Desert Fire

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My knuckles ache. I can barely move my arms, but I keep pounding my fists into Cadmar’s ribs. Around each sob, I swing at him, but he doesn’t stop me. He stands with his arms crossed over his chest, unmoving. I’m not hurting him at all, but taking my anger and pain out on him feels pretty damn good. My tears are like hot acid running down my cheeks. I scream incoherent obscenities until my throat closes up. Then I just blubber. Kay stands to the side, clutching her lower abdomen, watching this whole charade with sadness all over her face, but she doesn’t try to stop me either. She should probably be sitting in the Jeep, but I guess she couldn’t help herself when we both got out.

After at least ten minutes of this, I look up at him. He isn’t even looking at me. His jaw is tight, the muscle twitching, his eyes gazing over my head, off in the distance. This pisses me off even more, because it’s as if my anger doesn’t even faze him; he doesn’t care. I reach my arm back then swing my hand at his face. He glances down, snatching my wrist out of the air before it can connect with his cheek. And I surrender. I let the sobs consume me, yanking my arm away from him before collapsing on my knees in the dirt.

We’re on the side of an abandoned road on the west end of Salt Lake. The spot where he pulled over in a fit of rage when Conner called. We were finally on our way to the Elites’ database when he got the call. Kay and I listened while he refused to go help Payton. Payton, who is now in the hands of the Elites, who apparently don’t want her dead, because they want her. Whatever that means!

Cadmar crouches down next to me, lifting my chin in his palm. I want to pull away from him, but my body won’t listen to me. “I hate you,” I say around a sob.

His face hardens, nostrils flaring. “I understand.” He lets out a heavy sigh before his face goes slack. “That doesn’t matter right now. We need to go.”

“I don’t want to go anywhere with you,” I scream. “You let them have her. You knew this would happen and you don’t give a shit she’s in trouble. They’re probably going to torture her or do experiments on her or whatever it is they plan to do. You. Don’t. Care.”

His grip tightens on my jaw. I glare at him, challenging him to contradict me. “I don’t have to explain myself to you,” he growls. “You need to pull it together and stop acting like a child.” I try to jerk away from him, but his fingers dig into my chin. I’m furious with him, but he actually looks pissed himself and dangerous. “Payton made her choice and I wasn’t there to protect her. I can’t change that they have her or what they might do to her, until we get her. But we will get her.”

Tears stream down my cheeks, my lip quivering. “They’re going to hurt her,” I sob.

“Right now, she’s unconscious.” He sighs again, dropping his hand. “She’s on a plane and we will be on our way there in the morning. She’ll be okay.”

“You don’t know that.” I shake my head. “And you keep saying she made her choice, but that doesn’t mean she deserves this.”

“I don’t think she deserves any of this, Reiley. I’m angry she chose to go at such a poor time, that I let her go, and that they got her when I wasn’t around.” He pauses, sitting back on his feet. “None of you deserve things the way they are. Which is why we aren’t leaving to go help her yet, because if we can get this done, all of you will be free.”

Before I respond, Kay is there, standing behind Cadmar. The bright moonlight shines on her, showing a light sheen over her ghostly pale skin. He gives her pleading eyes, as if he wants her to help him get out of this conversation. “Reiley,” she says my name in a comforting tone, but there’s pain behind it. “If we get this done, we can go help her. Sitting here on the side of the road is only wasting time.”

I wipe my snot away with my coat sleeve before gazing up at them. I want so bad to take the car and take off for L.A. without them, but I wouldn’t be able to pull it off and I know Kay is right. Obviously Cadmar isn’t going to be swayed, so we may as well do his stupid mission. Then we can go help Payton and, hopefully, get her before the Elites can do anything to her.

I only nod in agreement. Cadmar gets up, holding a hand out to me, but I ignore it, getting myself up. After brushing the dirt off my pants, I march for the car without saying anything to them and they follow behind me. The cold that should have affected me outside on the ground, makes my entire body shiver once I’m sitting in the Jeep. Curling in a ball in the front seat, I rest my forehead against the window. I’m so tired; my body exhausted from yet another tantrum. Today has been the longest day in the history of bad days. I want it to be over.

Cadmar and Kay stand outside the passenger door talking. He has his arms crossed again and Kay is gesturing wildly, pointing at him then pointing at the car. If I’m not mistaken, I would say she’s telling him off. Even in her injured state, she’s strong enough to go toe-to-toe with him. I wish I could hear what they’re saying, but all I hear is Kay’s muffled voice. I want to do a little cheer for her, because it appears she’s holding her own. I’ve never seen her like this before. She’s usually so together and calm, but right now she looks fierce. She looks awesome.

She stops talking when Cadmar pulls his phone out, staring at it. He opens her door, helping her get in before answering the phone. He gets in before I can ask Kay what their conversation was about.

“We’ll be there in fifteen,” he tells whoever is on the phone, while starting the Jeep. The softness in his voice sounds unusual, weird. He pauses, glancing at me. I give him another glare before he pulls the Jeep back onto the road for what feels like the millionth time today. “Yeah, they are,” he continues. “It will be okay.”

He pauses again then sighs. “Yeah, see you there.” He ends the call.

Kay gives him a hard look from the backseat, even though he probably doesn’t see it, but I kinda hope she’s going to chew him out again. “Maybe you should tell us who it is we’re meeting.” She’s beginning to sound winded again, strained, but she continues when he remains silent. “All of these secrets are weighing on us, more than they are you. We deserve truth. We deserve to be included, especially since our only choice is to tag along with you.”

He remains quiet for another minute before letting out a dark chuckle. “I don’t know what we were thinking adopting a bunch of girls,” he says to himself, chuckling some more. “I never did know how to handle girls. I still don’t.” He shakes his head. “You’ll know in a few minutes who it is. I’m not keeping my own secret. She asked that I not say anything.”

His words have a knot forming in my stomach, but I ignore it. “Ugh, cryptic much?” I try growling, but it sounds weak from how scratchy my throat is.

He doesn’t say anything else, making me sigh, shaking my head, before gazing out the window. Mountains tower over us on one side of the road, and tall, grassy fields make up the other side. When he said Salt Lake, I thought he meant in the middle of the city at some building, but we really are in the middle of nowhere, the city lights shining behind us.

After ten minutes of driving down the highway with only a couple cars passing us in the opposite direction, Cadmar slows the Jeep. He turns onto a dirt road I couldn’t see on the mountain side. He speeds down it, even though it’s super bumpy, making my teeth clatter and my butt bounce in my seat. Kay grunts in pain, but doesn’t tell him to slow down or state her discomfort, which makes him a jackass in my book for being so inconsiderate. The road curves, getting closer to the mountain, before leading in to an area surrounded by trees.

A shiny, black bullet bike is parked next to a tree in a clearing ahead. I squint, trying to make out the small figure dressed in all black, leaning against the bike. Even with the killer lights on the Jeep, I’m unable to make out anything, but a feminine shape. Whoever this lady is, she’s already awesome in my book for driving a bike like that.

She faces away from us while Cadmar pulls closer, parking by some trees. Cadmar gets out quickly in order to help Kay out, but it takes me a minute because my body hurts from my lame breakdown. Once we’re out and approaching her, she finally turns around. The Jeep lights shine on her, revealing dark, auburn hair, pale white skin and little freckles scattered over her nose and cheeks.

My hands tingle, my heart pounding when she stares at me. Not at Cadmar or Kay. Only me. Something in me figures it out, but it doesn’t register to my brain, as if it’s trying to reject the truth standing in front of me. Kay gasps, making my gaze jerk to hers, afraid she’s hurt or something, but she’s still staring at the lady.

I have no clue why, but everything seems to move slowly for me when I give her a questioning look, then she glares at Cadmar, which confuses me more. I glance at Cadmar too, who’s giving me a concerned look. Then I gaze back at the lady, who seems to have tears shining in her eyes. All of this passes in seconds while the reality finally settles in my brain, in my bones. My head swivels back to Cadmar, who is still looking at me like I’m a bomb about to go off…and I just might if someone doesn’t say something.

He clears his throat, looking back and forth between the lady and me. “Reiley, this is Rae,” his voice is strained while he shifts his weight from foot to foot. My heartbeat quickens, waiting for him to finish the sentence. “Your mom.”

I knew it was coming, but my head still swings back around to her, my eyes bulging, probably looking a lot like a cartoon character. In retrospect, I should have caught on. With how weird Cadmar was acting about the person helping us. About how I felt whenever he brought her up. And especially the second she turned around. She’s short like me, her skin color, her freckles, all of her, except her hair, looks exactly like me. She’s an older version of me, with bigger boobs. Her bottom lip quivers, but she stays put with her arms hugged around her middle, as if she’s waiting for me to make the first move.

And that’s it. That’s all my mind can handle for the day. My brain shuts down, my legs giving out, making me tip sideways.

“Cadmar!” I hear Kay’s muffled shout, when my world goes black right before I smash into the ground.

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