Authors: Dale Mayer [paranormal/YA]
Tags: #Young Adult, #Paranormal & Urban
Book #1 of the Design Series
Copyright © 2011
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidences either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Table of Contents
ome days just sucked. Then there was today – with a whole new level of bad. Storey Dalton, sixteen, was now boyfriendless.
Jeff had moved away from Bankhead six months ago, but in her mind, they were still a couple – until his Facebook message this morning. Like what was she supposed to do with that? He had a new girlfriend and wanted her to be happy for him. She stomped a hapless weed in front of her. The girl's name was Pam. Who called their kid Pam? Sounded like her mother's cooking spray.
The sun shone down so brightly its reflection off the creek blinded her. And of course she'd forgotten her sunglasses. Swearing, she headed to the shady side of the path through the woods where the poplars grew tall and straight. Halfway to school meant halfway to nowhere today.
Jeff had been her best friend first, and then finally her boyfriend. But only for the last couple of months. They'd no sooner made that magical development in their relationship when she found out his family was moving. So what if they were apart? Wasn't true love supposed to survive everything? Even she couldn't hold back a snicker at that thought.
True love my ass.
The only truth here was that Jeff was no longer hers. She could spit she was so mad.
She kicked at a rock in her way, then kicked it again when her first attempt failed to make it move. Just like her life. The town of Bankhead was dying. The mine had closed, and everyone cute or interesting had moved away. The place was a ghost town. There were less than a couple of hundred kids in school now. And that covered all twelve grades.
Her prospects weren't looking too bright at finding a replacement boyfriend. Tall and slim to the point of being almost skinny, she wasn't exactly a raving beauty – all elbows and knees. Jeff had called her unique, an artist with an interesting perspective on life.
She pulled her leg back and lashed out at a bigger rock – hard.
Damn, that felt good.
Grinning, she went a little wild and kicked the shit out of a good half dozen stones. Reveling in the solid slap against her foot and the hefty force she could apply, Storey struck out at life, her lack of friends, and most of all at her current boyfriendless state.
The last kick did it. A pressure gauge in her chest released and she laughed as the weight slid off her shoulders. "He's found someone else, fine. So will I. So it may not be today or tomorrow, but I'll find someone too."
As she passed another big rock she seriously thought about giving it a good whack, when a glint beside it caught her eye.
A pencil. She grinned in delight. She loved pencils. Had a shoebox full in her bedroom. Picking it up, she brushed some loose dirt off. Unusually flat with a well-loved look to it, the bare nub of lead showing spoke to the artist in her. "Cool. We're a well-matched pair. Both tossed away by those we love." With a sense of kinship, she zipped it safely into the side pocket of her backpack and headed off to school.
Three days later Storey had had it with Bankhead High School, her supposed friends, and especially her teachers. They weren't horrible. They were worse – at least today when any and all distractions were unacceptable.
Couldn't they see she was busy?
Her artwork demanded her attention.
"Storey, please stay after school so we can talk, again," said Mr. Madison, the history teacher.
A twitter rippled through the room. Storey ignored him, flicking a look of disgust to the room in general; she refocused on the design she had to get down. She called them doodles. Other people called them freaky. Not that she cared. She'd been drawing since she could hold a pencil. She wasn't about to stop now.
She couldn't. In a small corner of her mind, she knew that wasn't normal. That same corner of her mind knew this drive, this insane need to draw above all else was seriously wrong.
But it didn't matter.
With a toss of her shoulder-length hair, she bent her head to deepen the inside edge of a curlicue.
She heard the teacher's heavy, long suffering sigh. "All right, everyone. Read over the next chapter and do the first ten questions for practice. We'll go over the answers tomorrow. Class dismissed. Except for Storey."
Damn. She glanced up quickly, caught the smirks of the kids walking by. She needed just a few more moments. The pencil warmed in her hand. She quickly readjusted her grip and sketched faster. The amused looks in her direction didn't deserve acknowledgement.
The room emptied in a crush of movement and excited chatter until only silence filled the room – and the scratch of her pencil.
Mr. Madison strode down the aisle of desks until he stood before her. His hands burrowed deep in his pockets as he rocked on his heels. "Storey," he snapped. "Put down that pencil and talk to me."
Disgusted, Storey tossed the pencil down and slouched back so she could see him. Tall, almost droopy, his normally placid face had pulled in on itself as if a lemon had been shoved inside. Wrinkles furrowed his brow as he glowered down at her behind his seriously thick glasses.
"You've been in my class for six weeks. You hand in all your assignments and you did well on your test. You're often distracted, but these last few days...I just don't get it. It's like you're off in your own little world." Frustration twisted his face tighter. Storey watched in fascination as the skin folds expanded then folded back up as he spoke again. "Why can't you pay attention?"
This again. She shook her head. "I can't. That's why I draw." Irritation took over. "I've already told you that. I have trouble focusing." Closing her book with a snap, she stood up only then seeing she'd already picked the pencil up again and was doodling on her fingers. Weird. The pencil marks shouldn't show up on her skin. She glanced up at her teacher. "It's not just your class. It's all my classes."
His shoulders slumped and some of the anger drained from his voice. "Have you spoken to a doctor about this?"
"I've been on every kind of drug there is since first grade. Nothing has worked. Now I don't take anything. What's the point? I have two years to go, then it won't be a problem anymore." She bent down, grabbed her backpack and put away her sketchbook and homework. Straightening, she stood up and waited to see if he had anything to add.
"You have a future. You're smart, a hard worker, at least in the short term, but don't you want to do more – be more?"
His words haunted her long after she'd walked out of the building.
"Of course, I want more, damn it. Who doesn't?" she said to the empty sidewalk. But who could think about the future when the present was such a mess? Sure, she had her mother, somewhat. She had no siblings, for which she was both sad and grateful at the same time. They would have been company, except then they'd be in her same situation, and she wouldn't wish that on anyone. Who'd want to be the kid of the poor single mom despised by the rest of the community? It's not that she thought there was anything wrong with her mother's choices, but being a practicing Wiccan and owning and running a small candle shop in a redneck town like this one, well...not fun.
She kinda liked the emptiness of the skeleton community left at Bankhead. Except for the limited options in friends and boyfriends, of course. The traffic was calm, there were no lines at any of the stores, and nothing bad ever happened. Of course, nothing good ever happened, either.
She picked up her pace and managed to cut her trip home by half. Her latest doodle had its claws into her. True, that was an odd way to describe this gnawing inside to draw, but it felt right. After finishing a picture, she usually experienced an incredible sense of satisfaction and release. That part felt good, the actual creation part – not so much. These last few days, there'd been no satisfaction. In fact, the process had been so much worse. Past driven. Tormented might be a better term.
Her mother believed she'd outgrow her weird doodles and become a real artist eventually. A large rock went flying into the creek at her side as she contemplated that concept. How did you outgrow something that was a major part of yourself? It's not like she could outgrow a leg, or her hands. They were just as much an integral part of who she was as this compulsion to draw. An urge that had gotten much worse lately. A fact that was starting to make her seriously uneasy. Being an artist was fine with her, being obsessive about it – not so much.
Storey spun around but continued to walk backwards. A tall man in black was walking up behind her. She frowned and reassessed her first impression. Not a man, a teen on the brink of adulthood. And one oddly familiar. Right. He was the new kid at school, a rare enough event that it caught even her attention. She'd caught a glimpse of him in the morning, navigating through the hallways. Tall and slim, dressed in black from top to toe, even his short hair matched, giving his white skin a bleached look in contrast. He'd make a perfect vampire.
She couldn't help but smile. "Hi." For the life of her she couldn't remember his name. Her eyes locked on his square jaw, deep forehead and blazing blue eyes. His face would be hard to forget.
A lopsided grin slipped out, fascinating her.
"I'm Eric. You probably don't remember me. I just started at school today." He fell into step as she continued on her way.
"This is your first day and you know
"I recognized a fellow artist in the first class we shared and..." His smile deepened. "Your name would be hard
to know after the number of times I heard a teacher call it out today."
"Oh." Heat crawled up her face. Her stride stretched out, making him increase his pace to keep up.
"Sorry. Didn't mean to upset you."
Surprised, she shot him a quick sideways glance. "You didn't. Everyone knows I spend most of my time caught up in my art. Getting yelled at is no big deal."
The same grin flowed in her direction. She watched, captivated at how his face changed with his moods. Her fingers itched for pencil and paper. His voice was striking too, gravelly with a sense of humor lurking just beneath the surface.
"What? Am I wearing my lunch on my face or something?" He swiped his chin self-consciously.
Her eyes widened. "Sorry. I didn't mean to stare," she muttered and walked even faster.
"Hey slow down, we're not racing anywhere. And you're tall, but I'm taller."
Confused, she slowed down, sliding a sideways glance his way. "What does height have to do with it?"
"That I can walk as fast as you, I just don't want to."
Yeah, he was weird. "You don't have to walk with me at all." She couldn't help but point that out. Give him a chance to beg off and go his own way. It was kind of hard to believe he was still there in the first place.
"I know. I want to."
She snorted. "And why would you want to do that?"
"Because I like your artwork. It's unique, dark."
This time there was no holding back the look of disbelief. "And you like dark art?"
"Yup. It's cool." They came to a corner. "This is where I turn off. I live just down there." In spite of herself, Storey looked in the direction he pointed. He lived close to the old mine. Not the most affluent area of town. Still, it wasn't loser city like where she lived.
"See you tomorrow." He waved and walked away.
Storey crossed the road, watching as his lanky frame disappeared in the distance.
What was that all about?
A horn blasted her. She jumped and spun around. Crap. She'd stopped in the middle of the intersection like a love-struck idiot. With an apologetic smile, she moved out of the way and finished the trip home in irate confusion. What the hell was going on with her these days?