“You told me this stuff already, you know,” I pointed out.
“Then let me tell you again.” And he did. Three more times, his tone morphing from barely leashed fury to condescension.
When he finished that third round of threats, I said, “Why don’t you tell me what’s really bothering you, huh? One minute you were fine with me, but now you can’t stand me.”
He tangled a hand through his dark blond hair. “I don’t know what you did to him. I mean, you’re hot, yeah, and you seem nice enough, but he doesn’t normally defend the new kid. And those vision things between the two of you are weird. And I’m just gonna say it, I don’t trust you. I’ve learned my lesson about people like you.”
“By ‘people like me,’ you better mean wonderful and caring.”
Frosty sputtered for a response, before finally settling on “After everything I’ve thrown at you, that’s what you have to say?”
I wasn’t sure how I felt about the fact that he and Cole shared the same incredulous reaction when dealing with me. “Yes.”
“You are such a chick.”
I widened my eyes in mock surprise. “No way. Are you sure?”
Sighing again, he rubbed at the tattoos on his wrist. “Mackenzie was right. You aren’t slayer material.”
Before he had time to register my intentions, I threw a punch. My sore, swollen knuckles slammed into his cheekbone, thrusting his head to the side. Pain shot up my arm, but I bit my tongue to stop a moan.
“You were saying?”
He popped his jaw, rubbed at the reddening skin—and slowly grinned. “Okay, so now I understand why Cole likes you. You’re worse than Kat. And don’t you dare ask if I think Cole likes you more than Mackenzie, you should know I’m not talking about his feelings, her feelings, your feelings, or anything to do with that crap. Got it?”
I’d already known I was far from normal, but this proved it. As he’d spoken, I’d skipped from “Kat” to “feelings” to “crap,” and put together a few pieces of the Kat versus Frosty and Trina puzzle. “I’m guessing you never cheated on Kat. You were…what? Injured the night you phoned her?”
“Injured, yes,” was his only reply.
Bright rays of sun streamed past the tinted windows, causing his eyes to flash with fire, deepening the brown and burning away the blue. Lines of tension branched from the corners, making me wonder if he’d gotten any sleep last night. Probably not. His hair was disheveled from more than just the plow-through, and his clothes were wrinkled, as if he’d worn them all night.
I hadn’t gotten any sleep, either. Even though Cole had assured me the cabin was watched and guarded, every whistle of wind had rattled me. I’d paced in front of the only window in my (private) bedroom, and, of course, I’d listened at my door. Not that I’d heard anything.
“You called Trina immediately after talking to Kat because…” I prompted.
He gave a low growl. “Because Trina had fought the zombies with me that night. She saved my life, and was injured for it. Injured far worse than me. I was checking on her, that was all.”
Understanding took root and grew limbs. Frosty was willing to let Kat think the worst of him, was even willing to lose her, though he loved her, just to keep the group’s secrets. From this moment on, the same sense of loyalty would be expected from me. “Well, last night Kat told me to tell you she hates you. I wasn’t lying about that.” I didn’t say it to hurt him; I said it to hopefully propel him into fixing things with her, somehow, someway.
The muscles in his jaw clenched. “When Cole called to tell us what was going on, I had to leave her right in the middle of our get-back-together conversation. She wasn’t happy.”
An understatement, I’m sure. Kat had dressed herself up for him, had danced with him, kissed him. What he’d done was the equivalent of leaving a date at the restaurant and expecting her to pick up the tab.
“I’ll tell her you had to help me and Cole with car troubles.” It was the truth, without actually being the truth. The zombies had indeed caused car trouble. Like, we’d needed to be in one driving away stat.
“Yeah, okay.” His shoulders sagged with a measure of relief. “You can tell Kat I helped you last night. Thanks.”
He wasn’t happy with me, wouldn’t take back his threats, but he would still let me go to bat for him. Suddenly I was glad I hadn’t made any guy friends at my old school. They were more trouble than they were worth. “So what happened last night? With the…zombies?” The word snagged on my tongue. Hearing it in my own voice creeped me out, proving how drastically my world had changed. “Cole mentioned that they weren’t supposed to be on the prowl.”
For that matter, how had they known we were at the club? I know they could see us and only us, but we’d been inside the building. They couldn’t see past brick, could they? Or had their other senses kicked in? Had they smelled us?
“And why do we see them?” I finished.
“Were you like this with Cole, Miss Query? Jeez.” He shrugged those big shoulders. “He said to answer any questions you had, so fine, I will, but I don’t even know where to start.”
“Why do we see them? Well, why was Cole born with violet eyes? Why is your hair so pale? We’re just born that way.”
“But I didn’t see the zombies until after my dad died.”
“Sometimes it takes a traumatic event to cause a person’s ability to kick in. Others can see into the spiritual realm from birth. Why, we don’t know.”
“How was it for you?”
A pause as he gritted his teeth, letting me know he really didn’t want to answer. But did he? Yeah. “Birth. Bronx is like you, though. His mother was a drug addict and when he was eight she got tired of caring for him and dropped him off on an abandoned road. He had to walk in the cold and the dark, and the fear broke through whatever barrier was there to keep him from seeing the zombies.”
The sharpness of my sympathy nearly sliced my heart into pieces. Frosty had had to deal with this madness his entire life, and Bronx had been seeing the monsters since the age of eight, Emma’s age, after his mother had washed her hands of him. No wonder both boys looked as hard as nails. No wonder Frosty refused to trust me, and Bronx had never spoken a word to me.
“What about Cole’s parents? Do either of them see the zombies?”
Something unreadable flashed in his eyes. “His dad.”
So…his dad could see…and my dad had been able to see…but the difference in our upbringings was astonishing. His dad had probably been filled with power, authority. Mine had been filled with fear, defeat.
“How did you guys find each other? Zombies aren’t something you talk about at meeting one.”
He ran his tongue over his teeth. “Just like the zombies are drawn to us, we’re drawn to each other. And after what Cole told me about your first morning with him at Asher, you know exactly what I’m talking about.”
“But he also said no one else had experienced anything like that.”
“Not to that degree, no.” Frosty glanced at a wristwatch he wasn’t wearing. “Wow. Look at the time. I need to go.”
Oh, please. But, fine, whatever. Hint taken. “Are you going to Reeve’s party tonight?” I asked as I unbuckled.
“Maybe. Someone will have to watch Cole’s back.”
Harsh. “One last question.” I stepped out of the car and into the daylight. Leaning down, smiling sweetly, I said, “Do you want me to help Kat find a new boyfriend?”
I shut the door, effectively silencing his response.
He peeled out and disappeared down the street. He might have flipped me off.
Happy that I’d had the last word, I trekked to my house. To my continued happiness, my grandparents were outside gardening and I made it to my room unnoticed. That meant I could catch a few beauty z’s before they grilled me about the sleepover. I wrote them a note, saying I’d stayed up all night—truth!—and headed upstairs to nap.
Halfway up, my cell vibrated to signal a text had just come in. The sweatpants had a pocket, and that’s where I’d stashed my phone. I read the screen, and my knees began trembling.
Screen name C. Holland said, I’ll C U 2nite. 1st WOA. Hide weapons in UR room. Never know when U might need ’em.
Weapons. I seriously doubted he was referring to the baseball bat I had up there. After seeing him work those zombies over, he could only mean knives.
This is a whole new world, Bell. Better get used to it. I trudged back into the kitchen, quietly picked two of the largest blades, plus two of the smaller ones, and prayed Nana wouldn’t miss them or find them in my room. No telling what she’d think.
Took me half an hour to decide where to hide them, but in the end I went with under my pillow for easy access, the closet, behind the door, and under a pile of books by the window.
Now too jazzed for my nap, I plopped in front of the computer, intending to research zombies, but little aches and pangs prevented me from sitting still. And jazzed or not, I was exhausted. The words began to blur together.
In that moment, I understood what my mom used to tell me. No matter your state of mind, you had to find a way to recharge.
Yawning, I placed my phone on my nightstand and climbed into bed, the covers plumping around me. To my surprise, my mind instantly quieted and I slipped into a deep, deep sleep where no dreams dared intrude. Maybe the fact that I finally had a purpose had helped usher me to this sense of peace. Maybe it had released some of the guilt that had taken up residence inside me since the accident. After all, I’d survived when the rest of my family hadn’t, and I’d been wasting my life, doing nothing but worrying. Until now.
Now, I would learn to ash the zombies. I would make a difference. I would save other families from suffering the way I had suffered.