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Authors: Alyson Noel

Fated (12 page)

BOOK: Fated
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“I hope you’ll stick around long enough to check out the band.” His voice floats over my head. “They came all the way from Albuquerque. They’re only here for tonight. Be a shame to miss it.”

I swallow hard, settling my bag high on my shoulder, as I struggle to settle myself, needing to play it cool for now, then bolt when I can.

“’Fraid I’ll have to miss it,” I say, striving for nonchalant, but my voice betrays me with the way it trembles and pitches. “Gotta bus to catch, so … if you don’t mind.” I wriggle my fingers, motioning for him to step out of my way. But he remains right where he is, blocking my exit with a grin on his face.

He cocks his head, allowing a clump of hair to fall across his eyes as his gaze sweeps over me and his tongue flicks across his front teeth. “Now you’re just being mean,” he says, smile broadening as he rakes a hand through his bangs. “Least you could do is stay a while. Give us a chance to get to know each other better. I had no idea Paloma was hiding such a pretty granddaughter—did you?” He turns to his father, their eyes meeting in a private joke that escapes me.

I start to speak. Start to ask how he knows about Paloma and me. But before I can get there, he says, “Trust me, Enchantment is even smaller than it looks. Hard to keep a secret in a town where everyone knows everyone.”

His eyes meet mine, but instead of that odd, nonreflective blue they once were—they’re now crimson. And when his lip quirks to the side, they part just enough to allow the snake to slip out and dart straight for my chest.

I gasp. Shove him aside and make for the door. Fingers straining for the handle, just inches away, when the walls begin to melt, the roof begins to sink, and the space shrinks so small it swallows the door and bars my escape.

The room crushing, pressing, forcing me to the floor, forcing me to my knees—depleting it of oxygen, making it impossible to breathe—to see—to do much of anything other than scream.

I scream until my head swells with the sound of it.

Scream until my eyes fill with bright swirling circles.

Scream until I realize I haven’t screamed at all—the sound stayed inside me, never found its way out.

A cool, firm hand clamps hard on my shoulder, as the boy peers at me and says, “Hey—hey there, you okay?”

I stare at him sideways, seeing him for what he truly is—no longer a demon but rather a beautiful, overconfident boy wearing a false mask of concern.

“Can I get you some water? Do you need to sit down?” His eyes crease with amusement as the room settles around me, returning to normal again.

He reaches toward me, offers a hand, but I’m quick to jump up, slip out of his grip. Noting the way his dad watches, his face placid, unreadable, while the boy hovers beside me, pretending to care.

“Get away from me,” I mumble, my voice weak, whimpering—my body a trembling mess of nerves. Assuring myself that what I saw was real, even though it’s ridiculous, even though they do their best to pretend not to have noticed.

“Hey now.” He reaches toward me again. “That’s no way to—”

“I said,
don’t touch me!
” I grab hold of my bag—bolt for the door.

The boy calling after me as I shove through crowds of people my age, people I might’ve befriended had Paloma succeeded in keeping me here.

Knocking into girls and bouncing off boys, until one in particular catches me, steadies me. His fingers circling my arm as he peers down and says, “You okay?”

I struggle against him, fight to break free. Though it’s not long before I’m overcome by a cool wash of calm chased by a comforting warmth that folds like a blanket around me. My movements slowed, my thoughts becoming so hazy and loose, I abandon my flight. Robbed of all recollection of why I wanted to leave when I’d do anything to always feel so secure—so safe—so loved and at peace.

So at home in his arms.

I melt against his chest—lift my gaze to meet his. Gasping when I stare into a pair of icy-blue eyes banded by brilliant flecks of gold that shine like kaleidoscopes, reflecting my image thousands of times.

The boy from my dream.

The one who died in my arms.

Brothers.

As the boy claimed they were:

“Not to worry, brother—it’s the soul that I want, the heart is all yours.”

But I know it can’t be. My mind is deceitful. I can longer trust the things that it shows me.

I break free, jolted by the sudden loss of warmth—the crushing chill that surrounds me the instant I sever his touch.

“I’m sorry—I just … I thought you needed—” He peers at me, gaze fraught with worry, head cocked in a way that causes his long, glossy black hair to spill down his side.

But before he can finish, I’m gone. Racing across the room, I blow past the exit and make my way up a steep flight of stairs—convincing myself the boys aren’t real, or at least not in the way that I think.

The hallucinations and dreams are merging as one. I just need to get out of here—just need to—

I’m about halfway down the alley when I allow myself to stop beneath the only street lamp that’s lit, where I sag against the wall and fight to catch my breath. My body bent forward, fingers clutching hard at my knees, as slick waves of hot, clammy sweat course under my clothes—thoroughly wetting me.

I yank on my ponytail, pry it away from the place where it clings fast to my neck, and when I return my hand to my knee, my gaze is caught by the stamp I’d failed to notice ’til now:

A red ink coyote with glaring red eyes.

This town holds secrets you can’t even begin to imagine. It is full of coyotes, and Coyote is a trickster you must learn to outsmart.

The memory of Paloma’s words causing me to push away from the wall, fumble blindly toward the street, as the glowing ones surge toward me, their numbers increasing until they surround me.

Having overpowered the herbs, they jump out of windows, leap from shadowed doorways—as the crows swoop down to my ankles and peck at my feet—squawking in outrage as I stumble right over them, turning them to clumps of bloodied feathers that cling to my shoes.

Only a few yards of asphalt lying between the bus stop and me—one double lane road and I’m free.

Free of the Rabbit Hole, this alleyway, this horrible town, the glowing people, the crows, and the boys with the unearthly blue eyes.

I can make it.

I can do it.

I have to.

I’ve no choice.

Never mind that my vision is narrowing, turning everything to bright shining spots that shimmer before me.

Never mind that my legs are wobbly, knees no longer willing to carry me.

I bang into the street, arms outstretched, struggling to see through the glare. My lips moving in a silent plea:

Help me—please—just a few more steps and I’m there!

The sound of tires squealing, voices shouting, now crowding my head. Leaving me blinded, swaying, darting around the shadows dancing before me. My vision filling with bright wavering circles of light as a sudden thrust of hot metal sends me flying, flailing, soaring high into the sky with arms spread wide, raven-like—until gravity hits and the asphalt roars up to catch me in a bed of razor-sharp rocks that slice through my clothes and embed in my flesh—jamming my nose with the stench of burnt rubber, charred skin.

An image of the old black-and-white photo bearing my dad’s smiling face the last thing I see.

His dark eyes narrowed in judgment—disappointed with me.

I didn’t listen to his warning.

I was too focused on the gruesome state of his head back in that Moroccan square to listen to the words he tried to tell me.

And now, because of my failing, I am like him.

Only worse.

I failed to escape.

Failed to find a way out.

And now, because of it, I will die in this town.

 

the spirit road

twelve

Paloma leans over the grave site; murmuring in her native Spanish, she clears the film of dirt with her fingers before placing the flowers just so. A handful of blooms plucked straight from her garden—bright blossoms of violet and gold that continue to flourish despite the onset of fall.

Her gaze solemn, mouth set, knees pushing into a patch of dried grass, as her long dark braid slips over her shoulder and sweeps the length of the simple, rectangular marker, before she grabs the braid, tames it, turning to me when I ask, “So, is this where he rests?” Regretting the way my words came out much louder than planned.

She shakes her head, eyes fixed on mine, surprising me when she says, “No.”

I cock my head, peer at the grave marker again, ensuring the mistake isn’t mine.

“This is where he was
laid
to rest. This is where we
buried
his body. But make no mistake, Daire, he no longer remains in this place.”

I do my best not to balk, but I’m pretty sure I did anyway. You’d think I’d be used to Paloma’s plainspoken ways, but really, it’s just so odd to hear a parent speak about her dead child’s body in such a frank and clinical way.

“Don’t make the mistake of confusing this place with your father.” Her eyes narrow, urging me to listen. “This is
not
where he lives. If you want to come here to visit, have a place to speak with him, commune with him—if you find that it helps, then by all means, go ahead. It’s perfectly understandable, and I would never move to stop you. But never forget that your father is everywhere. His soul’s been released, unbound from this earth, left to become one with the wind that blows through your hair, the dirt that shifts under your feet. He’s the rain in the storm cloud that hovers over those mountains beyond.” She extends a slim, elegant arm, gesturing toward the beautiful Sangre de Cristo Mountain range—a wide sweep of navy and gray with a cap of white snow at the top. “He’s the bloom in every flower. He is one with the energy of the earth. He is everywhere you look. Which means you can speak to him here, just as easily as you can speak to him anywhere. And if you go very quiet and listen with care, you just might hear his reply.”

I swallow hard, still caught on the part about my dad being one with the wind, and the dirt, and the rain. Her words reminding me of the dream I had the first night I arrived. The one where I realized that I was an integral part of everything—and not long after that, my true love was dead.

I lean hard on my crutches, my gaze sweeping the length of the graveyard, still unused to the quiet humbleness of this place. In Los Angeles, the cemeteries are carefully planned, heeding strict zoning laws and consisting of wide, grassy, well tended knolls with the occasional pond near which to pause and reflect. They go by glossy Hollywood names like Forest Lawn Memorial Park—encouraging the illusion that your loved one isn’t really gone, but rather they’ve been recruited for some elite, afterlife golf tournament.

But this place is nothing like that—it’s raw and accessible, with no fancy, euphemistic name, no shiny marble mausoleums. It’s not pretending to be anything other than what it is—a place for common folks to bury their loved ones. Set right off the side of the highway, pretty much in the middle of nowhere—it seems random, unplanned, crowded with handmade crosses and markers that, at first look, all seem to clash.

But as shabby as it seemed at first glance, now I see that the graves are often visited and well kept. Marked with generous handfuls of flowers—some plastic, some real—set alongside freshly filled balloons grounded by rocks and left to sway in the wind. All of it making for so much color, so much comfort and love, I can’t help but feel oddly peaceful here. And it’s not long before I realize I’m in no hurry to leave.

“How did he die?” I ask, using my more or less unscathed leg to rub against the one with the cast. The plaster makes it itch, and I can’t wait to be rid of it. “Jennika would never tell me,” I add, when I see the way Paloma hesitates, averts her gaze.

“Why do you call her Jennika?” she asks, her voice soft, eyes returning to mine.

And though it would be just as easy to answer, “
Because it’s her name,
” I don’t. There’s no need for sarcasm. I know what she meant.

“She was barely seventeen when she had me—I raised her as much as she raised me. Also, I grew up surrounded by adults, which didn’t make for a whole lot of baby talk. Everyone called her Jennika, so one day when I really needed her attention, I called her that too. Of course I didn’t pronounce it correctly, but she got the drift. It was the first word I ever spoke, and it stuck.”

Paloma nods, a small smile sneaking onto her face.

“And now, your turn—what really happened to Django? Was it an accident like mine?” I gaze down at my bruised and battered self, which, thanks to Paloma’s careful ministrations and advanced healing knowledge, not to mention Chay’s having arrived on the scene mere seconds after the impact (just as I’d thought, Paloma had sent him to look for me), I was spared a grave in this place. Actually, I was spared a lot more than that. It was just two weeks ago, and I’m already up and about.

“It was an accident,” she says, her tone becoming earnest when she adds, “but it was nothing like yours.”

I squint. Nod. Wishing she’d hurry up and get to it. I’m dying to know the rest of the story. But I’m also beginning to realize that Paloma works on her own schedule. She is not one to be rushed.

She rises to her feet, brushes the dirt from her knees, and faces the mountains as though speaking to them and not me. “It happened in California—on a Los Angeles freeway. He was riding his motorcycle, on his way to pick up your mother, when the truck in front of him stopped short and the load of lead pipes it was carrying broke free of their restraints and plowed into him. He was thrown from his bike. Died instantly. Decapitation was listed as the
official
cause.”

She turns, her face bearing the expression of someone who’s told the story too many times. Someone who’s grown used to such grisly facts. Someone unlike me. Which is probably why my insides start to curl as my throat fills with bile.

BOOK: Fated
6.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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