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Authors: Brigid Kemmerer

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Elemental (2 page)

BOOK: Elemental
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She scowled, but didn’t look away. ‘No.’ She hesitated. ‘I just … I wanted to—’

A ball rammed the fence beside his shoulder, rattling the entire structure. Michael swore, and Emily jumped. He turned to slap the button again.

When he turned back, she’d come closer, until only three feet of dirt and a chain-link cage separated them.

‘I need this job,’ she said, her voice full of false bravado. Like she’d had to dare herself to walk out here.

‘Maybe you shouldn’t try to kill your customers, then.’

She licked her lips and fidgeted. ‘I didn’t … I thought you were going to—’

‘Yeah, I know what you thought I was going to do.’ He adjusted the grip on his bat and turned back to face the machine. No matter how careful he was, all they could see was his potential for damage.

Like he would have needed a bat. Didn’t she understand that?

He hit the button. A ball came flying. He swung.


‘Well,’ she said from behind him, ‘I saw what you did to Tyler last week.’

What he’d done. That was rich. ‘Yeah, poor Tyler.’

‘He said you jumped him after school.’

Michael couldn’t even turn around. Fury kept him rooted until the next ball shot out of the machine. He swung hard. This one hit the nets and strained the ropes.

Of course Tyler would make him out to be the bad guy.

He tossed a glance over his shoulder. ‘I’m sure you got the whole story.’

She hesitated. ‘If you’re just coming here to hassle me, I’ll tell my parents.’

From any other girl, it would have been an empty threat. The kind of threat you stopped hearing in third grade.

From her, it meant something. Emily Morgan’s parents could cause serious problems for his family.

Michael gritted his teeth and made his voice even. ‘I’m not doing anything to hassle you.’

Ball. Crack. He brushed the sweat out of his eyes.

She was still standing there. He could feel it.

‘Here,’ she said.

He didn’t turn. ‘What?’

She was close enough now that the earth whispered to him about her presence. ‘I’ll get today,’ she said. ‘For trying to kill you and all.’ Then the fence jingled, as if she was fiddling with it.

Another ball was coming, so he couldn’t look. He swung and sent it flying.

She’d get today? What did that mean?

He turned to ask her, but she was already slipping through the tinted door into the office.

But strung through the fence was his crumpled five-dollar bill.


Emily pushed rice and chicken around her plate and wished she
hadn’t mentioned Michael Merrick to her parents. Because now they had a new topic to argue about.

As if they needed one.

‘You’re going to quit that job,’ said her father.

‘I need my job,’ she said.

‘Oh, you do not,’ said her mother. ‘What could you possibly need a job for? We give you everything you need.’

In a way, they did. She had her car, a hand-me-down sedan she’d gotten when she turned sixteen and her father decided he wanted something new. Her parents covered insurance. She always said she’d pay for her own gas—but they’d given her a gas card for her seventeenth birthday.

But she doubted they’d pay for a security deposit on a new apartment in New York City after senior year. Having a stash of cash meant freedom to do what she wanted to do.

‘He didn’t bother me,’ she said. ‘I think he was just as surprised to see me—’

‘The last thing the Merricks need is leverage,’ said her father, gesturing with his fork. ‘This deal was a bad idea from the beginning, before we knew how powerful that boy would get.’

Emily sighed. ‘I’m not leverage.’

‘You could be,’ said her mother. ‘I’m not having you come home looking like Tyler.’

Emily peeked through her bangs across the table at her brother. He wasn’t eating, either—his fingers were too busy flying across the face of his phone, his own mode of ignoring their parents. He was two years younger, but already stood about four inches taller than she did. He’d spent freshman year growing into his features, and now, for the first time, he looked older. The bruising on his cheek had turned yellow and purple, sharp and striking against his pale skin and white-blond hair. She studied the injury, remembering Michael’s sarcasm from the batting cage.

Poor Tyler. I’m sure you got the whole story.

‘Take a picture,’ Tyler muttered without looking up. ‘It’ll last longer.’

‘Original.’ Along with the height, he’d grown into a crappy attitude, too. ‘Who are you texting?’

‘None of your business.’

She didn’t really care, but it was easier to bicker with Tyler than to fight with her parents. ‘Sounds like a girl.’

He shot her a glare over the phone. ‘Well, you sound like a—’

‘Tyler.’ Their mother’s voice sliced through his coming insult. ‘No electronics during dinner.’

He made a disgusted sound and put the phone in his lap.

But Emily knew he’d be back at it as soon as their folks were distracted again.

‘What did he say to you?’ said her father.

‘Nothing.’ She pushed the food around her plate again. She hadn’t mentioned her own actions with the putter—and didn’t plan on telling them now. ‘He just came in to use the batting cages. It was fine.’

‘Convenient,’ snapped her father. ‘Your first day of work, you’re alone, he comes in there—’

‘He said he goes there all the time!’

Her parents went still. It was the wrong thing to say.

‘I don’t want you going back there,’ said her mother, her voice hushed.

‘It’s fine—’

‘The hell it is,’ said her father. ‘I’ve been talking to Josh Drake. He thinks we should just take care of the problem ourselves.’

Tyler rolled his eyes. ‘Seth’s dad says that every time he cracks open a beer.’

Though he was a few years younger, Seth Drake was Tyler’s best friend. He was an Earth Elemental like his dad—and like Michael Merrick—but the Drake abilities stopped at pulling strength from the ground they stood on. Emily had no idea where Michael’s abilities stopped.

And that was part of the problem.

‘I think we might all be overreacting,’ said Emily. ‘He didn’t start anything—’

‘Overreacting?’ Tyler threw his fork down against his plate. ‘You saw what that asshole did to me.’

‘Tyler!’ said their mother. ‘I won’t have that language at the table.’

Emily stared at him. ‘And what exactly happened again?’

He stared back at her for a beat. ‘I told you,’ he said evenly. ‘He jumped me and Seth.’

‘That’s it,’ said her father. ‘I’m calling over there.’

‘To Seth’s?’ said Tyler.

‘No. To the Merricks.’

Michael heard the garage phone ring while he was out back, playing catch with his youngest brother. He was tired from work and the batting cages, but he’d found the twins pinning Chris in the hallway, trying to spit into his mouth.

Michael never cared if Gabriel and Nick beat the crap out of each other, but he hated when they ganged up on Chris.

So now they were killing time out back until the twins found some other trouble to get into.

Someone else must have grabbed the phone, because the ringer cut off quickly. Michael hadn’t even bothered moving. He couldn’t remember the last time someone had called the house to talk to him.

‘You’re so lucky,’ said Chris, pelting the ball back to him.

It went wide. Michael stretched to reach it, and the ball smacked into his mitt. ‘Lucky?’

‘Yeah. You get to go to work with Dad all day. I’m stuck here.’

Michael threw the ball back. This was the first summer Chris and the twins had been deemed old enough to stay home alone while their parents worked. ‘Do they pull that crap all day long?’

‘Nah.’ Chris caught the ball and shrugged. ‘It’s just boring.’

Boring. A code word for lonely. Michael remembered being too young to drive, before he knew about his abilities, when summertime seemed to stretch out with infinite possibilities—and ended up basically being three months of house arrest. He regretted not stopping at home to bring Chris along to the batting cages—but then he considered Emily and the putter and thanked god he hadn’t bothered. That was a story he didn’t need Chris dragging home to their parents.

‘I’ll talk to Dad,’ he said. ‘Maybe you can come along for some of the smaller jobs.’

‘Really?’ Chris flung the ball back. ‘That would be awesome! I’ll go every day! We could—’

‘Easy.’ Michael smiled. Chris had to be lonely if he was willing to spend his summer pushing a mower and laying mulch. ‘I said I’d ask.’

Then he wondered if something more than boredom was motivating his little brother. He remembered himself at Chris’s age, how his element had begun calling to him, how he’d wanted to be outside all the time. Neither Chris nor the twins had shown any inclinations yet—but maybe it was right around the corner.

The thought was both exciting and terrifying.

And the worst part was that a selfish little piece of Michael wished one of his brothers would turn out to be as powerful as he was—just so he didn’t have to carry this burden alone.

As soon as he had the thought, he squashed it.

The back door slid open and their mother stuck her head out. ‘Michael?’

Chris had flung the ball hard, so Michael didn’t look over. ‘Yeah?’

‘Can you come in here for a moment?’

She was using her Serious Voice, and since she was pretty laid-back, it made Michael look over. ‘What’s up?’

‘Your father and I want to talk to you.’

Five minutes later, Michael was fuming at the kitchen table. He wanted to put a fist right through the wood surface. ‘But I didn’t do anything. I didn’t even know she worked there.’

His dad sat across the table, his expression implacable. ‘It doesn’t matter. You should have left. You know we’re in a precarious position here—’

‘That’s not my fault!’ Michael shoved his chair back from the table and half stood. ‘I didn’t want this stupid deal to begin with—’

‘Keep your voice down.’ His dad looked ready to come across the table himself. ‘I’m not having this argument with you again. This deal sets a precedent for your brothers. We have a family to consider—’

‘You think I don’t know that?’ God, didn’t his parents have any idea what his life was like? Couldn’t they see just how much he gave up, just because of their agreement?

His mother reached out and put a hand over his. Her voice was gentle, her eyes compassionate—a direct contradiction to his father’s. ‘We’re not angry with you.’

Michael jerked his hand away. His breathing felt too quick. Had Emily said he’d done something? Knowing that family, she’d probably said he stole her five dollars.

One place. That’s all he wanted. One place to call his own, to do something that had nothing to do with elements or deals. One place where he could forget all this.

And now it was gone.

His throat felt tight. ‘I hate this.’

‘I don’t care if you hate it.’ His father waited until Michael looked back at him. ‘You’re not to go near that family again. Do you understand me?’

‘Me! What about them?’ He was almost shouting now, and he didn’t care. ‘You know what Tyler did to—’

‘Not again. If you see them, you go somewhere else.’

Michael gritted his teeth and looked at the back door just so he wouldn’t have to look at his parents. ‘I want to leave.’

His father made a disgusted noise. ‘We’re not talking about this again. If we move to a new community, there’s no guarantee we could keep your abilities hidden—’

‘Not all of us,’ Michael snapped. He pointed to his chest. ‘Just me.’

‘Go ahead,’ said his father, his tone equally sharp. ‘They’d report you before dark. Rogue Elemental on the run? You’d be lucky to make it ’til sunrise.’

‘John,’ said his mother. ‘That’s enough.’

‘He’s bluffing.’

Michael leaned down and put his hands against the table. ‘Try me.’

His father stared back. ‘This isn’t a game.’

‘Trust me. I’m not having any fun.’

His father’s voice lowered and lost some of the anger. ‘I’m not kidding, Michael. Running away from this won’t work. It’s a death wish.’

Michael flung his chair in against the table. ‘Maybe I should just take my chances.’

He stormed across the kitchen, sure his father was going to call him back, to lecture more, to issue ultimatums and threats until Michael caved and promised to try harder.

How do you try harder at something that consumes every waking thought?

But his father didn’t say anything. Michael kept going.

Only to find his three brothers waiting, wide-eyed, just outside the kitchen doorway, their expressions some mix of betrayal and anger and confusion.


‘You’re leaving?’ said Nick.

‘Look. Guys …’ Michael sighed and ran a hand through his hair. ‘I didn’t mean right this second—’

‘So you are,’ said Chris. ‘You’re leaving.’

Gabriel had backed up against the wall, and his arms were folded across his chest. ‘What’s going to happen to the rest of us?’

‘Are they going to kill you?’ said Chris, his voice hollow.

‘Tyler won’t stop,’ said Nick. ‘Just because you’re gone, the rest of them will still—’


Michael felt their mother come up behind him, felt her slim hand on his shoulder. ‘No one is leaving,’ she said. ‘People say things in anger all the time. Michael didn’t mean it.’

Three sets of eyes locked on his.

‘Tell them,’ she said.

Michael looked at his three brothers. He could read the new emotion there: desperation. They wanted him to deny it.

He wanted to.

He just didn’t want to lie.

So he shrugged off his mother’s hand and went for his bedroom.

And he didn’t come out all night.


Emily stared at the door to the shop. Sweat was trickling down
her back despite the blasting air-conditioning.

I come on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Maybe he wouldn’t show. Her father sure hadn’t been subtle when he’d called the Merricks. But maybe that would work against her. Just like the other day. Michael had seemed just as surprised to see her—and then she’d gone and provoked him. Sure, her parents had a deal with his, but it felt flimsy. Kind of like those treaties with countries who kept nuclear warheads.

BOOK: Elemental
9.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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