“Thanks for that update, James,” Patrice Holmes, one of our local TV reporters, thanks and the screen flashes back to the newsroom. “And, in other news, Idaho state police have just issued a statement that they will be issuing a reward to anyone who comes forward with information leading to the arrest of any local drug dealers. Last month, a new drug that has been referred to as ‘Frenzy’ hit the streets and, in the short span of time it has been available, has been the cause of many crimes. Anyone with any information leading to the manufacturers of this drug or the locations in which it can be purchased are being urged to come forward. More news still to come once we return from this short break.”
I turn off the television, stretching out on the recliner as I let out a yawn. I have been blankly staring at the screen for the past three hours hoping that something interesting would come on and now there is a chance that my legs have fused together, forever stuck in the crossed position.
Katrena called a half hour ago to see if I wanted to join her and Alyssa for a movie but I turned her down based off the fact that it would require my having to put on real clothes.
Most kids my age would jump at the opportunity to roam the town without adult supervision on a Saturday night, but I promised my mother I would remain indoor tonight while she works late and I am currently trying to stay on her good side.
She has gotten herself so wrapped up in this Frenzy case that she has managed to convince herself that I will fall victim to it simply by leaving the house. I don’t know what has changed about the case to make her so paranoid, mostly because she removed that file from her office and hasn’t brought it back home yet, but she seems to think I am at risk the second I leave the house.
I hate to break it to her but, drug or no drug, I am going to turn into a violent psychopath within the next few months anyway.
My chest tightens, suddenly heavy as lead, as I enter the kitchen and I grab a butcher knife from the cutting block, spinning towards the back door. Even though it is closed I let out a yelp, my mind taking a few seconds to realize that it knows the person sitting on my counter.
Axel looks beyond heavenly in his white shirt, grey sweats, and dark jacket. His hair is an unbrushed mess and he runs his fingers through it, smirking at me playfully.
Despite the fact that I see him on a daily basis, the last time being yesterday after school when he kissed me before running off, my heart still speeds up like crazy whenever he is around.
“I have been thinking a lot lately about this whole us not being friends thing,” he announces calmly, seeming unbothered by the fact that I am holding a giant knife. “And I am thinking that maybe I was wrong when I decided against it.”
I slide the knife back into its rightful place. “And you decided that the best way to offer up your friendship was by breaking into my house? How did you even get in?”
“The back door. Is it still considered a crime if it was unlocked and I just walked in? I have committed so many crimes that I simply can’t remember.”
“How long have you been sitting there?”
“How long were you planning on sitting there?”
“I was undecided. I was decided whether I should leave and knock on the front door or leave and go home.”
“So, naturally, you sat in here until I came in so you could scare the hell out of me?”
He smiles. “Naturally.”
“Do you break into my house often?”
“No, this is actually my first time. I went around back because I wasn’t sure if your mother was here and, as much as I enjoy Cassandra and I’s little chats, I wasn’t in the mood for one. Then I noticed the back door was unlocked and figured I would just let myself in.”
I roll myself. “Like any other person would?”
I could have sworn I made it a point to lock that door after taking the trash out, but I guess it slipped my mind. “What happened to needing me to stay far away from you and your family and you needing to stay away from me? Well, I mean, except for when you’re punching people in the face for insulting me or kissing me in parking lots? It is not like I am any less dangerous now than I was a few weeks ago.”
“You’re right, but the tea does seem to be helping with your outbursts and that temper. Speaking of which-” He taps on the glass jar sitting next to him. “-I made you some more, which is my original reason for coming here. It’s a double batch, one I would have finished sooner, but I am working on something else right too. Did you really not hear me pull up? You must have been more into the news that I thought.”
I place the jar in the cabinet next to the almost empty one. “I kind of zoned out for a bit. Thank you, by the way. So, friends, huh?”
“I figured it might be worth a try. You see, no matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to keep myself away from you and I am tired of arguing with myself. Alyssa and my mother have tons of faith in you, so why shouldn’t I? I mean, you literally just found a few weeks ago what you are and it’s not fair of me to blame you for that. Speaking of that, my mother’s friend, I think her name is Michelle or something, lives down in El Paso and she said she thinks she might know someone who can help you put a leash on your crazy Reaper side when you come of age. Supposedly this chick heard of some Reaper who lives across the border in Ciudad Juarez that has been rumored to have been living a few towns over from a fairly large Nexxus community but has never tried to attack them. In fact, apparently, this guy actually visits them on the regular to make sure he doesn’t go too long without having to deal with his own nature.”
I am bouncing on my toes at this point. “Did you, did you just say your mother knows someone who might know someone who can help? Why didn’t you start with that? This is by far the best news I have gotten all week! Do you know what this means, Axel? Do you? This means that I might not have to spend the rest of my life alone on some deserted island.”
Axel laughs loudly, almost falling off the counter. “Is that your new master plan, relocate to some island in the middle of nowhere by yourself?”
“It beats the hell out of the alternative. If there are no Nexxus around then I don’t have worry about being tempted to kill them. I mean, worst case scenario I end up going crazy but I have kind of already accepted the fact that that was bound to happen. Hell, I accepted that fact long before this whole Reaper thing, back when I thought my dad’s possible genetic craziness would get me. I did consider college in the middle of nowhere but what if a Nexxus passes through town? I don’t want to risk being in a situation where I might kill someone.”
“True. Um, Eveline-” He motions to the length of me, that heart-stopping smirk of his growing wider. “What are you wearing?”
I glance down, blushing when I remember that my plans of remaining indoors all night also involved a pineapple print onesie. “This? What, have you never seen a pair of footed pajamas before?”
“Not on anyone over the age of four.” He hops off the counter, his fingers grazing over mine as he brushes past me and leans in. “I preferred the ones you wore the night you showed up in my backyard.”
“Come on, we’re going out.”
I follow him out of the kitchen and into the living room. “Where?”
“It’s a surprise.” He opens my front door, tapping his foot impatiently. “Now, get dressed. Or stay in that. I don’t care.”
Completely abandoning my plans and the promise I made my mother, I rush to my room and change into an oversized sweater and a pair of leggings. Were this not the person currently playing yo-yo with my emotions, I might try to make myself more presentable, but there is a good chance that this night will end with him telling me to stay away from him again and I don’t feel like makeup is needed for that.
I climb into the passenger’s seat of his car and he looks me over, frowning a bit. “No more pineapples?”
“Shut up and go before I change my mind.”
Heat blasts through the vents as we speed past houses and towards the edge of town. We have barely passed the ‘Thanks for visiting McCall’ sign when Axel pulls over onto the side of the road, cutting the engine and flashing me a sinful smirk.
He opens the door to my side of the car, extending a hand to me. “Don’t worry, I didn’t bring you out here to murder you.”
“I actually wasn’t worried about that until right this minute.” I take his hand and he links our fingers together. A combination of anger and excitement rushes through me and I try to focus only on the good parts, refusing to let my natural instincts ruin whatever is going on here. I also stop myself from telling Axel that I usually don’t hold my friend’s hands this way because, quite frankly, his skin his warm and I enjoy the way it feels against mine. “I wish you would have warned me that it was freezing outside and maybe I would have rethought my choice of sweaters. Wasn’t it just boiling hot this afternoon?”
He chuckles, nodding his head as he slips out of his jacket so that he can drape it over my shoulder. No sooner have I shoved my hand through the long arms does he retake it, guiding me into the woods.
“So, um, where are we going? Because I know you said you weren’t planning on murdering me, but I am pretty sure I saw a movie where this happens and I am pretty sure she ended up skinless.”
“You’ll see. What, you don’t trust me?”
“Would you blame me if I said no? You did once trick your sister into using her crazy Nexxus powers to make me pass out so that you could kidnap me and duct tape me to a chair.”
His body shakes with silent laughter. “You have a point. I said sorry for that, didn’t I?”
“You gave me a fruit basket, lots of them.”
We wander deeper into the woods, silent and with our hands clasped together. The trees begin to thin out and Axel releases my hand, jogging forward into the cleared out section we have just entered.
He turns towards me and I sight, the spark of danger that flickers in his eyes. “Want to see something cool?”
He raises his hands so that they are level with his sides, his eyes closed tightly in concentration.
The ground below us begins to rumble and my Reaper side flares to life, angry and demanding. I shove it away, watching in awe as tall trees come tearing out of the soil around us and shoot up towards the sky. White flowers blossom off their wavy branches, their petals hanging low around us.
He opes his eyes, his smile genuine as he surveys his masterpiece. His left hand twitches and his fingers begin to move. Roots wriggle free from the ground, twisting and curling around themselves until they have molded themselves into a nature-made bench.
“Holy. Shit.” I am in a literal state of awe. “Axel, this is-”
“Amazing? Indescribable? Completely badass?” he suggests, taking a seat on his newly formed bench. “Not the manliest of talents but still a cool one to have? All of these are acceptable answers, so long as the word ‘cute’ is not uttered.”
“Completely badass,” I confirm, laughing a bit.
Here he is, this amazing person able to do this amazing thing, and his biggest fear is that I might find it cute instead of breathtaking.
He pats the empty space next to him and I hesitantly ease myself down, savoring the heat coming from him. I lean back, eyes tilted upwards towards the sky. From here we have an unobstructed view of the constellations above.
Why is this so perfect? Why is he so perfect?
A heavy silence falls on us and, even though I want to, I don’t speak because I am always ruining things with words and this feels like the kind of moment that ends too quickly, so I want to savor it while I can.
Axel is the first to speak. “Are you scared?”
“Of becoming a Reaper?” he clarifies and I am relieved because I know that I would be honest and let him know that he is single-handedly the most petrifying person I have ever met simply because he makes me feel things I shouldn’t about a person who might never feel the same way about me. “I have known my entire life what I was, what I can do, and what I would become. I was told the good and bad things that came with being Nexxus. I knew what risks there were and what things to avoid. I knew that, when I turned eighteen, I would have the support I needed to get by. But you? You’ve been in the dark this whole time. You’re still in the dark. My mom can only help so much but, at the end of the day, only an actual Reaper can give you the insights you need. There is so much we could be and probably are missing.”
A shiver runs down my spine and, as it goes with most days, the pressure of the unknown settles onto me. “I’m terrified. Every night I go to sleep hoping that I will wake up to find out that all of this has been a nightmare but every morning is another letdown. Every morning I am still me, I am still clueless, and I another day closer to becoming a monster. Do you think she can do it, Axel? Do you think your mother can find someone who can help me? There has to be a Reaper out there that doesn’t want to kill every Nexxus they meet. There just has to be or else all of them would be extinct by now, right?”
“We aren’t as defenseless as you might think.” He throws an arm over my shoulder, tugging me closer to him even though we both know my shaking has nothing to do with the drop in temperature. “I have never been up against a Reaper but I know enough to hold my own should that ever happen. Your kind may be faster and stronger, but we control the elements themselves. If there were enough of us in one spot, we could cause all sorts of chaos. I could do it on my own. A few well places roots and branches and I would have you on your ass in no time. And Alyssa? She will be hell to take down. Imagine trying to fight someone when you can’t breathe. Our powers only seem harmless to someone who has never had to fight one of us.”
“Hopefully it never comes down to that either, me versus you. I don’t care to know which one of us would win.”
“You know that it won’t come down to that, ever?” He turns to face me. “My mother’s friend is going to get in touch with that Reaper and he is going to be able to help you.”
“It’s weird, being here with you like this and not having you insult me the whole time. I know you’ve been less of a prick since the whole kidnapping things, but you have always barely spoken to me. I keep waiting for you to freak out, accuse me of wanting to kill your whole family, and then attack me with plants.”
A vine slithers up and around my ankle, tugging at me gently. I swat it away, my body shaking as Axel laughs next to me.
He nods. “Yes.”
“You know what I meant.”
“I did.” His eyes capture mine, his stare holding me in place. “It’s so weird.”
“This. Us. Right now. I should be anxious, on edge, having you so close to me but I’m not. Your being here, this close to me, it feels like the most natural thing in the world. I shouldn’t feel like this. I should hate you. I shouldn’t want to be around you. I shouldn’t want you.”
He wants me.
Reaching forward to grip the front of his shirt I pull him to me, claiming his lips for myself. He freezes for a moment, hesitating before kissing me back with a fierceness that leaves me breathless and desperate for more.
Axel groans into the kiss as I nip at his lower lip, gripping my hips tightly so that he can pull me into his lap.
I rock my hips against his, eliciting a groan from him that makes every other sound in this world sound like nails on a chalkboard.
He moves swiftly and, before I have a chance to realize what is happening, my back is pressed against the vine bench and he is above me. His lips are back on mine and my nails are digging into his skin, dragging down his back.
Kill him, something wicked whispers in my mind. Kill him now.
I push him away.
“Is everything okay? Shit, I shouldn’t have done that. I moved too fast, didn’t I?” Axel’s confusion is as clear as day.
Before I have a chance to tell him that he is not to blame for my sudden change in attitude, my phone blares to life in my sweater pocket.
“Shit,” I mumble as I roll off the bench, the name on the screen flashing angrily at me. “Um, hello?”
“Eveline, where are you?” There is something wrong with the tone of my mother’s voice, it’s filled with more worry than usual. “I told you to stay inside tonight. There was an accident in town tonight, the police think it might have to do with Frenzy.”
“I’m fine. Axel stopped by and we decided to take a drive. Don’t worry, I’m perfectly fine. I haven’t even been gone that long. We will head back now.”
“You’re with Axel? Good. I need to speak to both of you when you get here. We have som-”
The sound of breaking glass causes her to stop mid-sentence and the line fuzzes a bit, like the call might drop.
“Mom? Hello? Mom?”
She begins to scream.