When Lightning Strikes (Lightning Series Book 1) (7 page)


Julie woke up the next morning, stretched, and got out of bed lazily. She threw on her robe and went downstairs to the kitchen to find a late breakfast. She clicked through her phone as she went, seeing the last of the texts from friends talking about the shooting.

It was late when she finally got home. It was several hours before the police released her and her brother from the hotel. Dad came to the hotel to be with them as they waited and stayed with them while they were questioned by the police.

Her family was gathered around the kitchen island. Mom was leaning against it, munching on toast. Her brother and dad were on the stools finishing up large plates of food based on what was left on the counter. It was disgusting that they could eat like that and not get fat.

Yawning, she walked across the cold tile floor over to them. They all stopped talking and turned to her as one, their faces looked serious and drawn.

“Jamie, can you let us talk to Julie privately?” Her mom’s brows always drew together when she was worried.

“Sure.” He gave her a gentle punch on the arm as he went by. It was his signal that everything would be okay. Julie stiffened. She had a feeling she wouldn’t like what was coming.

“Here.” Dad pushed a plate of eggs and toast towards her. “Eat up. Then we’ll talk.”

Julie took the seat her brother had left, ate a few bites of eggs, and picked up a piece of toast to munch on. Her parents stayed quiet. It was odd. Mom was never this quiet.

“Okay, what is going on? You are all starting to freak me out a little.”

“Well…there is no easy way to say this.” Her dad rubbed a hand over his face as if preparing himself for something unpleasant. “So here it goes.”

He paused again, glancing at Mom, who nodded once and looked away from them both. Julie took another bite of eggs.

“We are moving, leaving Atlanta to move back to the island we grew up on.”

Julie spat the eggs out. “What?”

“We are going to move. As soon as possible.” Her mother got a sponge to clean off the counter as she talked. “This week. Tomorrow, if we can do it.”

“What? Why? Tomorrow!” She felt as if all the breath was knocked out of her. This was their home This was where all their friends were. This was where their school was.

And most importantly, this was where her dance studio was.

She knew the island they were talking about. There was nothing there but a few stores, the two schools, and fancy houses. There was nothing there for her. Nothing at all.

A buzzing noise filled her ears, and she swore that she felt the inside of them vibrating. Dad was talking again. Taking a few gulps of air, she tried to catch what he was saying.

“…attack a few weeks ago and the shooting at the hotel, we don’t believe that this is a safe place for you and Jamie. We want to move back to a quieter place, outside a city. Where it’s safer.” He finished the last part firmly.

“But this is where we live.” Julie was having trouble thinking straight. They made this decision so quickly.

“We are moving. Tomorrow, unless we absolutely have to wait until the following day. But you and Jamie will be staying here in this house. You won’t be going to school.” He clearly thought this wasn’t a debate. As if she ever let anyone tell her what to do.

“This is where all my friends, my school, and my dance studio are. Surely you wouldn’t move me away from it now that I’m starting auditions.” Her voice was shaky.

Mom tried to put an arm around her. “Honey—”

“No!” Julie threw off her arm. “This doesn’t make any sense. Tomorrow? How can we possibly move tomorrow? Is that even possible without planning? Can’t we at least wait until the end of the year? Wouldn’t that be better?” If she could stall for time, she could convince them this was stupid.

Her parents gave each other a long look. Dad remained stiff with his arms crossed. Her mother looked like she was trying not to cry too. She was rubbing her arms up and down, almost like she was hugging herself.

Julie focused on Mom. “Does Jamie know about this?”

He didn’t seem upset when he left the kitchen before her. He would agree with her. He wouldn’t want to leave all his friends. Maybe she should call for him to come down here too.

Her mom looked at Dad again, and he nodded to Julie. “Yes, and he agrees with moving.”

“I can’t believe that! He is okay with leaving all his friends? I’m going to call him down here and ask him.” She turned to go to the stairs. “Jamie!”

“No.” Her father caught her arm firmly with one hand. “You will leave Jamie out of this. He knows already and agrees. That is all you need to know.”

“What? What do you mean—that is all I need to know?” She air quoted back. “That doesn’t even make sense. What else is there to know?”

She glared at both her parents. Dad kept his gaze level with hers, but Mom looked down.

“What else are you not telling me? What else is going on? That’s why you don’t want me talking to Jamie. Why won’t you tell me? I’m a part of this family too!” Her throat closed up as she choked out the last few words. She didn’t want to start crying right now, but fighting off the tears of anger was getting difficult.

“Honey.” Mom’s eyes pleaded with Julie to understand. “This wasn’t an easy decision to make. We know this is a shock. We weren’t planning to move until this summer. But with the two attacks in two weeks, even Jamie agreed we needed to leave right away.”

“Oh, I get it.” Julie’s nostrils flared as she sucked in an angry breath. “So Jamie is in on this. You guys decided to leave me out of it. You were waiting to tell me my life was over at the last possible instant.”

Dad moved over to put an arm around her mom, who looked stricken. He glared at Julie. “Your life isn’t over.”

“You are telling me that you are taking me away from my studio. One of the best in the country. A place I worked hard to get into and excel at for years. This is my year to go on to something bigger.” Her eyes welled up. She banged her fist down on the counter and then rubbed it as she continued. “This is my dream. Moving out to the middle of nowhere will kill it. You know it will. You can’t take it away from me! And I won’t even have Mandy and Darcy around to help me get through it.”

Mom leaned forward and tried to take her hand. Julie pulled her hand away. Glaring through a haze of tears, she folded her arms across her chest.

“Julie,” her mother said, blinking fast. Her voice shook a little as she tried to talk. “I’m sorry that we are surprising you with this. That wasn’t the original plan. We should have told you sooner. We didn’t want to spoil your recital. We thought that this was the best way.”

“Staying here is what’s best for me,
Andromeda
. Why are you doing this? It doesn’t make any sense. I need some other reason besides it’s safer.” She balled her hands up to keep them from shaking and blinked back tears of frustration.

She wanted to scream at her parents. If she did that though, it might end the argument. She felt a moment of unease as she glanced at her dad’s unyielding face. She intended to win this argument. Her eyes flickered back to her mom. She wouldn’t meet Julie’s eyes. She looked down at her hands and started to twist her wedding band, obviously feeling guilty.

“We have been talking about this since you were hurt a few weeks ago. We were going to wait until this summer.” Her father held up a hand as she opened her mouth to speak. “But after last night we are leaving as soon as possible. Atlanta isn’t safe for us anymore.”

Julie shook her head, letting her nails keep digging into the palms of her hands to keep the tears away. “This is so stupid. So there have been two incidents in the last couple of weeks. You are acting as if someone deliberately tried to hurt me, us.” She shrugged that off as obviously insane. “We have lived here for years and been fine. Why can’t we stay for a while longer and see? Jamie and I will be more careful. I can make sure to leave the studio before it gets dark.”

There, problem solved. She would leave early for a few weeks or so until her parents calmed down. Her parents looked at each other again. She held her breath. Maybe it had worked. She felt her lips creeping up into a hopeful smile.

Her mother looked down again and began twisting her wedding ring again.

“Julie, we have already made the decision. We aren’t changing our minds. The plans are set. We are leaving tomorrow. Early.” Her father said this as if he was telling her they were just going away for the weekend or something.

Her voice rose. “How am I going to pack? How am I going to say goodbye to my friends—”

He cut her off again. “You will need to pack a bag for stuff you need right away. Everything else should be there a few days after we arrive. You aren’t to leave the house. You will have to call your friends.”

“This is so unfair!” Her hands unclenched, and she let the tears flow. This was happening. She couldn’t believe it. She took a deep breath. “Mom, you agree with this?”

Her mother nodded. Julie kept staring at her, blinking, and swiping away tears with the back of her hands. Her mom still wouldn’t meet her eyes. Julie could tell she wasn’t happy about this either.

Finally she said, “I do agree with this Julie. We don’t have another choice.”

“Another choice? But what about your jobs? What are you going to do?” She took a breath. She couldn’t believe that she hadn’t led with their jobs. Of course they had to stay here for their jobs.

“The company will let us do our consulting work from the island,” her father replied.

“What?” Another reason to stay evaporated. She clenched her fists again.

“Our company doesn’t mind us moving there. There’s an airport nearby.” He shrugged, like it was no big deal.

They had already transferred their jobs. They had been planning this.

It felt as if someone had punched her in the gut. She leaned back her chair, defeat washing over her. “This is where my life is. My friends, my dancing, my dreams. Can’t we talk about this?”

“Honey,” her mother said, coming over to her side of the table and placing an arm around her. She wanted to shake her mom off but didn’t. “I know this is hard now, but I promise you will see it’s for the best one day.”

“You don’t even sound like you believe that. I don’t think you want to go either. Be honest mom. You don’t, do you?” She glared at her. Her mother stiffened, and Julie knew she’d hit a nerve.

“Look,” her father said, “I know we are asking you to leave your friends and your school, but you can continue dancing. We can find a way to let you continue that there.”

“What? At some small town studio where I might aspire to absolutely nothing? Thanks
Lir
, real generous of you,” she said sarcastically, blinking back tears again.

She pushed herself up from the table. She was unsteady, but she didn’t want to sit down with them anymore. Her head ached, and she was tired again. The eggs and toast in her stomach rolled around menacingly.

“You don’t know that.”

She ignored him. As if he cared at all about her. “Can’t you see that you are taking me away from the one thing I have wanted my entire life? This is it. This is the time I have a chance to make it with dancing. Doesn’t everyone have the right to be happy, pursue their dreams? Can’t you guys try for one more year, or even a few months, so I can have a chance at the Academy?”

Her mother stopped hugging her and went across the room to grab a tissue. She was openly crying now, but she kept her back turned on both of them. Her father watched for a moment and then turned back to Julie. “I think that is enough.”

Her balled fists turned white. Her palms ached where her fingernails dug into her skin. “There isn’t a thing on that island for me. You and Mom can tell yourselves there is, but we all know it isn’t true.”

She got up to walk away. There was no point staying here and talking to these people. They might as well be strangers.

“Wait,” her mom pleaded. “Let’s talk about this.”

“No.” She swallowed back a sob. She wanted to be alone. “It is clear that you have all made your mind up without me. I see how it is now.” She took a breath and let it out. “I don’t want anything to do with any of you anyway!”

Julie stomped upstairs. She ignored the last plea from her mom to stay and noted that her dad didn’t even bother.

“Let her go, Andromeda. She needs some time.”

Stopping in front of her brothers’ door, she knocked.

“Come on in.”

She looked him square in the face. His brilliant blue eyes met hers. He looked worried.

“Did you know?” Her eyes dared him to lie to her about this.

His eyes flicked away. “Yes.”

“And you didn’t tell me?”

“No.” He still wouldn’t look at her. One of his baseball posters on the wall seemed to have all of his attention. “Mom and Dad asked me not to tell you anything.”

“And you decided this one time to listen to them?” Her voice wavered. They had always been so close, more like best friends than typical brother and sister. Never again. “I knew that we haven’t been spending as much time together lately since we have both been busy, but you have changed. I don’t like it.”

He still didn’t look at her, but his Adam’s apple moved up and down as he held back tears. She couldn’t remember the last time she had seen him this upset. He was always laughing and joking, never showing any deeper feelings. Maybe he wasn’t as happy about this as she thought.

She felt some of the tension leave her. Something had to be wrong. She went into the room and sat down next to him. “What is going on, Jamie?”

She stared at her feet, not wanting to watch him lie if he didn’t tell her the truth this time.

He sat quietly and worked to get himself under control. After a while, he finally replied, “I don’t know.”

She stiffened, feeling sick. He was lying.

“Jamie,” she said with an edge, “I know that there is something going. I mean, come on. Moving to the island because it is safer? Since you have apparently been discussing this with Mom and Dad behind my back, I think you know. Why won’t you tell me?”

“We have to move, Jules.” She flinched as he used her nickname. He looked at her, his eyes large and watery. “We don’t have a choice. It’s too dangerous for us here now.”

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