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Halen Jett Sage And The Secret Of The Blazes
It almost always starts with something tiny—a road trip, a fall down the stairs, or in my case, a bike ride. You read these books and see all these stories of wonder and excitement and have you ever noticed how they start? Think about it. A phone call can lead someone to the other side of the world. One spilled soda on someone’s shirt can lead to a romance like no other.
I guess I never really thought about it that much. So you’re not alone if you haven’t either. And if you have thought about it before: good for you. Keep your eyes open. So now you’re probably thinking—what does this have to do with you? What’s your small beginning? What’s the story?
I’ll tell you my story. And I will say, it did start with something rather small. A letter. Now at the beginning of this story I told you it was a bike ride. Well, yes, that was pretty important, but the letter came before that, so I might as well explain the letter first.
I was never really all that popular back at home. I was the tall, thin girl with the straight, choppy, dark red-brown hair who had the nose ring and somewhat dark clothes. No. I was not gothic—though I guess there’s nothing really wrong with that—I was just artistic, different, and somewhat rebellious. Ironically enough, you may say I liked to play with fire. Anyway, I loved photography. You know, it may sound crazy—and I guess that’s why most kids at school thought I was weird—but I carried my Nikon camera everywhere. In class, if someone dropped a pen or something and the shadows were just right, I’d drop to the floor and snap the photo. In any case, several of my teachers got a little irritated and requested I leave their classes. No matter. I just enrolled in photography classes.
The good thing about all of this was that I was a senior in high school. I had open options. I had the time to take the photography classes. But truth be told, I didn’t have time to think about college. I mean, yes, I’d thought about it, but it was never top priority. I had been thinking about traveling and taking photos, doing odd jobs, rather than going to college. My dad and stepmom thought quite differently. (Before I continue, I should point out that in many books, you see the infamous wicked stepmother. Not in this one. This isn’t a Cinderella story, honey. This is real life. My stepmom was a royal witch, but just metaphorically. She was nice—too nice, and that’s what got to me. She signed me up for cooking classes and tried to do glittery crafts with me. I was eighteen. Not four.)
So anyway, my dad insisted that I go to college. He wanted me to be a teacher, like him. Amy—stepmom—said for me to follow my heart, and that college was hopefully right at the end of the path. Gag. I’m pretty sure she’s the one who caused the occasional stress-induced twitch in my arm. Oh, and just a side-note: she told me that “thing” in my nose was gross and she said I should consider getting rid of it. Ha! No. Like that would ever happen.
I live in a pretty small town. It’s called Graystone, West Virginia. I know probably every person in the town. Now, see, I find that funny. Nobody at school likes me, except for my friend Kolt, but everyone else who knows me tends to like me. I think it’s because the people at school never really got to know me to begin with.
So let’s begin, shall we?
It was a warm Saturday morning in April, and I was walking down the sidewalks, taking pictures of anything that looked cool. The breeze was nice, and I pulled my layered hair into a ponytail. Jeff, the mailman, was walking on the opposite side of the road. Now listen—this is very important—I am a nice person. Despite my hard-core looks, I am to be considered overly nice. Sometimes I put on that jerkface shell just for Amy, but, so I’ve been told, I really am quite congenial.
“Hey Jeff!” I called.
He smiled. “Hello Halen,” he called back. Yes, my name’s Halen. My mom was a hard-core rocker, and she was practically in love with Van Halen, so she named me Halen. She was either gonna name me Halen for Van Halen or Jett for Joan Jett. So Jett is my middle name. My dad tried to protest. We all see who won in the end. I think it had something to do with the fact that she was in so much pain; she knocked my dad out cold before he could name me Elisa. Talk about a crazy birth.
Jeff started to keep walking, shuffling through his stack of mail, when he stopped quickly and turned. “Oh! Halen! Wait!” He crossed the road. “Letter for you,” he panted.
I smiled and took it. “Thanks, Jeff. You could’ve left it at my house.”
He shrugged. “Speedy delivery.”
I laughed. “The finest. Thanks.”
I kept walking down the street until I hit my little place—not my home, by the way. My place was a small creek and field just several blocks away from my house. I dropped my canvas over-the-shoulder bag on the grass and plopped down next to it. I took the letter out and glanced over it.
Miss Halen Jett Sage
112 Blockway Road
Graystone, West Virginia
I looked at the return address.
482 Boardwalk Ave.
The name rang a bell, but I couldn’t quite place it. I opened it up. The paper inside smelled fresh, and daisies designed the page.
I’m not quite sure if you remember me, but I’m your aunt Lyndsay. When your mother died, I never really got to see much of you, but now I figured you’re all grown up and maybe I should write to you. I own a beach house on the boardwalk in Mick, Maryland. It’s not nearly as big and well known as the infamous OC, but it’s really nice, and just as much goes on down there as it does in Ocean City.
My boyfriend and I have been living in the house for a while now, and we’re just getting ready to get married. I’ve been wanting to have you down here for a while, and was hoping you could come. Maybe you could get away from your dad and Amy for a bit. Oh, that Amy sure is a nightmare, isn’t she? I accepted her friend request on Facebook—worst mistake of my life. :) Anyway, either write back, give me a call, or something. I’d really enjoy your company.
By the way, there are some great festivals to attend, people to meet, and things to do around here, so I’m positive you’d enjoy it.
I folded the letter up and put it back in the envelope, not quite knowing what to think. I hadn’t seen my aunt in years. To me, she was a perfect stranger, and I really had no intention of staying with her for an entire summer. Maybe if I didn’t reply... no. That’d be rude. I’d just call her or something and tell her I couldn’t come. Dad or Amy did not have to get involved.
I was planning on keeping the whole thing on the down low, but just my luck, as I was walking back home, Kolt decided scare the living heck out of me. I’d just been tucking the envelope into my bag, when he hopped off his bike and grabbed it.
“Aha!” He yelled.
I made a move to grab it.
“What do we have here? A note professing your love of my awesomeness?”
“That was a really stupid line,” I told him.
He shrugged, scratching at his black crew cut. He used to have a full mane of curls, but those were gone.
“When’d you get the haircut?” I asked.
“About ten minutes ago,” he said. “Dear Halen...”
I swatted at his arm. He spun around to dodge. “Mick, huh? My granddad rents a house down there. It’s ok, I guess. Not as cool as Ocean City—which she has already stated—you’re not really going there, are you?”
I shook my head. “No. I’m gonna stay here and get a summer job.”
“What happened to going on the road?” he asked. “You finally have the chance to pursue your lifelong dream of being a part of the circus and traveling with... wait for it...” he paused dramatically. “Clowns.”
I glared straight into his eyes. I would tell you what color they were, but the problem is that I’m colorblind. I’m dead serious. The only reason I know my hair is red is because my dad told me. I don’t know what red looks like. I’m one of those rare 0.1% of humans who are fully colorblind. I see in black and white. That’s why I wear black or gray clothes. I don’t know what matches. My dad and Amy—as much as they annoy me—bought all of my makeup and organized it so that I could tell what goes together. It’s weird.
As much as this whole thing can be kind of annoying at times, I’ve adapted to it. I’ve been like this since birth, so I’m used to it. I also think that it may be one of the reasons why I’m such a good photographer. I see the world in black and white. Not many people can say that without being metaphorical about it. Anyway, that’s a different story for a different chapter, and I don’t really want to get into it right now. Back to Kolt.
“Shut up, Kolt,” I said. He knew darn well that clowns were my greatest fear.
He grinned. “I do my best to irritate you. You try not to show reaction, I just try harder.”
He took his bike and swung a leg over, patting the handlebars. “Hop on.”
I nodded and pulled myself up onto the handlebars of his bike. We’d done this so many times before, and though it seemed dangerous, we’d had years of practice. We’d been really close friends since childhood.
Kolt peddled to his house and into the garage, where electric guitars and amps were set up. He unlocked the door and we shuffled into the house.
“Hi Mrs. Mason,” I called.
“She’s not home,” he kicked off his shoes.
“Oh,” I crossed the kitchen and took a water bottle out of the fridge.
We lounged around in his room, some crazy psycho movie on mute playing on his vintage TV, while Kolt strummed his guitar and I stared at his paint kit, wondering what the colors actually looked like.
“You’re not really considering it, are you?” he mumbled.
“Considering what?” I picked at a string on the carpet.
“Going to Mick for the summer,” he said quietly, placing his guitar down and plopping on the floor in front of me.
I looked up. “No... yes... only a little.”
“Can I just say something?”
He looked so serious, kind of afraid and worried.
“What’s wrong, Kolt?”
“I just—this is going to sound so corny, and I swear to God, if you laugh—”
“Just tell me for crying out loud,” I groaned. I hoped this wouldn’t be a repeat of the time when he told me he thought he had psychic connections with Luke Skywalker. He’d started out the same way, by saying “This is going to sound so corny, and I swear to God, if you laugh...” Then he closed his eyes and made Wookie noises. That was an awkward day.
“I’m, uh—” he cleared his throat and looked down. “I’m in love with you.”
I opened my mouth, but no words came out, only a dry squeak.
“I—I have been... from the start,” he continued, talking much faster. “I never told you because, well, I guess I thought it’d ruin everything. And gosh, I should’ve told you before and maybe I was just stupid not to, and now that you’re leaving, I mean... It’d only be for the summer, right, but I keep thinking, what if you don’t come back and what if you find another guy, and I’ve got to talk to you before you go if you do, because there are these dudes, and you don’t want to do anything—”
“Kolt,” I said. “That’s a really serious thing to say. Are you sure you’re not confusing me with somebody else?”
He shook his head firmly and looked up at my eyes. “It’s true. Who else would I have written all those love songs about?”
“Those were for me?” I asked, shocked beyond belief.
He nodded. “Jesus, I feel like such a geek right now. I couldn’t have said that in a nerdier way. God, I’m like a walking cliché.”
I just looked at him, not saying anything.
“You can’t go to Mick, Halen,” he whispered. “The summer’s all we got. School ruins our lives. We barely have time. The summer’s all we got,” he repeated, his voice cracking just the tiniest bit.
I closed my eyes, trying to process this whole thing. I had a serious headache. The next thing I knew, I felt something smooth and very much alive on my lips. I reached my hand up, not wanting to open my eyes. I felt the soft skin of Kolt’s cheek.
“You can’t go,” he repeated.
I nodded. “I won’t.”
If only that had been true...
Kolt appeared in my bedroom doorway as I was packing boxes. His eyes seemed red and heavy from sleep, and he was dressed in loose jeans and a button down shirt that was off by one button, making the bottom of his shirt lopsided. How I wished I could see the colors of his clothes. I’ve heard people say jeans were blue. What did blue look like, I wondered.
“Halen,” he whispered. “Tell me it isn’t true.”
I avoided his eyes by turning around and continuing to shove clothes into a suitcase.
“I can’t,” I said quietly, “because I’d be lying.”
“Then why’d you lie to me before?”
I closed my eyes tightly, blinking back the tears. “I’m only going for the summer.”
“But that’s the problem,” he shut my suitcase in front of me and forced me to look at him.
“Don’t do this Kolt. You’re just hurting yourself more than necessary.”
“No. I know that whatever I say, you’re gonna go anyway, so I just need to talk to you about something.”
I sighed, biting my lip. He brushed a piece of hair out of my face. “Ok, shoot,” I said.
He breathed out. “There are people there, Halen—really, really bad people.”
“I’m not five,” I said, slightly irritated with his description—really, really bad people.
“Sorry,” I said. “Mood swings. Lot going on up here.” I pointed at my head.
“I can imagine.” He sighed. “Now seriously. There are these guys. They wear all black, and they literally play with fire.”
“Their eyes are intense. It’s like you can see the fire in them. They’re very enthralling.”
“You think I’d be drawn into a pack of fire-player-wither’s?”
He nodded shyly.
I reopened my suitcase and threw another sweatshirt inside. “Eh, not really my type, if you ask me.”
He breathed out a sigh of relief, then caught it. “No. You don’t get it. They’re very convincing.”
“Well, I will do my best to avoid them. Thanks for the tip.”
“But Halen, there’s more—”
“I’m sorry, Kolt, but I don’t have time right now.” I turned to look at him. “And I can’t stand here and watch you break. I know I’m hurting you, and it kills me. I just—my parents are making me go, and I sort of want to explore, you know? Get some good photos.”
“Just for the summer...”
“Yes,” I said. “I may even be back earlier.”
“Promise me something,” he said quietly.
“Just promise me something, anything. Make sure you elaborate on it. Don’t just say I promise I’ll send you a postcard. I know you can’t break a promise, Halen. It’s you. You’re a good person. Make a promise.”
He was staring at me. I wondered what I looked like—what colors were playing across my face. Maybe my shadows were beautiful, deep maroons and mahoganies (whatever those looked like).
I thought, then sighed. “I promise you that I’ll return home this summer—maybe earlier. I promise I won’t get involved with any other guys, because you’re the only one. I guess I should’ve told you, but I didn’t before. And I promise I’ll try to stay away from the fire guys. I don’t know what they are or why they’re dangerous, but I’ll do my best to avoid them. I promise I won’t forget you, and I do promise I’ll write. I—I just need to get out. So I promise you that I won’t hurt you anymore,” I said, brushing my fingers along his cheek. “I promise I won’t hurt you, so I’m leaving now.”
“Promise me one more thing,” he said. “Promise you won’t lie.”
I looked at him. What an odd thing to promise.
The airport was crowded, and I hated crowds with a passion. When I first arrived, I was lost. I got swept up in a mass of moving people and somehow ended up in the food court. I felt a strange vibration in my pocket and suddenly remembered my phone.
“Hullo?” I asked.
“Hey, it’s Aunt Lyndsay. Where are you?”
“I don’t know,” I said, looking around. “I’m next to a Taco Bell station by the food court.”
“Got mixed up in the crowd, huh?” she laughed.
I sighed. “Just a little.”
“All right. I’m almost there. I can’t wait to see you!”
“Yup,” I said, because it was the only thing I could think of to say.
“Ooh! I see you!” I looked up from my feet and saw a tall, lean, and what looked like blonde (considering the fact that her hair appeared white, and she was still young) woman running towards me. “Halen!”
She snapped her phone shut and embraced me. She smelled like honey and flowers. I had forgotten what she looked like. Her sharp features were that of my mothers. She looked just as my mother had in pictures. Her hair was much shorter though. It was cropped to above her ears in a neat pixie, and she had two or three piercings going up each ear. I smiled. Ok, I admit, maybe she was a lot cooler than I’d expected. I mean, hearing her strong, intelligent, but excited voice on the phone, and getting her way too happy letter kind of made me judge a book by its aura.
“It’s—uh, it’s great to see you,” I said, out of breath.
“Oh, it’s so great to see you, too!” She smiled. Perfect teeth—figured. “I’ll drive you to my house first. Then what do you want to do? Anything specific on your agenda?”
“Umm... unpack?” I suggested. Dull humor. “Sorry,” I said. “That was kind of mean.”
“No, no. You’ve got your mother’s humor, which I suppose you could call my humor.” She winked. “Very dry, but very funny.”
“Thanks,” I provided her with my naturally uncomfortable sideways grin.
“I used to do that all the time!” she laughed. “You’re just like me.”
There goes the grin again. I struggled to pick up my three suit cases.
“I’ll grab two,” I said.
“No problem.” Aunt Lyndsay took the largest and heaviest one.
“Thanks Aunt Lyndsay,” I said. “I—uh—kind of needed to get away from dad and Amy for a while.”
“Call me Lyndsay. The whole “aunt” thing makes me feel old. But yeah, like I said in my letter, that Amy sure is a nightmare, isn’t she?”
I heisted, then let out a nervous laugh. “Uh, yeah, she really is.”
While walking to the parking lot, I half expected Lyndsay’s car to be a convertible of some sort. Of course, I’d guessed wrong. It was just a neat little old truck.
“This is my boyfriend, Jesse,” she said.
I nodded at the handsome man in the driver’s seat.
“Jesse, this is Halen.”
“Lyndsay’s told me all about you,” he said.
“Oh, really?” I asked, climbing into the car.
“Yeah. Cool name, by the way. Like as in Van Halen and Joan Jett?”
I nodded. “Halen Jett Sage,” I said.
We drove to their house which had to be maybe ten to twenty minutes away with the windows down and the stereo blasting. I guessed mom and Lyndsay had the same taste in music.
Their house wasn’t the huge beach house I’d expected, but it was decent. It was bright—the walls must have either been white or some very light colors—and the rooms were larger inside than outside.
I breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe I could enjoy this. It wasn’t as scary as Kolt was making me think it was.
I was unpacking while Lyndsay was hovering around me and telling me about random things to do in Mick.
“—and there’s this bonfire that they do every Friday. All the kids go. I usually stay home and—”
Fire. “What’d you say?” I asked. “About the fire?”
“What, the bonfire?” she looked at me. “You can go to it if you want to.”
I nodded. I wanted to. I wanted to check it out and see what the big deal with it was. Were these the fire kids? No, probably not. It’s a bonfire. There’s a difference between that and actually playing with fire, right? Right. And if I ran into freaky dudes who played with fire, I’d stay back.
“Hello, are you new around here? Just visiting for the summer? How about a smoke? You like a smoke? It could really light up your life.” The boy in front of me smiled. His eyes shimmered in the firelight. It looked as though he might have a lit cigarette in each hand, because both had trails of smoke coming out.
“I—uh—no, no thanks,” I managed to say. Was this one of the fireguys? I didn’t really want to find out.
“Come,” he said, taking my arm gently, but with force.
“Where—?” I started.
“To dance around the fire, angel. We’re going to have fun,” his grin was large.
“I don’t really think that’s a very good—”
“Come,” he said again, and pulled me to the fire.
Oh crud was all I could think.
There was a lot of smoke, and there were other couples dancing around the fire. It didn’t even occur to me to see if they were wearing dark clothes that could potentially be black. At the time, it didn’t even register that the boy who had joined me was wearing all black. But I did join him and danced—somewhat awkwardly—around the fire.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Ah, I see. I’m what people refer to as Axel,” he smiled. What a strange way to introduce yourself. I am what people refer to as...
At some point during the night, I felt a horrible burning sensation. It was awful—as if I had placed my left ankle on the stove. Axel kept smiling at me, and I was beginning to get worried, remembering my promise to Kolt. I’d said I wouldn’t get involved with another guy. Axel was just a random person though, I thought. I’d probably never see him again anyway.
I got home really late that night. I had left Axel under the boardwalk, where he’d met another guy and had just started talking. Halfway through my walk home, he drove by on his motorcycle and picked me up. I never would have agreed, but I wanted to get home, and I just didn’t have the energy.
“Back late, huh?” Lyndsay raised an eyebrow, then loosened up. “Aw, I can’t even do the harsh parent act.” She laughed. “Bet dad and Amy never let you out that late, huh?”
“They—uh, they kind of don’t really care,” I said. “I mean, they care, and they harp on me, but they don’t really ever do anything about it. I’ve got my friends, and they don’t really show interest.”
Lyndsay nodded. “How was the bonfire?”
“Fun, I guess. There was a really weird guy there. I think he tried to pick me up, but I just kind of left.”
“Names, please?” she asked, showing interest, like a teenage girl would.
“Axel something. Never really caught his last name, now that I think about it.”
She made a face and shrugged. “Never heard of—holy smokes! What happened to your leg?”
“Wha—?” I glanced down at my ankle and did a double take. “Ow,” I said, now that it was beginning to hurt again.
“I’ll say,” Lyndsay said. “Let me take a look...”
“No, I’ve got it. I was gonna take a shower anyway. I can wrap it in some gauze or something. It’s fine.”
“Really,” I said. “I’m fine.”
She shrugged. “Well, I’m off to bed. Jesse went to bed earlier, but I wanted to greet you with the scary parent act. It didn’t work, though. I should take lessons.” She grinned.
I smiled. “Maybe,” I said, and went upstairs. I cleaned my burn and frowned. It was a weird burn. With closer examination, I realized that it was shaped very oddly. It was in the shape of a star, as if somebody had branded me. The thought made me woozy. I had to lie down.
I figured it might be a little better by morning, but it wasn’t. In fact, it looked almost as if somebody had taken a sharpie and drawn the outline of a star on my ankle.
“Hullo?” my voice answered my phone for the second time in two days, early the next morning. Wow. That was more phone calls in two days than two years for me.
“Halen, it’s Kolt.”
My throat clogged up. “K—Kolt. Hi.”
“What’s wrong?” he asked suddenly.
I looked at the star on my ankle. “Nothing,” I said quietly.
“Halen, I know you. And I know this isn’t nothing. Open your laptop. I want to see your face.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat and turned on my screen, then opened VidChatz, a program Kolt had designed and installed onto my computer.
“H—hey,” I said.
“Halen,” he said softly. I looked at him. He was so perfect. I missed him. I had never thought about him that way until he’d told me he loved me. “What’s going on?”
“I—I—” I stuttered.
“You said you wouldn’t lie. What happened to you?”
“Last night, there was a bonfire,” I started.
I heard him breathe a curse. “Go on.”
“And there was this guy there and I didn’t even think for a second that he might be one of the guys you told me to stay away from, but I noticed his eyes, and they were intense, and I tried to get away, but he pulled me along and made me dance with him, and I got a really bad burn on my ankle and I escaped the guy when he started talking to another guy, and it didn’t even occur to me until just now that both of the guys were wearing a very dark color that was probably black, but you know how I’m colorblind, and I know that I promised you I’d try to stay away from those fireguys, but I still don’t know if that’s who they are, and I feel terrible! And are you wearing a shirt?” I said in one rushed breath, noticing after I’d finished that Kolt wasn’t wearing a shirt.
Kolt just looked at me from behind the monitor, a muffled breath of a curse escaping his lips. “Let me see the burn.”
“The burn. On your ankle. I want to see it.”
I lifted my ankle.
“Oh, my God. This is worse than I thought. Halen, you have to come home before things get out of hand—”
“I can’t just up and leave, Kolt.”
“Who’s leaving?” Lyndsay was walking into my room with a tray full of food.
“Uh—nobody,” I glanced at my screen. “I was just—” My eyes trailed towards the tray of food. Lyndsay looked down.
“Oh, I just thought since it’s raining outside, we could watch some movies in here and eat some snacks.”
She looked at the laptop. “I’m sorry, am I interrupting something? I can come back later. I didn’t realize you might be chatting with a boyfriend.”
“He’s—he’s a friend,” I said. “But anyway, it’s fine. I can talk to Kolt later. I was jut logging off...”
“Kolt?” Lyndsay set the tray down and looked hard at the screen. “Oh my! You’re so big now! I haven’t seen you since you were a little boy!” She paused. “You’re not so little anymore, are you? You’ve got some muscles on you, boy!”
I felt my face get hot. It’s a good thing the quality of the computer wasn’t that great and it was hard to see actual colors. Not that it would make a difference for me, but at least Kolt wouldn’t see me blush.
“Hi Lindsay,” he waved. “Look, I’ve got to go,” he directed towards me. “I’ll talk to you later,” he said, raising an eyebrow.
I nodded. I expected him to say something along the lines of “I love you, bye,” but seeing that my Aunt Lyndsay was with me, I doubted that. We just logged off.
“So Kolt’s gotten—well, he’s grown up,” Lyndsay said.
“Yeah,” I said. “What movie did you want to watch?” I asked.
“Well, we’ve got... Whip It, Stand By Me, Inception, Nick and Norah’s Infin—”
“Nick and Norah’s!” I said quickly.
“Yikes, somebody likes her Infinite Playlists,” she smiled.
“Yes, I do. The soundtrack is awesome.”
“You have it?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Would you mind burning me a disk?” she asked.
I shrugged. “Sure. If you have a CD, I can burn one now.”
“I’ll be right back!” she ran out of the room, leaving me with a tray of dips, chips, veggies, and cookies. I didn’t know what each dip was, because I couldn’t see the colors. I didn’t know if the creamier one was mustard (yuck) or French onion (yum), so I smelled them. Lyndsay came back just as I took a whiff of what smelled like horseradish. I crinkled my nose and coughed.
“Oh! Sorry, I like horseradish on celery,” she said.
I made a face, but pushed the bowl to her and pulled the French onion towards myself.
It was a long day, but the night—that was even longer.
“Is Halen around?” I heard voices drifting up the steps to where I was sitting on my guest bed.
My eyes widened. No.
“Why yes, as a matter of fact, she is. Let me—Halen!” Lyndsay called up the steps.
No, no, no! Can’t you tell when a guy just looks like trouble! It was times like this when I wished that Lyndsay was a little more protective and motherly—and less like a college roommate.
I had no choice but to emerge from my room. “H—hey.”
“Remember me?” Axel asked.
I nodded, my face growing pale.
“Honey, are you feeling ok? You look kind of—”
“Pale,” Axel interrupted Lyndsay. She glanced at him.
I shook my head. “I think I’m going to go back to bed. I appreciate you coming to see me, but—”
Axel raised an eyebrow.
“What?” I asked.
“I don’t think you’re ill. There’s another bonfire tonight. We usually only have them on Fridays, but tonight is special. You should come—that is, if you’re feeling up to it.”
I looked at him. He was talking funny. I didn’t like it. He thanked Lyndsay and left. I hurried to my room and turned on VidChatz.
“C’mon Kolt, when don’t you answer VidChatz? Please answer—Oh, thank God!” I praised, when he answered.
“What’s going on?” he asked, clearly worried. I noticed he was sitting in a very ugly carpet chair.
“He came to the house and asked me to come to another bonfire tonight.”
“Axel!” I practically yelled, and jumped at the anger and loudness of my voice.
“Oh,” Kolt said, wrinkling his nose. “Him.”
“What are you going to do?”
“What do you think I’m going to do? I’m going to stay home—I am going to stay home, right? Right... I’m staying home.”
“Actually—err—I think you should go.”
“Why the sudden change of heart?” I asked.
“Maybe—I don’t know. You should go find out stuff. But don’t dance again...”
“What if I get pulled into it?”
“You...” he sighed. “I didn’t want to have to tell you this, but right now I’m on an air plane.”
“What?” That explained the ugly chair.
“Yes. I’m coming out there. I need to make sure you stay safe. My granddad owns a house, but it’s kind of far away. You wouldn’t mind the distance?”
I shook my head. “Or I’m sure Lyndsay would let you stay in the other guest room.”
He shook his own head. “No, I won’t do that. I couldn’t. Anyway, we’re just landing, so I have to close the chat. I’ll meet you at the fire tonight.”
I nodded and closed my laptop. Shoot.
The thick smoke from the fire was twirling up and around the boardwalk, and I couldn’t help thinking that the boardwalk was going to catch on fire sooner or later.
“Hey!” somebody grabbed my arm and whirled me around. I couldn’t help the goose flesh from rising on my skin, even though I found it was only Kolt.
“Kolt!” I yelped and leaped into his arms. “Oh, you have absolutely no idea how fantastic it is to be in your arms!”
He chuckled deeply. “Well, there you go.”
“Am I interrupting something?” a husky voice asked.
I stiffened in Kolt’s arms. “Oh, you’ve got to be joking,” I muttered.
Axel was practically breathing down my neck by that point. Kolt straightened and pulled me behind him.
“And you are?” Kolt asked.
“Axel...” Kolt prodded.
“Last names aren’t important. It’s like middle names. Nobody uses them.”
Kolt stared at him, his facial expression dry. I’d never seen him like this before.
“Hey, Kolt,” I said, putting a hand on his arm. “It’s cool. Just ignore him. Let’s leave.”
He moved away.
Axel smirked. “Yes, leave, but allow her to stay,” he nodded towards me. “She’s been marked, and I insist she partakes in the ceremony.”
“Ceremony?” I asked.
Kolt held up a hand to silence me. “She will not be partaking in anything.”
“Wait, hold on a minute,” I said, beginning to get frustrated. “I think I can choose for myself.”
“No,” Kolt said loudly. Then he turned his face towards my ear and whispered, “I will explain later. Let’s just leave first.”
I nodded, and we began to leave, when Kolt’s jacket burst into flames.
“Oh, my gosh!” I screamed, jumping back and trying to get him to take the jacket off. He shrugged away from me.
Kolt stood, his leather jacket up in flames, his feet planted on the ground. He didn’t seem to care. He just slowly turned and his eyes glowed with anger. “What the heck did you do that for?” he practically roared at Axel.
“I think you know,” his voice was just as arrogant as his face.
Axel stood perfectly still, his smug stance a mere shadow, a ball of—fire glowing in his bare hand.
“Whoa—” my breath caught in my throat.
“Do not,” Kolt whispered, “and I mean never touch anything they offer you. Do you understand me? No fire, no nothing. Don’t accept a drink, don’t even dance. Stand and watch. Don’t talk to anyone, don’t touch anyone—especially not him.” He sneered the word. I didn’t like his tone.
He turned away from me, his jacket still ablaze. “What the—I’m not a dog!” I yelled at him. “Where are you—?”
“I’m leaving now,” he whispered, his back still turned. “I’ll see you later.”
Again he started walking.
“Your jacket!” I called.
He did something—it looked as if it was a snap of the fingers—and his jacket suddenly stopped flaring with fire.
I did my best not to gasp in awe and terror.
“Come, angel,” Axel said.
I shook my head firmly and planted my feet.
He sighed and shrugged. “Suit yourself. Not the best seat in the house, but I can assure you the feeling will be the same.”
“Wha—?” I caught myself and stopped, zipping my lips and watching.
I woke up under the boardwalk in the middle of the night. I had sand all over myself, and there was a God-awful pain searing through my left leg. I looked at it to see that the star was faintly glowing. I remembered the dancers around the fire. Somebody even ran into it...
“Wow,” I whispered. The star was beautiful—nearly mystifying—but scary as all death.
“Are you awake now?” A soothing voice...It was familiar, but I couldn’t place it just yet.
“Ohh,” I moaned. “My head.”
A wet towel soothed my forehead. I looked up. “K—K—Kolt,” I managed to blurt out.
He nodded. “You’re ok. You’re—” he looked up. “Never mind for now. We’ve got to get you someplace where you can rest.”
“I remember the fires. The lights. The brightness of it all...I—” my eyes widened as they focused. “What are those! They’re dots in my vision! I—I’ve never—”
“Color,” Kolt whispered.
“What?” I asked.
“How—?” I started.
“Shh, not now. I’ve told you I will explain later. Here’s a chart. Study it. It’s got the main colors on it. You’ll see different tints of colors in the real world, but this’ll give you the main idea.”
“I don’t believe it—” Nearly eighteen years without color, and now I was magically seeing everything.
Kolt carried me to his car, and I focused to sit up in the passenger seat. “I’m borrowing this from my granddad’s neighbor, so be careful not to puke or get blood anywhere.”
“Blood?” I wondered. My hands—there were circular cuts in them. “Oh, that really hurts,” I said.
“I know,” he said, upturning his palms to shrug before placing them on the steering wheel. I caught a glimpse of large scars on each hand. Why had I never noticed them before?
He pointed to the chart as we drove. “Study.”
I nodded and got to work.
“So this is green?” I pointed at his shirt.
“And this is yellow?” I asked, pointing to a pair of dice hanging from the rearview mirror.
“No,” he said, “those are green.”
I looked at the chart again. “Oh, yeah.”
“Wait,” I said, as we pulled up to Lyndsay’s house. “Let me look at your face.”
“I’ve got to return the car, but I’ll come back. I’m sure Lyndsay would be happy to have me come in.”
I nodded, then frowned. “I really wanted to see your colors...”
“Later,” he promised. I wanted to study the shadows of his face and the flecks of his eyes. There had always been one lighter patch in his black hair, which had grown out straighter now and was nearly to his shoulders. It wasn’t curly anymore. “Besides,” he added. “The lighting isn’t that great here.”
I sighed and stepped out. “Promise you’ll come back later?”
“I don’t know. You promised me you’d stay away from those guys, and you broke that promise,” he said.
My throat became dry, and I felt a tickling sensation in my nose—I always felt that instead of crying. I never released tears, but I felt terrible just the same.
“I’m sorry,” he reached out to brush his lean fingers over my cheek. “That upset you.”
“A little,” I sucked in a breath.
“I will come back, though,” he said, before pulling away.
“Hey,” Lyndsay said, coming into my room. “I know I’m supposed to be the cool aunt and not be on your case and stuff, but—is there something wrong?”
I quickly stuffed the color chart under my bed and shrugged. “I made a mistake... I don’t think it’s really bad or anything,” I quickly added, then sighed. “I don’t know. I mean, I didn’t get arrested or anything, and I didn’t do anything stupid, but this...I can’t explain. I’m sorry.”
“It’s ok. I was a teenager once, you know. I still am at heart!” she smiled. “Kolt’s outside waiting to come in. I wasn’t expecting him to come. But I think it’s nice that he’s showing concern. He’s a good friend, and from what I see, he might think he’s more. You’ll want to hold onto him in the long run, Halen,” she rubbed my back. “I like him, and I know you like him a lot more.”
I felt my cheeks get hot. All I could think was, “Should I tell her about my vision? Or should I wait?” I stared at her pink lips and the blue coal around her eyes. Her shirt was a vibrant yellow. The colors had been easy enough to memorize in the car ride home, and I’d studied them more in my room.
“You have such nice hair,” I mused at the blonde color.
“Thanks, sweets. Look, I’m gonna let Kolt in now and give you guys some privacy.”
She stood up, straightened her back, and walked out. With looks and posture like that, she easily could have passed for a model. It would be a breeze for her.
“Hey,” Kolt said quietly, his hands in his jean pockets, shoulders up a bit higher than they should have been. He kicked the door shut behind him and leaned against it.
“Hi,” I said.
“About what’s happening—” he began.
“Wait.” I held out my hands. “I want to look at you first.”
“I want to look at your colors,” I said quietly, embarrassed.
He nodded, and walked over to where I sat on the bed, picking at my fingernails.
“Sit down,” I whispered.
He did so. I noticed that he’d showered. His black hair was wet and hanging close to his eyes, and his shirt was now white and soaked through. Looked like he hadn’t bothered to dry off at all. Must have been in a real hurry.
I cleared my throat and ran my long, tan fingers over the bridge of his nose. The shadows were a deeper skin tone than the skin in light. His cheeks were a lovely flushed shade of rose, and he had the tiniest brown scar beside his chin.
I smiled pleasantly and touched the scar. His lips twitched, a crooked grin beginning to form.
I brushed his hair out of his eyes, my sleek, nearly colorless nails gliding easily over each piece and examining every different strand, finding a darker brown hair every now and then, as apposed to the black.
“Close your eyes,” I said. He nodded. I traced the blue-purple veins that ran through his skin. They were beautiful—they were pulsing. I put my ear to his chest. I was right. His heart was beating fast.
“Open your eyes,” I said after examining his eyelashes.
He smiled. I looked into his eyes, and I gasped. “They’re—a grayish purple color,” I mused.
He smiled. “Yes. I never wanted to tell you because I was never sure if you’d be able to see color.”
“No point in telling me, I suppose—until now.” I grinned. “I’ve seen a lot of eyes, but I haven’t seen a lot of color. I saw my aunt’s eyes in color. They’re a dull green. Yours—they’re the most beautiful eyes I’ve seen...”
“They’re one of two sets of eyes you’ve seen in color,” he laughed.
I frowned. “Yes, but I know that yours are special.”
“Have you looked in the mirror yet?”
I hadn’t even thought about that. “No,” I said in awe, rushing to the large mirror on my bureau. I realized I’d never seen my own human skin in color before. It was a lovely pale color. My hair was red, and it was blazing. There were strands of darker red and some black. I’d have expected it to be a dull color. Boy, I was wrong. I didn’t even dye it, like most women did.
“Wow,” I said to myself, pleasure humming through my body as I looked into my own eyes and traced the mirror with my fingertips. My eyes were a wonderful shade of grayish blue. I knew my eyes were that color, because one time a friend’s kid sister asked me if one eye was black and the other was white because those were the colors I saw in. My friend had told her that my eyes were a blue color, and that she’d see them when I came over...I never did go over there, though. She was just a friend from a project in class. We never talked after that.
So I’d known the color of my eyes, I just didn’t know what that color looked like.
“They’re like wolf eyes,” Kolt said from behind me.
I turned around and he smiled. “You can see why I’ve always shown an interest in you. You’re unique and special.”
“I would never have imagined...color. I—how can I—this is—amazing.”
“You are amazing.” He stood up and took me into his arms. “I have so much to tell you, but I’m afraid I’d spoil your moment. This is a big deal for you. You’re seeing in color. It can wait until tomorrow at least.”
“Ok,” I said as I stepped out of his arms, not wanting him to leave. I could sit and stare at the colored flecks in his eyes all night. I could talk to him all that time, too.
“Why’d you step away?” he asked, confused. “Lyndsay said I could spend the night. I hate to do this to her, but I really would like to talk to you and stay near you.”
“Don’t you need to return your neighbor’s car?”
“I already did. I walked here,” he said.
“How—that’s a long walk, isn’t it?”
He shrugged. Then the memories came to me and I shuddered. “Would you mind if I ask you some questions?” I asked quietly.
He looked at me. “I don’t mind,” he said slowly, “but this is your moment to explore color.”
“I already did. I saw all I needed to. For the longest time all I wanted to see was your eyes. I didn’t care what color anything else was, but I did care about what colors make you up.”
He smiled. “That’s kind of you.”
“But now I want to ask questions,” I added. “Please.”
He breathed out and nodded.
“Your jacket—what happened there?” I asked.
He was silent for a moment, then he moved close to me and we sat together, hugging, as he told me everything.
“I don’t know exactly what they are, but I know that I’m one of them. I don’t partake, though. I find them—evil. They play with fire. They belong with fire.”
“You mean Hell?” I asked.
He nodded grimly.
“I don’t know much about them, but I know that once you’ve been branded, you have to partake in the ‘ceremony,’ as they call it. It welcomes you into their coven.”
“So I’m—I’m one of them,” I said.
A heavy silence filled the room before Kolt spoke again. “But don’t inherit their special—uh—traits unless you become one’s mate or if you share the same blood or saliva...So we’re both one of them. The cuts on our palms...I was trying to avoid that. I told you not to talk to or go near anyone, but they put a drug in the fire. You passed out and they did their ritual. They used your blood. You’re one of them. It happened to me, only I was not drugged. They forced me down and took my blood. We’re not bad, though, Halen. We’re perfectly good. We just need to stay away from the fires. We need to stay away from here—forever. I told Lyndsay that we’re leaving tomorrow. She was somewhat upset at first, but she understood. I told her we could come to her wedding if that’s ok with you. But we’d only stay two days. And no bonfires.”
“How’d they take the blood?” I asked, just a curious question.
He winced. “You really don’t want to know.”
“I suppose you’re right, but what good will it do if I don’t?”
He sighed. “They suck it out. It’s like a vampire trait. They exchange a portion of your blood for a portion of theirs. It’s really awful. I’m sorry I never told you.”
I hugged my knees and he tightened his grip around me. “I suppose that’s why you didn’t want me going in the first place, huh?” I laughed quietly.
“Yes,” he sighed.
We sat for a moment.
“Now it’s my turn,” Kolt said quietly, almost as if he were afraid. “What you said before you left—you meant it?”
“I—yes. I meant all of it,” I admitted.
“You really believe you were hurting me? Breaking me, rather?”
I waited a few seconds, searching for the right way to say this. “Yes, because—we’d always been such good friends, and before you told me you loved me,” the word caught in my throat, “I’d never seen you act like this. You were never this passionate about anything—except for Luke Skywalker.” I grinned.
He laughed and buried his face in my hair. “Yeah, I remember that phase...”
“Wookie noises and all,” I sighed. “But anyway, I don’t know, it scared me. But now I’m used to it, because I know the truth.”
“Why’d you blame yourself?” he asked.
“I—I don’t know. I felt like if I hadn’t told you I was leaving, I wouldn’t be hurting you and making you upset or something. I was just so confused. I did need a break from home. Maybe my mind just wasn’t straight.”
“I do love you, though,” he said.
“I know,” I whispered as he kissed my temple and stood.
“I’m getting to bed,” he said. “Sleep well. We leave in the morning.”
I nodded and my gaze followed him out the door. He turned with a wry grin playing across his lips.
“What?” I asked.
He held up his hand and his forefinger suddenly lit up with a small flame above it. It was brilliantly orange and yellow and blue. I loved the colors. He smiled and blew it towards me. A flaming kiss, I laughed. My hand went out in front of me to block the small puff of fire from going in my face.
I heard Kolt gasp and I looked at my hands. They were gently caressing the fire, holding it between them, not hurting, not fading. We both stood and watched the silent, tiny fireball until a noise spooked me. Then the fire puffed away into a spiraling twist of black smoke.