Valkyrie Symptoms, page 1
Excerpt from Valkyrie Rising
About the Author
About the Publisher
“Tuck. Wake up, you idiot.”
I smile. I know that voice. So I open my eyes. Ellie looms over me. Sunlight streams around her hair, turning it from gold to blinding white.
“What are you doing in my room?” I sit up.
Except judging by the steering wheel in front of me, this is definitely not my room. She gives me a dry smile. “You’re at school. You fell asleep in your car.”
She pulls her head back out of the window and jerks the car door open.
I grab the edge of the seat to keep my balance when the doorframe I’m leaning against is whipped out from underneath me.
“Talk about a rude awakening,” I say.
“I wanted to gently rouse you with a medley on my harpsichord,” Ellie shoots back, “but I left it in my other jeans.”
Only Ellie could make me laugh five seconds after trying to spill me out onto the pavement.
“Get up. Your history test is in twelve minutes.”
“Twelve?” I straighten and climb out of the car. “I just closed my eyes for a sec.”
But I glance at my phone. A few minutes have somehow multiplied into one hundred eight of them. That means I missed lunch. And that meeting with the recruiter.
I’m so screwed.
I spent weeks trying to get that meeting. Then I asked Graham for help, and he used his superpowers to make it happen. I can’t let him find out I blew it.
Still, everything is fixable. I need to calm down and think. And as much as I hate to, I’ll need to talk to Jack.
“You realize there are hours of darkness every day specifically designated for sleep?” Ellie is pissed. I’m not sure why. Lately it’s like someone trimmed a foot or two off her fuse.
“Actually, that’s a matter of opinion,” I say. “There are other uses for darkness.”
Ellie narrows her eyes. Which just makes the blue brighter, more concentrated, as it peeks out from between her lashes.
“I’m sure whatever you were doing last night was worth failing history.”
Unlike most girls, when Ellie gets mad, she doesn’t screw her face up tight. She doesn’t cry or pout either. But her glare could grow ice crystals on a summer day.
She doesn’t react. She just watches me.
“I was studying, Ells.” I lean back into the car and grab the now-cold coffee from my cup holder and choke the rest down. “And I’m gonna ace it. You haven’t seen absolute domination like this since the soccer team went to regionals.” I wink. Because she hates that. “Relax,” I add. Even though I’m doing anything but.
I need this grade if I want any D1 team to take me seriously.
“You can’t ace it if you don’t take it,” she says, glancing pointedly back toward school.
“Did you come out here looking for me when I wasn’t at lunch?” I ask as it dawns on me. “That was above and beyond.”
She blushes. Not the splotchy kind of red most people get—Ellie’s cheeks turn an even pink. The way they likely would if we had winter in LA.
“The only thing above and beyond is you almost sleeping through your exam.” She pauses. Like she always does when she wants to play. “Transcending any reasonable standard of stupidity.”
And there it was. The first hit of a two-punch combination. It’s amazing a game so predictable never gets old.
“And for the record,” she adds, “I wasn’t looking for you. I think my wallet fell out in your car this morning.”
She crosses her arms.
“Thanks for waking me,” I say.
“I wasn’t going to let you cook to death in there. You know, like those dogs in the humane society commercials.”
“Should we check for brain damage?”
“I’m afraid you’re way past that,” she says.
“Before you get all smug, realize I set myself up for that one,” I say. “Consider it a token of my gratitude.”
Despite her best efforts, her lips quirk up. Ellie’s reluctant smiles are far more rewarding than her willing ones.
“In other words, you didn’t have a comeback and needed the last word?”
“Right back at you, Ells.”
She takes a deep breath, like she’s going to say something. But thinks better of it.
Instead, she starts walking across the parking lot at a crazy pace. I jog a few steps to catch up. For a sec, I raise my arm to drape it around her shoulder. The way I’ve done a million times before. But I quickly let it drop back to my side.
I don’t know why, but lately, things are different with us.
Then I realize something. “Did you find your wallet?”
She didn’t even pretend to look for it.
We reach the door of the school, and I hold it open for her. She walks briskly past and starts heading to class, like we’re not in the middle of a conversation. It’s funny and frustrating. A combination only Ellie can pull off.
“You made that up, didn’t you?” I say, catching her. “You were looking for me. I’m touched, Ells. You care.” I put my hand on my heart, all dramatic.
She stops and shakes her head. “It was self-preservation. If you fail junior year, you’ll be in my classes next fall.”
She’s the world’s worst liar.
I’m about to tell her so when someone knocks into my shoulder.
“Thought you’d left for the day.”
I turn. I swear, it feels like the whole lacrosse team is walking past. Actually, it’s just four guys. But it seems like more since they’re all wearing blue team hoodies. Like it’s some kind of cult.
I wouldn’t be caught dead.
Then again, to me, lacrosse is just a way to kill time between soccer seasons. To some of these guys, it’s practically a religion. They slow, waiting for me.
When I don’t blow Ellie off to join them, a few eyes skim over her with interest.
The two of us are standing a little close.
Or maybe I’m just being paranoid. It’s not like I’m into Graham’s little sister.
Still, I take a step back, since suddenly I feel kinda funny about it too.
I hold up one finger. “Lemme finish this first.” I shift back to Ellie.
But she’s gone.
God, she’s fast when she wants to be.
I catch sight of a blond ponytail, weaving between the people clogging the hallway. Some sophomore guy stops her. He touches her arm while he says something. She says something in return. She’s not smiling at him, but she’s also not backing away when he touches her arm a second time.
I join the guys and start walking away, toward class. But I turn once to make sure that sophomore guy backed off my Ells.
And he has.
I FINALLY CATCH sight of Jack at the end of the day. Of course it’s right as I’m heading to the locker room. Unlike me, Jack doesn’t have a lacrosse game in five minutes. He’s talking to his friends, like he’s got all the time in the world. While I’m once again skating toward late.
So I interrupt.
“Listen—about your uncle.” I try to sound nonchalant, but Jack’s uncle is a big-time college soccer coach.
“He sent a recruiter here at lunch,” Jack says. “If you’re interested, you should have been there.”
I say, “I figure why not cut to the chase—talk to the big man himself.”
He looks at me. There’s always something a little hazy about h
“Why should I help you?” he asks. “You didn’t do me any favors last fall.”
“It’s not stealing your position when I play it better.” This “rivalry” is old and cold as far as I’m concerned.
He glares at me.
“Besides, you’re awesome at defense,” I say. “It all worked out for the best.”
“If you’re such hot shit, why do you need my help?” he asks.
There’s the rub.
“The recruiter thinks I’m not disciplined,” I say. “But that’s just ’cause he came to the wrong game. I just need to explain to your uncle.”
Jack laughs. “You’re a piece of work, Halloway.”
“Thank you,” I say.
“Tuck!” Graham’s waiting down the hall. He’s terminally prepunctual. I’ve spent years working on the cure.
“Let’s go!” Graham adds. But when I look back, he’s talking to a group of girls.
“Look,” I say, “I’d owe you one. And I pay my debts with interest. Ask anyone.”
I start to leave, but Jack clears his throat.
“Okay. One condition.”
He gets quiet and we just stand there.
“Is the condition making me miss my game?”
“There’s this girl....” His voice trails off.
“A girl?” I repeat.
“She doesn’t go out much. At least, not to parties.”
“And how can I help with that?”
“You’re always hanging out with Ellie.”
It’s like he’s punched me in the nose. He can’t seriously think I’d help him hook up with Ells? Screw his uncle—I don’t care if he was head coach of every single college team in the country.
He doesn’t even know her—and he doesn’t know a thing about me if he’d suggest this.
“No, no,” Jack says, holding up one hand. “Not her.” His vehemence makes me wonder if my fury is plastered across my face. “Her friend. Emma. She told me she’s not doing the dating thing right now.”
Even though I know he’s not into Ellie, I need to take a deep breath to calm down.
“Is it all the gold chains?” I ask.
He just stares at me. Idiot.
“Why you think I’m her pimp or something,” I say. “You think I can force a girl to go out with you?”
“Yes. You have influence,” Jack says. “Make plans with Ellie,” he continues. “Get her to bring her friend, and invite me.”
This, right here, is why I don’t like Jack.
“Yeah,” I say. “Girls love ambushes. Just last week, I jumped out at some girl in a parking garage. She was really into it. The whole mace thing was just a misunderstanding.”
“How is this different from you asking to pester my uncle?” he retorts. “You think he’s got time to talk to everyone who wants to play for him?”
It’s different. I know it is, even if I can’t articulate why.
“Girls like double dates,” he says. “Trust me.”
“I am not going on a date with Ellie.” What an idea. What a thing to say. “Double, single, or otherwise.”
“What?” Jack says, lifting both eyebrows. “It’s not like she’s ugly or something.”
I don’t like how he’s looking at me. Like something’s funny.
“Look, I don’t care what you call it,” he says. “This is my condition. Then you can crash our Thanksgiving dinner for all I care.”
“I’ll think about it,” I say, glancing back toward Graham. He points at his watch. “As long as you promise not to be sketchy and make me regret it.”
“I don’t think you’re in a position to negotiate.”
Maybe he’s not such an idiot after all.
Fortunately, neither am I. There’s a way to get back the upper hand with Jack and the recruiter situation. And I’ll find it.
It’s only ten p. m. and I’m already restless. After the epic game I played today, I should be all about this party. We’re at some girl’s house—not sure whose. It’s a decent party, but Graham’s birthday tomorrow will be better.
There’s a crowd in the living room. Most people are outside on the deck, including Graham.
No sign of Ellie.
Why’d she say she’d come if she isn’t going to? She could at least text—let me know she’s not dead in a ditch somewhere.
I sound like Graham.
Still, I need to figure out what to do about Jack’s favor. And for that, I’ll need a little intel from Ells.
“You in, Tuck?” I don’t recognize the guy next to me, but apparently I should. I nod.
I’m up fifty bucks. But all I can think about is how to handle Jack. And why Ellie blew me off.
I toss two chips into the middle since it’s my turn.
I glance at my watch.
Seven minutes have passed.
It’s 10:07 p.m.
Ellie came to our game this afternoon. She doesn’t do that often. Even though we won, thanks to me, she told me it was a Pyrrhic victory since now everyone will expect me to play like that without naptime.
I laugh out loud just thinking about it.
“Nice poker face,” the guy next to me mutters.
“I was thinking about something else,” I say. He looks skeptical. “A girl,” I add.
“I fold.” He lays his cards facedown on the table.
I rock back in my chair, watching the party pick up.
A blond ponytail bobs through the crowd in the other room. I wait for her to turn, but the girl keeps her back to me.
Still, I know it’s Ellie.
She won’t stay long. She never does.
“I’m out.” I toss my cards into the middle. I don’t even bother to cash out my chips.
I elbow my way through the crowd. “I was beginning to think you were a no-show.”
Ellie pivots to face me fast, like she’s on wheels.
“That makes me nervous,” she says. “There’s no reason for you to keep tabs on me that doesn’t end badly for one of us. Most likely me.”
“That’s not fair,” I said. “Maybe I just want to talk to you.”
“So you want me to entertain you?” she says with a sigh. “Sorry, but I left my tap shoes at home. Besides, I’m not staying long.”
She starts to walk away.
“You’re leaving? Can I go with you?” That will give me plenty of time to smooth out my approach.
She stares at me like I just suggested we elope.
“Are you in some sort of trouble here?” she asks. “What did you do?” There is a note of genuine concern in her voice that makes me grin.
“Let’s go outside.” I grab her hand and steer her toward the sliding glass door to the backyard. A girl from another school who’s been on me earlier glares at Ellie as we pass.
Ellie’s palm presses against mine. There’s no awkward fumbling, the way you do when you’re not really sure whose thumb goes where. Her hand fits perfectly against mine.
It’s actually kinda nice.
Still, I let it drop the second we get outside.
And then I wonder if it’s weird I grabbed it in the first place.
I tell myself it’s a practical necessity when cutting through crowds. That’s all.
“I need a favor,” I say.
“Why am I not surprised?” Ellie’s eyes are wide. They’re so light, they almost glow in the moonlight. “At least you’re admitting it. Normally you try to play it off like it’s a boon getting to serve you.”
“Serve me?” I reply. “That has a nice ring to it, Ells. Tell you what, you have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to put me in your debt.”
“Only we’re talking the lifetime of a mayfly.”
“What’s that, a week or something?”
“Twenty-four hours,” she replies. “And if you recall, I already saved your butt once today. You’ll have to hit me with this one tomorrow.” Her smile is smug and just the right amo
God, when did Ellie go from cute to hot? I mean, I’ve sensed it coming for a while, but all at once, here she is. Trouble on two legs. Two very nice legs.
And now I need to go home and wash my brain out with soap.
“Is that all?” she asks. “You’re giving up that easily?” She sounds disappointed. But my train of thought has crashed and burned somewhere around her knee.
“No,” I say. “This is real-life important.” Suddenly I have her undivided attention. “Where is Emma tonight?”
She shakes her head.
“Do you know—I mean, is she interested in anyone?”
Ellie’s eyes widen in comprehension. “That’s important?” There’s a snap to her tone that surprises me.
“Why do you care?” She’s really angry now. She presses the thumb of one hand into the palm of the other like she does when she’s trying not to snap at Graham.
Then it hits me. She’s jealous. And I’m totally going to hell because I want her to be. I want Ellie to want me.
And I want to punch myself in the face when I realize how cruel that is. Because nothing will ever come of it—even if her jealousy means something. Nothing. Even if Graham weren’t psychotically overprotective, the whole universe knows I don’t want a girlfriend. And Ellie’s not the type to settle for anything less.
“Going comatose won’t get you out of it,” Ellie says. “Emma is my friend, and I’m not letting you jerk her around.”
“If I tell you something, you promise to keep it between us?”
“Jack has a big crush on her, and I’m bridging the gap.”
“What can I say? I’m a romantic at heart, Ells,”
“You’re selfish at heart, Tuck,” she says without missing a beat. And wow, it actually hurts. Does she really think that, or is she just playing a little rough? “You don’t like Jack,” she adds, almost as an afterthought. Her wheels are already spinning full speed.
“Jack’s not that bad,” I say. “I was thinking we go out and invite Emma and Jack to join us.”
“Like a double date?” She laughs at the idea.
“What’s wrong with that?” I ask. I hope it’s dark enough that she can’t see my ears turn red. What is wrong with me tonight?