When Lightning Strikes (Lightning Series Book 1) (8 page)

She snorted. “Atlanta has never been safe. There are always shootings, muggings, and stuff. It’s a big city. It is a part of living here. Why now?”

“I think that the hotel was too much for them. You getting attacked two weeks ago was bad enough. This was too much.” He leaned towards her earnestly and put an arm around her. “Jules, I believe that this is for the best. It’s for all of our safety.”

She narrowed her eyes. He was telling the truth, but it still didn’t feel right. There was something missing. What was going on? It was like all her family had suddenly morphed into complete strangers.

“None of this makes any sense. Mom and Dad have transferred their jobs. They did that before last night. I don’t believe you. I don’t believe any of you. What is going on?” She pulled herself up and away from him, hugging her arms to her chest.

It was too uncomfortable there with him trying to make her feel better, while he lied to her at the same time. She blinked back tears.

Jamie’s eyes bore into her. He opened his mouth and closed it again before looking down. “Nothing, Jules. It’s like they said. They want us to move to the island. It will be safer for us there.”

His words had to sound lame to him too.

“So you are okay with this?” she asked again, still trying to get him to talk to her.

“Yes, I know we have to.” He looked at her earnestly.

“So you are okay with leaving Ethan—your best friend—leaving all our friends, leaving school, and leaving the baseball team with no warning? Tomorrow?” Her voice rose to a shout.

He nodded under her glare. His eyes were wide.

“What is wrong with you? I don’t even know who you are anymore.”

She wheeled around to leave, running into a solid, warm wall. Her dad put his arm around her and tried to lead her out of Jamie’s room. She threw his arm off. “Don’t. I don’t want anything to do with any of you! This is wrong! You are all just…wrong.” She was even angrier not able to find words that fit how she felt.

“I’m sorry, Jules,” Jamie said quietly.

She didn’t know what he was sorry for. She slammed the door to his room behind her.

Stomping to her room, she couldn’t help to look back. The door to her brother’s room had bounced back open. She stopped short and stared with her mouth open in disbelief. Her chest clenched.

Her father was sitting next to Jamie on the bed, his arm around her brother like he was sheltering him. Her brother was shaking. Her father looked up. His warm gray eyes were troubled as they met hers. “Julie, please close the door to your room behind you.”

She flinched as if he’d hit her.

“Fine! I get it.” She slammed her brother’s door again. She stood looking at the closed door for a moment, not sure what she was waiting for. No one came out after her. She was aching from the inside out.

She went to her room, slammed her door, and flopped down on the bed. All the tears she was holding in flooded out. She threw a few pillows. She wasn’t sure if she was confused or mad.

Her dad had comforted Jamie. He was okay with all of this—why did he need help?

Why wouldn’t anyone listen to her?

She cried for what felt like hours. Still no one came to check on her. They were all leaving her alone. She wasn’t sure if she was happy or mad about that.

Exhausted, she fell into a fitful sleep. Her dreams were annoying, filled with a search for a guy with blond hair and blue eyes that made her shiver all over. She couldn’t figure out who he was, but she knew he would make everything right somehow. If she could only figure out who he was.

Finally, she had a blurry moment where she was half–awake. Her dad seemed to be crouched over her. One of his fingertips lightly touched the temple on the side of her face. Her body relaxed, as all her tension suddenly melted away. Her eyes fluttered as she started to fall back to sleep.

“Are you sure you have to do this, Lir?” her mother asked.

“I know you didn’t want to, but I don’t think we have a choice. Sleep peacefully, sweetheart. I promise we will make this up to you one day.”


Chapter 6: New Horizons

≺≻

J
ulie woke the next morning, her face turned to the clock. It was four in the morning. At some point someone, probably Andromeda, had come in her room and checked on her. She thought she vaguely remembered her father checking on her too.

Someone pulled and tucked the blanket around her arms while she was sleeping. It didn’t comfort her. They waited for her to go to sleep rather than come in when she was crying.

Her throat was sore, and her eyes were almost swollen shut. Her mind felt weirdly fuzzy, like someone cocooned her anger and frustration away. She didn’t feel as upset about moving anymore. She lay there watching the clock tick off, ignoring her body’s urging to get something to drink. It was 4:15 now. She didn’t feel like moving or doing anything ever again. This apathy wasn’t like her, this blankness about her family crushing her dream. It felt like someone had slipped into her room and taken her drive to care about anything.

Maybe if she didn’t care about anything, it would hurt less.

Hadn’t her parents said they were leaving today? They were going to pack up a bag and let other people move their stuff. Her eyes started stinging in pain. The tears hurt. She welcomed the pain. It was better than being numb.

Would she get a chance to say goodbye to her friends? They were sleeping now. They were planning on going to school and having a normal day. This was just Monday to everyone else.

And she would just not be there.

The clock ticked off another minute. 4:21. Pulling her arm out of the covers, she reached for where she kept her phone. It wasn’t there. She felt around for a minute and then pulled her arm back into the covers. She had her phone yesterday when she woke up. She had left it downstairs on the kitchen island.

Julie lay in bed and watched a few more minutes tick by, debating what to do. She didn’t feel like doing anything. She wanted to let her friends know what was going on. 4:37. Her throat ached.

She threw the blanket off to sit up. The act felt like it took every ounce of her will to accomplish. Somewhere in her mind, she fought off a voice to relax and lie down. Everything would be all right. There was no reason to be upset. Just be okay with all this.

She shook her head, bent over, and put her head in her hands, fighting the urge to go back to sleep. How could she be tired? She must have slept all day yesterday and most of tonight.

Julie took a few deep breaths and stood to do some stretches from her normal dance warm up. She willed the familiar tingling feeling over her muscles and mind. As soon as she did, the apathy fell away, and some of her anger returned.

Dancing always made her feel better. She smiled.

She walked quietly to her door and peered into the hall. There was no one there. All the cracks at the bottom of the doors were dark.

Julie hesitated for a minute but quickly turned to throw on jeans, socks, and a sweater. No one ever said she couldn’t say goodbye. She wasn’t going to ask. No one had asked her about moving.

Her fists clenched until they turned white, and her face was hot with her anger. She took another deep breath. She needed to stay calm if she was going to sneak out.

She crept down the hall and down the back stairs to the kitchen, planning on going out the back door. Julie stopped midway on the turn in the stairs as she realized that the light was on. There were muted voices.

Her parents were up.

She debated about trying to sneak out the front door instead, but then thought she heard her name. Creeping down a little more to hear better, she stopped on the last stair that was concealed by the wall before the stairs opened up to the large kitchen. She could picture her parents sitting at the large white stone island sipping coffee and eating breakfast like she had seen a thousand times before. Like everything was still the same. Her eyes stung.

“I don’t blame Julie for being upset. I couldn’t even face her yesterday. I don’t want to move back either.” Mom’s voice sounded hoarse like she hadn’t slept.

“I know you don’t, but you knew when we decided to have children there was a possibility we would have to. There aren’t enough marriages like ours. How could we know one way or another? It seemed like the kindest thing to assume the worst and move out here.”

“I know, it brings back painful disappointments for me, and I hate to do the same thing to Julie.” Julie could picture Andromeda twisting her wedding ring as she said this.

“We don’t know anything for sure yet. Just because there has been no sign so far doesn’t mean that it won’t still happen.” It sounded like he was placating her.

“I’m torn. She wants to dance so much that it may be better that it doesn’t happen since it isn’t possible to have a normal career.”

What in the world were they talking about?

“But, at the same time, I don’t like that she and Jamie will inevitably grow apart.” Her mom paused. “They are so close, which is normal, but it is sad that it has to happen this way. He understands, but it’s been hard on him keeping this from her while trying to deal with everything.”

“I know. He feels that all of this is his fault. If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t have to move back. It is making everything worse.”

Something was going on with Jamie? That was why they were moving. Her anger faded to concern. She pictured her dad comforting Jamie yesterday, sheltering him.

“She can’t know about any of it. It is the way the Tribe chose eons ago. It is for everyone’s protection. We don’t have any choice. You know that. We have to think about Jamie too. She will have a choice when the time comes. If it were up to us, we would do things differently. One day she’ll understand.” Dad’s voice was soft, and she wasn’t sure she heard him right.

“You know I don’t agree. It feels wrong. No one should be asked to make that choice. It isn’t fair. She has a right to be angry and upset. If things were different, I could stay here with her until you both return, but they won’t allow it unless I choose to leave you and Jamie.” Her mother sighed. “It feels like the same battle we had to be together all over again. Your family has to be pushing for this.”

His family? His parents were dead.

“I know, but it won’t work. You are stuck with me for as long as you can stand it.”

It was quiet for a few minutes. Julie pictured her dad giving her mom a hug and kiss. She heard a soft sigh after a minute. A chair scooted back.

“I wish we had more time this morning. I would take you back upstairs. The kids are still asleep, but you have always liked the kitchen, Andy…” His words faded out.

Her mom giggled.

Ew.

Julie backed up the stairs quickly. She didn’t want to hear any of that. Quietly she made her way past her brother’s room, stopping to pause as she noticed that the light was on under his door. She couldn’t hear anything from the room, but she held her breath as she walked heel to toe as quietly as possible.


Chapter 7: Island Paradise

≺≻

W
hen she felt the first bump, Julie pulled her drooling cheek off her arm. She looked up and out the car window. They were crossing the mile–long bridge to the island. They were here.

The gaps between the bridge’s concrete slabs bumped the SUV slightly as they drove. She couldn’t remember much of the ride. All the fighting must have worn her out since she fell asleep shortly after they left the house. The sun was setting, so she must have slept all day.

The island was in a bay, and the water was never choppy. If this were a vacation, she would have liked the effect of the colors as they played across the still waters of the bay. The orange, red, pink, and purple stretched across the water like long fingers reaching out to the bridge from the mainland.

She glanced around the car and saw her brother and mom were asleep too. Lir was driving the car and didn’t know she was awake. Julie looked back outside. She hadn’t spoken a single word to anyone in the car today. She didn’t intend to now.

Her foot bumped the suitcase stuffed under her seat. She’d packed the one bag this morning. She didn’t bother with any of her dancing stuff. It made her sad. What was the point?

Her mother had insisted that she leave most of her jeans, t–shirts, and sweatshirts behind. The movers would take care of it all, and they would get everything in a few days. It was weird to think that strangers would be boxing up her old room. Her old memories.

The bridge crested where large boats could pass underneath it, and below them the island stretched as far as she could see to either side. The island was big. She didn’t remember it being this large.

Julie tried to place it on a map in her head and realized that she didn’t even know what state they were in. How far had they driven? It took most of the day since they left early this morning. She glanced at her father and decided she didn’t care enough to ask him exactly where they were. Did it matter?

Ahead from the crest in the long bridge, she could make out the one small town. Up ahead, its neat little streets crisscrossed the road they were on. From the top of the bridge, it looked like someone had drawn neat grid lines across the entire island.

Everything was clean and orderly. The street they drove down was double–sided, with flowers and trees planted down the median. Each storefront was freshly painted and had a planter with differing seasonal flower arrangements. Julie didn’t spot a single weed. The effect was a rigid beauty where everything was planned to the detail. As if every blade of grass was measured to match its fellows.

They turned right when the road split at a large public park. She kept her head pressed to the cold glass. She couldn’t see far into the park with the sun getting lower, but every bush she could see was a perfect conical shape, like someone had drawn them in place.

A few people were scattered about the park and the town. All were dressed nicely. No one was wearing beach clothes or flip–flops, though the weather was nice enough. It was clear that the women didn’t leave their homes without styling their hair and putting makeup on. After growing up here she could understand better why her parents never left the house looking anything but perfectly put together.

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