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Your Heart

“Is Lena really still out?” Autumn looked worriedly around the packed lunch room. It had been almost a week since they’d seen her. Ty swallowed and wiped his mouth.

“The flu sticks around a while,” he said. “Nothing to get worked up about.”

Autumn shook her head.

“You know what Kara’s like more than any of us,” she told him. “How can you be so sure it’s just the flu?”

He rolled his eyes.

“Look, since they moved here, Kara’s either drunk or who-knows-where,” he got up and threw his tray away. “I really don’t think she’s much of a threat anymore.”

“Well, yeah, but,” she trailed off. Was she really getting herself worked up over nothing? “But Lena hasn’t answered my calls or texts in days. How do you explain that?”

“Maybe she left her phone in her locker,” Lance offered as he and Chad sat across from them. As usual, Chad’s food was already half-gone. “Or she’s just tired of you bugging her.”

Autumn ran a finger along the edge of her metal lunch box, the same pink and white flowers she’d used since sixth grade.

“Can you blame me?” she asked. Ty rubbed the back of his head.

“Well, you do like getting carried away,” he said, and Chad nodded in agreement. She huffed, pulling her next breath through her teeth when she saw the angry red scratches on Jason’s cheek, as he dropped in the chair beside her.

“Damn,” Chad laughed. “What happened to you?”

“Chelsea’s cat,” he took a plastic container from his backpack. “She knows I’m allergic, but she keeps bringing the damn thing around.”

Autumn snickered.

“He probably wouldn’t scratch you if your face didn’t scare him so much,” she said. “Would it really kill you to smile more?”

He didn’t answer, his salad more of a pile of broken lettuce leaves with baby carrots and cherry tomatoes thrown on top. Lance pushed his tray aside and cleared his throat.

“So, uh, how’s Lena doing?”

Jason tapped his fork on the rim of the container.

“I don’t really know,” he admitted slowly. “I’ve just given her what she’s missed and then…left.”

Lance and Ty groaned, Chad facepalming.

“Are you serious?” he looked incredulous. “You can’t just leave her hanging like that!”

“Well, what do you expect me to do?” Jason shot back. “It’s not like I can—”

“Lena’s not gonna do what Emily did,” Lance said firmly. “You have to let that go already!”

Jason stuttered.

“It’s not—!” he grit his teeth, then lowered his voice. “It’s not like that.”

“Then what is it, Jason?” Autumn questioned tersely. “Is it because of your—”

She snapped her mouth shut when he glared at her, then his shoulders slumped.

“She’s been through too much already,” he sounded defeated. “I don’t want her crying over me.”

He tensed when a shadow stood over him, accompanied by a mocking laugh.

“You really think someone would waste their time crying over you?”

Jason looked over his shoulder, his eyes narrowed in disgust. The guy’s dark hair was slicked back, and there was a cold, arrogant glint in his dark blue gaze. His gleaming white smile widened.

“Hey there, cuz,” false pleasantry leaked through his easy Italian accent.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Jason demanded. The man laughed again.

“That any way to talk to family?”

Jason snorted.

“You’re not family,” he returned sharply. The oily grin wilted slightly.

“You’re never gonna let that go, are you?”

“Just tell me what you’re doing here,” Jason’s tone didn’t change. The guy’s smile faded.

“My parents said it’d be good for me to live here a while.”

“Why?” Jason copied his earlier smirk. “They have to bail your ass out too many times?”

The man scowled, then stalked off. Jason scoffed, turning back to the table.

“Great,” he muttered angrily.

“Who was that?” Ty asked.

“My cousin, Gabriele; I’ve got some bad history with him,” he continued. “I don’t really want to talk about it.”

He tossed his fork in the container and snapped on the lid, stuffing it in his backpack as he got to his feet.

“I’ve got some stuff to do, catch up with you guys later.”

Lena groaned, leaning her pulsing head against the back of the couch. Her throat was itchy, dry and sore from coughing, her nose rubbed raw from blowing it every five minutes. She’d dragged the big trash can from the kitchen after Kara had left, the bag filled with most of the box of tissues on the coffee table. As much as she hated being sick, it was still better than dealing with all the insane drama at school.

She looked at the piles of half-finished chemistry and algebra homework and the books stacked next to them, her biggest problem over the past week. It was bad enough she barely understood most of it, but she’d become obsessed with figuring out what Jason was really hiding. There was something under the emotional and physical scars she had found, but what could it be? She groaned again, ready to tear out her hair when the doorbell rang.

Her head spun as she got up, her eyes watering as she looked through the peephole. Jason was waiting restlessly on the porch, messing with the zipper of his dark leather jacket as he glanced up and down the street, another blue folder tucked under his arm. Lena smiled to herself as she opened the door, thinking it would be fun to try getting a rise out of him. She crossed her arms and leaned against the frame.

“So is this gonna be any different, or are you just gonna hand me the crap and leave like you usually do?”

He winced, his braces catching the late winter sunlight.

“I’ve…had stuff to do,” he offered weakly. She snorted.

“Like working in your piss-pot uncle’s garage?”

Anger flashed through his eyes.

“What’s with you?” he snapped. “I know you’ve been stuck here all week, but don’t take it out on me!”

She shrugged.

“I don’t have anyone else to take it out on,” she countered smoothly. “So why shouldn’t it be you?”

He stared at her, the anger fading as quickly as it had shown up.

“What’s this really about?” he asked. “I doubt staying home’s got you this pissed.”

She shivered in a gust of wind and pulled him inside, shutting the door behind him.

“Okay, so I’m exhausted,” she half-heartedly covered a yawn. “This is the first day I haven’t been puking almost nonstop and I’ve barely slept all week.”

She looked in the living room. The stacks of paper seemed even bigger than before.

“I’m not getting any of this,” she went on. “And Kara took my phone because she found out my grades are in the toilet.”

He blinked.

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

She scoffed.

“You didn’t really give me a chance,” she lowered her head, a thread of fear coming into her voice. “And I didn’t want to give Stephanie another reason to hate me.”

She was surprised when he chuckled, then he tilted her chin back, a small smirk still on his lips.

“She’s not here now, though, is she?”

Lena let the pencil fall from her fingers. The work she’d been struggling with for days, done in three and a half hours! She turned to Jason, smiling excitedly.

“Who are you, and what did you do with Jason?”

He laughed.

“They’ve always been my best subjects,” he shrugged. “I never really thought about it.”

She giggled, scooting closer to him.

“So is there anything else you’re hiding from me?”

The grin faded from his face, and he looked almost relieved when the front door clicked shut. Kara walked into the living room, stopping short when she saw them.

“Lena, who’s this?”

He stood, straightening his jacket.

“I’m a friend from school,” he went over and shook her hand. “I’m Jason Vetra.”

She looked past him, lifting a finely plucked brow.

“Jason, I’m sorry, but am I interrupting something?”

He put his hand in his pocket.

“I was just helping Lena with the work she’s missed.”

“Oh, should I let you get back to it?”

“We just finished,” he glanced at the fine silver watch on her wrist. “And there’s somewhere else I have to be soon.”

She smiled, turning to Lena.

“There’s something we have to talk about, but it can wait until you two are done.”

She went to the kitchen, setting her purse on the counter. Lena grabbed the small blanket draped over the back of the couch and wrapped it around her shoulders. She followed Jason outside, sneezing into the crook of her arm.

“You sure you should be out here?” he asked worriedly, an icy breeze blowing through their hair. She sniffled, pulling the blanket more tightly around herself.

“I had to get away from her,” she muttered. He looked at her in confusion.

“Why? She seemed okay to me.”

She shook her head.

“Believe me, it’s an act,” her fingers tightened on the edge of the blanket. He touched her arm, and she knew he could feel her shaking.

“You won’t be stuck with her forever,” he assured her. “You’ll be on your own soon, and then you’ll never have to look back.”

She shrugged his hand off.

“Why does it feel like you’re trying to give me a pep talk?” she glared half-heartedly at him. He chuckled.

“You looked like you needed one.”

He went stiff when his phone vibrated.

“Hey, I have to go,” he brushed her cheek. “Just make sure you’re better by next Sunday, okay?”

She looked at him.


He flashed a mysterious smile, then winked at her.

“You’ll see.”

She blushed, watching as he climbed in his truck, and she threw up a brief wave. Her heart raced when he waved back before taking off. She sighed dreamily.

Why do I like him so much?

The quarter moon glowed behind a sheet of fog and sleet. He hurried through the woods, his pants and boots soaked from splashing through the half-frozen puddles that dotted the narrow path. The wind was blowing hard, knocking the bare branches above him together. He stopped when he reached the wide river, the current too fast for ice to form. The rotting planks and fraying rope that made up the decrepit bridge creaked, threatening to break with each careful step. The echoes stayed in his ears long after he had crossed, but it did nothing to silence the thoughts whirling through his mind.

You can’t do this, he told himself. You can’t betray them like this!

He knew it didn’t matter which team he chose to play for, either one would mean the death of someone he cared about. They had made sure there was no getting out of that.

There still has to be something I can do, he thought helplessly. Maybe if I—

“Are you gonna look up any time soon?”

He flushed. Anya stood across from him, her arms folded, a light smirk on her cherry-red lips. He chuckled weakly; he’d made it to the clearing without even noticing.

“I’d go blind if I stared at you too long,” he said, and she laughed.

“I hope that’s a compliment.”

He chuckled again, following her inside the small hut. As usual, a line of needles sat ready on a steel tray, a black medical cooler sitting on the floor next to the stand. They hadn’t needed the blood or fluids yet, but he was glad she kept them on hand. He pulled off his jacket and hung it on a broken pipe near the close ceiling, then sat on a tall stool as termite-eaten as the thin walls.

“Well, let’s get started.”

She nodded, her hands shaking a bit as she pushed up his shirt, and he knew she was staring at his scars when she paused. The smell of the new sterilizing compound burned his nose as she held a small cotton pad to the narrow mouth of a gray bottle; some scientists had expressed concerns that normal rubbing alcohol would affect the potency of the serums. Considering what was in some of them, he wouldn’t be surprised.

She wiped down the injection site, grabbed the first syringe and pulled off the clouded plastic cap. It was probably a trick of the sharp, single light overhead, but he could have sworn the liquid inside changed from muddy brown to a deep red.

He groaned in pain as the tip of the long needle pierced his spine. The effects were immediate—his body trembled and rocked with violent spasms, his veins swelling as the mixture coursed through his blood. Her frightened gasp echoed from miles away, her grip on his shoulder sending out waves of pain as she tried to keep him still for the second injection.

“I’m sorry I have to do this!”

He tore at his face, every inch of his body burning, his ragged screams getting caught in his throat as a leg snapped on the stool. Every nerve shrieked when he caught himself on his hands; he stared helplessly at her through sweat-soaked hair, shaking as he fought to get the words out.

“Please, t-tell me it’s over…”

Anya choked, taking the other four needles from the tray.

“If I don’t give you all of them, they’ll kill us.”

He clenched his jaw, barely holding back another scream. The pain came in jagged pulses, flaring with every pound of his racing heart.

“I already…feel like I’m dying,” he forced the words out, his throat tight. “J-Just do it!”

She administered them as fast as she could. It felt like every cell was being ripped to pieces, his vision blurring as tears pooled on the worn, splintering floor. At long last, the fits faded, and he breathed a faint, relieved sigh as he finally collapsed, the howling wind outside blowing into cold, empty silence.

Lena rubbed her eyes. The clock on the mantlepiece was caught in a shaft of light from the lamppost by the sidewalk; it was going on midnight. The tapping that had woken her up started again—what if it woke Kara? Her phone vibrated on the floor; had she knocked it off the coffee table in her sleep? There was a text from Autumn, asking to meet her on the porch. There was something big they had to talk about.

Well, I’m awake, she messaged back, saying she’d be out in a second. Might as well see what she wants.

She tiptoed to the front door, flicked on the outside light and looked through the peephole. A shivering girl stood outside, tendrils of auburn hair tumbling from her hood.

“Autumn?” Lena unlocked the door and pulled it open, wincing when the hinges squeaked. She called again when the girl didn’t answer, then stepped outside. A strong hand clamped fast across her mouth, another grabbing her waist. The other girl lifted her head, showing her face was painted like a skeleton’s, her lips curled in a wide, cruel smile. The rest of her hair was stark black.

“Keep holding her,” she whispered loudly, then dug two large, looped cable ties from the front pocket of her baggy sweatshirt. “I’ll take care of the rest.”

Lena grabbed her captor’s hand with both of hers, hoping she could free her mouth long enough to scream. They tightened their grip and shoved a knee in her back, knocking the breath out of her. The girl grabbed her wrists and bound them, then moved to her ankles, gleefully snickering.

“Let’s get going,” she hissed when she finished. “I don’t want anyone seeing us.”

Lena squirmed, trying to kick as her feet left the ground; she grunted as she was thrown over a hard, thick shoulder, her captor’s hand remaining firmly over her mouth. They brought her to a black car parked in front of the empty house next door, throwing her in the back before getting in themselves. The girl adjusted the rearview mirror, glaring at her with such hatred that Lena was amazed she didn’t burst into flames.

“Put her out,” she started the engine and pulled away from the curb. “And make sure I can’t see her ugly face.”

The other person laughed, forcing her head back toward them; she caught glimpses of their face in every passing streetlight, painted like a red dragon. They parted their fingers and shoved a thin straw past her lips, flashing a dark, arrogant smirk.

“Be a good girl and drink it all,” they said quietly, menacingly. “Or else.”

Lena gulped down the warm, salty water as fast as she could, choking on the last few sips. They laughed, propping her against their side, their hot breath hitting her ear as the bottle fell to the floor.

“Hope you’re ready,” they whispered. “Because you and I are about to have a lot of fun.”

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