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Authors: Brigid Kemmerer

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BOOK: Elemental
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And then, just as he registered the blond hair, someone punched him in the face. A good, solid punch, with power behind it.

He saw stars for a second, long enough for them to pin his other arm. He struggled, but he had no leverage.

‘Hey, asshole.’

Tyler. He’d swung the first punch—and he did it again.

Michael coughed against the chain on his throat. He gritted his teeth. He could pull power from the earth and throw them off, but he doubted they’d give him a free pass like Emily had.

Keep it together.

God, he’d been stupid. Every time he came here, he checked the store, and every time he left, he checked the truck. Every time, ready for an ambush.

Until today.

Tyler hit him again. Michael tasted blood.

Keep. It. Together.

‘Do it,’ said Tyler. ‘You know you want to.’

Someone kicked him in the side, and Michael redoubled his struggles. They were too heavy. He couldn’t get loose.

They kicked him again.

Power rushed through the ground, coming to his aid without his asking. He forced it back. He could take a few punches.

Tyler laughed and spit in his face. ‘Good thing Emily told us where to find you. I didn’t think we’d have this much fun all summer.’

Michael froze. Tonight at the batting cages—had she been stalling him?

You going to show me again or what?

He coughed. ‘Go to hell, Tyler.’

‘Funny you should mention hell.’ Tyler held up a butane lighter. ‘Since I brought the fire.’

Then he clicked the trigger. Flame burst from the end.

Michael tried to recoil. He only succeeded in slamming his head against the concrete again. He was straining against the chain so hard that he almost couldn’t breathe.

Flame lit Tyler’s features. He brought the lighter close to Michael’s face, until the heat was painful.

Michael strained away. He had no idea if Tyler would really burn him, but flame against his skin would definitely push his control past the brink.

‘Do it,’ said Tyler. He leaned closer, until Michael wanted to clench his eyes shut. ‘Do it.’

Michael prayed for another customer to arrive. But he knew how dead this place was.

Tyler put the flame against the chain. It seared right through the metal. ‘First we’re going to burn you, and then we’re going to burn your little brothers.’

The pavement cracked and split. Michael surged against their hands. He slammed someone into the concrete before he could stop himself. The chain went flying.

But then he heard someone yelling. The guys. They were scattering, stumbling away from him, tripping on the loose pavement.

No, not stumbling away from him. Away from the girl with the steel bar in her hands.

Emily, with a putter.

‘Dad is going to kill you,’ said Tyler. ‘What the hell are you doing?’

‘Michael,’ she called. ‘Can you drive?’

It took Michael a second to get it together, but then he realized his keys were on the pavement, where he’d dropped them by the door. His joints didn’t want to work, but he was able to get the keys into his palm. ‘Yeah.’ Stars still danced in his vision. ‘I think.’

And then he must have been losing time, because he was starting the ignition of the truck, and Emily was in the passenger seat beside him.

He took a deep breath, and it seemed they were pulling onto Mountain Road, leaving the sports center behind.

He rubbed at his eye, surprised when his hand came away with blood. ‘I should have said no,’ he said.

She gave him a concerned glance. ‘What?’

He winced, and suddenly there were two roads in front of him. ‘I shouldn’t be driving.’

She unclicked her seat belt and knelt up on the passenger seat, leaning across to brace a hand on his shoulder.

It was almost enough to make him hit the guardrail. ‘What are you doing?’

‘Keep your eyes on the road.’

‘Did you set me up?’

‘Shhh. Drive.’ She leaned in close and blew on his neck.

No, that was almost enough to make him hit the guardrail. He pushed her away. ‘Stop. Tell me the truth. Did you—’

‘No. I didn’t. Let me help you.’ She shoved his hand out of the way and knelt up again.

Her breath on his skin felt awful and amazing at the same time. He fought not to make a sound.

‘I’m sorry,’ she whispered. ‘I wish I had more power.’

‘No,’ he ground out. ‘You don’t.’

‘I saw their car,’ she said. ‘Around the corner. Tyler and my dad have been talking about staking out the sports center all week—’

‘Thanks for the heads-up.’

‘I never thought they’d really do it.’

He gave a humorless laugh. ‘Of course not.’

She fell silent for a while, and all he heard was her breath whispering along his skin. Too much had happened in a short span of time. Part of him wanted to push her away again, but a bigger part wanted to pull her closer and beg her to say she was on his side, that she’d had no part in this.

Finally, he couldn’t take the silence anymore, and he needed a destination. He couldn’t go home, not with her in the truck, and he sure as hell wasn’t driving to her house. ‘Where am I driving?’

‘Go to the quarry.’

His head had cleared enough for him to look away from the road. ‘The quarry?’

‘There’s lots of exposed rock. That’ll help you, right?’

‘Yeah, but there will be other people there.’ Given this heat, probably half the senior class would have snuck in to go swimming.

‘Don’t worry. I know a hidden path down to the water. We can stay out of sight.’

‘Why are you helping me?’

She didn’t say anything for a long moment. When she spoke, her voice was soft. ‘For years, I’ve been hearing how dangerous you are. How we shouldn’t have made this deal, because you’re out of control, that you’re mean, that you’ll hurt us if we get close to you.’

Michael snorted. ‘I’ve been hearing the same thing.’

‘But you’re not! All week, you’ve been nothing but nice—’

‘I wouldn’t go that far.’

‘—when I keep hearing my father talk about how they should just take care of the problem themselves. And then Tyler does this … this horrible thing, when you didn’t even provoke it. I don’t think you’re dangerous at all.’

Michael didn’t say anything. They came to the turnoff for the one-lane road that ran behind the quarry, and he hit the turn signal.

‘Even tonight,’ she said. ‘You didn’t kill them, and I know you could have. On Friday, you could have hurt me, and you didn’t. I’ve heard the way you talk about your brothers. I know you care about your family. I told you already—I’m sick of living with all this hate. But I’ve been blaming you, when I should have been blaming them.’

He pulled the truck onto the gravel shoulder when there was space and killed the engine.

Suddenly, the car was only full of the sound of their breathing.

‘Please,’ she said. ‘Say something.’

He looked over at her. ‘I wanted to kill them.’

Her breath hitched, but he wasn’t done.

‘All of them,’ he said. ‘Including your brother.’

‘But you didn’t.’

He held her eyes. ‘If he’d kept up with that lighter, I might have.’

She swallowed, but nodded.

She looked so tiny in the front seat of his father’s work truck. Michael couldn’t believe she’d faced down her brother and his friends with a putter. ‘Are you still afraid of me?’

She shook her head.

‘Good.’ And he leaned over and kissed her.


Emily sat with Michael near the water’s edge, at the far side of the
quarry, hidden among the clumps of trees. He’d been right: Despite the creeping darkness, a dozen kids were swimming at the other side, where the cliffs weren’t as steep and the depths were free of debris.

Here, though, the trees were silent and the water still, and it was easy to pretend the mess they’d left had never happened.

Especially with Michael’s fingers wound through hers, the taste of him still on her lips.

‘Are you still hurting?’ she said.

‘I’m all right.’ He turned to look at her, and the fading sunlight caught his eyes. ‘I was worried they’d follow us.’

Emily shook her head. ‘I don’t think so. I slashed Tyler’s tires.’

Michael’s eyes widened, and then he laughed. ‘You’re definitely not predictable.’ A pause. ‘In a lot of ways.’

‘It took me a minute, or I’d have been back sooner.’ She reached up to touch his chin, where the skin was darker and a bit blistered. ‘I’m sorry Tyler did this.’

He caught her hand and brushed a kiss across her knuckles. ‘He’s definitely predictable.’

She reveled in the feel of his breath against her skin. Every time he touched her, his gentleness took her by surprise.

‘Will you tell me what really happened last week?’ she asked. ‘With Tyler?’

Michael looked back out at the water. ‘It’s not important.’

‘It is to me.’

He sighed. ‘The twins were cutting through the woods to walk home. Tyler and Seth roughed them up.’

She frowned. ‘So you went after Tyler to get back at him?’

‘I never went after Tyler.’ His sudden fury was palpable. ‘Believe me, I’d leave you all alone if—’ He stopped short. ‘Forget it.’

‘Tell me.’

‘In the woods, Nick got away. He ran all the way home and got me. By the time we made it back to them, they’d ganged up on Gabriel. Tyler and Seth ran when I got there.’

Emily frowned. ‘But Tyler had a black eye—’

‘Yeah. You know who gave it to him? Gabriel.’ He shook his head. ‘Of course he’d say it was me. Can’t be running around telling people he got decked by a twelve-year-old.’

She wasn’t surprised to hear her brother was a liar and a bully.

‘I’m sorry.’

‘You didn’t start this fight, Emily.’ He looked down at their joined hands. ‘Even this … it won’t work.’

But he didn’t let go.

‘We could try,’ she whispered.

He stared back at her. ‘Emily …’

‘We could stand up to them. I could tell the others about you, that you’re not—’

‘Wait. Shhh.’ He put a hand to her lips, his attention focused up the hill.

She whispered around his hand. ‘What?’

His eyes snapped back to hers. ‘They did follow us. They must have had another car. Is there a different way back up the hill?’

Then she heard branches breaking, boys calling to each other in the darkness. Fear punched her in the stomach, hard.

Michael squeezed her hand. ‘Come on. Is there another way?’

She shook her head quickly. ‘No—we beat down this path last summer.’

‘We know you’re down there!’ Tyler’s voice. ‘We saw the truck.’

She could almost feel his presence through the air—he was close.

‘Through the water,’ said Michael. ‘We can swim across the quarry.’

‘You go,’ she said. ‘I’ll stall them—’

He swore. ‘You are out of your mind. I’m not leaving you to face them.’ Then, before she could answer, he was dragging her down the hill, to the edge of the rocks, until the water was glittering below them.

‘So we run?’ she said.

‘Yes. For now.’ He glanced back at the darkened woods. ‘The underbrush will slow them down.’

‘When we get to the other side—’ she started.

‘We’ll figure it out.’

‘Together,’ she said.

He nodded. ‘Together.’

Then he took her hand, and they jumped into the water below.


Brigid Kemmerer hails from Pasadena, Maryland, where she works in the finance industry.

You can visit her at

BOOK: Elemental
8.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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