Authors: Lydia Chelsea
CONCORDIA SERIES BOOK ONE
All rights reserved.
Copyright 2015 Lydia Chelsea
This is fiction. Names, physical and personality descriptions, places, facts, theories, and events, even if existing in the real world, are the product of the author’s imagination or are used in a fictional manner. Any resemblance to any person, living or dead, is coincidental. Where real locations are used, they are used fictitiously. The author warrants complete ownership of this work and maintains the sole legal right to publish all material therein.
This work and any accompanying cover art may not be excerpted, reproduced, transmitted or stored in whole or in part without express written consent of the author, except for brief quotations of one paragraph or less in a critical article or review.
For Courtney, Jessy, and Jenn, for putting up with all my novel talk. Sisters by blood or by soul, it makes no difference.
For Abby, who always pushes for action.
For Paula Aguirre—the reason will become obvious as you read.
For Lauren Bright, who loves books at least as much as I do.
For the aunts: Carol, Nancy, Bev, and Michelle, for continually asking if I am still writing.
For Eddie, because I wish you could be here to see this.
Lastly, for Mom. Because words are unnecessary.
MY FATHER IS a major general in the United States Air Force. He’s served since he was eighteen years old, and last week he turned forty-two. That’s twenty-four years of hard-nosed military service. And still, my mother yells louder than he does.
“Up! Get up!” she calls from the hallway. She might as well be in my room standing next to my ear.
“It’s Senior Ditch Day!” I call, pulling the sheet back over my face.
“Not for you!” She shouts back.
“Why not?” I yell, the sheet puffing out with my question. “Everybody does it. You did it! Dad did it!”
“Senior Ditch Day is
Friday,” she says quietly now, from right beside my bed. The doorknob squeaks every time I turn it but for her it is mute. “You can stay home next week with my blessing.”
I stare at the buttercup yellow sheet covering my eyes, so old and soft you can no longer discern the thread pattern, even up this close. My room pops into view as she pulls the sheet down.
She’s smirking at me. I hate it when she does that because her smirky face usually makes me laugh, even when I don’t want to. Caught, I sneer back at her and sigh. Then I notice that it is just after 6:00 a.m. My alarm is set to go off at 6:30.
“Mom!” I whine, and she tilts her head at me. Oh, no. The tilt. That means something is up. “Mom?” I ask, sitting up.
“Dad’s got an early day today, and he wanted to talk to you before he left. So get up and get ready and be in the kitchen by 0630.”
I roll my eyes.
“Fine,” I say, rising. “Starbucks?”
She grins at my hopeful tone. “Dad’s already on his way there. He should be back by the time you’re ready.”
Twenty-eight minutes later, I am showered, dressed and I’ve managed to throw on the bare minimum of makeup and am charging through the kitchen when I collide with my mother. And my Starbucks.
“This has to be a national holiday,” I complain, catching the roll of paper towels my mother tosses, hurriedly scrubbing caramel macchiato off the tile. “No, Shamu!” I try to push seventy-five pounds of black Lab out of my way, but she will not be deterred. Her tongue finds every molecule of latte the paper towel fails to absorb, her tail thumping against the wall in a steady rhythm. I’d worry about what it would do to her, but she’s consumed far worse things.
“Go,” my mother says, pushing me in the direction of the dining room. “Sit down with Dad. I’ll finish this.”
My father is dressed for work, which always seems to make him stern. I’m so glad he’d passed the Starbucks off to Mom before the collision. He’d be really angry at me right now if I’d spilled my latte all over him. Now he’s merely solemn.
“Davinney, I wanted to apologize to you this morning because I made you a promise that I can’t keep.” He sees the change in my face and his own becomes pained.
I can’t look at him. I stare at my drink, the bottom dropping out of my stomach. “We’re moving,” I say hollowly. It isn’t a question.
“Yes. I’ve been promoted to Lieutenant General.”
“Where?” I swallow hard to keep my voice from cracking.
Not again. I can’t. Please, don’t make me.
“Moody Air Force Base.” His voice is matter of fact, no sugar coating. “Valdosta, Georgia,” he adds, though I am well aware of the location of almost every base in the continental United States and even some offshore bases.
“You promised, Dad,” I try to hold it back, but a small sob escapes.
“I know, Davinney,” he says, and he loses his strict military man composure. His voice is rough. “It’s not until after graduation,” he says, clearing his throat.
“I’ll be seventeen next month,” I answer pleadingly.
“I know. And I’m well aware that when we moved into this house I promised to put you up in an apartment before I’d make you move again, but honey, that’s not going to work out the way I hoped. I talked to our lawyer yesterday about setting up a fund and a lease for you, and he’s given me a number of reasons to convince me that it’s not a good idea.”
“People do it all the time!” I’m not sure that’s accurate, but it might be.
“Maybe they do, but if something were to happen to you and the media got wind of it, with my position…” He trails off.
I lift my head. He’s giving me his Daddy puppy dog eyes, the same ones he’s given me since about move number four, which is when I started to really get tired of leaving my friends and my schools behind.
“Can’t you just once think about me? About Mom?” I plead.
“I am thinking about you. Both of you. Taking care of both of you is my top priority. Always. You know that.”
I shake my head. “We’re fine, Dad. Right here. Just as we are.”
He exhales loudly, some of his patience apparently escaping with his breath. “One of the things I love most about you, honey, is your ability to adapt to change. I’m not saying it’s easy for you. I’m saying that you’ve always done your best to accept things as they are.”
I shake my head again. “Not this time.”
A little more patience goes. “Davinney,” he says, just a little bit of an edge to his voice now. “I didn’t anticipate that Arnold would have the concerns that he did when I made you that promise. I’m sorry now that I made it. You know I don’t make promises lightly.”
“Then honor this one!” I yell, pushing back my chair. “I’m the youngest high school senior in my class, smart enough that I skipped eighth grade. I get almost straight A’s, I don’t drink, smoke, or do drugs, but you can’t trust me to live alone in an apartment for three months until I start college?”
I’ve been accepted to Arizona State University for the fall semester. I could have gone to a more prestigious school, but I couldn’t stand the thought of another big move.
Instead of making him see sense, he loses what’s left of his patience. My Dad doesn’t generally yell, but he gets loud. Especially with me.
“Because I said so!” he says. “And nobody’s saying you can’t go to ASU, but once you graduate high school, you’re moving with me and Mom to Valdosta until you leave for school in the fall.”
I know I should be fine with it. I know I’m overreacting. Big deal. Summer in Georgia, then back to Arizona for freshman year with Rae. But I am so, so tired of fitting my life into boxes on a truck, saying goodbye yet again. I want a place that’s mine and to live in that place for years. Maybe my whole life. I’ve had enough. I had enough eight moves ago. I don’t care that a normal person would see this as a minor blip, a tiny interruption in life. But you try moving twelve times—new schools, new people, new classes, new rules, and new cliques—then preach to me about overreacting.
“Great.” I shake my head at him one last time, feeling furious and helpless and…and…
I burst out of the house with the three-quarters of the Venti caramel macchiato that remains, slinging my backpack over my shoulder while pushing the unlock button on my key fob. Now I’m running late, too.
I notice the guy jogging across the street because he’s wearing a black hoodie and track pants. In Surprise, Arizona. In the middle of May. And I also notice him because he stops short at the precise moment my car unlocks with a chirp. He doesn’t move at all except to slowly turn just his head in my direction.
He’s dark haired and young, which rules out that he’s an Alzheimer’s patient whose memory says it’s winter time. So he must just be crazy. He stares at me wordlessly until I duck into the safety of my car. He’s still there, head turned, feet still rooted in his original direction of travel, when I back out of the driveway.
I consider leaping out of the car and confronting him, but none of the self-defense courses I’ve taken recommend doing so. I also consider running inside for my father. He’d give the guy a menacing stare until he moved on. I’m level-headed, he says.
All the more reason for him to react quickly with the appropriate level of concern if I were to run inside and tell him that a spooky jogger is watching me in a way that could mean he’s wondering whether my liver will taste good with some fava beans and a nice Chianti. But I’m still pissed at him, and I’m late, and I still need to pick up Rae, who has already texted me twice to ask where I am. I have not actually checked my phone, but I know it’s her. She’s impatient like that.
She’s waiting on the curb outside her house. I can tell she’s already spotted me because she’s bending to grab the handle on top of her backpack. She wastes no time asking what took me so long.
“Sorry,” I say nonchalantly, knowing she’ll forget her irritation by the time we get to school. I don’t point out to her that I pick her up to be nice and not because I’m at her back and call. Besides, whether I am doing a favor for her or not, late is late, and I am late, so I figure she has the right to be annoyed. Plus, it’s about a million degrees out already. My parents have been complaining that if it is this unseasonably warm in May, they are afraid to find out what our actual summer will be like this year. Not that we’ll be here to experience it.
Rae chatters about the weekend. I hate to say I tune her out, but I do. She’s my best friend, and I love her, but sometimes the six month difference in our ages feels like ten. My father says I am an old soul…that I came out of the womb as a thirty-year-old infant. When he says things like that, I feel a little sad, like I missed something great. Then I spend a couple hours at school amidst my peers and the thought subsides.
I don’t know when I passed the point of getting excited about girl’s room gossip or boozy parties. In fact, I don’t remember ever being excited by such things. I don’t care whether the parties are down old abandoned logging roads, in someone’s backyard, or out in the desert. I’m not interested. I try not to kill all of Rae’s fun, though. She’s a good friend despite her interests, and we have plenty of other things in common. Like books. We both hate vampire and wizard fiction and love dystopian novels and anything by John Green. We like a lot of the same music and movies and neither of us understands the popularity of In-N-Out Burger.
I swing into the parking lot at Touchstone Charter. Both of us moan when we realize we’ll have to park all the way in the back of the lot. Everything good is already taken because the bell is about to ring. I laugh when Rae opens her door practically before I come to a complete stop. We both gripe and moan about school, but we both suffer from the same time anxiety. Being late makes us both crazy, which is why I figure she had a right to be annoyed earlier and why she’s already on the walkway when I happen to glance at the shopping center next to the student parking lot.
Same black sweats. Same dark hair. Same dark eyes watching me, though this time he’s facing me full on instead of just turning his head like some creepy mannequin. Maybe he needs a payday loan or a Subway sandwich, or maybe he’s waiting to get his shaggy hair cut at Moe’s Old Tyme Barber Stop. Stop, not shop. Moe is very clear on that.
This time he breaks the connection, glancing toward the street at the sound of a horn. I turn and run after Rae, resisting the urge to look back. I pretend the pounding of my heart is from the distance I have to close to catch up to her and not from discovering creepy jogger guy outside my school, separated from me by only a wrought iron fence.
I hurry to my first class, dodging the feet of several jocks as they snake out at me. I’m sort of on their shit list because of an exposé in the student paper last fall about hazing. Several of them were suspended from all sports for the rest of the school year, which did not go over well. Since the jocks run with the RahRahs (no, I’m serious…our cheerleading squad is actually called the RahRahs) my article not only riled them up. It put me in the sights of the RahRahs, too, and the girls call out catty insults as I pass.
I tend to be a bit outspoken in favor of underdogs in general, which for some reason their leader, Jake Armadice, associates with being a hippie. As a result, I’ve earned myself the unoriginal nickname, Crunchy Crunch.
“Don’t trip, Crunchy,” several of the RahRahs sneer as I make my way past their jock boyfriends’ gauntlet of feet while also ducking their hands, which try to pull my backpack off my shoulder.
To make my already fantastic day even better, I swear I see jogger guy again after my fourth period government class, which is in the building closest to the student lot. It makes no sense to me that he’d still be there, hanging around. He’s got to be approaching heatstroke by now in that getup of his.
I’m seriously considering stopping in at the office to report him to the secretaries, who in turn will call the police. With this thought in my head I almost leap out of my skin as a hand snatches my elbow.
“Wow,” Rae says, her eyebrows lifting, “what’s got you so jumpy?”
I don’t answer. I just tell her I have to eat fast because I didn’t have time to print out my essay for English and need to use part of lunch period to swing by the library to get it from my student email account. English isn’t until last period, but I won’t have time between classes because the library happens to be on the opposite side of campus from all of my classes.
Rae begs off. I don’t really blame her, but it would have been nice to have company while trekking out to the south end of school grounds.