Storm Page 5

Quinn Briscoe had been Becca\s friend since kindergarten. She was a middle kid, smashed between two brothers: Jake was on a basketball scholarship to Duke University, the kind of son who lived on a pedestal, his name trotted out any time the other lesser children didn\ measure up. Quinn\s younger brother, Will, rebelled by refusing to participate in any kind of physical activity and he had the body to prove it.

Quinn could have been a female Jake. She\d inherited the same physical coordination as her brother, his same competitive drive. But Jake was tall and lean. Quinn came broad and stocky.

She\d never been fat just built like an athlete. Becca used to joke that Quinn could do one push-up and end up with shoulders like a linebacker. Any sports team at the school would have been glad to have her hell, the football team could probably use her.

But Quinn wanted to be a dancer.

She possessed the rhythm and the physical ability, sure. She just didn\ have the grace or the elegance or the money to do it well. She was pretty enough. Long hair? Creamy skin? Big blue eyes? Quinn had those in spades. But skinny low-rise jeans never fit her right, and little baby-doll tees looked ridiculous with her biceps. She looked like she claimed she felt: as if she didn\ fit anywhere, and what she wanted never wanted her back.

And Quinn had a temper. Fights with her mother were legendary. Frightening. The kind of knockdown, drag-out screaming matches that, once witnessed, made Becca want to run home and hug her mother.

Becca\s mom had told Mrs. Briscoe that her daughter was welcome at their house anytime, no questions. Then she\d handed Quinn a key.

This year, more often than not, Becca came home to find Quinn in her kitchen. Usually, she was dumping her troubles on Becca\s mom\s shoulder first, then spending the night. It was like inheriting a sister.

Becca wasn\ sure how she felt about that.

She padded across the linoleum to retrieve the second plate from the refrigerator. Her mom had used green beans to make a smiley face in her mashed potatoes.

Becca sighed and slid the plate into the microwave.

’’I just took a message for you,’’ said Quinn.

A message? The only person who ever called was sitting right here in the kitchen. ’’Who?’’

Quinn slid a piece of notebook paper across the table. ’’Your dad.’’

Becca stared at her friend\s loopy script. He called every six months, but every time still hit her like a sucker punch. ’’He called?’’

’’A man called and said to tell Becca that her father called. I said he had no right to call himself that, and he sighed and said to just give you the message. So I said it was my job to protect you from ass**les ’’

’’Please tell me you\ e kidding.’’

Quinn licked gravy off her spoon. ’’You know I\m just looking out for you.’’

’’Does Mom know?’’

’’Nope. She\d already left for the ER.’’

Becca stared at those numbers, as if they\d somehow shift into an essay on where he\d been this time.

Becca had been eleven when he\d left, in school and blissfully oblivious until she got off the bus that afternoon. Even then, her mom didn\ drop the bomb until that weekend. Becca still felt like an idiot believing some crap about a business trip. For days, she\d believed it.

But he was gone. He\d been gone. He\d woken up in the morning, gotten a phone call, and said he had to leave.

And then he didn\ come back.

He pretended to give a crap, calling twice a year to ask about her life, but it wasn\ like it made a difference. She used to make lists, so she could detail every accomplishment, tell him every way she\d be a perfect daughter when he came back. He made the right sounds, said the right words of encouragement, but then she\d beg him to come home, and he\d sigh and say he had things to take care of. When she\d been in middle school, it all sounded very exciting and mysterious. Like he was some kind of secret agent.

She knew now he\d played to that, strung her out on whispered conversations and empty promises.

What a kon***.

She used to keep the ringer volume all the way up so there was no way she\d miss a call because he never left a message, never left any way to get in touch with him.

Until now.

Staring down at his number, Becca wasn\ quite sure how to react.

So she crumpled up the note, tossed it into the trash can, tied up the bag, and took it out to the curb. Her heart was pounding, but she told it to knock it off.

Then she walked back into the kitchen and grabbed her plate from the microwave.

Quinn was staring at her, waiting for Becca to talk. Waiting to follow some lead.

Becca dropped into her chair. ’’So.’’ She picked up her fork. ’’What\s this drama about your mom\s candle party?’’

CHAPTER 4

Chris couldn\ breathe. A hand was clamped over his mouth, pressing his head to the pillow.

Darkness cloaked the room, but other than night, he had no concept of time. He thought of Tyler pinning his arms, holding him down while Seth threw punches. He came out of sleep with fists swinging.

He struck something. His assailant grunted. A hand caught his wrist and trapped it against the bed.

’’Jesus Christ, Chris,’’ a voice breathed into his ear. ’’It\s just me, you idiot.’’

Chris stopped fighting, and the hand came off his mouth.

’’Keep quiet,’’ Gabriel said.

Chris stared up at him, trying to make out features in the darkness. The storm still raged outside, rain slamming against the siding, wanting to be part of his panic.

’’What the hell are you doing?’’ he whispered, trying to convince his heart to slow.

Lightning flashed, lighting up Gabriel\s expression and making his eyes glow for a moment. ’’I thought maybe we\d give Tyler a little warning of our own.’’

Chris felt his heart kick back into action. ’’You\ e crazy.’’

’’Am I?’’

Said by the brother who\d just woken him by suffocation. Chris glanced at the clock on his dresser. It was half past one. ’’Just go back to bed.’’

Gabriel ruffled his hair. ’’Aw. Scared?’’

Chris knocked his hand away. ’’No.’’

’’Liar.’’

’’Thanks for the offer, but I\m not in any rush to get my ass handed to me again.’’ Chris gave him a shove. ’’Go ask Nick.’’

’’Forget it.’’ His brother backed off and stepped toward the door.

Chris sat up and rubbed at his eyes. He could count on one hand the number of times he\d been recruited for trouble. ’’Wait.’’

Gabriel waited.

’’Why are you asking me?’’

Gabriel smiled, sensing correctly that Chris was starting to waver. ’’Thought you might like a little vengeance.’’

’’You mean Nick said no.’’

’’Does it matter?’’

Chris hesitated. Did it matter?

Thunder rolled outside, and Gabriel glanced at the window. ’’It seemed like your kind of night.’’

It felt like his kind of night. The rain liked this idea. Chris felt it pulling him, drawing his focus.

He hated Tyler. He hated them all.

But he hated his own fear more.

He nodded. ’’All right.’’

’’Get dressed. Think you can rile the storm if I help?’’

Chris threw back his blankets. Rain whipped against the screen, already willing. ’’Sure,’’ he said, reaching for today\s jeans from the pile in the corner. ’’Why?’’

Lightning lit up the room. Gabriel smiled. ’’Because we need Mike\s truck.’’

Michael\s work truck sounded like an orchestra of chainsaws when Gabriel fired up the diesel engine. As soon as the rain touched his skin, Chris called to it, urging it faster, driving drops against the house until the rattle on the siding would be louder than the engine.

He kept the window of the cab open, his hand on the door. Storms liked adventure. Or maybe they liked panic. Whatever, he kept up a litany in his head, begging the rain to mask their departure.

Gabriel called lightning from the sky. Chris felt every surge, every strike, the electricity racing through his storm to find something to burn. It hit close now, as if the lightning sought his brother the way the rain looked for him.

A tree down the street took a bolt. Wood cracked and split, sounding like gunfire.

Chris glanced at the house, watching the dark upstairs windows for any sign of movement. They were rolling down the driveway in neutral, the headlights off, but any moment the porch lights could flare to life and Michael would come flying out of the house.

Chris swallowed.

Gabriel punched him in the shoulder. ’’Relax.’’

’’Try not to strike the truck. We might not be able to explain that away.’’

Lightning struck the road at the base of the driveway, not five feet in front of them. Chris jumped a mile.

Gabriel laughed. ’’Now that was just lucky.’’

Chris scowled. ’’Do we have a plan or anything? Why did we need all the fertilizer?’’

’’Because it explodes when I hit it with lightning.’’

Chris wished he were driving, because he would have stopped the truck right then. ’’Run that by me again.’’

’’What did you think we were going to do, toilet paper their house?’’

’’No but ’’

’’It\s just a little flash and bang, a warning not to screw with us. We\ e not bombing them. God, you are worse than Nicky.’’

Chris stared out the window, watching rain sluice through the darkness, making silver streamers in the path of the headlights. Gabriel drove fast, but Chris didn\ worry about losing control. No matter how slick the roads got, the water would hold them.

’’Hey.’’

Chris swung his head around. Gabriel was watching him, the humor gone from his expression now.

’’Don\ tell me,’’ said Chris. ’’You changed your mind about the bomb thing.’’

’’You know that chick\s been around the block, right?’’

Chris shrugged and looked out the window again. He hardly knew her.

She\d just saved his life.

He kept thinking of her eyes, dark and shining in the moonlight when she\d been kneeling in the parking lot.

’’No, seriously,’’ said Gabriel. ’’Like half the soccer team, some of the lacrosse guys ’’

’’I get it. Thanks.’’ Rain beat at the truck, slapping at his hand where it hung outside the window. Feeding on his irritation.

Gabriel looked at the road again. ’’I just thought you should know.’’

Then something occurred to Chris. ’’You?’’

’’Please,’’ Gabriel scoffed. Then he glanced over. ’’I mean, no offense ’’

’’It\s fine.’’

’’She\s cute and all, but I like a little more to grab, if you get my ’’

’’It\s fine.’’ But Chris smiled.

Gabriel killed the engine and the headlights when they pulled onto Tyler\s street, letting the truck roll in neutral. Chris pulled his hand inside the cab despite the water\s protest, worried the paleness of his skin would be a beacon in the darkness. He could hear his breathing again, louder than the rain outside, almost echoing inside the cab.

Gabriel was whistling through his teeth.

It sounded like an air horn to Chris.

’’How do you know they\ll explode?’’ he whispered, as though his voice would carry. He didn\ even care about the answer;he just wanted Gabriel to stop the damn whistling.

’’You kidding? Nick and I blow stuff up all the time.’’

Chris stared at him, forgetting his tension for a moment. ’’Really?’’

’’Sure.’’ Gabriel glanced over, then ruffled his hair again. ’’Feeling left out, Christopher?’’

Yeah. He was. But Chris ducked and smacked his hand away. ’’You\ve never gotten caught?’’


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