When Lightning Strikes (Lightning Series Book 1) (20 page)

Andromeda’ blanched, but she kept the tight false smile. Julie clenched her hands in her lap. How could they be her real parents and know there was something going on? If they weren’t real, had they been faking it her whole life?

“Just making sure that you’re happy, dear.”

Julie felt like screaming:
Yeah or just trying not to feel as guilty!

Instead she managed to choke out. “Yeah, I know. You are always trying to make sure I’m happy.” She didn’t think that sounded too sarcastic.

She stirred her bowl, watching the different colors bleed into the milk in a rainbow of swirls. Out of the corner of her eye, Andromeda nodded and went back to washing dishes. She had a dishwasher, but she never used it.

Maybe everyone here was a pod person. It wasn’t any more unreal than any other explanation. Well, not Kara—not her.

Not yet, anyway. Maybe you could turn into a pod person. Or maybe some were not able to, so they stayed at the ‘fine arts’ school. Maybe…maybe a tinfoil hat would be good. Either way, she didn’t feel like eating more. She pushed the bowl away.

“So what are your plans today?”

“Well, since I didn’t get to practice yesterday, I’ll go to the gym today. I will work on my summer reading a little later. I have a big list since the only English the
fine arts
school offers is AP.”

She didn’t mean to say the words fine arts sarcastically, but Andromeda didn’t notice or care. Now she was too busy stirring something on the stove. It was like she had to stay too busy to think or something.

At this point, keeping her emotions under control to remember stuff was wearing thin. It was less than a week since she started documenting in her red notebook, but it felt like a lifetime. It also felt real. It felt more real than the artificial beauty of the island. Was the beauty used to disguise the ugliness of the people who lived here?

“That sounds nice. Do you want a ride to the school?”

“Nope.”

“Is there something wrong?”

Yes.
“Nope.” Julie swallowed back a wave of nausea as she considered that maybe all her memories of Atlanta were not real. What if all of those were somehow implanted? What if there was some hairy fingered man pretending to be Mandy or Darcy when she texted? What if her whole life as she knew it wasn’t real?

She gripped her legs under the table, trying to fight off a panic attack. Her focus wavered as she stared at her bowl of colorful milk. She struggled to take a breath, fighting to let the tingling sensation chase away her losing even one more memory, even if it was a scary one. She felt the tingles sweep over her body and let her breath out.

They had to be real. All of them. Her dancing was real. She felt it to her core.

“Okay. Well let me know when you leave and think you will get back.” Andromeda’s hand stayed steady on the mixing bowl, and her face focused on it intensely.

“Fine.” She pushed back from the table to walk quickly upstairs, back stiff. She needed to figure out what was going on before she drove herself crazy with all these ideas.

Julie puttered around upstairs for a while and cleaned her room since it was only seven. Then she flipped through her red notebook, trying to find a pattern or answer in there she may have missed from the other hundred times she looked. She tossed the book aside after a few minutes.

Finally, she decided that she could escape to the gym to dance the rest of the day without it being too strange. At least that’s what she would tell Andromeda.

She cranked up her moped. This early, the neighborhoods she passed were quiet. She headed to the town, not sure what she wanted to do. The coffeehouse was open, so she went in and got a cup of coffee. Taking a seat at one of the front windows, she stared down the road at the bridge. No one was going or coming, as usual.

Julie could see the café on the water from here. There were three people sitting at the same table she noticed the other day. They were different, but she knew they were there for the same reason. She watched them as they watched the few cars driving by. They waved at every one of them.

One car stopped, rolling down the window so the driver could talk to them. She leaned forward, though she knew she would not hear a word they said through the glass window from way up the street. A couple of minutes later, they waved at whoever was driving, and the car passed over the bridge.

She shook her head. They weren’t even subtle. Either everyone was in on it or the ones who weren’t were considered harmless. Like her. She wasn’t supposed to have a memory of weird things, right?

“Another cup, dear?”

Julie jumped in her seat.

“Oh sorry. I didn’t mean to jar you out of a daydream.”

She was the only one in the coffeehouse this early. She wasn’t sure if this lady suspected that she was spying on the bridge.

Julie examined the woman’s face. She had friendly green eyes and pretty brown hair that sparkled with highlights in the sun. She acted like she was older, but she looked about Andromeda’s age. There didn’t seem to be anything sinister about her.

When did someone being courteous become suspicious? The owner was trying to find someone to chat with.

“It’s okay.”

“Another cup?”

“Umm, sure.”

“You know, I used to daydream a lot when I was young. Don’t worry. It goes away as you get older. Let me get you a muffin on the house. I can tell you are having one of those kind of days. Chocolate?”

Julie nodded, keeping her mouth tight so her jaw didn’t drop. Had this lady admitted that she was like Julie and Kara? Was she a fine arts school reject too? Was she reading too much into her words.

She looked back out the window and let out a breath. No one seemed to notice or care what she was doing.

Her head prickled a bit, and she found herself staring at the building across the street. The one that everyone went into but there were no stores. She shivered, like someone was staring right back at her out one of the tinted windows. She tried to shake it off, but the tingly feeling that she was being watched continued.

She had to be imagining it. Or had she given herself away one too many times—was she being watched now?

Her stomach tightened into a knot, and instead of eating the chocolate muffin, she wrapped it up in a napkin when the owner went into the back and stuffed it into her bag. Her eyes kept traveling back to the plain brick building.

Julie wanted to look around it. Her skin prickled, and she shivered. Not today. She couldn’t get the creepy feeling that she was being watched to go away, even as she went to her moped. But whenever she glanced back, there was no one there.

She drove around the park and all the way down the other end of the island to see if she’d missed anything. It was odd that all the businesses were in one spot, and the two schools were on opposite sides of the island. On other beach islands, there would be gas stations, knickknack stores, and restaurants. There wasn’t even a grocery store on one end. Twenty or thirty minutes of slow driving had to be irritating when all you needed was a loaf of bread.

Glancing around again, Julie shrugged and decided to go to the gym to practice. She would eat the muffin for lunch in a few hours. She pushed the moped to its top speed, as the feeling of eyes boring into her back became stronger. It was a relief to get to the school and lock the door behind her, even if the gym was big and full of echoes.

It only took a few moments to set up the stereo for her MP3. It was comforting in here, thinking of the fun she had with Muriel. Also, since the only windows were in the doors, it was fairly private. She could easily see if someone was spying on her. She felt the tingling down her spine again and shook it off. Now she knew she was being paranoid. No one else was in here with her.

She stripped down to her leotard. After some warm up stretches, she decided to go all out and perform her last recital piece from Atlanta again. She hoped that it might work out the nervous tension that was rising in her from not dancing for so long. It made her skin feel tight, like it was the only thing holding back an explosion.

As soon as the first notes came on, she closed her eyes and performed the dance. She was blissfully aware that the basketball court was more than large enough for her to become totally absorbed in the piece without having to watch out for objects in her way. Each move was exact now, a product of Muriel’s guidance. She almost wished for an audience, since she knew that the energy and poses must be beautiful with the few minor alterations they had made in the choreography.

As Julie made the final stretch, she grinned to herself. The trick she learned to displace the pain was automatic now. A drop of sweat tickled her nose as it plopped to the wood floor below. She opened her eyes, her world still upside down as she waited for the final note to finish.

What the hell?

There was a person in the top row of the bleaches. Not just any person.

Rory.

He smirked a little as their eyes met. Her heart jumped into her throat, and her face flushed. Julie righted herself so quickly that she toppled over and landed on her butt. She blushed harder. He laughed, got up, and came down the bleachers two at a time.

“I have to say, I expected a more graceful ending to your dance. Though I guess the rest of it was so spectacular, I can forget the last part. It was my fault anyway for surprising you.”

“You think? How very gracious of you. Now get out.” She narrowed her eyes. “Were you following me earlier?”

He grinned at her. “I came here to see you. I know you want to see me too.”

Her heart thudded a little. His tall, lean form looked good in the black shirt and khaki pants. He was at the bottom of the bleachers now, and Julie scrambled to her feet in order to stay away from him.

“I don’t want to see you. I thought you promised Jamie you would stay away. Why are you here?” She clasped her trembling hands together.

“Come on, Julie. Even if I wanted to stay away, do you think I could for long? You felt it too. I know you did.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Her heart was pounding now. She didn’t know what weird power he had over her or if he was admitting that she had the same effect on him—but she didn’t want him near her. She did not want to lose control and kiss him again. She swayed at the thought, and her body tingled all over as she remembered kissing him the night before.

Rory circled around her, effectively edging her off from the door. If she could get him to move a little to one side or another, she might be able to run past him. She was fast.

“I don’t know you well, but I don’t think you have kissed that many boys. Especially boys you don’t like.”

“If you know I don’t like you, why are you here?” She pointed to the door. “Go.”

“I think that you will like me. In fact, I’m positive that you will like me.”

Julie stopped edging and put her hands on her hips. He was too sure of himself. Now she was going from scared to angry. Luckily, she was in her dancing mode still, or she would be struggling with her memory right now. Did he know about that? Did he think she would forget this?

“Look, just because you have some kind of weird power over me when we touch,” his eyes flashed as she said that, “doesn’t mean I have to like it or agree with it. I heard Jamie. You play games with girls. I’m not going to be one of them.”

“So you admit there is something more going on.”

“Of course there is! This whole freaking place is like that. I don’t know what it is, but I know I can’t trust you.”

Julie clamped her hand on her mouth. Her eyes were wide as she stared at him. She couldn’t believe she had admitted that to this guy.

Rory stopped walking towards her, folded his arms over his chest, and eyed her. “Interesting. So you sense there is more. That is something to think about. Anything else weird with you?”

Her hand dropped from her face. Someone was finally telling her the truth. Of all people to do this, she didn’t expect it to be him.

She studied him. Was she wrong about him if he was willing to talk to her? “You actually admit it. Someone is actually admitting it. I’m not crazy? There is something going on. Can you tell me? What do you mean, something else weird?”

“I can’t tell you anything.” He shrugged like the topic didn’t matter anymore and started slowly walking towards her again like he was stalking prey.

“But…” She stood still. Her mind was fuzzy with shock. She was rooted to the spot, afraid to move, or her wobbly knees might collapse.

Someone was actually talking to her. And that someone was this boy she thought she didn’t like. The one that made her feel so alive when they touched. She swayed again, her body fighting with her head about what to do.

Rory was being honest with her about this one thing. At least up to a point.

She wasn’t crazy.

Julie couldn’t help but start to like him a tiny bit. He was the one person who was being honest with her since she moved to the island.

“I can’t tell you anything. I’d be breaking a covenant. I’m sorry. You have to either figure it out or wait.”

“You would tell me? A covenant—what’s that?”

He put a finger over his lips and shook his head, smirking as he moved towards her. “If I could tell you, I would. Why not? I only follow the rules because I have to and because of my family. It doesn’t mean I always agree with them. They’re outdated now. Once the old ones are out, they will be changed.”

“What rules?”

“I already said I can’t tell you.” He was only a couple of steps away now, but he stopped and looked her up and down, clenching his hands by his side like he wanted to grab her. But he held himself back. He whispered, “I would tell you if I could. Just admitting it like I did can get me into a lot of trouble, but my family can get me out of it. Plus, I don’t think you’ll tell.”

Julie stared at him. Was he using this as an excuse to get closer to her? Yet he had confirmed that there was something going on.

“Are you humoring me? Is this some kind of game to you?”

Rory laughed. “No. I promise that this isn’t a game. My life would have been much easier if someone else had fished me out of the ocean yesterday or if we did not share this…” he paused for a moment and shrugged, “connection. Look, no one can tell you. Even your brother or parents. It is forbidden. So can we talk about something else now?”

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