Turning Amber

Amber has a secret.  She can read auras and feel emotions.  Which means she’s never trusted any boy to get close, because she can ALWAYS tell what they’re thinking.  Until she meets Ryder.  He’s the first person she’s ever told about her power.  But will her secret tear them apart?

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5. Chapter 5

‘In-N-Out Burger?’ I say, glancing across at Ryder. ‘This is where you’re taking me on our first date?’

He pulls on the handbrake and stares at me. He has hazel-coloured eyes. Did I mention this? ‘Our first date?’ he says, smirking. ‘That would suggest there are going to be more to come.’

I blush. But thankfully he doesn’t see. He’s already out of the car, walking around the tennis-court sized bonnet to my side and opening the door for me.

The ancient Chevy stands out among the newer Fords and Toyotas in the lot. It was his grandfather’s and inside it smells of wet dog and surfboard wax. On account of the fact he inherited his grandfather’s dog along with the car and that he likes to surf, as I discovered on the way over here.

We walk inside and I’m pleased to discover that In-N-Out Burger is fairly deserted at this time of night. There’s just us, a couple of truckers, a few kids too young-looking to get into any bars and some bored-looking servers.

We order and take our trays over to one of the tables by the window.

‘You grew up round here?’ Ryder asks as we dig in.

‘Just up the coast, actually. We moved here a few years ago.’ I keep going in response to his questioning look. ‘My mom started dating some guy from round here.’

‘You don’t like him?’ Ryder asks, dunking a fry in a pool of ketchup.

I pause. He’s astute. I don’t like any of my mom’s boyfriends. The ability to detect lies (and general unsavouriness) skipped a generation, so my mom judges potential boyfriend’s characters on the make of truck they drive and whether they have a hyphen in their first name. Or so it seems, judging from Billy-Bob, A-Jay and Ricky-Ray, all of whom have driven white Ford pick-ups, and none of whom have stuck around for longer than it takes for milk to curdle.

‘What about you?’ I ask, not wanting to get drawn into a conversation about my mom, who’s currently hooked up with a guy called Archie-Lee, owner of the local trailer park. ‘What drew you to this place?’

He slurps his milkshake. ‘Savannah has its limitations.’

‘Admit it,’ I say. ‘You’re a Gnarly Surs groupie. You follow them across the country.’

He laughs, and my stomach flips as a cotton candy cloud blooms in the air over him. Pink is not just the colour of princesses. It’s also the colour of lust and love. The two are hard to tell apart, hence my wariness around members of the opposite sex. But with Ryder I note my usual wariness is strangely absent.

‘Yeah, you got me,’ he says. ‘That’s why I’m here.’

Just then his eyes flick behind my head to the door and I watch as all the blood drains from his face. The cotton candy bloom withers away, and the air around him becomes concrete grey. I spin around.

Two guys have strolled into the restaurant. The rays bursting off them make the biker crew back at the Majestic seem like a bunch of kids high on ice-cream. Thunder clouds of roiling black and grey swim and pulse around them.

There are several Latino gangs in Oxnard up the road who like to cruise town – I guess as some form of pissing contest with the local biker crews. One quick glance at these guys (and a glance is all you’d want to give them) and it’s clear that the In-N-Out Burger is now attracting more unsavoury types than my mother.

I turn back to Ryder. He’s staring at the guys, his hands fisted on the table, his shoulders bunched tight. The easy grin has fallen away and been replaced with grimly pursed lips. The chandelier spectacular above him now emits lightning strikes of red.

My body starts tingling as though an electrical storm of Marvel Comic proportions is whirling in the atmosphere above In-N-Out Burger. Footsteps. The hairs bristle on the back of my neck. Out the corner of my eye I see a black boot come to a stop right by our table.

‘Scoot over.’

My heart slams into my mouth and wedges there, beating thickly against my tongue. I glance up at the guy who’s stopped by our table. He’s talking to me. I look at Ryder whose jaw is clenched tight. Flames crackle in the air above him.

Suddenly I’m being shoved further into the booth as the guy slides in beside me. I don’t take much persuasion. I edge as far away as I can, snatching a look at him, trying to gauge what’s going on and if we’re about to die. I spot one of the servers staring at us, gormless, eyes wide as burger patties. I try to urge him silently to call the cops but he just stares blankly at us.

Ryder keeps his gaze firmly fixed on the guy who’s sat down beside me, and who’s now shaking salt over my fries. The other guy stands blocking Ryder’s exit.

‘Where you been hiding, Ryder?’ the man asks. ‘We’ve been looking all over for you.’

Ryder says nothing. What the hell is going on? How do they know his name? I glance at the guy next to me. He’s got dark hair, piercing black eyes and a five o’clock shadow that looks permanent. He’s wearing dark jeans and a white shirt and his buddy is dressed similarly, his shirt clinging to both his barrel chest and other suspicious concealed weapon-shaped bulges.

Ryder slouches back in his seat. ‘I’ve been around,’ he says, casual as anything. Only, I can tell he’s putting it on because his aura shows his fear. His fear is overcoming his anger, being swamped by it.

‘Busy chasing skirt by the looks of things,’ the man says, his eyes flicking in my direction. He smiles approvingly as he tosses fries into his mouth. ‘I can see why you’d be distracted.’

I would squirm but I can’t. I’m frozen in my seat, staring at the guy. I glance at Ryder. Then back at the guy. And suddenly my heart is pounding like an anvil against rock. Because the guy beside me has an aura identical to Ryder’s. I didn’t see the chandelier lights before because they were masked by thunderclouds. His aura is slightly more tarnished than Ryder’s and darkness filters around it, but it’s still there.

‘Leave her out of it,’ Ryder suddenly growls, no longer slouching but leaning across the table, his eyes flashing furiously.

Holding my breath and taking advantage of the distraction, I inch my knee across under the table until it nudges the guy’s thigh. Instantly I jerk back, my body resonating as though I’ve run headlong into an iron wall.

The guy doesn’t appear to have noticed. ‘Let’s go,’ he tells Ryder, finishing up my fries and wiping his hands on a napkin. ‘We’ve got work to do.’

What kind of work is he talking about? I look between them, trying to figure out what I can do to defuse the situation. But before I can even try to make two grown men cry, Ryder moves – a cobra strike – grabbing for the guy’s wrist across the table. But he’s not fast enough. The guy snatches his hand away, shaking his head. ‘A-a-ah.’

Ryder freezes. My gaze drops to the man blocking him in. He’s pressing a gun against Ryder’s side.

Without even thinking about it I throw everything I’ve got, everything I’m feeling, at the guy with the gun – anger, outrage and fear melding into a fearsome barrage that pounds him like a battering ram. The gun falls limply to his side. All three hundred pounds of him stares at Ryder wide-eyed, as though Ryder just grew horns and a tail. Then he turns on his heel and, with a little whimper and a yelp, goes screaming out of the restaurant.

The man beside me stares slack-jawed after him, before whipping his head back to Ryder. ‘Interesting,’ is all he says, appraising Ryder with a small smile, before pulling himself together and standing brusquely.

Ryder is still staring at the door, blinking in astonishment. Then his expression clears and his head snaps towards me, understanding rushing over his face. Has he guessed? Does he know that I was the cause of that?

‘You coming, Ryder?’ the man asks.

Ryder nods and gets up from the table, shooting me an apologetic look. ‘Yeah, I’m coming,’ he says and starts following the man to the door.

I’m too stunned to do anything but watch through the window as Ryder walks with the guy across the lot and climbs into a Mercedes. The engine starts and the three of them go speeding out of the lot. I realise only then that I’m shaking. The storm clouds have passed but my skin still prickles with static charge.

Someone clears their throat beside me, making me jump.

‘Do you want me to, like, call the police or something?’

I look up. The server is standing by my table, his Adam’s apple bobbing violently up and down in his throat.

Ignoring him, I stagger to my feet, throw a few dollars on the table, and run outside.

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