Under the Magnolia: Daughter of Fire Prequel Novella, page 2
Most people would be jealous of how many states I’d seen on my travels, but it was all meaningless. After all, I couldn’t tell anyone about them. What was the point of adventures when you couldn’t share the experiences with friends? Many people would assume being on the run was thrilling, but in reality, it was anything but. Any sense of fear or excitement I’d had at being woken or whisked away had long worn off. The first time it had happened, my heart had raced, and I’d struggled to contain the adrenaline coursing through my body, but now there was just nothing. I was calm and collected in the face of every move. That fact alone scared me.
I longed for someone to talk to. I couldn’t tell Dad everything I worried about because mostly it was about him. Sometimes, late at night when I was the most alone and vulnerable, I wondered whether anyone was even chasing us at all. It was usually about then that I would Google “paranoia” on my cell.
Dad easily fit most of the criteria. It had occurred to me that I could say something about our life to one of my many school teachers or counselors, but I couldn’t bring myself to betray my father like that. Even if he was paranoid—a liar, and a criminal—he was still my dad, and I needed him. We needed each other. Nothing was going to change that. It mightn’t have been the thing most teenagers would do, but I wasn’t most teenagers. I didn’t have that luxury.
Finally, after a couple of days in the motel, everything was arranged, and we were back on the road for our final stretch. I looked forward to the fact that in a little over a day I’d be back among civilization in an actual house. I suppressed a smile as I thought about having a proper routine once again. Sleeping in the same bed night after night, for as long as it lasted. Appreciating the little things in life was the one good thing that came out of a life on the run.
WE DROVE up the driveway to a single story white house. The first thing I could see was the wide garage door, complete with picturesque cut-outs high on the white expanse. The rest of the house was hidden, tucked away from the main road by a row of tall trees. I had no doubt Dad would soon make sure that the road was visible from at least one room in the house.
Then he would spend the majority of his time in that room.
It was a cute little house, and I hoped it would be the perfect place to start my life.
A new resolution began to seep through me with a renewed desire to finally live my life free of constant upheaval. In a couple of months, I would be eighteen.
After that, I could refuse to move. There would be nothing Dad could do to stop me from staying.
I only hoped that Dad would understand if and when it came to that. After all, he was the one who promised it would be the last time. I was just determined to make him keep that promise.
Here we go again.
Arranging my face into a forced smile, I headed to stand near the teacher’s desk. I’d endured the process of starting a new school often enough in the last two years that I had the etiquette and expectations down to an art form.
As I walked, Dad’s voice rang in my ears with each step. “Give them enough that they won’t ask questions, but not so much that they can catch you in a lie.”
It wasn’t worth reminding him that I didn’t know enough to lie.
“Evelyn, it’s lovely to have you in our school.” The teacher had already blended together with all the others I’d had—tall, brunette, thick-rimmed glasses, pleasant-enough nature. “Why don’t you tell the class a little about yourself?”
Trying to ensure my smile wasn’t a grimace, I turned to the other students. With the number of times I’d had to introduce myself in the past, it should have been the simplest thing in the world. The same worn-out speech should have fallen readily from my lips, but somehow the words stuck to my tongue instead.
Although I wanted to say, “My name is Evelyn, but you can call me Evie. I just moved here from New Jersey, and I’m looking forward to finishing the school year here.” All I managed to say was, “It’s, uh, just Evie and umm . . . I just, err, moved from . . . Ah, from . . .”
My mind drew a blank as I thought of the many towns we’d lived in over the years—twenty-six at last count. I stared at the other students, hoping to see the words I needed printed on someone’s forehead. If I couldn’t have that, the next best thing would be for the floor to open up and swallow me whole.
“Is she stupid or something?” A girl sitting at the desk across the aisle, diagonally behind mine, stage-whispered the words to her neighbor.
I glanced toward the teacher, who appeared oblivious to the comment.
A titter ran through the class at the blonde’s slur. The girl, with her rounded face, pink lips, and dirty blonde hair, looked like a homecoming queen contender. Her blue eyes were piercing, and everything about her was flawless. Her hair was parted sharply in the middle and pulled into two tight braids, one on either side of her head. Both the girl and her neighbor each gave me an overly sweet smile when they noticed me staring in their direction.
Another of Dad’s often repeated statements echoed in my mind. “Don’t make enemies. It only gains unwanted attention.”
But he’d never faced the first day at a new high school over and over.
“Louise!” a dark-haired boy, sitting in front of the girl with the braids, hissed at her.
She glared at the back of his head before returning to stare at me with narrowed eyes.
As if the words were written in her icy gaze, my mind chose that moment to offer up the information it had hidden from me earlier.
“From New Jersey,” I finished off lamely, before slinking back to my seat as the teacher thanked me.
Once I was settled again, the boy beside me leaned over conspiratorially. As he did, a gold chain and pendant swung loose from beneath his shirt. Dark eyes appraised me carefully as he tucked the chain away.
“Don’t worry, I’ve moved around a lot too,” he whispered.
Before I could ask how he’d guessed that I’d moved a lot, he beat me to the punch.
“I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve forgotten where I’d just come from,” he explained. He seemed friendly enough as he watched my reaction with a small, knowing smirk on his lips.
My mouth curled into an easy smile, my first genuine one in almost two weeks.
In return, his grin grew. “I’m Clay,” he said, dragging his hand through his dark, shaggy hair. As his gaze focused on me again, I saw that his eyes, which had appeared almost black at first, were actually a very dark brown. “Consider me your welcoming committee into this madhouse.”
“Is it really that bad?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.
He shook his head and laughed. “Nah, not really. No worse than anywhere else I’ve been. I went to this one school where the principal would shout at everyone through the PA for ten minutes at the start of every day.”
He laughed again, and I smiled wider. There was something about him that simultaneously put me at ease and piqued my curiosity.
I wanted to ask why he’d moved around so much, but I couldn’t. If I did, it would open myself up to needing to answer the same question. There was no way I could explain anything to him when I didn’t even understand them myself.
“Mr. Jacobs,” the teacher called to Clay. “If you’ve finished your conversation, perhaps we can get back to calculus?” She stared at him with an eyebrow raised.
After winking in my direction, Clay turned his attention to the board. My gaze, however, remained glued to the side of his face. He was striking in profile, with his chin jutting out proudly and his lips curled into a tiny smirk. I guessed that he was probably quite popular with the girls, and maybe even a few of the guys.
“I can feel your eyes on me,” he whispered without looking in my direction.
“Sorry,” I murmured, reluctantly turning my attention to the front of the c
“Don’t be,” he whispered, leaning into the space between us but still facing the front. “I kinda like it.”
I couldn’t fight my smile became as my heart fluttered in response. Clay was shaping up to be different to anyone else I’d ever met.
“SHOW ME YOUR class schedule,” Clay said while I was packing up my math books after the bell.
I handed it over without a second thought. Not only was it my attempt at being polite, it seemed he was trying to be chivalrous. If he wanted to point me in the direction of my next class, who was I to argue. It was harmless. I was experienced enough in memorizing maps and working out routes that I didn’t really need his help. I didn’t want to dent his fragile male ego. I’d learned how difficult and pouty men could be after dealing with my father’s moods.
While I waited for Clay to read through my schedule and point me on my way, I watched as everyone else left the room. Louise—the girl who’d made the snide comment during class—brushed by my seat roughly, banging my head with her bag as she went.
Just as I was about to stand up and say something, regardless of Dad’s advice to not make waves, Clay handed my schedule back to me. Without another word, but with a wide grin on his face, he stood and left, leaving me dumbfounded and staring after him. I glanced down at the sheet of paper in my hand. He’d highlighted the border of our shared classes and jotted down his cell number
I chuckled as I read his note. For when you need a friend.
Two can play at that game.
My next class was another one I shared with him, so I pulled out my cell and programmed his number in before writing a quick text as I walked toward the door. How does now work for you?
He was waiting for me outside the classroom door, catching me by surprise just as I hit Send. He pushed off the wall and fell into step beside me when his cell buzzed. He drew his cell from his pocket and smiled as he read the message.
I turned away, embarrassed that he was reading my text in front of me. While I was deliberately looking in another direction, he grabbed my books. The action forced my attention back to him.
“Consider it a one-time welcoming gesture,” he said, his tone suggesting that he expected me to wave him off and reach for my books again.
I laughed. “Well, as long as it’s only a one-time thing, I might as well take full advantage.”
He nudged me gently and offered me a disarming smile when I looked back at him. “Come on then, let’s go,” he said. “It’s this way.”
As I walked in companionable silence beside Clay, I began to consider the various almost-friends I’d had over the years. I’d never been so instantly at ease with any of them. Even though we’d barely spent an hour together, it was as if I’d known Clay for years. It occurred to me that maybe it didn’t matter how much time I’d spent with other people, maybe it came down to chemistry.
“What’s got you so deep in thought?” he asked as we stopped at our next classroom.
There was no way I was telling him what I’d just been thinking. I might have been comfortable with him, but not that comfortable. Instead, I just shrugged.
“Just, you know, new school, new friends, new life.”
He nodded knowingly. “I used to hate my Dad because his, um, job forces us to move around so much, but now…I don’t know, I guess I’m glad to have seen so many places and met so many people, you know?”
Smiling in response to his honesty, I considered his words. I’d never stopped and thought about the benefits of moving, beyond the relief of settling back in one place again for a while.
“Come on, let’s get to class,” he said, knocking my shoulder lightly with his own.
AFTER TWO hours shared with Clay on my first day at my newest school, I had my first class where I had to get by without my newfound friend.
I’d found the classroom relatively easily and picked a desk somewhere near the middle of the space. Some of my classmates were already starting to look a little familiar, so I smiled politely at anyone who looked in my direction. Somehow, I was already far more comfortable than I had at any other school.
I suspected Clay’s smile and infectiously optimistic personality had a lot to do with that. He oozed a confidence that easily put me at ease.
As I grabbed my books, Louise walked past my desk. She took a seat diagonally behind me—just as she’d been in our first class. Trying not to draw too much attention to myself, I watched her through my peripheral vision.
She turned to the girl beside her. “They’ll let any old trash into this school, won’t they?”
Rolling my eyes at her lame attempt to rattle me, I twisted in my seat to face her.
“I didn’t get a chance to properly introduce myself before. I’m Evelyn,” I said, giving her the falsest smile I could muster.
Her mouth twisted into a slight sneer. “Louise.”
“I gathered.” I infused my voice with as much disdain as I could. I wanted her to know that I saw through her tactics and she didn’t intimidate me. Despite Dad’s warnings to not draw unnecessary attention to myself, I wasn’t the type to just shy away in a corner when confronted. “It’s lovely to meet you.”
She gave me her best bitch brow. I had no idea what I’d done to earn her hatred so quickly, but I’d started enough new schools to understand that sometimes, that was the nature of high school.
I also suspected that my fledgling friendship with Clay had aggravated the situation. The glare she’d given me after he’d scolded her certainly supported that guess. I wondered whether she had her own plans for him. It was almost too easy to decide to test the waters and see if her reaction was mostly jealousy.
“Everyone’s just so nice here,” I said, my voice dripping with insincerity. “I’ve already got Clay’s phone number.”
“Is that so?” she asked.
“Yeah, he’s been super welcoming,” I said before turning back toward the front of the room.
“That’s what’s so sweet about my brother,” she declared to her friend, although I was certain the words were meant for me instead. “He takes care of all the strays.”
My jaw dropped.
Unable to even pretend to be unaffected, I swiveled in my seat again. “Clay’s your brother?”
Louise gave me a self-satisfied smirk. “Of course silly. He’s my twin.”
“Twins?” My mouth popped open for the second time in thirty seconds.
I’d only known them for a few hours, but I had already witnessed enough to safely assume thatClay and Louise were opposite in every way—in looks and personality. I couldn’t wrap my head around the concept that they were not only related, but had shared a womb at one point. “You two look nothing alike though,” I murmured. “Was one of you swapped at birth or something?”
Her eyes widened for just a fraction of a second before narrowing fiercely. The set of her lips hardened—I hadn’t even known that was possible. The statement, “If looks could kill,” seemed fitting for the glare she gave me.
Although I wasn’t sure what had caused the reaction, I sensed I’d said something that crossed some line for her. I ran through the conversation in my head and decided she was mentally unstable.
The rest of English was spent watching the clock tick over minute by minute. I was desperate to meet with Clay to find out whether Louise was just a snarling cow, or if she was a lying one as well. I wasn’t entirely sure how to approach the issue with him but thought that I would try for a subtle approach. After all, I didn’t want to ruin my friendship with him before it had begun—especially over someone like Louise.
PACKING UP after English class, I caught a glimpse of Clay standing just inside the door.
For a moment, I thought he might have been waiting for his evil twin to go to lunch with her. However, as she passed him, his gaze flicked to her for only a brief second
When our eyes locked, he flashed a grin. It was enough to make my knees weaken, and cause a sigh to slip through my lips.
I was becoming one of those girls. The ones who fell apart at the smallest sign of affection from their crush. That had never been me, and yet I couldn’t resist it when it came to this dark-haired stranger. I hadn’t even known him a day.
With a smile forming on my lips, I headed over to meet him.
He gave a little wave as his smile grew wider.
His white teeth gleamed at me from behind pink lips and a perfect cupid’s bow pout. It was a welcome relief after dealing with Louise’s glares and mutterings during class.
They really were night and day.
Clay was darkness and mystery—hair and eyes so dark they almost looked black—she was blonde and airy with piercing sky-blue eyes. Despite that, she was the one whose body language screamed to leave her alone.
“I’m sorry about Lou,” Clay said as I approached him.
“You didn’t tell me you were related.” The accusation was probably slightly unfair given the fact that we’d only just met.
He reached for my bag, relieving me of it before I had a chance to argue. “I was hoping you’d have a chance to get to know me before the she-devil scared you off.”
“She-devil?” I laughed. It wasn’t far off my own assessment of her even after only a few hours at the school, but I was surprised to hear Clay use the words. She was his sister after all. “You two don’t get along?”
He chuckled as he led me from the classroom toward the cafeteria. “Oh, we get along fine. She’s just a little wary of outsiders. Anyone I’m even remotely interested in gets the full frosty treatment.”
“Is that right?” I raised one eyebrow and hummed.
“Unfortunately. She’s scared away the legions of girls that would otherwise flock around me.” His palm brushed against the back of his neck as he gave a nervous laugh.
Other author's books:
- Seal of FateIgniting the Spark (Daughter of Fire Book 4)
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