Playing With Fire

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DISSATISFIED

Jace didn't say another word as he drove us out of Fargo and into Dilworth. In nervousness and relief of escaping Blake and Garret with as much finesse as we had, Kiera and myself remained just as quiet.

I guessed Kiera was just as surprised as I was that Jace found her house so fast, but she didn't ask any questions. She just crawled out of the back after I moved, and whispered, "That was lucky. Call me when you get home." I nodded and watched her go inside before getting back in the car.

Silently, Jace backed the Mustang out of Kiera's driveway and pushed in the gas, the car making the only sound -a deep rev- as it surged forward on the highway. My surprise was increased to a small burst of fear when he pulled up in my driveway. How did he know where I lived? The next thing I did was lean forward and study the house. All the lights were out, so I would just have to explain why I wasn't at Kiera's place in the morning. I'd just tell him that after watching a movie at her place, I came home.

I wanted to just leave. It wouldn't have been so awkward, but Jace deserved more and I knew it. He had saved my butt, and I shivered at the thought of what could have happened, had he not showed up and played the part. But I surprised myself with what came out. "Tiger?"

A shadow of a smile appeared on his face, but it was gone so fast, like a fire that had been lit and extinguished all in the same moment. He didn't turn toward me; his eyes stayed set ahead. "You like it?" he asked.

No specific words came to mind. I wanted to say no, but was it the truth?

He took my silence for an answer. "Good. It stays."

Sighing, I licked my lips and readied my hand on the door handle. "Thanks," I murmured.

His eyes flickered toward me briefly. They were dark, the kind of eyes that held secrets. And past that, dangerous. He turned back toward the windshield. "You owe me," he said. "One day I'll come to collect it."

The words chilled me, sending a shiver down my spine. Opening the door, I got out and closed it behind me. I looked at him through the windshield once more before he backed the Mustang out and sped it out of sight.

As silently as I could manage, I slipped inside the house and tiptoed upstairs to my room. I changed into my cameo and shorts and crawled into bed. Only when I'd pulled the cover over my legs did I let my mind take over. Jace. He had saved me. But the question still remained: why? In the last few days I'd known him, he'd done nothing to help me. In fact, just the opposite. I'd felt like he'd been doing everything in his power to cause me nothing but trouble. He'd laughed at me and ignored me when I needed his help. But tonight... Something changed. He had played along. I didn't understand his actions, but some part of me wanted to learn more. There was also a part that told me, stop. Don't let him close. Something isn't right. But my stubborn side overrode the sensible one. I needed to know why he had done what he had. And I needed to know more about him. Uncovering his secrets seemed risky, but the fire to do so flared inside me so wildly, I didn't have room to think about the trouble I might get myself into.

The door creaked open, and Sydney appeared. She closed it behind her and came to stand at my bedside. "Hi Ellie," she whispered. "Daddy told me to sleep a long time ago, but I heard you come in. Can I stay here for a little while? I had a bad dream."

I nodded and helped her into the bed. "Want to talk about it?"

She bobbed her head slightly and snuggled closer to me. "It was about Mommy. She died."

It broke my heart to hear it from her. I didn't remember our mother, but Sydney still felt loss. But she was only six. At one, she couldn't have possibly remembered anything of Evelyn. But she still seemed to yearn for a mother, and deep down inside, I knew I did too. I put my arm around her and rubbed her shoulder.

"But then you came on Daddy's motorcycle," she whispered. Her shoulders shook slightly and her breathing became slightly uneven. "And you... died too."

A tight feeling clogged my throat, and I had to fight through it to get my voice out. "That won't happen," I murmured.

"What if it does?" she asked, looking up at me. "Will you leave me like Mom?"

"No," I reassured her as gently as I could. "That won't ever happen."

She looked at me with large blue-gold eyes. "Promise?"

Promising I wouldn't leave her was something I didn't know if I could keep, but I couldn't let her live in fear of losing me. "I promise I'll always be with you, in your heart no matter what happens," I said, stroking her cheek.

My promise seemed to reassure her. She rested her head against me and was soon asleep. I reached around her and took my cell phone off the night table.

I called Kiera.

"Hello? Ella, is that you?" came her voice from the other end of the line, sounding frantic.

Keeping my voice as quite as possible, I answered, "Yeah, it's me."

"Thank goodness!" she exhaled hard. "I was starting to wonder if that freakshow kidnapped you and hauled you off to Neverland!"

"Freakshow?"

"Hawkins."

"Jace."

"Who cares? He's a whack-job if you ask me. Hawkins, Jace, freakshow, all the same person."

I rolled my eyes. "Well, he didn't. I'm home. I was just talking with Sydney."

"Well at least I know he didn't abduct you."

"Why on earth would he do that?" Even though I asked the question, I knew I was just as worried about his strange behaviour as she was. He had always given me the shivers.

"Who knows? Why does he randomly skip class? Why doesn't he date any of the idiotic girls that are always swooning over him? Why does he do anything?" Kiera muttered.

"He saved our butts tonight." I reminded her. "Give him a little credit."

She sighed into the phone. "Yeah, I know. But I still don't trust him! He's about as strange as they come! And it doesn't help that he's so addictively hot."

"What?"

"Well I'm not going to lie!" she defended herself. "The guy's good looking. But that's about the only thing that's good about him!"

I shook my head. "Muhm."

That was the first night I dreamt of him.

It came in three colours. Black, grey, and white. Shivers simmered down my spine, and my hairs stood on end. Someone rapped their arms around my neck. I could feel their breath in my ear.

"Tiger," he whispered, his voice almost as perfect as it was in real life. I blinked, and for some reason, all fear vanished. Nothing that he'd done mattered. I leaned back against him, and breathed in his minty smell.

"Ellamae, you're smiling. That's five."

I jumped forward and spun around. Eric smiled at me, and I frowned as the minty scent vanished. Not good enough. Dissatisfied.

I woke with a start and sighed heavily. Sydney was still in my bed, but she was now by my side, curled against me. I swung my legs off the bed and covered her in the blanket before stepping into the bathroom.

As I went through the motions of washing my face and brushing my hair, I decided it would be good to spend time with Sydney. I hadn't done much with her, and doing something together might be a good idea.

She woke when I shook her shoulder gently. "Do you want to do something today?" I asked, sitting on the bed next to her.

Opening her eyes completely, she smiled up at me. "Yeah. We should to the library," she said. "There are always really good movies there, and then we could go somewhere for lunch. Wouldn't that be fun, Ellie?"

I smiled. "Sure, we can do that. Let's get dressed, and then we can go."

She nodded excitedly and jumped off the bed. I watched her leave the room before calling Tarry. I told him what I would be doing with Sydney, then I grabbed some clothes and put them on.

Sydney was clearly pleased that I'd decided to spend the day with her. She talked and laughed while we drove the library. However, when we arrived, she became very quite as she looked through the movies and some of the books. When she was satisfied, she handed me the book and movie she wanted, and I used her library card to get them for her. After, we drove to a small coffee shop. Although she used her big eyes to persuade me, I refused to let her have any coffee. Instead, I got us a few doughnuts to share.

"So, do you like school?" I asked her, ripping a part of my doughnut off.

She shrugged. "I guess so. It's more fun being with you though." I watched her stuff half her doughnut in her mouth, and she giggled at my expression.

"Don't choke," I warned her.

It took her a few minutes, but she managed to swallow successfully. "You have pretty eyes," she said, catching me off guard.

I blinked. "Thanks. Yours are very pretty too. I like the blue," I told her.

"Yeah, but I like yours more because they are all gold." She took a bite of the other half of her doughnut. "Ellie?"

"Hmm?"

"Why doesn't anyone else we know have gold eyes?"

The question took me a while to process. I didn't have a good answer. "I don't know," I admitted. "I guess we're just special."

Sydney tipped her head to the side. "Mommy had gold eyes too."

"She did?"

"Yup. There are pictures at home of her." She licked her fingers. "She was really pretty, just like you."

A few minutes later, we headed home. Before we were out of Fargo, Sydney complained that she needed a washroom, so I pulled over at the gas station, and went inside with her.

"You go to the bathroom, and I'll buy us some candy, sound good?"

Her smile spread across her face instantly. "Yes! I'll be right back!"

When she was gone, I bent down and sifted through the candy rack, looking for something we could share. There were quite a few kinds, and I found myself torn between a little tray of chocolate, and a small bag of Maynard Fuzzy Peaches.

"I'd say Fuzzy Peaches, but I'm thinking chocolate."

I spun around and nearly dropped the tray of chocolate. It crushed between myself and Eric. "Aggh," I groaned. "Well looks like I'm buying the chocolate," I stated, holding up the crushed box.

Eric laughed. "Sorry. I didn't realize I'd scare you so easily."

"Well now you know," I snapped, then sighed. "Sorry. I didn't mean to be rude," I murmured reluctantly. It wasn't his fault I got so focused on the candy that I didn't notice him come up.

"No problem," he shrugged. "It was my fault anyway. I deserved it." He took the box from my hand and approached the till.

"What are you doing?"

Eric paid for the chocolate, then passed it to me. "Buying you chocolate."

I couldn't help myself. "Why?"

"Because I crushed it, so it's only fair that you get it free."

I smiled and said, "Thanks."

Sydney rushed toward us and looked at the box. "What happened?" she squeaked.

"I crushed it," Eric told her. When she gave him a dirty look, he added, "By mistake. Sorry."

"Who are you?" she asked, eyeing him and stepping closer to me.

"This is Eric," I told her.

She almost glared at him. "Are we still going to have this chocolate?"

A laugh almost escaped me, but I managed to swallow it. "Yes. Eric is leaving, and we're going home."

Eric nodded. "Yeah, I'll go." He turned to me briefly. "Want to go for a walk after school tomorrow?"

"..."

"I'll pick you up." He waved and exited the building.

"Eric?" Sydney looked up at me. "Do you like him, Ellie?"

I smiled. "He's nice."

She gave me an unsure look. "Maybe, but I don't know if I like him."

"Why not?"

She looked at the box in my hand. "He squished our chocolate."

I laughed. Her thoughts were so innocent, and I loved her view. She only needed to see the crunched chocolate box to be convinced he wasn't perfect. I liked that. And I also liked that she was about as sold on him as I was. I liked Eric, but I was still unsure around him. Lifting the chocolate box to my face, I shook it slightly. "He did, didn't he?"


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