Crave, p.4
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       Crave, p.4
 

         Part #1 of The Clann series by Melissa Darnell
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CHAPTER 3

 

  Savannah

  I took the longest shower our hot-water heater would allow, spending more time trying to wrap my mind around this strange new reality than I spent washing myself. Part of me still clung to the hope that it was all just a case of my imagination going berserk. But everything was too real. . . the slippery porcelain beneath my feet, the cold, wet tile wall holding me up, the hot water burning its way over my skin. And it wasn't just anyone telling wild stories here. All this stuff about demons and vampires and witches was coming from my entire family, the three people I loved and trusted more than anyone else in the world.

  When the water ran cold, I got out, dried off, then studied my reflection in the mirror. Was it because I was freaked out, or did I really look. . . different? My eyes seemed bigger, my cheekbones more pronounced. My upper incisors might've become a little pointier than they'd already been. I was definitely paler, but who wouldn't be after being sick? And my hair seemed thicker and darker, less orange, more auburn. My imagination, too? Maybe.

  I wondered if Tristan would notice, then banished that thought. He was in the Clann. Worse, he was the son of the Clann's leading family.

  And I had to avoid him at all cost.

  "Mom?"

  A few seconds later, as if she'd been nearby listening for me, she opened the door a few inches and poked her head in. "Yes?"

  "Why aren't we in the Clann anymore?"

  "Well, they weren't too thrilled when I broke the rules and married your father. And when your Nanna didn't try to stop us, they kicked her out, too. It's a real no-no for vampires and witches to get involved with each other. "

  "Because vampires tend to kill witches. " I sighed.

  "They did before the truce. At one point, before even your grandmother's time, it was an all-out war between them. But now they've agreed to avoid each other as much as possible. Which is why no vampires live around here, including your father. This is Clann territory. And vampires have reason to fear descendants, too, since they can of course kill vampires much easier than normal humans can. "

  At my confused look, she explained, "Fire. Vampires can be killed by fire. Or decapitation or a stake through the heart, but those methods require a weapon. Witches, real ones, can produce fire in the palm of their hand. " She held out her hand palm up, concentrated. . . and a tiny ball of orange flame burst to life in her hand. At the same time, faint prickles raced over the back of my neck and down my arms.

  My brain blanked out for several seconds. Then my heart lurched back into gear. Hoooly crap, she wasn't kidding. She really could do magic! Reaching toward the flame, I opened my mouth to ask when I would get to learn that.

  "Oh, no. " She snapped her hand closed, extinguishing the fire with a sizzle. "Don't even ask, because the answer is no. Creating fire is too dangerous for you, in case your vampire genes make it hard for you to control the flame. And you're not learning any other magic, either. "

  "Why not?" I tried hard not to whine. But honestly, what was the point of learning all of this stuff if I couldn't even do real magic someday?

  "Because both the Clann and the vampire council made your Nanna and I swear that we would never teach you how to do magic. It was the only way I could get to raise you and we could stay in Jacksonville. "

  "I can't ever learn to do magic?"

  She shook her head. "Sorry, hon, not unless the Clann and the vampire council both change their minds. "

  "What if my magical side starts developing, like you said? Will I just start shooting out magic spells or something?"

  She laughed. "Not likely, since it takes both your willpower and certain spell words for beginner witches to cast a spell. Magic is like a muscle for most descendants. If you never use it, like I haven't for a while, it atrophies and is harder to use. If you practice, you get stronger and it's easier to do. We're hoping if you never do magic, the ability will simply go away for you. Or at least be very hard to do accidentally. "

  Disappointed, I frowned down at the sink. This really sucked. Nanna was always telling me to focus on the good in every situation. But there seemed to be absolutely nothing positive about my life right now.

  After a slight hesitation, Mom came the rest of the way into the bathroom and leaned against the edge of the sink's counter. "Look, Savannah, I know it's hard, but try to see things from everyone else's point of view, too. You are special, incredibly so. Other than in myths, you're the first dhampir in proven existence from your father's line, the first real live half vampire, half human. "

  "You mean half witch," I muttered, aiming for sarcasm. Which she ignored.

  "Right. Until you, no one thought vampires from your father's line could even get a human pregnant. Then your father and I broke the rules, I got pregnant, and we got married. "

  "Wait. You got pregnant then got married?"

  She gave a sheepish grin. "Yeah, you know, sometimes it works that way. But it was worth it. Even when our marriage meant your father lost his seat on the council-"

  "Because of me?"

  She winced. "Not quite. More a combination of factors. . . like drinking Clann blood to block his thoughts from the council so he could break their rules, marry a human and have a baby. "

  But they only got married after they found out they were going to have me. So didn't that still make it my fault that Dad was kicked off the council?

  "Anyways," she continued, "when you actually made it to full term then survived the first year of life, everyone on both sides of the equation went nuts. The vampire council thinks you're going to be some sort of secret weapon for the Clann if you develop magical skills. And the Clann is afraid you'll either go fully vampire and try to eat them all or use magic against them. " She laughed.

  I couldn't breathe.

  Her smile faded. "Oh, sorry, baby. Your father and I spent years joking about everyone's crazy fears. They're all ridiculously paranoid, on both sides of the line. Before your birth, they actually thought he and I had teamed up to rid the world of both the Clann and all the vampires! Bunch of fruitcakes. But I guess it's not that funny to you at first. "

  I let a glare be my answer. Inside, I was shaking again. Just when I thought I was starting to get a grip on all of this. . . now I was both a career ender for Dad and some sort of a ticking time bomb? No wonder I was such a disappointment to him.

  "That's why the Brat Twins call me a freak. Why did you even keep me?" I muttered then clamped my lips shut. I so had not meant to say that out loud.

  She gripped my shoulders, forcing me to meet her gaze. "Savannah, from the moment I found out I was pregnant with you, you have been nothing short of a miracle. Do you understand? A miracle. Not strange, not scary, not a freak and certainly not a threat to anyone. You've always been a sweet, precious miracle born out of love. "

  A love that had lasted all of three years. "So if I was such a miracle, and you two were so in love you just had to break all the rules to be together. . . why'd you get divorced?"

  She bit her lower lip, hesitating for a long time before sighing. "A lot of factors, I guess. Mostly, it was my fault. I was young, far too young to handle it all. And too young to really know what love was. I thought I was in love with your father. But now I know I was more in love with the idea of being with a vampire and breaking the rules. We were like Bonnie and Clyde, modern-day rebels running from our worlds' laws, hiding out on the lam. " She grinned. "It was a lot of fun. Until we had a baby who needed safety and security. Then suddenly being on the run wasn't so much fun anymore. When I realized I was responsible for your life and protecting you, it just didn't make sense anymore to be with your father. The council and the Clann both agreed you and I could live with your grandmother as long as I ended my marriage. And while I still loved your father, I wasn't in love with him anymore. Loving your father was an adventure and a selfish fantasy, and it was great while it lasted. But having you made me realize I needed to wake up, gro
w up and think about others for a change. "

  "Let me get this straight. You broke up with Dad for me?"

  "Not just for you. For peace between the Clann and the vampires, too. Both groups have members all over the world. If your father and I had stayed together, worldwide war could have broken out again between them. A lot of people would have died, and that would have been my fault. And I didn't love your father enough anymore for it to be worth that. "

  "But why come back to Jacksonville? Why not raise me somewhere else? Someplace where there weren't as many Clann around?"

  She smiled and shrugged. "Because Jacksonville has always been my home. And besides, I needed your grandma's help to raise you. Dhampir babies don't exactly come with a handbook, you know. "

  I managed a smile for her, but it faded fast. "Except, now I have to go to school with kids who seem to know what I am. And call me freak every day. "

  Mom hugged me. "I know it's hard, hon. But you've got to learn how to live your own life and don't worry about what the Clann thinks, or what the vampire council thinks, or what anybody says about you. None of this changes who you are inside. That's only up to you and what you choose. And even though this is all a shock, and maybe things in your life might start to change a little here and there, I promise you're going to be okay. As long as you follow the rules, that is. "

  Which was to stay away from the Clann. Yeah, I got it already. Except. . . "Mom, you and Nanna used to be in the Clann, too. What if I-"

  "Don't worry. Like you teens love to say. . . we've got skills. " She gave a lopsided grin. "Or at least your Nanna does. All I ever learned how to do was throw stuff and make fire. And even that was only because your Nanna absolutely insisted on it for minimal protection. "

  "Why didn't you want to learn how to do magic?"

  "Hon, you live in the post-Harry Potter world, where you teens think magic is awesome. I lived in the pre-Harry Potter times. I was witchy when witchy wasn't cool. "

  Huh. "What about the Clann kids at school? Dad said to avoid them, but how can I when I've got classes with them, have to pass them in the halls, eat with them in the cafeteria?"

  "You should be okay at a distance. Like your father said, they've probably got charms on them to dull their attraction to any vampire. And even if you do start to feel the bloodlust at some point, if you keep your distance and pay attention to your body, you'll know if it becomes a problem. If it does, you call me or Nanna or your father immediately and go to the nurse's station till one of us gets there. Okay?"

  I thought of how close Tristan sat behind me in algebra, and the pain in my chest and stomach that hit me every time he was near. Keeping my distance might be a problem. I'd just have to try to sort out my usual confused feelings around him from anything new that might come up. Like a sudden attraction to his neck.

  "Why is the Clann even letting us stay here? Wouldn't they want me as far away from them and their kids as possible?"

  Her smile turned sad. "You know that saying 'keep your friends close and your enemies closer'? I think it's like that. They don't want you to get too close or spend time alone with any of their descendants. But they also want to be able to keep an eye on you. Plus there's the chance that one day you might decide to. . . help them out. "

  "Help them out?"

  "You know. Be on their side if there's ever another war with the vampires. "

  The Clann thought I would side with them against my own father? I snorted. They must be insane. After the way the Clann kids had treated me and my family for the past five years. . .

  Well, not all of them had bullied me all the time. A memory flashed through my mind of emerald eyes staring back at me. Of strong, warm hands on my shoulders, stopping me from falling in algebra class, when he could have just let me do a face-plant onto my desk.

  "I guess it's a good thing I don't want to date anyone in the Clann anyways, huh?"

  Laughing, Mom picked up a hairbrush and began to tug it through my tangled hair, ignoring my facial expression each time she found a new snag. "Uh, yeah. Dating someone from the Clann could start another war. Lordy, I can see it now. The Clann would think you were stalking one of their own to drain them. The vamps would think you were siding with the Clann. It'd be mass chaos in no time. " She shook her head and grinned. "But we don't have to worry about that, right? You've hated the Clann's kids for years now. "

  I forced a weak chuckle and took the brush away from her before she could accidentally brush me bald. "Yeah. Right. They're first-class jerks. "

  "Any other questions?" Her tone had turned bright and cheerful, like she had simply been helping me with my home work or something.

  I shook my head and tried to remember how to breathe normally past the lump in my throat. Why couldn't I just go back to my life of a week ago, back when things weren't perfect, but at least they were normal?

  "Aw, honey. " She patted my shoulder. "Please stop worrying. You're going to be okay. "

  "How do you know I'll be okay? What if-"

  "Because you come from my side of the family, too. And we Evans women are strong. With or without magic, we know how to kick butt in life. "

  "And throw a mean plate?" I managed to joke.

  She laughed. "Exactly. And speaking of which, aren't you starving by now? Your Nanna made her special fried chicken and mashed potatoes with gravy just the way you like them. "

  I made my lips curve into a smile. "Sure, sounds great. " Why wouldn't I be hungry? After all, just because normal life as I'd known it was over, that shouldn't affect my appetite, right?

  I didn't want to talk to anyone for the rest of the weekend. But Nanna said that my friends had been calling for me all week. So I made myself call Anne later that evening.

  After chatting for a few minutes, I thought I'd better warn her about the changes in my appearance. But when I tried to describe how different I looked, she just laughed.

  "Don't worry about it, Sav. Every year I get the flu for a few days, and afterward I swear my head looks way too big for my body. Anyways, if you want to start coming early to school next week, I could help you get caught up on all the algebra homework you missed. "

  "Mmm, good idea. " I hesitated, curious to know if anyone else had missed me while I was gone, one boy in particular. But I couldn't find a casual way to ask and not make a big deal out of it. And why would anyone other than my friends have missed me? So I gave up and said goodbye instead.

  When I called Carrie and Michelle, I didn't mention the changes in my appearance. For all I knew, I was the only one who would notice them.

  But when I returned to school Monday morning, too late to meet Anne at the picnic tables for tutoring, I felt more like a freak than ever. While some of the changes in my appearance might be my imagination, the bigger chest size definitely wasn't. I'd gone up a full cup and a half. Mom and I had been forced to do emergency shirt and bra shopping yesterday so I'd have something to wear to school that didn't scream slut.

  Still, even with the bigger shirts, I felt conspicuous in the main hall before first period. So I made sure to carry my notebook against my chest. The freshmen boys weren't exactly kind in their comments toward the curvier girls in our grade, and I so didn't need more hall harassment in my life right now.

  Unfortunately, even my notebook couldn't block what happened next.

  "O. M. G. Worst boob job ever!" Vanessa called out to me, laughing as she and her sister passed by, their voices somehow loud enough to carry over the noise of the hall even though they didn't sound like they were actually yelling. Magically amplified? I wouldn't doubt it. They would want everyone to be sure to hear them torture me.

  And then I felt it. It was like a poisonous gas spreading over my skin, seeping past my shirt to make my skin crawl. And alien. . . whatever it was, the sensation definitely wasn't coming from me.

  What the heck was it? Nobody had warned me about this.

  It had to be eith
er magic-or vampire-based. Or had the Brat Twins hit me with a spell just now? I would have to call Mom as soon as I could find a restroom where I could talk in private.

  I kept walking, forcing my hands to be still when all I wanted to do was scrub the vile sensation from my skin. I tried to think about something else, anything at all.

  But then I had to refocus on the weird sensation, because it was changing now. In fact, the farther away I got from the Brat Twins, the more the sinister feeling of evil intentions faded away. Now it was more a mixture of stuff I couldn't sort out. Kind of like cobwebs made of worry, happiness, sadness and fear all twisted together. Maybe I was going insane from learning too much crazy crap about my family and myself this weekend.

  Unless. . . somehow I could sense others' emotions now?

  Oh, Lord. When I concentrated, it grew worse, until I could feel each person's mood as they passed me. Experimenting, I matched up what I felt with each person's facial expression and overheard bits of conversations, and was able to piece clues together. Happiness nearly made me laugh from its tickling sensation. Worry was heavy and cold, an ice chunk sliding down my skin. Love was warmth and softness, heated cotton balls. Anger, a knife that slashed and ripped across my skin.

  I managed to make it the hundred yards to my locker, then closed my eyes and tried to think about something else. Anything else to make the overwhelming mix of emotions go away. Something soothing. Something. . .

  Tristan's eyes staring down at me. The sound of his voice, low and husky, whispering my nickname, asking me if I was okay. His hands on my shoulders, warming me through my shirt in algebra class.

  After a few minutes, the sensations of others' emotions faded away. My shoulders, which had scrunched up near my ears, eased back down, and I could breathe deeply again.

  Okay. So now I could sense others' emotions. It wasn't an ideal development, and I definitely could have used a little warning. But at least I could control it if I stayed calm.

  Was it magic-or vampire-based?

  It had to be magic-based, some sort of natural Clann ESP ability, right? Which meant no cause for alarm, no vampire abilities developing here. It wasn't exactly normal. But maybe all the descendants could do this and just didn't show it. Even Tristan.

  Oh, crap. Could they read my emotions around him? Could he tell-?

  Face burning, I cut off that thought and headed away from my locker, debating whether to call my parents or Nanna and let them know about this new development. Then again, why should I? They'd wanted me to tell them about new developments so they could help me deal with them. But I'd handled this one on my own. All I had to do to control it and block out everyone's emotions was to stay calm. There was no need for the rescue squad. Yet.

  Okay, so no phone call to the family. But maybe I should go ahead and grab my entire day's collection of books so I wouldn't have to return to the main hall later. Just to be safe.

  "Go, Savannah!" Captain Kristi, leader of the Charmers dance team and the assistant teacher for my pre-drill class, whooped as she ran over to give me a high five, hundreds of tiny black braids bouncing wildly around her head with her every step.

  I couldn't even feel her palm slap mine. I was too much in shock. A triple pirouette. When I couldn't even do a proper single a week ago. It was an honest-to-goodness miracle.

  At the end of pre-drill class, I floated downstairs, feeling like one of those Mylar balloons, all light and shiny, while I got dressed then walked over to the cafeteria for lunch. No doubt my cheeks would hurt tomorrow from the force of my smile. But I couldn't stop myself. Today, for the first time ever, I had been every bit as good as the experienced dancers in my class. Not only had I succeeded in performing a triple pirouette, but I'd also finally gone all the way down to the floor in my splits, and my split leaps had all landed without a single thud or shake of the room. Still better, my wimpy high kicks, once only up to chest level, had nearly hit me in the face today. And hadn't hit anyone else for a change. Even the experienced dancers in the class had seemed impressed by my improvement. And now that I wasn't such a failure at it, dancing was fun!

  This freak had finally learned some dance skills, maybe even good enough to make the Charmers dance team next month, if I was crazy enough to audition. Ha! Let the Clann sense these emotions!

  "Hey, girls," I greeted my friends as I dropped my backpack at our table in the cafeteria. I glanced at them, my face stuck in a broad grin. "Let me grab some food and I'll be right back to hear what I missed last week. "

  No one replied, but I didn't give them much time to before I hurried to join the food line. The lunchroom was packed as usual, but apparently sensing others' emotions only happened when I was upset, because I felt nothing now except my own pure joy. Which only made me happier.

  Finally, I'd managed not to be a total klutz at something! Maybe I should try out for the Charmers. Making the dance team was pretty much an instant passport to popularity in Jacksonville, or at least a huge social upgrade. And getting to dance all the time would be a total blast.

  Lost in thought, I didn't realize at first that the boy directly ahead of me in the slow-moving line was smiling at me. Surprised, I smiled back, though I didn't recognize him, then blushed and looked down.

  "Hi, I'm Greg Stanwick. " He grabbed a mint-green tray from the stack then offered me one, as well.

  "Oh, hey. I'm Savannah. " I hadn't planned on getting the lunch of the day since I usually had pizza or chili cheese fries instead. Then again, maybe I should eat something healthy for a change and reward my body for all its amazing improvements in pre-drill. "Um, thanks. "

  Greg seemed to take that as encouragement. "So, what grade are you in?"

  "Ninth. "

  "Eleventh for me. Hey, do you ever go to the soccer games?"

  I shook my head.

  "Well, you should really think about seeing some. We've got a killer team this year. Four-time champions. I should know, I'm on the varsity team. " His smile was a few watts too bright, reminding me of a game-show host. And he was only a few inches taller than me, putting him somewhere around five-nine or -ten. But overall he was kind of hot, with short black hair and soft brown eyes that reflected warmth from his smile.

  I realized Greg was still talking and tried to look interested as he chatted about his soccer team and all the ways they were training hard for another winning season.

  "Maybe we'll run into each other again," he said as we paid for our food.

  "Um, sure. Nice meeting you. "

  "Nice meeting you, too, Savannah. " But he didn't turn away. Instead, he stood there watching me. I could feel his gaze on me as I returned to my table.

  Okay, that was weird but sort of nice. Guys never paid any attention to me. Maybe it was the bigger boob size?

  I set down my tray and sat.

  Suddenly, I felt someone standing next to me.

  I looked up and found Greg grinning down at me.

  "Hey," he said. "I forgot to mention, we've got a home game this Friday, if you want to come watch. It'll start at six at the Tomato Bowl. "

  Total silence, not only at our table, but at all the surrounding tables, too, made my cheeks burn. The unwanted attention had to be because of Greg, because I wasn't exactly on anyone's social radar around here.

  I blinked a few times and struggled to think of a reply. Then I remembered. "Um, that sounds like fun. But I have a dance recital that night. So. . . maybe next time?"

  Greg looked away for a moment. At the same time, goose bumps and a prickling sensation raced up my arms and across the back of my neck. Someone must have cranked up the air-conditioning or something. Shivering, I rubbed my arms.

  When Greg looked back down at me, his smile wasn't quite as blinding. "Yeah, sure. Next time. " Then he walked away.

  I cringed, hoping I hadn't hurt his feelings. Though why he'd care if I came to one of his games or not was beyond me.

&nbs
p; I glanced at my friends and grinned. Their shocked expressions matched how I felt. "Did that just happen?" I asked, a short laugh slipping out.

  Silence at our table, even as the other nearby tables recovered.

  In the continuing silence from my friends, I leaned forward and looked more closely at them. "Um, hello? Anyone care to comment on that?"

  Yeesh. Yes, it was true that boys never talked to me, and definitely none had ever made a point to come up to me during lunch. But my friends were acting like he'd also jumped up on the table and performed a song and dance for us or something. I'd never seen them all this speechless at the same time. I had the strong urge to snap my fingers under their noses just to bring them back to planet Earth.

  I met Anne's stare first, then Carrie's, then Michelle's. Without fail, each girl's eyes widened as I met their gazes. Okay, this was getting weirder by the moment.

  "Look at me. " Anne's command, an echo of Dad's demanding tone on Saturday, reminded me of my changed appearance. And of the crazy family secrets I wanted to forget as quickly as possible.

  "Oh, yeah. " My good mood faded. "I forgot, you haven't seen how weird I look. " Now Anne would tell me what an imaginative idiot I was and how I looked the same as I always did.

  Her eyebrows drew together. "You don't look weird. But you do look different, that's for sure. What'd you do to your hair? It looks like a flippin' Garnier commercial. Did you get it colored? It's not so orange now. And it's. . . poufy. "

  Oh. So maybe I hadn't imagined the changes in my appearance.

  Feeling like a circus sideshow, I blushed. "I know, it's kind of odd. But I swear I didn't do anything new to it. "

  "And your eyes," Michelle whispered.

  I looked at Michelle, who reminded me of a nervous rabbit today for some reason. Her gaze darted away.

  Oh, crap, that's right. Dad had mentioned that my gaze might have a strange effect on others. But he hadn't said what kind of effect. He should've warned me that my friends would treat me like an alien that had crash-landed at our table.

  "What do you think, Carrie?" I met her stare head-on, my hands clenching into fists under the table as fear battled with a tiny bit of curiosity. Exactly what did they see when they looked into my eyes now?

  Carrie was the calmest, coolest, most levelheaded member of our group. She had a mind like a scientist, or the doctor she claimed to want to become someday. She could offer some practical, objective feedback.

  I held her gaze for several seconds as something like the weekend's panic threatened to overwhelm what little curiosity I'd had. Maybe I didn't want to know, after all.

  Then I saw it. . . that same fearful widening of the eyes just before Carrie looked away.

  Ohhh, crap. And according to Dad, that was a vampire thing.

  I tried to remember how to breathe past the growing thickness in my throat. The noise of the cafeteria ramped up, roaring in my ears like an angry ocean during a storm, even as too many different emotions from others rushed in waves over my skin. I wrapped my arms around myself in a futile effort to block them out.

  Did this mean I was turning into a vampire?

  "Here, let me see again. " This time, Anne's voice was far from its usual command.

  And suddenly, I did not want to make eye contact with her. I didn't want to see my best friend look at me and become afraid. Then again, maybe it was all in how I was looking back at them, and I just needed to relax. Maybe then they would settle down and it would be no big deal.

  I slid my gaze up and over, seeing Anne's chin first, then her mouth and nose. I hesitated, took a deep breath, focused on being calm and hopefully projecting soothing thoughts with my eyes, then made direct eye contact. And heard her gasp.

  Well, crap. That didn't work, either. My gaze dropped to the tray of food I no longer wanted as my head began to swim.

  After a minute, Anne took a deep breath before saying, "It's okay, Sav. Your eyes aren't that different, at least not in a way I can really describe. They just seem kind of. . . intense for some reason. "

  "Yeah, exactly," Michelle said. "Reminds me of how my mom looked at me when I accidentally broke the coffee table last month. Like she wanted to kill me. "

  "But I'm not mad!" I blurted out. "In fact, I was pretty dang happy a minute ago. That guy who just came over, Greg Stanwick, is a junior and a varsity soccer player. He just introduced himself out of the blue while we were in the food line. It was kind of weird actually. . . . " Weird didn't even begin to cover all the recent things I'd been going through since last week. And couldn't talk about with them. How in the world could my friends believe me, much less understand? They hated the Clann. Michelle thought witches sacrificed small animals, Carrie was too practical to ever believe in vampires and Anne's Pentecostal family would never let her be friends with a half vampire/half witch. They barely liked her hanging out with a bunch of Methodists and Baptists. And I still hadn't figured out how she'd convinced them to let her wear jeans every day and cut her hair. The other Pentecostals on campus had to wear skirts and couldn't cut their hair, which they wore down to their knees.

  "He's a junior?" Carrie said, her stiff posture melting around the edges a little.

  "Ooh, and a varsity soccer player, too?" Nothing like a new piece of gossip to make Michelle sound like her old self again. She claimed she wanted to be a nurse and help Carrie in the operating room someday, but Anne and I had a private bet that she would end up working for a gossip magazine instead.

  A little of the tightness in my chest eased as all three of my friends attacked the juicy news, and gradually the tidal wave of everyone else's emotions fell away. I forced a smile as I answered their questions about Greg and ended up giving a word-for-word playback of my earlier conversation with him. But I was careful never to look higher than their noses while I spoke. I didn't want to risk freaking them out again with my eyes.

  My vampire eyes.

  "Oh, speaking of boys acting weird," Michelle said. "Savannah, you seem to have another fan. "

  As soon as Michelle said the words, I could feel it. Tristan was staring at me from the Clann kids' table across the cafeteria. I didn't know how I knew it was him, but I would have bet a lot of money on it.

  "And he's staring at you right now," Michelle added with a grin, completely unsubtle in trying to bait my curiosity.

  "Tristan Coleman, right?" I tried to keep my voice calm, hopefully even bored-sounding.

  "How'd you know?" she gasped.

  Because I can feel his gaze boring into the back of my dang head, I wanted to growl. Instead I shrugged and tried to act like it didn't bug me.

  "Well, I bet you didn't know that he was asking about you last week. " Pride flooded her voice. "He said he and the Clann girls at his lunch table had heard you were sick and were worried about you. "

  Whoa. Tristan had noticed I was gone and asked about me? Out of personal interest, or for the Clann?

  Anne snorted. "Oh, please. As if any of those spoiled brats care about anyone outside their elite little circle. "

  Unless their parents had told them all about me, and now they were worried I would attack them in the halls.

  "Well, why would he lie about it to me?" Michelle said.

  "Maybe because he'd already asked me and I told him to mind his own business," Anne said.

  I stared at my best friend in surprised horror.

  "Well, in so many words," she added in a mumble.

  "Why didn't you just tell him how I was doing?" I said.

  "Because I honestly didn't know, okay? All your grandma would say was that you were sick and they weren't sure when you'd be back at school, but you weren't in the hospital. Besides, he's a mega. . . mega. . . " Anne scowled, her nose scrunching as she searched for the word she wanted.

  "Megalomaniac?" I offered.

  "Yeah. That!"

  I sighed. "I'm sorry if I worried you. I really was. .
. sick. In fact, I don't remember most of last week beyond Monday afternoon. I think I scared Mom and Nanna, too. " There, that was the truth. Mostly.

  Three faces stared at me with open shock once again. I tried not to cringe in reaction. All this unexpected attention today made me want to find a hole to hide in.

  "So what was wrong with you?" Anne said.

  I shrugged and braced for the necessary lie. I would have to tell them it had been the flu. But the bell rang, cutting short the conversation. Thank goodness, too, because I really sucked at lying. And there was no way they would ever believe even half the stuff my family had told me this weekend. Hopefully they would just forget that I'd been out sick and had weird eyes now.

  If I was lucky, maybe I could forget, too.

  Tristan

  My knees bounced beneath the descendants' table as I ate my lunch and watched the clock on the cafeteria wall. Two hours left until fourth-period algebra.

  I'd made the lunch-chair trade with Dylan permanent, though he wasn't happy about it. But I'd had to pull rank on him; the view was better from his old seat. Or at least it had been, until the view showed a dark-haired boy, short and wiry, stopping at Savannah's table.

  Probably one of her friends' boyfriends.

  Except the guy was standing inches from Savannah and talking to her, not the others.

  My knees stopped bouncing.

  A classmate asking for help on an assignment? No, he looked too old to be a freshman like us.

  I leaned sideways toward my sister. "Who's that guy?"

  "Huh?" Emily looked around then smirked. "Oh, you mean the one talking to a certain-"

  "Yeah. "

  She got the hint and whispered, "Tell you in a minute. " Then she pretended to return to her lunch. But I noticed her casually scoping out the cafeteria every few seconds.

  The guy braced one hand on Savannah's table, another hand on the back of her chair, and leaned down toward her.

  I sat up, my hands clenching into fists on my thighs. Back off. Now, I thought to the would-be Romeo, adding a little magical push to the thought. Some humans were too thickheaded to pick up on Clann mental commands. This guy wasn't, thankfully. His head shot up and he looked toward me.

  I knew I should be acting more casual in case the Clann noticed. But I'd lost control. I glared back at him, willing him to take a silent hint and get lost.

  After a few seconds, he straightened up and walked away.

  I eased down in my chair and crossed my arms over my chest. But I still wanted to hit something.

  Once the guy was several yards away from Savannah, Emily leaned over and threw an arm around my shoulders. "That was Greg Stanwick. He's a junior. Plays on the varsity soccer team, so apparently he's good. I've heard he's pretty charming and doesn't mind dating younger girls. Like freshmen. "

  A growl started in my chest. Not Savannah, he wouldn't. She needed someone. . . taller. Someone who didn't smile like a freaking game-show host.

  "Youch. Want to ease up on the energy level there, little brother?" Emily peeled her arm from my shoulders and rubbed her skin through her shirtsleeve.

  "Sorry," I muttered and glanced around our table. Everyone was staring at me. "Sorry," I called out to the entire group. Several of them rolled their eyes and rubbed their arms or the back of their necks, but everyone seemed to accept the apology and looked away again. Everyone except Dylan, who kept watching me with raised eyebrows. I shrugged in answer to his silent question. He could be nosier than a girl looking for gossip sometimes.

  "You know that wouldn't happen if you would focus on your training," Emily said.

  "And you know I don't care about all that crap. "

  "Too bad. The energy doesn't go away if you ignore it. It only gets worse. "

  I tried ignoring her.

  "Tristan, don't be moronic. If you don't learn to ground better-"

  She nagged worse than our mother. "I grounded all weekend. "

  "Are you sure you're doing it right?"

  "Yes. "

  "Hmm. Then you might want to try grounding at school, too. "

  "And how do I do that without looking crazy?"

  She surprised me with a laugh. "Find a tree. "

  "And then what, hit it?"

  "No, make like a car and gas pump but in reverse. Siphon off some of your energy through the tree to the ground. "

  "Good idea, sis. I'll keep that in mind for next time. " I faked a grin, hoping a little charm would convince her to drop the subject and get off my back.

  She shook her head, seeing through me, but at least returned to her lunch.

  Relaxing in my seat, I finished eating then headed for the trash cans. On my way back, I saw Stanwick at a table with two other guys. The soccer jerk was staring in Savannah's direction with a look on his face. The kind of look that said he was thinking about asking her out.

  I should hit the guy now and save time. Except Jacksonville High had a zero-tolerance policy against fighting on campus. I would get suspended if I got caught. It would go on my permanent record, and colleges weren't thrilled about accepting students who went around beating up their classmates. And no college meant no chance of playing for the NFL.

  Too bad Stanwick didn't play football instead. . . .

  Scowling, I returned to my table and grabbed my books. Our entire table froze, their heads turning to stare at me.

  "Tristan Glenn Coleman," Emily hissed. "Outside. Tree. Now. "

  "I'm going, I'm going," I grumbled and headed out the door for the nearest tree.

  I found one a few yards away between the cafeteria's rear exit and the math building. Perfect. Now how to ground without looking like an idiot? I couldn't exactly hug the thing, not with all those students at the outside picnic tables for an audience. But I had to touch the tree with my hands somehow for it to work.

  And then I figured it out. Leaning back against the tree like I was waiting for someone, I held my books against my thigh with one hand and let my free hand hang at my side. A turn of the wrist and my empty palm touched the rough bark. Taking a deep breath, I mentally reached inside, found the boiling flow of energy and willed it out through my hand to the tree.

  The bark heated up. Aw, hell, I was going to start a fire. I slowed down the energy flow until the bark cooled. Better. I felt the resulting calm as the excess energy left me, and grinned. Yeah, that was much better.

  The cafeteria doors opened, and four girls exited, one of them with red hair that seemed to glow in the sunlight. Savannah. She was laughing about something when a nearby table full of boys yelled out a greeting to Anne. Anne yelled back, and the group of girls split up as Anne and Savannah walked over to the table.

  I gripped my books tighter.

  Anne did all of the talking, stopping at one point to lean over and point out something in an open math book. The boys nodded and looked up at her. I recognized them from our algebra class.

  I could tell the exact second when the boys noticed Savannah. Almost in a wave, one by one they froze, their easy smiles melting into blank stares. If not for Savannah's reaction and the fact that she wasn't in the Clann, I almost would've guessed that she'd just put a spell on them. But her smile faded away, too, and her chin ducked down to her chest. She hugged her notebook against her stomach and tugged on Anne's wrist. Anne studied the boys and scowled. Then the girls beat a fast exit.

  Savannah looked back, maybe because she felt the boys still staring at her, and walked away faster. As the pair drew even with me, Anne glanced my way then muttered something to Savannah. I was no expert at reading lips, especially from a distance, but it looked like she'd called me a stalker.

  I almost laughed out loud. Me, a stalker? Please. But a glance back at the table of boys made me frown instead. I might not be a stalker, but. . . they were still staring at Savannah, their expressions zombielike. Savannah might be earning a stalker or three, after al
l.

  Great. As if that Stanwick guy wasn't enough of a pain. If she kept this up, Savannah would have a line of dazed idiots trailing after her soon.

  The tree bark started to burn again. I ripped my hand away and gave up on grounding for now. I'd have to be dead to get rid of all this extra energy. The descendants on campus would just have to get used to my power spikes for today.

 
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