Storm Page 45

’’We\ll see what those look like when they\ e cleaned up,’’ her mother said. ’’Then we\ll talk about wrestling. Becca, can you help me get a few things from the powder room?’’

Becca frowned and followed her into the hallway. Her mom kept some of her medical stuff under the sink in the front bathroom, but it was just bandage tape and squares of gauze, nothing that required ’’help.’’ Becca probably could have gotten everything in one hand.

But her mom pointed at the commode. ’’Sit.’’

Her voice was terse. Becca sat. ’’Mom, what\s ’’

’’I knew something was going on with you, Becca, and I thought you would tell me eventually.’’ Her mom flung open the cabinet below the sink.

How could she ever explain this? Becca swallowed. ’’Look, it\s complicated ’’

’’Oh, I know it\s complicated.’’ Her mom shoved a box of gauze into her hands, followed by a tube of Neosporin. ’’I didn\ think you\d hide things from me. Not something like this.’’

Becca swallowed. ’’Mom, I just I\m still figuring it out, and ’’

’’Well, I\ve figured it out,’’ her mother said. ’’That boy is way too old for you, Becca. Do you understand me?’’

Wait a minute.

’’Mom!’’ Becca stared at her. ’’You think you think I\m dating Michael?’’

Her mom stared back at her, obviously thrown. ’’You\ e not?’’

This would be hilarious if her mom didn\ look so serious.

’’Oh my god,’’ cried Becca. ’’Are you kidding? Michael is the last person I would ever oh my god. I wouldn\ go out with him if someone paid me. Ugh, that\s just ’’

’’You know I can hear you, right?’’ called Michael.

Becca flushed. ’’I\m friends with his younger brother,’’ she whispered. ’’His much younger brother. Chris Merrick. He\s in my class.’’ She hesitated, wondering how much to tell her mother. ’’Chris and his brothers didn\ come home from the dance last night. Michael\s trying to find out where they went.’’

Her mother pulled the last of her supplies out of the cabinet. ’’Where are his parents?’’

’’They\ e dead.’’ When her mom looked up in surprise, Becca nodded. ’’Michael\s like their legal guardian or something.’’

That seemed to renew her mother\s mission to help him. Back in the kitchen, she started cleaning up Michael\s scrapes, ordering him to sit at the kitchen table, then ordering Becca to get him a plate of pancakes.

Michael glanced at the plate she slid in front of him. ’’I\m really not ’’

’’Eat,’’ her mother said. ’’You look like you\ve been up all night. Becca said your brothers never made it home after the dance?’’

He glanced at Becca. She shrugged.

’’Yeah,’’ he said. ’’The twins have stayed out all night before but Chris isn\ he\s not ’’

His voice faltered. Becca reached out and put her hand over his.

He pulled it away and stared at the table. His jaw looked set.

Becca\s mom watched this whole interaction and rubbed Neosporin into the claw marks on his forearm. ’’Must be tough, looking after three teenage boys. How long have you been on your own?’’

’’Five years.’’

’’You work?’’

Michael nodded. ’’My dad had a landscaping company.’’ ’’How nice. I love gardening.’’

Becca recognized this voice. It was her mom\s let-me-distract-you tone. But maybe her mother sensed Michael\s mood, because she glanced up. ’’I\m sure your brothers will turn up. Boys do tend to get into a lot of scrapes. We had a couple teenagers from that dance in the ER last night, but no car accidents, no John Does, even.’’

Becca perked up. ’’Who came in?’’ she asked, though she had a pretty good idea.

’’You know I can\ tell you that. No one by the name of Merrick.’’ Her mom moved to the sink to wet a paper towel. ’’Looked like a drug overdose, anyway. They were in bad shape.’’ She came back to the table and started to blot at the cut over Michael\s eye. He winced.

’’Eat,’’ she said. ’’You\ll hurt my feelings.’’

He picked up his fork and cut a piece of pancake. ’’Smiley faces?’’ he said, spearing some with his fork.

’’Mom gets into her cooking,’’ said Becca.

Michael must have liked the pancakes. He cut another piece. ’’I forgot what that was like.’’

’’Cooking?’’ she said.

He didn\ look up. ’’Having a mother.’’

His words hung in the silence for a moment. He was such a jerk that Becca had never considered what it must be like to be Michael, to graduate from high school and instead of heading off to college, have to stay home, take over his father\s business, and finish raising his three brothers.

’’Did you go back to the school?’’ her mother said. ’’See if their car is still there?’’

’’It is.’’ He glanced at Becca. ’’When did you last see Chris?’’

’’Late,’’ she said. ’’But he was on the soccer field.’’ She gave a meaningful glance at her mother.

If Michael saw it, he didn\ acknowledge it. ’’I\ll go back. Look around.’’

’’I\ll come with you,’’ said Becca.

Michael jerked his head up in surprise then his eyes narrowed in suspicion. ’’Why?’’

’’Because I care,’’ she snapped.

’’It\s not a bad idea,’’ her mom said. ’’Bex could show you where she saw them last. You\ll probably find them sleeping off a hangover under the bleachers.’’

’’Probably,’’ echoed Becca. ’’Let me go get dressed.’’

She felt Michael watching her, but she couldn\ look back. She remembered those bolts of lightning on the field, the way the power had flared in the air and brushed against her skin. She remembered the smell of fear and rain and scorched earth.

If they found anyone on the field, they definitely wouldn\ be hungover.

They\d be dead.

CHAPTER 35

Becca pulled on jeans, a tee shirt, and a long-sleeved hoodie to combat the chill in the air. She worried about how the drive would go, considering her history with Michael. Once they were on the road, she realized she shouldn\ have bothered.

He didn\ say a word.

Halfway to school, she couldn\ take it anymore. She\d rather listen to him snipe at her than suffer this silence she could only fill with worry.

’’How did you know where I live?’’ she asked.

Michael glanced over at her. His window was down, his arm on the ledge. The wind pulled strands of hair from his ponytail, and he needed a shave.

’’You made a path,’’ he said.

She rolled that around in her head for a second. ’’Are you deliberately being cryptic?’’

’’No.’’ He looked at her as if she was deliberately being stupid. ’’Chris told you what we are, right?’’

’’I think I got the CliffsNotes version.’’

He turned back to the road. ’’You\ve been to the house several times. Once you lay a path, the ground starts to remember you. If you\d only been to the house once, I wouldn\ have been able to do it.’’

’’So I guess you can\ bitch about me showing up unannounced anymore.’’

’’I guess I can\ ,’’ he conceded.

’’You going to tell me what really happened to you?’’

He was silent so long she wasn\ sure he was going to answer. But then he said, ’’I\m not sure. Someone came after us. I felt the power in the woods behind the house.’’

’’When?’’

’’Just before midnight maybe? I didn\ check my watch. I was able to run him off, so I thought it was Tyler or one of his buddies, and then the guys never came home... .’’ He shrugged and let his voice trail off, but she heard everything he wasn\ saying.

Before midnight. That was later than when the Guide had attacked them on the field.

But also after Hunter left the school for an ’’emergency.’’ Becca couldn\ get Chris\s question out of her head.

Just what do you know about him anyway?

The school was deserted, but some of the Homecoming decorations were still stuck to the glass doors of the gymnasium, red and blue decals that had started to peel after the storm last night. Cigarette butts littered the ground around the flagpole.

’’Can you do that tracking thing to find them?’’ she asked.

Michael shook his head. ’’I already tried. There were too many people here.’’

’’Come on,’’ she said. ’’I last saw Chris on the soccer field.’’

He followed her, striding silently by her side. True to form, he didn\ say a word. He just stopped about thirty feet from the bleachers, dropping to a knee to touch his hand to the ground. ’’This is where you last saw Chris?’’

’’Ah ... yeah.’’

He glanced up. ’’What were you doing out here?’’

’’Nothing. Just talking.’’

’’I don\ buy that for a minute.’’

She flushed and hugged her arms against her body. ’’We did. I don\ care if you believe me or ’’

’’Fine. Then it must have been one hell of a conversation.’’ Michael gestured. ’’Come here. Touch the ground.’’

She squatted and pressed her fingertips through the grass and into the dirt. At first she felt nothing but mud, cold and gritty, sliding below her fingers.

Then awareness crawled up her arm.

Her brain couldn\ quite comprehend what she felt. Not words more like things that wanted to be words. Like a foreign language she\d studied years ago and could barely remember. She could almost piece it together, but the concepts kept evading her, turning from wisps of thought into coils of something darker.

Whatever it was, the longer she kept her fingers planted in the earth, the less she liked it.

She yanked her fingers back, feeling her breath quicken. Her heart was already racing in her chest. ’’What just happened?’’

’’You see why I\m not buying the \we just talked\ crap.’’

’’Chris saved me,’’ she said, talking quickly because the words wanted to escape her lips. ’’Some guys they were they were ’’

’’I get it.’’ His voice was even. ’’There\s blood here.’’

’’There was a fight. Just boys from school. Chris we ran them off. But something happened. Lightning started chasing us across the field or I don\ know.’’ Again, she didn\ have the right words. ’’But when it started, he gave me his cell phone and told me to get his brothers.’’

’’Jesus, Becca.’’ Michael set his jaw and looked off across the field, then back at her. ’’I\m his brother, too.’’

She flushed as guilt smacked her in the face. ’’I know. I\m sorry.’’

Michael punched the ground, and the field between them cracked and split like a windshield hit by a rock. She scrambled back a few feet, but he was looking out at the trees now. ’’I could have helped them. I could have ’’ He punched the ground again. ’’Where are they?’’

’’I should have called you last night,’’ she said, hearing pain behind the fury in his voice. ’’I just he told me to text the twins, and they were able to chase off the Guide at the bridge, so I thought ’’

’’Stop.’’ His eyes locked on hers. ’’Run that by me again.’’

’’Last Monday, when the Guide destroyed the bridge ’’ She stared at him for a long minute. ’’They never told you.’’

’’No,’’ he said, his tone resigned. ’’But you can.’’

So she talked, going back to the morning she\d found the first pentagram on her door. She gave him every detail about the Guide she could remember, right up to the bolts of lightning last night, to the way the rain had turned to daggers on her cheeks. Then she had to back up and tell him about the night at the party, the way Chris had dragged her into the water, the way Tyler came after them with a gun.


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