The summoning, p.12
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       The Summoning, p.12

         Part #1 of Darkest Powers series by Kelley Armstrong
 
Page 12

 

  Simon's father, Christopher Bae, appears to have taken de facto custody of DS, with no record of a formal adoption or fostering arrangement. The boys were enrolled in school as “Simon Kim” and “Derek Brown. ” The reason for the false names is not known.

  School records suggest DS's behavioral problems began in seventh grade. Never an outgoing or cheerful child, he became increasingly sullen, his withdrawal punctuated by bouts of misplaced anger, often culminating in violent outbursts.

  Violent outbursts…

  The bruises on my arms throbbed and I absently rubbed them, wincing.

  No incidents have been properly documented, making a complete forensic study of the disorder's progression impossible. DS seems to have avoided expulsion or other serious disciplinary action until an altercation described by witnesses as “a normal school yard fight. ” DS violently attacked three youths in what officers suspected was a chemically fueled rage. An adrenaline surge may also explain the display of extraordinary strength reported by witnesses. By the time authorities interceded, one youth had suffered spinal fractures. Medical experts fear he may never walk again.

  The single-?spaced page of background detail continued, but the words vanished, and all I could see was the floor whipping past as Derek flung me across the laundry room.

  Extraordinary strength…

  Violent outbursts…

  May never walk again…

  They'd taken Liz away for throwing pencils and hair gel bottles, and they kept Derek? A huge guy with a history of violent rages? With a disorder that meant he didn't care who he hurt or how badly?

  Why hadn't someone warned me?

  Why wasn't he locked up?

  I shoved the pages under my mattress. I didn't need to read the rest. I knew what it would say. That he was being medicated. That he was being rehabilitated. That he was cooperating and had shown no signs of violence while at Lyle House. That his condition was under control.

  I shone the flashlight on my arm. The finger marks were turning purple.

  Sixteen

  EVERY TIME I DRIFTED off, I'd get stuck in that weird place between sleep and waking, where my mind sifted through the memories of the day, confusing them and twisting them. I'd be back in the basement, Derek grabbing my arm and throwing me across the room. Then I'd wake up in a hospital, with Mrs. Talbot at my side, telling me I'd never walk again.

  When the wake-?up rap came at the door, I buried my head under my pillow.

  “Chloe?” Mrs. Talbot opened the door. “You need to get dressed before you come down today. ”

  My stomach seized. With Liz and Peter gone, had they decided we should all eat breakfast together? I couldn't face Derek. I just couldn't.

  “Your aunt is coming by at eight to take you out to breakfast. You need to be ready for her. ”

  I released my death grip on the pillow and got up.

  * * *

  “You're mad at me, aren't you, Chloe?”

  I stopped moving my scrambled eggs around my plate and looked up. Worry clouded Aunt Lauren's face. Dark half-?moons under each eye said she hadn't been getting enough sleep. I'd missed those smudges earlier, hidden under her makeup until we got under the fluorescent lights of Denny's.

  “Mad about what?” I asked.

  A short laugh. “Well, I don't know. Maybe because I dumped you in a group home with strangers and disappeared. ”

  I set down my fork. “You didn't 'dump' me. The school insisted I go there and the home insisted you and Dad stay away while I adjusted. I'm not a little kid. I understand what's going on. ”

  She exhaled, the sound loud enough to be heard over the roar of the busy restaurant.

  “I have a problem,” I continued. “I have to learn to deal with it, and it isn't your fault or Dad's. ”

  She leaned forward. “It isn't yours either. You understand that, too, right? It's a medical condition. You didn't do anything to cause it. ”

  “I know. ” I nibbled my toast.

  “You're being very mature about this, Chloe. I'm proud of you. ”

  I nodded and kept nibbling. Seeds from the raspberry jam crackled between my teeth.

  “Oh, and I have something for you. ” She reached into her purse and pulled out a sandwich bag. Inside was my ruby necklace. “The nurses called from the home and told me you were missing it. Your dad forgot to take it from the hospital when you left. "

  I took it, fingering the familiar pendant through the plastic, then passed it back. “You'll have to keep it for me. I'm not allowed to have jewelry at the home. ”

  “Don't worry, I've already spoken to the nurses. I told them it was important to you, and they've agreed to let you have it. ”

  “Thanks. ”

  “Make sure you wear it, though. We don't want it going missing again. ”

  I took the necklace out of the bag and put it on. I knew it was a silly superstition, but it did make me feel better. Reassured, I guess. A reminder of Mom and something I'd been wearing so many years that I'd felt a little odd without it.

  “I can't believe your father left it at the hospital,” she said, shaking her head. “God only knows when he would have remembered, now that he's jetted off again. ”

  Yes, my dad was gone. He'd called me on Aunt Lauren's cell phone to explain that he'd had to leave for Shanghai last night on an emergency business trip. She was furious with him, but I couldn't see how it mattered when I was living at the group home. He'd already arranged to take a month off when I got out, and I'd rather he was around then.

  My aunt talked about her plan for a “girls' New York trip” when I was released. I didn't have the heart to tell her I'd rather just go home, see Dad, hang with my friends. Getting back to my normal life would be the best post-?Lyle House celebration I could imagine.

  My normal life…

  I thought of the ghosts. Would my life ever be normal again? Would I ever be normal again?

  My gaze tripped over the landscape of faces. Was anyone here a ghost? How would I know?

  What about that guy in the back wearing a heavy metal shirt, looking like he'd just stepped off the set of VH1's I Love the 80s? Or the old woman with long gray hair and a tie-?dyed shirt? Or even the guy in a suit, waiting by the door? Unless someone smacked into them, how did I know they weren't ghosts, just waiting for me to notice them?

  I lowered my gaze to my orange juice.

  Oh, there's a plan, Chloe. Spend the rest of your life avoiding eye contact.

  “So how are you adjusting? Getting along with the other kids?”

  Her words were a slap, reminding me I had bigger problems than ghosts.

  She was smiling, the question meant as a joke. Obviously, I would be getting along with the kids. I might not be the most outgoing girl, but I could be counted on not to make waves or cause trouble. As I looked up, her smile faded.

  “Chloe?”

  “Hmm?”

  “Is there a problem with the other kids?”

  “N-?no. Everything's f-?f-?f—” My teeth clicked as I snapped my jaw shut. To anyone who knew me well, my stutter was a stress-?o-?meter. There was no sense saying everything was fine if I couldn't even get the lie out.

  “What happened?” Her hand gripped her fork and knife, as if ready to wield them against whoever was responsible. “It's noth—”

  “Don't tell me it's nothing. When I asked about the other kids, you looked like you were going to be sick. ”

  “It's the eggs. I put too much hot sauce on them. The other kids are fine. ” Her eyes bored into mine, and I knew I wasn't getting away with that. “There's just this one, but it's no big deal. You can't get along with everyone, right?”

  “Who is it?” She waved off the server tentatively approaching with her coffeepot. “Don't roll your eyes at me, Chloe. You're at that home to rest, and if someone's bothering you—”

  “I can handle it.


  She released her death-?grip on the cutlery, set them down, and smoothed her place mat. “That's not the point, hon. You have enough to worry about right now. Tell me who this boy is and I'll make sure he doesn't bother you anymore. ”

  “He won't—”

  “So it is a boy. Which one? There are three—no, only two now. It's the big boy, isn't it? I saw him this morning. I tried to introduce myself, but he walked away. Darren, Damian…”

  I stopped myself before correcting her. She'd already tricked me into admitting my tormentor was a boy. I really wished that, for once, she'd just listen to my problems, maybe offer some advice, not leap in trying to fix everything.

  “Derek,” she said. “That's his name. When he ignored me this morning, Mrs. Talbot said he was like that. Rude. Am I right?"

  “He's just… not very friendly. But that's fine. Like I said, you can't get along with everyone, and the other kids seem okay. One girl's kind of stuck up, like my roommate at camp last year. Remember her? The one who—”

  “What did this Derek do to you, Chloe?” she said, refusing to be distracted. “Did he touch you?”

  “N-?no, of c-?course n-?not. ”

  “Chloe. ” Her voice sharpened, my stuttering giving me away. “This is not something you hide. If he did anything inappropriate, I swear—”

  “It wasn't like that. We were talking. I tried to walk away and he grabbed my arm—”

  “He grabbed you?”

  “For, like, a second. It just freaked me out. I overreacted. ”

  She leaned forward. “You did not overreact. Anytime someone lays an unwanted hand on you it is your right to object and to complain and…”

  And so it went, through the rest of breakfast. A lecture on “inappropriate touching,” like I was five years old. I didn't know why she was so upset. It's not like I'd even shown her the bruises. The more I argued, though, the madder she got, and I started thinking maybe this wasn't really about a boy bothering me or grabbing my arm. She was angry at my dad for taking off and at my school for making me go to this group home, and because she couldn't go after them, she'd found someone she could go after, a problem she could fix for me.

  * * *

  “Please don't,” I said as we sat in the car, idling in the driveway. “He didn't do anything. Please. It's hard enough—”

  “Which is why I'm not going to make this any harder for you, Chloe. I'm not stirring up trouble; I'm settling it down. ” She smiled. “Preventative medicine. ”

  She squeezed my knee. When I looked out the window, she sighed and turned off the engine. “I promise I will be discreet. I've learned how to handle problems like this delicately, because the last thing a victim needs is to be blamed for tattling. ”

  “I'm not a vic—”

  “This Derek boy will never know who complained. Even the nurses won't know you said a word to me. I'm going to carefully raise concerns based on my own professional observations. ”

  “Just give me a couple of days—”

  “No, Chloe,” she said firmly. “I'm talking to the nurses and, if necessary, to the administrators. It would be irresponsible of me not to. ”

  I turned to face her, mouth opening to argue, but she was already out of the car.

  * * *

  When I returned, Tori was back. Back in class and back in attitude.

  If I'd been scripting this scene, I'd have been tempted to go for a character reversal. The young woman sees her only friend taken away, partly because of a snide remark she made. When her housemates rally around, trying to lift her depression with support and concern, she realizes she hasn't lost her only friend and vows to be a kinder, gentler person.

  In real life, though, people don't change overnight.

  Tori started the first class by informing me that I was sitting in Liz's seat, and I'd better not act like she wasn't coming back. Afterward, she followed Rae and me into the hall. “Did you have a good breakfast with your auntie? Parents too busy for you, I guess?”

  “I'm sure Mom would have made it. But it's kind of hard for her, being dead and all. ”

  A great slap-?down comeback. Tori didn't even blink.

  “So what did you do to deserve a pass already, Chloe? Was that your reward for helping them get rid of Liz?”

  “She didn't—” Rae began.

  “Like you're any better, Rachelle. You couldn't even wait until Liz's bed was cold before you bunked down with your new buddy. So, Chloe, what's with the special treatment?”

  “It's not special,” Rae said. “Your mom takes you out all the time. In Chloe's case, it's probably a reward for good behavior. With you, it's just because your mom's on the board of directors. ”

  At our age, being “well behaved” isn't exactly a goal to strive for. But Tori's nostrils flared, her face twisting, as if Rae had lobbed the worst possible insult.

  “Yeah?” she said. “Well, we don't see your parents coming around, do we, Rachelle? How many times have they visited or called since you've been here? Let's see… oh, right, zero. ” She made an 0 with her thumb and forefinger. “And it has nothing to do with bad behavior. They just don't care. ”

  Rae shoved her into the wall. Tori let out an ear-?shattering shriek.

  “She burned me!” she said, clutching her shoulder.

  “I pushed you. ”

  Ms. Wang hurried from the classroom, followed by Simon and Derek, who'd stayed behind to discuss an assignment.
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