Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Darkness Rising short story

'The New Guy' is a short story in the Darkness Rising trilogy by Kelley Armstrong.
The New Guy
The first day of school will always remind me of Serena. She died a year ago, just before school started. It doesn’t remind me of her death, though. What I remember is how disgustingly perky she always was on that first day.
Oh, I’m sure there are other kids who get excited about the start of the school year. Lots of them, even. Summer’s great, but eventually you run out of things to do and want to go back and see your friends. Or you do if you aren’t living in a town of two hundred people, where you’ve been with the same kids since kindergarten, and you’ve hung out with them all summer. And if you aren’t me, a girl who looks at the school year and sees nine months of jail time, trapped indoors.
Serena loved the first day of school. It was the only morning out of the year she’d actually be on time. Early, even. Dad would drop me off and she’d be at the curb, blond hair brushed to a blinding shine, her shoes so new they’d squeak as she bounced, impatiently waiting for Daniel and me to arrive.
Now it was Daniel driving me to school. And Serena wasn’t there waiting for us. But as he pulled his old pickup into the lot, I swore I could see her there, just as she’d been two years ago.
“First day!” she’d chirped as I’d crawled out of Dad’s Jeep. “Isn’t it exciting?”
“Do you really want me to answer that?”
She hooked her arm through mine. “Oh, come on, Maya. It is exciting. This is the real New Year, you know. A fresh start. New adventures. New people.”
“New people? Are you high? We live in Salmon Creek. The last ‘new’ kid we had was Sam, and you know how that turned out.”
“I like Sam.”
“Well, she doesn’t like us.”
“Her loss. Okay, so no new people. But I like the old ones. The guys are getting hotter. Have you noticed that?”
“It was a very warm summer.”
She rolled her eyes and started to say something, then stopped. She was staring at something behind me, and I didn’t need to turn to know what it was. Or who, I should say. Her expression gave it away.
“Maya! Serena! Hold up!”
I turned as Daniel rounded the corner.
“Speaking of hot,” Serena whispered. “Oh. My. God. I swear he gets cuter every time I see him.”
“You saw him two days ago.”
“He’s cuter now.”
I sighed and shifted my backpack to my other shoulder, lowering my voice more as Daniel jogged toward us.
“It’s Daniel, Seri,” I said. “If you like him, why don’t you ask him out?”
Because it’s Daniel. We’ve been friends with him forever. If I ask him out, he might say no and that would just be”—she shivered—“awkward.”
“Do you want me to ask him for you?”
Genuine terror filled her blue eyes. “Don’t you—”
“Relax,” I murmured. “I wouldn’t. I like seeing you suffer the torment of unrequited first love. It looks good on you.”
It was not, as it turned out, unrequited. A few months later, Serena asked Daniel to a school dance. He accepted and they started going out. They stayed together right up to her death. Last summer. Drowned. In the lake. Because I couldn’t save her.
“You want to skip?” Daniel asked. It took a second for the memories to fade. I blinked and snapped back to the present. Two years later. Sitting in Daniel’s pickup.
“Did you hear me?” he asked.
“Um, I don’t know, because it sounded like you suggested cutting school. And if so, then that wasn’t a comet we saw from the ridge last night. It was an alien spaceship. Clearly, you have been replaced.”
“Ha-ha.” He leaned over, his face going serious. “I mean it. It’s the first day of school, which is going to remind you of Serena. Last year, you got to stay home, so this is the first time she’s—”
“Not here with me,” I murmured. “On her favorite day.”
“So, if you want to skip, we skip. Rules be damned.”
Coming from most sixteen-year-old guys, that would be sarcasm. Not Daniel. Rules matter to him, and he knew we’d get caught—another problem with living in such a tiny place. But he was suggesting it anyway. For me. And it meant a lot.
I squared my shoulders and threw open the truck door. “Today or tomorrow, it’ll still be my first day back. I should face it and get it over with. Who knows? Something new and exciting might happen.”
“You do realize we’re still in Salmon Creek, right?”
“I’m being optimistic.”
“Well, don’t. You’re scaring me.”
I laughed and climbed out.

Having apparently decided I was on the verge of a Serena-memory-induced meltdown, Daniel wanted to hover. I’m not good with hovering. I’m a personal-space kind of girl. Which he knows, but when that protective instinct kicks in, all bets are off. So I told him to get lost. Not in so many words, but I led him to Corey and the guys, and he got the hint, saying he’d catch up with me later.
I found Nicole at my locker. When Serena was alive, Nicole hung out with us a lot. After Serena’s death, we both seemed to realize Serena had been the glue holding us together. But I liked Nicole, so we still hung out, warily circling a real friendship.
“There’s a new guy,” she whispered as I approached.
“There’s a new guy. Our age. Or a year older, I think. But he’s in our class.”
She waited as I opened my locker.
“Is that all you’re going to say?” she said.
I shoved my lunch bag onto the top shelf. “A new kid is good. I just hope he’s easier to get along with than Sam.”
“Um, did you miss the guy part of that equation? It’s a new guy. Fresh, um”—she lowered her voice—“meat.”
I bit my tongue to keep from laughing. Plenty of girls could say “fresh meat” with a wink and a wicked grin. Nicole was not one of them. Even whispering it made her flush bright scarlet, her gaze dropping. I think that’s why she’d liked Serena so much. Because Serena could have said something like that with a wink and a grin. Hell, Serena wouldn’t have said anything. She’d have grabbed my arm and dragged me off to check out the new guy before I knew what was going on.
“Maya?” Nicole squeezed my arm. “Are you okay? I mean, I know you’re not. It’s going to be rough today. I understand that.”
Damn it. I don’t know what was worse—getting lost in my memories or having everyone know I was lost in them.
“Yes,” I said, changing the subject. “New guy equals new dating possibilities, which this town seriously needs. And, if I didn’t have a policy against dating town boys, I’d be all over this news. Or all over him, if he was worth it.”
She tried to giggle at that, but flushed again, then cleared her throat and said, “I, uh, think he is. Worth it, I mean. You know. . . .”
She nodded, then pointed. I followed her finger to Hayley Morris and her entourage, who were whispering and giggling as they peered around the corner toward Principal Barnes’s office.
“I heard Brooke saw him,” Nicole said. “Now they all want to, so the report must have been good.”
I looked at her. “There are seven guys in our grade, Nic. The new kid could have a third eye and they’d be saying, ‘Yes, but it’s a nice third eye.’”
She sputtered a laugh.
“All right,” I said. “If you want to go check him out, we can.”
“W-what? Me? No. I—I didn’t mean—”
“Daniel’s down that way, too.”
That got her blushing so hard I started to worry she’d pass out from all the blood rushing to her face.
“Okay,” I said. “I’d like to check out the new guy. Fair enough?”
She nodded.

Hayley and her followers could make fools of themselves huddled on the corner there, giggling like twelve-year-olds. Not my style. The new guy was in the principal’s office. So I was going to the principal’s office.
I saw him as soon as I walked in. He’d been left alone waiting for Principal Barnes, and he was so deep in thought that he didn’t hear the door open.
I saw him and I . . . stopped. I stood there, still halfway through the doorway, Nicole bumping into me.
He was leaning forward, forearms on his knees, face serious, gaze distant. The particulars—what he was wearing, how tall he was, his build—all passed by unnoticed. What caught me was his face. Or not so much his face as his expression. And his eyes. Gorgeous brown eyes with a hint of yellow or orange. Amber. They stared intently at nothing. His face was set just as intently. High cheekbones. Sharp chin. Coppery skin. Hispanic, maybe, or Native. I’m Native myself, so you’d think I’d know, but I didn’t. Didn’t care. Only looked at him and thought—
“No third eye,” Nicole said.
She whispered it, but he must have heard the murmur of her voice. He blinked, getting his bearings. Then he turned and saw us, and he smiled.
I want to say that smile knocked me off my feet. I want to say that it took a somber, cute guy and made him gorgeous. I’m sure it should have. It was a great smile. But something in it. . . . That smile made whatever I’d been feeling evaporate.
He checked us out. He made no attempt to disguise the fact that he was checking us out. His gaze flicking across Nicole, then to me, and stayed on me in a long slow once-over that made his smile widen. Should I have been flattered by that smile? I’m sure Hayley would have been. But I bristled when he dismissed Nicole so quickly. Nicole was sweet and cute, and didn’t deserve that.
When his gaze settled on me—all over me—I didn’t bask in it. I wanted to clutch my books to my chest and get out from under that gaze. It wasn’t that I was embarrassed—it just pissed me off. He was looking at me like I was a T-bone steak and he was starving, and he wasn’t making any effort to hide it. That was not flattering.
“Hey,” he said, fixing me with that smile. A lazy, sexy smile. Calculatedly sexy, which made it as unsexy as I could imagine. “You girls in Ms. Morris’s class?”
“Uh-huh.” That was Nicole. I glanced at her. Now she was the one staring at him, and when he turned that smile on her, only for a split-second, I thought she was going to swoon. I wanted to elbow her and say, “If you’re falling for this bullshit, I need to get you into the city more often. Hone your player-radar.”
“I’m Rafe Martinez.” It didn’t seem possible to amp up the ooze in his smile, but he managed it. “Rafael, but everyone calls me Rafe.”
“I’m Nicole.”
She shook his hand, then he extended it to me. I stood there, just holding my books, and met his gaze, stone-faced. I thought he flinched, but I’m probably giving my stone-face too much credit.
“Maya,” I said finally, grudgingly.
“Maya. Pretty name. It suits you.”
“Right.” I glanced at the secretary’s desk. “Well, since it seems no one’s in here to help us, we should go, Nic.”
“We could—” she began
“Go,” I said. “The guys will be waiting.”
I gave Rafe a nod—my parents raised me too well to let me walk out without that.
“So, I’ll see you in class?” he said as I pulled open the door. “French, first period, right?”
“That’s right,” I said and ushered Nicole out.
“He likes you,” she whispered as we walked down the hall.
“No, I’m serious. He likes you.”
“And I’d be a lot more flattered by that if I didn’t get the sense that Rafael Martinez’s criteria for a hot chick is limited to a double X chromosome and the lack of a third eye.”
She looked confused. “But he’s cute, right?”
“Yes, he’s cute.”
Clearly, my response was less enthusiastic than she’d have liked. She kept watching me, as if ready to stick a thermometer in my mouth to make sure I was okay.
“You don’t know him yet,” she said. “Maybe he’ll grow on you.”
I looked back through the office window. Rafe was still standing there, as if he’d forgotten what he’d been doing. Lost in his thoughts again.
As I watched him, I felt a glimmer of what I’d felt earlier. And I wasn’t sure exactly what that was, but it felt . . . like something. Then he seemed to sense I was watching. He turned and when he did, that look vanished, that guy vanished, the player sliding into his place, flashing me a cocky “caught you looking” grin.
I turned back to Nicole and murmured, “No, I don’t think he will,” and hoped I didn’t sound too disappointed.
Source: Darkest Powers Blog

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