I never thought of myself as particularly abnormal. I mean, my mom died in child birth and my dad's in county prison for mass murder but that's no secret. I tally it up to a broken home. And in the crack house part of New Orleans that's not exactly out of the norm.
I held the sides of my hair up. I let it go. The dark mass once again crowded into my face. I blew out an agitated breath before twisting it into a lopsided bun with strands of hair coming out. Seriously. I had enough hair for, like, twelve people. I mean, it's pretty enough. It's a dark brown-red color that seriously clashes with my emerald eyes. That sounds conceited but emerald's the only color fits.
"Jade! Get out of the damn bathroom!" Deana kicked the door with her sharp heels. That's the first thing she goes for. Not slippers. Stilettos. But I guess when you live in foster care you have to have something to distinguish yourself from others. Mine was my hair, against my will.
"I'm out," I yanked the door open in her face. She threw a sneer at me, her eyes flicking to my hair for a millisecond. Deana's not very pretty. I know that's mean but it's true. Her nose is too big, her eyes too far apart, and her lips forced down in a permanent frown.
"Of the closet? Took you long enough," she snickered and sauntered past me. I rolled my eyes. I didn't get the nice clothes like her because I thought of it as beneath me to sleep with the foster dad.
I grabbed my messenger bag off my bunk before speeding out the door. The less I saw of Miss Sue and her husband the better. I escaped through the kitchen door to the mossy, constantly wet backroad we lived on. I glanced back at the house before taking off in a sprint. Swamp air and misty forest passed by me in a blur of green and brown. I love running. And climbing. And anything that drains all of my energy so I don't have to think. And that's my feat in life. Too much pent up crap. And it gets pounded into the pavement all the way to school.
I leaned against the bike-rack in front of the gas station. My breathing was coming out in short little puffs.
I straightened and my bun slapped against my neck. I ground my teeth together before snatching the hair tie out. My hair surrounded my face in an angry cloud.
I pushed the glass door open. I made a beeline for the waters. My body's no temple but drinking soda while jogging it just nasty. I grabbed a pack of gummy bears, some chips, and an apple as I went to the counter. I dumped it all on the counter and the woman rang them up, eyeing me over. I was out of breath and buying junk food. Great, another person to think in a stoner.
"Thanks," I mumbled as I picked everything up. I whirled around. I slammed into something solid. I stumbled back and lost my balance. I cracked my head against the counter as I went down.
"Are you okay?" A man's voice asked from over my head. I opened my eyes. My hands immediately went to the back of my head where it had hit the counter. I grimaced when my fingers met warm liquid.
"Define okay," I grunted.
"Honey. You’re bleeding" the woman from behind the counter drawled. I could here her punching numbers into a phone. But I didn't look up. The guy leaning over me was distracting me. He was glaring at me. I mean, like, I-wish-your-corpse-was-burning-in-boiling-oil. His eyes were narrowed, crystal blue little jewels. And even though they were gorgeous they sent fear down my spine like a living creature gnawing on my nerves.
"I think she's fine," the man's voice came out as a growl and he stood back up without glancing at the girl with the concussion because he couldn't understand personal space. And my head really hurt.
"Sugar, are you alright?" The cashier leaned over the counter to look down at me. Because I wasn't worth walking around the counter for. Geez I sound whiny.
"Yes ma'am I'm fine," I tried to stand while wearing a fake smile but air wheezed out of my lungs when I straightened. But it wasn't because of my head. It was the man. He was standing at the counter paying for his things (though the woman was still focused on me.) It felt like all traces of oxygen were being forced out of my body. I couldn't breathe. I clutched the counter. The woman held my arm.
"Baby, the ambulance will be here any second," she said reassuringly.
"No. I don't need an ambulance," I choked out. No more air was in my lungs at all. I took a gasping breath but nothing made it to my lungs. This time I collapsed on the floor as the dark little dots that had been dancing in my peripheral vision stole my consciousness. And just like that, it was over. I gasped out like a fish out oh water or a girl out of air. This time my lungs filled with air and it was so much at once I coughed violently. Sirens were blaring outside. No. I would not be kicked out of another foster home two months before graduation. I steeled myself for just a second before bolting out the door. A paramedic yelled but I was already shoving my way through the dense woods. When all I could hear we're my clumsy footsteps I stopped to lean against a tree. I breathed heavily and held my chest.
My fingers found their way up to the back if my head. It wasn't dramatically gushing blood but warm liquid was slowly leaking down my neck. I grimaced before tying my hair back up into a bun. There was no way I could go to school today. Shit.
I started trekking out of the woods in the direction of the back roads. I may have called this a dense forest but it only stretched out about two square miles on either side of the interstate.
How had I go from a normal morning with Deana to running through the woods with a split in the back of my head and a new understanding of the horrors of suffocation?
When I finally found a road a smile played on my lips. Blueberry Lane. I glanced either way before taking of in a moderate jog to Cara's. I don't know what the odds of me ending up on her street were but I wasn't going to question Lady Fate on this one.
Cara lives in a small shack on the very outskirts of New Orleans practically in Canton. The entire place screams witch. And maybe that's how I ended up there when I was a kid. I'm not sure.
I didn't bother knocking before pushing the door open. The heady smell of potpourri and hot peppers immediately assaulted my senses.
"That better be a robber or I'll know Jade skipped school! And my baby's much too smart for that!" She called from the kitchen. This time I really did smile. My boots were loud against the creaking wood of the floor. I cherished these boards. They were the only thing keeping Cara safe.
She was sitting at the kitchen with a black charcoal pencil in one hand and the other pressing a piece of rough paper to the table.
"Mornin' Jade," she said without looking up from her art before smiling up at me. "What happened, sweetie?" She suddenly frowned and put a cold hand on my shoulder, forcing me to sit in front of her chair on the floor.
Cara is a tall, lean black woman with grey streaks dashing though her black hair and a damn-near psychic third eye. Well, to her, she is a psychic. She's also almost completely blind. But she can hear so well it's scary. That's why I thank The Lord each day for those creaking floorboards in the living room. She's been attacked half a dozen times just while I've been here for being a witch in a bad neighborhood.
"Dear Lord," she whispered as her cold fingers felt my wound.
"It's just a cut" I said weakly but hissed in pain when she separated my hair to feel around the gash better.
"Just a cut," Cara scoffed. I grimaced partly in pain and partly because I always hated her being mad at me.
"Can you figuratively look at it please?" I sighed but had fingers were already rubbing some kind of cream on it.
"Yes I will. You sit here and don't move while I get some thread," she patted my shoulder and stood. She rustled around in her room for a moment before walking back to the kitchen where I sat on the cold linoleum.
She sat behind me on the kitchen table chair. I felt her spread some different cream on the cut. Then it went numb. I felt a light tugging on my scalp.
"One day I'll be brave enough to ask what your using," I sighed.
"One day." I could hear the smile in her voice. I glance up at the clock over the kitchen doorway. 8:47. It was too late to try to go to school now. "So are you going to explain what happened?"
"Fell." And it wasn't a lie. I had fallen against the counter. I had almost been pushed.
"Hm" she said thoughtfully and patted my shoulder again, this time for me to stand. The tips of her fingers were dyed with black chalk and blood. It looked cool in a dark way. I glanced down at the picture. A face.
His face. The guy from the convenience store.
"Who is that?" I blurted almost hysterically. Cara's eyes narrowed. And something told me that even though she couldn't see me she knew exactly what was going on on my face and in my mind.
"Oh just inspiration. No one really," she waved a hand dismissively but continued to watch me carefully.
"Oh okay. It's really beautiful," my voice wavered, staring down at it. If this morning could get any weirder I'd like to know fucking how.
"You can take it if you like." Still she watched me. Without looking up at her I carefully folded the paper and stuck it in my back pocket. I don't know why. I just desperately wanted to remember his face. As if the beautiful man burnt into my brain and body could ever fade. I just wanted to know what he looked like.
I'd long since come to the conclusion that Cara truly was a witch of some sort and now it was just basic. She knew and did things I didn't understand and cared about me in a way that my neglected mind couldn't quite believe. Like a grandmother. Or an aunt.
My body suddenly seemed extremely heavy.
"Lie down on the couch as long as you like, baby," Cara smiled at me. I obliged.
"Thank you, Cara" I yawned as I stretched out on the couch, wrapping a purple and white butterfly quilt around myself. Some things never change. I glanced up at the clock again. 9:54. "My head feels fine," I mumbled. I was already half asleep but I swear I vaguely heard her mutter something along the lines of Loopy.
It wasn't as much an actual dream as it was flashes. Just images in front of me. A little girl with fine brown hair clutching her arms around herself. Cara leaning over the railing of her porch to talk to the little girl. A tall man in a blazer and jeans standing by the house.
"Her mother?" a distant Cara whispered as she stroked the little girl's hair, facing away from the man, in the direction of the woods. The little girl was snuffling and clinging to Cara's shirt.
"Please Cara" the tall man said in a desperate tone. Something about the deep baritone in his voice soothed the little girl from her hysterics. She looked up and a little smile came across her small face. And then the scene was gone. Faded to black like it did every night.
"Jade. Jade," her voice floated in and out of my mind as I blinked my groggy vision away. The first thing that registered in my brain was the butterfly quilt wrapped around me as if I were a freezing child. It was the middle of April in New Orleans. I don't know why I always wrap myself up in my sleep. "Jade."
I made a sleepy noise before rolling over on the couch to face Cara.
"Mornin’," I yawned.
"Not anymore it's not" she tapped a barefoot disapprovingly. I scrambled to a sitting position on the couch, making the world spin and tilt around me.
"What time is it?" I groaned.
Worryingly fading light was filtering in through the blankets Cara had over the windows. As she explained it, she was already ghetto; why invest in blinds?
"WHAT?! Why did you let me sleep so long?! How did I sleep so long?!"
"You wouldn't wake up." Cara shrugged. "You were out so cold I almost called a healer."
"Doctor" I corrected offhandedly as I searched frantically for my phone. Five missed calls. Crap. You know, Universe, when I asked how this day could get any weirder I was being rhetorical!
I quickly dialed Sue's number.
"Jade! Where have you been? I know you weren't at school today! Did you skip to go to that witch's house again? I know you think it's part of your history but that woman is nothing but trouble," she said in one breath. Cara snorted. I smiled weakly up at her as if she could see me.
The thing about Sue is that she's not evil. She's just married to Jared. The biggest creep in the universe. He was already yelling at her about dinner. I was actually shocked she'd called me instead of fixing dinner for her precious husband. If only she knew he was screwing Deana. And hitting on me. I don't even like thinking about it since I've lived with this man since I was eight. Just imagine if I'd been there before I could fight back... I shuddered.
"Sue, I'm fine. I just needed some time away from exams," I sighed. Jared continued to yell and Deana was saying something rude in the background with our other foster siblings Sam and Cassie who are three and eight.
"Look Jade. I gotta go. Why don't you just stay the night over there and please, please go to school tomorrow." I could tell from the sound of get face that she had her eyes closed, shaking her black and gray curls.
"Yes-." She hung up before I could finish. "Well hope you don't mind a new roomie," I sighed but Cara was in the kitchen.
"You can sleep on the couch since you deem it worthy of a nine hour nap" she called back.
"Thanks. Um, Cara. I think I'm gonna go on a jog."
"Okay honey. Be back by dinner. Because you’r making it," she chuckled at her own joke.
"I will," I called back through the house. I locked the door as I left. I didn't even wait until I was off the rickety porch before taking off. I felt the familiar heat under my skin and ache in my molars. My legs felt like they were stretching almost painfully. But in a good way. Like stretching out in bed after a long day. And I ran down the back roads until there was no trace of daylight left above the horizon of swampy land.
I was always torn between loving and hating the woods around us. Love because they were fairly attractive as far as the leaking green and feeling of life surrounding them. Hate because everything that happens to me that doesn’t include the foster system seems to center around these woods.
Emerson truly and honestly hadn't planned on hurting her. He knew he was going to react badly to seeing her face but he didn't know it would be like that. He just saw that hair and the eyes and he wasn't in control anymore.
The spell escaped his brain on impulse. It was like boiling water pumped into his veins, fueling him with a desperate need to hurt her.
She was a monster. Her mother was a monster. Her own father is gone because of her. His sister. She was tearing the loyalty from his own parents. He hated her down to his bones.
His entire body began to shake again and his eyes flicked to the power lines, which seemed to be quivering slightly. He took several deep breaths. They did nothing to calm his anger but once his brain was back to working properly the power lines stopped shaking. This one girl was making him angry enough to redirect enough energy to level an entire town. Imagine what she could do to them all if she knew what she was doing.
When he saw her turn around the edge of the woods he stepped out of his car. He was parked in a trailer park near where Cara lived. Emerson took yet another calming breath before sending a small seeking spell down the deserted road. A little path of blue light lit down the road.
Emerson walked for nearly two miles before he came on an old house that looked as though it was very slowly collapsing down from the edges of its foundation. His heavy boots thudded against the steps of the beaten porch. He didn't care that she heard him coming. Sneaking up on the old crone wasn't the priority. Just her consent not to fry them all if he took the girl.
A small charm unlocked the door without an extra thought.
The lock and finding the place were easy but he knew the moment the burst of energy pounded against his chest and into his heart he was going to pay for it.
"You think you can come into my home," the old witch came roaring into the living room. Emerson was against the screen door clutching his chest. The pure energy she was sending him in one fluid dose was disrupting his heartbeat. But she would be dead before she could stop a young mage's heart. When she finally relented with the energy he slid down against the door holding his chest gasping for breath. She must have sensed the oxygen spell he'd cast on the girl that morning because the effects were a lot the same. Emerson glared up at the witch.
This time he vocally murmured the charm to send the china cabinet behind her shooting towards her. It was just about to pin her to the wall when another burst of energy capsized Emerson, this time knocking him unconscious. The last thing he saw was the sneer of a blind woman above him.
He woke up bound to a chair with very traditional iron chains around his wrists and ankles.
"Ah. So I've been demoted to simple human restraints now?" Emerson asked coldly.
"Oh honey. I could end you before you could even think of a charm to use," Cara gave a tinkling laugh as she sipped tea from across the table.
"Cara. You have to listen," Emerson cleared his throat to begin his first attempt of diplomacy outside of the school.
"Oh little man. You are just as naive as you were when you were fourteen. If you utter even a breath of how harming Jade would save so many people escapes your lips I will have you face to face with both of your lungs in no time," she snapped. But Emerson was distracted. Jade. Even her name fueled his anger. He wondered if she even knew about the ring.
"I didn't come here to hear you threaten me," Emerson sighed. He was very slowly beginning to accept defeat.
"Oh. I see. Just a singular man of action. How honorable of you. You know your father loves her. And your mother deep down. And her father is still out there. Have you even begun to think about the amount of people that would want your trachea hanging above their fireplace if you so much as touched her?" Cara was leaned over the table. It wasn't made to look very threatening but the exaggeration of the display hit home. She couldn't see him frowning at her but she must have sensed him twitching slightly because a very small smile came across her face and she leaned back against her chair.
"I truly did not come here to hurt her." He bit out the last word. "My father sent me," he ground his teeth in anger. Cara's entire demeanor changed in record time. Her face softened and as did the chains around him.
"Why?" She frowned. "Why now?" She leaned her elbows against the table her eyes directs just past Emerson in inquisition. He freed himself from the literal chains on his wrists.
"Because she'll be eighteen in a little over a month. Once she turns eighteen-."
"She gets the pack" Cara's shoulders deflated. "I hadn't thought about the pack in so long. I honestly thought of you as my only threat."
Emerson couldn't help but feel a certain amount of pride at the fact that he was only thing Cara had feared for the life of Jade. And then he realized exactly how screwed he was.
"So you have no idea about the pack? Where they are? Who took over as alpha?" Emerson demanded angrily. "How can you not know anything?" Cara sent a withering look in his direction.
"I would know every little detail about their actions over the last decade if it weren't for you demanding vengeance against a little girl that had nothing to do with it," she said stonily. She easily caught the little shock of energy he sent. He cringed when his arm locked up from the electricity that shot down it when she sent to wave of energy right back to him.
“I guess I deserved that,” he grumbled. His shoulder kept twinging painfully and every time it did Cara would make an amused grunt as if she could feel the excess energy coming from him. “You really dislike me, don’t you?” Emerson growled.
“No. I don’t dislike you. I love you, your father, your mother and I still love your sister, God bless her soul. I just dislike how irrational you’re being. Jade is no more like Desiree than you are. Do you understand what that girl goes through every day of her life? The memories she fights subconsciously? I doubt you ever could.”
“Really? You mean the same memories I fight? The same way I have to look at my parents every day and see the heart break in their eyes and know that they still love the offspring of that monster?” Emerson stood so quickly and violently his chair shot back across the kitchen and crashed into the cabinets behind him. Cara’s face didn’t once twitch.
“It hurts, Emerson. I understand that. But that is something we all have to deal with. You cannot hold a monopoly on the pain and then blame Jade,” she said sadly and rose her cold, colorless eyes to his face. She couldn’t see him. But it felt like she was looking straight through him.
“Yeah well I can’t seem to get to who is truly to blame. So her daughter will have to do,” he said coldly. The door in the living room creaked open. When Cara turned to meet the girl Emerson spun around and fled. Yes it was the cowardly way but he didn’t care. He couldn’t do it.
His father was going to be pissed.