Pyro

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Chapter 4

Nineteen Years Ago; September 15th; Parcia; Lord Darylis

I couldn’t stop thinking about her. Even though she had been staying in the Underground for weeks now and I saw her every day, I missed her whenever we weren’t together. I found myself dedicating every moment of my life to her. Everything I did and everything I said was with her in mind. I didn’t exist anymore. She was all that mattered.

In the back of my mind, there was a tiny voice telling me that I should have been doing something, but I could barely hear it now. Instead of trying to listen to it, I ignored it and focused on my one desire: finding Catherine. I wandered the halls of the Underground aimlessly for what felt like hours. Finally, I heard the familiar sound of her laughter and froze, awake in every sense of the word.

“Catherine?!”

The laughter stopped and then, “Daryl?”

I followed the voice into the throne room, where my love was talking to Stefan, my advisor. But I only had eyes for her.

“Darling!” I swooped across the room and grabbed her by the waist before planting a passionate kiss on her lips. “I have never been happier to see you.”

As we embraced, I saw Stefan’s look of disgust over Catherine’s shoulder.

“Why are you so happy? You just saw me an hour ago!”

“I know, but I couldn’t stand being away from you. And I have something very important to ask you.”

“Oh?” She turned to look at Stefan questioningly. “Stefan… Would you mind leaving us alone?”

“Not at all.”

He inclined his head and then swept from the room. Catherine returned her attention to me and touched my cheek, which made my heart stir in my chest.

“What is it, Daryl?”

“I just wanted you to know that you’re my world. I would do anything for you. I love you.”

She looked genuinely touched as she said, “I love you too. Was that all you wanted to say? I expected something more urgent.”

“It is urgent. You needed to know the truth. But that’s not all. I also wanted to ask you if you want to marry me.”

Her mouth fell open in the most beautiful way, almost like a flower opening in springtime. Then she flung her arms around my neck and kissed me. The moment I felt her moist lips against my own, I knew I had won.

“Of course I will marry you!” she said as she kissed my cheek.

I responded by kissing her neck slowly, which she seemed to appreciate. Soon, we had shed our clothes where we stood. There, on the floor of the throne room, we consummated our love.


Modern Day; Cleveland, Ohio; Melissa

“I think I’m actually starting to get Calculus,” I said triumphantly as I finished writing out the answer to the last homework problem in my notebook.

“That’s fantastic,” Willow said with a winning smile. “You deserve a prize for all of the hard work you’ve been putting in.”

“A prize? I just expected you to high five me.”

“Yeah, I know. I just happen to be the best tutor ever.”

I had to laugh at him because he was so cute, sitting there in the grass with his smile and his dark hair.

“What did you have in mind?”

“I, er, was wondering…” He avoided making eye contact with me as he put his books away, which made me think that something was about to happen. “Would you like to get coffee with me on Friday night?”

My stomach dropped.

What? What does this mean? Does this mean what I think it means? It can’t possibly. How could he ever feel for me what I feel for him? I just don’t see how it’s possible. He’s so wonderful. He’s too wonderful. And I’m just me.

“What?”

Oh, God. Did I actually say that? I sound so stupid.

“Do you want to get coffee on Friday night?”

“With you?”

“I mean…” He smirked. “It was my idea, so I’d like to be present.”

“Obviously you would be there. I’m an idiot. So just the two of us? On Friday night?”

“Yeah. I could pick you up around seven.”

“Alright. That sounds good to me.”

That sounds FANTASTIC to me!

“Cool.”

“Want to walk me home?”

He nodded and we grabbed our bags to leave the tree. We walked in silence for a few minutes, but it wasn’t awkward at all. I was still digesting the fact that we would be spending time together on Friday night alone without talking about math. Just thinking about that scenario made me physically sweat in excitement and anticipation.

“I really enjoy spending time with you,” he said to me when we reached my front door.

I turned around to face him, with my sweaty hand clutching the doorknob behind me.

“I really enjoy spending time with you too. I can’t wait until Friday.”

He smiled (my heart jumped) and said, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“See ya.”

I went into my house and froze in the doorway for about ten minutes. I had to close my eyes and focus before I remembered how to breathe normally. Willow had that kind of effect on me. He was worse than asthma. I was standing there for so long that when Amber called my name from the kitchen, I realized that she was probably wondering if she had just imagined hearing me come inside.

I slowly walked into the kitchen – I felt like I was floating – and hovered over her, where she was sitting at the kitchen table reading through recipes. She looked up at me curiously, obviously aware of the fact that I was not currently sane.

“What’s up, Sweetie?”

“He asked me out. I think he asked me out. Amber, I don’t know what to do!”

She stood up and grabbed me by the arms excitedly.

“I knew this would happen! What did you say?”

“I think I said yes. I don’t know, though, because I feel like I may have blacked out. I’m really not thinking straight right now.”

“I know the feeling. I really do. I just haven’t felt it in a while. Here, have a seat.” She pulled out a chair for me and grabbed a plate of lemon bars from the refrigerator to set between us. “Eat something. You’ll remember how to function if you eat.”

“Thanks. You’re the best. Really.”

I took a bite of a lemon bar and closed my eyes as the sweetly sour flavor overwhelmed me and distracted my brain for a few seconds. Then it all came back.

I can’t believe this. I really can’t believe this. What is going on? What is happening to me? Everything is changing. Everything seems so different to me now.

“You know what else might help? Calling your best friend.”

I stared at her for a moment before I dug around in my bag for my cell phone. Cierra was exactly the person I needed to talk to. She picked up after the phone rang twice.

“Hello?”

“Cierra! I can’t believe this. Willow just asked me out!”

I could hear her laugh on the other end.

“I know! He just told me.”

“Oh… He’s home already?”

“Yeah. We, er, don’t live far from you. Listen, I’m really glad that you said yes, but I have to go now. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Yeah, okay. Bye.”

That night, I did my homework and then dreamed the sweetest of dreams.

The rest of the week flew by and when I woke up on Friday, excitement and anxiety flowed through my veins. I jumped out of bed – something I didn’t normally do – and walked into the bathroom to wash my face. After turning on the light, I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and then got a good look at myself. I screamed.

I was surrounded by fire. All I could see were flames dancing around me on all sides, licking at my face and my body without burning. Trying to move as little as possible, I stood there breathing heavily and staring into the fire.

The bathroom door flew open and as it did, the fire disappeared. Amber was left standing there and looking at me in concern as I trembled with fear.

“What’s happening to me?” I said quietly, sinking down to sit on the floor.

“I don’t know, Honey.” She knelt down beside me and wrapped her arms around me in a cocoon of motherly love. “Whatever is happening, we’re going to find out why. You shouldn’t have to question everything in your life. It’s just not fair. You’re a teenage girl. You have enough on your plate.”

She kissed me and then went downstairs to make me breakfast – I was on a hiatus from cooking for the time being.

At least it was Friday. I didn’t look forward to the weekends as much as a normal kid might, but now that I had friends and a social life, I appreciated them a lot more. As usual, Willow was on my mind all day. I kept wondering what we would talk about when we got coffee. Would it be awkward? Would it be wonderful, like I hoped it would be?

I went straight to the diner after school to get in a few hours of work before meeting up with Willow. At six o’clock, I grabbed my bag and ran for the hills. I could hear Amber laughing at me as I went out the door and clumsily ran home. I had almost reached the house when I saw Beth walking down the sidewalk towards me.

“Why in such a hurry, Melissa?” she said.

“A boy. That’s all you need to know,” I said breathlessly before I unlocked the door and threw myself into the house.

I took a ten minute shower during which I washed only the most important parts – pits, tits, and ass – and shaved my legs. Then I spent the next twenty minutes trying to figure out what the fuck I should wear. I finally settled on a green turtleneck and jeans with my favorite pair of clogs.

“Oh my God. I look like a librarian,” I said to my reflection.

“I think you look really cute.”

I turned around and saw Amber standing in the doorway.

“I didn’t know you were coming home now.”

“I just wanted to come see you off. You are my little girl, you know.”

“I’m not so little anymore,” I said, and I suddenly hated myself for saying it.

“Oh, Melissa.” She pulled me into her arms and gave me a tight hug. “I’m so proud of you. I could not be prouder of the woman you have become.”

“I love you, Amber.”

“I love you too. Now, since I’m here and you’re going out, I have this fun face cream I want you to try out.”

“I knew you had an ulterior motive.”

“I made it myself.”

Amber loved to experiment and so whenever she got a chance to have someone use her products, she didn’t hesitate. She covered my face in the cold green crème and beamed at the finished product as she washed my face off a few minutes later.

“What’s this one supposed to do?” I asked as I dried my face with a towel.

“Remove excess oil from your skin. Temporarily, of course. It would be a miracle if it was permanent…”

The doorbell rang. Amber gave a little shout and I fell off of my bed, where I had been sitting.

“I’ll get it!” she said after giving me a look that conveyed her excitement.

I adjusted my appearance as quickly as I could and took a deep breath to give myself courage before I left the room. I felt like I was going to die or throw up. When I got to the top of the stairs, I saw that Willow was standing at the bottom of them, talking to Amber. He looked up at me when I appeared and Amber trailed off in the middle of her sentence.

“Hi,” said Willow.

“Hi,” I said back, walking down to him.

I saw that he was wearing a nice collared shirt, nice jeans, and loafers. His shirt was open at the collar, which showed the pale skin of his neck and made my heart beat faster.

“Are you ready to go?”

“Yes.”

“Have fun, you two,” Amber said.

We said goodbye and Willow walked me outside to a small black car. He politely opened my door for me and then got in the driver’s side.

“I didn’t know you had a car,” I said.

He didn’t say anything, but switched on the radio. He smiled and turned the volume dial up as “Livin’ on a Prayer” played.

“Yeah! I love this song. Do you like this song?”

“Yeah.”

“Sing it!”

He turned up the volume more and then started to sing along in a loud voice. He didn’t have the greatest voice, but neither did I, so I joined in.

“Oooooh! We’re halfway there! Whoooaaa! Livin’ on a prayer! Take my hand –” He reached out his hand to me and I gave him mine. I could barely breathe when he linked our fingers together. “– and we’ll make it I swear! Whoooaaa! Livin’ on a prayer!”

I was grinning like an idiot at the end of the song. He looked pretty happy too, I was glad to see. I still wasn’t quite sure what this was. Was it actually a date or was it a friend thing? Willow pulled into a parking lot a few songs later and I looked up at the place in front of us. There was a chalkboard on the sidewalk that had all of the day’s specials written in different colored chalk. Above the door was a neon sign that read Tandy’s Toffee and Coffee.

“This is cute! I didn’t even know this place existed,” I said.

“Yeah, it’s pretty cool,” Willow said as he climbed out of the car. “Cierra and I discovered it when we were exploring one day. The toffee is made in the shop right in front of you and the coffee is really good, too.”

We walked inside – after he opened the car door and the coffee shop door for me – and stepped up to the counter. I forgot to look at the menu while we were standing there because I was distracted by the live music that was being performed on a little stage in the corner of the shop.

“You take it on the run, baby. If that’s the way you want it, baby, then I don’t want you around,” the man sang in a melancholy voice, strumming his guitar.

He had a nice voice and I was mesmerized by the way he handled himself so nonchalantly, as if there weren’t forty people watching him. I couldn’t even handle myself when Willow was the only one watching me. Why did I have to be so awkward all the time? And on top of the awkwardness, I also set things on fire from time to time and read people’s minds. What a great combination.

“And for you?”

I didn’t realize the cashier was talking to me until Willow elbowed me in the ribs and I whirled around, startled.

“Oh, uh, I’ll have the same thing.”

“Alright. Two café mochas coming right up. Your total is 8.19.”

Willow reached for his wallet, but I flung out a hand to stop him.

“Wait! I can pay for mine!”

He smirked at me and said, “Of course I’m not going to let you do that. You deserve to be pampered for once.”

“What? Me?”

“Yes, you,” he said after he had paid. We walked over to an empty table against the wall and sat down. “You work so hard all the time.”

“I guess that’s true.”

We watched the singer until our order was ready, and then Willow went to fetch the drinks.

“Here you go.”

He handed me mine and I smiled in thanks. He was being so nice that I could barely stand it.

“So, how do you like Cleveland?” I asked.

“I like it. It has a lot of character. It’s definitely different from what I’m used to.”

“What are you used to? I mean… What was Iceland like? I’ve never been abroad, so I have no idea.”

He hesitated for a minute before saying, “I love Iceland. It’s so peaceful there. Everyone is very nice. We eat a lot of seafood and we have a really nice view, but other than that, it’s not much different from any other place. I mean, there are really cool things like the Hot Springs and the midnight sun.”

“Oh yeah. What’s the midnight sun like? That’s when the sun is always shining, right?”

“Yeah. It’s because of how close Iceland is to the Arctic Circle. You get used to it after living there for so long. What’s really weird, though, is when it’s always dark out. The electric bills really go up then.”

We laughed. I took a sip of my café mocha, which was scalding, yet delicious.

“I bet!”

“It’s cool, though. I don’t mind it at all. What about you? What do you like about Cleveland?”

“Well, I’ve lived here all my life, so I don’t have much reference, but I love it. It’s my home, after all. We have the Indians stadium, if you’re into baseball. Then there’s the Cavaliers. And the Rock ’n Roll Hall of Fame. I’ve been there so many times. Also, you have to make sure you go into Marc’s, which is the most convenient of convenience stores. They have anything you could ever possibly need. Amber and I go there for groceries and we always leave with more than we plan on getting.”

He laughed and said, “I hate when that happens!”

“We don’t! But that’s because it usually means we got extra potato chips and cookies for our movie nights.”

“Movie nights! That sounds like fun.”

“Yeah, every Friday night Amber and I watch movies together. It’s a long-standing tradition. I was probably five when we first started doing it.”

“And what’s the choice for tonight?”

“I don’t know, actually! Amber’s picking and she likes to surprise me when it’s her turn.”

“It seems to me like the two of you are more like best friends than anything else.”

“I wouldn’t say that. We get on each other’s nerves a lot. But I love her to death. She’s my mom. It’s always just been us, so we have to stick together.”

“I don’t mean to pry, but…”

“Where’s my father?” He nodded and took a sip of his drink. “I have no idea. He just up and vanished one day. Amber didn’t even get a chance to tell him she was pregnant.”

Willow frowned.

“That’s weird! I’m sorry.”

“I know. It’s okay.”

“No it’s not.” I was surprised by the forcefulness with which he said this. “I just think you deserve better. You’ve been through a lot. First the thing with your dad, then the thing with you having no friends. I just don’t understand it. I mean… You? You’re so cool.”

I choked on my coffee.

“What? Me? What are you talking about?”

“You heard me. I think you’re cool. You’re really smart and funny.”

“And yet, I have to be tutored…”

“In one subject. And I’m pretty sure you don’t need me anymore. You’ve been doing so well.”

“I guess. But how am I funny?”

“You always make me laugh.”

We smiled at each other. The butterflies in my stomach were spinning around at such a high speed that it felt more like there was an amusement park inside of my stomach and they were riding the craziest roller coaster.

“Well, I think you’re awesome, Willow. You’re really smart and funny too.”

“Thanks.” He shrugged. “I try.”

“You succeed.”

I took a sip of coffee as he laughed. The singer was now performing “Dead or Alive,” which I thought was funny, considering we had been singing along to a Bon Jovi song in the car. He looked at me at the same time that I looked at him and we laughed.

I turned my attention to the singer, watching him as he played his guitar and sang at the same time, a feat that I envied and knew I could never manage. I could keep a beat, but was mostly tone deaf. I was sitting there like that, facing the stage, when something warm covered my hand. I looked over and saw that the warm thing was Willow’s hand and a strange jolt of energy went through my body.

What? I thought, since it was such a weird feeling. What is about to happen? Something is clearly happening.

I looked into Willow’s brown eyes and he smiled at me. The energy got even stronger and I found myself standing up abruptly.

“I’m sorry! I have to go to the bathroom,” I said.

He nodded, but as I walked away, I could tell that he was disappointed.

As soon as I was safe inside the bathroom, I breathed a long sigh of relief. I still felt like something was going to happen, but if it did happen, I didn’t want it to be in front of Willow. I didn’t want him to think I was a freak. That was a good word for me, too.

“Calm down, Melissa,” I said to myself, leaning against the bathroom counter and staring into the sink. I didn’t look into the mirror in case I saw what I had seen last time. “You need to calm down.”

I had never felt so afraid of anything before, but the thing with the fire was really starting to freak me out. I didn’t feel safe around myself anymore and I definitely didn’t think anyone else was safe from me.

All I had to do was think about Willow, to relive the moment in which he touched my hand, and it happened. My whole body heated up, from my head to my toes, and then my whole body was surrounded by fire. When I looked up into the mirror, it was difficult for me to avoid screaming as I beheld the fiery monster that was me. It didn’t hurt, of course. That would make too much sense. I just felt warmth, as if a large fleece blanket had been draped around me and I had been made to drink hot chocolate. I recoiled into the corner and slid down the wall to fold into a ball, sobbing into my knees. It was pathetic, but I felt pathetic in this moment.

Oh God, Oh God, please let it stop.

And, as it always did eventually, the fire obeyed me.

Wiping the tears from my eyes, I slowly got to my feet. In the mirror, I saw that my face had already gone red. There was no way I could hide that, so I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to make up some excuse. The thought of returning to Willow scared the shit out of me, but I knew I had to.

When I walked out of the bathroom, Willow instantly looked up from his café mocha. He frowned when I came closer and he saw my face.

“Are you okay, Melissa?”

“I… Don’t feel well. I’m really sorry, but I think I should go home. I don’t want to make you sick.”

Or set you on fire.

“Especially since you’ve been so nice to me. This has been lovely.”

“I’m sorry!”

He jumped up and we walked outside together.

“I’m sorry to cut this short.”

“Don’t apologize for not feeling well. There’s nothing you can do to control that.”

On the drive home, neither of us sang along to any songs. I could feel guilt sinking into my system. I had really put a damper on our evening together and I couldn’t even explain why. That was what hurt me the most. I wanted to tell Willow everything, but I just couldn’t. I didn’t even want to think about the fact that I might be a dangerous mutant.

Beth was sitting on her front porch reading a book when we pulled into the driveway. We waved at each other and I put on a fake smile to satisfy her. Then I turned back to my house with a look of discomfort.

“Is there anything I can do?” Willow asked as we walked to the door. “I can bring you soup or something.”

“No. No. Thank you, though. I don’t think I should eat anything for a while.”

He put his head in his hands.

“She’s going to blame me for this. You were perfectly fine an hour ago.”

“No she won’t! Don’t be ridiculous.” I put my hands on his shoulders and looked him in the eye. “You were a perfect gentleman. You did everything right. I’ll see you at school on Monday.”

“Let me at least walk you all the way to the door! I want her to know that I didn’t just abandon you.”

I rang the doorbell and Amber answered the door less than a minute later. She clearly had been sitting in the living room waiting for me to get back.

“Melissa! I didn’t expect you back for at least another hour!”

“I don’t feel well,” I said, “so I asked him to take me home.”

Amber looked between my look of discomfort and Willow’s look of desperation before putting her arm around me and bringing me inside.

“Have a good night, Willow,” she said.

“Bye!” I called.

“Bye,” he said sadly, closing the storm door.

Amber sat me down next to her on the couch and rubbed my arm comfortingly.

“What happened, Honey?”

“The fire happened, Amber,” I said, breaking out into blubbery sobs. “Everything was perfect and then the fire happened.”

“How did it happen? Did Willow see?”

“No! I went to the bathroom when I could feel it coming. But it was right after Willow grabbed my hand and so he’s probably going to think that I’m not that into him since I made up an excuse to leave after he touched me.”

“Oh, Honey…”

I can’t really say more to that because she’s probably right.

I cried even harder when Amber’s thoughts floated through my head. She held me tight against her and kissed my head, rocking me slowly.

“It’s going to be alright, Melissa. We’ll figure this out. You’ll go on another date with him after we figure out how to control the fire.”

“But what if he doesn’t want to go on another date with me?! What if I scared him off? What if this fire ruins everything?”

“Oh, Honey. Don’t say that.”

But my words stayed there, lingering like an elephant in the room. Together, Amber and I watched Notting Hill and then I went up to my room, desperate for some alone time. There was only so much I could take of people, sometimes.

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