Echoes of silence unquie.., p.2
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       Echoes of Silence (Unquiet Mind Book 1), p.2

           Anne Malcom
 

  “I’m so sure.” My tone may have been teasing, but I felt a little barb at the thought. I realized I didn’t want my mom to have to do things like this alone. She deserved a partner, one who would help her with more than changing tires. I wanted happiness for my mom more than anything, especially since I’d be going to college in two years. I didn’t want to leave her alone.

  “Mullet photo,” she hissed out of the corner of her mouth in warning. It was her way of urging me against things. It was a threat to post a photo of baby me in a mullet on the Internet for all to see. It was not pretty.

  She moved her attention away from me and back to the men who had been watching our exchange. “So I’m just going to circle back to the good news portion of this announcement. You mentioned we could still make our movie, despite your dire diagnosis of Betty,” she said to the man in the coveralls.

  I hadn’t been aware that our car was in dire straits. Then again, the sounds it was making weren’t entirely natural. I wasn’t exactly cut up over the turn of events. My eyes locked with Killian once more. Not cut up at all.

  “Betty?” Brock repeated, jolting my eyes away from Killian’s.

  “Betty’s our car,” I answered for Mom once more.

  “You named your car?” he asked in disbelief, looking at Mom.

  “I didn’t name her, Lexie did. She was ten and decided a car such as this required a name,” Mom said quickly, embarrassment in her tone. It was unfamiliar. Mom never got embarrassed, even that time at a parent-teacher conference when she spilled coffee all down her white shirt, rendering it see-through. She had laughed it off and exclaimed, “I paid enough for this bra, at least someone gets to see it.”

  “I didn’t technically name her,” I corrected, leaning against the car. “I merely broached the concept of naming the car. You were the one who christened her Betty.”

  I may have been being slightly evil to my dearly beloved mother, but it was kind of entertaining seeing her flustered and also educating. Yes, these men were rather attractive and slightly intimidating with their biker cuts, but Mom wasn’t easily intimidated. I had a weird feeling it was Zane doing this to her. I nurtured this tiny thought and the idea of Zane smiling at one of Mom’s jokes.

  “Only because all of the names you came up with were utterly ridiculous and didn’t suit the car’s personality,” Mom shot at me, finding her tongue.

  “A car has personality?” Brock asked, half choking on a laugh.

  Mom thrust her hand out to the car in question. “This particular car does. Some obviously do not. Like a Toyota Corolla or Volvo, any make. A cherry red VW Beetle on the other hand....”

  She didn’t say any more; she didn’t need to, I thought. Betty spoke for herself, though that was a sixteen-year-old girl’s opinion; hot bikers might have other ideas.

  “Okay, we’re getting off-track again,” Mom said, giving me a pointed glare. “The previews are lost to us at this rate, so we need to get back on track.”

  I was happy to forfeit our much-enjoyed previews to watch Mom like this and to sneak gazes at Killian every now and then, feel his eyes constantly on mine.

  Cade shook his head. “I’m guessing there’s no such thing as staying on track in a conversation with you two,” he deduced, correctly. Mom and I had a tendency to go off on tangents when the mood took us. It was part of our charm.

  Luckily, it seemed that the men thought this was an amusing quality and chatted warmly and even gave us a loaner car to take in the meantime. Since it wasn’t quite ready for us to use, we couldn’t use it to go to the movies. Lucky, the smiling bald one in the coveralls had not only offered to take us, but to come with us. It was obvious, even to someone as inexperienced with such things as me, he was interested in Mom.

  It must have been obvious to someone with even more experience since Zane’s face had turned positively stormy at Lucky’s suggestion.

  He had stepped forward and all but barked at Lucky, declaring he would take us. I didn’t quite understand the dynamics of this gesture, but it filled me with warmth.

  Zane didn’t want Mom going to the movies with Lucky. That meant something, even if he spoke in grunts basically the entire ride to the theater and barely even smiled. He had insisted on paying for all the snacks and I caught moments of Zane glancing at Mom with something in his eyes. I’d even used my brilliant skills to make them sit together.

  I had been completely and utterly pleased with myself when Zane dropped us back at the garage to pick up our loaner car after the movie. “See you later, Zane,” I said with a grin as I opened the door. “You totally like it, I can tell. So you’ll come next time as well?” I asked hopefully. Mom and I had a weekly tradition of going to the movies. It was nice having his silent presence with us.

  He gave me a little eye smile, his hard eyes crinkling almost imperceptibly at the edges. He never smiled with his mouth, for whatever reason, but that was his way.

  “Maybe, Lex.”

  I beamed at him. “Saaweet, catch you later,” I called, jumping out of the truck.

  My plan was to give him and my mom a moment together. Most of it, anyway. A little part of me hoped I’d see Killian once more. It had only been two hours. I barely knew him, but I was hungry for his gaze. My eyes searched the bays, which had a few people in coveralls milling about. I then moved my gaze to what I guessed was the clubhouse. There was a grassed area in the front, and a few men milled about, wearing the same leather cuts as Zane. I squinted to see better.

  “Want me to go and ask them if they’d be willing to sit while you paint them?” a voice said at my side.

  I jumped at my mom’s presence. I had been unaware she’d gotten out of the truck so quickly.

  I pasted a grin on my face. “I’ve got what I need. I’ll do it from memory,” I shot back.

  She rolled her eyes and slung her arm around my shoulder. “Let’s get you out of here before you decide to get yourself a motorcycle,” she said, directing us away from the clubhouse.

  I resisted the urge to glance over my shoulder in one last ditch effort to see him. He would have forgotten about me already, I was sure.

  I couldn’t stop thinking about him. It was ridiculous. Boys were never on my radar, never even in my stratosphere. I read countless books about every subject under the sun, every great literary work I could get my hands on. The Bronte sisters, Dickens, Fitzgerald. I listened to every song that I considered necessary to my existence. Kurt Cobain. Bob Dylan. Jim Morrison. Stevie Nicks. All of the things that were a part of my soul, most of them were inspired by, sparked by, and created by love and infatuation. So I was familiar with the concept, in an abstract sense.

  But never in my wildest dreams did I think I would actually be feeling something akin to what some of my favorite works had been inspired by. I was smart to know it wasn’t love, that was positively ridiculous, but seeing his inky black hair and smoke drifting out of his mouth every time I closed my eyes was bordering on insane.

  Mom had drilled me after we got home from the movie with Zane. Luckily, I was able to blow her off by speaking casually about Killian, which was not something that would normally work. My mom and I were in tune, and her hatred for literary greatness aside, she was sharp. She would have known there was something more that I was hiding about Killian.

  That was if she hadn’t been preoccupied with another man who had been at the garage.

  Zane.

  I knew she was also trying to hide whatever it was between them, but I wasn’t an idiot, and though adults liked to think teenagers are blind to such things, I saw it. I saw perhaps more than Mom saw.

  I saw Zane. I saw beyond that tough-guy image he seemed to hide behind. He had something haunting him. I couldn’t even start to think of what it was, but I knew by the way he looked at Mom, she might be able to help. He might be able to help Mom with what haunted her too.

  She thought I didn’t see that either. She tried so hard to be happy and give me a life of laughter, which she
did. I considered myself the luckiest girl ever to have a mom who doubled as a best friend and to have Steve and Ava, who weren’t my blood but I considered grandparents. I treasured the love I had around me. But I also saw the shadows that crossed over Mom’s face when she thought I wasn’t looking and the funny way she looked at Steve and Ava when I had first asked about the father I never knew. I knew there was something deeper, something potentially ugly hiding in my mom’s past, something she was most likely protecting me from.

  I wished with the romantic wish that our lives might turn into some novel. That Mom and Zane would fall in love, and they’d cure each other and we’d make Zane smile again. We smiled and laughed all the time. Something told me Zane needed to smile and laugh too.

  That’s what I was thinking of when I shut my locker, how to match make my mom and Zane. So I jumped when I realized someone was leaning against the one next to mine.

  Someone who I had been dreaming about.

  “Freckles,” he greeted, his eyes glued to mine.

  “Um... Killian, hey,” I stuttered, while shuffling my books in my hand so I didn’t drop them at his feet like a klutzy idiot.

  In one smooth move, my books were out of my arms and safely stacked in his muscled ones.

  The bell rang and he pushed off the locker.

  “You don’t have to carry my books,” I argued quickly, aware that various kids walking past us were staring. Girls in particular. I knew they were most likely staring daggers at me. I didn’t make friends easy, thanks to the fact I listened to my headphones or read a book at lunch. So I hadn’t exactly clicked with a girl posse just yet. But I knew how the girls swooned over Killian. Everyone did. I had been hyperaware of him ever since that day at the garage a few days ago.

  “What class you got?” he asked, ignoring my question and ignoring the stares we were getting. He seemed genuinely unaware; every ounce of his attention was on me. It was unnerving to say the least. People, especially teenagers, never gave you their complete attention. They were on their phones, or their eyes were half glazed over. Maybe that’s why I preferred the small handful of friends I had back at my old school, that and Mom, Steve, and Ava. Maybe that’s why I hadn’t made any friends here yet.

  “Calculus,” I said automatically; I couldn’t help the dread in my voice. I hated it with a passion. But I was also a perfectionist, so despite my distaste for it, I worked hard to get decent grades. I needed more than decent grades to get a scholarship.

  Killian grinned slightly at something and turned in the direction of the class. “Let’s go then. Wouldn’t want you to be late for a class you’re obviously itching to get to,” he deadpanned.

  I got into stride beside him. “You’re hilarious. Anyone who actually likes calculus needs their head examined,” I informed him seriously.

  He gave me a sideways glance and our shoulders brushed against each other as we walked. The casual touch and his proximity seemed to make all of my nerve endings fizz as if I’d gotten a mild electric shock. I instinctively touched my hair to make sure it wasn’t awry with wild static.

  Killian followed my hands, his eyes intense. “Don’t worry. Your head doesn’t need to be examined. It’s beautiful,” he said softly. “Though I wouldn’t be averse to examining it, if pressed.”

  My breath left me in a whoosh at his words. I actually tripped over my feet, like an idiot.

  He stopped to catch me, no easy feat considering he was carrying my books. His hand grasped my elbow, and his eyes burned into mine. “Easy, Freckles,” he murmured. “Don’t want to be damaging that pretty head, do we?”

  The moment seemed to yawn on forever, the crowd of students dissipating, everything leaving that moment like it did at the garage days ago.

  “Shouldn’t you be getting to your next class, instead of accosting our newest student, Mr. Decesare?” a voice jolted us out of our little universe once more. This one was stern.

  My head snapped to the source of it, though I noticed Killian’s eyes were still firmly on me.

  A short man stood in front of us. Half of his head was bald, and he’d gone to great pains to comb over what little he had left. The result was not effective. His face was pinched, and somehow I was immediately reminded of a ferret. He was wearing an ill-fitting tweed suit and terrible, clunky, black shoes. He was also glaring at Killian like he was responsible for climate change. I vaguely remembered him as the vice principal. I couldn’t for the life of me remember his name. I was in danger of forgetting my own when I was in Killian’s presence.

  “Mr. Decesare?” he repeated with impatience, eyes narrowing even more as Killian studiously ignored him.

  I moved my gaze back to those eyes that were still staring at me; they twinkled slightly, and Killian gave me a small grin before he turned his head. He raised his brows at the vice principal with impatience of his own, somehow managing to look like he was the one disciplining him.

  He didn’t say anything, merely waited.

  “Do you want another detention, Mr. Decesare?” the vice principal finally gritted out.

  Killian grinned. “Not particularly,” he responded.

  The vice principal’s cheeks turned red. “Well, I advise you get to your next class and subject some poor teacher to your insolence, instead of Ms. Spencer here,” he instructed harshly.

  I pursed my lips together in anger that wasn’t familiar. I was immediately annoyed at the way he was talking to Killian, the lack of respect and downright hostility in his demeanor.

  I stepped forward. “It’s my fault,” I explained. “I was lost, and Killian was helping me find my way.”

  The teacher regarded me warily. The sharp barb of hatred was gone from his gaze now that it was directed at me, but a shadow of it remained. On Killian’s account, I guessed, for whatever reason.

  His mouth turned into a cruel smile. “Well, I doubt Mr. Decesare would be much help, considering he barely goes to his own classes. You’re probably more likely to get lost with him as your guide than going it alone.” His gaze darted to the dwindling amount of students left in the corridor. He stopped one boy in a football jacket on his way past. “Mr. Louis, would you do Ms. Spencer the favor of escorting her to her next class?” he asked, though it wasn’t exactly a question, merely a command with a question mark at the end.

  “Mr. Louis” was a boy I’d seen around a few times. He was almost always surrounded by boys in matching football jerseys and various girls, most of them cheerleaders, and some of whom glared at me not five minutes ago when I had been walking with Killian. He was your quintessential jock—tall, handsome with wavy blond hair, tanned skin, and lean muscles. I didn’t really like to categorize people like that, in stereotypes that never captured the complexity of the human spirit, but it was hard when he seemed to fit it to a T. Everyone was more comfortable playing preconceived parts in high schools, ascribing to identities constructed for them.

  His blue eyes ran down my body, and he showed me white teeth when he made it back to my face. “I’d like nothing more,” he responded with a grin.

  I felt Killian step forward, his heat at my back. My gaze flickered to him and any hint of the previous teasing, softness he had had with me disappeared. His jaw was hard and his eyes were glittering with fury.

  “That’s really not—” I tried to protest.

  “I must insist. I have some business to discuss with Mr. Decesare,” the vice principal interrupted me.

  Killian took another step forward, slightly in front of me, first glowering at the vice principal in a way I didn’t think he was capable of. It was full of menace. Of promise. It was not the way a teenager looked at an adult. The way he stared at him, Killian switched the positions of power somehow, exhibiting an aura of assertiveness, one that made the vice principal look painfully small.

  “Those her books? I’ll take those, thanks, bro?” Jayden—I thought that was his name—held out his hands to Killian, smiling at him.

  Killian stared at him for a long m
oment, and I actually thought something—I’m not sure what—bad would happen. Then he seemed to shake himself out of it, purposefully turning to me, books still in his hands. He handed them to me pointedly.

  “Catch you around, Freckles,” he said. It wasn’t a casual phrase the way most people used it. It was a promise.

  We stared at each other for another long moment before he stepped back. I almost sighed out loud at the loss of him.

  Jayden immediately stepped forward. “Should we go? Don’t want you to be late. What class you got?” he asked as if the tension hadn’t been stifling just moments before.

  I tore my gaze away from Killian, who was still staring at me. “Calculus,” I said finally.

  “Sweet, me too,” he said, sounding pleased. There was a slight pressure at my lower back as Jayden lightly touched me, turning us away from Killian and the vice principal, whom I held a serious distaste for.

  I looked over my shoulder at Killian, who was flat out ignoring the vice principal and was glaring at Jayden’s hand.

  “Though Mr. Hazelton is a total prick at the best of times, I will thank him for giving me the opportunity to talk to the pretty new girl,” Jayden said, causing politeness to kick in, which meant I had to look at him. Plus, I couldn’t very well stroll down the corridor staring at Killian. I’d smack into something and look like an idiot.

  I didn’t really know what to say to something like that; luckily, he didn’t seem to expect a response.

  “Jordan,” he said, pointing to his chest. Okay, not Jayden, but I was close.

  “Lexie,” I replied quietly, shuffling my books.

  He nodded to them. “Want me to take those?”

  I held them tighter. “I’m good,” I said firmly. Stupid as it was, there was something decidedly intimate about the way Killian had taken my books. I didn’t want it to be taken away with Jordan doing it.

  He didn’t seem offended, just nodded. “So, where’d you move here from?” he asked, doing a chin lift to a couple of boys who walked past us.

 
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