Echoes of silence unquie.., p.10
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       Echoes of Silence (Unquiet Mind Book 1), p.10

           Anne Malcom
 

  “For what?”

  “For giving me the most precious gift, the most perfect first kiss in the history of first kisses.” And before I could feel exposed by hearing the words outside my head, I turned and rushed back into the house.

  I was in danger of skipping into the house, but I was mindful of my sleeping, ignorant mother upstairs. At least I thought she was upstairs. As I danced quietly around my dark room, I peeked out onto the dark street and saw my mother’s form exiting Zane’s house and rushing across the street.

  I gaped at what I was seeing, then quickly closed the blind.

  “Holy crap,” I whispered to myself.

  Mom. Coming out of Zane’s in the middle of the night. In her nightie.

  I grinned.

  Totally awesome.

  I went to sleep with a smile on my face.

  I walked into the cafeteria more nervous than I had been any other day of my life it seemed. The memory of Killian’s lips on mine was playing on a loop in my mind and my lips still tingled from his touch. I wanted to see him, badly. Another part of me didn’t want to see him. Whatever we talked about today, however it went, it couldn’t match up to the fantasies I’d built up in my mind.

  “Lexie!” a male voice greeted me, just not the right one.

  I turned. “Hey, Jordan,” I said, hoping my disappointment wasn’t visible.

  He smiled warmly at me, rubbing the football he always seemed to have with him. Not a cliché or anything.

  “So, when would you like me to commence duties of being your faithful servant?” he asked.

  I laughed. “Your servitude is totally unnecessary. I was glad I could help.”

  He frowned. “Well, I just couldn’t let you sacrifice your time without giving you something in return,” he mused. “How about I buy you dinner and then we can talk about me potentially getting regular sessions with you? In exchange for weekly pizzas?” he asked with a hopeful glint in his eyes.

  I paused. I didn’t mind Jordan’s company, much. He wasn’t the type of person I’d chose to hang out with. Conversations with him were always surface, kind of like social chewing gum. You went through the motions, but in the end, you got nothing out of it. I didn’t mind helping him out with his homework either. But I wasn’t a complete dummy when it came to boys. I knew an ulterior motive when I saw one. I was the new girl, a novelty for boys in a small town. It didn’t really have anything to do with my personality, for Jordan at least. Killian... well, I hoped with every part of me it was another story.

  “You need a tutor, I suggest the yellow pages,” a rumbling voice answered for me, much less diplomatically than I could.

  Speak of the devil.

  Jordan’s smile dimmed as Killian stepped beside me, his arm purposefully going around my waist.

  “Hey, Freckles,” he murmured, his mouth brushing my hair.

  “Hey,” I whispered, locking eyes with him for a split second before his gaze turned hard and he directed it at Jordan, whose eyes were on Killian’s hand.

  He was not the only one fixated on that glorious limb. My mind buzzed with his casual touch, his show of affection and if I wasn’t mistaken, possession. The kiss last night had signaled a pivotal shift.

  “Sorry, dude, wasn’t aware you spoke for Lexie,” Jordan said. His tone had an edge that I didn’t think he was capable of.

  “She’s quite capable of speaking for herself,” Killian replied blandly. “But I’m just saving her the trouble. She’ll be too busy to be tutoring jocks, considering she’s got her band and school taking up her time, oh, and me,” he said.

  Jordan’s eyes narrowed at Killian.

  “Kill’s right,” I cut in, not wanting a brawl to start on my account. “He’s just not very articulate or tactful.” I gave him a pointed look. “I’m sorry, Jordan. I don’t mind helping you out now and then. I just can’t commit to regular sessions,” I said, deciding to skirt around an outright no, especially since Killian was being so brutal.

  Jordan’s face turned soft and easy. “No problem. I can wait until you’re... less busy,” he said, a double meaning behind his words, reminiscent of Stacy’s the previous day.

  “Once he gets what he wants, you’re invisible.”

  Killian’s form tightened beside me. “Consider her busy for the remainder of your high school career, which may be long, consider you’ll no doubt have to repeat eleventh grade.”

  And before Jordan could respond, Killian snatched my hand and walked us off.

  “Sorry,” I mouthed over my shoulder, feeling guilty for the slightly hurt and confused look on Jordan’s face.

  “Kill,” I scolded, smacking his shoulder. “That wasn’t nice.”

  “I’m not nice,” he replied briskly.

  “You’re nice to me,” I countered, only now realizing he was directing us out of the cafeteria and outside to the grassed area various students camped out on when the weather was nice. Or they wanted to smoke.

  “You’re the exception to the rule, Freckles,” he murmured, squeezing my hand.

  “You’re nice to my boys,” I argued as he led us away from second-hand smoke and rowdy groups of students.

  “I’m civil to them,” he corrected, shrugging off his jacket. His eyes met mine. “Again, because of the exception to my rule.”

  He laid the jacket down on the grass and gently pulled me down. My heart stuttered at the small but meaningful gesture.

  I pursed my lips. “Was it necessary to be like that with Jordan?” I asked, sitting next to him and pulling my lunch out of my bag. I didn’t have much interest in it, but I thought it might be good to have some sort of distraction for my hands. Hands that itched to run through Killian’s hair, to return the easy affection that he was showing. I wasn’t confident enough to commit to such affection. Yet.

  “Yes,” he replied, leaning back on his elbows.

  I raised a brow, showing the fact I wouldn’t accept a one-word answer. “He needs the tutoring, trust me.”

  Killian grinned. “I’m sure he does, Freckles. Just not from you.”

  I frowned at him. “I’m unsure if that’s your decision to make.” I paused for dramatic effect. “No wait, I’m certain that’s not your decision to make.”

  To my surprise, Killian didn’t seem irritated by my tone or accompanying glare. He merely leaned forward, shaking his head, and grasped my neck, leaning in to kiss it.

  “As much as I wish it was my decision to make sure you aren’t in the presence of jerks who have absolutely no interest in your tutoring skills, it’s not. I’ll just have to make sure you are more interested in spending time with me, and I can assure you I have no interest in your tutoring skills either.” His hand flexed slightly at my neck at the same moment as my stomach flipped. “I’m interested in a whole lot more than one part of you. The entire whole, in fact,” he murmured, his voice low. We exchanged an electrifying stare before he leaned back again. “That is, as long as you’re not purely using me for my calculus tutoring skills,” he added in a light tone.

  I felt incomplete without him in my bubble. I focused on my lunch instead.

  “Well,” I hedged, with a small grin. “It’s not just that,” I conceded. “I’m also mighty interested in your hair-care routine.”

  Killian stared at me a beat then burst out laughing. I watched the beauty of him while actually laughing. I’d never seen that before. Sly grins, yes. Straight up laughing? No. And I was responsible for it.

  He stopped, shaking his head. “Well, I’ll have to keep that little gem close to my chest in order to stretch out our time together,” he replied, chuckling.

  I nodded. “You must,” I agreed, forking my food into my mouth.

  Killian’s eyes went to my Tupperware container. “Freckles, what is that?” he asked, leaning forward and inspecting my lunch like a foreign insect.

  I finished my mouthful self-consciously. “Lemon quinoa chicken salad with basil dressing,” I answered, hoping none of that basil was current
ly residing in my teeth.

  Killian’s wide eyes returned to my face. “Quinoa?” he teased.

  I jutted my jaw out. “It’s the super food of the Aztecs,” I defended my lunch choice.

  Killian shook his head, chuckling. “Jesus,” he muttered.

  “It’s good for you.”

  “It looks it,” he agreed, but he made it sound like not a good thing.

  I leaned forward, passing my container and fork to him. “You cannot express that much contempt for it without trying it,” I declared.

  He stared at the container and then me, not moving. “I trust your word, Freckles,” he said, smiling.

  I didn’t reply, merely shook the container at him. Mom expressed the exact same opinion of my “healthy habits.” She said it like eating healthy was equivalent to sniffing glue—until she tried them. I was a good cook, if I did say so myself.

  Killian sighed dramatically, leaning forward to snatch the container from me, making a show of slowly bringing my fork to his mouth.

  “I don’t have cooties,” I snapped.

  Killian paused, his eyes turning to me. “I’m well aware of that,” he said, eyes blazing.

  I felt my cheeks redden at his meaning. I didn’t say anything and he put the fork in his mouth, nose screwed up. He chewed and swallowed, then looked to my fork and to me.

  “This is good,” he said in amazement, forking more into his mouth.

  I grinned triumphantly.

  “Like really good. You must be a good cook, making something like ‘quinoa’ taste like this,” he said, handing the container back to me.

  “You kind of have to be, with a mom that considers defrosting pizza cooking,” I replied with a grin.

  His face quickly lost its teasing smile. “Yeah, that’s one better than mine, Freckles. Pretty sure I existed on cereal until I learned how to cook for myself, till I was old enough to earn money for groceries.” He paused. “Which was about a year after my dad died. Only time I got hot meals before that was when Evie dragged me to her and Steg’s for dinner, which was often. Still is.”

  I lost my smile at the same time as he started speaking. I put my container down, forgotten. “Kill, that’s—” I started in a broken voice.

  “That was my life, Freckles,” he interrupted. “Unraveled pretty quick after my dad passed. My mom’s weak. She was a crappy mom when dad was alive, but she functioned, barely. Enough. After he died...” He trailed off, shaking his head. “She damn near forgot I existed. It’s no great loss to me,” he said, meeting my watery eyes. “I got the club. They’re the only family I need. Gave me a job. Showed me the way around a motorcycle. Cade was the one who gave me the piece of junk I repaired enough to be rideable.” He spoke reverently of this “Cade” who I’d only met once. He was the president of the Sons of Templar MC, the family Killian was talking about.

  “It’s ‘cause of them I can feed myself, and I belong to something more. That my life isn’t completely in the gutter. I’m not spillin’ all this to get your sympathy,” he said, wiping a tear from my cheek. “Just your understanding, your forgiveness.”

  I blinked. “Forgiveness?” I repeated in disbelief. “There’s nothing to forgive. Kill, none of this was your fault.”

  “None of that was my fault,” he agreed. “The way I treated you last weekend was.” His voice was hard. “You’re the only completely good, completely beautiful thing to come into my life since I was twelve. It... screwed me up, seeing my beautiful thing so close to the ugliness I tried to shield you from,” he said, glancing off to the side. “I didn’t want that, that ugly anywhere near you, Freckles. Shit, I spent the whole weekend arguing with myself over whether I should even be with you, drag you down, taint you with being with someone like me.”

  I moved forward, so I was on my knees in front of him, unable to hear him speaking about himself like this. “Kill—”

  “This,” he interrupted, pointing at the faded bruise on his face, “is from me fighting off my mom’s dealer from taking advantage of her while she lay passed out on the sofa.”

  I flinched the moment he said the words, my heart breaking at the image of this, my mind unable to fathom something like that even happening. It happened in the movies, in news stories, not real life. Not the real life I was used to.

  Killian leaned forward and touched my cheek with his finger. “See,” he whispered, “even telling you that screws with the beautiful world you’re a part of. Ripples it, tears it. The fact I’ve got shit like that in my life, that it could somehow bleed into you…” He paused, his face turning hard. “I can’t accept that, Freckles.”

  “Stop,” I commanded. “Stop that right now, Killian.”

  Killian didn’t say anything, more out of surprise than anything else, I guessed.

  “There’s a lot wrong with what you just said. First, I need to tell you something. My mom’s parents were alcoholics. She was brought up in a trailer. She had a rough childhood. I don’t know the specifics, ‘cause she isn’t too hot on repeating them at story time.” I paused. Mom told me the bare minimum of her upbringing and only had released those particular details last year when she felt I was old enough to handle it. I idly wondered what else she was hiding that she didn’t think I was old enough to handle.

  My mind moved back to the current moment. “Out of all of the people in this world, my mom is the most important to me, the most special. She’s my best friend. I’m guessing here, but I think she had the same upbringing as what you’ve been unfortunate enough to have.” I swallowed the razors that scratched at my throat at the thought of my mom having to deal with thoughts like the ones Killian was vocalizing. Ugly, untrue thoughts brought on by people who were supposed to protect you from such things.

  “The most important person to me, who I love and respect above all else, was a part of this world that you seem to think separate than mine. This upbringing that somehow makes you think it defines who you are. You’re right. It does define who you are. But it doesn’t make you bad. It makes you more beautiful than I could ever be for growing up in that ugliness and turning into... you,” I said softly.

  Killian stared at me for a long moment, a moment that almost seemed separate from time. His eyes were so fierce. Then he leaned forward, and with extreme gentleness, he clasped my face and kissed me. His mouth moved slowly, patiently, chasing away the sounds of people around us, chasing away the demons that came with the conversation. There was nothing. Only me and him.

  “I’m glad I met you, Freckles,” he said when his mouth left mine, his forehead resting against my own.

  “Ditto,” I whispered.

  I didn’t think I could ever be gladder to have met a person in my entire life. A person who was quickly becoming a huge part of my world.

  ****

  “I’m going to vomit,” I declared.

  A large hand slipped into mine, squeezing it. “You’re going to be great. We’re going to be great,” Sam promised me. “Please don’t vomit. It’ll ruin my outfit. This is our debut. I’m establishing myself as the most attractive and fashionable of the group,” he added with a grin.

  I let out a choked laugh that seemed to grate through my dry mouth.

  Another hand slipped into mine on the other side. “We’ll be right there with you, Lex,” Noah murmured, nodding to the stage that we were meant to be playing on in about one minute.

  I nodded, my eyes locked on the spot I was going to stand. In front of people. A lot of them.

  “Breathe,” Noah reminded me.

  I sucked in a strangled breath.

  I thought of all the people out there. Then I focused on one. My mom. The one who promised me it was going to be great, that I was great. The one who supported my dream. I wasn’t going to let her down.

  Then I thought of someone else. Someone who wasn’t out there. He was in my head though. It was like he’d purchased prime real estate in the landscape of my brain.

  Killian.

  Earlier today, I
had been standing in the middle of my bedroom looking at my entire closet scattered on every surface in my room. Why hadn’t I bought a new outfit when we were shopping earlier today? I had nothing!

  I was about to burst into tears or let out a petulant little scream when a knock at the door made me jump about five feet.

  I considered not answering it. I was not in a state for human interaction, and my traitorous mom had gone away somewhere, promising she’d be back soon. What kind of mother left her daughter in the midst of such a crisis? Surely there was someone I could report her to.

  A second knock had me moving to answer the door.

  “Killian,” I exclaimed in surprise when I yanked it open.

  His gaze flickered over me and then he met my face with a grin.

  Shoot.

  I was wearing a Gryffindor T-shirt and gray jersey shorts. My hair was piled into a knot on my head, and I was not wearing a scrap of makeup.

  “This is never going to work,” he declared seriously.

  My mortification quickly melted away and was replaced with dread at his words.

  “What?” I asked in a small voice.

  “Me and you. See I’m more of a Hufflepuff man myself. There can only be one victorious house,” he proclaimed, still serious.

  I stared at him for a full moment then burst out laughing. Like full-on, side-stitch laughing. There might have been an edge of hysteria to it.

  When I got myself together, I saw that Killian was staring at me, his grin gone.

  “Thanks,” I said, slightly breathless. “I needed that.”

  He stepped forward off the doorstep so he was close to me and he grasped my forearms lightly. The space where his skin met mine felt electric. “I need to do that more often,” he murmured.

  “What?” I whispered.

  His hand reached to touch the side of my eye. “Make you laugh. You’re beautiful at any given moment of the day, but when you laugh?” He shook his head. “I must say, it feels great to be the one to be responsible for that.”

  My belly flipped at his words, at his proximity. I didn’t even care Mom could return home at any moment and see this. I hadn’t asked her about a date with Killian yet. I was too nervous. I was also mindful of whatever she had going on with Zane, so I was waiting for the right moment.

 
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