Lila Shortcuts, p.3Sarah Alderson
I’m on my knees behind the counter folding my fiftieth item of clothing when the door goes. I know even before I look up who it is. I can feel him.
I stand up, a little unsteady on my feet.
‘Hi,’ he says, relief rushing off him in waves that buffet against me. He strolls casually to the counter and props himself up on one elbow, giving me one of his lazy crocodile smiles.
‘Hi?’ I splutter. ‘That’s all you have to say to me? You got dragged out of In-N-Out by two completely sketchy looking guys . . . one of whom had a gun . . . and now you wander in here and act like nothing happened?’
‘Wow, it sounds like you were worried about me.’
‘Of course I was worried!’
‘Sorry,’ he says, frowning. ‘That wasn’t exactly how I was hoping the night would end.’
I flush. How was he hoping the night would end?
‘Who are those people? What did they want with you?’ I ask quickly, so he doesn’t notice my fluster.
He starts playing with some price tags lying on the side. ‘They want me to do something for them,’ he mumbles.
‘You don’t want to know.’
‘Yeah, I do.’
He scowls at the price tags, runs his thumb along his lips. Then he stands up straight and strides to the door. My stomach shrinks. He’s leaving? Just like that?
But he doesn’t leave. He turns the key in the door, and flips the closed sign instead.
‘You can’t—’ I begin, but he cuts me off.
‘OK, I’ll tell you,’ he says, strolling back towards the counter. ‘But you first. What did you do to that guy to make him run out of there? And the one in the club who burst out crying. Don’t tell me nothing. Because I was there. I saw. You did something.’
I open my mouth and then shut it again. I’ve never told anyone what I can do. And I’m not going to have the first person I admit it to be a near total stranger, even if he’s the first person I’ve ever met who doesn’t give me a headache after prolonged contact, who doesn’t seem to have his speech set to default: lie; and who I am also not afraid to touch.
‘You first,’ I say defiantly, crossing my arms over my chest.
He smiles triumphantly. ‘So you did do something!’
I press my lips together. Damn.
He hops up beside me onto the counter. ‘OK, cards on the table. Full disclosure. And only because I want your secrets too.’
Why does he want my secrets too? And am I really about to tell him what I can do? Yes, I realise. I am. Because I really, really want to know his secrets.
‘I’ll know if you’re lying,’ I warn him.
‘Amber, I won’t lie to you. You have my word. Test me if you like. Ask me what I think of you.’
‘I don’t care what you think of me.’
His eyebrow arches. ‘Now who’s lying?’
I exhale loudly. ‘Fine. What do you think of me?’ Did I really just ask him that? I cringe. But I’m holding my breath all the same.
He locks eyes with me. ‘I think you’re the most beautiful, intriguing, smoking hot girl I’ve ever met in my life, and I really, really want to kiss you.’
OK. Not what I expected him to say. Not even close. And he’s not lying. Not as far as I can tell. My stomach does a triple somersault and my focus falls straight to his lips. I’ve never kissed anyone before. Ricky-Ray once tried but I used the knee to soft groin area defensive move on him. But the thought of kissing Ryder makes a rainbow sprout above me.
‘You not going to say anything?’ he asks.
Heat floods my face. ‘What were you doing at The Majestic?’ I stammer.
‘I was there to get some information from your leather clad suitor.’
It takes me a second to figure it out. ‘The fat guy who came onto me?’
‘Just some insider knowledge we need.’
My ears prick up. ‘We?’
‘Demos needs,’ Ryder rectifies quickly.
‘That’s the guy from the In-N-Out?’
‘Why are you mixed up with him?’
Ryder shuffles from foot to foot. ‘He needs me to do him a favour.’
‘What kind of favour?’
‘He wants me to help him break into a few places and steal a few things.’
I study him for any trace of a lie but there is none. ‘And you’re going to?’ I ask.
He shrugs. ‘Not much choice.’
He exhales loudly. ‘It’s complicated.’
I scowl at him. ‘Why does he need you? He had a goon.’
He looks at me, amused. ‘A goon?’
I narrow my eyes.
The smile vanishes. ‘He needs me because I have special skills.’
‘What kind of special skills? Lock-picking?’ Please, please, I think to myself, don’t say you know how to kill a man with your bare hands. But the memory of the biker guy who came looking for me, and the blank expression that fell over him when Ryder touched him, hurtles to the forefront of my mind.
Ryder shakes his head. ‘No. You first. What did you do to that guy at The Majestic?’
‘I see auras,’ I blurt before I can stop myself. It was that easy, I think to myself. Three words and my life’s secret is spilled.
Silence washes around us.
Ryder’s eyes widen. ‘Is this like in the Sixth Sense where the kid says he sees dead people?’
‘I said auras. Not ghosts.’
‘Yeah. I can tell what a person’s like by the colour of their aura. It’s like an energy field every living thing has around them. I can see whether people are good or bad, healthy or sick. And . . . I can make them feel different things – manipulate their emotions . . .’
Ryder stares at me dumbfounded.
‘Now, your turn,’ I say quickly, feeling suddenly as though I’ve stepped off a cliff and am free-falling towards jagged rocks below. Why did I open my mouth? Now he thinks I’m a freak. ‘What about you?’
‘What about me?’ he asks, ignoring my question. ‘What do you see? Am I a good guy or a bad guy?’
‘I can’t tell,’ I stammer. But how can he be a good guy? He’s talking about robbing somewhere. I can’t kiss a robber. And I sure as hell can’t date one. If I’ve learned one thing from watching my mother’s disastrous life choices it’s to avoid guys who need you to tell them if they’re good or bad, and who are involved in illegal activities.
‘Why can’t you tell?’ he asks perplexed.
I shake my head at him. ‘I don’t know. Your aura’s kind of weird. It’s different to most people’s.’
‘Different like mine.’
This is the hard part to explain. I take a breath. ‘So um, imagine a chandelier. That’s what your aura looks like. Over your head.’
He glances up, squinting. ‘And we have the same chandelier thing going on?’ he asks, looking deeply perplexed.
‘And that’s weird?’
‘Yeah. I’ve never in my life seen anyone with an aura like ours. Except for my grandma. And . . .’ Should I tell him about the guy yesterday?
But Ryder’s straight in there with a question. ‘She was like you, right? Your grandma? She could see auras too?’
‘Yeah,’ I say, puzzled, wondering where he’s going with this. ‘Now your turn. Spill.’
‘OK . . .’ He pauses, drumming his fingers on the table. ‘I can make people forget things,’ he tells me.
I step backwards, bumping the counter. ‘What?’
‘I can remove memories. Or plant fake ones.’
I stare at him, scanning him for any trace of a lie. He comes up clean.
He shrugs at me. ‘Guess we’re similarly gifted.’
Gifted. The word my gr
Suddenly Ryder’s hand flattens over mine. ‘What? What?’ he asks.
I’m sucked into the river, current ripping all around, but inside, weirdly, I’m calm as the eye of a storm.
‘That guy, the guy from the In-N-Out.’ I can barely voice the words. ‘He must be like us too. It explains the thing . . .’ I wave my hand wildly at the air above us.
A long beat and then Ryder just nods. ‘Yeah, I know.’
I tug my hand out from under his. ‘You know?’
An apologetic half-shrug. ‘Yeah.’
I blink in astonishment. What does this all mean? What are the odds? You wait your whole life to meet someone with a gift like your own and then two turn up in the space of one night.
‘What can he do?’ I ask quietly.
Ryder ponders this, grimacing. ‘It’s more like what can’t he do.’
I shake my head, confused. It never even occurred to me there could be different types of gift. ‘How did you get mixed up with him?’
‘Long story,’ Ryder answers. He frowns at the door. Through the glass I see the Chevy parked up just outside. A huge Labrador hangs its head out of the window, panting.
‘This is not good,’ Ryder suddenly says. ‘If he finds out—’
‘What’s not good? What do you mean if he finds out?’ I ask, but my gut is already twisting in anticipation. Wisps of green and blue are weaving around Ryder’s head. He’s afraid.
‘Look, Amber,’ he says and his expression gives away his feelings as much as his aura. Regret. Sorrow. ‘I came here to say goodbye.’ A pause. ‘And to do this—’
Suddenly he leans over the counter, reaches his hand around the back of my neck and pulls me towards him, and before I can take a breath his lips are on mine and he’s kissing me and wow . . . every thought in my head evaporates, every single cell in my body zings with electricity.
When Ryder eventually pulls away, his hand still rests on the back of my neck. I am breathless and my whole body is vibrating. We’re still nose to nose, his breath warm on my face, his lips just an inch away and my stomach is fluttering wildly.
Ryder’s breathing hard and fast, his focus still on my lips. Then he pulls back an inch. ‘Bye, Amber,’ he says, and sadness falls over him like a shroud.
In that same instant I realise what he’s about to do and wrench myself backwards out of his grip.
He came here to make me forget.
‘What are you doing?!’ I yell, pressing myself back against the wall, still shaking.
He frowns at me. ‘It’s better this way. If you can’t remember anything then you’ll be safer.’
‘What? No. You can’t come in here and tell me all this and kiss me—’ I gesture in the direction of his lips. ‘And then make me forget it all.’
‘It’s to protect you,’ he answers, grim-faced.
‘It’s better that you don’t remember anything about this conversation. Or me. Or anything I’ve told you about Demos. Trust me. It’s for your own good. You don’t want to get involved in any of this. If he finds out what you are . . . well . . .’ He grimaces some more, ‘. . . then you’re in trouble.’
The sound of a footstep, echoing through the store, makes us both spin around. My heart flies into my mouth. Standing in the middle of the store, as though he just apparated there, is Demos. Behind him is the other guy – his goon.
‘I guess,’ Demos says, surveying us both with a cold smile, you’re in trouble then.’
I turn to Ryder but he’s not moving. He’s not moving or saying anything because he’s completely frozen – one arm outstretched as though he’d flung it there to shield me, his lips half-parted.
‘Wh—’ I begin, but immediately my mind goes blank. I feel a drag, a pull, and my feet are moving all of a sudden, without any conscious thought on my part. My instinct is to struggle but I don’t. I feel unnaturally calm. Relaxed, even. And in the next instant I find myself standing right in front of Demos, staring up at him, noticing small details like the flecks of stubble on his neck and the scar across his chin, and the curve of a smile lifting his top lip. But I don’t feel fear or much of anything at all – I’m completely empty of emotion. But how can he do this? I start to ponder. How can he do any of this? The thought is foggy though and slips away as soon as it surfaces.
‘Amber,’ Demos says, and instantly the fog clears. I try to run but I can’t move. My limbs won’t respond to what my brain is telling them. He isn’t touching me but it feels as if I’m being held in an invisible vise. And now fear rushes in, obliterating every other thought and every impulse. If he wasn’t holding me I would fall.
‘It took me a while to figure out it was you back at the burger place,’ he says. ‘I thought it was Ryder.’ He smiles and shakes his head in wonder.
‘What do you want?’ I manage to stutter.
‘I want you to join my group of Psys,’ he says.
‘Psys?’ What is he talking about?
‘That’s what they call us.’
‘They? Who are they?’
A muscle twitches by his eye, his grip on me tightens, iron hands squeeze around my waist. Anger beats off him, slams like a jackhammer against my skull. ‘Oh, you’ll find out,’ he says through a clenched jaw.
I try digging my heels in but to no avail and then I try gathering up all my energy and directing at him. I hurl all the terror I’m feeling back at him, throwing it like a punch, and his grip on me falters. I’m suddenly free. I stagger backwards as Demos presses a hand to his head and winces.
‘Amber,’ he says in a low voice edged with rage, ‘don’t do that again.’
‘I’m not going anywhere with you,’ I hiss, as I back away towards Ryder who’s still standing motionless. ‘You can’t make me.’ My eyes dart to the door. How are we going to get out of here? But even as I measure the distance and try to imagine a way we could make it, a rail of clothing goes hurtling through the air and crashes to the ground just in front of the door, blocking our way out.
It takes me more than a few seconds to process what I just saw. I turn my head slowly back to face Demos, terror gripping my insides, and see that the other guy, the silent bald-headed one, is now grinning at me. He shifts his gaze to my right, to the stand of sunglasses and hats and then, right in front of my eyes, it lifts off the ground and ploughs into the barricade he’s already made.
‘OK, that’ll do, Bill,’ Demos says out the side of his mouth. ‘We don’t want to scare her.’
Demos cocks his head to one side and suddenly my gut tightens as though he’s thrown an invisible lasso around my waist. And I’m being pulled towards him once again. I struggle, digging in my heels but it’s useless. He drags me across the store until I’m a standing right in front of him, staring at the muscles across his chest.
‘That’s where you’ll find you’re wrong,’ he says. ‘I can make anyone do anything. But if it makes you feel better, Ryder’s coming along for the ride too. I’m sure you two can keep each other company.’
Darkness thick as grief billows around him in thundering waves, drenching me. A sob rises in my chest. And it’s then, only then, that I fully understand that I can’t fight him.
‘Where are we going?’ I ask, my voice strangled.
He draws in a deep breath. Exhales. ‘We’ll start with Bank of America.’ A twitch of a smile. ‘I need to make a withdrawal. Then we’ll hit up the Gun and Knife Show at the Fairground, and then, one final stop . . . San Quentin Prison.’
My mind slams to a halt. A prison?
‘A friend of mine needs a little rescuing,’ he says with a grin.
VENTURA – Police responded to a bank robbery at Bank of America on Main Street yesterday afternoon after four masked robbers made off with close to three million dollars in bills and bonds, as well as the contents of dozens of security deposit boxes.
Mystery surrounds the robbery, which took place in broad daylight. None of the fifteen bank employees and customers present can recall any details about the crime, leading to mounting speculation about how the robbers managed to pull off the heist.
A source close to the investigation, who asked not to be named, said: ‘No one can remember anything about the robbery. If we didn’t have the CCTV footage you’d think the place was robbed by ghosts.’
The security guard on duty at the time said in a statement that he experienced a sense of overwhelming euphoria just prior to the incident. When police arrived on the scene they found him in a state of hysteria. He was admitted to the local hospital for psych evaluation and drug testing but has since been released.
Police are refusing to comment on the link between this robbery and the raid on the Ventura Fairgrounds Gun and Knife Show the same day, which saw several high-powered rifles, semi-automatic handguns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition stolen. Once again, despite the number of people in the vicinity there were no eyewitnesses.
Weird things are afoot in Southern Cal. We’re hearing all sorts of crazy talk about what went down at The Gun & Knife Show in Ventura a few days ago, and it’s got X-Files written all over it.
Over fifty guns were stolen, along with enough ammo to blow up the White House. The police are claiming an inside job (a local biker crew with a reputation for gun slinging and drug trafficking was working security at the fair) but we think it’s all a cover up for aliens in our midst. And THE GOVERNMENT KNOWS ALL ABOUT THEM!!!!!
There are hardly any eyewitnesses, despite the fact several thousand people were at the show when it occurred, but we managed to get an exclusive interview with someone who watched it all go down:
Lila Shortcuts by Sarah Alderson / Young Adult / Fantasy / Romance & Love have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes