Friday, November 30, 2012

Cover Reveal: Adriana Ryan's World of Shell and Bone

Today I am happy to participate in the cover reveal for World of Shell and Bone by my friend Adriana Ryan!

Cover by: James Helps

Isn't that just beautiful?!
Book Description: 

World of Shell and Bone
By Adriana Ryan
Coming December 7th, 2012

In a world ravaged by a nuclear holocaust, Vika Cannon knows there are no guarantees: no guarantees of safety, no guarantees that your neighbor is not actually a spy for the government, and no guarantees you’ll be allowed to emigrate to a new life in Asia.

New Amana is dying. Food and water are scarce, and people suffering from radiation-caused mutations—the Nukeheads—are the new class of homeless. 

Vika has just one purpose: to produce healthy progeny using a Husband assigned by the Match Clinic. Unhealthy children are carted away to Asylums to be experimented on, just as Vika’s little sister Ceres was, eight years ago. Parents incapable of producing healthy progeny are put to death in gas chambers.
When she’s assigned a Husband shortly after her twentieth birthday, Vika expects him to be complacent and obedient. But Shale Underwood has a secret. He is a member of the Radicals, the terrorist group intent on overthrowing the government. And Shale has information about Ceres.

As she learns more about the Rads’s plan, Vika finds herself drawn to Shale in ways she’d never imagined. When freedom calls in the way of a healthy pregnancy, will she betray her government and risk death for Shale and Ceres? 


Adriana Ryan lives and writes in Charleston, SC. She is currently at work on a dystopian  and an urban fantasy series. A huge fan of spooky stuff and shoes, she enjoys alternately hitting up the outlet malls and historic graveyards.

Adriana Ryan is a member of the Romance Writer’s Association (RWA).

Monday, November 26, 2012

Fire - Sneak Peek Week 5

I hope you guys have enjoyed these sneak peeks! This is the final one. The book will be out on December 18th!

Chapter 5

Now one would think the end of December was one of the months in the year where you would worry the least about fires, but in Southern California, fires raged all year long. Part of summer was the official “fire season,” but because of the droughts we always seemed to be going through, a lot of the mountains were just covered in kindling. Sadly, nine out of every ten fires were caused by humans, more often than not by their carelessness rather than malicious intent, though there was some of that as well.

Death by fire was my secret greatest fear. I’ve seen more than my fair share of mortal danger, so I had taken time to contemplate death and really decide if I was afraid of it. I was surprised to find out that I wasn’t afraid to die and it had nothing to do with that strange sense of invincibility most teenagers possessed. I wasn’t afraid to die because I had faith in something greater than myself.

Now even though I wasn’t afraid of actually leaving this life behind, I was very concerned about how I exited. Drowning, they say, can be almost euphoric, but I didn’t fancy the panic that would set in when I knew I couldn’t draw a breath. Freezing was supposed to be fairly painless, more like falling asleep, but again the panic of waiting to just fall asleep and the pain of ice eating my skin wasn’t ideal. Obviously we all want to die of old age and in our sleep after eighty or more years of life, but I learned we very rarely get just what we wanted in life. Burning to death though, now that was a special kind of fear.

Perhaps I have a collective conscious memory of all of the witches and innocent women who died so many years ago at the hands of zealots and their torches, but any time I considered what that might be like and if I could take it, it hurt something inside of me. The very thought of it had my hands itching for the covers of my bed to hide under. They say you eventually pass out from the pain before you actually die, so you aren’t conscious when it finally killed you. Sounds pleasant, right? Such excruciating pain that your mind just shuts down completely, refusing to deal with it. And now my mother had dreamt of me dying, in the somewhat near future, in the middle of a blazing fire.

My legs were starting to prick and tingle as I sat in the center of my bedroom floor above my etched pentagram. I had a crystal in each of my hands and I was spinning them over and over in my palms while I tried desperately to reach a center of calm that wasn’t coming. My mind just wouldn’t shut up long enough for me to reach the higher plane and find my happy place.
Frustrated, I finally opened my eyes and let my shoulders slump. I was sitting in a half-lotus and I knew as soon as I moved my right foot off of my left knee, it was going to blaze into numbing tingles as invisible ants bit along the skin. I blew out a breath, closed my eyes, and let my foot slide off and hit the ground.

“Damnit, damnit, damnit,” I cursed rapid fire as my prediction came true and I squirmed where I sat as my foot throbbed. I dropped my crystals and massaged the life back into my foot as I rolled my head around my shoulders, trying to loosen those muscles too. I chewed the inside of my cheek while I tried to think of why I couldn’t get past this mental block. Sleep had been terrible and I really needed to recharge. Usually meditation was my answer, but I guess I couldn’t really expect to be able to relax my mind after the morning I’d had.

“Maybe something physical,” I said to myself as I twisted out of my position and tested my foot gingerly when I tried to stand. It still tingled, but I could put my weight on it, so I walked to my nightstand and picked up my phone. I had no messages from anyone wanting anything from me, so I flipped it open and punched in a message to my self-defense instructor asking if I could come in for an unscheduled lesson. I set my phone down and started changing clothes, feeling my muscles protesting every movement. The extra cost of an unscheduled lesson would be worth it. Sometimes primal action was very therapeutic.

Once I had my tennis shoes laced and I was throwing things into my purse to leave, my phone chimed to life, and I smiled at the text message telling me to come on down for an ass kicking. Yeah, primal action sounded just about perfect.


I had started taking self-defense lessons about six months ago. I had taken the casual class or seminar here and there since I was a teenager, but it’s only recently that I took regular lessons, much to my parents’ approval. Since I turned eighteen with my cohorts and we were going out more and more to clubs, my parents liked the idea of me being able to defend myself.

I had found out that the community college offered women’s self-defense classes and they were open to anyone, even people who weren’t registered students. I didn’t do well in group situations, mostly because the emotions of all the other women battered at me while I tried to concentrate on my form. A strange mix of anxiety, fear, and trepidation always permeated the room and really threw me off my game, and I always came away in a bad mood. After just one week of trying to deal with that, I approached Michael, the instructor, about private lessons. After I gave a vague explanation about having gone through an attack and wanting to speed up my progress, he agreed.

I hadn’t lied about the attack; my ex-quasi-boyfriend’s twin brother had tried to sacrifice me almost two years ago in a bid to gain demonic powers. He had been twice my size and fueled by an inhuman desire; that sort of thing puts a girl on her toes. But I didn’t give Michael all those details and, having worked with women for so many years, he knew better than to push one to tell a story like that.

I stood inside the doorway of the large gymnasium of the small college, waiting for the women who’d just finished up a class to leave. I recognized a few faces and the taste of their auras from the classes I had abandoned and was careful to keep my eyes lowered so none of them would catch my eye and try to engage me in a conversation. Two girls were trying to corner Michael as he put most of the focus mitts away, each of them vying for his attention with big eyes and clothing too tight for this kind of class. I smirked as Michael regarded them with a nice enough manner, but nothing like the near desperate flirtation the girls attempted.

I could tell just from their aura signatures that they were even younger than me, which made them much too young for the instructor, but that didn’t stop them. I realized their advances had made them the last of the class to leave, meaning it was now my time. I glanced around to be sure it was only the four of us left in the gym before I pushed away from the wall and made my way across the wood paneled floor over to them.

“I just don’t think I could ever actually hurt a guy. I mean, look how small my hands are,” one of them said, her voice pitching too high and making my ears hurt.

“The size of your fist isn’t what makes the punch hurt,” Michael said as he tossed a couple pair of boxing gloves into the box with the focus mitts.

“Yeah, it’s not the size that counts, remember?” the other girl said, trying to make her voice sound suggestive, but it only made her age all the more obvious. I couldn’t help my snort as I dropped my bag on the floor once I was closer to the group. The two girls spared me a glance over their shoulders in a perfect mirror image of each other; the last to speak narrowed her eyes at me in a glare. I just dropped to the floor and began stretching.

“Um, aren’t you a little late for class?” the suggestive one asked, and I opened a channel between us and picked her name, Kelly, out of her head to keep in mind.

“No, I’m not,” I said evenly, reaching for my right foot and pulling once I grasped it.

“Uh, yeah, you are,” the other, Tiffany was her name, said. “Class already ended, duh.”

“Good thing I’m not here for that class then. I have a private lesson.”

“Listen, girls,” Michael said, his voice holding nothing but good-natured quality to it, “she’s right, her lesson should’ve already started, so I’ve got to get to it. I’ll see you next week.” He patted Kelly on the shoulder as he passed her to make his way over to me. I felt the faint whiff of jealousy from Tiffany over the completely platonic touch and wondered if I was ever that innocent. Probably not.

“Actually, there’s a party this weekend and we were wondering if you wanted to go.” Tiffany recovered first, the words rushing out of her so fast Michael took a couple of seconds to process them in order. I almost felt bad for her when I saw the heat rush to her cheeks, but the glare she threw my way took care of that for me.

“Oh, thanks,” Michael said a little awkwardly. Both girls lit up with smiles before he said, “but I’m a little old to be going to a high school party. Thanks though; see you next week.” There was no getting around the dismissal in his voice and, feeling dejected and a little shattered, the two turned in unison and made their way towards the doors to leave. Once the door fell closed, I couldn’t contain my laughter.

“Yes, it’s so funny to watch an old man get hit on by a couple of kindergarteners,” Michael said as he fell into a crouch in front of me and started stretching his hip flexors.

“Kindergarteners I’ll give you,” I said as stood up to shake out my muscles. “But you’re not an old man. What are you? Twenty five?” I guessed.

“Twenty seven actually,” he said, pulling out of his squat and walking over to pick up his headgear.

“See, not old.” I rummaged in my bag for my fingerless padded gloves that would protect my knuckles when I punched, but gave me the ability to grab if I wanted to.

“Says the eighteen-year-old,” he said dryly before pulling the head gear on and tightening the Velcro straps in the back. I shook my head, refusing to continue the argument. I may be eighteen, but I definitely didn’t feel a day under forty some days. I found my elbow pads next. They were actually for rollerblading, but they were really effective when I threw elbows.

“Okay,” Michael said suddenly, clapping his hands together and effectively announcing the end of the banter and the start of class. I turned to face him, my feet instinctively hip width apart. I used to fall into a fighting stance, with my left foot forward, but after the first week, Michael proved to me that showing my attacker that I was right handed gave him an advantage.

“So I’m guessing you need some therapy since this is short notice.” He bounced on the balls of his feet, keeping his knees loose, and I realized he hadn’t put on any focus mitts, which worried me a little bit. “So I thought we’d get some serious contact in. You ready?”

He asked that, but then he rushed me, open palm strikes flashing in my face before I had time to think. Block, check, redirect, set up, and hit. Block, check, redirect, set up, and hit. Hit. Hit. Hit. My hands and elbows matched his with a new fluidity after six months of practice. He threw jabs, crosses, hooks, and elbows like he was trying to break my face. I couldn’t check his elbows, so when I saw those coming, I just danced around them and struck out at him when I could. I knew he wasn’t trying his hardest or his fastest because I had seen him move faster before. Once I had watched him split open a hanging bag that weighed over a hundred pounds. But to me it felt like a flurry of movement.

Every time one of my elbows or fists made contact with the padded metal of the face grill on his headgear, a fierce satisfaction swirled inside of me. My hands were getting numb because I couldn’t really throw any kicks while he wasn’t wearing the proper protection. Sweat beaded at the small of my back and behind my knees as we circled each other. My breathing was becoming shallow and I knew I was going to have to take a break soon or risk exhausting myself.

“Enough,” Michael said after I slammed my fist into the side of his head where his ear was covered by the headgear. I relaxed immediately, dropping my guard and letting my arms hang loose at my sides. I had to be careful to keep my breathing even so I didn’t hyperventilate, but truth be told, as tiring as that had been, I felt energized and ready to go again.

“Very good,” Michael said, reaching behind his head to rip the Velcro straps open and pull the headgear off of his head. “Very good, you’re showing more control, but you have to trust your instincts more. You took advantage of less openings than I left. You’ve got to get over your fear of being hit.”

“Easy for you to say,” I muttered when he turned his back to toss the headgear into his equipment box.

“I heard that,” Michael said, turning around to toss me a bottle of water. “Everyone gets hit in a fight, I’ve told you that a thousand times.”

“Try two thousand,” I interrupted, but he just shrugged at me.

“Because it’s true. What matters is who hits the most effectively.” He stood in front of me now without any more pads. “If you keep worrying about what might happen, you’ll miss what’s happing right now.”

“I know,” I sighed, nodding. Fear of pain, I had to get past that block. “So what’re we doing?”

“Follow me.” He waved for me to come with him as he turned away from me and walked over to the part of the floor already covered in mats and my stomach flipped in excitement. Takedowns, I love takedowns. Michael wasn’t much bigger than me, he was only two inches taller and probably had all of thirty pounds on me, but most of his weight was muscles, shaped by a combination of martial arts, weight lifting, and surfing. If I was a few years older and didn’t like him as an instructor so much, I might consider asking him if he really was busy on Saturday night. So when we first started with takedowns, I was pleasantly surprised to find I could flip him over my hip with very little effort.

Michael had assured me that I could easily perform the same moves on a man much larger than him, but I hadn’t had a chance to prove him right yet. Not that I was complaining, but having the ability to render a larger man helpless with very little effort felt amazing. I highly recommend it.

“Takedowns?” I asked hopefully as I stepped onto the mat. It was squishy under my feet and I couldn’t help but bounce a little as I walked to the center of the mats and squared off in front of Michael.

“No, not today,” he said with a shake of his head. “Now, I want you to punch me, but do it slowly,” he instructed, a note of firmness at the end, and I nodded.

I struck out with my right arm like I was reenacting a slow-motion fight, watching as both his hands came up, his fingers pointing outwards, and he surfed his hands up and over my arm. He continued surfing with his right arm until my arm was arcing up and back by the shoulder and was propped up on his shoulder. I felt the answering twinge of pain telling me I needed to bend forward if I didn’t want to suffer through the pain that twinge offered. In a blink, I was bent over at the waist with my arm twisted up and behind me and Michael stood completely calm next to me.

“And if I want,” he said, twisting my hand slowly, and I found my body instinctively moving in a corkscrew to keep from dislocating my shoulder until I faced the other direction, still bent over. There was no getting out of this without a lot of pain and damage.

“And if you struggled,” he said again, finishing by demonstrating. He placed his free hand on the back of my head and guided me as he continued to twist my arm. If I moved with him, it didn’t hurt. In another twist, I was face down on the ground, my legs out from my body and my arm still up and behind me in the air. I heard him take a step so his feet were on either side of my body, and he held onto my wrist with both hands.

“This belongs to me now,” he said, giving an unnecessary tug on my arm in explanation. “Now, I can either choose to twist and pull, effectively shattering your arm or dislocating it, or I can sit down.” He did, settling his weight on my shoulder blades, and I had a flash in my mind of my huge feathered wings. If I could call them forward, that would definitely make him let go; too bad it wasn’t that easy. “And if you did sit down, you reach into your pocket for your phone and you call the police.”

“Got it,” I said with half my mouth, my face still pressed to the black mats. I slurped against my words, afraid my slack mouth would make me drool on them.

“Good, now your turn.”

“Wow,” I breathed as I felt his weight leave my back and the tension in my arm disappeared as he let up on his grip, slowly lowering my arm to my side. I rolled over onto my back and pushed myself up, ignoring his offered hand. He’d put me on the ground, but I was going to pick myself up. I brushed back the few flyaways that had escaped my loose ponytail before I turned and faced him.

I wished I could take off my shoes and do this barefoot, but he had put a stop to that habit on the first day of lessons, saying that if I were attacked again, I’d probably have shoes on and needed to know how I moved in them. But I had called my magic wearing shoes, so I had agreed to his restriction. The rubber of my soles caught on the mats, making my feet feel like they were sticking to the ground. I shook out my hands as we started to circle and tried to find the calm center that would help me focus.

Neither of us had fallen into a fighting stance to give away which was our lead hand. If you knew which hand, which foot, someone’s power was in, you could readily prepare for that strike. Unfortunately for me, both of Michael’s hands and feet held power, and either strike would hurt just as much as the other. He was much better at hiding his thoughts in his face than any other person I had gone up against. He’d probably make a killing playing poker if he tried. But, I reminded myself, he wanted me to practice this particular move, so he wasn’t going to kick me; at least I had that much on my side.

Three more steps and a blink later and he moved forward towards me. I tried to remain relaxed, but instinct won out and my whole body tensed as I tried to remember what exactly I was supposed to do. His left hand struck out towards my chest as if he was going to grab me and I mirrored his move, reaching out with my right hand, keeping my fingers flat to guide my arm. My hand swooped over his wrist, sweeping up and under, lifting his arm up as I surfed up and over his arm until his forearm was on my shoulder and I continued to spin, forcing him to move with me. In less than ten seconds, he was bent double, just as I was minutes ago, and as his arm slipped down my shoulder, I caught his wrist in my hands. I gave a healthy twist on his arm in order to feel him respond to the promise of pain, knowing I had the right torque on his arm.

“You’re too far away,” Michael said calmly, looking at my body upside down and evaluating my form as if he wasn’t in danger of having his shoulder hyper-extended.

“What?” I managed as I rode the wave of excitement for having executed the move with very little physical effort.

“Your body should be closer to mine; it’ll cinch up the hold you have,” he explained. “Hip to hip, step in.” I did as he said. A laugh bubbled out of me when I felt him shift his body to counter the shot of pain that struck him.

“Yeah,” he breathed, “like that.” I laughed again and shifted my feet so I wasn’t risking dislocating his arm. “Okay, now finish the move.”

It took me a moment to remember what he was talking about, but then I remembered lying flat on the mat and placed my hand on the back of his head and guided him in a slow spin past my legs, walking in a circle with him moving in corkscrews until he lowered to the ground with me following him down. I finished by standing over him with one foot on either side of his body.

“This belongs to me now,” I said, echoing his earlier words with a smile and tugged on his arm, drawing out a grunt from him as a reward. Having power over another person was a strange feeling. I obviously wielded power every day with my connection to the elements and being able to influence someone’s emotions, but to know that I had the ability to defend myself physically should my supernatural powers fail me was amazing.

We practiced the same move from different angles; he’d alternate his attacks from left to right, same side to cross body, showing me the different ways I could get to the same move. It was effective, fast, and took very little physical strength to execute, exactly what I liked. As we worked through the move, Michael sped up his strikes for me to counter and I found out very quickly that I was a long way from having the move down pat. Either I moved too fast and risked actually hyper extending Michael’s shoulder or I’d get tied up in our arms and forget where I was going. Speed was my enemy and that worried me because it wasn’t like I could ask an attacker to slow down, so I got the move right if I ever had to use it.

By the end of our hour, I was covered in sweat, a little out of breath, and feeling energized. I’d screwed up the move plenty of times since that first attempt, but I had also managed to execute it a handful of times and I chose to focus on those. I knew today I needed to feel good to get past the block my dreams and my mother’s dreams had built inside of me or this lesson would be pointless.

I walked over to my bag and grabbed a hand towel to wipe off my face and the back of my neck before fishing out my keys. My heart was still pumping madly and my feet almost felt like they were barely skimming the ground as I left the gym to find my beautiful black Camaro waiting for me in the winter sun. I smiled as I walked up to it, running a hand over the sun-warmed metal, caressing it slowly as I slid my way up to the handle. I fell inside with practiced ease, the seat having already molded to fit my frame, and slid in the key. The engine roared to life, giving voice to the blood still thrumming inside of me from the work out. I gripped the wheel, threw it into gear, and tore out of the parking lot laughing. Some days, even if they start with nightmares and terror filled tarot card readings, you had to remember the joyous escape that being a teenager could bring. I had no idea where I was going, whether it was just go pick up my friends or a mindless drive up the freeway, but the not knowing was part of the fun.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Fire - Sneak Peek Week 4

Chapter 4

It was a good forty-five minutes before we got through the next five miles of freeway. Apparently once all of the passengers were accounted for, they opened the two left lanes to start funneling the backed up traffic so they could get the tow trucks and ambulances through, as well to start to clean up the accident. I didn’t know any of this first hand however; Jodi explained it all to me once I finally came to as we pulled up alongside the curb in front of my house. Steven drove us to his house first to get his car and followed us to my place so he could give Jodi a ride home once she got me home. What would the world be like without best friends?

After my brief nap, I was calm enough to get myself up to the door and inside the house without any help from Jodi, although it took a lot of insisting on my part to get her to believe me. I think if she’d had it her way, she would have tucked me into bed. I did have some dignity after all. Some guardian angel I would be if I needed help brushing my teeth and getting changed for bed. I heard Jodi grumble something about stupid, pig-headed pride before I shut the front door, but I only smiled and shook my tired head. As if that wasn’t the pot calling the kettle black.

After such an exhausting night, I didn’t think I had the energy in me to dream, but when I woke, my forehead was beaded in sweat and my face was flush with heat. The light coming into my room told me it was almost noon, and even though that meant I had gotten at least eight hours of sleep, my dreams had been stressful, stealing any peace sleep would’ve brought me. At some point in the middle of the night, I had tossed off all of my covers, hoping to cool my heated body. I sat up in my bed, falling back to catch myself on my elbows.

“Shit,” I said through a loud breath, “might as well have skipped the damn shower last night.” Muttering to myself, I managed to untangle my ankles from the knots of my covers and get my legs swung over the side of the bed to leverage myself up. Once I found my feet, my exhaustion started to slip away from me, sinking down into the floor, through the foundation, and back to Earth.

“You can have it,” I added dryly as I took a step forward, feeling like I was stepping out of a puddle in the street. I couldn’t really remember my dream other than the intense heat that seemed to be everywhere. Something niggled in the back of my mind, trying to get me to remember more.

The sweat on my body was drying and making me chilly, so I rummaged through my drawers until I found a pair of flannel pajama bottoms and pulled them on, followed by an extremely oversized gray sweatshirt that read SENIORS in blue lettering outlined in white. After finding a pair of socks to protect my feet and quickly dragging a brush through my damp hair, I left my room hoping against hope there was still coffee.

It may be my winter break, but it was still the middle of the week, so my dad was off to work, leaving my mom and me home alone. When I came into the kitchen, I saw she’d already prepped dinner in the crock-pot to cook without her and the living room had been vacuumed. I cringed when I saw the dishes were also stacked in the drain board to dry; I was supposed to have done those last night. Well, I would’ve done it had I gotten home when I expected to, honestly I would have.

“Damn, I’m sorry, mom,” I said as I rounded the island in the kitchen where we kept the coffee pot. The pot was off, so I shot out my hand to pat the carafe to see if it was still hot, pulling my hand back almost too fast to feel anything, but my fingers were a little warm. I grabbed a coffee cup out of the cupboard and poured myself a cup, adding the appropriate amount of raw sugar and cream. Neither of my parents took sugar in their coffee, so it was my own personal stash. I sprung for the good stuff.

“Mom?” I looked up at her, realizing she was sitting at the kitchen table, not something she usually did, and more surprising yet, she had tarot cards laid out in front of her. My mother was especially adept at reading both tarot and medicine cards, and when I was a child, she often gave readings to friends and family. But most people don’t like to get bad news and even more don’t like to be the bearer of it; my mother was no exception. One day, after reading about the impending death of a friend’s brother, she packed her cards up in a box, waiting to pass them on to me when I wanted them, as was the tradition of the women in our family, and never read them again.

“Mom?” I pressed again, taking up my cup and walking around the island again to walk over to the kitchen table. She sat at the head where my dad usually sat during the rare family dinner. Her shoulders looked tight and worry lines creased her forehead as she bent towards the table. She had let her cigarette burn out on its own in the ashtray to her right and I suspected the coffee in her cup was now cold. When she still didn’t say anything, I leaned closer to look at the layout in front of her and realized the cards were in a wheel; she was looking for an answer to a question.

“What the hell?” I whispered. My mother never, never read for herself, asking me to do it when she had something important to ask, because reading for yourself was dangerous, especially for psychics like my mother. It was kind of like using an Ouija board; you were opening yourself up to the spiritual world, practically inviting anything within hearing distance to latch on to you. You risked having your own personal ghost haunting you or a poltergeist determined to drive you and you alone crazy.

“Mom!” I said more firmly, hitting the table with the flat of my hand to shock her back to reality. A knot in my chest loosened when she started, blinking rapidly before realizing I was standing in front of her.

“Jesus Christ!” she swore, bringing her free hand to her chest as if her heart would burst through and she could stop it. “Shay, don’t do that!”

“Don’t do that?” I set my cup down, afraid I’d spill it as a wave of impatience hit me from her. “What the hell are you doing reading for yourself?” I demanded, waving my hand at the table.

Her wave of impatience washed away from me just as quickly as she glanced down at the cards in front of her. For a moment, I had a strange feeling of disconnect as if she were the child and I were the adult and I had caught her breaking a rule.

“Right,” she said slowly, switching the remaining cards from her right hand to her left. She reached for her cigarette, bringing it to her lips before she realized it wasn’t lit anymore.

“Well?” I pressed, grabbing a chair and pulling it out so I could sit down. “What the hell?” She had stopped berating me for swearing when I turned eighteen, both her and my dad more comfortable with it all of a sudden; it was nice not having to censor myself so much anymore. She reached for the open pack of menthol cigarettes, pulling one out and lighting it all in swift, practiced motions with one hand before she answered me.

“I just had this weird dream last night,” she finally said after taking a long drag from her cigarette, careful to blow the smoke away from me. She lifted her left hand and set the cards on the table and leaned her shoulders back against her chair, crossing her left arm over her chest and resting her right elbow on her left hand, holding the cigarette up and out of her face.

“So?” I asked, sliding my cup in front of me to take a sip, watching her over the rim, making sure she didn’t slip back into the reading trance. I probably should have been more careful getting her attention, but seeing her with her cards after so many years was almost disturbing.

“I don’t know,” she said softly, still looking at the cards, but not actually trying to read them. “It just really bothered me, more of a nightmare really; I guess I was just afraid.”

“Afraid of what?”

“I don’t know.” She lifted a shoulder and let it fall in a half shrug before taking another drag.

“Bullshit,” I said, setting my cup down and raising halfway out of my chair to reach across the table to grab the remaining cards and start shuffling them almost before I was back in the seat.

The cards were so old they were practically soft to the touch, more like cloth now than paper. They had belonged to my grandmother’s grandmother, but amazingly the pictures depicted on their faces were still as bright as if a modern day press had stamped them. The edges were outlined in gold and when I tranced out to read them, I swear the gold turned to liquid fire and danced on the paper.

I didn’t read much; my dreams were always a stronger conduit for my prophetic gifts passed down to me and I didn’t like the vulnerable feeling of being lost in thought with someone else sitting there with me. But even though it had been awhile for me, the magic in the cards still answered my call and I felt it tingle in my hands. After a few deft shuffles, I felt the distinct tremble telling me to stop, so I did.

I laid out five cards in the shape of a cross without really looking at them and then two more on either side of the bottom card. I blinked and looked down at the cards, watching the gold lines quiver as my second sight kicked in and the pictures leapt up at me. I read them as quickly as reading a child’s picture book. I was reading for my mother, which kept me safe and closed off to the entities that might have been drawn in by my mother’s first reading. I didn’t really think anything could breach my shields on the house, but with magic, it was always better to be safe than sorry. Just because you’ve never been in a car accident doesn’t mean it’s a waste of time to buckle your seatbelt.

“You dreamt of me,” I said matter-of-factly and didn’t need to look at her to see if I was right. “And of fire,” I said more softly this time, remembering the heat from my dreams last night.

Although I was more closed off because I was reading the cards, I could feel my mother’s anxiety crawling on my left arm, the one closest to her. I blocked out the sensation and laid out two cards, one crossing on top of the other.

“Pain,” I said, my voice a breathy whisper. “You dreamt of losing me in a fire,” I said finally and set the remaining cards down, not wanting the horrific details of death by fire and a mother’s pain of losing a child. My imagination was good enough for that. I glanced at the card representing my mother for the final piece and I nodded in understanding. “You wanted to know if it was just a nightmare or something more.”

My mother didn’t have prophetic dreams like I did; that ability had skipped both her and her mother. It was rough on me growing up because my great-grandmother passed away before I was born, so my mother didn’t know how to help me control the dreams, or at least deal with them, since she’d never had them. This had to have been a really bad nightmare for her to worry that it was possibly a warning of something to come.

“It’s silly,” she said finally, tapping the ashes of her cigarette on the edge of her ashtray.

“It’s not silly,” I said, scooping up the cards I had laid out, putting them back into the deck, and giving it a quick shuffle, trying to erase what I had seen. “Do you mind?” I asked, motioning to the wheel layout in front of her.

“What?” She blinked at me and then looked back at the table. “Oh, yeah, I guess you should.” I leaned forward and started dragging the cards towards me, breaking the layout she had drawn, and reformed the deck, tapping it on the table to straighten out the cards.

“Mom, you know you’re not supposed to read for yourself,” I said as I managed to get all of the cards going in the same direction and started shuffling again.

“I know,” she said blandly, as if just answering because she was expected to.

“Mom,” I said, making my voice a little harsher. I could have tried to open the channel between us and compelled her out of this state, but having just read for herself, she’d be more vulnerable and I didn’t want to hurt her. “Fine,” I said with an exasperated sigh, “do you want me to read for you?”

“Maybe,” she answered after a moment. I could hear the question in her voice. I reached for my cup and took a sip of the coffee, realizing it was hotter now than when I poured it.

“Don’t really want to know if it was real, right?” I said, quirking an eyebrow at her. “If it’s not real, that would be great, just a terrible nightmare, but,” I paused, shuffling the cards, feeling the tingle growing in my hands, “if it was real, would it be better to know or not know?”

“That’s always the question,” she said, pressing her cigarette to her lips again. “Fine,” she said as she exhaled the smoke, again turning her face away from me as she did.

“If you’re sure,” I said, but the sensation telling me to stop shuffling had already hit me. I set the deck between us and my mother reached out to cut the deck like we were just going to play a simple game. I picked the deck back up and began to lay them out, with no particular layout in mind, but once I was done, I saw I had laid out a wheel just like my mother had. Now came the weird part: letting my consciousness slip into the fuzzy state – that’s what I’d called it when I was child.

The gold ticking shimmered before me and the pictures danced just above the cards as I looked at them. I realized a knot had started to form in my stomach, and I knew it had nothing to do with the knot in my mother’s stomach. Did I want to know my mother had a prophetic dream about me dying in a fire?

“Yes,” I answered out loud, hearing my voice like a whisper through a wall. That was another weird thing about reading; it was like separating from your physical self.

“Yes, what?” my mother asked, her voice pitching in worry.

“Sorry,” I said with a slow shake of my head, “talking to myself.” Or was I? I wondered if sometimes the questions that came to mind when reading the cards were the cards asking for permission to reveal their secrets, not wanting to give them away to someone who wouldn’t heed their warnings. But I had said yes, and just as quickly as I gave that answer did the cards speak to me. I could hear a low noise somewhere in the distance, like a violin being strummed slowly, and the pictures on the cards sharpened as I watched, waiting patiently for the answers to come.

“You dreamt of fire and pain, terrible fears you harbor in your mind,” I said and felt my mother sit up straighter as I spoke. “Even more terrible is the thought of losing your only child. What worse way to lose her than through pain?” I heard my mother hiss at my words, but it was as if I wasn’t the one speaking.

“Was it a warning? Could that really happen?” she asked, leaning closer towards me.

“Anything can happen,” I said, again feeling like I wasn’t the one speaking.

“I know that,” she responded impatiently.

“Then you must ask the right questions,” I corrected her, and I could almost hear her grinding her teeth.

“Is it a warning?”


“Will what I saw happen?”

“That is yet to be seen,” I said, and my stomach flipped. “There are many paths for your daughter, the Earth Mother, to follow. Her destiny is not written, for each day she changes paths, changing her future.”

“Can she do something to make sure she doesn’t take the path that leads to pain and fire?” she asked, and I realized we were speaking as if I wasn’t really there. I felt like my consciousness was split in two and I was separate from this, like I was listening through a closed door.

“Meddling in the future is dangerous,” came my vague reply.

“But I’m a mother, I meddle,” she said, trying to lighten the mood, but failing as her heart sped up and her breath caught.

“She will have to choose whether or not saving another is as important as keeping herself safe. You would choose that she keep herself safe, but she would choose danger and risk to try and save another life.”

“But she’ll die!” My mother almost stood up, but caught herself and stayed seated, afraid to break my trance.

“Perhaps; it is not known. You only dreamt of one possibility.” My mother’s hands were trembling. I didn’t really want to hear much more, but temptation is the root of all evil, so I let the trance have its way with me to hear the rest.

“It will be a hard road to travel, with many twists and turns; each choice will provide a new twist, a different turn. She will have to decide without your influence because if she ignores the cries of help, she will surely go mad with guilt long before her days are over. You know this; it was the risk you took having this child. Tell her of your dream; let her hear the warning, let her make her own choices.”

Slowly my senses came back to me as the trance began to wear off. The pictures faded back to their cards and the gold around the edges stilled and lost their glow, leaving flat, unmoving cards laid out in front of me. The feeling of sharing my consciousness with another faded as well, leaving me alone in my head and the far off sound of music was gone. I blinked and shook my head to clear out the fuzzy feeling left and then looked at my mother.

“So, what was the dream?” I asked, taking the direct route.

“Yes,” she said reluctantly. She cleared her throat and took a sip of her cold coffee, snubbing out her cigarette with her other hand. I watched and knew she was itching to light another, but she didn’t chain smoke, so she stilled her hands and reined in the craving. She really only wanted it because of her nerves.

“Just do it fast, like a Band-Aid,” I suggested.

“Well, the end of it, you didn’t make it out of the fire,” she said and her voice threatened to break at the end. “I didn’t see you burn, thank god, but I think I heard you scream.”

“You think?”

“Well, I’m not sure if it was you screaming or me, so yeah, I think I heard you screaming,” she explained and I watched as a shiver ran up her body. “But I don’t really remember most of it. I know it was a much longer dream than I can remember, but I just can’t get it all.”

“The harder you try, the less you remember,” I said, wrapping my trembling fingers around my coffee cup, grateful it was still hot.

“Right,” she said with a sigh and finally gave into the urge and pulled out another cigarette and lit it before going on. “Anyway, I don’t think you were alone.” A sweat broke out on the small of my back.

“Was I being chased?”

“No, no,” she said, shaking her head. “I think you were trying to get to someone, someone trapped in the fire. That’s probably what the reading meant. You knew someone was in the fire and you were close enough to try to save them, so you did, but you didn’t make it out.”

“Did whoever it was I was going after?”

“I don’t know,” she whispered that, as if it hurt to realize my sacrifice might’ve been for nothing. But I knew better; I was an empath and could feel peoples’ emotions. Pain and fear are the two headiest emotions. If I knew someone was burning alive, I would have no choice but to try and help them. The reading was right about that. If I stood by and listened to someone die while their skin bubbled off of their bones, I would lose my mind; it would destroy me.

“Okay, well, that doesn’t give us much to go on,” I said, remembering the tricks to working out my own prophetic dreams. It was best to try and analyze them with as little emotion as possible so you could separate yourself from them.

“How old did I look?” I asked, looking up at her. “Did I look the same as I do now? Anything different, like length of hair maybe?”

“Actually, a bit,” she said with a nod.

“How so?”

“You looked thinner, like you’d lost your baby fat, and I think there was something a little different about your hair, but I’m not sure what,” she said, her brows drawn together as she looked me over.

“Baby fat?” I demanded, glancing down at myself.

“Shayna,” my mom said, rolling her eyes at me.

“Sorry,” I mumbled. “All right, thinner and my hair was a little different. So it probably wasn’t anytime soon.” I took a sip of my coffee before saying, “Do you know what the weather was like?”

“No, but it was nighttime,” she offered. “At least, it looked like nighttime; the fire could’ve played tricks with the light.”

“Yeah, the smoke could make the sky look dark.”

“Exactly,” she nodded.

“Was anyone running with me?”

“I don’t know.” She shook her head and closed her eyes, rubbing them with her forefinger and thumb.

“Not much to go on,” I said and she let out a laugh, but it wasn’t a pretty sound. “It’s fine, mom,” I said, reaching out to take her hand and give it a squeeze before I pushed away from the table to stand up. “It’s not like there’s a fire raging anywhere nearby anyway, right?”

“Right,” she agreed, but as I looked down into her face, I knew neither one of us felt fine about the situation at all. The sound of my own voice warning my mother to let me make my own decisions echoed in my mind. Let me risk my life to save someone with the possibility of being swallowed up by an inferno or risk my sanity. Some days it just didn’t pay to get out of bed.

“I’m always careful,” I said, bending to give her a hug around her shoulders, “you know that.”

“I know, baby,” she said quietly, hugging me back. “But if you kill yourself, you better believe I’ll be following you to the afterlife to kick your skinny butt.”

“I know it, mom,” I said with a smile and grabbed my coffee to head back to my room. After a morning like that, or was it midday now, I needed to meditate and get my center back. Nothing like a cup of coffee and possibility of death by fire to wake you up in the morning.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Fire - Sneak Peak Week 3

Chapter 3

The freeway was a parking lot. We sat in the same spot in the middle lane for at least twenty minutes. I gave up hope after ten minutes and put the car into park, shifting into a more comfortable position. All three of us made phone calls home warning our parents we were definitely going to blow our curfews if something didn’t change soon.

“Must be bad,” Jodi said quietly, staring out the windshield, trying to see past the sea of cars with little luck.

“Look, they’ve shut down northbound,” Steven said from the backseat, and we all turned to look out the driver’s side. The freeway was totally empty on the other side of the barrier.

“Oh no, that means the ambulances can’t get through on our side.” I felt a knot twist in the bottom of my stomach. We had seen car accidents before, hell we lived in southern California, statistics said there was a car accident every minute out here, but if they shut down the opposite side of the freeway, they were desperate. I could hear the distant wail of an ambulance, but it hadn’t grown any louder in the passing minutes. Unfortunately, we were at a spot on the freeway where the shoulder was practically nonexistent as the freeway curved along the line of the shoreline. Just a few hundred yards up and the freeway opened up to four lanes with wide shoulders on either side. Chance was a cruel bitch sometimes.

Two police cruisers and a fire truck raced past us on the other side of the freeway, heading south on the northbound side, and I whispered a little prayer for their success and safety. Even as the words slipped from me, that knot in my stomach twisted tighter against my spine, making me feel as if I hadn’t just had a large dinner.

“What’s wrong?” Steven asked, leaning forward between the seats to get a better look at my face.

“I don’t know.” I shook my head, watching the disappearing lights of the emergency vehicles as they rounded the mountain.

“Why do you feel sick?” Jodi asked, feeling what I was feeling.

“I guess I have a bad feeling,” I said, knowing I sounded vague.

“Like you want to go help?” Steven asked. He sounded like he was relating something he was hearing through a hole in the wall.

“Kinda,” I said with a nod. “Not that we could get there, and what could I do that cops and EMTs can’t?”

“Oh, I’m sure you could do a lot,” Jodi said with a smirk.

“Besides, you could get there,” Steven said. “Maybe Jodi and I couldn’t, but you can.” I turned my head to look at him and he raised his eyebrows at me as if I wasn’t getting the obvious implication. “Your wings, Shay,” he finally said with a dramatic sigh and eye roll, making me blanch.

“I can’t control those yet!” I all but yelled when I realized what he was talking about. I had discovered over the summer that I had the ability to sprout enormous feathery wings out of my back, black and terrible like some avenging angel, that were strong enough to carry me and another grown person. When I had used them spontaneously to save Jodi and me from a group of homicidal water nymphs that looked more like a Disney nightmare version of the Little Mermaid, I found out I had them because I was supposedly an earthbound guardian angel. With enough concentration, I could call the wings to life, but they weren’t discreet by any means, so I hadn’t found much time to practice with them. Along with that, it hurt more than anything else I had experienced in my life when they sprang from my back. Needless to say, I was a little leery of them.

“Well, what a perfect time to try them out under fire,” Steven pressed with a daring smile. He reached forward and nudged my shoulder encouragingly. “It’s the middle of the night, there’s very little light, and someone’s in trouble.”

“You don’t know someone’s in trouble.”

“Dude, they shut down both sides of the freeway and so far only one fire truck has made it there.”

“Okay, fine,” I said, “but there are hundreds of people around!”

“But it’s dark; if you hug the cliff, no one will see you,” he said, nodding ahead of us where the southbound curved where the beach spilled out and rocks rose up to meet the barrier.

“Dude!” I said, turning wide-eyes to Jodi for some help, but she just looked back at me with a shrug. “Are you serious? You agree with him!”

“I don’t know, but I feel sick because you do, so I know something’s wrong, or at least not going right. If you can help, shouldn’t you?” Jodi put up a hand to stop me from reacting just yet. “I don’t think it’s the perfect time to road test them, but what if someone’s dying, Shay? If you’re really a guardian angel, you should help. You’d tell us to do it if we could.” And that was what stopped me from arguing. Jodi was right; if she were the angel, or Steven, I would be encouraging them to help where they could. What the hell had happened to my life?

“Fine,” I said, defeated. “I don’t know what the hell you two expect me to do, but fine!” I nearly yelled as I ripped my seatbelt off. “One of you’ll have to get in the driver’s seat in case they get traffic moving.”

“Dibs!” Steven yelled as I opened the door, and he was already jumping smoothly through the front seats and landing in the driver’s seat.

“Just pretend like you’re going over there to pee,” Jodi said, pointing over to the bushes on the right side of the freeway.

“Classy,” I muttered, slamming the door in Steven’s smiling face, and weaved my way past the stopped cars onto the hillside. I ducked my head and crouched in the bushes, wondering just how I was going to get to the accident. And more importantly, what I was going to do when I got there.


I gave up on keeping my head down as I made my way through the brush; it was dark enough that no one seemed to notice me anyway. Once the ground started to fall away towards the beach, I half climbed, half slid down the soft sand and loose rocks until I came to the uneven ground. The ocean was lapping just a few yards away and the beat of the soft waves pulsed through me at complete odds with the static up the rocks from the stopped traffic.

From my new vantage point, I could see where the break in the traffic was and the cluster of the accident thrown into stark relief from the swirling red lights of the cop cars. I couldn’t see how many people were running around from where I was, but I could see a few open doors on the cars at the head of the jam, Samaritans running to help the injured due to the lack of emergency personnel.

“Well,” I whispered to myself, blowing out a breath that did nothing to slow the hammering of my heart, “here goes nothing.” I flexed my fingers and rolled my head around my shoulders, trying to loosen up.

With one last glance around to make sure no one was looking, I reached up and pulled my sweatshirt off and over my head, bundling it up and setting it up on a high rock to keep it from the encroaching tide. I was probably going to rip through my shirt, but modesty kept me from stripping it off too; at least I could come back for my sweatshirt to cover up the tattered remains of my shirt.

I settled myself on my feet, digging my heels into the sand for balance, and closed my eyes to concentrate. I closed my mind off from any distractions, making the sounds of traffic fall away, and the latent emotions of worry and impatience slipped from me. All I was aware of now were the smell of salt in the air and the pulse of the ocean. I reached deep into myself and tapped into the swirling magic that filled me, waiting to be called on, waiting for moments like these.

Letting it rip through me, I felt every cell in my body for one heart stopping moment. Nerves on fire and a wind swirling around me that wouldn’t touch any other living being, the first tingling itches began between my shoulder blades. I fought the urge to shrug against it. The tingling grew into a slow burn as I tried to keep control of the change, hoping if I went slowly, it wouldn’t hurt as much, but so far, the pain was just as deep.

Beads of sweat broke out along my forehead and at the back of my neck. I twitched my nose, ignoring it, letting the heat in between my shoulder blades grow, spreading through my upper back. I had an image of a surgeon’s scalpel running up the skin in my back, muscles flaying open, the burn bursting white hot, pulling a strangled sound from my throat through clenched teeth.

A new weight hung from my back, the muscles reshaping to support the hinges of my wings, and my shoulders hunched forward before I held myself straight, able to blink through the pain as it receded. I could feel the warm trickle of blood slip down my back, the waistband of my jeans absorbing it even as the skin healed and molded in a new pattern. A shiver rocked through me, ruffling my feathers and making me laugh at the absurdity of the movement and sound.

But there I was, standing on a dark beach with giant, black feathered wings arching over my head, and the pain was fading quickly. I took a moment to savor that feeling, knowing it would hurt just as much to hide them away again. The sounds and emotions of the stopped traffic flooded my awareness again and I felt a rush of guilt for taking so much time to accomplish my transformation. I had to get moving to find whatever it was that was still making my stomach clench in worry.

“Now, let’s see if I can do this with some finesse this time,” I said to myself as the seldom used muscles in my back flexed, lifting my wings and spreading them wide. I had tried to practice a couple of times in the last few months, but the pain of bringing my wings into this plane was so discouraging, I hadn’t gotten the hang of it yet.

I pushed my wings down in one great flap, pulling my feet off of the ground instantly. I had found a straight take off was more effective than trying for a running start, which usually had me accidently catching an air current and blowing me backwards. I had promised myself once I felt confident enough, I would try for a running leap off a cliff like some movie heroine, but tonight was not that night.

I dipped my head forward to fly below the line of the cliff that the freeway curved around, keeping to the shadows of the rocks as I followed the shoreline. My foot caught on the rocks a couple of times, nearly making me tumble back to the beach, but I managed to pull myself straight with another powerful beat of my wings. Soon the rocks were a gray and black blur under me as I sped towards the accident.

The pain of the injured hit me first, quickly followed by the panic of the searchers. It made me falter, as if tripping on a rug, and this time I fell, hitting the rocks and scraping my cheek and hands when I tried to catch myself. My wings curled around my body a moment too late to stop it, but they protected me and cushioned the rest of the fall. I caught myself on the rocks before I hit the water; here, where the freeway finally had a shoulder, the water rose up high on the rocks, leaving no sand to walk on. It was awkward gaining my feet again as I had to split my concentration between my balance and keeping my wings up and off of my back, out of the water.

“Oh my god, that man is dying.” I was panting through the pain in my chest and I knew the poor bastard in the upside down car above me was breathing through blood and a broken rib had punctured his lung. The EMTs were prying his door open with the Jaws of Life, but something in my soul told me he’d never see the ER. He wasn’t answering the wailing cries of his wife and I hoped his last words had been sweet ones.

Tears burned before they fell down my cheeks as I mourned the man I didn’t know, but he wasn’t the one knotting my stomach; whoever that was, wasn’t on the freeway anymore. I pushed myself up to stand, pin wheeling my arms to catch my balance. I swear the damn wings weighed as much as the rest of my body. I wiped my hand over my cheeks, the scrape burning against the salt of my tears and the grit on my hands. I didn’t have the luxury to sit and cry with the man who was dying above me. Somewhere here in the dark was someone else fighting away death on the edge of a blade. I let instinct lead me as I picked my way over the rocks. My foot slipped on a loose rock and I nearly fell into the water, my boot got wet, and the tip of my right wing trailed in the water.

A muffled cry struck my ear, sending a pang of fear down my spine. I was nearly on top of whoever it was, but I couldn’t see them. I took a few more precarious steps forward, bending down until I could brace my hands on the rocks in front of me so I could peer over one the size of a Volkswagen. There, hidden in the deeper shadow cast by the small boulder, I caught sight of a pink jacket just before the water lapped over it to hide it again.

The metallic tang of blood filled my mouth and a pain in the back of my head started to throb, threatening to throw me off balance. A head injury, did I dare move them? What if I made it worse? What was I supposed to do? Fly them up to the freeway and just dart away into the night? When did my life become a comic book?

“Mommy.” The weak cry warbled as the little girl’s mouth filled with water, making her cough and choke.

“Shit,” I cursed, lowering myself to lie on my stomach to get closer. “Why is it always kids?” I reached into the small cavern created by the shifting of rocks and water and my fingers trailed over her jeans. I managed to pinch the hem of her pant leg.

“Mommy?” she asked, voice frail and terrified.

“No, Amanda.” Her name just suddenly came into my mind as I struggled to pull her closer to me so I could get a grip on her leg. “But I’m here to help you, okay?”

“It hurts,” she said, tears evident in her voice, and my heart clenched against it.

“Don’t move too much too fast, okay?”


“I’m going to try to get you up to me first, okay? Then we’ll get you up to your mommy.” I inched forward on the rocks until I was balancing on the flat of my hips, the muscles in the small of my back contracting to keep me from slipping into the cavern with Amanda.

“I’m dizzy,” she said as her body finally offered resistance against my pulls and I knew I was going to have to lift her up at this point.

“I know, Mandy,” the nickname came easily to my lips, “but I need your help now. I need you to give me your hand, can you do that?” She didn’t answer me, which scared me for a moment before I felt her body shift under my hand that was holding her to keep her from drifting away.
I held out my free hand, hoping for her to be able to see me better than I could see her and she’d take it. I felt her fingers brush my hand as she blindly grabbed for me and missed. I heard her whimper, soft and painful.

“It’s okay, Mandy, just try again, I won’t leave you,” I soothed, straining to keep my hand stretched towards her. The tips of her fingers touched mine, but didn’t fall away this time as she struggled to reach me.

“Good, keep trying, nearly there,” I encouraged. Her fingers trembled, her strength failing her. I sucked in a breath and dipped forward to grasp her wrist, fighting the urge to rock backwards and lift her head up too quickly.

“Good girl, good girl,” I said, trying not to lose my breath. “Now, I need you to try and sit up, but do it slowly, okay?”

“Okay,” she warbled again and I felt her leg move from beneath my hand until I was touching only water. Her hand was no longer taut in my other hand, and I pulled gently, drawing her closer to me.

“Dizzy,” she whimpered again, and I reached for her with my free hand, finding the tangle of her hair and cradling the back of her neck gently. A thicker, slippery substance that I knew wasn’t water coated my fingers as they tangled with her hair. I let go of her wrist and slipped my arm around her waist and pulled her into me, cradling her tiny body against mine.

“Good girl, just relax now, okay?” I whispered to her as I hooked my toes into the gaps between the rocks to give myself some leverage. With every muscle in my body contracted, I lifted us out of the tiny cavern, clutching Mandy to me.

I felt my wings shift and concentrated on those muscles, letting the powerful wings work to lift me off of the rocks and get Mandy out of the dank and dark. She was trembling in my arms, shock setting in, letting me know I had minutes at best to figure out how to get her up to the EMTs.

“Stay with me, Mandy, don’t go to sleep yet,” I whispered to her as I gave one forceful beat of my wings, pulling us completely off of the rocks to hang in the air, slowly pumping my wings to keep us up. It was a strange feeling as the adrenaline pounded in my veins, making my fingers tingle as I gripped Mandy.

The arcing red lights flashed on us as I chewed on my lower lip, wanting to just fly up there and set her down in the arms of an EMT. But then they’d see my face and reports of an angel would hit the news and I’d have to keep my wings hidden long enough to forget how to fly. I had worked too hard over the last few months to lose that now.

I could feel the blood seeping from Mandy’s head drip down my arm, funneled through my fingers. Panic threatened to break me, but I closed my eyes and beat it back. I could panic later when Jodi and Steven were around to hold me against the wracking sobs, but right now a child was dying in my arms. I needed to get her to help; panic had no place here. I saw the dark figure of an EMT crouched on the ground near one of the mangled vehicles; his back was to the edge of the cliff as he examined a spray of glass. I could feel his confusion all the way out here. He was trying to figure out why glass was here, leading towards the cliff. This was where Mandy was thrown through a windshield to fall down the rocks and bash her head as she landed in the cavern.

I glanced away from him and saw everyone else was still running around tending to the injured they could get to, trying to save as many as they could since they had already lost the man with the punctured lung. Frustration fueled them as much as their own convictions; they were just not willing to lose another. The man examining the shattered glass stood, drawing my attention back to him.

“Okay, Mandy, time to go see mommy; are you ready?” I asked her calmly.

“Please,” she begged, and I pressed a kiss to her forehead before I looked back up to the EMT and opened a channel between us, sending awareness to him, willing him to turn around and see me. My heart pounded as he stopped, his head lifting as he turned slowly to look out at the sea.

His shock reverberated back to me when he saw me there, drifting in the air, cradling the bleeding child to my chest. Right then I wished I had the ability to emit some eerie glow around me to make it seem like one of those miracles people talk about so they would just write his vision off later. But instead I was a salt rubbed, scraped, and dripping mess, nothing what you expect when you finally get to see an angel. I hoped he wouldn’t be too disappointed tomorrow morning when the shock wore off.

I nodded to him and propelled myself forward, towards the cliff and the lean of rocks, beckoning him to me through our open channel. He took a moment before he shook himself visibly and then scrambled for the edge of the road and reached out towards us. Bringing myself close enough to pass Mandy to him without hitting the rocks took more skill than I thought. As it was, my feet scraped them and my wings faltered as I stretched my arms out.

“You saw her on the rocks,” I said, letting power fill my voice as I spoke. “You saw the glass and checked over the edge, and there she was.”

“There she was,” he repeated slowly as he gathered Mandy into his arms, cradling her against his chest as he pulled himself back up on the road. He gave a slow blink and I beat my wings forcibly to push myself back in the air away from the rocks, hanging over the water. Mandy lifted her head out of the crook of his shoulder and looked for me. When our eyes met, I lifted a hand and waved at her, my heart swelling when she waved back with her tiny hand.

“Go,” I whispered to the man, knowing he could hear me with the channel between us. I turned my body, opening my wings over my head. Light from the traffic glinted on the tips of my feathers, making them sparkle silver before I struck out back towards the clear beach.

I hit the wet sand at a run, my legs desperate to keep up with the momentum of my wings when I reached the ground. I stumbled as I tried to slow down, my arms going out in a pinwheel as I caught my balance, but the tips of my wings trailing in the sand worked best to stop me. I don’t know how I managed to keep from falling to my knees, seeing that it took me nearly twenty feet to actually stop.

“And now for the hard part,” I mumbled to myself as I folded my wings as closely to my back as possible. The first time I hid my wings, the residual magic from the angels that had helped us worked to keep my transformation almost painless. Unfortunately, tonight I was all on my own, facing the daunting task with no help whatsoever.

I could already feel sweat break out on the small of my back as I anticipated the pain, making me stall. There was no spell or incantation for me to recite; it was purely force of will that brought my wings to life and hid them away later. I needed to find someone to help me make this easier to use this new ability for the greater good because the anticipation of pain was starting to induce panic attacks.

I closed my eyes and drew in a long breath, blowing it out through my mouth as I flexed my fingers, trying to keep my hands open so I didn’t cut my palms with my nails if I clenched my fists. I spread my feet shoulder width apart and imagined my body without my wings. I felt the swirling magic come to life inside of me, reaching behind me, tingling along the nerves and veins that ran through the hinges of my wings. A slow burn flared to life in my back and I concentrated on keeping my jaw slack, afraid to clench it.

I fought to keep the image of my body standing on the beach, sans wings, clear in the front of my mind as the slow burn started to grow, searing my flesh. I tried not to see my body burning alive as I felt my skin shift and mold. Soon the heavy weight that was pulling my body up and back disappeared and I dipped forward, keeping my balance as the sand shifted over my feet. Sweat trickled down my back into my jeans, inching its way over my skin. Coupled with the pain in my back, it made me want to scream.

My skin molded over my back, knitting back together where my wings no longer sprouted. I could see the raised, angry red welts in my mind, knowing the shiny white scars would be more defined in the morning. The pain receded slowly until I was left shaking as the adrenaline died away and my pulse stopped pounding in my ears. I wiped the tears from my cheeks, hissing against the sting of the scrape on my cheek I had forgotten about. The knot in my stomach loosened its hold against my spine and relief flooded through me, making my already shaking body feel weak. Mandy was going to be okay. Even though I didn’t know her and didn’t know if her mother had caused the horrific accident that threw her into the rocks, at least I had the peace of mind of knowing an innocent little girl would be okay.

A cold wind swirled around the beach, finding its way up my shirt, chilling me and reminding me that my shirt was in tatters. I sighed as I held the cloth against my stomach, not wanting it to lift in the wind as I made my way over to the rocks, searching in the dark for my sweatshirt. A sob of relief broke from me when my fingers closed on the still warm cotton.

I worked the hooded sweatshirt over my head, wincing through the residual pain as if I had been whipped; I managed to get it on to cover my torn shirt. All I wanted to do was sit down and catch my breath, but I was still shaking and I knew, like little Mandy, I risked going into shock and needed to get back to my car before that happened. At least if I passed out in the car, Steven and Jodi could get me to help. If I passed out here, I’d be lost in the tide by morning.

“And I thought sprouting wings was the hard part,” I said to myself as I looked up at the sloping hill covered in brush and brambles, the only way back to my car.

“Well, here goes.” I took a step forward into the bushes, opening my awareness to the dry earth around me, stealing little snatches of energy where I could, and tried to concentrate on Jodi and Steven’s signatures to pull me to the warm interior of my beautiful car, even if I couldn’t drive it myself tonight.

Thorns scraped my hands and twigs caught on my sleeves, but I was grateful they weren’t scratching my arms and the sweatshirt was thick enough not to tear. I nearly rolled my ankle more than once since it was too thick and dark for me to see where the loose rocks were hidden among the bushes. But when the sharp scent of exhaust filled my nose, I was never happier to breathe in the pollution. I blinked in the artificial light as I pulled my body free of the last bush between the freeway and me.

“Dude, are you okay?” a girl called out to me through her open window, staring at me in surprise.

“Huh?” I managed.

“Where did you go? I saw you go into the bushes, like, twenty minutes ago,” she said, frowning at me. Had it only been twenty minutes?

“Yeah, I tripped and fell,” I said, shaking my head and rolling my eyes to look properly embarrassed. “Lame, right?” I managed to laugh as I passed her car; she smiled sympathetically enough before she turned to the boy in the driver’s seat. But I didn’t care when I heard the giggle come from the interior of their car.

“Shay! Oh my god, are you okay?” a familiar voice asked, and I looked up to see Jodi standing outside of my car, uncrossing her arms and rushing over to me to help guide me the rest of the way. “Dude, you’re shaking!”

“Just tired,” I breathed before I crawled into the backseat of the car and curled up on the bench seat, drawing my knees up to my chest and closing my eyes, letting the shock settle in and the deep black take me.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Fire - Sneak Peek Week 2

Chapter 2

Jodi dropped the cooler into the trunk of my car as I placed most of the blankets beside it, keeping one of the dry ones for the backseat. I had a feeling Steven might need it on the way home considering how much energy this new task was taking from him. I put my gloves on before tossing the blanket into the backseat.

“Want to stay with the car and let it warm up while I go get Flamer?” Jodi asked.

“Nah, I’ll go get him. Why don’t you hang back and get warm in the car?” I said, handing her my keys. She nodded without argument and slipped into the front passenger side of the car, reaching over to put the keys in and turn on the engine. I pushed the fingers of my gloves tighter into place and started walking back into the park. I was in the trees again before the smell of smoke hit me like a punch in the gut.

“Son of a bitch!” I cursed before breaking into a run. This time the trees and bushes tore at my face and caught on my clothes, my emotions betraying me and making this mad dash awkward and clumsy. The cold air ripped through my lungs and my pulse hammered in my ears. I could taste Steven’s panic like pennies in my mouth.

I burst through the line of trees, a moment of déjà vu hitting me hard, but the serene clearing I had found was now clouded with smoke and the glow of orange outlined the trees in a macabre scene.

“Damnit!” I swore loudly, coughing as I inhaled the smoke. “Steven!” I screamed, my eyes watering against the burn of the smoke, making it impossible for me to see him. His emotions raged all around me in the out of control fire. The flames were faltering thanks to the damp earth and wet bark, but they were trying to burn nonetheless.

“Shay!” Steven’s scream came at me from dead ahead. I ducked my head as I barreled forward, arms outstretched, blindly reaching for him.

“Stop moving!” I yelled, letting my anger lash out at him like a slap in the face to calm his panic.

Soon my hands struck fabric and I coiled my fingers into his jacket and pulled him into me. He was crying and his emotions ran over me like fire ants, but I couldn’t help it; I didn’t have the time or luxury to try and calm him or block him out. I rode his pain and panic like a snorting, angry bull, pulling him with me as I stumbled on unseen rocks and roots, back towards the trees I’d come from.

“Goddamnit!” I yelled as we broke through the edge of the smoke, and I shoved Steven forward, away from me, as I spun back around to face the clearing. Steven stumbled and fell, scraping his hands on the ground, hacking and spitting out the smoke from his lungs.

I was nearly blind with panic; Steven was still too close to me to let me concentrate, so I ran forward, back into the choking smoke and heat.

“Shay! No!” Steven screamed, tears still streaming down his face, still coughing roughly and trying to get his bearings on all fours.

“Stay there or so help me, Steven!” I yelled at him, letting my anger lash out again, shoving him back to land on his butt. I’d apologize later, but right now there was a forest screaming in my mind, tearing my aura apart and threatening to break my mind if I didn’t hurry.

I fell to my knees, grateful I missed any rocks I couldn’t see, ripping off my gloves before plunging my hands into the ground. My arms sank almost up to my elbows and I called on all of the excess energy I had stored up and shoved it back into the Earth, calling on all of the water I could feel just below the surface. I felt the power sear through my body, burning my aura as it raced through me, nearly ripping open my palms as it found an outlet. The orange light was the first thing to go as the small flames that had ignited were extinguished; the smoldering embers died away next, allowing the smoke to dissipate slowly, rising into the air.

I kept my face close to the ground, gulping in the clean air, reeling in the new pain it brought with it from my smoke burned lungs. When the smoke cleared, I called my power back into me, not willing to let all of my hard work go to waste. When I opened my eyes, I saw the small clearing was flooded and I was soaking wet. Even the ends of my hair trailed in the water. I felt my stomach roil from so much coughing. I forced myself to breathe slowly through my nose, not wanting to vomit while I was in the water.

With a pain I had never felt before, I pulled my hands free of the Earth and sat back on my heels, the water settling around my waist. I brought my hands up in front of my face and closed my eyes against the sight. My palms were blistered and red, angry welts and broken skin stinging in the cooling air. Anger still swirled in me, just below the surface. I was angry with Steven, knowing he had tried something he shouldn’t have, but also angry with myself for leaving him there alone.

“Terra! Drake!” Jodi’s frightened voice called out somewhere behind me. “Oh, my god! Drake! Are you okay?” I heard her frantic cries, but the anger in me just wasn’t ready to get up yet. I opened my awareness of them, and through my closed eyes, I could see Steven still sitting where I had shoved him, crying helplessly, his cheeks darkened from the smoke, his tears making tracks in the soot. Jodi’s blue eyes were wide and wild and I could almost see her power snapping around her like a live wire.

“Drake!” she yelled, grabbing him by the front of his jacket and shaking him roughly, “where’s Terra?” But Steven only cried harder, shutting his eyes and shaking his head.

Fae, I sent my thoughts to her, surprised with how calm my mindvoice sounded. I’m fine. Give me a moment to calm down.

Where are you? she thought back at me, her own thoughts so panicked they were bright yellow, making me flinch against them.

In the clearing. Get Drake back to the car. I need a minute. I took in another long breath through my nose before I felt her start to protest. I need a minute, Fae, please, just go, I thought with more force, getting through to her this time.

Jodi turned away from the trees and dropped down next to Steven, picking up one arm and putting it around her shoulders, and struggled to get him standing. They made their way awkwardly through the park and back to the car. Once they were there, I opened my eyes and cut them off from my consciousness. My anger wasn’t what Steven needed right now and I couldn’t leave here until I had my energy back or else this whole trip would be for naught.

The water surrounding me was cold, and I could already feel my body numbing through my clothes. It would take forever to get my wool coat dry and I was not looking forward to sitting in my car for hours in wet jeans. I debated about what to do, finally pushing myself into motion to stand up, careful to keep my balance as my feet slipped on the grass and mud squishing underfoot. I didn’t need to ask Steven what he had been trying to do; it was all here, written in the air in front of me to see for myself. But I wasn’t ready, not yet.

I waded through the water. It pulled on my jeans and sucked on my feet, but I managed to get to the edge of it, only ankle deep when I reached for the nearest tree. I gasped in pain, pulling my hands back away from the bite of the rough bark on my raw hands. I clenched my jaw against the curses that were ready to fly from my mouth as I fought not to ball my hands into fists. I caught my breath again and took a step closer towards the tree, pressing the length of my body against the aged trunk.

“Please help me,” I whispered through the swirling cocktail of pain and anger. Longer than it should have taken if I were truly calm, I felt the aura of the tree ripple around me, its power caressing the skin of my face, drawing me in. I closed my eyes against the welcoming magic and felt my body fall. Hidden inside the tree, sap ran through my veins and the throb in my hands found the same rhythm as the pulse of the tree. I felt my consciousness slipping from me; it would be so easy to just let it take me, becoming part of the tree until I was nothing and the pain and unpredictable emotions were gone.

“No,” I whispered, pushing against the desire. I just needed healing. I drew in the strength from the tree, feeling the power course up through the roots and spill into me, filling me until it threatened to overflow, replacing all of that lost energy. I paused, catching my breath, and drew in just a little more, storing it away in my mind when my aura thickened around me. The searing pain in my hands and arms started to fade and I could feel the layers of skin melt back together, the welts receding as the red washed away.

I fell out of the tree, catching my balance on another tree as I stumbled the last few feet. The bark bit into my hand, but there was no answering pain under the pressure. My hands were whole and pale again, drawing a sigh from my lungs that no longer burned as I breathed. I didn’t like to take energy from trees when I was very drained; they were so feral their magic tempted me too much, threatening to steal away my humanity.

“Thank you,” I said to the tree that had healed me before I turned and looked into the clearing. Already the water level was lower as it seeped away and a knot in my chest loosened. I opened my consciousness again, letting the anxiety from Jodi and pure fear of Steven filter back into my mind, both easing as they felt me come back to them. I took careful steps back into the clearing, feeling like I was standing in a draining bathtub.

I pursed my lips, crossing my arms under my chest, and let the forest speak to me. Like a damaged movie reel, scenes of Steven sitting on the ground flickered in front of me, a shadow of his true self. He was concentrating on not one leaf like he was supposed to, but on a batch of twigs he’d gathered. I pressed my lips into a thin line and held back the angry thoughts that threatened to snap down the line to Steven.

He succeeded in setting the tiny fire he was concentrating on, but instead of it smoldering like he was supposed to be working on, it burst into flame, and in his excitement, it grew faster than he anticipated. Flames danced in front of him, hopping and popping from the twigs to the dead leaves he should’ve been using. They burst into flame easily and Steven jumped into action trying to swat at the flames, not worried about them burning his hands, but in his haste, he shattered the leaves, and the embers caught the breeze, setting tiny fires around him faster than he could put them out. Soon I couldn’t see Steven anymore, even though I knew he was still in front of me somewhere, but for all the smoke, he might as well have disappeared.

“So. Much. Trouble.” I bit off each word and felt a pang of fear in the back of my mind. Steven heard me as clearly as if I had whispered them into his ear. I blinked my eyes clear of the vision and saw the charred and empty clearing again, all but an inch of water gone now. Turning on my heel, I headed back towards the car.


“One leaf! One leaf, Steven!” I yelled as I pulled off my wet t-shirt, shivering as the air hit my damp skin. I was standing behind my car with the trunk open, grateful for the extra clothes Jodi had packed for me. “You were supposed to focus on one leaf! What the hell were you thinking?”

Steven stared resolutely at the ground, scuffing the toe of his shoe into the dirt as I raged. I snatched the t-shirt Jodi held out to me and pulled it over my head, stretching the material and not caring. I wrung out my hair before pulling it up into a messy ponytail to keep it out of the way, my auburn hair dark when wet. I stepped on the back of each boot to get them off before I balanced myself on the bumper to peel off my socks, throwing them on the ground.

“I cannot believe how angry I am right now!” I seethed as I worked my jeans down my thighs that were cold to the touch; they went to the ground with my socks. Jodi bent to pick up the discarded clothes to try and wring out some of the water as I quickly worked off my underwear, shoving them into my folded wet shirt before pulling on the extra pair of jeans, the fabric catching on my damp skin, making me swear all over again. I didn’t even care that I was making Steven’s ears red with my language. I slowed my motions only long enough to zip up my jeans, not wanting to catch anything important since I was now going commando.

I grabbed the fleece-lined boots in the trunk and shoved my feet into them before I grabbed one of Steven’s old sweatshirts I had stolen years ago. Jodi found an old plastic grocery bag in the car and put all of my soggy, folded clothes in it before tying the handles together and dropping it in the trunk. I was surprised she’d kept her mouth closed as I ranted and raved; she usually couldn’t resist adding her two cents.

I hooked her arm before she could walk around the car and pulled her into a hug. “Thank you for thinking ahead,” I said into her hair. She hugged me back, but didn’t say anything before she pulled away and got into the car to leave Steven and me alone. At least giving us the illusion we were alone.

“Get over here,” I said, not looking at Steven. Dragging his feet, Steven came around the car and stood in front of me. His hands were shoved into the pockets of his sweatshirt and his eyes were in shadow from the beanie he’d pulled down low over his forehead. He’d changed too since his clothing smelled so strongly of smoke. Only Jodi was wearing the same things she’d come up in.

“I want an answer,” I said flatly. “Just what the hell were you thinking?”

“I don’t know,” he whispered, and I realized he was crying. A pain shot through my chest and I gritted my teeth against it.

“Damnit, Steven,” I grumbled.

“I know, I’m sorry, Shay,” he blurted, looking up at me, the amber in his eyes dull and faded in his sorrow.

“You could’ve died,” I said, softer now.

“I know.”

“Do you know what that would do to Jodi and me? You dying? I don’t know if we’d survive that,” I said honestly and I felt my eyes well up. Great, I was going to cry. I meant what I said; with our growing connection, I really wasn’t sure what would happen to the survivors if one or more of us died.

“I just wanted to know if I could do it,” he choked, dropping his eyes again, and I just couldn’t bring myself to keep yelling at him. With a resigned sigh, I reached forward and grabbed him by the front of his sweatshirt and pulled him into me, wrapping my arms around his neck. Steven gripped me in a bear hug, burying his face into my neck and letting his body shake with sobs. I was up on my toes and my body arched into him because of the height difference and my lower back protested against the strain, but I didn’t make him let go; I couldn’t punish him anymore.

Eventually I felt Jodi’s arms slip around both of us as she hugged Steven from behind, her cheek resting on his back and her own tears streaking down her face in black smears as she ruined her mascara. By the time we broke apart, my toes were tingling and my back popped as I landed back on my feet. I wiped my face on the sleeve of my sweatshirt before I reached up and smacked Steven on the side of his head just as Jodi jabbed him in the chest.

We all piled back into the car and started back towards the freeway with the heat on high and my headlights already on as the sunset edged closer, making shadows stretch through the mountains.

“Steven, if something is bothering you, just say it,” Jodi said as she gazed out the windshield. Her voice didn’t hold any annoyance, but I could tell whatever was going on with Steven was bugging her. It was nice to have them both start to really understand what a burden being an empath could be.

“I just,” Steven started, but stopped himself.

“Babe, just spit it out,” I said. We could practically read each other’s minds now, but after something terrifying and traumatic, we all instinctively put up shields while we tried to repair our psyches.

“I’m hungry,” he finally said, sounding embarrassed.

“Yeah, I bet you are,” I said as my own stomach knotted with hunger at the thought of food.
“All that power gone, yeah, you should be hungry; you too, Shay,” Jodi said, shifting her body to pull her left leg up into her seat so she could turn and lean her back against the door. She finally looked normal, relaxed almost.

“We can get dinner in Santa Barbara,” I said as we found the highway, joining the light traffic so far from the more populous cities. I felt a wash of relief from Steven, who had been afraid I was going to make him wait until we got back to Ventura to eat.

As the highway curved towards the coast, the ocean swept out on our right in a dark blue wash with the sun below the horizon creating an almost eerie glow on the water. We drove in silence, not even bothering to turn on the radio to fight with the static this far away from the cities. We made good time into Santa Barbara, pulling off the freeway onto State Street. Since we all turned eighteen in the past year, we had been up here often, both Jodi and Steven wanting to go to the eighteen and over clubs to dance on the weekends. I didn’t care for them that much; too many bodies pressed into too small a space for my liking.

There was always a strange mixture of emotions in those places. The spicy flavor of lust and flirtation was strong, but almost as strong was the lingering predatory heat from both the men and women as they vied for dominance. It was as close as we got to being like the animals we are, except when caught up in a bare-knuckle fight. I had been witness to more of those too in the last couple of months than I had in my three and a half years in high school. I had started taking more self-defense lessons, not always wanting to have to depend on my magic when I needed to defend myself. It was also good to know this stuff since Jodi was so newly single, she was a little more flirtatious and quicker to jealousies than she’d ever been before.

I was pleased with how easily I was taking to the classes, even enjoying the pain when I took a hit because it proved I could actually take a hit and keep moving. What had excited me even more was when I had almost broken my instructor’s fingers when we practiced getting out of wrist holds. Granted, I could call up an earthquake to shake off my attacker, or possibly open a sinkhole below him to swallow him up, but sometimes there were witnesses, and it wasn’t easy to alter someone’s mind, never mind a lot of minds.

Other times, like lately, I didn’t just have enough magic to spare for such spectacular feats. I had learned that I could call on my own connection with fire, thanks to working so much with Steven, and burn someone, but it took quite a bit of energy out of me. Sometimes a mundane action was the best course and I wanted to be able to inflict damage if I needed to. If it’s between them and me, I know who got my vote.

State Street was crowded as usual; the main drag through downtown Santa Barbara was heavy with restaurants, theaters, bars, and nightclubs. I didn’t bother trying to find parking on the street, instead turning down one of the many side streets to look for an all-day parking lot meant to take the overflow from the crowds. We had to walk a couple of extra blocks, but it saved us at least an hour in drive time. We weren’t dressed appropriately for any of the nightclubs, and for that I was grateful; I just wasn’t in the mood to fend off the advances of men too old to be asking me to dance.

We all got out of the car, double-checking my door locks, and headed for the sidewalk. We squeezed together so that Steven walked between us, linking arms and walking shoulder to shoulder. It would’ve been awkward for some, but we fell into step easily, preferring the safety of us next to each other than having someone dropped behind the other two. Once we rounded the corner and made it onto State Street, bright from so many streetlights and storefronts, we broke apart to walk more comfortably.

“Not to sound pushy,” I said, pulling the tie out of my hair and finger combing it quickly, “but I need meat after all of that.”

“Fine by me,” Jodi said, looking up and down the street at what was close.

“Sure, whatever, everything sounds good to me,” Steven agreed. “Nothing too pricey though, okay?”

“Of course not,” I said, nodding my head in one direction and leading us up the street. We reached the next corner and I stepped up to the front door of a bar and grill place and pulled the door open, holding it for Jodi before Steven took it from me and waited for me to go in ahead of him. It wasn’t cheap, but it wasn’t nearly as expensive as a lot of the other restaurants in downtown were and I knew this one had a steak and onion rings dish that made my mouth water just thinking about it.

The hostess led us into the crowded restaurant and we all piled into the booth she gestured to. There was a small live band set up on the other side of the dining room playing loudly enough to give the diners privacy to talk without having to whisper, which I liked. None of us took much time to order and before I knew it, my steak was steaming in front of me. We tucked into our food and let the upbeat music wash away our tension from the day. Even my residual anger was hardly a whisper at the edge of my thoughts; by the time we got home, I’d be totally calm.

By the end of our meal and casual conversation, even Steven looked like he was back to normal. We paid our bill, leaving a larger tip than would be expected of three teenagers, and decided to walk to the bookstore down the street. It was a little more laborious than it sounded with so many people to weave in and out of with the winter wind whipping down the street, but when we pushed through the doors and the scent of coffee and warmth hit us, we all visibly relaxed again.

“Coffee?” Steven asked. “My treat!”

“Mmmhmm,” Jodi said and headed over to the Starbucks counter without any more encouragement.


“Yeah.” I said, “dark cherry mocha,” surprising him since I rarely ordered any of the overly sugary drinks, but after today, I figured I deserved one. “I’ll be upstairs.” I gestured to the mezzanine above us and Steven nodded, bending towards me to kiss my cheek before he followed Jodi.

I felt my lips curve into a smile before I made my way through people and stacks of books towards the escalators. He was still feeling guilty, but he was happy I hadn’t dwelt on the event over dinner. As the end of the school year approached, the thought of us being separated by college terrified me and I didn’t want to waste time with anger.

Steven wasn’t planning on going to college even though his grades were every bit as good as Jodi and mine were. He planned on going to community college to get his Associates Degree and then to cosmetology school. I know it sounds cliché for a gay man, but Steven wanted to work in the makeup department of the movie industry, which I thought was a pretty cool ambition. Competitive, but Steven could do wonders with hair and makeup already; I couldn’t imagine what he’d be able to do with serious training.

Jodi and I had applied to some of the local colleges, neither of our families ready for us to move away yet. Besides, since Steven would be staying in town too, there was no reason for us to leave. Jodi was planning on getting her degree in Business Administration or something. Me? I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. What curriculum appealed to an Earth Elemental guardian angel? Damned if I knew. I planned to get my General Ed classes out of the way while I figured it out, if I figured it out.

I made my way to the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section of the store. Usually I would head straight for the Occult section, but that was so much like study and work for me, and after the crapstorm I’d been through lately, I wanted a little fun. I scanned the shelves of the new releases and realized just how long it had been since I picked up a book for light reading when none of the titles jumped out at me. With a huff of impatience, I turned around and started scanning the books for familiar authors.

Steven and Jodi found me sitting on the floor in the middle of the aisle with a pile of books around me, thumbing through one on vampires and werewolves, trying not to crease the spine as I considered whether or not to buy it. I was so far behind on my reading that most of my favorite authors had new series out that were four or more books long.

“Having a hard time choosing?” Jodi asked as she crossed her ankles and fell to sit in front of me, picking up one of the books on the ground, reading the back.

“Yeah,” I said, smiling at Steven as I accepted the paper cup he extended to me. The smell of dark chocolate, coffee, and cherries wafted in, and I breathed in deep before taking a hesitant sip, happy to find it cool enough to drink.

“I’ve read this one,” Jodi said, holding the book up in front of me. “I didn’t dig it,” she said, tossing it on the floor to make me cringe. I showed books the reverence they deserved, but then if you saw Jodi’s room, you’d know she treated most inanimate objects much the same way as the book she just tossed.

“What about this one?” I asked, holding up the book I had been trying to scan when they came up.

“No idea, never heard of the author,” Jodi said as she reached for another book on witches and black magic. I considered the book I held and saw that a good seventeen more books in the series were on the shelf. That was promising.

“I’m gonna get it,” I said. I started gathering up the rejects and placing them back on the shelves where I had pulled them. Jodi kept the witch book, which I would probably be borrowing someday.

I led the way through the serpentine checkout line, Jodi right behind me with her choice. Despite the near forest fire, this was one of the most normal days we had shared all break. I browsed the display of bookmarks as I waited to be called to the register, picking one with a Maori proverb on it reading, “Turn your face to the sun, and the shadows fall behind you.” Yeah, that worked for me.