Under the Magnolia: Daughter of Fire Prequel Novella, page 9
“Evie, is that you?” Dad’s voice came from somewhere deep in the darkness of the house.
Who else would it be? I thought before I caught another glimpse of the flowers in my hand. Maybe that’s a bad question.
On the day we’d moved in, we’d drawn every curtain in the house. None of them had been pulled back since. It was the only way to shield us from prying eyes. The fact that the lights were off—having no electricity alleviated our choice in the matter—only added to the darkness inside so it was hard to make out anything in the abyss that made up the living area of the house. At least until my eyes adjusted.
“Yeah,” I answered, reaching my free hand up to rake off the dark-brown wig that hid the true color of my hair, an array of gold, reds, and copper tones all resting side by side. Even though the wig bothered me more often than not, I had to keep my hair hidden. When I wore it loose, it framed my face in flame-like curls that made it easy to identify what I was for anyone who knew what they were looking for. I pulled out the hairtie before shaking loose the braid I’d set before leaving the house that morning.
My eyes were still adjusting to the darkness when Dad came out from the kitchen with a dishtowel in his hands. His chestnut hair was pulled up into spiked peaks. He’d obviously been rubbing his wet fingers through it—a clear sign his nerves were still frayed over my leaving the house each day for my job. A pang of guilt rushed through me, but I suppressed it. I had a tiny slice of normality in my life again, and I wasn’t willing to give that up. Not when Dad would just find something new to stress over anyway.
He smiled at me. “Good day at work?”
“Dad, I’m a cashier in a tiny variety store that has almost no customers. I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say that no days are good days at work.”
“I don’t know why you do it,” he said, reigniting the same argument we’d had since I’d insisted on getting a job. “I’ve shown you the basics of how I’ve survived for the last seventeen years on the run. You don’t need to take the risk of going to a job you hate every day.”
I bit back a sigh of frustration as I followed him into the kitchen. It was the same old story. I might have been nineteen, but I would always be his little girl. “I can’t just sit around and do nothing for the rest of my life.”
“At least you’ll have a life if you do,” he whispered with just enough volume for me to hear.
“I’m taking all of the precautions I need to,” I said as I got closer to him, pointing to my eyes to remind him that I was wearing my brown contacts.
Over the last few years since learning the truth about my heritage, I’d taken to covering my most distinctive features whenever possible. My lilac irises and unusual hair signaled what I was to anyone who knew what to look for. Back in high school, before I’d known the truth, I’d secured my hair away from my face and covered with a hat or hoodie at Dad’s insistence. Except for when I was at school, I’d rarely left the house without dark sunglasses. I never allowed people to get close enough to look at my eyes.
After the situation with Clay in my senior year, I’d switched to wigs and contacts when more personal contact was required. Covering up was the only way I could conceal my true identity—the one that signed my death warrant before I was even born.
For the last two years, ever since discovering the truth, I’d tried to find the best way to hide in plain sight. I’d even gone as far as dying my hair once. Only the advertised “permanent hair color” had completely washed away as I’d rinsed. “As far as anyone that comes into the shop is aware, I’m just a regular brunette.”
He frowned for a moment, but seemingly understood that it would be yet another argument if he pushed it any further. “Dinner will be ready in ten minutes,” he said, indicating with a nod of his head the small pan resting over an open fire in the kitchen.
If the owner of the house saw it, they’d probably have a conniption. That was why it was easier to squat in empty houses than have an actual landlord. Knowing the truth about the reason we were on the run made things like this easier for Dad. There was a time when he’d had to organize genuine rentals and set up all of the utilities to maintain the façade that we were simply a normal family who moved a lot. Nowadays, the facade was meaningless.
Thinking of the flowers in my hands, there was something else I needed to know— whether he’d seen anything suspicious. “Did anyone come by today?”
Dad turned back toward me with a confused expression. “No. Why?”
I glanced down at the flowers, having a fresh debate over whether or not I should warn Dad. “No reason,” I said.
When I reached my room, I dropped my wig onto the dresser and set the flowers beside it. Then I reached for the box of matches I kept in front of the mirror in order to illuminate the room. In truth, I could’ve used my own abilities to ignite the candle wick, but it took too much concentration to be that precise. My head was too full of Clay. Without that precision, I would end up with a melted ball of wax rather than helpful light.
After lighting two candles, I collected the flowers again and sat on the end of the bed. It was ridiculous that the tiny bouquet could set my nerves on edge so thoroughly. Everything about them reminded me of a different life. One that was simpler in many ways, mostly because Dad had sheltered me from the truth back then. It was a time before I’d known about the darker elements of the world. Before I’d learned the truth about the secrets that Dad had hidden from me; a time when I hadn’t known why I needed to look over my shoulder.
The scent issuing from the magnolias was enough to take me back to a warm spring afternoon in Ohio. Alone and away from Dad’s inquisitive gaze, I allowed myself a moment to revisit the time when I’d walked hand and hand with my high school crush as we’d joked and laughed with each other.
When it was just me and Clay.
For those stolen moments, the rest of the world—his twin sister especially—didn’t exist to spoil things for us. An absent-minded smile stole across my lips as I took a deep breath of the scent and relived that happy memory.
Then, just like it had years before, the consequences of that promising afternoon followed and chased my happiness away.
Who could have guessed puppy love could be so disastrous?
I probably should have thanked him for his hurtful comments that afternoon, because they helped me to discover the truth. It was a tough lesson, but I wouldn’t go back to not knowing again because Dad and I were closer now than ever before.
As the memories turned sour, I sat with the offending flowers in my hand. In the candlelight. The pure white petals were stark against my olive skin. The now-familiar instinct to flee built within me. Within half an hour Dad and I could be back on the road heading away from Charlotte, North Carolina. Destination: anywhere else.
All it would take was one word.
We were still recovering from our most recent move though. Besides, I didn’t want to leave again yet—not until I was certain about the danger we might face. If Clay truly had found us here, when we’d been so careful, he would be able to find us wherever we went.
It could be a coincidence, I reminded myself again as I threw the flowers down next to the one personal item I had in the room—a gilt photo frame containing a picture of Mom and Dad, taken during their time at a university in England. It was the one keepsake I ensured I took with me from each house.
Sparing a glance at the photo, I was struck again by how much I looked like my mother. We shared the same almond-shaped eyes, olive skin, and fiery hair. Even the shades of lilac that flickered in our eyes were all but identical. It was impossible not to wonder whether her fate would be mine too.
Some days, it seemed inevitable.
I clenched my fingers before stretching them out again, trying to shake the pin pricks that raced over my skin. Then I crossed to the window and pulled back the blind. My stomach twisted at the thought as I scanned the street again.
If it’s wasn’t
Trying to force thoughts of the past out of my mind for a few hours, I headed out to be social with Dad until bedtime. My night would be overtaken with memories of the object of my schoolgirl crush.
Then again, I rarely had dreams that weren’t filled with Clay Jacobs.
TO BE CONTINUED . . .
MORE BY FLEUR SMITH
DAUGHTER OF FIRE AND SON OF RAIN
Through the Fire (Daughter of Fire Book 1)
SEE MORE AT FLEUR SMITH’S AUTHOR PAGE
Fleur Smith, Under the Magnolia: Daughter of Fire Prequel Novella
Other author's books:
- Seal of FateIgniting the Spark (Daughter of Fire Book 4)
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