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Taking back forever, p.22
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       Taking Back Forever, p.22

           Karen Amanda Hooper
 
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  A dull ache pulsed behind my ears. I didn’t try to fight it. If my headaches were past life memories trying to break through then I wanted them to. I’d happily endure physical pain to regain some of my memories. And I wanted to remember Gregory as someone other than a murderer, but I didn’t know if that were possible.

  Carson strolled into the room with his sunglasses on. Gregory looked up and rolled his shoulders.

  “Enjoy the beat down I gave your sorry ass earlier?” Carson asked Gregory. I hadn’t been there to see what happened at the airport—the aftermath was bad enough—but I tried to imagine Carson beating up the huge monster of a man who was still in the same physical form as Carson’s father from his last life. How difficult must it have been to beat up his own dad?

  Gregory said nothing, just lowered his focus to his boots.

  “Hey, I’m talking to you, douche bag.” Carson rushed forward at his usual unnatural speed and grabbed Gregory by the jaw. “Answer me.”

  Gregory stayed stone-faced and silent but didn’t try to pull out of Carson’s grip.

  Carson took his sunglasses off and Gregory’s forehead wrinkled. His wide shoulders softened.

  “Carlos?”

  “I go by Carson now. I’m a Scion.”

  “You’re an Element?”

  Carson let go of Gregory and stood tall. “Surprised?”

  “No. I always suspected you were gifted.” He leaned forward slightly, almost like he wanted to reach out and hug Carson, but he flinched and stilled. The spiked cuffs must have been as painful as they looked. “You must be furious with me.”

  “Furious. Hurt. Confused.”

  Gregory nodded. “Even more so than I am, I bet.”

  “Just tell me one thing.” Carson squatted so he was eye level with Gregory. “Did you go willingly?”

  “Absolutely not.” His jaw moved side to side. “I swear to you, I fought them with everything I had. And it kills me that it wasn’t enough.”

  “You’re a Nefarioun. We should kill you.”

  Gregory glanced at everyone in the room. I hadn’t even noticed so many had joined us. I was too consumed by Carson and Gregory interacting. Nathan, Anthony, Louise, Faith, and Shiloh were all scattered around the room. Dylan still sat beside Gregory on the sofa, and Edgar and Helen sat on each arm.

  “I am not a Nefarioun,” Gregory said. “But I do deserve to be killed, punished, tortured, or whatever awful thing could be done to me.” He turned toward Edgar. “And the worst part is I know my kindrily won’t do any of that. Living with my guilt and betrayal will be the worst punishment of all.”

  “Did you know what you were doing?” Faith asked, clutching his arm. Anger raged in her eyes. “When you hurt and killed all those people.”

  Gregory hung his head. “No. A lot of the details are still hazy. Everything is hazy. Even this, everyone in this room, feels like a dream within a dream.”

  Faith looked up at all of us. “He’s telling the truth. He’s overwhelmed with guilt, sadness, anger, and confusion.” She looked down at him again. They were both silent as they stared at each other. At first I thought maybe they were speechless from so much emotion, but then it hit me that she was having a silent conversation with Gregory. He could hear her thoughts, and whatever Faith was telling him made his lip quiver.

  “I need to see her,” he begged. “Please. Keep me cuffed and shackled. Just please let me see my soul mate.”

  ∞

  I have no idea what happened when Carson and Faith took Gregory to see Harmony. They were the only ones in the room.

  Nathan pulled me into his old bedroom. He held me against him in a comforting hug. “Are you okay?”

  “Physically I am,” I assured him. I sat on the twin bed and dropped my head into my hands. “My god, Nathan, we were too busy making out to know they needed us.”

  He sat beside me. “I know.”

  We didn’t know what else to say. There was no righting our wrong. We had a time stopper in our kindrily, but no time rewinder. A thought occurred to me. “Do any of the other kindrilies have someone who can rewind time?”

  “No one exists with that power that we know of.”

  “You’ve searched for one before, haven’t you?”

  “Of course. I would give anything to go back to Amber and Dylan’s wedding and prevent all of us from being killed.” He paused. “And to stop you from erasing.”

  What if a time rewinder did exist somewhere? I would be able to fix all of this. Maybe I could travel all the way back to the lifetime when I told some woman my secret and she told Dedrick about me, starting this chain of awful events. That would have to be investigated later. Nothing I could do about it right now. Nathan wrapped his arm around me and pulled me against him.

  “I’m sorry,” I whispered into his chest. Given his hearing, I knew he heard me. I pulled back and looked up at him. “Are you okay? All that traversing and taking people to the hospital must have wiped you out.”

  “I’m fine physically,” he added. “This Dakota and Harmony situation is what’s worrying me.”

  “I don’t understand how Dakota could survive.” I felt sick with grief. “His neck was snapped.”

  “There’s no guarantee he’ll survive, but Krista is determined to give them everything she has.”

  “That’s what I’m afraid of. What if she gives up her own life trying to save them?”

  “She won’t. As tempting as it may be, she won’t.”

  I glanced at the open door, trying to imagine what might be happening in our room where Gregory was being taken to Harmony. “What if Gregory tries to hurt her again?”

  “We’re taking all the necessary precautions, but you saw his eyes. He’s not under Dedrick’s power any longer.”

  “Or maybe that’s part of the plan. To make us think that. What if he’s still one of them?”

  “He’s one of us, Maryah.” Nathan held my hand. “I know that’s hard for you to hear, but he is still a member of this kindrily. He always has been.”

  COLLECTIVELY DREAMING

  Maryah

  No one slept much. We were like a flock of birds with clipped wings flitting around a cage and pacing our perches because we didn’t know what else to do. All night people shuffled from room to room. Helen spent most of her time in the kitchen brewing teas to help ease everyone’s worrying. Full mugs sat everywhere: on tables, tucked away in bookshelves, on the railings of the back deck. Most of them felt cool to the touch and had barely a sip of tea missing.

  Every now and then I’d find a member lying on the couch, reclined in a patio lounger, or slumped in a chair, their gaze far away, their body unmoving, like they were sleeping with their eyes open. They were dreaming of Harmony and Dakota waking up—living, breathing, filling the too-quiet house with their voices that we hadn’t heard in much too long.

  We all dreamed that same dream.

  But I wondered if, behind everyone’s tired and weary eyes, they saw the same nightmare I did: a foolish girl spilling a secret long ago, attracting the attention and obsession of a madman who would hunt and harm her and her kindrily for many lifetimes to come. That girl was the reason nine members were slaughtered last lifetime, the reason Gregory was ripped away from Harmony, the reason Harmony, and Dakota—an innocent bystander—lay in bedrooms several feet apart both fighting to live.

  My nightmare was knowing I was to blame for all of this, and wondering if everyone else in the house blamed me too. And then hating myself for being so self-centered as to think anyone was thinking of anyone but Harmony and Dakota.

  Around 2, 3, or 4 A.M., Louise made waffles and pancakes. Carson ate one then pushed his plate away, leaving the other three untouched. I put myself in his shoes. He was at risk of losing two people he loved dearly: Harmony, his friend in this life, mother in his last life; and Dakota, his best friend and the only other soul I’d ever seen him interact with besides kindrily members.

  Krista, his possible soul mate, drained he
rself over and over trying to save their lives. If she failed, would Carson blame her? Would he ever look at her again without seeing a girl who had failed to save two souls he loved?

  His eyes met mine for the first time since the airport. Maybe it was sleep deprivation, or my guilty conscience, but I imagined his lips parting and him screaming, “This is all your fault!”

  I flinched and looked away, fighting back tears, even though he hadn’t uttered a word.

  He slid off his stool and traipsed down the hallway.

  For a long time, I sat there, staring at the shadowed wall of the hallway where Carson disappeared from view. Nathan sat beside me for a while holding my hand. Helen floated around the other side of the island, making more tea that no one drank. Mikey cried. People talked in quiet voices and said very little. Someone turned on the TV, and minutes—or maybe hours—later someone turned it off.

  The entire time I sat in a kitchen stool, I breathed in and out, and every inhalation filled me with the guilt of what I had done. With every exhale, I sent out prayers for Harmony and Dakota to survive.

  The sun rose slowly, yet much too fast given the circumstances. The sun didn’t get the memo that there was no reason to shine today.

  Beams of sunlight shone through the floor-to-ceiling windows behind me. The light passed through Louise’s hanging crystals, creating a rainbow on the hallway wall at the exact spot I’d been staring at for who knows how long.

  I eased out of my stool and walked down the hallway to Louise and Anthony’s room.

  I lightly tapped on the door and pushed it open. “How’s he doing?”

  Carson glanced at Faith and smirked. “How do you think he’s doing?”

  I nodded. What a stupid question.

  Faith was sitting Indian style in Anthony and Louise’s king-sized bed. She stretched and cracked her neck then rubbed Dakota’s chest. “I’m going to visit Harmony for a while and see if Krista needs anything.” She climbed out of the bed then walked past me and touched my forearm. “Thanks, Maryah.”

  “For what?”

  “For being so worried about my little brother.”

  She left before I could figure out what to say.

  Carson motioned for me to sit down in the empty chair beside him so I did. Dakota looked so frail and weak. I cautiously glanced sideways at Carson. He wasn’t looking at me. I hadn’t noticed at first, but he was holding Dakota’s hand.

  “I keep praying for both of them,” I said. My throat felt dry and raw. “Nonstop.”

  “Prayers won’t help.” Carson closed his other hand around Dakota’s wrist. “I know Dakota. He’s waiting.”

  “Waiting for what?”

  “To decide if it’s worth it to stay.”

  “To live?”

  Carson nodded.

  “Of course it’s worth it.”

  “I’m not the one who needs convincing.”

  I stared at Dakota’s pale face. The pink patches on his cheeks were missing. Dakota’s cheeks were always speckled with blotchy patches of pink, like he’d just been crying, except the patches spread and grew pinker the bigger he smiled. The unconscious body in front of Carson and me didn’t look at all like Dakota. “You think he’d rather die?”

  “You make it sound like he’s suicidal. That’s not what I meant. Dakota is my best friend. Do you realize what that means?” Carson paused, waiting for me to answer, but I only shook my head.

  “His best friend is an Element,” Carson explained, “a Scion no less, with super strength and immense mental power. Dakota’s only two siblings are also Elements with supernatural abilities. He has no girlfriend, mainly because he becomes bored with normal humans after spending a few hours with them. His parents are hardly ever home because they are more interested in their church than they are in their own children. Life sucks for him. He’s been cursed ever since we told him our secret because it made him hyperaware of his own human limitations. As he has told me several times, for him, life is like existing in an awesome comic book; amazing things and people are always around him, but he has no role, no part in any of the meaningful plots.”

  “But life isn’t a comic book.”

  “It’s a metaphor, Maryah. The Higher Realm would be tempting for someone like him. It’s a chance to wipe the slate clean and start fresh. He wouldn’t have to feel inferior anymore.”

  “He really feels that way?”

  Carson nodded. “It sucks. I’d give him one of my powers if I could in a heartbeat. I swear I would.” Carson squeezed Dakota’s shoulder. “He needs to be convinced there’s a reason for him to stay, so that’s what I’ve been doing.” He motioned toward the door. “Harmony will live. She has a score to settle, so I have no doubt she’ll pull through. Dakota needs a reason to fight.” Caron’s shoulders slumped forward. “And so far, I haven’t been able to give him one that’s good enough. What kind of best friend am I?”

  “You’re an amazing best friend, Car. He would tell you that if he could.”

  Carson let go of Dakota and stuck his hands in the pocket of his hoodie. “I need to check on Krista.”

  He stood and left, and it was just Dakota and me. He was covered up to his chest with Louise and Anthony’s midnight blue comforter. Just past him, sitting on the nightstand, was a white candle burning. It was the first time I had noticed it, so I inhaled deeply, trying to determine which scented oils Krista had used to make it. I smelled vanilla, jasmine, and something woodsy. Then I felt guilty for inhaling some of the healing energy Dakota so desperately needed.

  I moved over to Carson’s chair so I could be closer to Dakota. Carson’s seat was so warm I almost went back to my seat. I felt like I had intruded on Carson’s place beside his best friend. But I wanted to talk to Dakota. I needed to talk to him. I held his hand. Leaning close to him, I spoke from my heart.

  “Hey, Dakota. I’m so sorry about all this. I’m sorry you’re hurt, and that you might...well, you know. I’m just so sorry because this is all my fault. My parents died because of something I did a long long time ago. Now you might die too, and, I just, I don’t know how to make any of it right.”

  I thought back to the first time I met him. We watched Jumper, and he was so fascinated with superpowers. Now, it all made sense. “I know you want to be an Element. I know you want a superpower. I remember you said you’d want the ability to fly.” A tear ran down my cheek.

  The candle flame flickered and danced not far from Dakota’s pale face. I willed the candle’s warmth to turn his cheeks pink again.

  “Don’t fly away, Dakota. Stay here. Stay with us. Fight and survive this. That would make you a superhero. To live through something like this, you’d be better than a superhero.” I squeezed his hand tighter. “I have no idea how it would happen, but if I could grant your wish to be an Element, I would. I swear, with all my being, I would. I’d gift you with a soul mate and everything, and I’d give you the power to fly, as long as you promised not to fly away.” More tears streamed down my face. “Don’t fly away, Dakota, please.”

  I wiped my eyes. I gasped when Dakota squeezed my other hand.

  “Dakota?” My voice quivered. His fingers twitched. “Dakota!”

  I half-stood, still keeping his hand in mine and shouted, “Dakota moved! Someone, hurry!”

  Carson blurred into the room.

  “He squeezed my hand.” I panted, excited but also worried. I hadn’t imagined it, right? Oh god, what if my sleep-deprived brain hallucinated and this was a false alarm that would get everyone’s hopes up just to be disappointed again. Krista practically stumbled into the room, followed by Faith.

  “What happened?” Krista asked.

  Carson kneeled on the bed beside Dakota. “Wake up man. We’re right here cheering for you. Wake up.”

  Faith climbed in beside Carson, holding Dakota’s hand. “I’m not getting anything. No emotions at all.”

  He wasn’t moving. Not one twitch or flinch. I had imagined it. Carson would never forgive me. I
sank back into my chair.

  Krista stood beside me and leaned over Dakota’s body. I stared at her hand, moving in slow motion over the blanket. I moved out of the way as she made her way past Dakota’s chest, and finally stopped at his pink cheeks.

  I did a double take. His cheeks were pink. Thank the heavens above, his cheeks were pink!

  The rest of the kindrily filed into the room, watching, hoping, dreaming the same dream again.

  “Dakota?” Krista called gently. “Can you move for us again?”

  I didn’t know what I was more afraid of, Dakota dying, or Dakota waking up and being paralyzed for the rest of his life.

  “Please don’t let him be paralyzed,” I whispered to myself, but Carson heard me.

  “How can he be paralyzed if he squeezed your hand?”

  Great point. Hope soared inside of me. I reached toward Dakota’s feet and squeezed his toes through the blanket. “Come on, Dakota. Come on.”

  Krista waved her hands around Dakota’s head then down around his chest. Carson continued urging him back to the land of the living while I held my breath.

  His foot twitched.

  “His foot!” I yelped. I stared at the lump under the blanket, begging it to move again. “His foot just moved.”

  “Confusion!” Faith yelled, excited to feel any emotion at all from Dakota.

  My focus shot up to Dakota’s face. His eyelids were fluttering.

  “Hey, man,” Carson said. “Welcome back.”

  I held my breath and wrung my hands. I’d seen kindrily members perform supernatural feats that were hard to believe, but this ranked right up there with witnessing the impossible. Dakota’s skull had been snapped from his spine, but Krista healed him. He was still breathing, his eyes were opening, and his hand and foot had moved. It was a miracle.

 
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