Storm Page 4

And behind him, on the second floor, Chris\s face in a window, watching the whole thing.

Her breath caught. She pulled to get free, but Michael\s grip was secure. ’’Just wait a minute,’’ he said. ’’I\m not going to ’’

Thunder broke again. Rain poured down, slicking her skin.

She felt stronger suddenly, invigorated by the chill in the rain. She fought Michael, wrestling against his hold. Her arm slid through his hand as if the water pried him loose. Her feet found traction as the mud thickened, and she was suddenly five feet away. Then ten, her feet on the pavement.

She flung the back door open and jumped into the backseat of her car, grabbing for the handle to lock herself in. Her hand jammed the lock down, and she scrambled over the center console to get into the driver\s seat.

The key was firing the ignition when she realized Michael hadn\ pursued her. He was already back on the porch, standing in the light of the doorway.

Chris was no longer in the window. Rain pounded on the windshield.

Her breath was shaking.

No one was coming after her.

He\d grabbed her, right? Come after her in the kitchen?

Or had she misread a situation again? She watched;they were ignoring her now, filing back through the front door of the house as if she\d left like a normal guest.

So she put the car in gear and backed down the driveway.

CHAPTER 3

Chris lay in the dark and listened to the rain strike the house. Breathing hurt. Everything hurt. He didn\ bother to strip the wet clothes from his body, and he\d left his windows open so he could inhale the dampness in the air. The rain called to him, each drop begging him to join the downpour, whispering promises he didn\ quite understand yet.

But the house was quiet. His brothers were quiet. Solitude and silence were precious things, and he\d cling to them as long as possible. Experience told him it wouldn\ be long.

Rain came through the screen, droplets collecting on the wood surface of his desk.

An invitation.

’’Later,’’ he said.

God, was that his voice? He sounded like a ninety-year-old chain-smoker.

His doorknob turned slowly, and Chris sighed, listening to each click of the knob until the door swung open. A triangle of light from the hallway arced across the back wall of his bedroom, but he didn\ bother to turn his head.

He knew it was Michael before his brother spoke. ’’I thought you might have fallen asleep.’’

Chris didn\ say anything. He stared at the ceiling and waited for the reprimand that was sure to come. For the fight, for using his abilities, for helping Becky.

Becca. He smiled.

’’What are you smiling at?’’

That killed it. ’’Nothing.’’ Chris lifted a hand. ’’Say your piece and get out.’’

Michael hesitated.

Chris hated this. This distance, this parental posturing. He could still remember the summer he\d turned nine, when Michael had just gotten his driver\s license. His brother hadn\ taken friends for his first drive, he hadn\ taken the twins, who were older and sharper and got everything they wanted. He\d taken Chris. They\d driven fast, clinging to curves on the back roads all the way to Annapolis. Then they\d sat on the hood of Dad\s truck and drunk sodas and watched boats on the Severn River.

He used to think Michael walked on water.

Now he mostly thought he was an ass**le.

His brother stepped into the room. Chris felt him move close, but he kept his eyes fixed on the ceiling. When Michael wound up for a lecture, it was usually agonizing. Maybe he\d actually sit on the corner of the bed or something, just for effect.

But Michael remained standing, and his voice was low. ’’You want to sit out back for a while?’’

Chris swung his head to the side and his vision swam for a moment. When his eyes decided to focus, they looked up at his brother. With the light at his back, Michael\s face was in shadow, his brown eyes very dark, the way their mother\s had been. The rest of them had blue eyes, like their father.

When their parents died, Chris hated waking in the middle of the night, wanting his mother, finding no comfort in his older brother. He\d resented seeing those eyes in Michael\s face, and finding nothing he needed in them.

Michael was still waiting for an answer. ’’Come on,’’ he said. ’’I\ll sit with you.’’

The rain had formed a puddle along the edge of the desk. Pleading.

Chris nodded. ’’All right.’’

The twins sat in the kitchen, textbooks scattered across the table. Nick was working, while Gabriel rocked back in a chair, eating cookies and heckling his brother.

When they came through the kitchen doorway, Gabriel stopped short. The legs of his chair hit the ground.

’’That son of a bitch,’’ he said. Lightning flashed in the panels of sky visible through the window over the sink.

Chris gave him half a smile because a full one hurt. ’’You should see the other guy.’’

’’Oh, I\m going to see him in a pile of broken bones. Here. Have a cookie.’’

Chris shook his head, and his vision swam again.

Michael caught his arm. ’’You need to sit down.’’

Chris jerked away from him. It hurt more than it should have, and he had to grab the back of one of the kitchen chairs. ’’I\ve got it.’’

Nicholas had set his pencil down and was watching him. Chris didn\ find any pity in his expression;Nick was good like that. ’’Where\d they find you?’’

Chris looked out the window again. He\d stayed to watch Gabriel\s practice, packing his things when the sky promised rain and the coach called for the players to take a long run. They lived three miles from school, but he\d never minded the walk.

Or he never had until tonight.

’’Behind the school,’’ he finally said.

’’They come looking?’’

Chris started to nod, then thought better of it when his vision swam. ’’Yeah. They said they\ e calling the Guides.’’

’’They always say that,’’ said Nick.

’’I think this time they might mean it.’’

’’They won\ ,’’ said Michael. ’’They made a deal. We keep it, they keep it.’’

’’They keep it, my ass.’’ Gabriel rocked back in his chair again. His eyes were on Michael, his voice acidic, full of judgment. ’’How long are you going to let them keep pulling this?’’

’’Don\ start.’’ Michael gave Gabriel\s chair a good push, setting it straight. He pointed to the pile of notebooks. ’’Work.’’

Gabriel shoved back from the table, a motion full of promised violence. ’’What, you only have a pair when it comes to chasing a girl out of the house?’’

Chris sighed and let go of the chair to turn for the back door. No one stopped him.

The air was cold, and the rain felt good on his bruised face. He gingerly pulled off his tee shirt and eased into one of the wooden Adirondack chairs. If he was patient, if he lay there long enough, the rain would offer to fix his injuries, would pull the bruises from his skin and feed him strength. He usually got sick of waiting and tried to force it. That just left him exhausted and pissed off, and he hurt too much to bother with it now. Michael said control would come, with time.

If Tyler and his buddies didn\ kill him first.

Chris didn\ hear the sliding door, but the rain told him when Michael stepped onto the porch.

He didn\ bother to look over. ’’Fight over that fast?’’

Michael dropped into the chair beside him. ’’We didn\ fight.’’ Chris didn\ buy that for a minute. ’’You got it all out of your system with Becca?’’

’’Who is she, Chris?’’

Chris kept his eyes on the clouds overhead and replayed the events in the parking lot. Becca had been kneeling over him, pouring water across his face. He\d come up swinging, sure they were bringing him around to finish him off. Water was all too happy to lend itself to fury she\d been lucky he didn\ knock her flat. Or worse.

Chris shook his head slightly. ’’She\s nobody. Just a girl.’’

’’I think you should stay away from her.’’

’’Looks like you already took care of that for me.’’

’’You know what I mean.’’ Michael paused. ’’I don\ like her story.’’

’’Well,’’ said Chris, turning his head to the side. ’’You weren\ there.’’

That one hit its target. Michael was silent for the longest moment. ’’What do you want me to do, Chris?’’

Something. Anything. Chris looked back up at the clouds, keeping his eyes open to the rain. ’’Nothing, Michael.’’

His brother rolled back in the chair, staring up at the same dark sky, letting the downpour soak him, too. The rain didn\ talk to him, but Chris knew Michael felt something when the drops struck the earth.

’’I hate this,’’ Chris finally said.

’’I know.’’

’’We\ e stronger than they are.’’

’’That\s the problem. You know that.’’ Michael paused. ’’Don\ let them bait you.’’

Chris pointed to his face. ’’Is that what this is? Baiting me?’’

’’Damn it, Chris. They want you to lose control. You know that, right?’’

He did know that. Didn\ Michael know he knew that?

’’I want to leave,’’ said Chris.

Michael sighed, a sound full of oh-not-this-again. ’’And go where? Just how long do you think we could stay hidden? We\ e not little kids anymore, Chris. If we move into another community, they\ll report us for sure.’’

Chris scowled. ’’Then let\s go somewhere there\s no community.’’

’’Oh. Great idea. Where\s that?’’

’’Shut up. We don\ need them. We don\ need ’’

’’We don\ need what? A house? School? You want to move to the middle of the woods somewhere and just live off the land?’’

Yeah. He did. If that was the tradeoff, he\d take it.

Chris stared out at the darkness and didn\ say anything.

Michael rolled his eyes. ’’Okay, Chris. Whatever.’’

Some of the tightness in his chest was loosening, making it hard to maintain his anger. He could feel it now, the rain tracing along his shoulders, feeding relief into his muscles.

’’You want me to just leave you alone?’’ said Michael.

No. He didn\ . He wanted Michael to sit here and tell him that this time they\d stand up to them, that they would show Tyler and all those freaks just who they were messing with.

But Michael would never do that.

’’Yeah,’’ Chris said. ’’I\m tired.’’

Chris heard him shift to stand, but he didn\ look over. His brother was watching him;he could feel it.

But Michael just sighed and moved toward the door. ’’Me too, kid. Me too.’’

Her mom would flip out if she found mud tracked across the front hall, so Becca trudged through the grass to the back door and let herself in through the laundry room.

Her best friend was sitting at the kitchen table, pawing through a magazine. A half-empty dinner plate sat in front of her. Becca wasn\ surprised to see her any time Quinn had trouble with her mother, she ended up here. An untouched pile of stuffing and a small slice of turkey were left on the plate, but all the vegetables and most of the protein were gone.

’’Hey.’’ Becca struggled to kick off her shoes.

Quinn lifted her eyes from the magazine. ’’You walk home or something? Why do you look like that?’’

Becca considered reviewing the course of the night\s events. The fight. The drive to Chris\s house. His weird brothers.

Too complicated. ’’Long story. Is that my dinner?’’

Quinn speared the last piece of turkey and slid it into her mouth. ’’Your mom left two plates.’’

Of course she did. ’’She already leave for work?’’

’’Yep. Off to save lives, one dumbass at a time.’’


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