Sneak Peek!

(Chapter 1, Icarus)


It was late September in the Ohio River Valley, the dying days of summer when soaring temperatures fought autumn’s grasp. Here the sweat and sunshine lingered, a mocking presence as school began. Sullen waves of heat thickened under the claustrophobic press of low-lying clouds, while humidity amplified the temperatures into a fever dream of shimmering sidewalks and sunburnt noses. Minutes had the inhospitable duration of hours. Single days felt like weeks. And when the low rumble of thunder filled the loading zone of Fairborn High School, students paused in their tracks, eyeing the sky nervously. But no ominous flashes of light hinted at a coming storm, no funnel clouds appeared. Instead, a lanky young man on a motorbike, his companion perched behind him, roared down the street, arriving in front of the high school in a fanfare of noise.


The engine dropped to a purr as the rebuilt motorcycle rolled to a stop. A young woman climbed off the back and pulled her helmet free, releasing a tumble of long, shockingly bright blue hair.


“Hate this school already,” she grumbled.


Her companion snickered and she handed him the helmet.


“Alright,” she said. “I’ll see you tonight.”


“I’m not leaving ‘til you go inside.” He pulled her backpack off the back of the motorcycle, tossing it to the ground at her feet. “Here, Tess. This’ll help.”

She stared at the bag, but made no move to pick it up.


“Well?” he prompted, pulling off his own helmet. The boy’s blond hair was sweat-darkened and messy, his chin faintly pitted with the remains of acne.


“I’m going. I’m going already,” she muttered.


The young man kicked the bike stand out, leaving the motorcycle idling while he waited. Long limbed, and narrow through the chest, he had the ungainliness of someone who hadn’t quite grown into his height. A worn jacket covered a sweat-stained t-shirt, his jeans frayed on both knees.

“Tess...” he warned. His lips pursed, hands rising to his hips as the seconds ticked by.


Her eyes flicked over. “Don’t even start with me, Kyle.”


“You are not skipping your first day. Do that and we’ll both catch hell for it.”


Tess’s lips tugged up into a lopsided grin. “Thanks, Dad.” Kyle Hamilton was Tess’s best friend, and he’d grown increasingly bossy since her last suspension. A new school in a different town was a fresh start: a clean slate. Kyle seemed determined she keep it that way.


“Go on,” he said, nodding toward the door. “First bell’s gonna ring any second.”


“I know, but...” Tess looked longingly back to the motorcycle. “Maybe just the first class?”


“Not a chance. You’re going.” He clambered off the seat, his posture transforming from loose-limbed indifference to stiff-backed authority. “Do you need me to escort you inside, m’lady?” Kyle asked, in a falsely-cultured voice. He offered her his arm, eyes twinkling. Seeing him posturing like the hero in some Regency romance, a group of nearby girls began to giggle.


Tess glared at them. “Of course not!” she snapped, “and stop fooling around. You look like a weirdo.”


“Alright, alright,” Kyle laughed, but Tess didn’t join his mirth. Her chin dropped, long blue bangs hiding the worry in her eyes. Another new school... another new town, she thought glumly. So damned tired of this routine.


“You gotta go,” Kyle said gently. “Like it or not.”


“I just... I need a minute.” For one short moment Tess allowed herself to be furious that she wasn’t the same age as Kyle, graduated and done with school. Living her own life. One more year... It felt like a lifetime.


“You gonna be okay?”


She shrugged noncommittally. She was anything but okay, but there was no way she was admitting it to Kyle.


“Have you talked to your mom about the move?” he asked.


Tess nodded, but didn’t offer any details. She had a feeling if she talked about that, she’d cry, and there was no way she was doing that on her first day here.

“And what did she say?”


Tess groaned. “She said what she always says: ‘Come to California’. I told you that.”


Kyle leaned closer. “You could, you know.” The low hum of the bike almost drowned out his whispered words.


Tess’s chin jerked up, defiant. “And do what, exactly?” she said. “My mom’s got a new family. A new life.” She reached down, grabbing her faded pack off the ground and slinging it over her shoulder. “My sisters are just little kids. They just... they wouldn’t get it.”


“You don’t know that.”


“Yes,” she said wearily. “I do, ‘cause I visit there every summer. There’s no room for me, Kyle.” She took two steps toward the door, rolling her shoulders as if walking into a fight. It would be better to just get it over with. Rip the first day off like a bandage rather than wallowing in her misery like a baby. “Besides,” Tess added, “I’d never get to see you if I moved away.”


He rolled his eyes. “Don’t go gettin’ soft on me, Tess Novak. I’d be just fine.”


Her grin faded. She took a few more steps toward the building, the distance between them growing. “Yeah,” she sighed. “But I wouldn’t be.”


“You would,” he called, then climbed back onto the bike. With a high pitched trill, the bell announced the start of the school day.


“Shit!” Tess hissed as she jogged toward the doors. “I’m already late!”


Kyle revved the engine. “Call me tonight and tell me how it went,” he shouted, sliding his helmet back into place. “I’m off work at nine.”


“I’ll tell you now,” Tess hollered back. “First day sucked!”


His barking laugher rose over the sound of the bike. “Then you better get in there and make some friends.”


She flipped him the middle finger as she stalked away. The entranceway was a torrent of strangers, everyone streaming to classes. The sound of the motor grew to a roar as Kyle pulled away from the curb with a squeal. Tess turned around one last time and lifted her hand in farewell.


If Kyle saw her, he gave no sign. The bike disappeared down the street, engine fading into a hum and then nothing but heavy silence. Even the heat seemed to be waiting for her to react. Tess turned back to the school. She hated being the new kid, and it seemed like that was all she ever was. With a weary sigh, she put her hand on the handle.


“Now or never.”

 

§

 

Drew was on the way to his first period class when he saw the young woman standing just inside the front doors of the school. She had a pink class schedule in her hands, a perplexed look on her face. She looked much like the other students wandering in off the street except for one thing: Her hair was dyed a vibrant cobalt blue, like a Manga character or Ramona Flowers. Long after the rest of the moment had faded, that single detail remained crisp and true.


She looked different and that gave Drew pause.


The rest of the student body was on its way to class, but this girl wasn’t. She stood in the entrance, eyes scanning the line of doors which marked the interior corridors as if seeking some answer. She was tall and wiry, a dark smudge - a bruise or dirt - marring the light, inner surface of her forearm. Piercings dotted the shells of her ears, a tattoo peeking out from under her waistband. Drew’s breath caught and held as she turned and her face came into view. She was beautiful in the way that bonfires were - mesmerizing and more than a little dangerous - brilliant rather than pretty. Like those flames, she drew him forward.


She peered down the hallway, oblivious to the tide of students. The classrooms were arranged in sections and anyone who’d spent any time in Fairborn High would know it. She didn’t. Her brows were a single line of discontent as she turned a slow circle in the hallway. With his father in the Air Force, Drew knew that feeling of uncertainty, understood her confusion. He’d moved so many times he could barely remember some of the houses he’d lived in, never mind his schools. And like that, the answer appeared in his mind.


She’s new here.


Wright Patterson Air Force base was only a few miles away; new students throughout the year were a common occurrence. Without planning to, Drew’s feet began leading him toward her, rather than to his first class. The young woman turned back the other direction, catching sight of the main office where knots of teachers buzzed like bees. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other.


Where’d she transfer from? Drew wondered.


The young woman took two hesitant steps to the office doorway. Whatever she saw annoyed her. Her posture and demeanor changed to one of violent confrontation, brows dropping querulously. Drew chuckled, picking up his pace. He didn’t know why, but he had a feeling he ought to help her to find her class or someone at Fairborn High was going to have a very bad day.


He’d nearly made it to her side when she shrugged off her backpack and shoved the pink paper back inside. “Hey!” Drew called out, “do you need some help?”


She didn’t respond.


Before he’d finished, she strode off the other direction, the movement of her limbs full of coiled energy. Drew paused in his tracks, watching her disappear into the throng of students. Her hips were thrust forward, thumbs in belt loops, bag slung across one tattooed shoulder: the definition of sexually charged insolence. More than a few young men slowed their steps to watch her, open-mouthed as she sauntered past, drawn inexplicably to the hint of smoke on the horizon.


A smile curled up the edges of Drew’s mouth. Monday was already looking up.

 

§







Photography above used in accordance with Creative Commons licensing.