sound of pots clanging. Dishes clinking. Then water running, followed by more pots.

Her mother was scrubbing the kitchen.

That meant something had happened. Maybe the car broke down, or an unexpected bill had appeared in the mailbox, or maybe they were cutting her hours at the hospital again.

Becca rubbed at her eyes and wished she had to work today. She knew from experience that she\d be better served to just go downstairs and deal with her mother\s manic behavior right up front.

’’Such a freak,’’ Becca muttered. She dragged herself out of bed, wondering if this was her penance for getting away with last night\s adventure.


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