Storm Page 7

’’Lemme go,’’ Gabriel ground out. ’’Damn it, Chris, lemme ’’

’’Chill out.’’ Now Chris wished Gabriel had ridden in the SUV. Nick was better at countering his twin\s rage. ’’Both of you. We\ e almost home.’’

But getting home solved nothing. Gabriel wrenched free and shoved out the door before the truck came to a full stop in the driveway.

’’Wait a minute,’’ Michael called. ’’Don\ think this is over.’’ He hustled to get the truck in park and slid out of the cab.

Chris swiped the water off his cheeks and followed his brothers.

Nick killed the SUV behind the truck. ’’What was that about back there?’’ he called, slamming his door.

’’Just your brother having a tantrum,’’ Michael yelled back. He\d almost caught up to Gabriel, and he reached out a hand to grab his arm. ’’Running? Who\s the pu**y now?’’

Gabriel swung around and punched him.

Michael hit him back.

Chris didn\ realize he\d stopped short until Nick appeared at his side. He could hear their breathing, too quick, a rush of air mixed with the rain and the thunder of his pulse. Chris shifted his weight, wanting to interfere, he just didn\ know who to help.

Lightning hit a tree behind the house. Thunder cracked and branches fell.

Chris felt it through the rain. That lightning wanted a target.

Another bolt pierced the ground like a spear of light, hitting somewhere between them and Michael. Another struck the very edge of the porch railing. A small fire flared to life, crawling along the strip of wood.

Chris swore and begged the rain for help. It poured and doused the fire.

’’It\s too much,’’ said Nick. ’’He can\ control it.’’ He started forward.

Lightning struck right in front of them. Chris grabbed Nick\s arm and jerked him back. He suddenly felt like a sitting duck.

Michael had Gabriel pinned now, trapped against the ground. Lightning dove through the sky to strike three feet from Michael\s shoulder. It sizzled into the grass and lit up the front yard for a moment.

Nick pulled free. ’’Damn it, Michael, let him up!’’

Michael swore, staring down at Gabriel. ’’Try that again and see what I do to you.’’

’’F*k you,’’ said Gabriel. His eyes lit with fury.

Nick grabbed Michael\s arm and pulled. Chris helped. It must have given Gabriel the leverage he needed, because he shoved his brother off him and into the grass.

But Gabriel was still drawing power from the storm. Chris could feel it, the way rage coiled in the air, ready to pounce.

’’Stop!’’ cried Nick. ’’Gabriel ’’

They wouldn\ be fast enough. Chris threw his weight against Michael and shoved, driving his brothers back a few feet through the mud.

Lightning sliced through the night to strike right where they\d been.

Right where Michael had been.

Gabriel had found his feet, and stood back from the paved walkway, his hands still in fists. His breathing was quick, his eyes dark. Michael stood beside Nick, closer to the porch, his stance tight, ready for Gabriel to make a move.

Chris clung to the darkness by the driveway, having no idea whose side he was on.

After a moment, Michael straightened. ’’Was that on purpose?’’

Gabriel stared right back at him, baring his teeth a bit. ’’Does it matter?’’

’’Yeah,’’ said Nick. He sounded pissed. ’’It does.’’

Some of the arrogance leaked out of Gabriel\s expression. His shoulders dropped. He glanced at Nick, then at Chris, as if assessing damages.

Then his eyes swung back to Michael. ’’Not all of it.’’

Michael drew himself up, as if readying for another fight.

But Gabriel didn\ move. ’’You\ e not our father.’’ His voice was low, even, punctuated by the rain. Lightning flashed somewhere in the sky.

Michael flinched almost imperceptibly, but Gabriel saw it and smiled.

Nick went to his twin\s side. ’’Stop. Just come inside.’’

Gabriel shrugged him off and started for Michael, stopping right in front of him. ’’You\d make a shitty father, anyway,’’ he said. ’’But that\s okay. That\s not what you\ e supposed to be.’’

Michael held his ground. ’’Yeah? Just what am I supposed to be?’’

Gabriel gave a humorless laugh and turned for the house. ’’Come on, guys.’’

’’Hey!’’ Michael\s tone was sharp. ’’Just what am I supposed to be?’’

Gabriel turned in the doorway. ’’Our brother, ass**le. Our brother.’’

He walked into the house, Nick right behind him.

Chris looked at Michael, standing there in the rain. Michael looked back.

Then Chris broke the eye contact, walked past him, and followed the twins.


Chris wasn\ in school on Thursday. He was noticeably absent from Becca\s third-period English Lit class, and he wasn\ in fourth-period World History, either. He wouldn\ be missing much. Mr. Beamis looked like he could have been there when they commissioned the Model T, and his class usually gave her a chance to do a Wite-Out manicure.

But today brought a new student to the front of the room, and Becca raised her eyes from her nails. Old Man Beamis did a clear double take.

Make that a triple take. The teacher put a hand on the edge of his desk.

The new kid was a lot to look at. He\d certainly crossed that line from boy to young man, with a defined jaw, high cheekbones, lean, muscled arms, and not an ounce of baby fat all pros. Sandy blond hair drifted across his forehead, broken by a clean streak of white, right in the center of his bangs.

Who dyes their hair white? she wondered.

But it didn\ stop there: One ear had piercings all the way up. The other only sported two the same number in his left eyebrow. Green eyes matched the tee shirt he wore, staring unflinchingly at the students watching him. His black jeans hung loose, suspended by a chafed leather belt. About fifteen bracelets encircled one arm, crude loops of twine that each held a small rock of a different color. He had a few small tattoos on his forearms, and one on the side of his neck. They looked like foreign symbols, the kind girls got on spring break, something that was supposed to be meaningful in one word, like peace or wisdom but really said Do me.

Beamis read the note the kid handed him, but didn\ bother to introduce him to the class. God forbid someone should interrupt his lecture. He hurriedly shooed him to the empty chair in the middle of the room Chris\s usual seat. It was one row over and two desks down from Becca. The new kid dropped into the chair, and his backpack dropped to the floor beside him. She could see the marking on his neck now not Asian, but no language she could identify. She could also see a black ring on one finger, a twine ring on another.

Tommy Dunleavy who sat two rows over and liked to flick suggestive notes onto Becca\s desk coughed, ’’Fag!’’

The boy didn\ react, just pulled a blue spiral notebook out of his backpack. Then a pen.

Tommy tried again, his cough a little louder, his epithet a little meaner.

The boy clicked his pen. Beamis, oblivious, picked up his chalk.

Jeremy Blakehurst, Tommy\s best friend, picked up the cough. ’’Fag!’’ He also flicked a paper clip. It struck the boy\s shoulder and pinged off the edge of another desk.

Some people nearby snickered. A few girls near the back corner giggled and whispered.

The boy didn\ turn around. But he did set his pen down.

Tommy bent a paper clip so the prongs stuck out, then used a rubber band to fashion a slingshot.

He didn\ even bother with the cough this time. ’’Hey. Fag.’’ Then he drew back the paper clip and let it fly.

The boy whipped around. His hand shot out to snatch the paper clip from the air.

There was a collective gasp from every student who\d been watching Becca included. Beamis droned on.

The boy\s hand had formed a fist around the paper clip, and for a fractured moment, Becca thought he was going to take a swing, that they\d have a throwdown right here in the middle of World History.

But he half rose from his seat and reached across another student\s desk to drop the mangled paper clip in front of Tommy.

’’Look, dude,’’ he said, his voice low and earnest. ’’You want to ask me out, you man up and do it proper.’’

Everybody laughed including Jeremy. Tommy shoved the clip off his desk and fumed.

The new kid drew back to sit in his chair again. On his way there, he caught Becca watching him and smiled.

She was so startled she didn\ smile back.

Then Beamis asked a question and turned from the blackboard. The new kid was already facing forward, a pen on his notebook.

A tiny triangle of lined paper fell on her desk. Tommy Dunleavy was hiding a smirk.

Becca didn\ want to unroll it, but somehow not knowing was always worse. So she did.

You give Happy Ending?

She crumpled it in her fist and wanted to punch Tommy. She wished she had a witty comeback, some shred of the new boy\s easy charisma. Something that would make the rest of the class laugh and side with her.

But the new kid was just that a clean slate.

Becca had no chance of that.

Since school started, she and Quinn had sat alone for lunch, at one of the shorter tables near the back stairwell. It was a lesser location, farthest from the main hallway and the line for food, somewhat hidden behind one of the support columns. Last year they\d spent every lunch with Drew and his jock buddies, and Becca would giggle and blush while Drew ate half her food. She and Quinn had never been popular before Drew showed interest in her. They had loved the attention.

What a waste.

The rain beat an incessant rhythm on the school windows, keeping everyone indoors, turning the cafeteria into a mob scene. Standing in line was just another opportunity to get hassled, so she and Quinn usually just nursed bottled waters. On a day like today, every seat was valuable, and two physics geeks were scribbling notes at the other end of their table.

Becca thought they were doing homework, until she realized they were plotting out some online role-playing game.

Quinn rolled her eyes at them. ’’Jesus, Bex, you think we can get them to go back to Mordor?’’

One of the kids glared at her. ’’Shut it, Quinn. Why don\ you go eat in the bathroom with the rest of the freaks?’’

Becca sighed and twisted her water bottle in her hands. It had already gone lukewarm. She watched the rain coat the windows and started to peel the label off her bottle. Fourteen more minutes of ’’lunch.’’

As usual, she was starving.

’’Sorry, precioussss,’’ said Quinn. ’’Why don\ you go eat in the lab with the rest of the losers?’’

’’Wow. This sounds like a friendly table.’’

Becca snapped her head up. Chris Merrick stood there, beside Quinn, holding a lunch tray. He wore an unbuttoned plaid shirt over a blue tee. The swelling around his eye had subsided, but the bruising along his cheekbone was downright spectacular. His hair barely covered the scabbing at his temple.

Actually, he looked surprisingly good, considering the damage he\d taken. The shirt made his eyes look bluer, sharp and intuitive and fixed on her face.

Her heart kicked. ’’Um,’’ she said. ’’Hi?’’

He dropped the loaded tray beside Quinn, then swung a leg over the bench to sit down.

Every person at the table stared at him.

He picked up a fry, glancing around. He offered the physics kids half a smile. ’’ \Sup.’’

Quinn dragged her eyes back to Becca\s. ’’Why is Chris Merrick sitting next to me?’’

Chris popped the cap on his soda. ’’You know I can hear you, right?’’

Becca couldn\ stop staring at him. ’’What are you doing here?’’

’’And what the hell happened to your face?’’ said Quinn.

He raised an eyebrow and straightened. ’’I was mostly being sarcastic with that whole \friendly table\ comment, but I can take a hint... .’’

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