Crave, p.7
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       Crave, p.7
 

         Part #1 of The Clann series by Melissa Darnell
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CHAPTER 6

 

  Savannah

  Seventy girls all spraying their hair at once made one heck of a smell.

  All of the freshmen dancers had been packed into the third floor of Jacksonville High's sports and art building. The twenty-seven Charmer veterans had been given much more room to spread out downstairs in the theater. They also had less distance to walk, since the theater shared a large foyer with the main gym.

  Where a panel of judges awaited to determine all our fates.

  I was in the second-to-last group, made up of myself and three dancers from various other pre-drill classes. Just my luck to audition during the year they'd decided to order everyone alphabetically in reverse, which they claimed they did every other year to make things more fair. I would have to wait for hours before I'd get to perform before the judges.

  The auditions began at 8:00 a. m. The Charmers Head Manager, a junior named Amber, took turns with Captain Kristi in leading the audition groups to and from the gym. Each time one of them reappeared at the hallway entrance, everyone else jumped. One look at the expressions of excitement and worry around me, and I knew all the freshmen must be wondering the same things: Is it my group's turn this time? How did the others do? Will I be good enough to make the team?

  Except me. I was only worried about two things. . . not forgetting the routines, and not looking like some sort of gravity-defying alien.

  Finally Head Manager Amber came for my group. I added a quick smear of petroleum jelly over my front teeth as Captain Kristi had recommended in class last week. The hideous, chemical-flavored stuff was supposed to help us smile easier even if our mouths went dry from nerves. Then I followed the head manager and my group down the stairs.

  My legs were shaking so much I stumbled and had to use the metal handrail to keep from falling. Until that point, the chant in my head had been, Please don't let me forget the routine or look like a freak. After the stumble, the chant changed to, Please don't let me fall down during my audition. I knew it could happen. One of the other candidates had slipped during her audition and, upon her return upstairs, had disappeared straight into the bathroom. It had taken a small battalion of the girl's friends to coax the crying dancer to leave an hour later.

  Could have been worse for her, though. She could've brought a ceiling tile down on everyone's heads instead. With an audience.

  My audition group was allowed two minutes to stretch and warm up in the foyer. But I'd been stretching and practicing for hours now. At this point, all I wanted was to get in there and get the audition over with.

  I felt the hairs at the back of my neck prickle, as if someone was watching me. Maybe one of the veterans was peeking out the theater doors? Everyone else in the foyer was visible in front of me and looking elsewhere. I ignored the sensation. No way would I let some curious veteran psyche me out today.

  The gym doors squeaked open, and Captain Kristi poked in her head with a bright smile. "Ready, girls?"

  We all nodded and lined up, hands on our hips like we'd been taught for our entrance walk. My heart pounded even harder than it had three weeks ago at the dance recital.

  We took our positions in the center of the cavernous gym and waited for Captain Kristi to start the music on the sound system. While we waited, I had a chance to study the judges seated several yards away at a folding table. There were five of them. . . two women, two men and Mrs. Daniels, the Charmers director. I recognized the director from all the times I'd seen her at her desk in the Charmers office outside the dance room this year. None of the judges smiled as they held their pens ready over their papers. Probably too tired by now to smile back. I avoided direct eye contact with them out of habit.

  The music began. We started with the jazz routine, and just like at the recital, the adrenaline rush made it all feel like a dream. I was outside myself, watching my body fly and twist. I was pretty sure I wasn't doing freakishly well, but it was hard to tell. I'd been practicing modifying all my moves according to the veteran Charmers standards, not the awkward freshmen I'd been grouped with for today.

  The song ended, and we dancers hit our basic standing pose while the judges scratched out notes on our score sheets. In the silence, I could hear the others in my group panting for air. That's when temptation kicked in.

  Two of the judges were male. I could try to gaze daze them and affect how they scored my performance.

  But it wouldn't really be my dancing they would be scoring then, would it?

  Then again, hadn't Captain Kristi told us in pre-drill class to be sure to make eye contact with our audience?

  "Left splits, please," Captain Kristi ordered.

  My body followed her directions even while my mind continued its quiet debate.

  I couldn't look them in the eye. It would be wrong. It was wrong to even consider it. My changed gaze was not some tool to use to get ahead of the other dancers. It was a curse, something weird and wrong that had to be controlled and hidden.

  "And your right splits, please. "

  I stood up then slid down into my right splits, landing flush with the floor and pointing my toes as Captain Kristi had taught us.

  I hadn't been nearly this flexible before the change, either. Wasn't I already sort of cheating? And what would one quick little glance into their eyes really hurt? No one would find out about it.

  I gritted my teeth against the temptation. No. I would either make the team fairly like a normal dancer, or not at all.

  I saw movement at my left. I'd almost missed the cue to perform my center splits. Oh, crud. I had to focus.

  Maybe I didn't want to be a Charmer badly enough, after all. If I did, wouldn't I be willing to do anything it took to make the team?

  I stood up with my group and waited for the kick routine's music to begin, my heart pounding for a new reason now.

  I did want to be a Charmer. More than anything else in the world. I'd practiced countless hours twice a day every day for this moment, for this chance to prove I belonged on the team. I'd even argued with my father for the right to keep dancing, something I never would have done before this year. I had to make the team. Otherwise I would forever be the school freak, an outcast who would never fit in anywhere. Heck, I didn't even fit in with my volleyball-obsessed friends!

  But if making the dance team meant I had to cheat. . .

  Too soon, before I could decide what to do, the last routine ended. We hit our basic standing pose once more, and I knew this was it. Last chance to sway two of the judges. Just one quick meeting of the eyes with two guys I'd never see again. The effects would only last a day, just like with the algebra boys, just long enough to convince them to give me a better score and help me make the team.

  At least, I hoped so.

  My gaze slid over the table toward the male judges. They were even sitting beside each other. It was too perfect, too easy. My gaze found their hands, the space separating their bodies, flicked over to the one on the left, slid up his shoulder to his chin. . .

  And then over their heads to the bleachers behind them.

  I couldn't do it. What if the gaze daze wouldn't be temporary this time? Both wore wedding rings. If the effect lasted longer than a few hours, could it mess with their families? Their marriages? I hadn't dared meet any male's gaze since that one disastrous mistake last month. Even when I'd wanted to look Tristan in the eye, wrong as that had been. I had no idea if it had gotten stronger with time. All I knew was that my gaze still made my friends look away after a few seconds. And I didn't want to have to cheat in order to be a Charmer.

  I'd just have to hope my dancing had been good enough without it.

  "Okay, ladies, thank you," Captain Kristi said. "You may exit through the doors now. "

  It was over.

  The line turned, and now I was the one leading the way out of the gym. My chance to sway the judges was gone. Dazed, I left the gym, heard the metal door slam shut after the
last group member exited, and then silence.

  Wrapped in invisible cotton, I shuffled back upstairs, deaf to all sound.

  I slumped down beside my duffel bag. I'd had the perfect opportunity, a real advantage today. Had I thrown it away in some naive attempt to do the right thing?

  An hour later, Head Manager Amber dismissed everyone, reminding us to be back at the gym that evening for the new team announcement, and to wear blue jeans and a plain white T-shirt with our audition numbers pinned to our chests.

  Lost in thoughts and doubts on my way out, I wasn't paying attention in the foyer and stumbled into someone. Ice-cold hands on my bare arms both shocked and steadied me as I mumbled an apology and looked up at the man I'd run into. He was a stranger, dressed in a tailored, dark-blue suit. His face was expressionless as he stepped away from me toward the gym doors where the judges were inside tabulating scores. I blinked in surprise as he strode right into the gym like he owned the place.

  A woman's voice called out from within, "I'm sorry, but no parents are allowed in here right now. "

  The door swung shut behind him as he continued in, cutting off any further sound.

  Amazing. Apparently being a Charmer was an honor big enough to make a father try to sway the judges for his daughter's sake.

  Sway the judges unfairly, just like I should have done. I was so stupid. I shoved open the foyer doors, the moist heat blasting my face and then the rest of my body as I shuffled down the cement ramp to the parking lot and Nanna's waiting car.

  "Well, how'd you do?" Nanna asked as I threw myself into the air-conditioned car, the sweat on my skin turning clammy as I put on my seat belt.

  "No clue. I didn't forget any of the steps, at least. " I should have used my gaze on those two judges. Even just swaying two of the five judges would've given me an advantage over the other freshmen dancers.

  "Then you made the team, hon. " She steered the car toward home, her smile confident.

  I couldn't help it; I rolled my eyes. "Aren't you a little biased?"

  "Of course I am. " She laughed. "But I've also got eyes, don't I?"

  Which only reminded me of my dumb decision. "Well, I guess we'll find out in a few hours. "

  "What time do we need to be back here?"

  "At six. But you don't have to come inside with me. It probably won't take long. "

  Her sharp gaze flicked my way, and her smile disappeared. "And miss hearing my grandbaby's name being called out? I don't think so. "

  Warmth spread in my chest, and a smile tugged at the corners of my mouth. "I think they'll be calling out numbers, not names. "

  She sniffed. "Same thing. I plan to be there taking lots of pictures for your mother. "

  My mother, who was, as usual, away selling safety products.

  I didn't know what thought was worse to dwell on for the next four hours. . . whether I'd made the team, made the wrong choice during my audition or performed too well and made the judges question whether I was even human.

  I showered, ate a late lunch and listened to my iPod in an effort not to think. It didn't work too well.

  At five-thirty, wearing the required outfit, I led Nanna into the gym. We'd arrived half an hour early in the hopes of getting there before everyone else so Nanna could sit on the front row. Her knees were too bad to let her climb up the bleachers.

  We should have gotten there even earlier.

  It seemed everyone else had the same thought. The entire right side of the gym was packed. It looked like every girl had brought at least one of her parents. Some had brought their entire families plus their grandparents. And the expandable bleachers on the left side of the gym were still folded into the wall. At least none of them were Clann families. Maybe the Clann preferred cheerleading instead?

  "Looks like we'll be standing," Nanna muttered.

  We stood against the entrance wall near the doors with other similarly unlucky families.

  And waited.

  Thank goodness Nanna was naturally quiet. Mom would have embarrassed us both by chattering nonstop, most likely about things better left unsaid when standing six inches away from strangers.

  But the silence also gave me too much time to think. And wonder. And doubt. And regret.

  Just when I thought I couldn't stand the inside of my head anymore and would have to find something to talk about with Nanna, the Charmers director entered the gym.

  Funny how fast everyone stopped talking without even being asked.

  "Hello, everyone. My name is Elizabeth Daniels, and I'm the director of the JHS Cherokee Charmers Dance/Drill Team. " She waited for the polite applause to die away then continued. "Since we're all here for one reason, I'll just skip right to it, okay?"

  Someone gave an overly excited cheer, making Mrs. Daniels smile as she pulled a folded sheet of paper from the pocket of her linen slacks.

  She unfolded the paper and read the numbers, having to pause after each one while families and friends shrieked and cheered in response. Candidate after candidate climbed down from the stands to form a group under the basketball hoop near the entrance. The members gave each other tearful hugs and whispered among themselves, bonding before the new team had even finished being formed.

  Number 101, I thought with rising desperation. Call my number. 101. Please. I belonged with that group. Dancing was everything to me. Where else would I ever fit in except on the dance team? I would keep practicing every day, twice a day, morning and night. I'd work to be the best dancer they'd ever had. Just give me a chance. Call my number.

  "And finally, the last number is. . . " Mrs. Daniels glanced down at her list. "Number 101. "

  My heart leaped into my throat, cutting off all airflow.

  Mrs. Daniels frowned down at her list. "I'm terribly sorry, that number should have been ninety-one. Number nine-one. "

  I froze, staring at Mrs. Daniels, willing her to take it back even as someone else screamed with joy and ran forward to take the last spot on the team.

  My spot.

  In total, stunned horror, I stared at number ninety-one as the bouncy, tearful blonde joined the team. I knew that girl; we were in the same pre-drill class together. Bethany Brookes.

  I turned to Nanna. "Tell me she didn't call my number first, then change her mind. "

  "Yes, she did. I'm going to go make her double-check that list. " Nanna marched over to speak with Mrs. Daniels, but I couldn't bear to watch. I couldn't take my gaze off the happy group of girls. Next year's Charmers. A team I wasn't good enough to be on.

  Nanna returned, her furious expression all the answer I needed.

  I had to get out of here. I rushed out of the gym, pushing through the crowd already trickling into the foyer. I could feel those prickles of awareness once again telling me someone was watching me. Probably Nanna. Or maybe a stranger. Had the tears already started before I could get to our car? Were people in the crowd pitying the sad loser as I made my way through? I couldn't tell. I couldn't feel any part of my body now beyond the burning of my lungs.

  I reached the car, lurching into the oven of a backseat for some reason. Only when I'd laid down on the warm charcoal-colored upholstery and covered my face with a folded arm did I let go.

  Someone else was in my dream with me later that night. As soon as I saw him, the dream changed, the colors and edges around things sharpening, becoming more like a waking memory instead of a fuzzy dream.

  Oh, no. Not him. I could not take another of these too-realistic dreams about invisible barriers between myself and Tristan Coleman.

  But it was him. This time, he was stretched out on a patch of short grass in the bright moonlight. A yard somewhere. Trees, maybe some kind of forest, formed a dark and peaceful backdrop behind him. But definitely a dream location, because even at night, East Texas in May was muggy and stifling. Yet here the air was cool and light against my skin.

  Tristan looked incredibly good,
though he wore just a gray T-shirt and black sweats, nothing special or dressy. It had never been his looks that drew me, though. That was the problem with him. If Tristan had been just another pretty boy, I could've ignored his entire existence. Our school had plenty of those to crush on. But I'd never cared much about how a guy looked.

  Except this one.

  I liked to think I wasn't stupid. It had to be some inner rebellion thing on a subconscious level that I had going on. I just wanted him because he was off-limits. Right? That had to be why my heart insisted on racing every time someone mentioned his name, why I continued to look forward to algebra class. And why my dumb subconscious insisted on torturing me with these dreams about him.

  Well, I wasn't that stupid. No matter how realistic and vivid it seemed, I knew this was a dream. A very unwelcome dream, especially after the day I'd just had. But still a dream.

  Usually in these dreams, I wound up kicking and screaming at the invisible barrier between us, and he ignored my existence. This time, I wasn't in the mood to play along.

  So I sat down, drew up my knees to my chest, tugged my oversize T-shirt over my bare legs, then rested my cheek on them. Maybe if I accepted in my dreams that Tristan wasn't meant for me, I'd finally stop dreaming about him.

  That would be nice. Seeing him at school always hurt more after nights like these. It would be a huge relief not to feel this yearning in the pit of my stomach and chest anymore.

  I closed my eyes, intending to ignore him. But after a minute, my eyelids crept open again. Maybe just one last peek at him. After all, it was only here in my dreams that I could safely stare at him without his knowing it.

  Except this time. . . he stared back at me.

  Maybe he was just looking in my general direction.

  I met his gaze, and his eyes widened. Holy crap. Nope, he was looking right at me. He'd never looked at me in my dreams before, not even once. But he was now, and. . .

  And I was wearing nothing but a T-shirt and underwear.

  Maybe trying to confront my dreams about him had forced my subconscious mind to react with more drastic measures. Like morphing my dreams into a new take on the "in my underwear at school" nightmare.

  I pulled my T-shirt down farther. I should look away from him, too. But I couldn't, because he was staring back at me, his green gaze unblinking as he rolled to sit up.

  Of course he'd be graceful even in that one small movement. Everything Jacksonville's golden prince did was perfect. Oh, well, at least my imagination had gotten the details right.

  Like the way his honey-blond hair curled over his ears and at the nape of his neck, stopping just short of brushing the collar of his shirt. And the way his sleeves stretched around his biceps. I sighed and laid my cheek on top of my knees again, giving in to the temptation to stare at him. Maybe my subconscious knew just what I'd needed today, after all.

  He stood up in one fluid movement, making my heart trip at the base of my throat. He approached me, his steps cautious. But no barrier stopped him. Ah, a good dream.

  And so detailed. As he stood before me, towering above me, our bare toes almost touching in the grass, I noticed for the first time the veins running along the backs of his hands. He held out one of those hands as if to help me up.

  I laughed and shook my head. Even if it was a dream, no way was I going to stand up until my subconscious gave me some pants to wear.

  "Then I guess I'll have to come to you. " He sat down beside me, facing me as he mimicked my pose and wrapped his arms around his bent knees.

  Amazing. He even sounded right. I had a better memory than I'd given myself credit for. His voice held exactly the right amount of rumbling deepness. And just like in real life, he sounded as if he was trying not to laugh at me.

  Well, I was the one in my underwear here.

  "Why do you keep staring at me? Aren't you going to say something?" I blurted out. This dream was getting a little ridiculous. Who fantasized about a boy sitting there staring at them? Shouldn't that be more in the first-date nightmare category? Not that I'd know about first dates from personal experience, seeing as how I'd never been on any.

  His thick eyebrows shot up. "What should I say?"

  "Oh, I don't know. But if this is a dream, it could at least be interesting. " Where were my pants already?

  He chuckled, tempting me to smile. "You're a lot more talkative than usual. "

  I shrugged. "It's my dream. Shouldn't I be allowed to say what I think and feel?"

  "I thought this was my dream. "

  "Great. So even in my dream, you have to be cocky. "

  "Cocky? Look who's talking, Miss Nothing-but-a-T-shirt and-Attitude. "

  "Yeah, you'd think since I know it's a dream, I could fix that. "

  He grinned. "Oh, I don't know, it's not a bad look on you. "

  "Mmm, a compliment. Finally. I thought players gave those out a lot more often. " I returned his grin. "Quick, say some thing else nice. " My toes scrunched down in the grass. I could get used to having this kind of dream.

  "Bossy. "

  I had to laugh. "I said say something nice. "

  It was his turn to laugh now. "You didn't want the truth?"

  Hmm, good point. "No, actually, a large dose of truth would be lovely right now. But maybe with a touch less rudeness. "

  "Had a bad day?" His smile faded.

  "You can say that again. " I sighed and yanked up a piece of grass. "My life would've been a lot easier to handle lately if everyone had just told me the truth all my life. At least then I could have grown up knowing. . . things, and be better prepared for them, you know?"

  "Okay, so we'll stick with the truth, then, if that'll make your day better. "

  "Yes, please," I breathed out on a sigh.

  "Why don't you make eye contact with anyone at school?"

  My head popped up, and I instinctively turned my face away. "I didn't mean I wanted to play Truth or Dare. "

  "Chicken?"

  "No. " I met his gaze and discovered I couldn't breathe. When he grinned at me like that, with the laughter shining in his eyes. . . it was almost too much, the feelings too intense to handle. Like he could see my every thought and emotion.

  "That's better," he murmured. "So tell me about your day. "

  "I'd rather not think about it, to be honest. Tell me about yours instead. You looked like yours was much better. " I waved a hand at the spot where he'd been lying and looking so peaceful a few minutes before.

  "Yeah, it was pretty good. Which is a surprise, since it was training with my dad. "

  "Training. . . for football?"

  The smile melted out of his eyes first, then from his mouth. He gave a short, stiff nod.

  "So tell me why it made you happy. " I didn't want my subconscious to turn this into an uncomfortable dream.

  It was his turn to pluck a blade of grass and play with it. "Oh, I don't know. I guess it was just cool that I could have fun hanging out with my dad. He always used to sort of scare me. But lately we've become almost like friends. "

  "I've seen pictures of your dad in the newspaper. He does look a little scary with that beard. Kind of like a big polar bear. "

  Tristan laughed with me. "Yeah, exactly. But it turns out he's pretty funny. Like how protective he is of my mom and sister and does all this stuff to keep them safe, and they don't even know it. So he's playing the big bad undercover bodyguard because he thinks they're so fragile, and yet he has to be sneaky while he's doing it because he's afraid they'll find out and get mad. "

  That really made me laugh. "You men always think women are weak and need to be protected. "

  "Aren't you?" Smirking, he reached out and brushed my toes with a piece of grass.

  I sucked in a breath and jerked my feet in closer. Oh, no, he remembered how ticklish I was. Though saying I was ticklish was a major understatement.

  "Hmm, still ticklish? There yo
u go, a sure sign you're a fragile female in need of protection. Can't even stand a little piece of grass on your toes. "

  He tickled me again, forcing sharp laughter out of me. I swatted at his hands. Laughing, he captured both my hands with one of his and continued tickling my toes with the other. I wanted to focus on the warmth of his hand on mine, the thrilling strength in those fingers, but that blade of grass couldn't be ignored.

  Out of reflex, my feet pulled in then shot out to try and avoid his merciless attack. My heels thwacked against his right shin.

  "Oh, sorry!" I yanked my feet back in as I reached out to pull up the elastic cuff of his sweats. "Ouch. It's already turning blue. "

  He grinned and rubbed his shin. "No worries, it's just a dream, right? Besides, it was worth it. "

  "Why?"

  "It got you to bare your legs for a few seconds. "

  I gasped, and heat flooded my cheeks.

  Tristan

  I was still laughing at her when I woke up in the backyard.

  I lay there for a few seconds, grinning like an idiot. I'd done it. I'd dream connected with Savannah. And all I'd had to do to avoid Mom's spell was fall asleep in the backyard again.

  My parents would kill me if they found out.

  That wiped the grin off my face. With a sigh, I rolled to sit up. Okay, so I'd pushed the rules a bit. But couldn't a guy have a little bit of fun every now and then? I'd been good for weeks. I'd kept my distance from Savannnah. I'd even tried dating some other girls. But none of them were quite like her.

  Savannah would think last night had been just a dream, so what would it hurt? She'd wake up clueless that we'd actually connected in our dreams. And I'd woken up feeling better than I had in years. . .

  . . . with a monster-size bruise growing on my shin.

  Savannah

  I woke up Sunday morning with a smile. One that faded too soon, along with last night's dream about Tristan, to be replaced by the memory of my failure to make the Charmers team yesterday.

  Too bad I couldn't bottle up the peace and contentment I'd felt with Tristan in my dream and carry it around with me in real life. I felt anything but peaceful or content all day long. By the time Dad called that evening for his weekly check-in, I had to fight to keep my tone polite. He was the absolute last person I wanted to speak to right now.

  "Savannah, you sound. . . upset. "

  I glared at the popcorn ceiling over my bed. "I tried out for my high school's dance team yesterday. "

  "And?" He drew the word out like a man attempting to verbally defuse a bomb. Which was perfect, considering how I wanted to explode with fury right now.

  "And I wasn't good enough. So I guess your council will be thrilled. " Part of me was shocked at myself. I'd never spoken so rudely to him in my life.

  "While I realize it is not what you want to hear right now, that really is for the best. "

  My jaw dropped, and my eyes burned for a few seconds while I tried to find a response. But I couldn't. Why couldn't he be a loving father, normal, caring about my feelings instead of what his council wanted all the time? Like that father at the auditions. Again I saw that man walk into the gym, intent on doing battle to make his daughter happy. And then the image froze in my mind. Something about that man. . . something was off.

  Wait. That was it.

  May in East Texas averaged in the low nineties with eighty percent humidity. No man would've been able to wear a full suit like that without sweating at least a little. That guy hadn't, though. His hands had been ice-cold, just like Dad's always were. Even if he'd just come from an air-conditioned car, the parking lot was too far from the foyer doors. That man would have already warmed up by the time I ran into him.

  "Trust me, Savannah. What I said about the council is the truth. It is better that you do not dance, or play any sports, either. One day you will thank me. "

  Distracted, I frowned at the ceiling, seeing the man's face again. His eyes. . . hadn't they been that same weird shade of silver like both Dad's and my eyes turned? "You make the council sound all-powerful or something. "

  "They are powerful. Extremely so. "

  A horrible, crazy idea formed, and the words slipped out before I could reconsider asking. "Powerful enough to send someone to talk to a few judges at a dance audition?" I expected him to laugh and tell me how ridiculous that was.

  Instead, the silence stretched on and on.

  I sat up with a jerk, nauseous, my head swimming. Oh, no. No way was I that important to a bunch of immortal vampires I'd never even met, no matter what I might or might not be turning into. I'd assumed the man was there to convince the judges to let someone on the team. Not to keep someone off it.

  "You told me once that you'd never lie to me, Dad. So tell me the truth now. Your council wouldn't do something like that, would they?"

  He didn't reply.

  "Dad?" I gripped the phone tighter, making the plastic creak in protest. "Did they?"

  "I did warn you that they would step in if you forced them to. "

  Fury raced through me, quick and hot. "I can't believe this! You didn't even try to tell them that I could control myself, did you? Why didn't you tell them that I would be careful, that I could learn to blend in?"

  "The council are very cautious, Savannah. They do not like any threats to the secrecy of our world, and they are not tolerant of risk. There was nothing I could say to convince them that you might learn to control your abilities well enough to blend in with the humans on a dance team. "

  I took a deep breath and tried to rein in my anger. But I couldn't remove the edge from my voice. "Did you even try to convince them?"

  "You must understand, my reports are not in verbal form. They simply read my mind. Sometimes they allow me to verbally add information to help interpret those images and memories. But they feel that what they read from others' minds is the purest, most objective and truthful form of reporting possible. They saw how your dancing stood out from your classmates' at the recital, and the risk was high enough that they made their decision. You are not to dance either with your school dance team, on any other dance team or at any dance studio. "

  I gritted my teeth. "And if I keep taking dance classes at Miss Catherine's anyways?"

  Silence filled the phone for a minute that seemed to stretch into thirty before he replied. "That would be very unwise. Both for your own safety, as well as your family's. "

  My mouth fell open. "Are you saying. . . "

  "I am saying that they are determined. That nothing is allowed to risk the exposure of our world. And that they will do anything-and I do mean anything-that is necessary to protect the secrecy of that world. "

  Holy crap. They would actually threaten my entire family. Just to keep me from dancing. This went way beyond paranoia.

  "So may I please have your promise that you will abstain from any further extracurricular physical activities?"

  "Uhh. . . " Shock made my thoughts fuzzy. "I have to finish out the year in pre-drill class. It counts for my P. E. credit. "

  "And school ends in two weeks?"

  I managed a grunt of agreement.

  "Does this pre-drill class require any additional public performances?"

  I shook my head then realized he couldn't see it. "No. "

  "That should be permissible, then. They only want to avoid public displays of your growing abilities. However, you must try very hard to hide your talents even in class before your peers. We do not want them to begin to question you, either. "

  Unbelievable. This was ridiculous.

  Another silence filled the phone before Dad sighed. "Savannah. . . I still have not heard you promise me that you will stop dancing after school ends. "

  Shock gave way to fury again. This man on the phone with me wasn't my father; he was just a spy for the council sent to do their bidding, calling for updates on how I was changing. He didn't care about me. Why should I
care about him or help him do his job?

  And yet, I couldn't endanger my real family, either.

  Grinding my back teeth, I took a deep breath then let it out. "Fine. Yes, Michael, I promise, no more dancing. Or anything else that involves public displays of my abilities. Will that make your council happy?"

  "Yes. I believe it will. But since when did you start calling me by my first name?"

  "When you stopped being my dad. Then again, you never really were, were you? So tell your council that I'll obey their rules. But if they want reports on how I'm doing, they'll have to settle for getting them from Nanna or Mom. Because I don't want to talk to you anymore. "

  I hung up the phone, my whole body shaking. And then I burst into tears.

  A few minutes later, Mom called on her way home from a meeting with a customer. "Did you just tell your father that you refuse to speak to him ever again?"

  "Yes. "

  "Hon, I know you're upset about giving up dancing for the council, but-"

  "No, not for the council, Mom. For you and Nanna. They threatened you guys, and he passed on the message for them! A real dad would never do that. He's not my father anymore. He's just some guy who helped create me, then spent the last fifteen years spying on me. "

  "That's not true. We don't know exactly what's going on with the council. We have to trust that your father is trying to do what's best for you and our family. "

  I seriously doubted that. "Fine, whatever. But that doesn't mean I have to talk to him. "

  She sighed. "You can't just cut your father out of your life-"

  "Watch me. "

  "The council-"

  "I'm giving up everything I wanted because of that council! And from now on, that's all they're getting from me. "

  Silence filled the phone. "Fine. I'll start passing on the updates to him while you cool off. "

  But I didn't think I would be getting over this anytime soon. He'd hurt me way too many times, and I just couldn't take it anymore. Cutting him out of my life today hurt. But it was also freeing, like throwing off a heavy backpack I'd carried around for way too long.

  I went out to the backyard to dance in the dark where no one but the moon and stars could see me. It might have been childish, but it was either dance or sit in my bedroom and scream. At least the council couldn't stop me from doing this.

  Slowly, I spun in a circle and stared up at the stars. But even that couldn't distract me from the two thoughts that kept echoing through my mind. . .

  I'd just agreed to no more dancing. Ever.

  How would I ever fit in at JHS now?

 
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MELISSA DARNELL SERIES:

  • The Clann
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