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Authors: Alyson Noel

Fated (11 page)

BOOK: Fated
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I freeze. Waiting for time to stop, for the crows to appear. Convinced it’s another hallucination, when he laughs—the sound loud, booming, lingering in the background as he says, “Guess I’m on my own, then.” He reaches into his pocket, retrieves a silver and turquoise lighter, and brings it to his lips where a cigarette waits in place of the snake—his thumb striking the ribbed metal wheel, sparking the blaze that flames in his face.

He inhales deeply, the two of us staring through dark lenses it’s too late to wear. And before he can exhale, before he can blow a string of smoke rings my way, I’m gone. Crossing the street, my breath quickening, heart racing, punching in Jennika’s number the instant my foot leaves the curb, leaving a stream of messages and texts so ugly they make the postcard read like a love letter in comparison.

I’m acting ridiculous. I seriously need to get a grip on myself. What I saw wasn’t real. Still, I’m left unsettled in a way I can’t shake.

With only a few feet of asphalt standing between the bus stop and me, I can’t help but consider it. But it’s too open, too exposed, consisting of no more than a splintered wooden bench and a shabby plastic shelter that looks ready to collapse under the next burst of rain. Not to mention it’s probably the first place Paloma would look. She may be crazy, but she’s not stupid, of that I am sure.

Needing to find a place to hide out, maybe even grab a quick bite to eat, I drop my phone in my bag, just about to set off again, when I notice the way the battery flashes in warning, as a glaring neon sign switches on right before me.


And just beside the glowing red words is a glowing jagged green arrow pointing toward a steep flight of steps.

A basement bar.

The perfect place to hide until my bus comes to take me away.

The last place Paloma or Chay would ever think to look.

Taking it as the first good omen I’ve had in weeks, I tackle the stairs and rush through the door, entering a place so dark and dim it takes a moment for my eyes to adjust.

“ID.” An overly muscled, no-neck bouncer eyeballs me carefully.

“Oh, I’m not drinking, I just want to grab a soda, and maybe a bite.” I force a quick smile, but it’s wasted on him. He sees himself as a badass, a tough guy, someone who’s immune to small pleasantries.

“ID,” he repeats, chasing it with, “no ID, no enter.”

I nod, slide my duffle down to my elbow, and dig through a tangle of clothes until I fish out my passport and hand it right over. My breath bubbles in my cheeks as he studies it, mutters something I can’t quite make out, then motions for my right hand where he presses a stamp to the back before dismissing me with an impatient look.

Once inside, I take a good look around. My gaze darting along red vinyl banquettes, dark wooden tables, wall-to-wall carpet of indeterminate color, and a long mahogany bar crowded with patrons—the majority bearing the tired glazed look of people who’ve been teetering on their bar stools too long.

Searching for an empty seat, preferably one in a dark, undisturbed corner where only the waitress can find me, it’s not long before I spy an older couple vacating just the kind of small booth I need, and I’m quick to claim it well before their dirty plates can be cleared.

I pluck a menu from its holder, taking great care to maneuver around its sticky edges as I study the array of salty bar snacks on offer—all of them chosen to whet the thirst and make you drink more.


I look up, startled. I hadn’t heard her approach.

“Would. You. Like. Somethin’?” The waitress smirks, makes a point to over-enunciate every word. Tapping her pen against her hip in a way that tells me she’s so used to getting crap for tips, she sees no point in trying anymore.

“Um, yeah,” I say, knowing if I ask for more time she’ll never pass by again. “I guess I’ll just have the buffalo wings—oh, and um, a Sprite too. Thanks,” I add, committing the cardinal sin of sliding the menu toward her, and watching as she huffs, shakes her head, and punches it back into the holder where it came from.

“Anything else?” she asks, and despite her surly, beaten-down tone and defeated, hardened slant of a mouth, I’m guessing she’s only a handful of years older than me.

I’m also guessing she might’ve once been the town beauty queen. There are traces that linger by way of her long acrylic nails, freshly filled from what I can tell—carefully tended dark roots bleached a light, yellow blond—and black lace push-up bra that heaves her breasts so high and round they threaten to spill out the top of her tight white tank top, causing the name tag that reads:
to teeter like a seesaw—but for whatever reason, it still wasn’t enough to buy her escape.

“I need to charge my phone,” I tell her. “Is there a vacant outlet I can use?”

She jabs a thumb over her shoulder, her modest bump of a bicep jumping in a way that begs me to notice the intricate snake tattoo that winds its way from her wrist all the way up to her shoulder and unseen points just beyond. “Talk to the bartender,” she barks, turning to tap an overworked busboy on the back, ordering him to clear my table
before she heads into the kitchen, her hip leading the way through a set of swinging doors that appear to swallow her whole.

I head for the bar, making sure to keep an eye on my stuff as I flag down the bartender, which is easier said than done. But before I can speak, he’s already eyeballing my hand, the one with the stamp, and directing me back to my seat.

His back turned toward me when I say, “Hey! Excuse me—I’m not trying to order a drink—I just want to charge my phone. Do you think you could help me with that? I’m pretty sure you must have an available outlet somewhere.”

He stops, heavily lidded dark eyes gazing down the long strip of bar, studying me in a way that causes everyone else to lower their drinks and study me too. Making me wonder if I should just grab my bag and retreat. Get myself to that bus stop and take my chances on getting spotted by Paloma or Chay or whoever else she has working for her.

I don’t like being stared at, especially like this. It reminds me too much of the way the glowing people watch me. The crows too. Reminds me of that awful night in Marrakesh, when the
Djemâa el Fna
turned into a sea of dark flashing eyes and bloody, severed heads hanging from spikes.

I take a deep breath and rid my mind of the image. Glancing over my shoulder to check on my stuff as the bartender says, “Got a charger?”

I nod, unable to tear myself from his gaze once I’ve returned it.

“So…” He flattens his palm, looks at me like I’m the dumbest thing he ever saw.

And even though I’m reluctant to hand it over, it’s not like I have other options. Still, I can’t help the way my stomach lurches when he closes his tattooed fingers around the phone and leaves without a word. Disappearing down a long corridor as I return to my seat, where I slurp my Sprite and pick at my basket of buffalo wings, all the while keeping tabs on my watch, willing the hands to move faster, never having wanted to leave a place so badly as this.

A crowd of people push past the bouncer—four guys trying to look tough in their baggy jeans, beer-brand tees, and camouflage hats—while their dates try to look hot with their puffy hair, teetering stilettos, cleavage-baring tops, and jeans slung so low their assortment of tramp stamps and belly rings are neatly displayed. Their eyes narrowing when they catch me staring, then forgetting me just as quickly once the song changes from an old Red Hot Chili Peppers tune to a classic Santana song that gets the girls dancing.

Their hands circle each other’s waists, as they swarm and grind in a way that practically begs their boyfriends to notice. And it’s all I can do to grab hold of the table, my fingers curling around the edges, squishing a stale piece of petrified gum someone saw fit to leave there—as my head swirls with the beat of that incessant drumming. The sound so persistent it turns the chorus into a meaningless flurry of words that fade into nothing.

It’s happening.

I’m getting pulled under. Lost in the noise.

The atmosphere turning first hazy, then shimmery, and it’s not long before everything stops, and time screeches to a big slamming halt.

The waitress now frozen with a tray of plates balanced on her palm—as the busboy pours a solid arc of water that never reaches the bottom. The dancing girls caught in mid-wiggle—lips puckered, eyes slitted—their boyfriends’ tattooed arms caught reaching for freshly poured beers.

No matter how many times I blink, the scene refuses to change, refuses to march forward again. The beat so insistent, so rhythmic, it causes something inside me—something ancient and deep—to tremble and stir and rise to the surface.

I squeeze my eyes shut. Fight for control of myself. Aware of the crows swooping down all around me, landing on my shoulders, the table, pecking hard at my fingers—as the glowing ones nudge up against me, urge me to listen, to heed their warning.

I reach for my bag, fumbling for whatever remains of the herbs Paloma gave me. They’ll make me sleepy, there’s no getting around it—still, sleepy is better than this—anything is.

Dumping it into my soda, I give it a quick swirl with my straw, then chug it so swiftly it spills out the corner of my mouth, flows down my neck, and lands in small sticky globs on my chest. Then I lean back in my seat, wrap my arms tightly around me, and wait for the vision to end, for time to pick itself up and march forward again.

My eyes still shut when the waitress comes by and says, “That it?”

I lift my head, meeting a pair of eyes caked with eyeliner so thick I’m not sure if Jennika would cringe or cheer. Nodding when she repeats the question, too shaken to say anything more, all of my energy spent hoping the herbs will hold long enough to get me to Albuquerque. If not, who knows where I’ll end up?

“Better get moving then, don’t want to miss your bus now, do you?”

I narrow my gaze, searching her face once again. Noting a pair of overplucked brows that leave her looking more surprised than she’s probably capable of. “How do you know I’m catching the bus?” I ask, pretty sure I hadn’t mentioned it.

But she just smirks and plops the check down before me, voice trailing over her shoulder when she says, “If you’re smart, you’ll get out while you can. Don’t be a lifer like I am.”

I stare at her retreating back, calling, “I gave my phone to the bartender, do you know where he took it?”

She cocks her head toward the long corridor and disappears into the kitchen. So I toss some bills on the table, grab my bag, and head in the direction she sent me.

The place is big—much bigger than it appears at first sight. A huge, cavernous, underground space with numerous corridors that lead off in all different directions, reminding me of an old bunker from a movie set Jennika worked on back when I was a kid.

Since I have no idea where I’m going, I just follow the noise. Figuring at the very least it’ll lead me to someone who might be able to help, and finding myself even further surprised when I enter a really large, crowded room with a stage, and a band, with a whole swarm of teens dancing before them.


People my age.

Who would’ve thought?

They’re even dressed like teens—though I can’t imagine where they shop. The only boutique I saw didn’t sell anything even remotely trendy and cute.

Maybe there’s more to this town than I thought? Though it’s not like I’ll stick around to find out.

I head toward the bar, hoping this bartender will be nicer than the last, and after screaming to be heard above the noise, I head in the direction she sent me, attracting all kinds of unwanted attention as I push my way across the dance floor.

Two dark-haired girls snicker and glare as I make my way past, muttering a word I can’t understand. But with only twenty minutes standing between me and my permanent emancipation from this gawd-awful place, I choose to ignore it—can’t afford a delay. Can’t afford the slightest mistake.

I rap hard on the door. Once. Twice. Desperate to get some traction, I raise my arm again, ready to bang even harder this time, when the door springs opens, and an older man catches my flailing wrist in his fist as he says, “Yes?” His eyes dance, his teeth flash, and on the surface at least, he appears to be the friendliest person I’ve met so far, but something about him makes me step back—makes me wrench my hand from his grip.

He stares, blinks, waits for me to speak up, and knowing I need to get this over with quick, I force the words from my lips. “I’m here for my phone.”

He gives me a quick once-over, and while it’s pleasant enough, I can’t help but notice the chills that run down my arms, prickling my skin in a way that’s disturbing. Then he swings the door wider, motions for me to step in. Calling to a guy staring at a wall of security screens documenting everything happening inside and out of this place, saying, “Son, the girl needs her phone.”

I glance around the office, taking in desks, phones, computers, printers, chairs—all the usual stuff, nothing ominous about it, and yet, something about it leaves me on edge.

The boy reaches toward the wall and yanks hard on the plug, his glossy black hair gleaming under the fluorescent light in a way I can’t miss. And when he turns, my phone and charger in hand, I can’t move. Can’t speak. Can’t do anything but stare hard at his eyes.

Cold. Cruel. Icy-blue eyes banded by brilliant flecks of gold that fail to reflect.

Eyes I’ve dreamed about.

“This yours?” His voice is light, flirtatious, overly confident—a voice that belongs to a guy used to charming girls speechless.

A voice that recently asked for a light just outside the liquor store.

My hands tremble, my heart hammers, as I reach toward him, reach for the phone, only to find he has other plans.

His fingers curl around mine, catching my hand in his—as his strange blue eyes deepen in a way that challenges me to resist.

Though his touch is cool and smooth and undeniably inviting, something about it makes me jerk back, causing my phone to crash to the ground, and it’s all I can do to tear my gaze away long enough to kneel down and retrieve it.

BOOK: Fated
10.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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