Authors: Lily Cahill
Tags: #Romance, #New Adult & College, #Paranormal, #Science Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Superheroes, #Werewolves & Shifters
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales, are entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 Nameless Shameless Women, LLC.
All rights reserved.
Briar Steele lay stretched out on her bed, trying her hardest to lie to herself.
She fingered the soft blue cotton of her blanket and said, “My bedspread is made of gold silk.”
The words were barely out when a needle of pain pierced her temple. She pressed her lips together, forcing herself to remain stoic. She could do this.
“My sheets are woven from angel hair and unicorn tails.”
The last words came out on a hiss as she tried to stay focused. The needle of pain became a spike so sharp her eyes watered. She took several deep breaths before trying again.
“My pillows are stuffed with clouds and marshmallows.”
It would have been funny, if saying the lie out loud didn’t make Briar flinch. The spike was twisting in her head now, digging deeper into her brain.
She moaned inadvertently and, closing her eyes against the pain, buried her face in her hard, flat pillow.
She had been trying to lie for weeks now. Ever since the Firelight Festival, she had been suffering terrible, shooting pains every time she told even the tiniest lie. If she couldn’t even tell these silly fibs that were little more than flights of fancy, how would she ever maintain the bigger lies that made up her life?
“I had a happy childhood,” she whispered into her pillow, then muffled the sharp cry when pain exploded in her head.
“Briar, what are you doing? I thought you were getting ready to go to the town meeting.”
Norine Staples, Briar’s cousin, stood in the doorway with her fists on her hips. Her short hair was curled tightly against her head and hair-sprayed into a helmet of dull brown ringlets. She was wearing a pleated green skirt and a white cardigan with a flare of green leaves around the collar. With her pursed lips and hands planted on her hips, Norine reminded Briar of the frilled lizards she had seen in
Briar hoped Norine wouldn’t ask how she looked, because then she would have to tell her. “I don’t want to go.”
“What do you mean?” Norine flounced into the room and plunked down on the bed, forcing Briar to scoot over. “How can you not want to know what the mayor is going to say? Ruth Baker might be arrested!”
“Why?” Briar asked, sitting up in bed.
Norine didn’t know it, but Briar had been hiding behind a bush during the standoff between Ruth and Preacher Baker that afternoon.
“Well, she nearly burned her dad to death!”
“That’s not true at all,” Briar said. “She only scared him a little. Besides, that was after he tried to kidnap her and exorcise her!”
“That’s not what I heard,” Norine said, settling down for some good gossip. “I heard she all but barbecued him. I swear, this town has gotten more titillating than
magazine. Did you know that Ruth’s living with Dr. Porter? And they aren’t even married!”
Wasn’t that just like Norine? Ruth had turned into a veritable human torch, and all Norine cared about was whether she was keeping house with the young doctor. “What does that matter?”
Norine scoffed. “It matters. Don’t you care what your neighbors do?”
“You know, I really don’t.” Briar nearly kicked Norine as she swung her legs off the bed.
She knew why she was so frustrated. She just didn’t know what to do about it.
She stalked over to the window and looked out at the quiet neighborhood. Normally, at this time of day there would be children playing stickball in the street. But tonight, most people were inside eating a quick dinner before heading over to the town hall. Mayor Watkins-Price had called a town meeting, and everyone was eager to get some sort of answers about the strange new powers people had developed.
She understood why the townspeople were afraid. Their friends and neighbors could suddenly manipulate the elements and their own bodies in ways no one ever saw outside of comic books and folk stories. It seemed impossible, absurd. Scary.
Would the townspeople be scared of her if they knew what she could do?
Briar knew she was a coward for even wondering. Just look at Ruth Baker. She had come so far so fast. Just a few weeks ago, she’d been a scared little mouse of a woman, totally obedient to her father. But what Briar had seen that afternoon was a woman who stood up for herself. Who wasn’t afraid of who she was. The sort of woman Briar wanted to be.
The sort of woman she could never be.
“You used to care.”
Norine’s voice was so small that Briar nearly didn’t hear it. She glanced at her reflection in the window and saw Norine still sitting on Briar’s bed, staring at her hands.
Briar answered in a monotone. “I used to pretend to care. But I can’t anymore.”
“What do you mean?”
Briar took a deep breath. She needed to tell someone. Norine had been her best friend since the time she had come to Independence Falls. They were cousins, but up until the Firelight Festival they had been as close as sisters. Maybe Norine wouldn’t be so upset if she understood why everything had changed between them.
Her hands were shaking. She had never been nervous talking to Norine before. But then, she had never told Norine the truth before.
“Norine, I have a power.”
Norine laughed. “Please. You’re not serious.”
“No, I mean it. I have a power. I can hear when people lie.”
“What?” Norine shook her head. “That’s absurd.”
“It’s not.” Briar crossed the room and sat next to Norine, taking her cousin’s hands. “It’s true. I swear. That’s the other part of it; I can’t lie anymore.”
Norine sighed, frowned. “Oh, Briar.”
“I know I’ve lied in the past,” Briar said quickly. That was an understatement. She had built her whole life out of lies. “But I’m not lying about this.”
“Why would you pretend you’re one of
“What do you mean, those people?”
“You know who I mean,” Norine said impatiently. “The Briggs boys and that Russian, Ivan Sokolov, and all the rest. Ruth, too. And June Powell! Why, her poor mother can hardly stomach having a freak for a daughter. Those people are … unnatural. Stop being foolish. You don’t want to be associated with them.”
“It’s not my choice. Look, I can prove it.”
“Oh, really?” Norine arched an eyebrow. “How?”
Briar hadn’t thought this far. She thought for a moment, then blurted, “You lied to Aunt Patrice yesterday. You said you were going to church for choir practice but that wasn’t true.”
Norine looked around as if her mother might have overheard. “Did you follow me?” she hissed.
“No,” Briar said. “I knew you were lying. When you said you were going to church, your voice went all funny.”
“It did not,” said Norine, indignant.
“I heard it funny,” Briar said patiently. “It’s like … you remember that time we went to see
The African Queen
and Sam Miller wasn’t minding the reel? The film melted right when Humphrey Bogart was about to kiss Katharine Hepburn. And when it did, the sound went all tinny and warbly. That’s how it sounds when someone lies. Their voice gets strange.”
Norine looked at her for a long moment. “That is the silliest thing I have ever heard.”
“So you weren’t lying to Aunt Patrice?”
“Of course I was,” Norine said. “I went to the soda fountain with Mitzi and Rhonda. But you know that, because you know me. Just like I know you.”
“I need you to believe me—”
“Briar, just stop!” Norine huffed. “I know that sometimes you like to tell fibs or exaggerate a story. And that’s fine with me. Other people may have a problem with it, but I’ve always stood up for you, haven’t I?”
Briar nodded mutely. She could see Norine in her memory—a young girl in pigtails, her strident, protective voice drowned out by the chants of the other kids. Briar the Liar, they called her. Briar the Liar.
“I’ve always been on your side. So listen to me when I say, stop with all this.” Norine stood now, looking at Briar with hurt in her eyes. “Don’t try to convince people that you have a power.”
Briar stood too, desperate to make Norine understand. “Do you think I like this? I can’t even have a normal conversation anymore. It’s not just that I can hear every single lie someone tells, but I can’t lie in return—”
“Just stop!” Norine put her hands over her ears, as if she could block the words. “Don’t you understand? Having a power is dangerous. If it got out that you’re saying that, you’d be lumped in with all those people who destroyed the town square on Fourth of July.”
“I know,” Briar said miserably. “I haven’t told anyone but you.”
“Well, you shouldn’t,” Norine said. “I never complained about your little stories. It was fun to see what sort of crazy thing you’d make up next. But this ….”
“This isn’t a fun story I’m making up. It’s the truth.”
Norine didn’t reply, so Briar reached out to lay a hand on her shoulder. “Please, Norine. You’re my best friend. I need you to believe me.”
Norine shifted away. There was hot color riding up her cheeks. “I believe that you are so used to lying that you can’t do anything else. I believe that you need attention, however you can get it. But these people are freaks, Briar, freaks! If you don’t stop acting like this, people are going to start thinking you are crazy.”
With that, Norine stormed out, slamming the door behind her.
Briar sucked in a hard breath. She wrapped her arms around her middle, trying to hold herself together. Was she going crazy? Was it insane to think the fog had changed her in a way that couldn’t be seen, but was real all the same?
Suddenly the room was too small. She needed to get out. She couldn’t go to the town hall, where everyone would be discussing what to do about the people with powers. As if the mayor or the police had any real say in the matter. Something had changed in Independence Falls, and there was no un-changing it.
She grabbed a shawl off the back of her chair and her car keys, then froze with indecision. She wanted to be out of town, away from all her problems and questions. She wanted to be alone, where she didn’t have to lie or hear someone lie to her. But what if the police really were intending to arrest Ruth? She would need back up, someone to tell the truth about what had happened today.
But of course, Ruth had Dr. Porter now. He was an upstanding citizen, respected by the town. People would listen to him more than they would ever listen to Briar. In fact, if Briar stood up for Ruth, it might even make Ruth look more guilty. Briar was a liar, after all, and everyone knew it.
Tears pricked her eyes. Lying had always been the easiest thing in the world for her. When she came to Independence Falls, no one knew anything about her except for that her brother lived in Denver and her parents were dead.
On that foundation, she had built a whole world out of precious, glittering falsehoods. Then she had maintained it, layering lie upon lie. She had thought she was building a castle, something strong enough to sustain a future out of the ashes of her past. But it turned out that her lies were no more substantial than a sparrow’s nest, cobbled together out of twigs and faith. They hadn’t been strong enough to survive a real storm.
She ran down the stairs, past her aunt in the living room. “And where are you going?” Aunt Patrice called.
“Out,” Briar replied shortly.
“You’re not going to come to the meeting?”
Briar shook her head.
The answer, the true answer, was knotted up like a ball of string. She couldn’t begin to unravel it for Aunt Patrice. Besides, Patrice probably wouldn’t believe her anyway.
Misery and frustration boiled inside her. “Oh, what do you care?”
Patrice hissed out a breath. “Young lady, as long as you live in this house, you’ll pay me the respect I deserve.”
“I pay you rent. Isn’t that enough?”
Patrice sniffed. “After all I’ve done for you. I took you in when no one else would. Now that you’re grown, you have to pull your own weight.”
Briar felt a new wash of shame go over her. Uncle George had died during the Second World War, and Patrice had been a single mother when Briar’s parents died. Of course it had been a sacrifice to take Briar in. Patrice had made it very clear she expected Briar to pull her weight.