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Under my skin, p.13

Under My Skin, page 13

 

Under My Skin
 


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  “You shave?” Paige glanced sideways at me. “Why bother? It’s not like you’ll ever have a boyfriend. The guys in this town aren’t interested in beanpole headcases.”

  Unfortunately, Sammi and Marcus had been kind enough to inform Paige of my history as well, thinking she’d look out for me like a big sister or something. You could kill with that kind of kindness.

  “At least I don’t have a white moustache.” I touched the hairless skin of my upper lip, ripe with the knowledge that Paige had tossed an empty box of facial bleach in the bathroom garbage bin.

  Paige’s eyes bulged.

  “That’s enough!” Sammi slammed a pot down on the counter. Everyone jumped and gaped at her. Sammi never yelled. And she never made a scene.

  Sammi sighed and tucked a wayward strand of hair behind her ear. When she spoke again, her voice had resumed its usual relaxed tone. “Let’s use our inside voices, girls. It’s a new day, and we don’t want to start with shouting and tearing our hair out, now do we? I was only trying to help you, Eryn, to fix you a nice breakfast. I didn’t mean anything when I grabbed the knife. Honest.” She shrugged. “But maybe I am guilty of trying too hard.”

  I hated the hurt look in her eyes. And I’d put it there. Not cool. Ashamed, I glared down at my plain, naked bagel.

  “There’s cream cheese in here if you want some.” Sammi reached for the fridge door, still trying, still reaching for me.

  That made me feel even worse.

  “Yummy, yummy…you can’t resist cream cheese.” Sammi held up the plastic container, waving it at me.

  My stomach growled.

  “Thanks.” I took the container from her and swiped Marcus’ knife off his plate. He gave me a distracted wink. Who knew if he’d even heard our spat? I slathered a heart-stopping amount of cream cheese on my bagel.

  Paige watched with a sneer.

  We ate breakfast in silence. Luckily, we all ate super fast.

  A few minutes later Sammi headed to the front door, her arms overflowing with art supplies, glue, water-based paints, and brushes. “It’s papier-mâché day at school, so I have to get there early to set up.” She gave Marcus a pointed look and dropped a piece of purple construction paper on the table in front of him. “Eryn, we have a few new rules around here as I was telling Paige. Your uncle will give you the fine details.”

  The door slammed shut behind her.

  Marcus made a face. “She always makes me the bad guy.” He picked up the paper. “Okay, girls, this is how it’s going to be around here from now on…” He read:

  1. Call and check in at home—a lot. (We couldn’t call Sammi too much.)

  2. Call 9-1-1 if anything suspicious happens (a.k.a., don’t go kicking in doors. Not that Paige would ever think of such a thing. Why ruin a perfectly good pedicure?)

  3. Failure to comply with these and any other rules will result in grounding until graduation.

  4. Paige must drive Eryn to and from school. No more walking home alone.

  *****

  “What?” Paige shrieked at that last one. She clearly missed the whole the family’s in danger part of Marcus’s little rules speech. “It’s not bad enough that she goes to my school? Now I have to drive her around? Like one of those, those car driver people?” She paused dramatically. “I’m sorry, is there an I’m such a loser I have to drive my reject cousin to school because my parents are suddenly way overprotective sign on my forehead?”

  At Marcus’ sharp look she tossed her hair and started out of the room. “If you’re not ready in five minutes, psycho, you’ll live to regret it.”

  “I gotta get a car,” I said under my breath. Or a truck or a moped. I didn’t have a preference. Anything that got me out of driving with Miss Paigey would be hot wheels in my eyes.

  Marcus’ sympathetic nod was interrupted by a furious sneeze, followed by a series of three more that he aimed into the crook of his arm. His red, runny nose provided a nice distraction from knife blades and Paige’s dull wit.

  All this, and I still had a physics exam to pass.

  Chapter 8: Bathroom Confessional

  So much for the mystical powers of my lucky hoodie. The rust-colored cotton one my mom had helped me iron black stars on during my whole aren’t-constellations-stellar phase. I was jinxed. For one thing, the drive to school had been far from pleasant. I’d forgotten my iPod and endured Paige’s caterwauling along with the redneck cowgirls on the radio. If she wanted me suicidal, her plan was working.

  Luckily, she turned down the volume after we rounded the corner and blasted me with a piece of her mind instead.

  I almost preferred the country music.

  Almost.

  “I don’t care what kind of loser activities you were up to last night with Alec Delacroix,” Paige said, with no preamble. “But if you think I’m covering for you if you get caught sneaking out of the house…it’s not gonna happen.”

  Ah, so she had seen me with Alec. Houses blurred by as I pressed my lips together and stared out the passenger window, neither confirming nor denying her statement.

  “Didn’t you hear what my dad just said?” She hit her palm against her pink fuzzy steering wheel cover. “Alec’s whole family are suspects in the pet maulings. No way should you be hanging out with the Delacroix.”

  At first I was touched—Paige truly sounded concerned for me—go figure. Then she continued, “They’re creepy with their legends and telling everyone about werewolves in town or whatever it is they’re afraid of. And if you’re seen with them, my family will be crazy by association. Dad’s stressed enough as it is.”

  Okay, so she wasn’t worried about me, but at least she cared for her family and seemed genuinely concerned about her father. Then she ruined it by saying, “Plus they have it out for Wade. And anyone who can’t see how he equals awesomeness—I don’t like.”

  “Speaking of Wade,” I said in my best school counselor voice, “isn’t it time to move on? Didn’t you guys go out like a year ago? And now he dodges you in the hall at school. I mean, it’s obvious the guy’s not…”

  “…that into me?” Paige supplied.

  “Right.” I beamed. “So you do see it.”

  “You have no idea how into me Wade really is. Our relationship is private, but if you must know…all his passion, his need, he saves for me. No one knows him the way I do.”

  Hmm. I didn’t like the sound of that. Had Wade been sipping on my obnoxious cousin? Up until last night he had had unlimited access to the McCain household. Paige’s obsession with him would make sense in a nasty vampish way. They usually glamoured their food, cranking up the influence, so their tasty morsels didn’t resist the sucking of their blood and stuff.

  “Haven’t you noticed he’s kind of cold?” I meant it literally, but Paige didn’t get it. Big surprise.

  “Are you kidding? Wade is hot, hot, hot. A walking inferno. He gets close to me, and I go up in flames.”

  “That’s what I’m worried about,” I muttered as I pictured Paige drinking margaritas in Hell’s Fire and Brimstone Pub. All I needed was for Paige to turn vamp. If living with her was hell—as an undead, night-stalking people eater, she’d be really annoying.

  Paige careened into the school parking lot and slammed to a lopsided stop at the end of the row. She swung her door wide while I carefully held onto mine and squeezed from her car, trying not to dent the door on the lamppost she’d parked an inch from. This driving together thing wasn’t going to last long.

  As I squeezed between the door and the post the wind flicked a piece of paper taped on the rusting steel, and it nicked my cheek. I shoved it out of my face, then cringed when I read the words MISSING: BELOVED PET.

  The address was in our neighborhood. The image of Cujo’s blood, gleaming wetly on the grass, tightened my throat.

  “Paige-a-licious, over here.”

  She left me without a backward glance and hurried to the blonde clones waving to her from the sidewalk. They quickly gathered in a g
ossip huddle. I slammed the car door, ignored their glares, and headed into the school.

  As soon as I crossed the threshold, kids ran up to me, chattering about Alec and Wade’s crash in the parking lot the day before, asking for all the gory details.

  Who hit who first? Was there blood? What did the cops do? One guy had it so mixed up, he asked if Alec had pulled a gun on Wade during the fight. I gasped, which some took as confirmation, and voices rose.

  Paige and her friends skirted the fringe of the gossipmongers buzzing around me. She gave me a Medusa glare while her blondes questioned the crowd for details, getting the front page news for their drama queen.

  “Everyone knows Wade is hot for Eryn,” a girl confessed to the blondest of Paige’s minions. “I don’t know why she’s hanging around with that giant, Alec. If I were her, I’d be all over Wade by now.”

  I shot a glance at my cousin, who’d obviously heard the comment too. Her corkscrew curls quivered. I exited the crowd, weaving through conversations to escape Paige’s wrath. The gossip would flow on with or without me.

  I hadn’t told Paige, or her parents, about yesterday’s collision. Apparently her friends hadn’t known either, or she would have been inundated with calls last night. And been even nastier to drive with this morning.

  The bell pealed. Everyone scattered, including Paige’s minions. Teachers scrambled from the staff room with giant mugs of coffee, while Paige faced me across the emptying foyer, her body rigid with rage.

  My leg muscles tensed. Here comes the ridiculous hair pulling and hand slapping. I couldn’t imagine anything really physically threatening from Paige. She was such a girly-girl—all about the mind games.

  We waited in absolute silence as the hall emptied around us. She’d be the first to break. I whistled the theme song from those classic Clint Eastwood gunslinger movies. Paige’s eye twitched. I hoped she’d have a brain hemorrhage right then and there. I let the last note ring through the hall.

  “You think I don’t see through you?” Paige put on an exaggerated pout and whined, “Hi, I’m Eryn. Poor little me, my parents died, and I have no friends except for the town’s circus freaks.” She paused. “You know what? Forget what I said earlier. If you want to associate with wackos like Alec and your little goth groupie, Brit—then fine.”

  She stalked closer, her face blotchy under her thick foundation. “But let me give you a bit of cousinly advice, Eryn. If you want to survive at this school, don’t screw with me. Wade is mine, you hear that? Mine!” A stray curl snaked into her eyes, and she blew it back into place with an angry huff.

  I was kind of off the Wade bus, considering he turned out to be a vampire-witch serving under a master vamp with a thing for turning local boys into frothing beasts and everything, but Paige didn’t have to know that. Not right away.

  “Really? ’Cause I’m sensing a major lack of communication between you two.” I paused for effect. “Wade’s been offering me rides home, looking out for me. I think he even wants”—I pursed my lips and covered them prudishly with my fingers—“sex.” I lowered my hand. “I gotta tell you, having two guys fighting over me yesterday was pretty cool.”

  Paige’s eyes flickered with rage. “This is your last warning. Stay away from Wade. Keep your claws off him, or I’ll tell everyone about your cutting habit and how my parents had to take you in to save you from a mental institution.”

  Whoa! Where did that come from? Like mental institutions even existed outside of computer games and horror movies. I struggled for a comeback, but I had nothing.

  Paige’s face glowed like someone had plunged a needle full of triumph directly into her make-Eryn’s-life-miserable vein. “Remember, hands off,” she said, sashaying down the hall. “Or everyone will know what a disturbed psychopath you are.”

  One nice thing about Paige, she didn’t treat me with kid gloves like her parents did. How refreshing.

  The morning announcements cackled over the school PA system. Scarier than the thought of a straitjacket was the thought of being late for my physics test—I needed every possible second. I threw my stuff into my locker and ran for the science wing.

  I skulked into physics class. Perfect timing. Mr. Phillips, occupied with handing out exam booklets, hadn’t seen me enter. Brit gave me a thumbs up, looking impressed. Mr. Phillips’ obsession with punctuality was the stuff of legend. He once threw a chalkboard brush, the old-fashioned kind with the wooden backing, at a kid coming through the doorway fifty seconds late. Knocked him flat.

  “Next time you show up after the bell, Eryn,” Phillips said, without glancing up from the intimidating, official-looking booklets in his hands. “You might as well go for coffee at the cafeteria. You won’t get into my classroom.”

  The class ooohed.

  “That goes for the lot of you.” Phillips turned on the others. “Is it too much to ask that you kids get to class on time, pencil at the ready? This is a test, people. A very important test.”

  I snatched the booklet he held out to me and shuffled, face burning, down an aisle to grab a desk in the back of the room.

  I stared at the first question. Use the following information to answer the next seven questions. A detailed chart that looked like Egyptian hieroglyphs followed. I flipped through the booklet, looking for easy questions to answer first, hoping to build my confidence. Only there weren’t any. Terms, formulas, and equations blurred before my eyes. Fusion reaction, magnetic fields, repulsive force, mass of particles, and neutrons.

  The techy words made my head spin. Brit and I really should have started on that tutoring Mr. Phillips had insisted on. But it was a little difficult to focus on schoolwork with werewolves turning the town into a pan-fried breakfast and vamps scrambling my brains. I shut the booklet and put my forehead on my desk. I was royally screwed.

  I tried to concentrate amidst a symphony of papers rattling, pencils scratching, kids sniffing and sighing in frustration. Desperation infused the air. I sat up, sniffing unobtrusively at my arm. It came from me.

  From across the room, Brit cleared her throat, her way of encouraging me, to get me to at least try.

  The pressure in my head intensified. I flipped the booklet face up once more. I stared at the first question, rubbing my temples in soothing circles.

  And this time, things went down a bit differently.

  The physics mumbo-jumbo made sense. Relief made the pain in my head fade into blissful nothingness, leaving me a bit light-headed. I picked up my pencil and circled my way through pages of multiple-choice questions. Then came the long-answer section.

  Sketch the diagram showing the path of the scattered electron—state all necessary physics principles and formulas.

  Okay, no problem.

  I began to sketch, My pencil raced over the page as if it couldn’t scratch down the answers fast enough.

  In less than half an hour I’d whipped through the entire exam, answering each and every question in turn. I finished in a daze, stood, and handed my booklet to Phillips, who accepted it with a so-you’re-giving-up-already sigh. His jaw fell open when he skimmed the first page. The writing on the page already looked like Greek to me as I slipped out of that-was-an-über-easy-exam mode.

  Brit watched me leave the room, her expression saying she thought I’d bombed the test. I shot her a thumbs up and a wink. Brit’s pitying look shifted to a deep frown. She had no idea what was going on. I almost laughed aloud at her confused expression.

  In the hallway I paused to take a few deep breaths and get my bearings. My spirits soared. Whoot! I’d kicked major physics butt and lived to tell about it. Knocking paranorms into the dust now had a close second on my list of favorite moments. I let out a disbelieving laugh. What the hell happened? Had Brit called in another magical favor? She had been studying me pretty closely in the classroom. Making sure the spell worked? But then why had she looked shocked when I finished so quickly?

  “You’re welcome.” The voice came from behind me.

  I w
hirled around, my heart in my throat. Wade leaned a hand on a locker close to my cheek, his wonderfully developed form outlined by his clingy T-shirt.

  “God, you scared me.” I flushed under his stare and shifted away from him, crowded by his unexpected proximity. I deflected his thrall, looking past the glamour to his real intent. Only at the moment I didn’t smell any deceit on him, only a desire to please and his now-familiar scent of mint. “What am I supposed to be thanking you for?”

  His strong, square jawline flexed as he flashed me his killer smile, drawing my gaze to his mouth—his teeth. The points of his incisors a bit too…pointy. Still, my heart jumped in response—and not from fear.

  “The physics test.” He jerked a thumb toward the classroom. “You were dying in there and I”—he paused meaningfully—“brought you back from the brink.”

  My pulse leapt in my throat, and Wade’s pupils dilated, his grey irises almost completely blackened as his gaze dropped to my neck. Okay, now I was scared.

  “What do you mean you brought me back?” I pulled my hair around my shoulder, hiding the curve of neck exposed by my collarbone-grazing sweater. “I did fine in there. Better than fine. I aced that test.”

  “I know you did,” Wade said with a breathy laugh. His spearmint breath sent my long bangs into a gentle dance. I shivered. My skin tingled. Being this close to Wade was like being surrounded by an invisible field of menthol that stole my breath.

  Wade watched me with knowing eyes. “I stood in the hall and fed you the answers. Telepathy, remember?” He tilted his head, his dark hair attractively disheveled. “You can find a way to thank me later.”

  I backed away from him, stumbled into the lockers. The air in the hallway curdled in my lungs. Stupid. How could I be so stupid? I’d been so worried about the test that I’d forgotten to protect myself. I’d left myself wide open for him to rummage through my thoughts like a bargain hunter at a garage sale. I squeezed my eyes shut, concentrated on the limestone wall I’d built to block him out, and then hastily slammed it into place.

 
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