By Alyson Noël
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2010 Alyson Noël
All rights reserved.
"What the fug?"
Haven drops her cupcake, the one with the pink frosting, red sprinkles, and silver skirt. Her heavily made-up eyes searching mine as I glance around the busy plaza and cringe. Instantly regretting my decision to come here, foolish enough to think a trip to her favorite cupcake place on a nice summer day would be the best place to break the news. Like that little strawberry cake would somehow sweeten the message. But now I'm just wishing we'd stayed in the car.
"Inside voice. Please." I aim for a light delivery but end up sounding like a cranky old schoolmarm instead. Watching as she leans forward, tucks her long, platinum-streaked bangs back behind her ear, and squints.
"Excuse me? But are you for real? I mean, here you drop a major bomb on me — and I mean major — as in my ears are still ringing and my head is still spinning and I kind of need you to repeat it just to make sure you really did say what I think — and your only concern is that I'm talking too loud? Are you kidding me?"
I shake my head and glance all around, slipping into full-on damage control mode as I lower my voice and say, "It's just — nobody can know. It's got to remain secret. It's imperative," I urge, realizing too late that I'm talking to the one person who's never been able to keep anyone's secret, much less her own.
She rolls her eyes and slams back in her seat, muttering under her breath as I take a moment to study her closely, dismayed to see the signs already present: her pale skin is luminous, clear, practically poreless as well, while her wavy brown hair with the blond streak in front is as shiny and glossy as a high-end shampoo ad. Even her teeth have gone straighter, whiter, and I can't help but wonder how this happened so quickly, with only a few sips of elixir, when it took so much longer for me.
My eyes continue to graze over her as I take a deep breath and dive in. Forgoing my usual promise not to eavesdrop on my friend's innermost thoughts, while I strain to get a better look, a glimpse of her energy, the words she's not sharing — sure that if snooping ever was warranted, it's now.
But instead of my usual front-row seat, I'm met by a rock-solid wall that bars me from entering. Even after I casually slide my hand forward and tap my fingertips against hers, feigning interest in the silver skull ring she wears, I get nothing.
Her future is hidden from me.
"This is just so —" She swallows hard and looks around, taking in the bubbling fountain, the young mom pushing a stroller while yelling into her cell phone, the group of girls exiting a swim shop with armfuls of bags — looking just about anywhere but at me.
"I know it's a lot to take in — but still —" I shrug, knowing I've got to make a better case but not quite sure how to do it.
"A lot to take in? Is that how you see it?" She shakes her head and drums her fingers against the armrest of her green metal chair as her gaze slowly sweeps over me.
I sigh, wishing I'd handled this better, wishing I could do something to make it go away, but it's too late for that. I've no choice but to deal with this mess that I made. "I guess I was hoping that's how you'd see it." I shrug. "Crazy. I know."
She takes a deep breath, face so still, so placid, it's impossible to read, and I'm just about to speak, just about to start begging forgiveness, when she says, "Seriously? You made me an immortal? Like — for reals?"
I nod, stomach a jumble of nerves as I sit up straighter and pull my shoulders back, bracing for the blow that's surely headed my way. Knowing that whatever she gives, be it verbal or physical, I've no choice but to take it. I deserve nothing less for wrecking her life as she knows it.
"I'm just —" She sucks in her breath and blinks several times, her aura invisible, offering no clue to her mood, now that I've made her like me. "Well — I'm in a total state of shock. I mean, seriously. I don't even know what to say."
I press my lips together and drop my hands to my lap, worrying the crystal horseshoe bracelet I always wear as I clear my throat and say, "Haven, listen, I'm so sorry. So — very — very — sorry. You have no idea. I just —" I shake my head, knowing I should cut to the chase but feeling like I need to explain my side of things — the impossible choice I was forced to make — how it felt to see her so pale, so helpless, teetering on the verge of death, every shallow breath quite possibly her last —
But before I can even begin she leans toward me, eyes wide and fixed on mine. "Are you insane?" She shakes her head. "You're actually apologizing, when I'm just sitting here, so psyched, so totally gobsmacked, I can't even imagine how I'll ever repay you!"
"I mean, this is just so fugging cool!" She grins, bouncing up and down in her seat, face lighting up like a thousand- watt bulb. "It's seriously the coolest fugging thing that's ever happened to me — and I owe it all to you!"
I gulp, nervously glancing around, unsure how to react. This is not what I expected. Not what I prepared for. Though it's pretty much exactly what Damen warned me about.
Damen — my best friend — my soul mate — the love of my lives. My amazingly gorgeous, sexy, smart, talented, patient, and understanding boyfriend who knew this would happen and begged to come along for this very reason. But I was too stubborn. Insisting I do it alone. I'm the one who turned her — I'm the one who made her drink the elixir — so I'm the one who should explain. Only it's not going at all like I thought. Not even close.
"I mean, it's like being a vampire, right? Minus the bloodsucking?" Her sparkling eyes eagerly search mine. "Oh, and without all the coffins and sun avoidance too!" Her voice rises with glee. "This is so amazing — like a dream come true! Everything I've ever wanted has finally happened! I'm a vampire! A beautiful vampire — but without all the gruesome side effects!"
"You're not a vampire," I say, voice dull, listless, wondering how it got to this point. "There's no such thing."
Nope, no vampires, no werewolves, no elves, no fairies — just immortals, whose ranks, thanks to Roman and me, are quickly multiplying ...
"And how can you be sure of that?" Haven asks, brow raised.
"Because Damen's been around a lot longer than I have," I say. "And he's never met one — or met anyone who's met one. We figure the vampire legends all stem from immortals, only with a few big distortions — like the bloodsucking, not being able to go out in sunlight, and the whole being allergic to garlic thing." I lean toward her. "It's all been added on for extra drama."
"Interesting." She nods, though her mind is clearly elsewhere. "Can I still eat cupcakes?" She motions toward the dented strawberry mess, one side caved in, flattened against its cardboard container, while the other side remains fluffy, begging to be eaten. "Or is there something else I'm supposed to —" Eyes going wide, giving me no time to reply before she slaps the table and squeals, "Omigod — it's that juice, isn't it? That red stuff you and Damen always drink! That's it, huh? So, what are you waiting for! Hand it over already, let's make it official — I can't wait to get started!"
"I didn't bring any," I say, seeing her face drop in disappointment as I rush to explain. "Listen, I know you think it sounds really cool and all — and some of it is, there's no doubt about that. I mean, you'll never grow old, never get zits or split ends, you'll never have to work out, and you might even grow taller — who knows? But there's other stuff too — stuff you need to know — stuff I have to explain in order to —" My words are halted by the sight of her jumping out of her chair so quickly and gracefully she's like a cat — yet another immortality side effect.
Hopping from foot to foot as she says, "Please. What's to know? If I can jump higher, run faster, never age or fade away — what else could I possibly need? Sounds like I'm good to go for the rest of eternity."
I glance around nervously, determined to curb her enthusiasm before she does something crazy — something that'll draw the kind of attention we cannot afford. "Haven, please. Sit. This is serious. There's more to explain. A lot more," I whisper, the words harsh, brutal, but having no effect whatsoever. She just stands there before me, shaking her head and refusing to budge. So drunk on her new immortal power she skips past defiant and heads straight for belligerent.
"Everything is serious with you, Ever. Every — single — thing you say and do is just so dang serious. I mean, seriously, you hand me the keys to the kingdom then demand I stay put so you can warn me about the dark side? How crazy is that?" She rolls her eyes. "Come on, unclench a little, would ya? Let me try it out, take it for a test drive, see what I'm capable of. I'll even race you! First one to make it from the curb to the library wins!"
I shake my head and sigh, wishing I didn't have to do it, but knowing a little telekinesis is in order. It's the only thing that'll put an end to all this and show her who's really in charge around here. Narrowing my eyes, I focus hard on her chair, driving it across the pavers so fast it buckles her knees and forces her to sit.
"Hey — that hurt!" She rubs her leg and glares.
But I just shrug. She's immortal, it's not like she'll bruise. Besides, there's plenty more to explain and not enough time if she continues like this, so I lean toward her, making sure I have her full attention when I say, "Trust me, you can't play the game if you don't know the rules. And if you don't know the rules, someone's bound to get hurt."
Haven hurls herself into my car, scrunching her body tightly against the door and propping her feet on the seat. Frowning and glaring and mumbling — a full litany of complaints leveled at me — as I pull out of the lot and onto the street.
"Rule number one." I glance at her, pushing my long blond hair out of my face, determined to ignore her openly hostile gaze. "You — can't — tell — anyone." I pause, allowing the words to sink in before adding, "Seriously. You can't tell your mom, your dad, your little brother Austin —"
"Please." She shifts, crossing and uncrossing her legs, tugging at her clothes and jiggling her foot in a way so antsy, so squirmy, it's clear she can barely stand to be contained here with me. "I barely talk to them anyway." She scowls. "Besides, that's a repeat. You already sang that one loud and clear. So, come on, keep it moving, let's just get 'em over and done with, so I can get out of here and start my new life."
I swallow hard, refusing to be either rushed or swayed, gazing at her as I stop at a light, determined she understand the full importance of this when I add, "And that includes Miles. Under no circumstances whatsoever can you tell him."
She rolls her eyes and fiddles with her ring, twisting it around and around her middle finger, clearly tempted to flip it at me. "Fine. Can't tell anyone. Got it," she mumbles. "Next, please!"
"You can still eat real food." I make my way through the intersection, slowly picking up speed. "But you won't always want to, since the elixir pretty much fills you up and provides all the nutrients you need. But still, in public anyway, it's important to keep up appearances, so you have to at least pretend like you're eating."
"Oh, like you?" She looks at me, brow arced, lip curled into a smirk. "You know, how you sit there at lunch, tearing your sandwich to shreds and crumbling your potato chips into tiny little bits and thinking no one notices? Is that what you've been doing all this time? Keeping up appearances? Cuz Miles and I just thought you had an eating disorder."
I take a deep breath and focus on driving, keeping my speed light, refusing to let her get to me. Like the karma Damen's always going on about — claiming that all of our actions cause a reaction — this is where my action has led me. Besides, even if I could go back and do it over again, I wouldn't change a thing. I'd make the exact same choice as before. Because no matter how awkward this moment may be, it's still better than attending her funeral, any day of the week.
"Omigod!" She looks at me, her mouth dropping, eyes going wide, voice all high and squeaky when she says, "I think — I think I heard that!"
My eyes meet hers, and despite the fact that the top is down, despite the fact that the Southern California summer sun is beating straight down on us, my skin goes instantly chilled.
This is not good. Not good at all.
"Your thoughts! You were thinking something about being glad you didn't have to go to my funeral, right? I mean, I actually heard your words in my head. That is so cool!"
I immediately raise my shield, barring all access to my mind, my energy, everything, all of it. More than a little freaked by the fact that she was able to do that when I can't read hers, and I haven't even had a chance to show her how to shield herself yet.
"So you guys weren't kidding, were you? About the whole telepathy thing? You and Damen really do read each other's minds."
I nod, slowly, reluctantly, as she surveys me with eyes that shine brighter than ever. What was once your everyday, basic shade of brown, often hidden by crazy-colored contacts, is now a brilliant swirl of gold, topaz, and bronze — yet another immortality side effect.
"I always knew you guys were weird — but this takes it to a whole new level. And now I can do it too! Jeez, I wish Miles was here."
I close my eyes and shake my head, striving for patience and wondering how many more times I'll have to repeat this, when I brake for a pedestrian and say, "But you can't tell Miles — remember? We've already been over that."
She shrugs, my words glancing right off her, as she twirls a chunk of glossy brown hair around and around her index finger, smiling as a black Bentley pulls up right beside us with some kid from our school behind the wheel.
"Fine. Fine! Seriously, I won't tell him. Chillax already, would ya?" She zeros in on our classmate, smiling and flirting and waving, even going so far as to blow a series of air kisses at him, and then laughing when he does a double take. "The secret's safe. I'm just used to telling him when exciting stuff happens, that's all. It's a habit. I'm sure I'll get over it. But still, you gotta admit, it's pretty dang cool, right? I mean, how'd you react when you first found out? Weren't you totally psyched?" She looks at me, smiling when she adds, "No pun intended."
I frown, pushing the gas harder than I meant to, the car lurching forward as my mind travels back to that very first day — or, at least the first time Damen tried to break the life-altering news out in the parking lot at school. But I wasn't up for listening then. And I was pretty much as far from excited as it gets. Then, the second time he insisted on explaining our long and tangled past, I was still on the fence. I mean, on the one hand I thought it was pretty cool that we could finally be together after centuries of being kept apart. But on the other, it was a lot to take in. A lot to give up.
And while at first we thought the choice was all mine — that I could continue to drink the elixir and embrace my immortality — or ignore it completely, live out my life, and succumb to my death at some point in the far distant future — now we know better.
Now we know the truth about an immortal's demise.
Now we know about the Shadowland.
The infinite void.
The eternal abyss.
The place where immortals linger — soulless — isolated — for all of eternity.
A place we need to steer clear of.
"Um, hel-lo — earth to Ever?" She laughs.
But I just shrug. It's the only answer I plan to give.
Which only prompts her to lean toward me and say, "Excuse me, but I so don't get you." Her eyes rake over me. "This is like the best day of my entire life and all you want to do is focus on the negatives. I mean, hel-lo? Psychic powers, physical prowess, ageless youth, and beauty — does it mean nothing to you?" (Continues...)
Excerpted from Dark Flame by Alyson Noël. Copyright © 2010 Alyson Noël. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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