Echoes of silence unquie.., p.4
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       Echoes of Silence (Unquiet Mind Book 1), p.4

           Anne Malcom
 

  I turned serious. “You don’t seem like normal a seventeen-year-old boy,” I countered. I had done some subtle digging and found out he was a year older than me.

  “That’s ‘cause I’m not, Freckles,” he responded, his voice flat. His face turned serious. “No one outside the club, ‘specially not in that place full of idiots we call a school, has had a different opinion of me. Apart from you,” he murmured. “I treasure that. I need you to be wary though,” he warned. “The fact you didn’t judge the club, anyone in it, is amazing, babe. But you need to be wary. Don’t be certain of anyone else who looks rough around the edges. There're people who wouldn’t hesitate to take advantage of a beautiful teenage girl’s lack of prejudice. People who I’d have to beat up if they did so. I’d much rather be using my hands to hold yours than use my fists to get revenge on anyone who did that, Freckles.”

  I swallowed and regarded him with wide eyes. I didn’t completely understand everything he said, but I was pretty sure he said he’d be beating up people for me. It was intense. Scary. Terrifying. Terrifying because I liked it.

  His thumb and forefinger grasped my chin. “Need you to tell me you understand what I said,” he commanded softly.

  I didn’t. Not really. But I’d most likely be obsessing over this conversation for the next twenty hours, so I was sure I’d understand later. So I nodded. “I understand.”

  His eyes searched mine. “I can’t believe it,” he muttered. “The fact you’re so much more than I thought you were to start with. And, Freckles, I knew you were somethin’ special the minute I laid eyes on you in that flowery dress strutting into school for the first time.”

  I gaped at him. My stomach dipped at his words and my heart threatened to beat out of my chest at the look in his eyes, how close he was standing to me.

  He was going to kiss me.

  His eyes darted to the left. He nodded his head. “That’s your place.”

  I followed his eyes to my house at the end of the street. “Indeed it is,” I agreed.

  “Go to it, Freckles,” he ordered. His thumb brushed my jaw and he stepped back. “I’ll see you at school,” he promised, giving me one long look before turning on his motorcycle boots and walking back toward town.

  I stood there, staring at his retreating form, waiting for my heartbeat to return to normal, for my breathing to stop choking me.

  As I did this, I realized something he said.

  “The moment I laid eyes on you in that flowery dress strutting into school for the first time.”

  The first time I’d noticed him was days ago at the garage. I thought that was the first time he noticed me too.

  Something scary and amazing settled in my stomach at the realization that he’d noticed me almost the day I got into town.

  ****

  “Mom!” I called, dropping my bag at the door and nearly skipping into the kitchen.

  I felt like I was floating. Flying. I kept replaying every moment with Killian, my stomach squeezing at every new thing I took from the walk. The memory of his eyes, his thumb brushing against my cheek.

  I couldn’t wait to tell Mom. I wanted to keep it mine a little longer, but I didn’t think I could hide how utterly ecstatic I was.

  “Hey, kid,” Mom greeted me with a weak smile.

  I immediately stopped my skip and my smile froze on my face.

  Something was wrong. Very wrong.

  “The fact you seem that happy after spending that long studying Shakespeare makes me need to think really hard to make sure I didn’t drop you on your head when you were an infant,” she informed me. “No normal human is that happy after studying.”

  Mom and I engaged in almost constant sarcasm and movie quotes instead of conversation; it was our way. This time though, it seemed forced. Something had Mom feeling seriously down. She was trying to hide it, which meant she didn’t want me to know.

  Whatever it was had me instantly changing my mind about telling her about Killian. I buried my feelings of joy down quickly.

  I sat down at the dining table in the middle of the kitchen. “No normal human eats—” I paused to do a mental count “—four packets of king size Reese’s Cups and still looks like you, and also doesn’t have diabetes.”

  Somehow, my mom ate worse than a teenage boy and was still petite and had beautiful skin. It was a mystery how it happened, though it meant good things for my future.

  “Yes, well, here I am. The secret to girlish figures, beauty beyond compare, and excellent health... excessive amounts of sugar,” she replied, grinning through chocolate teeth.

  She was going to great pains to hide whatever had gotten her down. It niggled at me that she wasn’t going to tell me, but I’d give her time, maybe she would. I sure as anything wouldn’t be telling her about Killian now. A little part of me, an ugly part, was glad I’d found a reason not to. To be able to keep it just for me for however longer.

  “Calculus on your lunch break? My, we are living life on the edge, Freckles,” a deep, teasing voice tickled my ear.

  I jumped slightly, not so much in surprise, but at the way my body immediately responded to the familiar voice, to the feel of heat at my back. I turned to meet icy blue eyes, which were twinkling.

  I grinned. “What can I say? I’m a rebel,” I deadpanned.

  He rewarded me with a grin that warmed my stomach. “Good thing I’m here then, to get you on the straight and narrow,” he said, setting his tray next to mine.

  I watched him sit down next to me. Like right next to me. My bare arm brushed his muscled one. It was closer than people normally sat. Way closer.

  “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in the cafeteria before,” I mused, my nerves making my voice shake.

  He turned his body so it was angled to mine, so I got his full attention. “Don’t think I’ve been in here for a year at least,” he replied seriously.

  My eyes popped out of my head. “Where do you spend your lunch break then?”

  He shrugged. “Anywhere but the feeding trough. I usually go for a ride, hang out at the club.”

  “But you’re not supposed to leave school grounds,” I pointed out, like the complete nerd I was.

  I felt red creeping up my neck the moments the words left my mouth, especially when Killian’s lips turned up in amusement.

  “What can I say, Freckles? I’m a rebel,” he teased.

  I barely resisted the urge to bury my head in my textbook. My eyes darted down for a moment. “Why are you here now then?” I whispered to math equations.

  I felt pressure at my chin as Killian’s hand grasped it so it tilted up and my eyes met his. “Found a very good reason to brave feeding time at the zoo,” he murmured.

  I blinked rapidly at the meaning behind those words.

  “I’m glad,” I whispered, blurting the thought before my mind could stop me.

  Killian’s eyes flared. “I am too,” he said softly, then his eyes flickered down to my textbook. “For a multitude of reasons, one being so that I can ensure you don’t fail calculus,” he informed me, letting go of my chin.

  The loss of his touch echoed through my body as my mind registered his words. I followed his eyes.

  “They’re wrong?” I groaned.

  He grinned at me. “Spectacularly.”

  This time, I did put my head in my hands. “I’m going to fail, which means I won’t get into college and I’ll end up having to busk on the streets for money.”

  “Don’t despair. You’re unlikely to be destined for a life on the streets, not when you’ve got me,” he promised.

  I pushed my head out of my hands to watch him as he pulled the book away from me and glanced down at it, strands of his inky hair falling around his face. I had a desperate urge to run my hands through it.

  “I’ve got you,” I repeated his words, though I didn’t mean to do it out loud.

  His head snapped up and his eyes were intense. “You’ve got me,” he repeated once more, and I knew he meant for more
than a calculus tutor.

  I wanted to freeze that moment in time and somehow make it tangible so I could tuck it away with my books and relive it over again. Unfortunately, reality made that impossible.

  I tore my gaze away from his and my eyes darted around the cafeteria. The sound I’d been shutting out the moment I’d locked eyes with Killian came roaring back in. People walking past were giving us sideways glances. More than a few were straight-up staring.

  I worried if looks could kill, Stacy’s glare would stop my heart instantly.

  “People are looking at us,” I said quietly, moving my eyes back to Killian.

  He didn’t even glance around. “People are most likely lookin’ at you, Freckles.” His face hardened slightly. “Though I’d be happy if the jock for brains is currently looking this way. Maybe then he won’t get any ideas that will make me have to divest him of some teeth,” he said, only half joking.

  I raised a brow at him. “What ideas would those be?”

  His gaze darkened. “Many which don’t bear repeating, but the main one being he doesn’t realize how far out of his league you are,” he declared. “Though, there’s not one boy in this place who’s even near that,” he added.

  I swallowed and heat crept up my neck at the way he was talking about me. Me. “Present company excluded,” I whispered, unsure of where my boldness was coming from.

  Killian’s face froze and he was silent for a moment. “No, Freckles, present company is the one person at this school who has no business even being in your presence,” he murmured, his voice rough. He paused. “But what can I say? I’m a rebel.” His voice wasn’t teasing like before, but my whole body warmed at the fact it meant he wasn’t going anywhere. Not right now at least.

  His face cleared. “Let’s get to making sure you don’t have a future on the streets,” he teased, the moment leaving.

  I forced a smile and tried my best to focus on the equations in front of me and not the muscled arm pointing to my mistakes and the boy attached to the muscled arm.

  I failed spectacularly. But I would gladly fail calculus if it meant I got to spend every lunch break with Killian.

  ****

  “Hello?” I called to the cavernous room.

  No one answered. I paused for a second longer, just to make sure I was alone.

  I wasn’t necessarily hiding, per se, but Jordan had promised he’d save a seat at lunch for me, with a weird twinkle in his eye. I so didn’t want to see what that was about. His friends and he seemed nice enough, on the surface. I didn’t miss the pointed comments about people that walked past and didn’t fit in their parameters of “cool.” Nor did I miss the way Kyle had purposefully tripped a small, skinny redheaded boy who had scuttled past us the other day.

  I especially didn’t miss the comments Stacy had been handing out to me whenever I found myself in that group.

  “Lexie, I love your skirt. It’s so cool how you, like, don’t even care that the whole boho look is so... done. You like it and don’t let things like fashion stop you. It’s groovy,” she said sweetly yesterday.

  I had failed to let that barb puncture me anywhere. I was comfortable with how I looked, and I wasn’t going to let one comment from a petty girl affect me.

  I had bitten my tongue when I really wanted to say, “I’m not one to be a blind fashion victim; otherwise, I’d be bumping into doors. How’s your eyesight?”

  Instead, I gave her a wide smile and thanked her. Then I’d made my escape as quickly as possible.

  It was Wednesday. A week to the day I’d walked home with Killian. I’d spent four glorious lunch breaks in his presence, trying not to turn into a bumbling idiot when he spoke in his rough and low tone. Not that he spoke overly much. In between helping me with calculus, he asked me more questions about my life back in DC, and my favorite books and movies.

  “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, that’s your favorite book?” Killian asked on the fourth day, his eyes light and teasing.

  I nodded, trying not to focus on how close his body was to mine. “I wish I could say it’s Ulysses or The Grapes of Wrath. They’re great, don’t get me wrong, but it’ll always be Narnia in my heart,” I told him, failing to be embarrassed. “See, it was the first book Steve and I read together. Mom isn’t exactly... into reading to put it lightly,” I joked. “But Steve was the reason I found the love of my life.” I paused to think about music. “Well, second love,” I corrected. “So it’ll always be the book that started it all.” I looked at Killian, whose eyes were burning into mine, his face blank. I felt my neck redden. “You think I’m a big dork, don’t you?”

  Killian’s expression turned intense and he shook his head slowly. “No, Freckles,” he murmured, “the more I find out about you, the more you fascinate me.” His voice was dark.

  I had never looked forward to lunch more than I had those four days. I could barely concentrate in classes. It was ridiculous. I saw girls basically lose their minds over boys throughout my teenage years, and I’d always considered them silly for doing so. I’d been somehow proud of myself for not letting such things mess with my goals.

  I had goals, but I wasn’t exactly sure of what I wanted. I knew I loved reading. That music was my soul. That writing songs made the world melt away. Strumming the guitar felt like I was going into another world. I was also a realist. Love of music, talent for strumming a guitar, and a half-decent voice didn’t guarantee a future.

  Mom told me I could be anything I wanted to be. I didn’t particularly want to be famous or rich. Sure, it would be nice. More than nice, I guessed.

  I mainly wanted to be happy. Mom and I were far from rich. There were times in my childhood that I knew even giving me a dollar for a hot dog was impossible. I knew it was hard. But I never remembered being unhappy or feeling like I was missing out.

  I didn’t need money to be happy. I needed family. My books. And I needed music. If I could find a way to make a living out of that, great.

  But the amount of talented, passionate artists that made a living were few and far between, so I had to work hard. My mom had such unwavering belief in me, and she had worked so hard to give me the opportunity to be anything and everything. I didn’t want to let her down. I couldn’t let her down. So I worked hard at school. Hard.

  I didn’t trouble myself with boys mostly because I was too busy to worry about them. Partly because I’d never met any who I thought were worth venturing out of my books for, untangling myself from music for. And another part, one that I was unlikely to verbalize, knew I’d never find one to measure up to the kind of love I’d grown up with. That Jane Austen, Margaret Mitchell, Fleetwood Mac, Billy Joel, and The Beatles had made so beautiful.

  That fricking Walt Disney had tricked me into thinking was real.

  I wanted the fairy tale. I wanted a love as deep as the ocean, as unyielding as the wind, stronger than diamonds, and as unpredictable as a volcano. I wanted a love that made me crazy and sane at the same time. The feeling that the world slipped into place the moment you laid eyes on that person. Your person. The one meant for you.

  I wasn’t an idiot. I knew that most likely didn’t exist.

  And if by some miracle it did, I didn’t think I’d find it at sixteen.

  I didn’t want to find it at sixteen. I wanted to make it. Figure out where my life would take me first. I wanted to travel. I wanted to live first.

  But here I was, at sixteen, no idea what I wanted to do and having seen only two cities in my life, and I had this wondrous elation that I found it. Ridiculous and stupid was what most people would say if I verbalized it.

  Which was why I hadn’t. Not even to my mom. I’d hardly admitted it to myself.

  I had a cocktail of emotions threatening to explode, so I needed this empty room. The one I’d found when I was lost a couple of days ago. The one with the stage and the old piano in the middle of it.

  It wasn’t a guitar, but it was something. It offered me the solace, the quiet that music
offered me.

  I sat down and lightly traced my hands along the keys. I wasn’t as good on the piano as I was with the guitar. With the guitar, I barely knew where my hands ended and the instrument began. But the moment I touched the keys, instinct took over and my entire body relaxed. I got lost in the music.

  I started to sing “Breathe” by Pearl Jam softly at first, the words running through me like a river. Everything fell away but the music, and I was able to silence my unquiet mind.

  As the last note of music flew off into the air, and my voice softly trailed off, I immediately heard all of the noise rush back in.

  Literally and figuratively.

  “Holy shit! You’re like... fucking amazing,” an excited voice yelled.

  I jumped, nearly completely off the stool, my eyes snapping open.

  “Good one, scare the living shit out of the girl. She’ll run before we even get to talk to her,” another, quieter voice scolded.

  I watched a boy with spiky blond hair punch the one who yelled in the shoulder. He was wearing all black and had shoulder-length black hair. Despite being scared out of my wits, I appreciated his Joy Division tee. They were walking up the stairs to join me on stage, another with a beanie and who was seriously good looking followed silently, though he was grinning at me. They all were.

  “Please don’t say you’ve come here to murder me,” I joked lightly.

  All three of them chuckled. The one in the tee came to sit right next to me on the piano seat, not worrying about things like personal space with virtual strangers.

  “If we murdered you, what good would you be to our band?” he asked. “We need you alive, kicking, and preferably singing.” He furrowed his brows, looking at my hands resting on the keys of the piano. “We’ve already got a keyboardist,” he mused, frowning at the boy behind him accusingly before turning his attention back to me. “Let’s hope by some miraculous turn of fate you’re a musical prodigy and play more than one instrument. You don’t play guitar by any chance?” he continued, speaking so fast I could barely follow his train of thought. Luckily, I lived with a woman who spoke much faster than that and engaged in such banter my entire life.

 
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