Authors: Brigid Kemmerer
Tags: #JUV000000, #book
We promise not to use them unless you piss us off.
Maybe she should keep a putter on the counter.
Maybe she shouldn’t have told her parents.
But at least they hadn’t made her quit.
The clock struck four, the time he’d shown up on Wednesday. No Michael.
At four-thirty, the door swung open, but it was only a young mother with children coming to use the putt-putt course.
She had to do something to settle her nerves. She plugged her iPod into the sound system and scrolled through for her favorite musical.
The hands of the clock were creeping toward five, when her shift ended. Maybe her father’s phone call had worked. Besides, this wasn’t the only place around town with batting cages.
But then the doorknob creaked.
Her hand closed around the handle of a putter. If she screamed, would the woman with the preschoolers hear her?
The door swung open. Michael stood there.
But he didn’t come through the doorway. Just like the other day, she watched him sweep the corners with his eyes.
What was he looking for?
His gaze settled on the putter on the glass counter, then lifted to meet hers. ‘I was kind of kidding about you trying to kill me every time.’
She flushed and slid it into the holder.
He came all the way into the shop and put a five-dollar bill on the counter. ‘Can I get five tokens, or do you need to check with Daddy first?’
Her blush deepened. For some insane reason, she felt like she should apologize—when he was the one who should be avoiding her.
She fished the tokens from the drawer and slapped them onto the glass counter. She mustered the courage to meet his eyes, to let him know she wouldn’t let him screw with her. She tried to make her voice hard—and it ended up making her sound like a bitch. ‘Is that all?’
His eyes flashed with derision. ‘So brave.’
What a jerk. Her eyes narrowed. ‘I’m not the one tempting fate by coming here.’
He shoved the tokens into his pocket, and for the first time, he sounded resigned instead of antagonistic. ‘Aren’t you?’
Then he was through the door, and she was left there with the music in the air.
Emily almost went after him.
Are you crazy?
She didn’t understand how, with everything he was, he could stand there and make her feel like the bad guy. Of course she’d told her parents—he should be counting his lucky stars that her father hadn’t driven over there.
But even that thought made her blush. She was damn near eighteen years old.
He was right—she had gone crying to her parents.
She glanced at the clock. Her shift ended in four minutes.
At the stroke of five, she shoved through the back door of the office, stepping into the dense humidity. The air slid against her skin and welcomed her into the sunshine.
The batting cages were down the hill and beyond the putt-putt course. She could hear the crack of the bat from here, and once she passed the mini-golf windmill, she saw Michael in the fastball cage.
She stopped before he could notice her. A red tee shirt clung to his shoulders, reminding her of those matadors who swung a red cape to taunt a bull to fight to the death.
Reckless. That’s what this was.
Michael swung the bat, sending the ball into the nets. Even from here, Emily felt the speed of the ball flying through the air, knew exactly how much force it would take to make it change course.
She remembered the strength in his grip when he’d caught the golf club.
Just when she’d convinced herself to turn back, he glanced over his shoulder and saw her.
She wondered if the earth had told him she was standing there—and wondered if that counted as using his powers. Was it really any different from her sensing the trajectory of the ball ten seconds ago?
He turned around long enough to hit the next ball, then glanced back again. ‘What, do I get a running start?’
‘What are you talking about?’
‘Didn’t you call out the cavalry?’ He turned back without waiting for an answer.
‘No.’ Her cheeks felt hot. ‘I didn’t.’
Another ball came flying, and Michael swung hard. The impact resonated like a gunshot.
She’d never been into sports, but hitting something with that much force—it looked amazingly cathartic.
‘Look,’ she said. ‘I need this job. It’s important.’
He didn’t turn. ‘So?’
‘My father is going to make me quit if he finds out you came back.’
Another ball, but this one glanced off his bat and went wide. Michael swore and swiped a forearm across his forehead. ‘I don’t see why that’s my problem.’
A threat sat on the tip of her tongue, but she couldn’t say it. She moved closer, glad for the chain link between them. ‘Please. I’m just trying to talk to you.’
He didn’t say anything, just waited for the next ball and swung.
This was a mistake. She shouldn’t be out here anyway. What did she expect, that he’d leave after she asked nicely? What if someone drove by and saw her talking to him?
‘Forget it.’ Her feet slammed the packed earth as she walked away.
Another ball. The air moved with his swing. Crack.
But then she heard his voice from behind her. ‘Wait.’
Emily stopped halfway to the office, but she didn’t turn around.
‘My father,’ Michael called, ‘said he’d take my keys for the rest of the summer if he caught me coming back here.’
She came back to the fence. ‘Really?’
‘Yeah. Really.’ He ducked his head to wipe his forehead on his sleeve.
‘But you came back anyway.’
The pitching machine died, and Michael finally turned, stepping up to the fence. ‘So did you.’
She’d never stood this close to him before, to where she could see the flecks of gold in his brown eyes, could count each individual strand of hair that the sun had lightened. He still smelled like summer, cut grass and sunscreen with a hint of something woodsy.
The chain-link fence between them somehow made this more intimate instead of less.
Don’t be stupid. Even serial killers can be hot.
She had to clear her throat and force her eyes away. ‘Like I said. I need this job.’
He gave a somewhat humorless laugh and looked past her, at the parking lot. ‘I won’t tell if you won’t.’
His voice was vaguely mocking. That was sarcasm, not a real offer.
But she kept thinking about the weeks she’d spent looking for employment. She kept thinking of the train ticket to New York City—that would cost a week’s pay, to say nothing of rent and expenses once she got there.
So she swallowed. ‘Okay. You’ve got a deal.’
A deal. Michael snorted. He’d let his guard down for thirty seconds, and it was a mistake.
‘You’re crazy,’ he said.
‘No,’ she said. ‘I’m serious. You can play with the batting cages, and I can—’
‘I can play with the batting cages?’ he said, incredulous. ‘Just what the hell do you think I’m doing here?’
She looked taken aback. ‘I mean—you are playing—’
‘Forget it.’ Michael grabbed for the latch on the gate. He still had four tokens left, but they’d keep until next Wednesday. What had he been thinking, talking to her like she was just some ordinary girl?
It was the please that got him. He couldn’t remember the last time any of them had said please about anything.
Really, he couldn’t remember the last time any of them had talked to him civilly.
Michael was halfway to the parking lot when he realized she was following him.
He stopped short and turned to face her. ‘Damn it, what? You got what you wanted, okay? I’m leaving.’
She drew back, her hands up, as if he’d drawn a gun or something. ‘That’s not … I wasn’t … that’s not what I want.’
‘Oh yeah? Then why’d you cry to your father about me?’
Her cheeks were faintly pink, her breathing rapid. The blond hair and fair complexion made her brother look like a freak, but it suited her. He’d say she looked like a china doll, but then she’d swung a putter at his head on Wednesday. A contradiction in terms: strong and fragile, all at the same time. Like she might cry, but she’d slug him first.
It made him want to apologize.
To her, of all people! He turned and started walking again.
Loose rocks ground against the pavement as she jogged to catch up to him.
Michael whirled before she could say anything. ‘I don’t know what you’re playing, but it’s not going to work. You think you can provoke me into losing control? You think I’m going to give you a reason to call the Guides? This was my place, get it? Mine. It’s a batting cage. I’m not hurting anyone.’ He took a step closer to her. ‘So just leave me the hell alone.’
And with that, the pavement cracked and split between them.
Emily jumped back, but Michael caught it before his power caused too much damage. Just a twelve-foot crack in the parking lot, only an inch wide. Anything could have caused it, really. Rain. Weeds. Anything.
But Michael knew he’d done it. Worse, she knew he’d done it.
She was staring at him now, wide-eyed, her breathing quicker than before.
Pride wouldn’t let him do that. But he turned on his heel and made for the truck, and it took every ounce of self-control to keep from tearing out of the parking lot.
Emily was pushing her dinner around her plate again.
Tyler was texting again.
Her parents were bickering again.
She kept thinking of Michael in the batting cage, the fury that carried through every swing. The conviction in his voice as he’d confronted her in the parking lot.
I’m not hurting anyone.
And then that twelve-foot crack had split the pavement.
But worse, she kept thinking of the color of his eyes in the sunlight. The moment of intimacy when all that stood between them was a few links of steel.
In a way, he reminded her of wildcats at the zoo. Mountain lions, maybe, or panthers. All sleek and dangerous, but so beautiful you’d reach out and touch if you could.
She snapped her head up. Her father was staring at her, and it sounded like he’d called her name more than once. ‘I’m sorry. What?’
‘I asked if you had any more trouble at the sports complex.’
Here was her chance. She could tell them what Michael had done. Her father would call the Guides, and they’d eradicate the problem.
But she’d provoked him.
This was my place. Mine.
If she’d poked a mountain lion with a stick and it bit her hand off, would that be her fault or the lion’s? Guilt had a hold of her gut and refused to let go. She speared a few noodles with her fork so she wouldn’t have to look at her father. ‘No. No trouble.’
‘Good,’ said Tyler, without looking up from his phone. ‘Seth and I were going to stake the place out if he kept pulling that shit.’
‘Tyler!’ snapped their mother.
‘He’s got a point,’ said her father. ‘Josh Drake and I talked about doing the same thing.’
‘A stakeout,’ said Emily. ‘Really.’
Her father’s eyes were like ice. ‘It’s for your safety. I don’t like you going back there until this is resolved.’
She glared back at him. ‘I think you resolved it with your phone call.’
He didn’t back down from her tone. ‘It won’t be resolved until that boy is dead.’
Emily’s fork scraped across the plate. ‘So your plan is … what? To sit outside the office and wait for him to show up and use his powers?’
‘There are ways to make him break the deal.’
At that, Tyler looked up. He met their father’s eyes across the table.
Michael spent Friday night in his room, lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling.
When Emily reported him, how long would it take for the Guides to come after him? Would they kill him right away, or would they take him somewhere else?
Michael hoped they’d take him somewhere else. He kept thinking of his brothers, how every time they looked at him now, he knew they were just waiting for him to drop some bomb about running away.
That was nothing compared to watching an execution.
A soft knock rapped at his door just after nine. Had to be his mother; no one else in the house would knock softly.
He wanted to pretend to be asleep, but no way would she buy it this early.
‘Yeah?’ he called.
She cracked the door and leaned in. ‘Sure you’re not hungry?’
He was, but he couldn’t sit in the kitchen, look his parents in the eye, and pretend everything was fine. Even now, he couldn’t face his mother. Not knowing what he’d done.
He shook his head and kept his eyes on the ceiling.
‘Well’—she eased into the room—‘I made you a little something, just in case.’ A plate slid onto his bedside table.
He glanced over and immediately felt like an ass. She’d made him a turkey sandwich. A good one, too, with extra slices of lunch meat and cheese piled high with tomato and lettuce. He could smell the deli mustard. Three oatmeal-raisin cookies sat on the plate as well.
She had to have made them just for him. No one else in the house liked oatmeal-raisin.
His throat felt tight. God, he’d been so stupid.
Maybe he should run now, before he brought them all down with him. He should have run last night.
It took him a second to find his voice. He still couldn’t look her in the eye. ‘Thanks.’
‘Can I sit down?’
He nodded and shifted until he was sitting up against the wall. She sat beside his knees, and the side of the bed barely dented with her weight. He remembered being young, before his brothers had come along, how she’d sit with him in the dark at bedtime and ask about his day. That time grew shorter when she had twins to take care of—and shorter still when Chris arrived—but she hadn’t stopped until he’d outgrown it. It always made him feel special.
Now he knew just how much being special sucked.
He couldn’t even remember the last time she’d been in here.
He picked up the sandwich and took a bite, just to avoid the need to say anything.
It didn’t stop her from talking, though. ‘Do you want to tell me what happened today?’