The Reckoning / Page 13

Page 13


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“It wasn’t like that.” I met her gaze. “Really. Simon was fine.”


She eyed me. “You sure?”


“The only thing he did was kiss me, and he asked first. He was fine. I-I froze up.”


“Ah.” She settled onto my bed. “First kiss?”


“N-no. Of c-course not.”


“You know, it’s hard to lie convincingly when you stutter, Chloe. So it was your first kiss. Big deal. My first one was last year, and I made him wait until the third date. I don’t let a guy push me into anything I’m not ready for. They think because I’m popular I must put out. I don’t, and by the end of the first date, they know it.” She reclined on the bed. “So he kissed you and you froze up, and he thought that meant you weren’t into him. It happens. He should have expected that-everyone knows how jumpy you are.”


I glared at her.


“Well, it’s true. Just tell him he surprised you, and ask him out. Try again.”


And what if I didn’t want to try again?


I finished gathering up my stuff. “You’re getting the room to yourself tonight.”


She sat up. “What?”


“I’m going to sleep in the next one. I just-I’m not really good company.”


I could see that hurt her feelings. I was getting good at that. At the door I paused. “Thanks. For…everything today. I appreciate it.”


She nodded and I left.


I should have stayed with Tori.


Being alone meant I had nothing to do except curl up under the covers and cry about how horribly wrong my life had gone, then despise myself for wallowing in self-pity.


I’d screwed up everything. I couldn’t control my powers, even when our future depended on it. No one was talking about freeing Rae and Aunt Lauren and finding the guys’ dad anymore. We’d be lucky if my cemetery summoning didn’t turn us into prisoners.


The only people I could count on were Derek, Simon, and Tori. After they’d all apparently forgiven me for my cemetery screwup, now I’d hurt Simon, pissed off Derek, and rebuffed Tori.


I wanted to go home. If I had real guts, I’d pack my bag and leave before I made things worse. I couldn’t even manage that, though. I hated, hated, hated myself for being so weak. I couldn’t seem to do anything but cry until at last I fell into an exhausted sleep.


A rap on the door woke me. I squinted at the nightstand, looking for the clock, only to remember that I’d changed rooms.


“Chloe? It’s me.” After a pause, he added, “Derek,” like I could mistake that deep rumble for anyone else, like I could mistake that little part of me that perked up like an eager puppy saying, “It’s him. Quick! Go see what he wants.”


God, how had I been so blind? It seemed so obvious now.


Sad and pathetic.


Par for the course these days.


I pulled the covers up and closed my eyes.


“Chloe?” The floorboards creaked. “I need to talk to you.”


I didn’t answer.


Another creak, this time the door itself, and I shot up in bed as he slipped in.


“Hey!” I said. “You can’t-”


“Sorry,” he mumbled. “It’s just…”


He moved into the moonlight. That was no accident. He wanted me to see his eyes burning with fever, his skin flushed, hair sweat soaked. He wanted me to say, “Oh, you’re Changing,” leap out of bed, and insist on going outside with him, help him through it, as I had the last two times.


I looked at him and I lay back down.


He stepped forward. “Chloe…”


“What?”


“It’s…It’s starting again.”


“I see that.”


I sat up, swung my legs out of bed, and stood. He breathed a sigh of relief. I walked to the window.


“Head down that path about thirty feet, and you’ll find a clearing to the left. That should be a good place.”


A spark of panic ignited in his eyes. After how he’d treated me today, I should have said “good.” But I didn’t. Couldn’t. It took everything I had just to crawl back into bed.


“Chloe…”


“What?”


He scratched his arm. Scratched hard as the skin bubbled, his muscles writhing. He glanced at me, and the look in his eyes was so miserable that I had to clamp my jaw shut against the impulse to say, “Fine, I’ll come with you.”


“What?” I said instead.


“I-” He swallowed. Licked his lips. Tried again. “I-”


Even asking me to come with him was too much. He’d never had to before.


“I…I need-” He swallowed again. “I want…Will you come with me?”


I lifted my gaze to his. “How can you even ask me that? How many times did you chew me out today? Make me feel like everything’s going wrong and it’s all my fault?”


His eyes widened in genuine surprise. “That’s not what I meant.” He brushed his sweaty bangs back. “If I hurt you-”


“How could you not hurt me? This morning, after the cemetery, I needed your help. Your advice. All you could do was make me feel worse than I already did, which, believe me, wasn’t easy. Then tonight, with Simon, you acted like that was all my fault, too, even when you could see how upset I was, how bad I felt.” I took a deep breath. “After the truck stop, after our trip back…I thought we were friends.”


“We are.”


“No.” I met his gaze. “Obviously we’re not.”


The look on his face, confused and miserable, made me feel awful, which only made me madder. He had no right to come in here and expect help, then make me feel guilty for refusing.


“Chloe, please.” He rubbed his hand over his throat. The veins and tendons pulsed. Sweat beaded on his forehead. “It’s coming faster this time.”


“Then you should go.”


“I c-I ca-” He swallowed hard and looked at me, fever making his eyes so bright they seemed to glow. “Please.”


It wasn’t the “please” that did it. It was the absolute panic in his eyes. He was terrified of the Change, of not knowing whether he could complete it, if the genetic modification had done something to him and that’s why he kept suffering through this, only to fail before he reached the end.


He’d never actually said that, and maybe I’m a pushover, but I couldn’t send him off to do it alone. So I grabbed my jacket and sneakers.


“Thank y-” he began.


I brushed past him to the door. “Let’s go.”


Nineteen


WE KEPT TO THE shadows in the yard in case anyone looked out and saw us heading for the forest. Once we reached the path, Derek stayed beside me, sneaking glances my way, giving me that dejected look that only made me madder, because I didn’t want to feel guilty, yet I did.


I wanted to set this aside and get back to normal. But when he looked at me, I had only to think of that other look-the horrified one when I said Simon thought I liked Derek-and that shut down any impulse to make up.


“You wanted to talk about what happened at the cemetery,” he said finally.


I didn’t answer.


“We should talk,” he said.


I shook my head.


We picked our way along the path. I tried to hang back, letting him take the lead with his better night vision, but he stayed at my side.


“About the other day, when I yelled at you for summoning without your necklace…” he said.


“It’s fine.”


“Yeah, but…I just wanted to say that testing without it is a good idea. We should try-”


I turned to him. “Don’t do this, Derek.”


“Do what?”


“I’m coming along for your Change, so you feel obligated to help me in return.”


He scratched hard at his arm. “I don’t-”


“Yes, you do. Now, let’s find a place before you start Changing in the middle of the path.”


He kept scratching, blood welling up in lines down his arm. “I just want to-”


I caught his hand. “You’re making yourself bleed.”


He stared down, struggling to focus. “Oh.”


“Come on.” I turned off the path, heading for the clearing I’d spotted earlier.


“I heard what Andrew said this morning,” he said. “About me.”


“I figured you did,” I said, softer than I meant to, then cleared my throat, trying to find the anger again.


“He’s got a point. I’m not-”


“You’re fine. Andrew’s an idiot,” I snapped. Great. I’d found the anger and sent it in the wrong direction. “He’s wrong, okay? You know that. Let’s just drop it.”


“When I blew up at you about the cemetery, I…I didn’t mean to. I’m frustrated and I-”


“Please,” I said, wheeling on him. “Just stop, okay?”


He did, for about five paces. “I was frustrated with the situation. Being stuck here. The Change coming on makes it worse. I know that’s not an excuse.”


I glanced up at him. He watched me, expectant. He wanted me to say maybe it did explain things. Cut him some slack. The problem was that I wanted to. And if I did, then the next time he felt like venting on me, he would.


“Chloe?”


I stopped at the edge of a small clearing. “Is this okay?”


He said nothing and I thought he was checking it out, but when I turned, he’d gone still, his chin up, staring into the forest. “Did you hear that?”


“What?”


He shook his head. “Nothing, I guess.”


He stepped into the clearing and looked around, murmuring, “Good, good.” Then he stripped off his sweatshirt and set it on the ground. “You can sit here.” He glanced over at me. “Remember the other night at Andrew’s? When you came out to keep me company, and we tried doing some training with you? We should do that again.”


I sighed. “You aren’t going to quit, are you? You think if you can just say the right thing, it’ll all be okay.”


His lips twitched in something like a smile. “I can hope, can’t I?”


“Sure. And if it works, what does that make me? You get to treat me any way you want and as soon as you decide to play nice, all is forgiven.”


“I am sorry, Chloe.”


“For now.” I turned away. “Forget it, okay? Let’s just-”


He caught my elbow. His skin burned even through my jacket. “I mean it. I’m really sorry. When I get mad like that, it’s not-it’s not-” He released my arm and rubbed the back of his neck. Rivulets of sweat ran down his face. The skin on his bare arms rippled.


“You need to get ready.”


“No. I need to say something. Just give me a sec.”


He took a second. Then another. Then another, just standing there, rubbing his arm furiously, gaze fixed on that.


“Derek, you need-”


“I’m fine. Just give me-” He took a deep breath.


“Derek…”


“Just one sec.”


He started scratching again. When I moved forward to grab his hand, he stopped.


“Right, right,” he murmured. He flexed his hand, then made a fist, as if to keep himself from scratching. “I tell you not to be scared of me. I snap at you when you back away. But sometimes…”


He reached around to scratch his shoulders, wincing as his nails dug in.


“Derek, you have to-”


“Sometimes that’s exactly what I want,” he said. “That’s what I’m trying to do-scare you off.”


“So you don’t accidentally hurt me.” I sighed. “You aren’t going to-”


“No, it’s not that. It’s-”


His hand went to his forearm, then he stopped short as dark stubble sprouted.


“You’re Changing, Derek. We’ll talk later.”


“Right. Yeah. Later. Good.” The words rushed out in a whoosh of relief.


He looked around, blinking as sweat streamed into his eyes.


“You need to get down,” I said gently.


When he still didn’t budge, I caught his hand and tugged. He lowered himself with some difficulty, then got up on all fours, in position to begin the Change.


“Unless Margaret brought you a lot of new shirts, you might want to take that one off,” I said.


“Right.”


He pulled at the hem, tugging it up, but his arm wouldn’t twist the right way to get the shirt up over his head, like his joints were already repositioning, fusing. So I helped. I drew the line at removing his pants, though. Luckily, he’d pulled on sweats to sleep in, and he was able to fumble them down to his knees, and I was okay with taking it from there. His shorts were staying on. If they ripped during the Change, I just hoped the transformation was far enough along that…well, whatever.


He barely had his clothes off before the full body spasms hit, his back shooting up, his spine bending at a seemingly impossible angle, wrenching a gurgling whimper from him as his face contorted in agony, the cry cut short as he spewed dinner into the bushes.


It went on like that for a while. The spasms, the convulsions, his skin and muscles rippling like something out of a horror movie. The gasps and moans and stifled cries of pain between retching and dry heaves. The stink of vomit and sweat.


You’d really think this would cure any romantic notions I had about the guy. But I’d seen it three times now, and I watched every time, knowing if I looked away, moved away, let him think I was horrified and disgusted, I’d only make it worse.


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