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The foundation series bo.., p.25
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       The Foundation Series Box Set, p.25

           Kira Adams
 

  And then there was my relationship with Gia. We had been sleeping in the same bed since my birthday. She came tapping at my door at 2:00, one morning, and I preemptively left my door open following that. Just like clockwork I would wake up with a stir from her climbing in next to me. I wasn’t sure why she did it, and I wasn’t sure why I allowed it, but being around Gia usually rendered me close to useless.

  I still felt guilty as hell. I was living and sleeping next to Gia and having countless dreams and nightmares about Peyton. It was my punishment for giving away something so great, to explore the possibility of something even better. The more days I spent apart from Peyton, the closer Gia and I grew. She was not a rebound to me. If anything were to happen with Gia it was going to happen organically, naturally.

  Neither one of us had reached out to the other in weeks, but something came over me and I found myself texting Peyton.

  I hope you are enjoying the snow. Don’t forget to play. A long time ago Peyton had told me how much she missed the snow and how it reminded her of her childhood and good times with Kayleigh. She had confided in me that she felt like snow brought people together. Peyton vowed the next time it snowed that she was going to remember to play in it—to savor the memories.

  I miss you. Seconds later she had responded. My heart was in my stomach.

  You have no idea how much I miss you. I typed back without being able to stop myself.

  What are we doing Jace?

  I don’t know. I’m taking my time—trying not to make any mistakes. I was putting myself first for once, and as much as it sucked to be away from Peyton—it was necessary.

  Happy belated birthday, I hope you enjoyed yourself. There it was…the text that made me feel like the biggest jerk in the entire world. If Peyton even had an inkling that I spent my birthday with Gia, she would be torn up about it. I couldn’t bear to text her back after that. I felt like too much of a terrible person. I didn’t deserve her and I wasn’t even sure I deserved Gia. I had put myself in one hell of a predicament. But one thing I was sure of? I was making the decision for me.

  Nine: A Harsh Reality

  Something felt different today when I walked to school. My car wouldn’t start, my chest felt tight, something felt off. They always talk about women’s intuition, but what about intuition in general? When the first loud bang pierced through the air, I couldn’t think straight.

  I didn’t know what was happening, but the screams and chaos had my feet moving without instruction from my brain. I couldn’t speak; a mute; running out of fear with the rest of my peers. With each gunshot my blood ran cold.

  My eyes felt like they couldn’t adjust. I was blinking rapidly attempting to clear my vision. I hadn’t even realized I was crying. It all happened so fast. One second I was on a bathroom break from my fourth period class and then…

  My mind was racing a mile a minute. Kids and teachers were shouting from every direction to get inside the classrooms and lock the doors. There was only one thought running through my mind on repeat. It was louder than my surrounding chaos.

  Find Peyton.

  The shots were closing in. It had all began less than five minutes ago when I heard the first round of shots go off. I was frozen with fear, unsure of what was coming. And then her face flashed across my mind…all I could think of was finding her and getting her out of the school safely.

  I ran towards her math class, still hearing shots ring through every couple of minutes and the accompanying screams. It was making me nauseous. Who is doing this? Who would attack a school of teenagers and students? Only a sick person…

  Thank God I knew every single class Peyton had this term as we chose our schedules together. If anything happened to her, I would never be able to forgive myself. My heart was racing as I realized that this was the moment of truth.

  As I raced frantically towards the direction of her classroom, I pulled out my phone hastily, dialing 911. I didn’t have time to deal with the pleasantries or explain what the hell was going on, so I stuffed the phone in my pocket while it was still dialing, knowing full well the call could be traced.

  I attempted to rip open the door of her classroom, but was surprised when it was locked. I pounded frantically on the glass window, screaming out her name, “Peyton!”

  The gunshots were nearing and I was watching as a stampede of my peers pounded the hard floor past me. Some of them even gave me looks of shock and surprise that I wasn’t running the opposite way of the gunshots, but I had my feet planted firmly, waiting for them to open the door. I’m not going anywhere without her.

  Finally, someone opened the door and allowed me access, only to lock it quickly behind me. I scanned the room desperately looking for her familiar eyes. My heart fluttered as we locked eyes. She’s alive.

  I ran to her quickly, throwing my arms around her tightly. “Are you okay?”

  She was gripping my collar so firmly, I knew she had been just as worried about me as I had been about her.

  “Jace, what is going on?” Peyton was shaking ferociously from fear, tears spilling down her cheeks.

  “There’s a shooter in the school.” Remembering my phone was still in my pocket, I reached for it quickly, pressing it up to my ear. The operator was there now. “Hello?”

  “911, what is the nature of your emergency?” The operator spoke as if she hadn’t been waiting for nearly two minutes for a response.

  I cupped my hand over the receiver to muffle my voice. Even though it was loud, I wasn’t sure what the shooter could hear. “Yes, my name is Jace Austin, I go to Westview High, and there is a shooter in the school,” I spoke fast, unsure of how much time we had remaining.

  The shots were undeniably closer now and terror began to spill through my peers as the shooter’s footsteps became audible.

  I turned around to face Peyton; her eyes wide as saucers. Without bothering to go into any more detail, I let the operator know I needed to get off the phone—the shooter was closing in. Instead of allowing me to hang up, she asked me to stay on the line with her until the authorities showed up. The only way to do so was to place the phone back into my pocket…so that’s exactly what I did.

  I turned to look at Peyton, tipping her chin up so her eyes locked with mine. “God, I am so, so sorry Peyton.”

  “Jace,” she whimpered, tears pouring down her face.

  “I really fucked up…” I tucked a stray hair behind her ear soothingly, attempting to keep her calm. “I love you,” I whispered.

  Her facial expression was a mix of relief and sheer terror.

  “I won’t let anything happen to you, I promise.” I kissed her passionately then. It was the least I could do after everything I had put her through recently.

  “I love you,” she said in a trembling, quiet voice.

  “Come on.” I grabbed her hand and led her to the back of the classroom where we crouched down behind the desks.

  We heard the rough jiggling of the door handle and then a shot to break open the door. My heart was beating ferociously against my ribcage. I was crouched down with my arms tightly around Peyton.

  “No, no please!”

  Shot.

  “Why are you doing this?”

  Shot.

  “The police will be here any minute. You’re going to be dead anyways.”

  Shot.

  I could feel Peyton’s heart beating against my own. Between the two of us, I don’t know that we had ever experienced more fear than in that very moment.

  I hadn’t realized how tightly I had been squeezing my eyes shut until I heard the cock of the gun right in front of my face. My eyes flew open and I looked to see if Peyton was okay and still next to me. She was, but she was frozen in fear, pale white.

  Why hadn’t they shot?

  The gunman paused for just a moment before speaking, “Jace?”

  Oh God, why hadn’t I noticed? How had I missed this?

  I swallowed loudly, the gun was still loaded and pointed directly at me.
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  His combat boots and trench coat should have been a dead giveaway but the mask coupled with my frenzy over the current situation, I could understand why I didn’t see it before.

  “Get out of here, Jace,” Felix hissed, pointing the gun towards the exit.

  I stood up quickly, pulling Peyton right along with me. I stood in front of her, making sure his gun was nowhere near her. “Felix, you don’t have to do this.”

  “Shut the fuck up, Jace, and get out!” he bellowed in a murderous tone.

  It couldn’t be much longer until the police arrived. If I could just distract him long enough to get them inside this would all be over. He had to have released at least sixty shots. How many more people needed to die?

  “Look, I don’t blame you,” I talked fast, unsure of how thin his patience was running with me. “You want revenge for what they did to you? I get it, Felix. But this, this isn’t what you really want, is it?”

  “Well, I gave you two chances Jace, this is your third,” Felix said and then pulled another peer up by her long blond hair. She was wriggling around in an attempt fight him off, screaming and crying hysterically. He lifted the gun to her temple. Her blue eyes were wide with fear.

  “Please…” she was begging for her life. The sight was near nauseating.

  “One,” he began counting.

  “Please don’t do this!” The girl was screaming, knowing her odds were slim.

  “Two,” he continued and I slowly began to make my way towards the exit with Peyton in tow.

  “Stop right there!” My hand squeezed around Peyton’s wrist. Even though Felix felt as though he owed me something, there was no way in hell he felt the same about Peyton. She was just another peer who had wronged him.

  “I only granted you permission to go.” Felix inched closer.

  I pulled Peyton in tighter behind my back. “If you care about me at all man, you will let us walk out of here.”

  “Three!” Felix screamed and then proceeded to shoot the blond in the head.

  “Run!” I ordered Peyton, but I cried out when I realized he had tried to shot me in the foot. The bullet grazed my shoe, missing my toe by inches.

  From there, nothing mattered anymore. He had the gun raised at Peyton and all I saw was red. I tackled him, taking us both roughly to the ground. I was wrestling him for the gun, attempting to buy Peyton enough time to get out. Only a few seconds passed before a gunshot pierced my ears. And then it all stopped.

  Ten: In the Mourning

  I had been squeezing my eyes so tightly shut that I hadn’t realized I was still alive and unharmed. I looked up quickly and Felix was wearing an odd expression. Almost as if he was registering what had just taken place. He looked down slowly towards his abdomen where blood was gushing rapidly from his wound. Only he was still holding the gun, and it was still pointed at me.

  His hand automatically went up to cover his wound and he ended up dropping the gun to the ground. As he fell to his knees, I realized just how lucky I’d been. The police had made it there right in the nick of time. I gasped, my shoulders dropping heavily; relieved it was all over. Glancing around at my surroundings made me angry and nauseous all over again.

  I peeked down at Felix’s limp body, the officers now surrounding it. I thought I was going to be sick. How many parents are going to have to find out they lost a child today? How many teachers risked their lives for the students inside?

  Thirteen minutes. That’s how long it took the police to arrive. Thirteen minutes, seventy three victims, fourteen injured, nine hundred eighty three scarred witnesses. Thirteen minutes was all it took for everything to change forever.

  I thought he was my friend. I thought my presence in his life was for the better…it was sickening to think I had been so wrong. Peyton had seen it and mentioned it multiple times in the past; why hadn’t I listened to her? Was it my fault that I didn’t see the signs sooner? So I could have warned someone? So many thoughts and emotions were swirling around me.

  The next week was like a whirlwind. They closed down the school to clean up, to allow us to mourn, to hold services, and for the well-being of our entire city. Coincidentally, it was also Christmas time…and oh, what a joyous time it was.

  There were memorials and funerals a plenty-each one as heart breaking as the next. I knew a handful of the victims’ personally…thirteen teachers and our Principal were among the victims who died trying to protect us students. More tears were shed on Christmas day than I had cried in my entire lifetime.

  Peyton had been pushing me away since the entire incident. All I had wanted was to see her face to face to know she was alright, but she was avoiding me at all costs. It didn’t help when we received the news that Liam’s body had been found among the victims. I swear Peyton blamed me.

  I was hurting too. Liam and I hadn’t been the tightest, but we did respect one another and he always had my back. I knew it would destroy Peyton—and I wanted to be there to pick up the pieces, but she wouldn’t have it.

  My father had been acting strange since he had found out; staying out late every night, sometimes not coming home at all. I worried that he had fallen back into his old ways. Samina and Gia were too busy babying me to notice his absence at all.

  While my attraction to Gia hadn’t simmered one bit—one thing had become crystal clear at the school during that dreadful day; I couldn’t live my life without Peyton, and I didn’t want to. So even though Gia had been ultra-concerned about me after the shooting and had tried to comfort me by joining me in bed, I grew some balls and began locking my door at night. I could still hear her light tapping every night for a good while…but I could tell she was catching my drift. Even though Peyton was set on pushing me away, I was fixated on reeling her back in…and I had a feeling I would win.

  * * *

  It was half past eleven when I strolled through my front door. I didn’t expect him to be up…or home in general. If he was home with Samina, they would have been in bed no later than nine. But I could smell the alcohol from my first steps through the door. I closed the door quickly and quietly, and then poked my head into the kitchen, only to see my father seated at the kitchen table, a bottle of Hennessey directly in front of him.

  I swallowed before I lost my temper completely, charging towards him.

  “Samina and Gia are right upstairs. What the hell do you think you are doing?” I hissed.

  “Who the hell do you think you are talking to like that? This is my house—I’ll do whatever the hell I please,” Frank replied obnoxiously then took a sloppy swig off the bottle before slamming it down on the table.

  “You’re going to lose everything,” I warned him before turning to walk away upstairs to my room.

  “I thought you were a goner,” he said so softly I had to strain to hear him.

  I turned around hesitantly. “I thought that’s what you’ve always wanted,” I countered.

  “You’re the only son I have left…” he trailed off.

  I watched him gulp down even more Hennessey.

  “Don’t you think that’s enough?” I held my hand out for the bottle, walking back towards my father.

  “I’ll tell you what’s enough,” he said and then grabbed my head and threw me into the wall. Darkness quickly closed in on me.

  * * *

  “Jace?”

  Snap.

  “Jace?”

  Snap. Snap.

  “Shit. Oh, shit.”

  Splash.

  I awoke with a jolt; water obstructing my view. I looked up through the droplets of liquid and realized Gia was sitting on my chest, glass in hand. “I’m so sorry!” she whispered, then quickly threw her shoulder under my armpit to help me up.

  “What happened?” I asked her, rubbing the side of my head which felt like a rod was sticking out of my skull.

  “I don’t know—you tell me, I found you like this.” She pointed to my fragile, weakened state.

  “My Father,” I said, raging once I remembered
what had taken place earlier. I was beyond livid. “Have you seen him?”

  She shook her head as if to say no, but her answer differed. “I heard the front door shut about twenty minutes ago…honestly, I thought it was you—that’s why I came down to check.”

  “Gia, I need to ask you something, and you have to promise to tell the truth…can you do that?” I asked of her.

 
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