Playing With Fire

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I parked the Sunfire in the driveway and killed the engine. Apparently Sydney had a birthday party to be at, which I only found out about when I got to the elementary school. She skipped up to my window and smiled before telling me. She said Tarry knew about it, and I quickly phoned him to be sure before leaving the school.

Pushing my keys into the front pocket of my jeans, I dropped my bag off in my room and headed downstairs to salvage something to eat. I found lasagna in the fridge, and heated it up in the microwave, then sat down at the table.

Tarry's truck sounded loud next to the silence when he drove up. I turned in my chair as he came through the door.

"You're back early?"

He shrugged off his jacket and came into the kitchen. "Yeah, I got off a little early because we finished framing a house. The boss figured it didn't pay to start a new job today, so he sent us home."

I nodded and scooped another up mouthful. "Want some?" I asked, gesturing to the lasagna on the counter.

"Sure." He sat down and watched me dish some out onto a clean plate.

"Hey, so a few friends and I are going to the theater tonight. Is that okay?" I didn't want to ask him, but I tacked the question on the end for Tarry's benefit.

I didn't turn around to see his reaction, but he answered, "Okay. When?"

"We're supposed to be there by seven. So are you going to pick Sydney up?"

"Sure. Who are you going with?"

I warmed up his plate. "Kiera, Kate, a few other people."

He nodded and looked down at his hands. "So. There's some guests coming out here tomorrow," he said.

Placing the now empty lasagna bowl into the sink, I brought him his plate and sat back down across from him. "Uhm," I replied, taking a bite.

His un-comfort was obvious, but I ignored it, along with the feeling of dread that anonymously appeared in my stomach. "Your birthday is Monday. The family coming is here to meet you."


"Yes." He scratched the back of his neck. "Their son, Eric is eighteen. And once you're seventeen, you two were supposed to meet. I know this is pushing it, but it was a good time for his family, and three two days ahead of time isn't so bad."

I just stared at him. This was what Kiera had been talking about. My future husband. He was coming here. Tomorrow. He was coming here to get to know me, and I didn't even know myself! A part of me wanted to scream and shout at Tarry. To tell him that it wasn't fair, and that I shouldn't have to marry someone I didn't love. But the other part of me remained paralyzed, and that half numbed the other to the point that I thought I might fall over. There was nothing I could say. This was what I had grown up a part of. And although I didn't remember any of it, I had no choice but to accept it, no matter how I felt.

I wanted to cry. I wanted to kick and deny that this was my fate, my life. That I was born to be lead on a tight leash. Told to sit and lay where it best suited everyone else. But my body wouldn't do it. It just sat there like a motionless statue, and in Tarry's case, maybe that was a good thing.

Bella and Edward were so lucky. Suddenly, I wanted to read. To escape this world of anger and rules and stole away to my room. Where I could enter a world of love and happiness.

"Did Kiera tell you your birthday is Monday? Do you know what I'm talking about, Ella? The rule?" Tarry asked, his brow crinkling.

Too numb to speak, I robotically nodded.

He smiled a bit, as if my silent yes took a load off his shoulders. It made me angrier, but my body remained paralyzed as the silent screaming shook my skull from the inside. "He really wants to meet you," Tarry when on. "And I know you'll like him, too."

Everything else he said fell on deaf ears.

By the time he was through, the screaming in my head had caused a major headache. I moved up the stairs without a word. Tarry would just think it was a lot to handle, and that I was thinking about what he'd said. But I didn't want to think about anything he'd mentioned.

I called Kiera.

"What's up?"

"Hey, Kiera?"

"Oh, hi! I was wondering what I should wear tonight. Do you think I should try going purple? Or should I stick with black and a sweat shirt? I was thinking maybe I could squeeze by without a jacket today. It's not too cold."

Pursing my lips in effort to concentrate on what she was asking me, I cradled the phone on my shoulder and took twilight off my nightstand. "Umm... maybe go with black?"

She sniffed. "Yeah, that's what I thought too. It's just that I wear a lot of black. I thought maybe it would be good to try something new... but gaaaah! It's so hard to just switch a colour like that!" She paused, and I could almost hear her thinking. "Are you okay?"

I bit my lip a little too hard, working not to tear up. "Yeah, I'm fine," I lied.


No. Maybe it would be good to tell her. She was my best friend after all, and if I couldn't trust her, who could I trust? The answer to that question was clear. "Tarry told me about Eric."


"Yeah. His family is coming here tomorrow. They want to meet me." Admitting it out loud felt good, but it made it more real. And right now I didn't need that.

Kiera was quiet for a moment. "Oh. I see," she murmured. "It'll be okay. I promise. Isn't your birthday Monday though? Today's Friday... you still have two days technically."

"Yeah. I don't think I'm going to go to the movies with you guys tonight," I admitted. I was a wreck, and I knew it.

"What? Yes you are. It won't be any fun without you." I imagined her gripping her cell between her ear and shoulder, and setting her hands on her hips in a sassy stance. "Besides, it will be good to get your mind off... who?"


"Yeah, him. Come?"

I sighed. "Okay. I'll pick you up."

She laughed. "Do you even remember where I live?"

Now I put twilight down and sassed her silently, propping my hands on my hips. "Just give me the directions, and I'll be there for 6:30."

I parked the Sunfire in Kiera's driveway thirty five minutes later and killed the engine. She came out five minutes later, dressed in a black tank top and jeans, with a black sweatshirt over her arm. She stopped beside the car and shrugged the sweater on, then plopped into shotgun.

"I hope I don't regret not bringing a jacket," she said, zipping up her sweater.

I turned the key in the ignition and backed the Sunfire out, then eased into the street. "You can borrow my other jacket if you want," I offered, nodding toward the backseat, where I'd thrown the extra jacket yesterday. "I won't need it."

She leaned back and grabbed the jacket, then spread it over her lap. "Thanks! So, who's all coming? Did anyone bail?"

"Kate and Aria never phoned, so I'm guessing they're still coming. And I know Nick is coming, but I don't know if Caleb is. So everyone is coming, unless Caleb doesn't as far as I know," I told her, checking off each name in my head.

"So, I know what Nick is like," Kiera said.

I didn't look at her, and turned a left. "Hmm?"

Even though I didn't look, I could practically feel her looking at me. "He's bad news. He doesn't follow the rule, Ella." Before I could protest, she said, "I know you're still trying to work this all through, and I don't want to fight with you. But Eric is coming tomorrow, and you need to be careful. Okay?"

Taking another left, I sighed. Even though I didn't want it to be true, I knew it was. And denying it was only going to make it harder. "Yeah, I know. Let's not talk about Eric, okay? But as far as Nick goes, don't worry. I find him annoying more than anything else," I promised. She seemed to believe me. We drove the last five minutes in silence.

When I parked the Sunfire in the parking lot, Nick was standing a few cars down, and he walked over to us. Another boy, whom I guessed was Caleb, followed close behind him. I put the keys in my pocket and got out. Kiera shut the door on her side, and came around the car to stand next to me.

"Hey, Ella," Nick said, striding up to meet us. "Where are the others?"

"They should be here soon," I told him.

"What movie are we watching?" Celeb asked, coming to stand shoulder to shoulder with Nick. Celeb was blonde, and he had light eyes. Next to Nick he was tall, I guessed 5'11. Nick was only about 5'8", so it wouldn't take much to beat him. Since I was only 5'5", they had nothing to lose. Kiera was the shortest, standing about 5'4", but I guessed she could beat Nick or myself an arm wrestle. Celeb was a bit bulkier.

"I thought I told you," Nick muttered."

"Actually, I'm pretty sure you didn't," Celeb rolled his eyes. "You didn't even phone. It was a text."

"Everyone texts now a-days."

I zoned out on their conversation as soon as I spotted Kate and Aria. Kate wore a pair of black stretchy pants, and a yellow jacket. In a pink jacket and dark jeans, Aria wore a pair of heels, boosting her up two inches so she was about my height, and an inch taller than Kate and Kiera.

"Hi," Kate smiled. "Everyone came?"

"Yes," Kiera confirmed, shrugging into my extra jacket. "Shall we be off?"

We chatted as we strolled into the theater. Kiera gathered everyone's money and bought tickets. The movie didn't start for another ten minutes, so we decided to push our luck and stand in the long line for popcorn and pop. I looked around at the colourful walls of the theater. A man in a dirty uniform rolled a mop and bucket past us. I watched as he tried to maneuver his equipment through the throng of people. A woman pulled her little boy close as the mop nearly hit him, and she frowned and snapped something at the worker. He apologized and turned the corner, out of sight.

I still stood at the back of the line, behind Kiera. No one else was joining yet. They were all rushing into the theaters for their 7:00 movies. Suddenly, Kiera jabbed me in the ribs with her elbow. "Look!" she whispered, barely loud enough for me to hear her over all the people and noise. I traced her line of vision, and my eyes settled on a black ball cap. Following obvious steps, I looked down into the face of the cap's owner. Heat trickled down my spine, and I looked away quickly. But as betraying as they were, my eyes snapped back.

"What's he doing here?" I almost moaned.

Kiera didn't even attempt to look away. "Who knows? He's obviously with some friends. Look," she pointed to a thin boy with red hair. "That's Rixon Matthews, and that's John Sparks," she said, angling her finger toward a taller boy with dark hair and eyes. "He's Kate's looove."

"Kate's what?" I hissed, my eyes glued to John.

Kiera rolled her eyes. "He's going to marry Kate someday. They met in January, just after she turned seventeen on the twenty fourth. They don't hang out much at school, but Kate says they see each other usually at her place," she explained, like it was obvious.

My eyes flashed to Kate. She was talking with Nick, Caleb, and Aria. From the looks of it, they were having a mini argument as they shuffled closer to the counter. She hadn't noticed John yet. "Well I didn't know!" I snapped, then regretted it. But Kiera didn't seem upset by it, she was too busy watching the guys.

Unable to ignore them, I turned and looked too. Hawkins was wearing a blue t-shirt and black jeans. I was just noticing how his brown hair winged out from under his hat when his eyes caught me staring. Surprised, I tried to look away, but for some reason, my eyes stayed glued to him. He grinned and shouldered his friends, then pointed to me. They all made their way over to us.

"Hi," he nearly purred.

"What are you doing here?" Kiera demanded, twisting a finger into his chest.

Hawkins looked down at her. I guessed he topped me by a good seven our maybe even eight inches, making him around 6'1". So next to Kiera, he put on at least another inch on her then he did me. "Same as you," he smiled. "Movie."

It was obvious that Kiera was being stubborn. I knew she didn't really like him, but there was nothing I, or he for that matter, could do about it.

"So this is Ella Kendrick?" Rixon stated more like a fact than a question. "It's nice to finally put a face to the voice." I knew then that Rixon was the boy that answered Hawkins' phone last night. Kiera had a confused look on her face, which was enough to make me nervous. If Rixon mentioned my phone call, Kiera would know I'd contacted Hawkins even though she told me not to. Hawkins eyes sliced into Rixon's, and he seemed to get some hint. Had Hawkins just quieted his friend, for me? If he'd done it for me, he showed no sign of it.

"John, look who's here," he said instead, pointing to Kate.

"Oh," John's eyebrows popped up and he made his way up the line to meet Kate.

"Who's your friend?" Rixon turned toward Kiera.

Lost for words, I struggled to gain my voice back, "Uhh, this is-"

"Kiera Crowe, for your information," Kiera interrupted. "And I don't want anything to do with your uncivilized life, so bug off!" she snapped, glaring at them.

Rixon put his hands up and glanced at Hawkins, "Whoa, easy! Nice kitty," he smirked. "Didn't mean to get under your fur."

Kiera snorted and turned away from them.

I offered an apologetic smile, even though I was still trying to convince myself that Kiera was right.

"She's charming," Hawkins leer snuck up the right side of his face. "Guys always love a girl who knows how to fight." The last part he said leaning right close to Kiera, but his eyes darted to me.

Kiera whipped her head around. "Shut up! Are you coming into the theater, or not?"

Hawkins eyebrows lowered and his lips twisted perfectly, into an unbelievably attractive grin.

"Oh, dude I think that was an invite," Rixon laughed. "Sure, we're coming. Hey John! Get us something to eat! We'll get the tickets!" He turned to Kiera. "Which movie?"

"Project Almanac!" Kiera snapped. As Rixon turned back the way we'd come to buy tickets, and Hawkins fell in line behind me, Kiera turned to me and whispered. "They probably wouldn't have stopped bugging us if I didn't invite them. And it's a group thing anyway," she added.

I nodded. "Yeah, totally."

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