4 Chapter 4

Rose was pushing her dinner around her plate again. Tyler was texting again.

Her parents were bickering again.

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She kept thinking of Simon in the batting cage, the fury that carried through every swing. The conviction in his voice as he'd confronted her in the parking lot.

I'm not hurting anyone. And then that twelve-foot crack had split the pavement.

But worse, she kept thinking of the color of his eyes in the sunlight. The moment of intimacy when all that stood between them was a few links of steel.

In a way, he reminded her of wildcats at the zoo. Mountain lions, maybe, or panthers. All sleek and dangerous, but so beautiful you'd reach out and touch if you could.

"Rose?"

She snapped her head up. Her father was staring at her, and it sounded like he'd called her name more than once.

"I'm sorry. What?"

"I asked if you had any more trouble at the sports complex."

Here was her chance. She could tell them what Simon had done. Her father would call the Guides, and they'd eradicate the problem. But she'd provoked him. This was my place. Mine.

If she'd poked a mountain lion with a stick and it bit her hand off, would that be her fault or the lion's? Guilt had a hold of her gut and refused to let go. She speared a few noodles with her fork so she wouldn't have to look at her father.

"No. No trouble."

"Good," said Tyler, without looking up from his phone. "Roland and I were going to stake the place out if he kept pulling that shit."

"Seth!" snapped their mother.

"He's got a point," said her father. "Dan and I talked about doing the same thing."

"A stakeout," said Ross. "Really."

Her father's eyes were like ice. "It's for your safety. I don't like you going back there until this is resolved."

She glared back at him. "I think you resolved it with your phone call."

He didn't back down from her tone. "It won't be resolved until that boy is dead."

Rose's fork scraped across the plate. "So your plan is ... what? To sit outside the office and wait for him to show up and use his powers?"

"There are ways to make him break the deal."

At that, Tyler looked up. He met their father's eyes across the table.

And smiled.

Simon spent Friday night in his room, lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling.

Waiting. When Rose reported him, how long would it take for the Guides to come after him? Would they kill him right away, or would they take him somewhere else?

Simon hoped they'd take him somewhere else. He kept thinking of his brothers, how every time they looked at him now, he knew they were just waiting for him to drop some bomb about running away.

That was nothing compared to watching an execution. A soft knock rapped at his door just after nine. Had to be his mother; no one else in the house would knock softly. He wanted to pretend to be asleep, but no way would she buy it this early.

"Yeah?" he called.

She cracked the door and leaned in. "Sure you're not hungry?"

He was, but he couldn't sit in the kitchen, look his parents in the eye, and pretend everything was fine. Even now, he couldn't face his mother. Not knowing what he'd done. He shook his head and kept his eyes on the ceiling.

"Well"—she eased into the room—"I made you a little something, just in case." A plate slid onto his bedside table.

He glanced over and immediately felt like an ass. She'd made him a turkey sandwich. A good one, too, with extra slices of lunch meat and cheese piled high with tomato and lettuce. He could smell the deli mustard. Three oatmeal-raisin cookies sat on the plate as well.

She had to have made them just for him. No one else in the house liked oatmeal-raisin. His throat felt tight. God, he'd been so stupid. Maybe he should run now, before he brought them all down with him. He should have run last night.

It took him a second to find his voice. He still couldn't look her in the eye. "

Thanks."

"Can I sit down?"

He nodded and shifted until he was sitting up against the wall. She sat beside his knees, and the side of the bed barely dented with her weight. He remembered being young, before his brothers had come along, how she'd sit with him in the dark at bedtime and ask about his day. That time grew shorter when she had twins to take care of—and shorter still when his brother arrived—but she hadn't stopped until he'd outgrown it. It always made him feel special.

Now he knew just how much being special sucked. He couldn't even remember the last time she'd been in here. He picked up the sandwich and took a bite, just to avoid the need to say anything.

It didn't stop her from talking, though. "Do you want to tell me what happened today?"

He almost choked on the bread. "Nothing."

"You don't hole up in your room for nothing."

"I'm just tired."

She was quiet for a moment. "I know you think you're alone, Simon, but you're not. Your father and I love you. Your brothers love you—"

He snorted. "Don't be so sure about that. I caught the twins trying to write on my face with a Sharpie at three a.m. the other day."

She smiled, but her eyes were still serious. "I'm just trying to tell you we're here for you. No matter what."

"I know, Mom."

She touched his face. "You sure?"

He nodded. He was sure—and that was the problem. They shouldn't have to be here for him. The thought of his family getting caught in the cross fire for something he'd done, for something he was ... Simon almost couldn't take it.

And that was the only reason he was here instead of running. When Rose reported him, when the Guides came for him, he was ready to surrender. As long as they left his family alone.

By Monday afternoon, Rose had completely reorganized the designer golf balls in the display case, making a rather impressive tower of alternating colors, if she did say so herself. She was blasting the Wicked sound track today, louder than usual so she could belt.

This kind of heat always made business slow, but today was ridiculous. Maybe people were finally done with the weather, and everyone had gone to the beach.

When "Defying Gravity" came on, she cranked it a few notches higher, then stepped out onto the floor to rearrange the rack of golf shirts by size and style.

Just as she got to the chorus, a man cleared his throat behind her.

Rose jumped and shrieked and nearly knocked all the shirts off the rack. Her face went from cool to blazing in half a second. She steadied the rack and called over her shoulder, loudly enough to be heard over the music. "I'm so sorry—"

Then she stopped short. Simon stood there. She stared at him, unable to move.

He made a circular motion with his hand. "Could you turn this down?"

"Oh ... sure." She dashed for the stereo behind the counter and yanked her iPod cord free. The music died instantly.

When she straightened, Simon was at the counter. She could barely catch her breath.

"Don't get me wrong," he said flatly. "I like Broadway musicals as much as the next guy."

Her cheeks felt hotter—if that was possible. "Sorry. It's been dead. I mean ..." She hesitated. "You need tokens?"

"I have some from the other day."

"Oh. Okay."

But he was still standing there, staring down at her. It took some effort to meet his eyes, but at least she could read the emotion there: surprise, and intrigue, and confusion.

"About Friday," he said.

She wet her lips. "Friday?"

"I stayed up all night." A self-deprecating shrug. "Most of the weekend, really."

She frowned. "Okay ... ?"

"I was waiting." He rested his forearms against the glass, and his voice dropped a notch. "I thought you'd turn me in."

"For the parking lot?" She shrugged and picked at the disclaimers taped to the glass counter. "It's not a big deal—"

"It is to me."

Rose stopped fidgeting and looked at him.

"So," he said, his voice softer and almost gentle, "thanks."

She had no idea what to say to that. And he didn't wait. He picked up his bat and turned for the back door to the shop, stepping out into the humidity without a backwards glance..

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