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Taking back forever, p.16
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       Taking Back Forever, p.16

           Karen Amanda Hooper
 
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  Krista blushed and looked away. My stomach dropped.

  I sat up and leaned across her so I could see her expression. “Krista, do you like Carson?”

  Her smile answered before she did. “I do.”

  “You like like him?”

  She nodded. “We’ve been hanging out a lot whenever you and Nathan are together.”

  “Kris, he’s like family!”

  “He’s not my family. I have no blood ties to him.”

  “You have kindrily ties to him.”

  “So?”

  “And what if you date him and it ends badly and you two hate each other? For eternity we’re going to have feuding kindrily members?”

  “Nah.” She tossed popcorn into her mouth. “I’m sure it would only take us a lifetime or two to make up.”

  “I can’t believe this. Not Carson. Anyone but Carson.”

  “Maryah, has it occurred to you that maybe Carson is my soul mate? “

  I smacked my forehead. “Oh dear god, you can’t be serious.”

  “Why would that be so far-fetched? We’re side by side in the order. Maybe he was created for me.”

  “I think my popcorn is coming back up.”

  “You two may have had your issues, but he’s growing on you and you know it.”

  “That’s not the point.” Krista and Carson? She was too good for him. She deserved someone suave and sophisticated, someone who had a wardrobe that consisted of more than gamer t-shirts and white hoodies. “He can’t be your soul mate. You’d know without a doubt if you two were meant to be.”

  “Oh, because you were so sure about Nathaniel?”

  “I’m sure I was sure in our first life together. My lack of intuition and insanity was because I was stupid and erased. What’s your excuse?”

  “It’s not insane. I know what I’m feeling. I’ve never felt this way about anyone before.”

  “You’ve only had like three boyfriends.”

  “You’re forgetting I lived and still remember my other lives. I’ve dated more than three people. I have lots to compare with. If I took all the good qualities of every guy I ever dated and combined them into one person, Carson would still be a million times better.”

  I held my stomach and pretended to gag. “Some of my popcorn definitely came back up.”

  “This is why I didn’t want to tell you.”

  I sank back into my pillows. “He likes you too, doesn’t he? I can tell he does.”

  “Yes, he does.” She answered with way too much confidence.

  “Please tell me you two haven’t been making out behind my back.”

  She laughed. “Behind your back? Why should our relationship have anything to do with you?”

  “Relationship? You’re already in a relationship?” I pulled a pillow over my head. “I don’t want to hear any more.” Krista tickled my side and I squirmed out from under the pillow. “Okay, okay, I must enjoy self-torture because I have to know. Have you kissed him?”

  Even her tan Egyptian skin couldn’t hide the blushing of her cheeks.

  I groaned. “You did kiss him! And you didn’t tell me?”

  “Oh, because you’re handling it so well right now? Besides, he kissed me.”

  She was beaming. I could hardly believe it, but Krista was glowing as she probably replayed the memory of Carson kissing her. I didn’t want details, but judging by her twinkling eyes and smitten grin it must have been amazing. “How did I not notice you two had become an item?”

  “You did notice. You commented on the lover’s quarrel thing.”

  “I mean before now.”

  “You’ve been busy getting to know Nathan again and working on your ability.” Her grin fell. “And then we lost Sheila. A lot has happened.”

  I turned so I was directly facing her. “He makes you happy?”

  She smiled in a way that reminded me of the stars twinkling in the Sedona sky. “It’s more than that. It’s like, I feel so good around him. I feel whole, not just the butterflies in my stomach or giddy or the stuff I felt when I was dating someone in the past. With Carson it’s...” She looked at the ceiling. I looked up too as if we’d find the perfect words hanging above our heads. She linked her pinky with mine and looked me straight in the eyes. “With Carson, it’s cosmic.”

  My eyebrows shot up. How could I argue with cosmic? That was one heck of a commendation for Carson. “How long have you felt this way?”

  “I was drawn to him right away. I didn’t want to tell you how attractive I thought he was because I knew you’d tease me or freak out or whatever, but ever since Sheila passed we’ve become inseparable.”

  Oh no. Just when I had started believing Krista had genuine feelings for him, and that it might be possible they were destined to be together, the truth slapped me into sad reality. She had lost Sheila—the closest bond she had—and she was trying to replace that emptiness inside of her with Carson. I couldn’t point it out yet because she looked so happy, but soon I’d have to reason with her before one of them got hurt. As much as I wanted her to have a soul mate, the timing and fact that she thought it was Carson was much too convenient and highly unlikely.

  Krista hugged her pillow. “I know Carson is the one.”

  LET THERE BE LIGHT

  Maryah

  “Is Nathan coming home tonight?” Krista asked.

  “No, he’s still working on convincing Harmony to come home. She’s really bummed about not finding Gregory. Plus, I told him I need some quality girl time with you.”

  “Yay! That’s exactly what I was thinking too. Mind if I spend the night in here tonight?”

  “Only if you promise not to make fun of my new bedtime ritual.”

  Her brow rose. “Which is?”

  “I’ve been trying these guided meditations I found on YouTube. A couple claim to help with astral travel. So far nothing I experienced has been transcendental like they promise, but the ambient music and soothing voice of one guru helps me relax and stop overthinking so much.”

  “I think that’s fabulous. And I’d love to try it too.”

  “Cool.” I grabbed my laptop to show Krista our meditation options, but I got sidetracked by an email from April.

  April had texted me a few times here and there since the day she came over and we made up over the River misunderstanding. She’d ask how Eightball was adjusting, how Nathan and I were doing, the polite basics. But I hadn’t received an email since I scanned and sent her my notes for a reading assignment months ago. Her long and emotional email described her mom’s worsening condition. I could practically feel her hopelessness and desperation seeping through the computer screen.

  I finished reading April’s email and looked at Krista. “Could you heal someone with cancer?”

  “Maybe. It would take a lot of sessions because it would take a lot out of me.” She lifted her head from her pillow. “Why? Who has cancer?”

  I didn’t want to ask Krista to drain herself, but if she could help April’s mom even a little bit it would be cruel not to help. “My friend April’s mom. She’s all April has and,” I paused. “It’s not looking good.”

  Krista sat up and scrunched her pillow into her lap. “I see.”

  I thought about the logistics of it. “It wouldn’t work. How would we explain you needing to see a stranger multiple times? Or why she’d miraculously felt better after you started visiting her.” I scratched my nail against my keyboard, not looking up. “It was a dumb idea.”

  “It’s not dumb to want to help someone,” Krista said. “Trust me, if I had enough energy I’d want to heal everyone who has cancer, or any other disease. But I’m only one soul. I can’t save everyone.” Her voice dripped with sadness. “Sometimes, I can’t even save one.”

  I knew she was referring to Sheila. “You did save her. You gave her a long wonderful life.”

  “Not long enough.”

  “Like you said, you’re only one soul. You can only give so much.”

  Krista a
lmost nodded, but the frown lines around her mouth proved she still wasn’t okay with how things turned out. “Clearly you’ve been giving a lot of thought to April’s mom's situation.”

  “I just read an email from her and I feel bad. I know what it’s like to lose your parents. But I can’t imagine it being drawn out and watching them suffer like April’s going through.”

  Krista pulled her long hair over one shoulder and combed her fingers through it, contemplating. “There is one thing I could do. It won’t cure her, but it will help ease some of the pain and discomfort, and she’ll never suspect anything.”

  “What?” I asked, excited at being able to help even in a small way.

  “I’ll make her a candle.”

  I sank back against my pillows. She wanted to make her a gift. “A candle. Oh.”

  “Don’t ‘oh’ me. You may not have figured it out yet, but the candles I make aren’t ordinary smell-good candles. They have power.”

  “Healing power?”

  Krista smiled proudly. “I channel my healing power into the candles as I make them. Every time someone burns one, my energy fills the space.”

  “Seriously?”

  “Seriously.”

  “Every day this family astounds me in some way.”

  “Yes, we’re incredible.” She threw the covers off of her. “Time for a late night candle-making party.”

  “You have stuff to make them?”

  “Yes, my mom shipped me a bunch of my supplies last week.”

  For the next few hours Krista and I gave new meaning to burning the midnight oil.

  ∞

  The next day we checked in as guests at the hospital.

  I didn’t ask April if we could visit her and her mom. I just found out if April was there and when she texted me back that she was, we drove to the hospital.

  April looked even worse than I thought she sounded in her email. As hard as it was to lose my parents, I was grateful it happened so quickly and unexpectedly. I couldn’t imagine how hard it was for April to worry if each day would be the day her mom would finally lose her battle with such an awful disease.

  I hugged her and she was nothing but skin and bones in my arms. “We brought your mom a gift.”

  “You did? How thoughtful.”

  I handed her the bag and she lifted the tissue paper out of it and managed a tired smile. “Mm, they smell amazing.”

  “We made them,” Krista said, “by hand.”

  “Even better.”

  “Why don’t you light one?” I was eager for Krista’s healing energy to start working on April’s mom. “They smell so much better when they’re burning.”

  April set the bag on the nightstand beside her mom. “I can’t light candles in here, but I’m sure my mom will appreciate them unlit too.”

  My eyes swept to Krista. Would the candles work if they were never lit? I had no idea. Krista glanced around the room as if she couldn’t believe she hadn’t thought about a no candle burning policy before we came here.

  “I need to step outside for a few minutes,” Krista said. “I forgot about an important call I was supposed to make.”

  “Sure.” April weakly nodded, too exhausted to suspect a thing—not that any normal person would expect Krista to have a supernatural healing power she could channel into a candle. Krista glanced at me with an it will be fine look.

  “I’m glad we’re alone,” April said. “I need to tell you something.”

  I glanced at her mom asleep in bed. “We’re not alone.”

  April sighed sadly. “We might as well be. They have her pumped full of so many drugs, she hardly remembers anything we talk about.” She motioned for me to sit in a chair then she opened a second metal folding chair and sat beside me. “The past few days, River has called me every day.”

  “From jail?” I gasped. “Don’t they only get one phone call a day?”

  “I’m not sure, but the thing is, he keeps asking me to talk to you for him. I keep refusing, but he’s relentless.”

  “Me? Why does he want to talk to me?”

  “He says he wants to apologize, but he can’t call your phone or contact you. He wants you to visit him so he can tell you something that might help you find what you’re looking for.”

  My head snapped backward. “What? He said that?” Had he told April our kindrily’s secret? Had me and my big mouth created another catastrophe that would haunt us for many lifetimes to come?

  “I never have any idea what he’s talking about.” April twirled her hair around her finger. “Honestly, he seems like he might have lost his mind, but he always sounds so sincere and desperate. Like, he always says he is not them. He wants no part of them. But when I ask him who them is, he won’t explain. He just says ‘make sure Maryah knows I will never be like them.’”

  I tried to blink and look normal, like I had no idea what River might have meant, but my mind raced with thoughts of River genuinely not wanting to end up like his evil uncle. He didn’t want to be a Nefarioun.

  April continued, “He swears they controlled his mind and made him try to kill you.” She raised a brow at me. “Clearly he was doing more drugs than we knew and it burnt out his brain.”

  “More drugs?” I asked confused. He drank a lot, but so did a lot of kids at our school. “I didn’t know River did drugs.”

  “Maryah.” April sort of laughed at me, but it was empty and weary. “There’s no way you were that clueless. River did more than his share of partying.” When I didn’t reply, April shrugged and closed her eyes. For a few seconds I thought she had fallen asleep, but then she continued. “Anyway, he said to tell you he wants to get away and be free from them and only you can help. I’m thinking it’s a reference to the demons in his head or something, but who knows?”

  I refused to give away any more of our kindrily’s secrets so I just uttered, “Weird.”

  “That’s what I thought,” April agreed. “I knew you wouldn’t want to talk to him, so that’s why I haven’t mentioned it to you, but seeing you here, I don’t know, I figured I should at least tell you that he’s still obsessed with you. You know, just to be safe.”

  I nodded, realizing April wasn’t reading anything into River’s warnings and messages. The only thing she thought about was that he still might come after me or hurt me if he had the chance. But his messages were claiming he wanted no part of the Nefariouns, even though Dedrick was his uncle. Could he truly mean that, or was it another one of River’s lies and part of Dedrick’s plan to attempt to kill me again? “Thanks for the warning.”

  “Thanks for coming to see my mom and me.”

  Krista came back into the room with a smiling nurse. “Nurse Melodee said the hospital is making an exception to the candle rule. As long as April is in the room to monitor the candle burning it will be allowed.”

  Nurse Melodee glided over to April’s mom and rubbed her leg through the blanket. “A little homemade love might do her some good.”

  “Great. Thanks so much,” April said casually, having no idea how much that candle would help her mom, and maybe her too. Nurse Melodee patted April’s shoulder then left the room. I glanced at Krista’s cell phone sticking out of her back pocket. I was sure if I checked her call log Dylan would have been the last call she made.

  Krista lit both candles and placed them on the wheeled table beside the bed. But then Krista stepped back and placed her hand on April’s mom’s chest. She closed her eyes and just before April turned to see her, I grabbed her arm. “Hey, is there a drink machine anywhere around here? I’m so thirsty.”

  “Sure. I’ll take you to it.” April tried turning toward her mom’s bed again. “Those candles smell divine. Krista, would you like—”

  “I know what she likes.” I threw my arm around April’s shoulder, keeping her from seeing Krista’s hands waving over her mom’s torso. That would have raised some serious questions. “Let’s go before I pass out from dehydration.”

  At that moment I was th
ankful April was skin and bones because she was easy to steer out of the room.

  LOSS AND GAIN OF CONTROL

  Harmony

  “I’m glad you guys are back,” Dakota handed Carson a game controller. “It was so boring here without you.”

  Dakota may have been happy that we were back, but I was not. I was angry that Dedrick slipped through our fingers again. I was so close to finding Gregory.

  “It was a pretty lame trip,” Carson said. “You didn’t miss a thing.”

  “Except the plane ride.” Dakota smirked.

  “Probably best you missed that.” Carson bumped shoulders with him.

  A couple years ago Anthony busted Dakota and Carson hanging out in the plane. They both loved the plane so much that Dakota talked Carson into having a secret sleepover inside of it. Anthony didn’t care about the actual sleeping part, what he did care about was they had taken snacks and sodas onboard and, as usual, Dakota was clumsy and spilled sticky soda on one of the seats and floor. He apologized up and down and Anthony made him clean up his mess—twice because Dakota didn’t do a thorough job the first time, but afterward Anthony took him and Carson on a private flight. According to Carson, Dakota loved every thrilling second of it, until they landed and Dakota threw up all over the floor. Anthony partly blamed himself because he forgot to tell him about the air sickness bags in the pocket of every seat. But he still made Dakota clean the plane three more times. Dakota had a love-hate relationship with that plane.

  “Did you read my comic while you were gone?” Dakota asked me, not taking his eyes off the video game.

  “No,” I confessed. “I ran out of here so fast I forgot to pack it.”

  Dakota nodded but I could tell he was disappointed.

  “I’ll read it soon. I promise.”

  Both of them were entranced by the array of sounds and images on the screen. I glanced back and forth between them and the screen. “You know these games rot your brain, right?”

  “Oh god,” Dakota whined. “Could you sound any more like Mom and Dad?”

 
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