The summoning, p.24
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       The Summoning, p.24

         Part #1 of Darkest Powers series by Kelley Armstrong
 
Page 24

 

  When my watch hit 8:00, the bathroom door swung open. Derek flipped the light on and shut the door. As he turned toward the mirror, he saw me and he let out a yelp of surprise that would have been very satisfying under any other circumstances.

  “Are you nuts?” he hissed. “What are you doing here?”

  I walked past him and locked the door.

  “If you want to discuss the plan, this really isn't the place,” he said.

  He pivoted, gaze following me as I crossed to the shower and turned on the cold water, so it would drown out our conversation without steaming up the room.

  “Great,” he muttered. “Now they're going to think we're showering together. Maybe we can just tell them we were washing off the crawl space dirt and trying to conserve water. ”

  I planted myself in front of him. “You set me up. ”

  He opened his mouth, but, for once, nothing came out and he settled for a token scowl.

  “All this time, I've been trying to figure out why you want to help me. Why do you care if I know I'm a necromancer? Why do you care if I get booted out? Why stick your neck out for me, like you did this afternoon?”

  “I just want—”

  “To help. Sure, you're obnoxious and arrogant, but underneath, there's a decent guy who wants to help a fellow supernatural. Yeah, right. There has to be another reason. Today I found it. Simon. ”

  He crossed his arms. “Yeah, Simon wanted me to be nice to you. Okay? Can I have my shower now? Alone?”

  “You want Simon to run away. To find your dad. But he won't go without you. He needs a reason to go right now. So you gave him one. The designated damsel in distress. ”

  “I don't know what you're talking about,” he muttered, but his gaze wouldn't quite meet mine. My remaining doubts vanished in a fresh surge of anger.

  “Here I was, a real necromancer, naive and lost. Perfect bait. Just keep pushing us together, make a big deal out of how helpless I am, and eventually he'll pull on his shining armor. Great plan. But it still lacks something. Stakes. In any great thriller, your hero needs three things. Goal, motivation, and stakes. Goal: find your missing dad. Motivation: help the poor necromancer chick. The stakes were missing, though. You needed to put your damsel in actual distress. What if she was about to be transferred to a real mental hospital? Where she'd be out of Simon's reach and beyond help? Or, worse, where she might die, the victim of some evil plan. So you get Tori to—”

  “No!” He raised his hands, genuine shock in his eyes. “I did not have anything to do with that. Even if Tori would get close enough to me to carry on a conversation—which you may have noticed, she won't—I wouldn't do that. I did nothing to make them transfer you. ”

  “Okay, so you just took advantage of the situation. ”

  I gave him a moment to respond. He didn't, which was all the answer I needed.

  “When I first told you about seeing Liz, you brushed it off. But then you realized this could work in your favor, so you changed your tune with Simon. You planted the seeds of doubt, then waited for them to sprout. That's why you didn't argue when I offered to be the one transferred. That's exactly where you wanted me. You manipulated the situation and you lied—”

  “I never lied. ”

  I fixed him with a look. “You really heard the doctors talking about transferring me yesterday?”

  He shoved his hands in his pockets. “I heard them talking about you and they seemed to be suggesting—”

  “Okay, you didn't lie. You exaggerated. ”

  He scowled. “You are in danger. The more I think about Liz—”

  “Cut the crap, okay, Derek? You got your wish. Simon's going. I'm going with him. You're right. He needs to get out and find his father. Of course, you could have saved us all this trouble by just going with him yourself. But that might be dangerous. And he's not your father so it's not really your problem—”

  He shot toward me so fast I stumbled back, but managed to catch myself and stand my ground. It wasn't easy with him looming over me, eyes blazing.

  “Is that what I think, Chloe?”

  I locked my knees, refusing to break eye contact.

  “I don't know what you think, Derek,” I said, calmly—or so I hoped. “Simon says there's a reason you won't go. A stupid reason, according to him. So maybe it's an excuse. Maybe you just don't want to bother. ”

  “An excuse?” A bitter laugh. Then he backed away from me slowly, as if forcing himself. “You read my file, right?”

  “I----”

  “I know you read it that night when you and Rae pretended to be raiding the kitchen. ”

  “Only because of what you did. I had to know—”

  “How dangerous I was. I don't blame you. But you got your answer, right? You know exactly how dangerous I am. ”

  I swallowed. “I—”

  “You know what I did, and you think I should be walking the streets?” His lip curled. “I'm exactly where I belong. ”

  Something in his eyes, in his voice, in his face, made the back of my throat ache. I glanced over at the shower, watching the water dapple the doors as the harsh pounding filled the silence.

  After a moment, I looked back at him. “You must have had a reason for doing it. ”

  “Did I?” When I tried looking away again, he sidestepped and snagged my gaze. “Is that what you want, Chloe? To hear my reason? My excuse? That the guy pulled a gun on me and if I hadn't thrown him into a wall, I'd be dead? Well, that's not how it happened. There's a kid out there who'll never walk again and I have no excuse. It's my fault. All my fault. Our dad disappearing. Simon being thrown in here. I—”

  He snapped his mouth shut, hands going into his pockets as he stared out over my head, the muscles in his jaw working.

  After another moment, he said, “So, yeah, I want Simon out, and I'll do anything to get him out, but it's not like I'm putting you in danger. You're getting something out of it. You don't have any reason to complain. ”

  I could only stare, any sense that maybe I understood him evaporating as it always did. I'd glimpse something underneath, and he'd snatch it away so fast it left bruises that called me a fool for hoping for more.

  “No danger?” I said slowly. “I'm running away. From the home. From my family. From my life. ”

  “You'll be with Simon. Don't pretend that's any big hardship. ”

  “What?”

  “You know what I mean. A few days alone with Simon? That'll be tough. And it means a lot to him. A lot. Running away to help him find his dad? He'll never forget that. ”

  I widened my eyes. “Oh my God, do you think so? Really? That's so cool. I bet he'll ask me to go steady and everything. We can send love letters between my juvenile detention center and his, and maybe they'll let us meet at the coed dances. …”

  He glowered down at me.

  “You really think I'm an idiot, don't you?” I said, then shot up my hand. “No, don't answer that. Please. News flash: getting a boyfriend is not at the top of every girl's priority list. Right now, it ranks about as low on mine as you can get—way below such trivial concerns as getting my life back together. ”

  “All right—”

  “After this is over, I wouldn't be surprised if Simon wanted to never see me again. Just put this all behind him. You know what? That's fine. Because I need to find out what happened to Liz. And I want to help Simon because it's the right thing to do, not because I think he's sooo cute. I might not be a genius like you—”

  The glower returned. “I'm not—”

  “But I'm smart enough to know this isn't going to be some grand romantic adventure. I'm running away. I'll be living on the streets. Even if we find your dad, I'm not sure he's going to be able to fix my life. ” I thought of Aunt Lauren and felt a pang of grief. “I'm not sure it can be fixed. ”

  “So I'm supposed to be grateful to you for going?”

 
I never said—”

  He shifted back into looming mode. “You need to get out of here just as much as Simon does, maybe more. You might not see the danger you're in, but I do. And I'm worried. ”

  “Worried? About me?”

  He shrugged. “Sure. Concerned. You know. ” He couldn't even look me in the eye when he said it. “Yeah, we need you, but I do want to help a fellow supernatural. ” He snuck a glance my way. “We gotta stick together. ”

  “Don't you dare. ”

  “What?”

  His gaze broke away, started roaming the bathroom.

  “You're right,” I said. “I do need help. My life is falling apart and maybe someday I'll look back on this as the biggest, stupidest mistake I've ever made, but at this moment, it's the only solution I see. You need me to be your designated damsel in distress? Okay. But don't ever say you're doing this for me. This has nothing to do with me, Don't you dare pretend it does. ”

  I turned and walked out.

  Thirty-three

  I WONDERED WHETHER, AFTER our escape, I'd find time to sleep. Because I certainly hadn't been getting much at Lyle House.

  That night I was so exhausted I didn't even have a chance to lie there, raging about Derek or fretting about the step I was about to take. I hit the bed and fell straight into dreams of wailing police sirens and baying tracking dogs. Of a boy trapped in a hospital bed and a boy trapped in a group home and ghosts trapped in rotting corpses. Of zombies screaming for mercy and a girl screaming, “But I didn't mean it,” and a boy saying, “I didn't mean it either. Doesn't matter. ”

  The dreams spun and melted together until one slid free. An image buried by the stronger, louder ones, separating and saying, “What about me?”

  I bolted awake and sat there, suspended in the dark, reeling in that tangled memory, the questions it raised, the answers it promised.

  Then I leaped from bed.

  * * *

  I tapped at the bedroom door.

  “Derek?”

  Rough snores answered.

  I rapped at the door again, raising my voice as loud as I dared.

  “Derek?”

  My toes curled against the icy hardwood and I rubbed the goose bumps on my arms. I should have grabbed a sweater. And socks.

  I shouldn't even be here. I'd told the guy off, made the perfect exit… and was now creeping back, begging him to talk to me.

  Talk about ruining a scene.

  As I lifted my hand to knock, the doorknob clicked. When the door creaked open, I lifted my gaze to eye level, an apology on my lips, and found myself staring at a chest. A bare chest. . . and not a boy's chest. Broad and muscular, a scattering of angry red acne dots the only sign that it wasn't attached to a grown man.

  Around the house, Derek always wore oversized sweatshirts and baggy jeans. If I'd pictured what he looked like under them—which I hadn't—I would have guessed stocky, bordering on overweight. All that food he scarfed down had to go somewhere. And, apparently, it did—just not to fat.

  My cheeks heated and my gaze dropped from Derek's chest… only to see he was wearing nothing but boxers.

  “Chloe?”

  My gaze shot—gratefully—to his face.

  He peered at me. “Chloe? What—?”

  “You owe me. ”

  “Huh?” He rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger, snarled a yawn, and rolled his shoulders. “What time is it?”

  “Late. Or early. It doesn't matter. I need your help and you owe me. Get dressed and be downstairs in five minutes. ”

  I turned on my heel and headed for the stairs.

  * * *

  Would Derek follow me? Probably not, considering I'd ignored his “meet me in five minutes” command that afternoon.

  I'd planned to not leave his doorway until he agreed to help me. But I hadn't expected him to be nearly naked during the conversation. It also reminded me that I was wearing only pajama pants and a tank top. When I got downstairs, I found the sweatshirt Rae had shucked in the media room earlier. I was pulling it on as I walked into the hall, and nearly smacked into Derek.

  He wore sweatpants and a T-?shirt and had stopped in the middle of the hall, furiously scratching one bare forearm.

  “Fleas?” I said.

  The joke was an admittedly lame attempt to lighten the mood from earlier, and I didn't think it deserved the glower he gave me.

  “Let's just get this over with,” he said. “I'm not in a good mood. ”

  I could have asked how that was different from normal, but bit my tongue, motioned him into the media room and closed the door. Then I cocked my head, listening.

  “We're fine here,” he said. “Just keep it down. Someone comes, I'll hear. ”

  I moved across the room and stopped in a patch of moonlight. When he followed, I got my first good look at him in the light. His face was pale, his cheeks flaming red, and not from the acne. Sweat plastered his hair around his face and his red-?rimmed eyes glittered, struggling to focus.

  “You've got a fever,” I said.

  “Maybe. ” He raked his hair back. “Something I ate, I guess. ”

  “Or some bug you picked up. ”

  He shook his head. “I don't…” He hesitated, then pushed on. “I don't get sick. Not often anyway. Part of my . . . condition. This seems to be a reaction. ” He scratched his arms again. “No big deal. I'm just off. Crankier than usual, Simon would say. ”
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