Disclaimer: Never have I ever claimed ownership of the Darkest Powers series, which belongs to Kelley Armstrong. Ditto for the song lyrics, which belong to Paramore.
A/N: First off, thanks to the people who are still reviewing and favoriting my other Chlerek fanfiction, Underdog. Typically the response for one of my stories dies out a month or so after it's finished, but Underdog's been getting steady reviews all summer! The Darkest Powers fandom constantly astounds me - you're all so nice and talented and supportive! Keep on keeping' on! :)
Cutting to the chase: I'm not sure if I like the premise of this story yet, so if you like it, let me know. If enough people are interested, I'll likely post a new chapter every week, probably on Fridays.
Enjoy or destroy. ;) - Christine
by xx bewitching x3
.: one :.
What a shame we all became
Such fragile broken things
A memory remains
Just a tiny spark…
"You're kidding me."
"No," Tori said through my cell phone. I couldn't tell if her voice crackled from bad reception or a bad attitude. "I'm serious. I can't make it."
She huffed, but I waited. If her story changed, I'd know she was lying, and would continue on as planned: get in the car, kidnap her, and drive the however many miles to Hollywood, California. Of course, I wasn't even packed yet, so this would have to wait until tomorrow.
But she didn't say anything.
"I'm waiting," I prodded, despite knowing that prodding Tori Enright was probably as smart as stomping on a hornet's nest.
"Chloe, I told you," she said. "I have to go to work."
I opened my mouth to call her bluff, but then snapped it shut. It was the same story every time, so either she was telling the truth or chose a brilliantly simple story. I looked for the plot holes. "Since when is work more important than a vacation?"
"Since now." I imagined her preening like a proud bird as I paced around my apartment. "Since I started at Apple."
I wanted to groan, but quickly checked the reflex. Apple, Apple, Apple. I would never eat one again if she kept going on about that store. What was so great about being surrounded by electronics all day? Could you really love wiping the millions of fingerprints off all the new iPads? Apparently, you could. Or at least Tori did.
"Look," she said, her heavy sigh too loud in my ear. "Why don't you take someone else? Simon is free-"
"No. Not Simon. Definitely not."
"Yeah, I wouldn't want to take him either, but we barely tolerate each other at dinner. At least you two get along."
"No. Not happening."
"You can't just go alone-"
"I wasn't going to until you went and got all... responsible on me."
She sighed. "I know, the role reversal shocked me, too."
Again, I bit back the groan. Tori and I may be close, but sometimes that was a bad thing. I could go on Montel or Jerry Springer and headline an episode called 'My Best Friend is a Bitch'.
When I didn't have a comeback, she switched gears and asked, "Seriously, why not Simon? You guys aren't having some stupid nerd fight are you?"
"No." We weren't. "We just don't talk much anymore." Which she already knew.
"I don't know."
I could see her rolling her eyes. "Because of Derek, right?"
"No." But I answered too quickly; she was already cursing at my immaturity.
Okay, maybe I was being immature. For once in my whole twenty-two years on the planet, I, Chloe Saunders, was acting immature. And only a little bit. It wasn't like I was going out of my way to avoid Simon - or Derek. I still saw them every year on the holidays and I still visited for birthdays. I was a regular guest at the Bae-Souza household all the way up until last year, and only then did things get… well, awkward.
"It's been two years for crying out loud-"
"One," I corrected, bristling. I sorted through the pile of clothes on my bed, trying to decide what to pack, or if I even should, now that I was apparently going solo.
"Okay, one year, and you're still pining after Wolf Boy. Get over it." She swore under her breath. "Geez, no wonder Christmas was so boring. You were too obsessed with giving each other the silent treatment."
"He was giving me dirty looks, what was I supposed to do? Smile and ask about the weather?"
It was quiet, and I knew she didn't want to talk about it anymore. We'd already spent almost a whole year talking about the… "falling out" between Derek and I. There's only so many new things to say about something like that. "Never mind. I've got to get up early tomorrow, I can't sit on the phone arguing with you."
I perked up. "Changed your mind I see?"
She snorted. "No. I've got the morning shift. Are you going to take Simon?"
"No." Nothing against Simon, but I'd rather go alone than be reminded of why I was leaving in the first place.
"Get over it, Saunders."
I went for my favorite tease: "Make me, Bae."
"Stop. Calling. Me. That." I felt my phone heat up, and wondered what sort of long distance spell she'd learned. "I'm still my mother's daughter."
After a few more jabs, we said our goodnights and got off the phone. I tossed my cell onto the bed, the heap of clothes on top of it still demanding attention. I sighed. There was really no reason not to invite Simon. Someone should come, at least to share the driving. And Tori was right - we did get along. Simon was my closest friend for years until…
Exactly, I thought. Until you broke up with Derek.
"I think you should invite him," said a voice behind me that helped wipe the frown off my face. I glanced over my shoulder and smiled.
"Hi," she said. She still wore the nightgown and socks she died in, and hadn't aged a bit. It was depressing to look at her, and than catch my reflection in the mirror - I was a little taller, a little fuller, and my hair had grown out and was back to its original strawberry blonde - and realize how much time had passed, and how much had been taken away from her. But seeing her smile helped soften any guilt. "You should take him," she repeated, coming to sit on the bed. As much as a ghost can sit, anyway.
"You were listening?"
She nodded, sinking through the clothes until she looked like a heap of dirty laundry with a head. "I visit him sometimes, you know. Even though he can't see me. He still thinks you're friends."
I frowned. "That's what worries me."
"Well." I started going through the clothes a little more honestly now. Anything that traveled well and could stand a few wrinkles went in the open suitcase at my feet. Everything else went in the hamper. "If Simon and I are friends-"
"Yeah, I guess... Just not as good as we used to be." She let me hesitate over a few pairs of jeans before asking me to go on. "If Simon and I are friends, that means we'll be hanging out more."
"So that means we'll probably be hanging out at his place. Or Kit's house."
"So," I said, eyeing her and giving her a tiny mental shove. She grinned. "So those are two of his favorite places to go."
"Him being Derek."
She paused. "Well that's stupid."
I huffed. Even my dead friends thought I was being an idiot.
But maybe I was. Simon and Derek were two separate people, even if they were frequently attached at the hip. Derek would just have to share. Why should he get everything in the break-up? That's why they invented joint custody.
I tossed another shirt into the suitcase. "I'll think about it, okay?"
"Better hurry," she said, pointing at the clock. "It's late, and if you're leaving in the morning…"
"Yeah, I know."
She disappeared, but a second later she materialized beside me.
"And one more thing."
This time, I really did groan. "What?"
She pulled one of my shirts out of the suitcase, holding it up like a used tissue. "Please do not take this to Hollywood."
Sigh. I snatched it away from her, ignoring her smirk. "Fine, oh wise Fashion Oracle."
She laughed, and when the shirt hit the hamper, she was gone.
Years of being with Derek had taught me a few things - most importantly, always have a plan. But what I'd been planning for the past twelve months didn't seem so thought out on the morning of my departure.
UCLA. That had been the dream, the plan, back when I was just a normal human being and didn't know I could talk to ghosts. But being on the run has a way of changing your perspective on things like college. I wasn't worried about GPAs and scholarships; I was too busy making sure my family and I had a place to sleep and food to eat, or whether or not we could stay there longer than a month.
Technically, I wasn't with family for those few years after discovering I was a necromancer. Aunt Lauren was, of course, my aunt and flesh and blood. But the others were a mixture of bond and friendship that made me feel more at home than Dad's well-staffed condos ever had. Simon became my best friend and practically my brother, while Tori and I found ways to relate and pester each other to keep ourselves entertained. Mr. Bae - he preferred Kit after all these years - treated me like the uncle I'd never had.
And then there was Derek. My first boyfriend. My first ex-boyfriend.
Let's just say we're all young and stupid at some point. My naïve stupidity had just cost me the closeness with the best people I'd ever known.
When Derek and I broke up, I had gone straight to Tori's. Simon would be Derek's confidante, so I took the next best thing - or the complete opposite worst thing, depending on your perspective. She let me bad-mouth him and curse and cry about everything I'd wasted and wanted with him, how I'd given up UCLA to stay closer to the group and him. She let me try and fail to fall asleep on her couch. And when that first worst night became that hardest morning, she handed me a soda and said I needed to suck it up.
"This is stupid," she said, a cup of coffee steaming in her hands, warming up her own broken-hearted resentment. She was tired, I was tired, and the haze of it all made it feel like a dream. "We're being stupid. We need to fix it. Screw our lives. Screw men. Screw futures out of reach. Let's get in a car and drive from one ocean to the next and compare shades of blue. Let's get back to simple."
So started the Great Escape, and our plan to spend the following summer in Hollywood. We'd leave right after I graduated from Emerson College in Boston - where I'd gotten in on my father's dime. We scrimped and saved and planned out every possibility, cursing men and their rotten ways every chance we could.
That is, until Tori got a new boyfriend, who hooked her up with her new job at Apple, and treated her like a princess no matter how angry she got, who actually kept her from getting angry in the first place.
Suddenly swearing over the opposite sex wasn't something she wanted to partake in anymore.
I wasn't so lucky.
I looked around my apartment that morning and wondered whether or not I should just pack up the whole place and leave for good. I'd have to scramble to get a moving van and explain to Dad and Aunt Lauren why my vacation would be permanently extended, but the thought sounded so good that it almost seemed worth the trouble.
I could start over. I could be upset.
And I could get over it.
"Try it first," Liz said. She materialized in my sight, but off to the side, as if she knew I wouldn't want to look her in the eye.
When I didn't say anything, she said, "Try it first. You might not like it, so you should make sure first."
"I don't think I could like it any less there than here."
She shrugged, and fiddled with the hem of her nightgown. "You should take Simon. I'm worried about you."
But taking a co-pilot made the trip a lot less appealing now.
I gathered my bags and dragged them down to my little silver Dodge Neon. It was a piece of junk, and Dad had offered to buy me a new Taurus, but this had been the first big purchase I'd ever made with my own money. Derek had helped me fix it up, and unlike our relationship, with a little tune up here and there, it was pretty reliable.
I threw the bags into the backseat, and when I slammed the door shut to check the apartment one last time, a voice that belonged to the living called loud enough to wake the dead. "Chloe! Wait up!"
I jumped, of course, but turned to catch Simon running through the parking lot, a duffel bag swung over his shoulder. The car that dropped him off was a deep purple - Tori's - and with a rev of the engine, it sped off towards the highway.
"Good," he panted as he reached me, blonde hair looking too bright against the cloudy sky behind him. He was smiling, though. "We thought you might've left already."
"No," I hedged, frowning. "Was just about to lock up. Um…" I gave him a look, and he laughed.
"What am I doing here, right?"
He grinned, dropped the duffel and fell into a deep bow. "I am here by request of Tori, the Queen of Bad Timing, to accompany you on your vehicular travels across the country and to the Land of The Stars. And Botox." He looked up, looking a little worried. "If you'll take me, of course. But, um, if you don't, I'll need a ride home, because Tori just took off and…"
"And left you stranded like a homeless runaway?"
I sighed. "Get in the car, but don't get comfortable. I'm taking you home."
"Oh come on, Chloe!" He darted in front of me, blocking the path to my door. "We never do anything anymore. And I could use some sun." He opened the car door and tossed his duffel in the backseat, and added, "Besides, Dad thinks it's a good idea, too. He's afraid you won't come back if you get a taste of the west coast. Then we won't get a taste of those cookies you always bring over-"
It was either my annoyance or impatience that persuaded me to let the zombie out of the grave. "You know those are store-bought cookies."
He paused, giving me a wide-eyed stare. Then he shook his head and went back to rearranging the bags. "Lies, all lies," he muttered, and then I'd had it.
"Simon, get in the car and stop touching my things. You're going home."
"Nope." A flick of the wrist and a whispered word, and my keys went from my hand to his. "I'm driving."
"You can't hijack my whole trip-"
"I'm not. Tori gave me her money, and I have some from the e-comics I've been working on-"
"Tori gave you money?" I swore. "She bribed you?"
"No!" he said, frowning for the first time since arriving. "It's on loan. I have to pay her back. But I've wanted a vacation for a while anyway, so what's the difference?"
"You're not coming."
"Why the hell not?" he said. He slammed the door shut, and I didn't know what to say.
But there it was, right? Why not? What were my options? Either go on my own and probably leave for good, permanently giving up everything I loved the most, or go with Simon and try and fix what was left of one of my best friendships. I doubted Tori was that kind, but maybe she had a point in dropping her half-brother off so unceremoniously. The question was sprung almost instantly: why the hell not?
I faltered, and that was enough for him to smile. "See? You can't think of a good reason. So I'm coming." He jingled the keys. "And if that doesn't convince you, I'll pay for gas."
I raised a brow. "Really?"
I bit my lip. Money was tight…
I stuck out my hand. "Deal." We shook on it, and as soon as his hand was free, he opened the driver-side door and got behind the wheel.
I went back up to my apartment, turned off all the lights, and felt a little free. I hadn't made an impulsive decision in almost seven years. Maybe this was another way of starting over.
Liz showed up as I locked the front door. "Drive safe," she said. Her grin was twice the size of the one she wore last night. I timidly returned it. "I don't want to see you on my side for a long time, okay?"
"Okay," I agreed. We paused, watching each other for awhile. It was the closest thing we could do to a hug.
"See you later, Liz," I said.
"I'll check in when I can." She winked, and then she was gone.
Our first stop was at the gas station, and Simon did go in to pay. When he came back, I watched him through the window as he pumped gas - and made a muffled phone call.
Then he was back behind the wheel, his brows raised in a question. "So…"
He hesitated, but only for a second. "Do you think we have room for one more?"
"One more what?"
"Passenger," he said, and my stomach dropped. So much for being a good idea.
"No, absolutely not-"
"Please, Chloe? I owe someone a favor and this is the perfect opportunity to repay them. Please? I'll pay their way, you won't have to worry about a thing-"
Yeah, sure, except that the more people came, the more reasons I'd be forced to come home.
"They won't even come for the whole trip, I only have to take them as far as Chicago."
"That's completely out of my way!"
He tapped the fuel gauge on the dash, grinning. "But I'm paying for the gas, remember?"
I fumed. I sat back, crossed my arms, and stared out the window. I was going to kill Tori when I got home.
"Good," Simon said, taking my silence as a surrender. "It'll be fun, trust me."
We drove for a little while, eventually pulling up to a dirtier version of my apartment complex. The cars in the lot were all casualties of door dings and smashed fenders, and the white buildings were closer to the smoggy color in the sky than anything else. The landscaping was non-existent, but off to the side was an empty lot covered in lush green grass. Beyond that was a forest, with fog woven between the tree trunks.
"You really lowered your standards, huh?" I mumbled as we pulled into an empty parking space. Knowing Simon, we were probably picking up his newest girlfriend. I hadn't met her, but Tori said she was nice, and smarter than most of the girls Simon seemed interested in. At least that was something.
Simon didn't answer; he just threw the car in park and honked the horn.
We waited. And waited. And then eventually a figure appeared in the shadowed corridor in front of us. I sat a little straighter, and tried to mask whatever expression was on my face with pleasant indifference. No sense in making someone else uncomfortable, right?
But then the figure was closer, and from the silhouette, you could tell that it wasn't Simon's girlfriend we were picking up. As soon as I thought it, the person paused, and Simon grinned. He opened the door and stood beside the car, waving.
"Derek! Where's your stuff? If we don't leave now we'll hit all the traffic!"
My face fell. I didn't have Derek's supersonic hearing, but if I knew anything, we were both saying the same thing under our breath.