Storm Page 42

’’You keep saving me,’’ she said.

’’Yeah, well.’’ He stroked the hair down her back. ’’I think we might be close to breaking even on that.’’

She laughed, just a little.

A siren sliced the night air, not too distant. Becca sobered. ’’What do you think happened to them?’’

Chris had heard Drew\s scream, had seen him writhing on the ground, clutching at his chest. Seth hadn\ looked much better. Drugs? Too much beer? The cold? Chris had no idea, but maybe someone with some medical training had called an ambulance.

He hoped the medics took their time.

’’Who cares?’’ he said. He should have kicked that stupid prick in the head while he was lying there. ’’We should walk back so we can tell someone ’’

’’No.’’ Her fingers clutched at his shirt.

’’Becca.’’ He breathed her name against her hair. ’’Becca, we have to.’’

’’Drew didn\ rape me.’’

Chris touched her face. He didn\ think there\d been time but if he\d showed up five minutes later, she might be telling a completely different story. ’’Just because he stopped doesn\ mean we shouldn\ ’’

’’No, Chris. Before.’’ Now she wasn\ looking at him. She swiped rain from her cheeks and took a deep shuddering breath. ’’He never raped me.’’

Her voice sounded fragile, so he waited, letting the rain fall. ’’I liked him,’’ she said. ’’Really liked him. He did that stupid pre-season soccer camp in August you know the one for the varsity players?’’

Chris nodded. The only reason Gabriel hadn\ done it was because summer was Michael\s busiest time with the landscaping company and they needed all the help they could get.

’’I watched the whole thing,’’ she said. Her voice sounded close to breaking. ’’I hate soccer, and I watched every practice, every stupid scrimmage, hanging around Drew like some vapid groupie. Right before school started, they had this party, and when he asked me, of course I went.’’ She started to draw away, and Chris let her go.

She pushed wet hair off her face and looked up at him. ’’Pathetic, right?’’

He shook his head. ’’You\ e not pathetic.’’

’’Yeah. Well.’’ She swiped at her eyes again. ’’I was. They were drinking, so I started drinking. I\m such an idiot do you know I felt special that I was the only girl there? And when Drew started kissing me, I thought I was so, so lucky. I never wanted it to end.’’

The rain started to change, responding to Chris\s temper.

Becca shivered and hunched down in his jacket. ’’So then he told me to kiss Tommy. He said it would be hot. And you know what, Chris? I did it. I did it because I liked Drew, and I wanted him to like me. Tommy stuck his hand up my shirt and I let him do it. And then Drew was unbuttoning my pants, and I kept letting him ’’ Her voice broke, and she started crying again, her hands clutched to her stomach.

Chris moved forward, to hold her, to stop her, to save her.

She jerked back from him. ’’Don\ you see? I kept letting them do it, and when I wanted them to stop, it was just too late. They were all touching me, and I just couldn\ make them stop, but I\d started ’’

’’Jesus, Becca.’’ Chris grabbed her shoulders. ’’It was not your fault. Do you understand me? This was not. Your. Fault.’’

She wasn\ even looking at him. ’’I don\ even think they knew I was fighting them. There were just so many. I think I was hyperventilating. But Drew put his hands down my pants, and I threw up when he when he touched me.’’ She gave a choked sob. ’’I guess that killed the mood because they threw me out of the party.’’

Chris would kill them. The rain was turning to sleet again.

’’It wasn\ your fault,’’ he said, pulling her forward. He put his hands on her face, making her look at him. ’’Becca, it wasn\ your fault.’’

’’I didn\ tell anyone,’’ she said. ’’Even Quinn doesn\ know all of it. I just school was starting, and I wanted to pretend it never happened. But then he told everyone everyone ’’

’’I know,’’ he whispered. ’’Becca.’’

She dropped her head against his shoulder. ’’I\m so stupid, Chris.’’

’’You\ e not stupid. Look at me.’’ When she didn\ , he pushed her back so he could look at her. The darkness kept most of her face in shadow, but he could feel every drop of water on her skin. ’’Look at me.’’

’’I am looking at you,’’ she whispered.

He put his hands on her face, his thumbs tracing the contours of her cheekbones, feeling raindrops thrill under the weight of his palms. ’’You\ e the bravest girl I\ve ever met,’’ he said. ’’I\ve thought that since the night you helped me.’’

’’Brave,’’ she scoffed, though there was a sob mixed in there. ’’I\m hiding in a field ’’

’’You\ e brave. I\m living proof. And you\ e smart. That day you showed up in our driveway? Michael handed you that clipboard to screw with you. He knew you had no idea what that stuff was. But you picked it up and ran with it. Do you know I heard him mock Nick about it?’’ He dropped his voice to a gruff imitation of his oldest brother. ’’ \Girl off the street loaded the truck in half the time you take.\ ’’

Her mouth twitched. A smile? She started to push his hands away. ’’Chris ’’

’’And you\ e strong. Or did someone else break that guy\s nose tonight?’’

She went still. ’’I broke his nose?’’

Chris really had no idea. But she was listening, so he went with it. ’’It should have been his neck.’’

Her voice got dark. ’’It should have been Drew\s neck.’’

Chris smiled. There was his girl. ’’You\ e kind,’’ he said. ’’You took those notes for me even though I\d been a total prick.’’

She made a face. He felt it. ’’You probably didn\ even read them ’’

’’I read them. Every word.’’ Okay, he might have skimmed some of it. It was World History, after all.

But now she was in the present, with him, not trapped in some horrible memory. He had her attention. He loved the feel of her face between his hands, could stand here with her in the rain all night.

’’You\ e beautiful,’’ he said softly. ’’Innocent.’’

The word made her flinch. ’’I\m not ’’

’’Yes,’’ he said, feeling anger leak into his voice. ’’You are. Just because a few idiots treat you like ... like that doesn\ mean you have any idea what it\s supposed to be like.’’

She went still again.

He moved closer, bringing his face down to hers so he could speak low, through the rain. ’’You\ e not stupid, Becca. Not at all.’’ He paused. ’’I am.’’


He felt her breath on his face when she spoke. Pure torture.

’’Because,’’ he said. ’’I can\ stop thinking about you. I fell for you the night you drove me home. I just didn\ do anything about it. And then you started dating some stupid tool who couldn\ figure out that letting you go with Drew was a bad idea.’’

She stood frozen, her eyes barely gleaming in the shadowed field. ’’Chris ’’

’’It\s okay,’’ he said. It was better this way. He and his brothers probably weren\ going to last the week. ’’I just wanted you to know that you\ e better than what you think you are. Don\ let Drew define you, Becca.’’

Thunder cracked, wind streaking across the field. She jumped, and he caught her.

’’Just a storm,’’ he said, glad for the distraction. He didn\ want to hear some gentle letdown and that wasn\ what his little speech had been about anyway.

The raindrops fell heavier. He\d been gone forever. His brothers were going to be flipping out. ’’We should walk back.’’

Silence hung between them for a moment. Then she nodded. ’’All right.’’

But when he turned to walk, she caught his hand and held it.

’’If I tell the cops,’’ she said, ’’will you go with me?’’

’’Yeah.’’ Thunder cracked again, and her grip tightened. He glanced down at her. ’’You\ll be all right, Becca.’’

She nodded.

The rain began to fall harder, heavy drops that rolled down his cheeks. He was so focused on Becca that it took him a minute to realize each drop felt thick with power.

And it wasn\ his power.

Lightning struck near the edge of the field, still a good distance off, but lightning on its own looked for something to strike. Lightning hitting the ground meant someone was giving it direction.

Chris straightened, thinking of Hunter\s trick in the gym. He stared out into the darkness, willing the shadows to reveal more than just an absence of light. He hadn\ wanted to hurry Becca, but now he did. He tugged at her hand. ’’Speaking of our local narc, just what do you know about him?’’

’’Hunter?’’ Her head lifted. She must have heard the note of danger in his voice. ’’Why? What happened?’’

He opened his mouth to respond but lightning struck the ground ten feet in front of them. Chris had never seen Gabriel call lightning of this force, a solid pillar of electricity bolting into the ground.

Becca had practically attached herself to his arm. Chris spun, looking for an attacker, dragging her with him.

He saw nothing.

Lightning hit closer, about eight feet to their left.

He swore, yanking her with him as he backpedaled across the field.

’’Do something!’’ she cried. ’’Can\ you build a wall of ice, or ’’

’’Are you kidding?’’ he said. ’’I\m not an X-Man! This is ’’

Crack. Lightning bolt, right where they\d been standing. Becca screamed.

He needed Nick, so they could move the storm. Or Gabriel, to harness some of this lightning. The rain refused to listen to him, and by himself, he was at his weakest. Hell, he\d probably helped this guy by warming the rain, changing the air temperature enough to bring the storm this way.

He was going to die and he\d be taking Becca down with him.

’’Run,’’ he said, trying to pry her hands off his arm. ’’Run for the school.’’

’’Are you crazy ’’

’’Becca, run! He wants me, not you.’’ He pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and thrust it into her hand. ’’Text Gabriel when you get to the school tell him what\s ’’

Thunder cut him off. Lightning struck. She ran. Chris watched her streak across the field until the darkness swallowed her up.

And here he was, standing in the middle of an acre of grass.

He couldn\ run to the school this guy had already proven he wasn\ afraid to take out innocent bystanders. Chris didn\ want to think what would happen if a lightning strike of this magnitude hit the gym.

Then he realized he wasn\ thinking in the right direction. Curtis Creek ran along the back of the school property, a forty-foot-wide stretch of water that wasn\ much of a creek at all but more of a river.

He\d be safe in the water. If he could get to it.

Chris ran.

Ten seconds told him this was a bad idea. The grass grabbed his feet, tried to slow him down.

He begged the rain for strength, for power. Every step was a struggle.

Not to mention the lightning piercing the earth. He dodged hard, losing his footing more than once.

Was this field a mile long? God, he felt like he wore a target on his back.

The grass underfoot changed, becoming thicker, less manicured. He\d left the soccer fields, and soon he\d be crashing through a few dense copses of trees;then he\d find the creek beyond. He was running hard, despite his speed. If he wasn\ careful, his foot would find a root

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