Authors: Christopher Nelson
The Embers Of My Heart
©2016 Christopher Nelson
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents 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 locals is strictly coincidental.
The room number was the same. My roommate assignment was the same. Carson Hall still loomed over the hill, gray and sprawling. The floors were still scuffed and dirty and I could hear voices down the halls as students moved back in. Opening the door to my room, the faint scent of cigarette smoke told me that at least Max was back. Drew's dresser was open and a pair of shorts peeked over the edge, but that only meant he was a slob. Nothing seemed to have changed from the moment I left.
Nothing but me.
Last year, I had moved to upstate New York as a normal college student, attending a competitive university, aiming for a degree and a typical adult life. Learn all about business, get into a management track position, and move up the corporate ladder. Find a wife. Have children. Retire a millionaire. My goal was the American dream.
That Kevin Parker would be so very surprised by what I had become. I was a boyfriend, a cheater, a killer, a traitor. I was a piece on a game board, a simple pawn, playing by rules that I didn't know nor understand.
Conspiracies were true. I was part of more of them than I could keep track of. I betrayed the trust of those who had awoken the psionic power locked in my head.
Worst of all, I had betrayed my girlfriend.
I threw my luggage on my bed. Unpacking could wait. I walked the halls and stairs and stood in front of her door with my fists clenched enough to leave marks on my palms. The last time we spoke had been just before winter break.
She called me a murderer. She wasn't wrong, even though I acted to save her life. Stress brought out the worst in people and I wanted to talk to her. I wanted to forgive her.
The door opened before I even knocked. "Hi," I said. Nikki faced me. Her eyes were dark and tranquil, and she wore her hair down, loose around her shoulders. "Can I come in?" She stepped back and tilted her head. As I brushed past her, she slammed the door shut behind me. A flash of green caught my eye and I started to turn my head to look at her, but my muscles wouldn't respond to my commands. She had me locked down. I wasn't even able to talk.
"Where were you?" she asked. Her voice was barely above a whisper. As she walked around into my field of vision, I saw the whites of her eyes shining bright green, her psionic power in full display. "You son of a bitch, where were you last week?"
I forced all thoughts of the last couple of weeks away. I didn't think she was capable of breaking into my mind and sweeping through my thoughts, but there was no reason to take any risks. Her grip still didn't let me speak. Escalating the situation would be a singularly bad idea. I kept my power and my temper in check.
She thumped my chest lightly with a closed fist. "I tried to call you all last week. You didn't answer. I tried to call your house. Your dad said you had gone to New York City for the week to visit some friends. He had no idea how long you'd be there or if you were coming back. I had no way of finding you. I tried. What the hell is wrong with you, Kevin? Why did you go there? Why didn't you say anything to me?"
I tried to blink. She relaxed her grip just enough so I could speak. "I can explain," I said.
"Explain?" Her voice grew sharper. "Go ahead, Kevin. Explain to me what you were doing. You were in the city visiting friends?"
"Yes. A few people I met online."
"Your dad didn't know them."
"My dad doesn't know all my friends. Do your parents? Besides, I can take care of myself."
"Damn you, Kevin!" She poked my chest again. "He told me about how your best friend from high school visited and left in tears. Then you headed off into the city with barely even a goodbye. Do you have any idea how he felt? Do you have any idea how much I worried? I know how dangerous that place is!"
"I didn't really think-"
"No shit, you didn't think. So explain. Tell me what you were doing."
"Like I just said, I went to the city to visit some friends," I said. My temper was rising and it took me a moment to keep from snapping back. Dad talked too much. Especially to the girlfriend he had never actually met. "I had an argument with a high school friend and I needed to get away from home."
"What were their names?"
"The friends in the city."
"Paul, Sarah, and Roy."
"Sarah?" She quirked an eyebrow. "You stayed with another girl?"
"Oh for fuck's sake, Nikki." Her grip loosened enough to let me shake my head. "She's a friend, they're all friends. I'm sorry I didn't let you know what was going on, but really, you had three weeks before that to talk to me. You could have called me too. Ok?"
"No, it's not ok! You weren't thinking about the people who care about you at all."
"You only think of yourself, Kevin. You didn't think about your dad, you didn't think about me, you didn't think about how Absynthe would react, you didn't think about the danger and stress you were going to put everyone through. It's all about you. When are you going to realize the world doesn't revolve around you?"
I counted to ten before I responded. "This conversation is over. We'll talk about this later."
She started to say something, but someone grabbed the doorknob. The grip on my body vanished and I turned just in time to see Nikki's roommate Kaitlyn open the door wide and saunter into the room. When she saw me standing there, she put a hand on one hip and smiled. "Hey there, Kev! Oh, am I interrupting anything? Do you need me to leave?"
"Yes," Nikki snapped.
"No," I said. Kaitlyn raised a perfectly shaped eyebrow. "I just dropped in to say hi. Still have to finish unpacking. Talk to you two later."
"Whatever. See you later, I guess." Nikki turned away.
I walked out, but paused just around the corner from their room. "What was that all about, girl?" Kaitlyn asked.
"Something wrong between you two?"
"He's a conceited ass."
"Oh, hon, don't worry so much. That's typical for a guy. Here, I'll tell you all about my vacation. It'll cheer you up." The door clicked shut before I could hear any of Kaitlyn's tales of conquest.
My room was still empty when I got back. Drew was probably out with Lisa already. Max, on the other hand, would be lurking around Jess. I grabbed a shirt from my suitcase and squeezed it. Here I was, alone again. I closed my eyes and tried not to think back to last week. One week ago, just a handful of days, I was with someone who made me feel alive. "Be careful," she had whispered in my ear as I hugged her goodbye. She had watched the train pull away. I could still feel her warmth. With Nikki, I felt only cold, but that was my fault, not hers.
My fists clenched around the shirt and I flung it into the air. Before it could hit the ground, I called power from my mind and tried to fold it. Green light flickered across the room as my powers manifested. Instead of the focused power I normally wielded, it sputtered and choked. The shirt folded over once, spun around, then the right sleeve tore free. I clamped down on my power and closed my eyes. The back of my head throbbed. Self-control. I had the power to tear things apart. I was losing the focus to control it. Shade always told me how my lack of control was my greatest weakness. I didn't know if he was right or wrong, but I was still alive and he was in a coma. That proved something.
"Dude, Kev, get a haircut." I spun around and tried to hide the torn shirt with my body. Drew grinned at me as he threw his heavy coat on his chair. "I know you don't pay attention to trends and shit, but long hair just isn't in."
I ran a hand through my hair. "I haven't had a haircut since I came here. Is that what the trend is these days?"
Drew mirrored my movement. Last year, he had kept a crew cut up until the end of the year. Now it spiked up in the front and even looked a little lighter in color. "This is what Lisa likes. I don't know if it's trendy, but it's a pain in the ass to keep up. I feel kind of dumb putting so much effort into it."
"That's because you are kind of dumb," I said.
"Dammit, Kev, that's my line." My other roommate, Max, drifted into the room behind Drew. He hung his peacoat up on the hooks by the door. "I'm the one who delivers the verbal abuse and witty repartee. We're going to have words if you're crowding my territory."
"No one can match your level of abuse, Max," Drew said.
"Thanks, it's good to know I'm appreciated. Now what died on top of your head, and did you seriously try to clean it off with bleach?"
I laughed. "I missed you guys, you know that?"
They both exchanged a look. "Uh, Kev, I'm taken, dude. But I appreciate it," Drew said.
"So is he," Max pointed out. "Though I guess maybe you're having some problems with Nikki or something? Maybe you're just looking to Drew for some solace? Warmth and comfort in a cold, lonely world?"
My expression must have been telling, because both of them frowned. Max reached back and pushed the door closed. Drew sat in his chair and grunted at me. "You want to talk about it?"
"Be careful asking him for advice," Max said.
"Yeah, I remember," I said. "But he might have something good this time."
Drew grunted again. "So what happened?"
I told them the same version I had told her. By the end of that short story, Max was sitting at his desk shaking his head. "Kev, that's only a bit crazy, right? I mean, she does have a point."
"I know she has a point, but her reaction is all out of proportion," I said.
"Well, then think about it," Max said. "Let me point out this is the first time you've really had a serious fight with her, right? Do you think this is the way she's going to be every time? Are you ok with that? If not, red flag, red alert, abandon ship."
"Look, dude, you've got choices here," Drew said. "You can let it go, apologize, and get on with things if you think she's worth it. You have to compromise on some things, you know?"
"If you don't think she's worth it, walk away, dumbass," Max interjected. "You don't owe her a goddamn itinerary of every day you spend apart. That's bullshit and you don't have to put up with it."
I couldn't decide which one of them had the better point. Both of them were right. "I do feel bad. We've both been stressed and I think it turned into a bigger thing than it should have."
"I don't know about that," Max said. "Yeah, stress, but something's wrong with that girl, Kev. Remember what I told you before you left for home? I waved to her and she acted as if she didn't even see me, like I wasn't even there. I wasn't too far away or anything, she had to have heard me, but she just ignored me. That's fucked up."
"She's pretty chilly to me too," Drew said.
It was worth considering. She wasn't exactly the nicest person some of the time. The rest of the time, she more than made up for it. "I think she'll come around, guys. Thanks for the advice."
"I do have one other idea," Drew said. He gave me a sly grin. "Get in Kaitlyn's pants."
"Not even kidding. You can establish dominance if you sleep with her roommate. You know she has serious self-esteem issues and you know she'd end up crawling back. You wouldn't have to worry about nagging ever again."
"Drew, you're a dick," Max said. "Straight up. That's not even funny."
"Serious. Kev's being stepped on and that's not funny. If he pulls that off, what's the worst that could happen? She breaks up with him and he's free from her bullshit. Sure, drama, but either way he gets to bang Kait. Lisa's told me some of the stuff she's into. Holy shit, guys. Holy shit."
"That's still evil," Max said. He shook his head. "Would you pull that shit on Lisa?"
"If you're asking me whether I'd sleep with Jess, hell no, man. First, Jess would cut it off. Second, Lisa would weld it back on, and then rip it off."
"I don't disagree." I looked at Max. His face was uncommonly serious. "I just think cheating is a shitty thing to do, is all. I'll be honest, Kev. Even if she's kind of a bitch, it'd be a shitty thing to do to her. Just dump her if you're thinking about doing anything like that."
I tried to keep a straight face. "While getting Kait in bed would be amazing, I don't think it's the right thing to do. Plus, it wouldn't be much of a challenge."
Drew snorted. "Look at you, mister confident!"
"He must be hung like an ox," Max said. "That's the only way Kait would go for someone without muscles on top of muscles."