Unraveled, p.14

Unraveled, page 14

 part  #2 of  Intertwined Series

 

Unraveled
 



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Page 14

 

  When he finished, he dressed in a T-shirt and jeans and headed back to his bedroom. Just before he reached the door, the scent of peanut butter sandwiches drew him into the kitchen. There was a tray piled high with them, but no boys in sight. They should be here, studying.

  You killed their teacher, remember?

  Sad and guilty once again, Aden confiscated two of the sandwiches, eating each in two bites, and searched the rest of the bunkhouse. All the chores were done, so the boys had been here. The wood floors were polished, the oak table and scuffed chairs dusted. The walls were scrubbed clean and smelled of soap.

  A few months ago, those walls had been filled with horseshoes and pictures of the ranch as it used to be a hundred or so years ago when it had first been built. But then two of the boys had gotten in a fight, and one of them had used a metal horseshoe to bash up the other. Or so Aden had heard. Dan, the owner of the ranch and the guy in charge of their care, had taken everything down.

  There was no sign of the boys anywhere. Were they okay? Where had—

  Laughter suddenly rang out.

  At the far window in the entryway, he brushed the curtains aside and looked out. An overcast sky fashioned a gray canopy over the D and M as the boys played football in the field between the main house and the bunkhouse.

  Aden experienced a momentary pang of jealousy. Once, that’s all he’d craved. Friends, games. Acceptance. Now he finally had it, for the most part, but he also had a little too much on his plate to enjoy it.

  “You’re gonna get into trouble,” he told them, even though they couldn’t hear him. Dan wasn’t here—his truck was gone—but Meg, his wife, rarely left the main house, and she would report what had gone on.

  But no tutor, no studies, Aden supposed, and his guilt increased. Dan was going to have to find a new tutor, having no idea why Mr. Thomas had “left” as suddenly as he’d appeared.

  Aden liked Dan. Respected him. A lot. The man was honorable and truly wanted to give the boys here a better life. Yet time and time again, Aden made his life more difficult. Don’t think about that now.

  Back in his bedroom, Aden found that Mary Ann was still on the bed, though she was propped against the headboard and reading one of Shannon’s books. The door clicked shut behind him—no lock, though, since Dan had removed them—and she looked up.

  “Much better,” she said with a nod.

  “Thanks for staying. ”

  “My pleasure. ” She set the book aside and straightened. “How are you feeling?”

  “As good as I smell. ”

  She laughed exactly like he wanted Victoria to laugh. “That good, huh?”

  “Sorry you had to stick around. ”

  “I didn’t mind. I wanted to talk to you about something, anyway. ”

  He sat at the desk, marveling that the room was perfect, nothing out of place. After Riley and Thomas had ravaged the entire building in that other dimension—which still freaked him out—he’d expected some sign of what had happened. Yet there was nothing. Not even a speck of blood.

  “Are you listening to me?” Mary Ann asked with another laugh. “I thought the souls were quiet when I was with you. ”

  He grinned sheepishly. “Sorry. I’m so used to being inside my head, I often get lost in there. ”

  “Well, I was saying that you know how to fight. ”

  “Yeah. ” He should. He’d been fighting his entire life. Other mental patients, doctors, other foster kids. Zombies that Julian, the corpse whisperer, raised from eternal slumber.

  “Well,” Mary Ann said, squaring her shoulders. “I want you to teach me. ”

  He arched a brow, not sure he understood. “You want me to teach you how to kick as—uh, how to fight?”

  “How to defend myself and how to attack, yes. ”

  There was a big difference in what people needed to do to defend themselves and what they needed to do to attack someone else. A big, dangerous difference. “Riley won’t like it. ”

  She shrugged, swirling a finger along the cotton comforter. “He’ll have to get over it. I need to do this. I don’t want to be a liability anymore. ”

  That, Aden understood. Perfectly. “I’ll teach you. ”

  She clapped as if he’d just told her she’d won the lottery. “Thank you. ”

  “My pleasure,” he said, mirroring her earlier words. “So when do you want to start?”

  She whipped her cell phone from her back pocket and checked the time. “We have a few hours until I have to be home from school. And I can’t believe I’m saying this, rather than rushing back to class, but…why not now?”

  Those sandwiches had given him strength, though he wasn’t one hundred percent racer ready. Still. He nodded. This girl had been the first person to accept him for who and what he was; he owed her. “We’ll have to go out back. The boys are in the front, and it’ll be better if they don’t see us. ”

  “Sounds good to me. ”

  Outside, the clouds were thicker than they’d been even a few moments ago when he’d peeked through the window, the air chilled and laced with dew. A storm was on its way.

  He positioned Mary Ann on the grass, then moved in front of her. “First up, defense. And to do that, you have to learn how people will strike at you. Which means I’ll have to strike at you. ”

  Determined, she nodded. “Okay. I’m ready. ”

  The next few hours passed quickly, and by the end, they were sweaty, grass-stained and exhausted, but mostly wet and muddy. A fine drizzle had started fifteen minutes ago. Mary Ann was pretty bruised up. Fine, Aden was, too. He’d been jabbed, punched, poked and tripped. And yeah, he’d done the same to Mary Ann. Experience was the only way to learn. Because, if she was afraid of pain, she would cower rather than act. So he’d had to show her she could withstand anything.

  Surprisingly, she had. Better than he’d hoped.

  “So tell me what you’ve learned so far,” he said, standing in front of her again.

  “Screaming is good. And punching people in the throat is far more effective than punching them in the face or stomach. Plus, throat punching is something anyone can do, even fragile little girls, since it doesn’t take much force to do a lot of damage there. ” This last was said in a mockingly deep voice, mimicking him. She tightened her borrowed jacket around her middle. The only time they’d stopped practicing was when he’d gone to fetch her that jacket from his closet. “I should use my fists as if they’re hammers, or even hit with my open palm. ”

  “Good. What else?”

  “Anything can be used as a weapon. Rocks. Keys. A purse. ”

  He nodded. “What else?”

  “I shouldn’t use my toes when I kick. There’s not enough power there. I should use the flat part of my foot. Oh, and kneeing my attacker in the groin is acceptable. Even encouraged. So is eye-poking. I shouldn’t be afraid to cause this person pain, since their main goal is to hurt me. ” She spoke as if she were reciting gospel. “If my back is to them, I should try and elbow the guy—or girl—in the face. That causes a lot of pain and stuns them, allowing me to try and get away. ”

  “Good. Now let’s put some of that information to the test. I’m going for your neck this time,” he warned her. “My plan is to choke you. Do you remember what to do?”

  She nodded. “As quickly as possible, I’m to move both my arms between yours and hit your elbows with mine. ”

  “And?”

  “And knee you in the groin. ”

  “Yeah, but let’s just pretend on that last one. And by the way, an attacker won’t usually give you a heads-up. ”

  Her lips quirked at the corners. “Much as I wish otherwise. ”

  Next time, he wouldn’t warn her what he was going to do. He’d just act, and she’d have to figure out what to do without forethought. “Ready?”

  “Read—”

  Leaves rattled a few yards away, and th
ey both turned.

  “Aden? Mary Ann?” Shannon had just stepped from the forest, a backpack dangling at his side.

  “Hey,” they called in unison.

  “I—I wondered where you’d gone after lunch,” Shannon said to Mary Ann.

  Guilt danced in her eyes. “I should have told you I was leaving. I’m sorry. But if you’re home, that means school’s out, and I have to leave again now. ” She closed the distance to Aden and kissed his cheek. “Will you be okay?” she whispered. “Because the fairy’s going to come back. The moment I’m gone, he’s going to come back. ”

  “I know. And yes, I’ll be fine,” he lied. He had no idea how to deal with Thomas, or how far Thomas could roam. Still. He gave Mary Ann a gentle push toward the forest. “Go home before you get into trouble with your dad. ”

  “I’m going to call him and tell him I’m heading to the library. Which is true. I want to dig around and see if I can find any books on spells, that sort of thing. I’ll keep you updated. ”

  “Thanks. ”

  “Welcome. And thank you for the lessons. Not that my gratitude will save you from my ferocious wrath during our next lesson. ”

  “Those are fighting words, girl,” he said with a laugh. “But maybe you should go home and change before you hit the library. ” He gazed pointedly at her muddy jeans.

  “Will do!” Laughing herself, Mary Ann took off, stopping only to kiss Shannon on the cheek. When she reached the line of trees, a pair of green eyes and bared white teeth flashed through a thick bush.

  Animal…hiding. The realization jolted him, and Aden sprinted forward. But then Mary Ann uttered another laugh, the sound just as free and happy.

  Riley, he realized, stopping. A pissed Riley, at that. That scowl had been for Aden’s benefit, he was sure. Had the wolf watched the defense lesson? Or had he witnessed the kiss Mary Ann had bestowed upon his cheek?

  He’d find out. Later. First, he knew, Riley would walk Mary Ann home.

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