The random musings of Kate Grace
As promised, here is your sneak peek into Book 2 of the Burden of the Soul series. We’ll keep you posted on its upcoming release later next month. In the meantime, spread the word about the first book now free to download on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iTunes and just about anywhere online!
The rhythm of my feet on pavement felt good, but not nearly as much as Dave’s annoyance at how slow I was running. Well, jogging – when I wasn’t walking. Dave was keeping pace next to me when a woman pushing a running stroller passed us. It frustrated him to no end, but he couldn’t go faster without me and I knew it. So I just turned the volume up on my iPod and continued matching the moderate rhythm of Noah and the Whale with my feet.
The ear bud popped out as he pulled it from my ear.
“You could at least try,” he said.
“This is me running. I said I would compromise… not try.” I put the ear bud back in and picked up with the chorus out loud for his benefit. “There’ll be fun, fun, fun…”
“You’re the boss.”
He bumped me out of the runners’ lane as he plopped a kiss on my cheek.
Our mutual class schedules were a point of contention before the Spring semester. Luckily, or as aptly planned, Dave’s schedule as a Senior was pretty open for electives at Hunter High School so Brik took the opportunity to put him on full time detail, not that I minded. At least not until he suggested Martial Arts as our phys ed elective.
“I’m not breaking any boards,” I said during our negotiation at the Brownstone kitchen table. Brik oversaw the proceedings.
“’What a surprise,’ said no one ever,” said Brik, having not lost his inclination to sarcasm. Oliver laughed. Aunt Grace smacked Oliver over the head.
“Okay, then what about weight training?” Dave was intent on making the most of school hours for his training, in his words, and never let up on suggesting the most far-fetched electives knowing full well I would have to attend the class with him. With each new suggestion I so badly wanted to point out his hipster-inspired body frame and laugh. But then again I also wanted to cuddle that body frame later. So, there was that.
“What about Ice Skating?” I offered. Dave and Brik shared a glance – an unspoken agreement to completely ignore the suggestion.
“Rock climbing,” said Dave.
“Folk dancing,” I retorted. Things were getting ugly.
“I feel the need to remind you that whatever class you decide on you are solely responsible for her safety from everything during that hour,” Brik said, shooting Dave a raised-eyebrow glance. Dave sank back in his seat.
“Not rock climbing,” he said.
Grace leaned over Brik’s shoulder to look at the course offerings, her chin-length brown hair falling forward and blocking her view. She reached up and slid it behind her ear as Brik watched, his features softening and his eyes glancing up to her neck.
The morning I woke up and saw her lying in the hall outside Dave’s door I thought I was still dreaming. Even though we embraced and cried and laughed, it took the whole day for it to really sink in that she was back. It took the greater part of a week to come to grips with Hannah also being in the Brownstone. That was a couple months back and she was still there, keeping her distance from me even still. Generally she clung to Grace whenever Rose would settle for hovering rather than smothering.
I had seen Devin by way of meditation or trance, or whatever you might call it, a couple of times since her appearance at the Brownstone, though it was becoming more and more difficult to arrange meetings like that. Partially because of the overbearing attentiveness of Guardians, now amplified by an Aunt. But also partially because of the guilt I felt to Dave, maybe to Devin. I didn’t even know which.
“What about the 5K challenge?” asked Grace, turning her head. Brik snapped back into his stiff-neck posture a safe distance away from her, adjusting his glasses to make it look natural. “They run in the park. Dave would be running with her, but we could also station posts around their route just to be sure. Seems a safer option than her running off somewhere for water polo or… bowling. Bowling? Really?”
The other Guardians gave nods of approval from where they were – Liv from the kitchen with Rose, Dem from the front hall and Oliver from the couch.
“Do I get a vote?” I asked Brik. In reply he simply marked both class selection forms for the 5K Challenge. “Well alright then.”
Now, a few weeks into the semester, it wasn’t so bad. Everyone else in the class took it more seriously so of course they were way ahead of us, despite Dave’s relentless encouragements to pick of the pace and to go for it, or something. But I just kept to my rhythm and threw a smile to Liv as we passed her appearing to read a book on a park bench.
“Oh come on, we’re going down hill,” I could hear Dave say over my music. “Pick it up a bit, Clara.”
“No thank you,” I said smiling.
We took the tight curves of East Drive around Lasker ice rink soon to be converted back to a swimming pool as the temperature continued to rise. I kept my leisurely pace, knowing full well the hill would turn into an incline shortly. For his sake, I would jog it when we got there.
We finished the route long after everyone else had, passing Dem and Oliver along the way, as well as any number of Guardians I didn’t know personally. With Brik living in the same house as me I started to become more aware of just how extensive the “program,” I guess you could say, really was. Shifts were rotated around the clock and a day off really just meant a day to train. Brik’s phone was buzzing constantly and I found it weird that, in months of being in the same house, I had never actually seen him sleep.
Dave and I headed back to Hunter chatting about normal things, which was a relief. Alli and Cole dating, Dave’s new music finds and general high school gossip. That was a serious perk to having Dave on school day detail – I got to forget I was being guarded and for a few hours of the day felt like I was just being dated. Dave was always game to talk about life whereas the others, Brik in particular, always seemed to talk about its demise.
We got back into the school prepared to accept the prodding of our running instructor, Ms. Crawford. She always directed her disapproval of our performance at Dave, knowing he could do better if he tried. But her face seemed grim as we approached. Sad even.
“You two should head home,” she said, her voice breaking a bit. She turned and walked down the hall having accounted for each of her students as usual. But unlike the usual, her tone seemed sad rather than snarky.
“Go get changed,” she said. “Separately.”
That was more like it.
“I have to shower,” Dave said. “But I’ll meet you right back here when you’re done.”
“You didn’t even break a sweat.”
“I always break a sweat when I’m around you,” he said, leaning in and giving me a light kiss before walking to the guys’ locker room.
“If that’s meant to be gross, then… gross.”
“But you’re still smiling,” he said, the upturned lines of his face catching the shadows as the door swung closed between us. He was right. I couldn’t help but smile.
I liked being so far behind the others because it meant an empty locker room for me. There were only a couple girls on their way out as I was heading in. One bumped my shoulder as she came around the corner and quickly apologized without really leaving their conversation about weekend plans.
Invisible again, and I took comfort in it.
I was alone in the locker room and took my time in the shower, feeling relaxed and warmed by the water. I took a deep breath and allowed my mind to clear. The familiar deep shadow spread over my closed eyes and I felt my body relax even more. I jerked away from the water and forced my eyes open, not willing to go to that room and potentially meet him there. I had no answers yet. He wanted his sister back and Brik refused to return her. I wasn’t built for diplomacy, and I certainly hadn’t tested the results of entering that spirit-based place naked.
I couldn’t see him again until I knew what I could do for Hannah – or until I was fully clothed.
As difficult as it was to find the time to willingly go to him, it seemed lately more and more like I was being pulled. Even as I walked back to my locker wrapped in a towel I could feel a pleading somewhere inside me. It was like a faint whisper of his voice in my mind begging me to show up. I braced myself against a locker, closed my eyes and pushed back on the pull. I pushed back on his words and his need, willing it to fall back into my unawareness.
The door to the locker room swung open with a bang and I heard footsteps taking frantic, quick steps accompanied by heavy breathing.
There was a pause and then a change in direction. He swung around the corner of the lockers and stopped when he saw me, his chest rising and lowering with each breath. I stumbled back and yanked at the towel, pulling it tighter in shock.
“Mr. Mitchell?” My breath quickened. “You can’t be in here.”
He came at me fast, his hands reaching. The whites of his eyes stayed with me as I looked back and forth for a break in the lockers to run, but he was too fast. His hands grasped my forearms completely unaware of the fact of where we were or how I was dressed.
“Please, you must,” he said. “You have to do it, you have to.”
Warmth bled through my body as that dormant part of me I had encountered on the other side months ago woke up at the alarm. I could feel its awareness for the first time in my physical world rather than a dream-like state and it startled me. I fell back and, with one hand, reached to the wooden bench below, but my guidance counselor’s hand pulled it back with a jerk. His sleeve slipped and I saw the edge of a far too familiar tattoo on his arm. He saw me looking.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said in desperation, but he shook me.
“You do,” his voice was guttural and urgent. “You do know. You know, don’t lie to me.”
He pushed at me with each word, his fingers tightening around my arms, digging in and causing my instincts to leave the towel and start to fight back.
“I DON’T know,” I growled back. “Let me go.”
I was loud, intentionally.
The door swung open again and I heard his quick steps before he came around the lockers. As if seeing the frozen, still images of a flipbook, I watched as Dave grabbed Mr. Mitchell by the shoulders of his perfectly ironed button down and threw him against the lockers. Dave’s hands switched to the man’s collar, throwing him against the locker repeatedly. It took only seconds for Mr. Mitchell’s shock to subside, and the man twice Dave’s size began to fight back.
“You’re a child,” he said through clenched teeth, throwing Dave against the opposite locker. “You don’t understand. We’re ruined unless she…”
“Unless she, what?” Dem appeared from the shadows, the dim lights outlining his steady shoulders. The treble in his voice, and more than likely the recognition of his physical force, made Mitchell jump back. He gathered himself and patted down his shirt, looking at the shadows where Dem’s silhouette stood.
“Demetrius… even you have to recognize it, there’s no more time,” Mitchell said, seeming to break with tears forming. “We’re lost unless she just does it already.”
There was a cold force behind his words. Dem walked out of the shadow toward him, raising his arm.
“And you forget she’s still just a girl,” he said, raising his hand to Mitchell’s mouth.
“You can’t…” Mitchell’s plea was cut short as Dem pressed down on something in his hand, releasing a mist that silenced Mitchell and sent him to his knees. Dave lunged forward and caught Mitchell’s head just inches above the wooden bench. For a beat we all took deep breaths. I was on the ground, my back against a cinder block wall. I was shaking.
“Are you okay?” Dem seemed so calm. I felt the need to match his energy, or at least try. I exhaled, clasped the towel around me and nodded.
“I can do it,” Dave said, looking up to Dem.
“But you shouldn’t have to,” said Dem, gently. Regardless of the circumstances, he was somehow always kind.
Dem pulled a pocket knife from his coat and swung it open. Dave lifted Mitchell’s limp arm and pulled back the sleeve of his crisp shirt, exposing the tattoo.
“You shouldn’t watch, Clara,” said Dem.
I straightened myself, though still on the floor, and looked right back at him, taking a deep breath and letting it go.
“Go ahead,” I said. “Do it.”
He nodded, then slit through the barcode tattoo on a diagonal. Not deep, but deep enough.