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Prologue: Zane Fawkes
I’ve never had much of a care in my life, since I’ve spent it in the wild. Therefore, I knew not what it was like to live under a roof, eat properly, and be adequately clothed. Manners were unfamiliar to me, and I was yet a stranger to civilization. Death was an unknown factor in my existence; life stretched like a desert, going on for miles, endless. The only thing I knew was that I needed that room to run and play and grow. I was unfamiliar to the passage of time; I only knew that the sun rose and set each day. I could not read. I could not write. I didn’t know anything but the bare rudimentary survival skills. The life I lived was spartan. I took care of myself. I knew nothing of the world outside of the wild I lived in.
I was a leader. Those I met gravitated towards me and followed my guidance. I was certain I knew who I was, and there was nothing left to discover. There was nothing confusing about my life; I conducted it the way I felt best: living for today, for I knew nothing of tomorrow or the future. In the world I lived in, it was every man for himself.
The sun beat down upon my skin as I raced across the desert at maximum speed. I felt free. Alive. I could feel the blood pounding in my ears as I ran, and my breath came fast. I let out a cry of joy, notifying every creature in my path that I was there, and that this was my territory. They skittered and scampered away.
Suddenly, something grabbed me from behind and stuffed a bag over my head. I thrashed and clawed and snapped, fighting to break free. The darkness closed around me, encompassing me. I would never run free in the wild again. I realized that there was a side of myself I had not yet discovered: the human side.
Knocking. My eyes fluttered open. I lifted my head off of the pillows and glanced at the clock. Noon. My head sagged back against the pillows again. Sometimes I wished Mom had never purchased those room-darkening shade. You can never tell if it’s night or day. The only sign of daylight were the tiny streaks of light streaming through the space between curtain and wall. The knocking came again. I scrambled to my feet, reaching for the lamp, fumbling for the switch.
“Iris?” Mom called from behind the door. “May I come in?”
“Yeah,” I said, throwing on a T-shirt.
The door opened, revealing a sunny hallway. Mom walked in, pulling aside the curtains and raising the shades. I looked out of the window and saw a bright sunny day, the blossoms on the trees vivid, making the yard look like a young child’s first painting. Jessica was already out in the yard, watering plants.
“Morning, Iris,” Mom said. “Happy first day of summer!”
I blinked. It took a moment for it to sink in: the first day of summer. I was no longer a freshman at Clarke High School. I didn’t have to get up at six o’clock in the morning for three months. No work, no cares, no school. I was free for three months.
“Right,” I said absent-mindedly. “Summer. Wait…summer!”
Mom laughed. She knew I wasn’t much of a morning person. I began to make my bed, pulling the sheets and covers straight, fluffing and arranging the pillows. I pulled back the curtains and raised the shade, letting the light shine through.
“Breakfast is downstairs,” Mom said. “Josephina made pancakes.”
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll be down in a minute.”
I walked over to my drawers and pulled out a spaghetti strap top, a pair of jean shorts, and my flip-flops. I’d never seen myself in anything but high-necked T-shirts advertising favorite bands until this summer. I was sixteen, dressed like a dude, a rising junior and not ready. I’ve done things in high school that I regret. Now when I look at myself in the mirror, sometimes I want to smash it. Iris Amberstein didn’t look or sound like a homecoming queen to me. And she hadn’t. Ever.
My skin was practically transparent, no freckles, no blemishes, very pasty-chalky. Lips way too big for my face, eyes that were half the size of my head. I was underweight and slender, very uncoordinated, and extremely insecure. Seeing things at my age, Mom said, was like seeing things through a magnifying glass. Every day was a three-act Broadway show. Every scrape was a gouge. Looking at my reflection was like looking at myself through a funhouse mirror. Over-reactive. An appearance that didn’t match the models in Seventeen Magazine. Followed by guys that scared me. Looking at jocks and wishing, hoping. Typical teen.
I scrubbed my teeth until they were white and my eyes stung from the mint. I scrubbed my face in a sink full of cold water until I was fully awake, and afterwards, I started on my hair. I pulled it out of the messy bun and flipped it over. It was long, dark, naturally streaked red and gold, and wavy-curly. I brushed it through at least ten times before pulling it back at the sides with clips and spraying it lightly with an ‘all day hold’ hairspray. It’d taken me three hours to get the hairspray from graduation out of my hair last night. After looking myself over one more time, I walked downstairs and into the kitchen. The smell of pancakes and eggs made my stomach do flip-flops.
“¡Buenos días, chica!” Josephina cried, hugging me like she did every morning. She was heavy and spoke Spanish. Probably the nicest middle-aged woman you’ll meet. Besides Mom, of course.
“Morning, Josie,” I replied. “Thanks for making breakfast. It smells good.”
“You look very pretty this morning, Iris,” she said. “That shirt really shows off your girly figure.”
“Erm…thanks,” I said, reminding myself to throw on a sweatshirt after breakfast.
I walked into the dining room, where I got myself pancakes and eggs, squirted on what Mom always thought was too much syrup, and ate. I always ate a lot, which confused me as to why I was still so underweight.
“How are you liking your new clothes?” Mom inquired from across where I was sitting.
“Erm…they’re okay,” I said. “I thought you didn’t like clothes like this.”
“The fashion’s changed,” Mom said. “And I am sick of you wearing those baggy T-shirts that say Kiss Concert 2008 and All-American Rejects. You look like a homeless lady.”
I rolled my eyes. Whenever I wore my favorite clothes, she always complained that I looked like a hobo. I brought my dishes over to the kitchen and put them in the sink. Deciding against the sweatshirt, I walked outside with a romance novel and sat down next to Jessica. Jessica was my sister, nineteen and headed for an Ivy League college. Her main obsessions were books and grades. She and I were completely different people.
“Did Mom tell you about our new neighbors?” she asked, not once glancing up from her book.
“No,” I said.
“They live right down the street,” she muttered into her book. “She wants us to go meet them. They just moved in yesterday.”
“Boys or girls or both?” I inquired.
“She didn’t say,” Jess replied.
Jess was fairly quiet, with blond hair and fair skin. She had an extreme hatred for plastic surgery and almost never wore makeup. If Jess was wearing makeup, I knew it was a really special occasion. She read so much that sometimes I used to sit around and wait until her eyes dropped out. I was about ten when I used to do that. Sometimes I’d even ask when her eyes were going to fall out. She’d just say ‘shut up, you little shrimp’ and continue reading. Right now, she was reading Gone With the Wind. Again. For about the third time this year, she was reading that book. She often obsessed over Rhet Butler, and why, I was still trying to figure out. I’d gotten halfway through the movie with her on a Saturday night before conking out on the couch. I was interested in heroes like Jack Sparrow, Luke Skywalker, and Legolas. And ever since high school started, I’d tried to steer away from the Drama genre.
“Why do you read that?” she said out of the corner of her mouth.
“What?” I asked.
“That,” she shoved a finger at my book. It was called A Little Bit Wicked. The author was Victoria Alexander. It sounded like second grade level compared to the high-class sophisticated-ness of Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.
“It’s quick reading,” I said. “And it’s really good.”
“No,” Jess retorted. “Those books are trashy. They’re sex novels. They’re not romance novels. This,” she shoved Gone With the Wind in my face, “is a real romance novel.”
I pushed her hand away and went back to my book. Gone With the Wind was good enough for her; A Little Bit Wicked was good enough for me. She’d tried to get me to read Pride and Prejudice once, with Elizabeth Bennet and Edward Darcy. I fell asleep after the first chapter.
My dog, Bowser (named by me, after the antagonist of the Super Mario Brothers) sauntered out of the open door. He was a King Charles Spaniel with giant ears (which had to be pulled back into a bonnet when he ate), thickly settled fur, and the stubbiest legs I’d ever seen. He had his nose in everything. When I met the new neighbors today, they’d probably ask, like everyone else did, if he was a cross between a pig and a dog. I always thought it was funny, but Jess always gave them ‘the look.’
I reached down and rubbed Bowser’s head. He got up onto his back paws and placed the other two on my lap. He looked at me with those big brown eyes, as if to implore for any left over crumbs that I might happen to always carry with me.
“Hey, little dude,” I said.
“You know Mom hates it when you let him jump up like that,” Jess said.
I ignored her and kept running my fingers through his thickly settled fur. I leaned down to sneakily kiss the top of his head when Mom spoke, startling me.
“Girls, I want you to take Bowser down the street to meet the new neighbors,” she said. “I’m sure that will be a nice greeting for them if they have little kids.”
“If, Mom,” Jess said. “What if they have teenage boys?”
“Who said teenage boys didn’t like dogs?” Mom said. “Take him. He needs his exercise.”
“Okay,” Jess said. “Iris, can you go get his leash?”
I walked into the garage, slamming into Mom’s SUV, and grabbed his leash. I walked back out into the driveway, unclipped his Invisible Fence collar and clipped on his leash. He was always eager to go out on a walk. I’d taken him around the neighborhood in 20 degrees during a blizzard once and he’d been fine.
“I’ll walk him,” I said reluctantly.
“Thank you!” Jess said. “I’m sick of him barking at every cyclist that rides by.”
I ignored her and pulled him along, down the driveway and out into the street. Ever since I was little, I’d lived in a cul de sac all my life, and with that cul de sac came a steep hill downward, which was treacherous for me in the winter, especially when Bowser pulled on his leash, tugging me along with him. If I fell on my butt, my sister would laugh and say that I deserved it.
A passing cyclist caused Bowser to tug on the leash and start barking. I was jolted back to my senses, remembering the time he’d dragged me all the way down the ice-covered hill in the middle of January. I still had the scar on my forehead from that. I wrapped both hands around the leash and pulled him back. Jess was already down the hill.
“C’mon, Iris!” Jess yelled. “It doesn’t have to take all afternoon!”
At that, Bowser started barking and pulling so hard that I had no choice but to run with him. After tripping on at least ten pebbles, I reached the bottom.
“You’re so clumsy that you need a chauffer to escort you down the hill,” Jess said once I got to the bottom.
“Oh yeah?” I retorted. “Well one day, you’re going to get so absorbed in your books that you won’t notice a tornado sweep you away!”
“Oh, sure, Iris. This is coming from the girl that trips on her own two feet.”
“Shut up! You’re the one who sits around reading the same book over and over!”
“Ira, don’t even talk. You read sex novels. Talk about a waste of time! You can get those at CVS!”
“So? Jess, I swear, when you die, someone’s going to bury with a book.”
Two teenage boys were standing at the base of the driveway, staring at us like we were from Mars. One was blonde, while the other’s hair was jet black. They both glared at us. A tug on the leash reminded me that Bowser must be eager to meet them. I looked down, and he was gone. He was behind me. That was extremely unusual for Bowser. Whenever he sees someone he doesn’t know, he bounds forward. I looked behind me to see the big brown eyes staring up at me as if to say: “Okay, we met them. Now can we go home?” It was extremely unlike Bowser. I pushed myself forward.
“You were right about the teenage boys,” I whispered.
Jess rolled her eyes. “Just go over there and we’ll say hello,” she said.
“Hi!” I called.
Neither of them moved. They both stood watching us like cats.
“My name’s Iris,” I said once I’d finished dragging Bowser up the driveway. “I’m sixteen. We’re from up the street.”
“My name is Zane Fawkes,” one of them finally spoke. “I’m eighteen.”
“It’s nice to meet you,” I reached my hand out to shake his.
He drew back from me as if something incredibly vile had been shoved at him.
“We only just moved here,” he said. “I’m sorry if we are unaccustomed to your customs.”
“Well, here when someone holds out their hand, you hold it and shake it,” I said.
He took my hand in his, but never shook it. He only tugged at my wrist until I stumbled forward, Bowser reluctantly in tow. He continued to yank me forward until Jess came up behind me and pulled the leash from my hand. Bowser eagerly ran to her, cowering behind her. She looked rather intimidated herself.
“Iris, maybe we should—”
Zane looked right at her, in such a way that she shrank back against the stone garden wall, her blue eyes wide. He turned his attention back to me. His eyes were a vivid green, almost glowing in the sun. His hair was jet black and shaggy, his skin pale and smooth. His shirt was open so that I could clearly see his bare chest, muscular and smooth. He was a good amount of inches taller than I. His eyes bore into mine. His other hand grabbed at my other wrist.
“Don’t!” Jess yelled from behind me. “Don’t touch my little sister!”
At that, he let go of my hands. He glared at me, looking me straight in the eye.
“I-I,” I stammered. “I’m sorry. She didn’t mean anything.”
His hands crashed against my chest, sending me flying backwards. I grabbed onto the edge of the garden wall for support, and fell flat on my butt. Jess didn’t even laugh. I shakily got to my feet, standing there, wheezing. I could barely breathe. Jess grabbed my hand and steered me away, breaking into a run, me in tow.
“J-Jess,” I babbled. “N-not helping. I c-can’t breathe.”
“Sorry, Iris,” she stopped. I could hear my heart pounding in my ears. “Are you okay?”
“Fine,” I blinked. “I’m good. What did you think of them, Jess?”
“What kind of a question is that?” she demanded.
“I don’t know,” I wheezed. “A legitimate one? I thought they were weird. You?”
“Screwed up,” she said. “That’s what I think. They’re special in the head. Both of them. At least I know who I’m staying away from this summer.”
That was the first time Jess and I had ever agreed on anything in a while.
A week passed without any more strange encounters, except Bowser now liked to cross the street onto the opposite sidewalk when we passed the Fawkes’s house. That house had always been set at the top of a long, twisted driveway uphill. Whenever Bowser was not with me, I walked up the driveway to see if there was any sign of life, only to find that the house looked like a prison: shade drawn, yard overrun with weeds. There was now ivy creeping up the stone exterior of the large house, and the garden wall was strangling in phlox. It looked haunted.
As for its two occupants, I’d seen nothing of them since our first meeting. It seemed as if they had disappeared off the face of the earth. The only signs of life at their home were two stray cats that wandered around the property: one jet-black, the other yellow gold, color of butterscotch.
It was one of the hottest days of the year. Bowser was loitering in his cage, tongue lolling. Jess was sitting on the couch reading, and Mom was at work. I was sitting on the screened-in porch, staring off into space when a question popped into my head: why did the black and yellow cats like the property so much? They never strayed away from their yard, not even across the street. There must be some kind of food source…
I jumped from my chair, startling myself. My curiosity got the better of me. What was it that attracted those cats to that property? I glanced back at Jess, now asleep on the couch. I opened the screened-in porch door and sneaked down the stairs, crept around the house, down the driveway, and into the street. I broke into a run down the hill, dodging pebbles, trying not to trip over my own two flip-flop feet. I was out of breath by the time I reached the bottom of the hill. I sat on the neighbor’s stone, moss-covered wall to catch my breath before continuing down the street.
When I reached the base of the twins’ mountainous driveway, I stared up into shady darkness. The branches of the trees created a canopy, shielding the driveway from the sun. I took one step onto the cracked pavement. Nothing happened. Three feet up and the temperature had dropped. It was comfortable up here, the air moist, and with the sounds of birds in the trees, it was almost like a tropical jungle.
The canopy of trees abruptly ended at the garage doors, which I almost slammed into. Off to the side was a little garden pathway leading to the backyard. The people who used to live in that house had a swing set. Was it still there? I shrugged off a pang of uncertainty and walked down the garden path and into the backyard.
The swing set was barely visible, entangled in the weeds and ivy that consumed it. The parts that were visible were rotting away. Pealing paint and rotten wood hung off one of the swings, and a big old spider had made its home among the rungs of the monkey bar ladder. I shuddered. Off to the right, a stone statue of a lion stared me down, its paws buried in overgrown grass. It was life-sized, and crouched, waiting to pounce. The tail was in mid-swish. I walked over to it and touched its tail. As soon as I did, something rustled in the bushes.
I whirled around. I saw the wild bushes rustle again. I slowly came out from hiding behind the statue and walked towards the wooded area. I reached out with my hand, into the bush…
Stupid! my conscience cried out. Go home! Curiosity killed the cat!
I drew back for a second. It was a bad idea. And Jess was probably out looking for me. Yeah, like that would happen.
Suddenly, something warm and hairy brushed against my still outstretched hand. I drew it back, clenching both my hands into fists. The bush rustled again. The leaves trembled as if they too were afraid. A warm rush of air hit my face, forcing its way up my nose. It smelled like rotting meat and eggs. I crinkled up my nose and backed away. My head spun. Something hit the ground. Hard. I looked down and saw a gnawed on bone among the bushes. The leaves around it were red and bloody. I bit back a scream bottling up in my throat. My head spun faster, and a rush of adrenaline hit me. Before I knew it, my flip-flops were in my hand and I was sprinting down the driveway, dodging loose shards of pavement and cracks.
My feet were callused and bruised by the time I reached the base of the driveway. I slid them back into my sandals and took a breath. I was shaking so hard that I pitched onto what remained of the rotting garden wall. Goosebumps dotted my arms and legs, despite the 90-degree weather. I folded my shaking arms across my chest and bit my lip.
I took one last look up the labyrinth of a driveway and promised myself never to go back there again. Whatever lurked in those woods was not human. The twins hadn’t shown any signs that they were around. They must be…
I figured that if I went back there again, no one would see me come back down.
“Iris!” Jess was waiting for me at the front porch. The ‘out looking for me’ theory hadn’t been a complete myth. “Where the hell were you?”
“I went for a walk,” I stammered.
“You did not,” Jess folded her arms across her chest.
“You want to bet?” I retorted.
“Well, why are your feet bleeding?” she demanded.
“Wh-what?” I glanced down. “Oh my God.”
“Go upstairs and soak them in cold water!” she commanded. “And I’m coming with you! I want an explanation as to why you were in the woods.”
“I needed some shade!” the water was running. My feet were frozen. I couldn’t feel either of them. “It’s the hottest day of the year, Jess. What else would you expect?”
“Maybe for you to stay inside the house?” Jess retorted. “Alright. Tell me where the hell you were or I’m telling Mom. Right now.” She pulled out her cell phone and shoved it in my face.
“Okay, okay!” I pushed her hand away. And I commenced telling her about what I’d seen, save for the part about the bloody bone and the creature. I’d gone to the house because I was curious. Complete truth. I’d explored the backyard, looking for evidence that they were still around. Also complete truth. I told her about the run-down swing set and the statue. Jess watched with concern in her eyes, brows knit, hands in her lap. She was biting at her lower lip. She was concerned. Very concerned. I figured that if I told her about the creature, she’d flip and call the police, maybe animal control.
“Iris, please,” Jess beseeched, “don’t go back there. Honestly, as much as I hate to admit it, I was worried. About you. I mean, after our first meeting with them…”
“I know,” I stopped her. “I understand.”
“Okay,” she rubbed my shoulder. “Sweetie. Okay.” She straightened up. “You’re going to get it from Mom because I’m going to tell her.”
The old Jess was back.
“You what?” Mom cried as soon as she set the grocery bags down. “You went down to that house after what that boy did to you? I can’t believe you, Iris!”
I stood in silence, my hands clasped behind my back, staring at my feet. I’d put fuzzy socks over them so Mom wouldn’t see the injuries. I’d spent an hour draining the blood from the bathtub.
“I want you to stay away from that house,” she fixed her gaze on me. “Do you understand me, Iris Maya Amberstein? Do you understand me?”
“Yes, Mom,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
“That’s what I want to hear,” Mom angrily shoved the boxes of cereal into the pantry. “I don’t ever want to hear that you ever went back there again.” She took my hands. “Iris, I only want what’s best for you, honey. There’s a reason I nickname you Leia, sweetie. You’re beautiful, courageous, and headstrong. I only want what’s best for you.”
I nodded. I figured she too would have a flow blown heart attack if I told her about the bones and the creature.
My dreams that night were a mixture of different feelings and objects I’d encountered that day. Jess’s distressed face popped up, along with the swing set—intact—the old owner’s little children climbing the rungs of the ladder, giggling, laughing. I could see the beautiful garden the woman used to keep, and the gnomes she used to arrange. Images of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia circulated in and out of my head as I slipped in and out of consciousness. Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann. Aragorn and Arwen. My dream finally settled after about three hours of nonsense.
I was standing at the base of the labyrinth driveway. The stars shone bright above my head, and the moon cast an eerie shadow on the pavement. As stupid as heroines could get, I stood in a category by myself. I continued upward, climbing up the driveway, searching for the run down house. Half of me said ‘go back,’ the other said ‘keep going, you’ll like what you see.’ I groped for the surrounding trees, feeling my way up. I came to the clearing, only to find that the house was gone.
I was standing in the middle of a jungle.
Before I could move, the same spooky rustling came from the nearby trees. I froze where I stood. The rustling came again, this time with a deep, rhythmic vibration. There was definitely something in those bushes. And it was not human.
I glanced backwards, towards the driveway, but the weeds and grass—which hadn’t been there before—were too thick. I would slip, slide, and fall.
The rhythmic vibrations continued, as if a large cat were back there…
As if on cue, a large paw extended from the fronds, and with it came a full-grown male lion, mane jet black, tail swishing, and purring. I started towards the weeds, figuring I could afford to break my legs instead of getting eaten. I backed away, but the lion advanced towards me. I clamped my hands over my mouth, biting back a scream. In one pounce, it was face to face with me, staring me down. I squeezed my eyes shut and prepared for pain when…he licked me. He licked my cheek. I slowly opened my eyes and gazed into the lion’s.
As I looked into its eyes, I realized those eyes were so alive, so emotional.
I jolted upright, clawing my way towards consciousness. I sat there, staring around the room, grabbing at the wispy smoke that remained of the dream: something about a jungle…me climbing the driveway into the jungle…and the lion. The male lion with the jet black mane and the beautiful human eyes.
It was a symbol of some sort. The lion represented something—a threat? Hope? I buried my face in my hands, but all I could see were those caramel eyes. The eyes that seemed to cry out for help.
“Yet in his eyes, lay all the sadness in the world. Those pleading eyes which both threaten and adore.” _Christine Daeé (The Phantom of the Opera)
What could this possibly mean? A lion in a forest crying out for help. My help. The thought made my head swim.
“Iris!” Mom called from downstairs. “I’m leaving to take Jess to the doctor’s office!”
“Okay,” I replied, still half asleep, “whatever.”
“If I hear that you went back to that house,” Mom warned, “you will not go outside without someone else!”
“Seriously, Mom!” that jolted me awake.
“Bye, honey! I’ll see you in a couple of hours!”
I heard the door slam shut. Then it opened again.
“Remember to take Bowser out. And stay away from that Fawkes house!”
The door slammed shut again. Key turned. Click. Locked. I pushed back the covers and walked over to the vanity table, wondering what to do with my hair, and more importantly, myself. I pulled out a pair of old Soffes, socks and a baggy T-shirt. I pulled my hair up into a ponytail, scrubbed my teeth, and ate breakfast. I knew Mom would come home and say I looked like a bag lady, but I didn’t care. I was determined to find out what happened to the Fawkes twins. I put my dishes in the sink, sprayed myself over with bug repellant, and put on my sneakers. Then I started the long trek through the woodsy shortcut to that house.
My stomach tightened as the trees closed around me, sealing me away from my own house. The last of the light blue paint faded away as I trudged deeper into the woods.
It was cool and comfortable in the forest, the ground still thick with morning dew. Sunlight dotted the wooded ground, which was carpeted by last autumn’s leaves. They crackled and snapped underneath my feet. A slight breeze wafted through the trees, bringing the scent of nature: wildflowers, swamps, leaves, wood. Though the scents somewhat comforted me, my heart still resounded in my ears, seeming to echo through the empty forest, as if it wanted every creature in the forest to know that I was there—and alive.
I froze where I stood, staring directly in front of me. Two large black eyes stared back at me from the bushes. I stumbled backwards, knocking into a tree. The young fawn stepped out from the brush and trotted along, head to the ground. The doe and the rest of her young soon followed after. I tried to remain as still as possible. I tried to calm my racing heart without avail, clutching at the trunk of the tree, eyes closed, breathing heavily. What I’d seen last time I was not about to forget. The bones and the blood must have been deer. They had to be animal, which wasn’t good, but was better than the other alternative. I shuddered, pushing myself forward.
The speckles of sunlight streaming through the trees became more frequent and enlarged in size. The leaves were thinning, and I could make out the wild bushes flanking the backyard of the Fawkes house. I took a deep breath, pushing myself onwards.
“I don’t care, Paris,” a deep, soft, rich voice said from the trees nearby. “I know there was something. I felt it when I held that hand.”
“What does it matter, Zane?” a harsher, raspier, sandpapery voice sounded. “She’s just like any other teenage human girl: shy, clumsy, shallow, flamboyant, and stupid. When I saw her, I got no reading on the sophisticated side. I got more of a reading on the paranoia and panicky side.”
It took me a while to make sense of whom they were talking about: me. My limbs froze where they were. My stomach turned rock solid. My insides turned to Jell-O.
Shy, clumsy, shallow, flamboyant, and stupid…
“None of the above,” Zane’s deep voice penetrated my train of thought. “Except for clumsy…and maybe a little on the shy side. She was scared.”
“She had reason to be,” Paris replied. “We’ve always thought of ourselves as the top of the food chain. But to her…to her, bro, we’re freaks. Mutated freaks. As in: ‘fall in a pool of toxic waste’ freak.” Paris laughed at his own humor. “Superpowers. Superhuman. Not human.”
Zane ignored him. I chose to ignore him as well. This Paris was pissing me off. Badly. And I could sense the same vibe coming from Zane.
“Where were you last night, Paris?” Zane demanded. “Another romp?”
“This one was nineteen,” Paris replied. “I just hope I didn’t get her pregnant.”
“You seem unable to satisfy yourself,” Zane retorted. “You meet the female, take her as your mistress, then leave her in the dust because she doesn’t satisfy your fluctuating male needs? It’s immature, Paris.”
“Immature?” scoffed Paris. “This is coming from the guy who has never even kissed a beautiful female because he is afraid he’ll kill her. Honestly, which is more mature: romping in the sheets looking for Ms. Right, or shoving a human girl down a driveway?”
“I’m more human than you are!” Zane bristled.
The air hung low, tense. I peeked out from behind the tree trunk. The two boys were staring each other down, as if each one wanted to kill the other. I dared not move, and stood frozen against the large tree trunk. Tension hung thick, like air just before a storm. Everything was dead silent save for the pounding of blood in my ears. The birds had stopped singing. The rustling and trembling in the trees had slowed to a halt. I clutched at the branches of the tree, holding on until my knuckles whitened and my hands shook.
A deer bounded through the foliage, jolting both the boys into awareness. Zane stepped away, backing into the tree that I was hiding behind. He ran his hand along the trunk, groping for a hold, all the while keeping his eyes on the deer so that he wouldn’t frighten it. Paris, meanwhile, whirled at an inhuman speed. He turned to face the young fawn, making direct eye contact. He stared it down, as if he wanted…
“No, Paris, no!” Zane cried.
Then it happened. My eyes squeezed shut, and I bit my lip as the deer screeched and fell to the ground with a sickening thud. I waited, blood pounding relentlessly in my ears. A rustle in the bushes and Paris was gone, in the direction of his property.
My knees buckled, and I collapsed to the ground, shaking. I could still see Zane’s hand groping for a handhold. He made a noise between a growl and a groan. His hand found a branch, and he snapped it off the tree, growling as he hurled it in the direction his brother had disappeared. He whirled around and met eyes with me.
I watched the branch sail through the air, anger at my dissolute brother weighing my limbs down. How could he have been so foolish—no, treacherous? A growl bubbled deep in my chest, and I clenched my jaw, baring my teeth in fury. A part of me wanted to follow him and share in the hunt. I chided myself for thinking such thoughts. My days in the jungle were over. I had to adapt to human life, and keep it that way. I could not desecrate the sacred mien of humanity. Yet somehow, I knew I couldn’t adjust.
I whirled around, storming through the foliage, and met eyes with a pair of wide, deep, violet irises.
“I-I…” she was frightened, that much I knew. Her wide, pure eyes stared into mine, shocking me back into reality.
The heart shaped face moved, tilted, getting a better look at me. She released her death grip on her baggy shirt and placed her shaking hands in her lap. She curled them into fists, her eyes still on me. I must look like a freak, dressed in all black, raven hair parted at my ear, a neck-length mass of thick mane. My arms moved from their defensive stance—crossed at my chest—and came to rest at my sides. She still gazed at me in alarm, though her eyes had softened. The white throat contracted as she swallowed. The red lips moved.
“Fawkes?” her voice was barely above a mere whisper.
I nearly lost my temper right then and there—she wasn’t even at ease with speaking my full name. My hands curled into fists, and she watched the muscles in my arms flex and loosen. Her eyes widened, and she pushed herself to her feet. She turned on her heel and started towards her territory. She was going to run.
Without thinking, I lunged forward and seized her by one slim arm. She whipped her head around, terrified, the vast, cosmic violet eyes dilated. She struggled against me, twisting her small arm, biting her lip. Her eyes watered, and her brows furrowed. She lashed out with her other arm instinctively, trying to wrestle my hand away. I twisted at her arm until she bit her lip, holding back screams. It would break. I knew it would break. But that was the price she paid. Her lip bled, and her eyes watered further. She whipped her head around, staring at me again, the menace in her purple eyes so profound that I faltered. She gulped down a breath of air.
“Stop doing that,” I hissed at her. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
“You are hurting me!” she said through her teeth, with more temerity than I thought she could harbor.
Shocked back to my senses, I let go of her arm. She fell to the wooded ground with a thud.
My eyes cracked open. I felt like a trapped mouse, knowing that my predator was going to finish me off within the next thirty seconds. Everything seemed to move in slow motion. The birds’ song sounded low and guttural to me. I forced myself to my feet, my left arm numb, my legs shaking. My heart pulsated at an impossible rate in my ears, and my head throbbed. I slowly turned my head and looked into the eyes of my predator.
It was the first time I’d examined the face of Zane Fawkes. His face was strong, manly, chiseled. The skin glittered with sweat, and the lips were red. Mouth half opened, the teeth were white, shiny and…sharp. I could see the cheekbones peeking out from under the full—yet sunken—skin. He moved with the fluidity of a predator as he walked towards me, and I felt the impulse to back away, knowing I would trip on my own spindly legs and fall on my butt again. But the part that kept me from running away was the eyes. They were a piercing sky blue, flecked with silver, under lustrous lashes and thick—yet transparent—brows. His entire face seemed sheer, as if it was spun by the spider that lived in his backyard. Yet it was solid—rock solid, and fair. His hair glistened in the sunlight, silky and soft, parted at his ear, a mid-neck length mass of glittering mane. I resisted the urge to touch it.
“Are you okay?” he asked, softly, sauntering towards me, like a jungle cat. “I didn’t mean to…to hurt you.”
His voice was low and satiny, and flowed with the evenness of a calm river, yet rough in random places. It was sensual, voluptuous, and unlocked a feral, ostentatious, untamed side to my personality I had not yet discovered. I watched his Adam’s apple tremble as he spoke, and I could tell he was carefully spoken around others. He didn’t want to frighten me.
Which struck me as offensive for some reason. It was as if he looked down upon me, like I was some weak, vulnerable creature that would break if he so much as brushed against me. He was acting like he’d tapped me lightly on the arm and I’d fallen over. Which had not happened. He’d twisted me into submission. What was I to him? Prey? A dog’s toy to throw around? I felt myself flush angrily at the cheeks, my entire face burning.
His mien struck me as dangerous, however, and I knew not why I was acting so pugnaciously. I shouldn’t want to pick a fight. Yet I did.
“What the hell?” I demanded hotly—more so than I’d intended.
“I guess I don’t have to ask if you’re okay,” he smiled—staggering me—trying to add some humor to the situation. His face fell at my expression. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to—”
“Okay,” I huffed. I strode closer to him, trying to appear intimidating, though I was only slightly more than half his height and intimidated myself to an extent at which I cannot describe. “Wherever you came from, the culture did not teach you how to treat people. Here, we use words, savvy?”
“I apologize,” he supplicated desperately. “I told you I came from a different culture.”
“Well, it’s different here!” I stamped my foot. “Whatever planet you came from, well…that’s in the past! This is the now, and in the now, we don’t break bones when trying to say: ‘I’d like you not to run away.’ We say: ‘I’d like you to stay so we can chat.’”
I felt like I was reasoning with a preschool student that had hit his peer.
His eyes darkened, and I didn’t know if it was out of hurt or anger.
“It’s like you stepped out of V for Vendetta or something,” I muttered.
I held his gaze for a minute, staring harshly into the blue eyes. I didn’t know just how angry I appeared, yet I knew I looked angry enough for him to back away from me, to give me the feeling that I’d succeeded in intimidating him. Immediate loathing pulsated within me, radiating a force field that must have rubbed off on him. I bit back a retort to his expression, realizing that the darkening of the eyes had been out of hurt, not anger. He leaned against the tree trunk and gazed down at me again, with that same expression, and I realized I hadn’t succeeded in intimidating him. I’d only succeeded in hurting him.
Before I could think to apologize for my temeritous behavior, I spun on my heel and sprinted out of the woods.
I didn’t speak to anyone for the rest of that evening. When I got back to the house, I pushed Bowser away, rushed up to my room, and plopped down on the couch with my book, my arm still throbbing. But I found I couldn’t concentrate on my book, however interesting it was. I finally slammed it shut—as hard as a tiny paperback could—and placed it on my nightstand. I buried my head in my hands as I thought—hard—about my rash behavior toward Zane Fawkes. An unspoken rush of adrenaline coalesced with that name, a rush in my chest that was a minute streak like a shooting star. It was a symbolism of some sort. Danger? It had to be. Zane was dangerous. I shakily raised my arm to eye level and examined black-and-blue fingerprint like marks embedded in the fair skin. Zane was dangerous. If he had the power to break my arm, he was lethally strong, either that, or I was dangerously weak. My instinct pointed to the former. I sifted through thoughts of our first meeting, to that day I trespassed on his property, to today. Innumerable questions whizzed through my head, the most prominent ones settling, nesting in my head.
Who was Zane, and was he really Zane Fawkes? Why was he so dangerously strong? Was he actually dangerous, or was it my basic instinct? What caused his shaky paranoia? Why did he look down on me? Why was he so flawlessly beautiful—hot? What was he? How much of him lusted to kill me? And most importantly, what had made me so desperately hate him? Zane Fawkes. It resounded in my head, multiple times, taunting me. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to block out his name, but then all I could see was his face, that impossibly beautiful face—
I jumped. Jess stood in the doorway, her figure a silhouette in the late afternoon sun. Brows furrowed, she entered the room on her own accord, sitting on my bed.
“Jess,” I regained control over my shaking arms, “knocking would be great, thanks.”
Realizing I hadn’t had the chance to cover the bruises, I got up, as surreptitiously as possible and put on a sweatshirt. She remained sitting on my bed, looking at me inquisitively, hands in her lap, bandage in the crease of her elbow.
“What’s wrong?” she asked softly.
I resisted the urge to confess. I glanced at the bandage at the crease of her elbow.
“Nothing,” I replied as nonchalantly as I could. “Did they give you a blood test?”
She glared at me, eyes flashing.
“Iris,” she chided, “don’t change the subject.”
I bit my lip.
“Yeah,” I prattled, “I hate blood tests. They hurt like hell. I remem—”
Jess got up and walked over to me, mouth in a straight line.
“Iris,” she stopped me. My face grew hot. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
“Erm…” I folded my arms across my chest, “Huh. I took Bowser for a walk.”
Straight out lie. She looked at me skeptically.
“Iris,” she said through her teeth, “tell me what happened before I…” she grabbed my left arm and yanked up the sleeve of my sweatshirt. “…find out myself.”
She gritted her teeth.
“Funny story, Jess,” I said sheepishly. “I fell down the stairs.”
She gave me the same skeptical look.
“Iris, these aren’t placed in random places. These are perfectly spaced and round. These are fingerprints. I saw your arm when I peeked in.”
“It was nothing!” I burst out, my eyes watering. “I-I…Jess…oh my God. How am I going to tell you this? I met Zane Fawkes in the forest, and he…well…”
“He did this?” she demanded, her eyes flashing angrily. “To your arm? Okay, that is it!”
She whirled and marched from the room.
“Jess!” I yelled. “What are you doing?”
“I am calling the police and telling them that a lunatic lives near our house.”
“No!” I cried, although not knowing why I would protest to Zane being taken away. “Jess, no!”
“They’ll want evidence, Iris, so you’d better come with me!”
“What? Where are you going?”
“I am going to their house—with Mom—and showing Zane what he did to your arm! Mom! MOM!”
“Jess!” tears fell now, and my eyes were red and stinging. “Please! He didn’t mean it!”
Mom came up the stairs, ponytail bobbing, Josephina in tow. She looked at Jess, then me trying to hide my red eyes without avail.
“What is it?” she remained staring at me.
Jess pulled me by my strong arm and dragged me to Mom, who was standing there, eyes wide.
“Look what the Fawkes boy did to Iris!” Jess yanked up the sleeve of my left arm, showing Mom the bruises. Her eyes widened. “I’m going to their house and showing Zane what he did to her arm!”
“Iris Maya!” Mom cried. “I told you no!”
“I went into the woods!” I stammered through my tears. “I happened to meet him there. I’m sorry!”
Jess grabbed me and rushed with me out the door.
“Jess,” Mom said. “I wouldn’t.”
“I’m going to, Mom,” Jess retorted. She was out the door before anyone could say anything.
“I’m going too!” I said through my tears.
“Iris Maya!” Mom yelled after us. “Jessica Anna!”
But I was already halfway down the driveway.
My brother had left, most likely off to find another female to recruit into his sheets. I was sitting alone in the house, pondering her words. They had stung, grazed me slightly, but enough to cause me to falter. The girl had been right: I was untamed and savage. I looked down at my hands, frightened—terrified—that I could do that much damage to a human.
I closed my eyes, trying to meditate, but all I could see was that heart shaped face, the amethyst irises and large red lips set in the well-sculpted skull. For a girl her size—up to my shoulder—she had vitality. She couldn’t have been more than only fourteen, small, pale, and…staggeringly naïve. A cold, sorrowful emotion coalesced with her name—Iris—for I knew she had estranged me and rejected my attempts to be kind. My core sunk as I thought of her immediate desperate hatred for me. How could I have evoked such animosity in an innocent young woman?
Hatred welled up inside of me momentarily, and my hands clenched into fists, until I realized that it should be myself I hated—for hurting her, both physically and psychologically. I’d not once even thought of physically hurting anyone in that manner. I loathed myself for what I did. She was right. I did not know proper etiquette. I did act as though this was the jungle. I was a monster. And this poor girl had found out within weeks of meeting me.
Whatever planet you came from, well…that’s in the past!
She was right.
The doorbell rang. I slowly got to my feet and walked to the front doors. I looked out of the large windows and saw a tall, blond, athletic looking girl standing outside of the house. And standing behind her, trying to hide herself was Iris. Only her ponytail and her ear were visible from behind the blond girl—two years older, from the looks of it. I slowly opened the door to them. The blond girl raised an eyebrow upon seeing me. She didn’t look so much as shaken by me.
“Hi,” she said, smiling—forcedly—at me. “I’m Jessica Amberstein, Iris’s sister. You’re…” She looked me up and down. “…Zane Fawkes.” She spoke my name in contempt, as if it were a profanity.
“Yes, I am,” I said. “It’s nice to meet you, Jessica.”
“Right…” she looked at me disgustedly. “So you’re the guy that bruised up my sister, huh?”
She placed a hand on her hip, twisting her mouth, raising her brows. Pure hatred, if I ever saw it; and extreme, at that. I glanced at Iris, who had dared to peek out from behind her older sister. There was a sorrowful look in her violet eyes, and they were red and bloodshot, as if she’d been…crying.
“Iris,” the one called Jessica pulled her forward.
“Right,” Iris said, almost reluctantly.
And just as reluctantly, she rolled up the sleeve of her sweatshirt, put on strategically to disguise the bruises I had given her.
“See?” Jessica demanded. “See what you did? I’m calling the police—no, animal control—for what you did to her! You stay away from her!”
And with that, she spat a gob of phlegm at my feet, turned on her heel, and marched away. Iris—almost reluctantly—followed Jessica down the driveway, her feet dragging.
I waited for them to disappear from the driveway before slamming the door shut. I let out an earth-shattering roar before darting into the forest beyond the yard.
Mom insisted on taking me to the doctor. After taking x-rays, the doctor told us that it was sprained, and it looked as though it’d been twisted. Mom had lied and told the doctor that I’d gotten it caught, and had tried to twist it free. The circular marks, she’d said, were due to banging it against the wall and the door, trying to free it. The doctor bought it, wrapped up my arm, and told me to rest it. She’d been too afraid to tell the doctor that a human boy had twisted my arm.
I walked out of the office, dazed and confused, numb. My head spun, my legs felt like rubber, and my feet like wrecking balls I had to drag with me. I slammed into at least four people, two of them elderly women, and was so lazy that I pressed the handicapped button for the door.
“Really, Iris,” Mom said. “You don’t need that. You’ve got two hands that work.”
In the parking lot, I freaked out, thinking an SUV was after me, and I swear I saw a lion engraved in a cloud directly above my head. Mom told me I was just tired, and led me to the car. Feeling empty inside, I got into the car and went home, silent the whole way. Mom prattled on and on about the new wallpaper for the guest bedroom, which would house my cousin Gina in a few weeks. She kept on asking me to pick different colors. I told her pink, and she admitted that Gina’s favorite color was pink. I swallowed, my thoughts far from the bedroom wallpaper, or Gina, for that matter.
When Dad came home that night, he told us about his work (he was a cardiologist at Mass. General Hospital) and how one particular case had kept him late at the office. Cardiology usually scared me, but it bored me this time. I ate as much as I could, bussed my dishes, and sat down on the couch to watch some T.V.
I flipped the channel to a re-run of a Bones episode—season one, judging by Zack Addy’s hair. It was about some voodoo conspiracy during hurricane Katrina. Bones usually scared me silly too, but I found myself examining my arm, unwrapping and re-wrapping the bandages as I spaced out, staring at the bruises. The fingerprints were still distinct, black and blue against pearly white. Black and blue, blue and black…
I awoke in my own bed, and checked the time. Midnight. I’d passed out on the couch, which was usually impossible for me when watching Bones. The whole house was silent, save for the ticking of the grandfather clock in the living room. Across from my room, I heard the rustle of blankets. Jess had conked out long ago—probably around eleven. I was still in my Soffes and All-American Rejects T-shirt. Wow. I hadn’t even bathed. I figured I’d do it in the morning.
My head sank back against the pillows and closed my eyes, wondering what could be spinning me into this vegetative state. Again, the questions resurfaced. And again, I answered them with the same ones I’d used earlier in the afternoon. I glanced over at my nightstand, where A Little Bit Wicked sat where I had slammed it earlier. Before reaching for it, I had an idea.
I was halfway down the hill, with only a couple of hours to spare before I had to run back. Bowser, sleeping like a log, hadn’t noticed my exit. I kept my hand on my left arm, picking at the bandages as I broke into a run towards the Fawkes house.
Adrenaline pulsating in my veins, I ran head-on into danger. I was so stupid. I was going to regret this moronic idea; either that or someone was going to make me. Heart pounding, I raced up the labyrinth of driveway and rang the bell.
A light went on in the foyer, and the door opened. Zane Fawkes stood—half naked, in a pair of baggy black sweatpants—at the doorway. His chest was covered in a sheen of sweat. He gazed at me, as if not believing I was really there. Then he slid on a pair of slippers and stepped out into the night, pulling on a T-shirt he must have been carrying with him, and closed the door behind him. He raised his head to look at me again, his harsh blue eyes piercing mine.
“Huh?” he stammered sleepily. “Wha—what are you doing here?”
Good question. What was I doing here?
“Erm…” I squirmed under his harsh gaze. “I wanted to say sorry for my…you know…outburst in the woods earlier.” Which was not it at all. I’d wanted to apologize for Jess’s obnoxious treatment of him earlier. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said those things.”
“Oh,” he ran a hand across his eyes, trying to wake himself up. “It’s all right, I understand.”
“I really shouldn’t have,” I murmured. “And you can call me Iris.”
“I understand,” he repeated. I felt like a sped. “I shouldn’t have grabbed you like that.”
“I want to take you down to the field at that school over there and do something my dad loves to do,” I said, smiling eagerly.
He laughed, then flushed. And I realized what he thought I must have meant.
“No! No!” I stammered. “That’s not it! I-I…”
“I’m sorry,” he said through his laughter. “I shouldn’t have even let it cross my mind.”
His chest heaved as he took in a breath.
“I…” I bit my lower lip. “I wanted to go stargazing. Sometimes the night is so clear out here that you can see the Milky Way.”
Before he could offer an answer, I turned and began my descent down the driveway.
Wow, this is going great! I didn’t know I had it in me! And to think that he even thought I would—
I landed flat on my back. Tripped over a large stone.
“Be careful on this driveway,” he chuckled, helping me up. “You okay?”
I flushed. “Yep,” I said. “Fine.”
He chuckled again as I turned to walk—him beside me—down the driveway. He carefully led me down the driveway, helping me not to step on the small stones that lay in my path. When we reached the bottom, I looked out over the field. A few lights were on in the small school, probably for security reasons. I carefully stepped down the hill that led to the field, trying not to get caught on thorns.
When we reached the clearing, the field lay before us like a vast sea of green. The night was clear—not a cloud in the sky—and the stars shone brightly, twinkling. Zane came to stand next do me, dwarfing me with his height.
“It’s beautiful,” he murmured, at a loss for words.
“Yeah,” I shoved my hands into the pockets of my heavy sweatshirt. “It’s really nice out here at night.”
I started out onto the field, lay back on the grass and stared up at the sky. Zane settled down next to me, breathing in the cool night air. The sky was a carpet of black, scattered with diamonds imbedded in its body.
Two of the fairest stars in all the heavens
Having some business, do entreat her eyes
To twinkle in their spheres till they return.
Through my peripheral vision, I saw Zane turn and look at me. I squirmed under his gaze, shifting myself awkwardly.
I remembered being deeply touched by Romeo and Juliet when I’d read it for the second time as a freshman. I almost cried at the end, when they killed themselves in the modern version of the movie. My friend had laughed at my watering eyes, and after class, we were both laughing at my ridiculous reaction. I made a mental note to call my friend tomorrow to arrange our trip to the mall in a couple of weeks.
“Beautiful,” Zane’s rich voice stopped my train of thought cold.
“Yeah, it is,” I said.
But when I turned and looked at him, he was looking at me, not the sky. My breath caught in my throat. His eyes sparkled with the stars. His smile sparkled with his face.
Her eye in heaven,
Would through the airy region stream so bright,
That birds would sing and think it were not night.
I didn’t know what it was that had made me hate him so desperately at first, but as I looked into his eyes, my feelings changed. I saw him as a friend, a watchful guardian, a constant solace. And for the first time ever, I smiled—not sarcastically—at Zane Fawkes.
Without warning, a hissing sound came from the ground, and I was abruptly squirted in the face with a mouthful of water. The sprinklers had come on. Zane jumped to his feet, and laughed at my wet face and hair. I spat out a mouthful of water and got to my feet. He looked at me with a playful look about his face, and shoved me—lightly—into the sprinkler. My hair smacked into my face, and for a minute, I couldn’t breathe, but in an instant I was back on my feet. I wrestled him to the ground and shoved him into the ongoing spray. He laughed warmly, chasing me around the field, and shoving me to the ground in a playful, friendly way.
I collapsed to the ground, breathing heavily, water still dripping from my hair and clothes. In the distance, the sky was beginning to lighten up. I stopped short, lurching upright.
“I have to go home,” I said. “You know, before my parents freak out.”
“Oh,” his face fell for only a second before he regained his fierce façade.
“Yeah,” I turned and started running home.
“Wait!” he called.
I stopped, turning my head.
“Do you listen to your heart?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied. “A lot. More than my head. Why?”
“I hardly remember I have one,” he mused. “I listen to basic instinct. But I’ve always been curious about the heart speaking to you. What is it telling you now?”
“It’s telling me…” I didn’t know how to say this. “…It’s telling me that I want…I want to see you again.”
And with that, I turned and began the sprint back to my house. I thought I heard him say: “Me, too,” but I couldn’t be sure.
It was five thirty when I got back to the house. I grabbed a fresh set of clothes and hopped into the shower, letting the warm water calm my nerves. I stood underneath that water for half an hour. When I came out, light was seeping through the shade covering the window. I wrapped a towel around my torso and headed to my room and got dressed. At six in the morning. That was unlike me.
I threw my hair up into a messy bun, and checked my appearance. The lacy blue baby doll tank top looked good on me. Blue went well with my brown hair. The jean shorts looked good on me as well. It surprised me that I could actually look stylish.
Zane popped into my head again, like usual; he was never far from my thoughts. I sat on my bed, trying to decipher the logic behind my answer to his question. I wanted to see him again. I couldn’t figure out why. And every time I tried to decipher the meaning behind why, the only thing that came to the front of my mind was his face. Those impossibly beautiful eyes set in that exotic, wild face. After sifting through my thoughts, one new, scary, incredibly strange thought crossed my mind.
Two weeks passed, and not one of those days went by without me either thinking of or seeking out Zane Fawkes. He was always asleep during the day, and if I didn’t encounter him in the early evening, I saw him in the woods during the heat of the day. We had walked into the deeper part of the woods, carving our names into the stump of a tree. And every time I was with him, that feral, untamed side of my personality surfaced. Whenever we ran through the woods, chased each other through the field at early evening, I pictured myself running barefoot through a lush jungle, hair loose and flying behind me.
The night my parents left on a business trip was the night I dreamt of Zane Fawkes.
I was standing in the field where we’d been stargazing two weeks ago. My hand, for some reason, was curled around my great-grandmother’s pearls that my mother had given me for Eighth Grade graduation two years ago. My hair was loose, blowing in the wind, and shooting stars fell at my bare feet like glowing, sparking rain.
I wore a sky blue silk dress that trailed to the ground and sparkled with the stars. It was low cut, leaving my shoulders bare, glowing in the soft light. It billowed at my ankles, making me look like a night vision.
I felt stupid, standing here in the middle of an elementary school soccer field, dressed in a nightgown that looked like it came out of Padmé Amidala’s wardrobe. But the soft light numbed my senses, and I could only catch traces of my personality in this vision that I was. Iris Amberstein was gone, replaced by a haunting creature of the dark.
“Iris,” his voice came from the shadows.
I turned, and he came through the thorny pathway, in his usual black, the star shower illuminating his eyes. They themselves were glowing on their own accord, sparkling in the light of the falling stars. Their harsh blue was accented with the dazzling light of the stars, making them look as if they were pools of icy water.
I walked towards him, the shooting stars entangling in my hair and his, illuminating his face. The untamed face, flanked by his black hair, was harsher than ever, his features sharpened by the silvery light of the stars. He strutted towards me, moving with the grace of a lithe jungle predator. His masculine figure glowed, making him seem inhuman, more mesmerizing. He stood rigidly before me, his face aglow, the high cheekbones, eyes, and lips accentuated by that impossible light.
At first I was afraid—terrified—of his harsh gaze. His eyes swept over my body, stopping at my collarbones, staring at the pearls that rested at the hollow of my throat. The blue irises burned and bruised my skin, as his fixed look slid up my neck and into my eyes. His eyes softened when they met mine, and I hadn’t a clue what was going on. Then he reached a hand out and placed it lightly on my soft, pallid cheek.
“Iris Maya,” he murmured, his face only inches away from mine.
I didn’t dare to breathe. I forgot how, as his hands slid down the sides of my neck and stopped at my bare shoulders, sending a chill echoing through my core. My eyes—involuntarily—fluttered shut, and my lips trembled as I felt his warm, fragrant breath against them. I slowly lifted a small, pale hand to tangle with his black hair. My entire figure shook as I felt—rather than saw—the beautiful face move towards me. My hand slipped further into his hair as he raised my face by the chin, tilting it towards his masculine features. My other hand shook as it too entangled itself in his black mane.
Any remaining self-control melted away, as my lips became enclosed in his. His tongue slipped into my mouth, as his hand traveled to the small of my back, pulling me closer. My body became enveloped in his as his tongue brushed against the insides of my cheeks, ran across my teeth. My tongue darted once, twice, three times into his mouth. My legs numbed as his hands entangled in my dark hair, and my hands stroked the sides of his neck as a soft moan escaped his lips. His soft lips washed over mine, and his harsh touch surged through my very core. His lips brushed against my collarbones, further down into my chest, and I drew away abruptly.
His eyes flashed, and I stumbled backwards, tripping over the hem of my dress as he strode towards me. In one flash, he moved so quickly that I hadn’t time to dodge out of the way. All at once he had me on the ground, bleeding profusely from a wound in my neck. His beautiful face loomed over mine as I immersed in unconsciousness.
His face faded away, and I jolted upright in my bed, feeling queasy and sick. I looked at the clock. Twelve. My head fell back against the pillows, and my eyes rolled as I groped through my mind and tried to think straight. My skull felt swelled and inflated. My temples throbbed. I got out of bed and went to my drawers, sifting through them for an outfit. After last night’s dream, it was a high-necked T-shirt and a pair of Soffes again for today. I went down to breakfast before Jess could get there, poured myself some Lucky Charms, and shoveled them down. I downed a cup of orange juice in one sip and left Jess a note.
I’m out taking a walk. Need to clear my head. Be back in half an hour. Call me if you need me.
I left the Post-It sitting on the breakfast table, grabbed my cell-phone, turned it on, pulled on a pair of sneakers and started down the hill. I decided to walk to the center of town. Maybe I would catch Cam there.
Not much thought passed through my head as I walked, and the only thoughts t