Playing With Fire

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School Monday morning was unusual. Not that there had been any "normal" days yet. There was still a huge amount of unfamiliarity when it came to the students and classes, but at least I was starting to feel comfortable around my friends. There just seemed to be off moments. For instance, I felt like I was zoning out a lot. More than I'd ever remembered doing. Then, it felt like I was seeing things from a different perspective. I got angry at Nick, and wanted to scream at him to just shut up! And he did. But it was odd. He looked at me for a moment, looking startled, then he was silent, as if in some kind of shock. I'd never actually told him to shut up, so the moment was a bit bazaar.

At least I didn't forget to give Kiera twilight.

But the worst part about the whole day was chemistry. Not just because Mrs. Ringler scared me more than any other teacher, but Jace never showed. He'd been at school every day that I had, and even though Kiera mentioned his selective no-shows, I couldn't help but feel like I might be responsible. The week Edward didn't show at school in 'twilight' was because he couldn't stand her perfect scent, and it messed with his diet. The thought danced in my head. I only let the stupid idea that Jace was gone for the same reasons Edward had been for two seconds before pushing the thought aside and laughing bitterly at myself. This was the real world. There were no vampires, and certainly no reason Jace should have to skip school because of me.

Still, I kept wondering if it had something to do with Saturday evening, when he'd helped Kiera and I. Had we upset him? I couldn't imagine how, but still... Had I said something I shouldn't have? Had my little play -although he'd played along so well- pushed it too far? Was he angry that I'd resorted to pretending he was my boyfriend to get out of trouble? Did he not realize that I was out of options? That if there had been any other way, I would have taken it?

Sydney had ballet practice after school, so I returned home alone. I tried to sit and do my homework, but being alone in the house left me too restless. Slipping into my car, I called Kiera.


"Hi. What were you up to?"

"Noting much. My parents are coming home today, so I'll be leaving in about half an hour to pick them up." She paused. "My dad got my car back. He paid the fine, so she's back!"

Closing the car door, I slouched back in my seat. "That's good."

"Why? What were you doing?"

Nothing. Just sitting alone, not doing my homework, and obsessing over guilt that I might be the reason Jace skipped school. "I was just going to go out, and thought I'd call and see what you were up to," was my answer.

"I wish I could go with you, but duty calls!"

I agreed and we said our goodbyes. Starting the Sunfire, I drove into Fargo. It was dark outside, the sky gray with clouds, and it didn't help to improve my mood. I could feel the wind hissing against my car as I drove against it.

There was no reason in particular for going into the city, but just driving gave my mind something new to think about. I concentrated on the signs, and my speed to keep my thoughts strictly on the road. Even though I knew parking would allow my mind room to think, I stopped in the parking lot of Long John Silver's. A large gas bill wasn't something I needed to worry about right now.

My runners squeaked against the wet pavement as I got out of my car. It was raining. Most of the snow had turned to slush, and it caked the sides of my car. Opening the trunk, I found a red rain coat, and slipped it on, then clutched my purse close as I crossed the lot and entered the restaurant. I chose a two-man table and sat down, then took the time to scan the screens that flashed with different food options, but nothing looked appetizing. Giving up, I sat back and looked out the window and watched the rain streak the glass.

Someone sat across from me, and I jumped instinctively before exhaling in relief.

Eric smiled. "You didn't wait for me," he said.

"Sorry, what?"

He pushed a cup of water toward me. "I was going to pick you up, remember?"

The memory popped up then. Too late, I thought at myself. Nice going. "Oh yeah, sorry. I guess I was just thinking about my homework and it slipped my mind." It sounded better in my head.

Eric chuckled. "Not important enough, am I?" he teased.

I shook my head and took a sip of water. "I really am sorry."

"It's okay," he shrugged. "I managed to run into you anyway." He took a sip of his own drink and took off his jacket.

As much as I felt like being alone, I was glad Eric was here. He kept my mind occupied for the most part. We talked for a while, and walked out of the restaurant together. He mentioned seeing each other again this week, and I nodded, telling myself it was a good thing. That spending time with Eric would make me feel better.

I decided to walk a few blocks, then circle around and come back for my car. Eric got in his 1998 Ford truck, and waved as he drove out of the parking lot and onto the highway.

It got cooler as I walked, and the rain sprung harder. I pulled my rain coat up around my neck, and held it there. My hands helped warm my chin and cheeks a little. The coat must've had a hood, but I guessed it was still in the trunk of the Sunfire. My hair was quickly soaked. It hung in my face, almost as black as the sky was becoming. Droplets slid down my large weighed curls and streaked my face one after the other. Some drops settled on my dark lashes, and my lips soon trembled with cold. I clenched my jaw to keep my teeth from chattering, and turned a corner, hoping it would circle around back to Long John Silver's.

When I finally reached the parking lot, it was completely dark. I looked for my car, and was surprised to see someone peering through the Sunfire's window. It appeared to be a man, and I bit my lip. I was shocked with the pressure of which I bit down, and I yelped. The man's head jerked up, and his bright eyes caught mine. I recognized him instantly. He'd been with Blake that night, and he'd been introduced to Jace as Garret.

Gasping, I stepped back. He held up his hands in an 'I won't hurt you' way. "Wait, don't run," he said.

I froze and stared at him, my hands still clutching my jacket.

"I just want to talk." Garret walked around my car and took a slow step toward me, as if he thought I might bolt. "I don't want to hurt you, Ellamae."

Rain slid through my lips when I opened them. "How do you know my name?" My voice cracked slightly, but I didn't notice.

He went on, ignoring my question and said, "I just want to talk to your boyfriend."

"My... boyfriend?"

Garret nodded, the gesture sending water rushing off his short hair and into his face. "Jace Hawkins. Can you help me get a hold of him?"

Oh, right. He thought I knew Jace on a personal level. "What do you want from him? I asked nervously.

"Just to talk."

I didn't believe him. But the question was: why did he want to find Jace? When we met Garret and Blake, it looked like Jace had never met them. Could he have been pretending? But why? Something didn't add up. What did the two have in common? "I can't help you," I whispered.

He was at me so fast, I had no time to react. His hands gripped my shoulders, and he backed me against another car. "You have to help me!" he demanded, shaking me. "I need to talk to him! I'll tear this whole city apart if I have to!"

The threat he growled so close to my face, I could feel his breath hot against my wet face. I tried to shake loose, but his grip just tightened. His fingers dug into my shoulders, and I knew there would be bruises.

"You're hurting me!" I yelled.

His body crushed mine against the car harder, trapping the arm he let go, and his hand covered my mouth. "Don't you dare scream." he warned.

I whimpered beneath him, so frightened I couldn't think straight.

Garret landed on me, taking me down with him as he fell. I cried out and pulled myself out from under him, and turned around sharply, expecting him to jump at me. But he was laying like stone on the ground, and a long silver iron bar stuck out of his back. I froze into shock.

Something touched my shoulder and I jumped. The girl behind me did the same, almost as if I had scared her. "What did you do to him?" I choked, my voice so quite, I didn't think she heard.

"He'll be okay," she murmured.

I looked up at her. "Who are you?" My fear was up like jaded edges in my mind, and even looking at this small girl, soaked wet by rain, I couldn't push it down.

Her eyes darted back and forth, and her red hair clung to the sides of her oval face. "K-Kristen. My name is Kristen." He eyes suddenly became frightened. "Please don't tell anyone! Don't tell anyone you saw me!" she pleaded, water streaming down her small face.

My throat was clogged, but I managed to nod as I stood up. I noticed that I was about six inches taller than her. "I won't."


Her wide, scared eyes reminded me of Sydney. "I promise," I whispered.

My promise seemed to relax her. She rubbed her hands down her arms, and the gesture brought my senses rushing back. Cold bit my skin, and my teeth instantly started chattering again. "Is there somewhere I could t-take you?" I stuttered. Even thought she had shoved an iron rod in Garret's back, seeing her didn't bring the fear I knew it should have. I should have been terrified, fleeing for my life. But something about her was different. Unusual, and instead of bringing the fear it should have, it brought curiosity. I didn't even understand myself at this moment.

Kristen's eyes locked with mine as she looked up through soaked red hair. "Aren't you scared... of me?" she asked, echoing my debating thoughts.

I sighed and shook my head. "No. You helped me," I murmured.

She studied me, as if she expected me to snap out of it and get in my car, to flee her as quickly as I could.

"I'm not going to run," I told her, motioning toward my car. "Can I take you somewhere, Kristen?"

"Umm." Her hands gripped her sweater, which I could see was soaked through.

"Aren't you cold?" I pressed.

She shook her head. "No. The rain doesn't bother me," she said.

Surprised, I just looked at my car again. The rain didn't bother her? It didn't make her as cold as it made me? "Please, let's get in the car. I'll take you anywhere, as long as we get out of the rain." As much as I didn't want to admit it, I owed her. Just like I owed Jace. Would it never end? Was debt something I would never escape?

Kristen nodded and slipped into the passenger's seat of the Sunfire, and I closed the door behind me on the driver's side. "I don't know if we should leave him there..." I didn't want to go back for him, or do anything for him, but what if I got in trouble? If someone saw Kristen and I leave him?

"Don't worry, he'll wake up and leave soon," she said. "And no one saw us."

I drove out of the parking lot and onto the highway. "How do you know he'll be okay? I mean... you..."

"He'll be fine. Someone did it to me once, and I'm okay."

Her answer confused me. "Someone... stabbed you with an iron bar?"

She nodded, her eyes never meeting mine. "It doesn't hurt. It'll just immobilize him for a few minutes. After that, he'll just be tired."

It didn't hurt? "What do you mean? You stabbed him in the back with a bar!"

Kristen didn't say anything. Her silence only made me more determined to get answers. "Where should I take you?"

"Can you just drop me off at the tracks?"

"The train tracks?"

She nodded.

I drove her to the tracks, and parked just off the road. "Are you sure? This place doesn't have any shelter. You'll be very cold."

"I've been staying here for a few days. I've got a place," she said.

I looked at her doubtfully.

"Tell your boyfriend to be careful." Her words sent ice down my back.

"Why?" How did she know Jace?

She didn't answer.

Finally I asked, "Will I see you again?"

She looked at me, her eyes huge and guarded. "I don't know."

"Well... maybe you can come to my place," I suggested, not willing to let her leave yet.

"No!" she yelped. "I don't want to meet anyone. Please, just don't tell anyone about me. I don't want to talk to anyone. Please Ellamae?"

Shocked, I lapsed into silence. She knew my name. Garret knew my name. How? "I-I-"

"Please," she pleaded, gripping the door handle.

"How do you know my name?" I whispered, repeating the question I'd asked Garret. As if it was some kind of hidden joke, she didn't answer the question either. "If you don't tell me how you know me, I'll tell!" I threatened. I didn't want to do it to her, because I could tell how much it upset her, but my selfish desperation needed to know her answer.

A tear formed in her right eye. "I'll tell you... I promise. Just not now."

"Why not?" Her form curled into itself in the seat, and her eyes stayed glued to her lap. "You don't trust me," I realized out loud. She didn't trust me enough to feel safe letting me know anything that might give herself away, even if it was something I should know.

"When can I see you again?" I asked.

"I'll come to you," Kristen murmured, finally looking up at me. "I promise you Ellamae, I never wanted to hurt you. Just don't hurt me."

"Why would I want to hurt you?" She had saved me a lot of trouble, and whether I should be scared of her or not, I felt something strange about her. And I was determined to find out what it was.

She got out of the car and walked away. She didn't look back, and I watched her until she was out of sight. I never got an answer.

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