Entanglement (YA Dystopian Romance)
Author:Dan Rix

chapter SEVEN

2 Days, 11 hours, 11 minutes



“I would like to present my son, Clive Selavio . . . ” He saw that Aaron had stood and trailed off.

Aaron froze. Slowly, he stared around the warehouse at a hundred puzzled faces, and the thumping of his heart echoed, as if amplified over a loudspeaker. He faced the podium again, Casler—and they stared at each other in shock across three rows of blood red hoods.

Clive grabbed his cloak and tried to yank him back down. “Aaron,” he spat. “Sit down! You’re ruining it!”

Aaron no longer had a choice. He plowed toward the aisle, shoved aside knees, and stumbled. Clive grabbed his cloak and it ripped off his shoulders. Without it he felt naked, exposed, with only jeans and a T-shirt protecting him from a hundred pairs of gleaming eyes. He kept going, vaguely aware of someone rising behind him—and acutely aware of Casler’s gaze drilling into the back of his skull.

Finally, he lunged through the door and stumbled into the night. A moment later, Dominic ran onto the field after him.

“Number eleven, you can’t just leave!” he yelled.

“Yeah—” Aaron spun, and his face burned with sweat. “Then stab me.”

“This is a big moment for Clive. You walk out on him, you walk out on Dr. Selavio, you walk out on us,” said Dominic.

“Can I throw a ‘fuck you’ in there too?”

Dominic just raised his eyebrows, then shook his head. “That’s a big mistake, number eleven.”

Aaron marched toward the street.

“A very big mistake,” Dominic muttered, before slipping back into the warehouse.

Aaron walked under the blotted out moon, between dark, hungry-looking Cadillacs.

He had gotten it so wrong.

No shit the date in the article matched his birthday; March thirtieth was Clive’s birthday too. Dr. Selavio had tested the device on his own son, not on Aaron . . . and, according to his speech, cured him of half death. A chill crept up Aaron’s spine.

He was now outside the warehouse, missing the crucial truth—and in fifty-nine hours, he was due at the Chamber of Halves. Aaron reached the road and began to jog, then to sprint. Anything to burn off his adrenaline. The orange streetlights swam overhead, and a humid wind whipped his hair. He passed parked cars for several hundred feet, then his thighs gave out and he keeled over, gasping for breath.

A boy who had no half, Dr. Selavio had said—no doubt just rhetoric to play up his cure for half death. Because it didn’t make any sense. Or did it? Technically, children were born halfless all the time. Those babies were always stillborn, though—

Aaron jolted upright, distracted by the car parked next to him. There was someone in the passenger seat.

He approached the window, heart pounding. But it was too dark to see. He leaned closer, pressed his forehead to the glass, and waited while his eyes adjusted. When they did, he jerked his head back.

For several agonizing seconds, a woman peered at him blankly through the glass, emotionless, her gaze eerily vacant. Aaron returned her stare, fighting the urge to look away—until he realized there was nothing staring at him. There was nothing behind the woman’s eyes, no spirit, no life, only a lonely cavity where a person should have been. A hole.

And Aaron understood the hideousness of juvengamy.

The woman’s half was in the meeting, whom she had joined with as an infant. After juvengamy, most of the clairvoyance linking their bodies he had come to possess. Hardly anything was left inside her. She was a shell, his slave, and he her master.

***

After school the next day, Aaron staggered out of Health class into a humid Thursday afternoon, still haunted by the woman’s ghostly eyes.

People said the discovery of halves had cured humanity of all that . . . The atrocities of war, slavery, crimes against humanity. Now there was a whole new kind of genocide.

Juvengamy.

It was the sacrifice demanded of all the Brotherhood’s members. Now he understood why it was so illegal.

But worst of all, Amber’s father was an honored member like Casler, of pure juvengamy blood and close to the potentate.

Which meant what for Amber?

While he drove home, the last sliver of sunlight smoldered behind a storm cloud, withering away to nothing—like his dwindling hope that she would be okay.

Once again, Aaron counted down the hours until he could see her. From his room, he watched the trees darken across the street, denied a sunset as rain clouds blackened the sky prematurely.

By midnight, though, the storm had blown south. After an evening of overcast sky, the stars were teasingly bright. Aaron parked on Loma Sierra drive and leapt from his Mazda, and Amber appeared in his arms. Her silken hair swirled around them.

Holding her was euphoria. The cool feel of her skin and the hot, summery smell floating off her body was enough to make his head spin. But best of all, she was safe. For now.

“If you kept me waiting thirty more seconds,” she whispered, “I would have left.”

“With who?” said Aaron. “Your other boyfriend?”

She gave him a slow, teasing smile. “Who said you were my boyfriend?”

Aaron winked and deposited her in the passenger seat. “I have a surprise for you,” he said. “Buckle up.”

“Where are we going?” she said.

“You’ll love it, buttercup.”

She glared at him. “If you call me buttercup one more time, you lose all boyfriend privileges.”

“Oh, so I am your boyfriend?” he said.

“No.”

“Right . . . ” Aaron felt a smile tugging at his lips. “I just have the privileges.”

Instead of driving back down the ridge, he took them farther up Loma Sierra drive. The street narrowed, and they flew around corners, blew through stop signs. He yanked the wheel and they spun onto Gibraltar road—the same road they would take to the Chamber of Halves on their birthdays.

For a moment, they glimpsed the Chamber between two peaks, white adobe towers drenched in floodlights, before they streaked out of view. Almost imperceptibly, they both tensed.

Aaron downshifted and carved his Mazda around switchbacks. As he shifted gears, Amber played with her hair and stared out the window. He floored it after the corners, burnt rubber, and sank the RPM needle deep into the redline. The engine screamed.

“You drive like Dominic,” she said, taking her eyes off the window.

Aaron smirked, overly aware of her gaze, and jammed the stick into third on a straightaway. “The road’s familiar.”

He veered off the pavement and skidded to a stop, his headlights illuminating a patch of grass at the edge of a cliff. His door swung open.

“That was close,” she said

“Nah, we had a few feet.” He got out and circled to her side to help her out. “Now close your eyes.”

She was completely trusting as Aaron led her forward. He held her waist and stood her at the edge of the cliff.

“There,” he said, and when she opened her eyes, she gasped and squeezed his hands.

From the cliff, they could see the entire valley, the harbor, the islands—a hundred and eighty degrees of moonlit Tularosa. The sea glittered in the moon’s violet wake. Silver rain clouds billowed on the horizon. The city lights shimmered below them.

While Amber took in the view, Aaron unloaded a blanket from his trunk and spread it out on the grass. He lay on his back and waited for her to join him.

A breeze rustled the grass, infusing the air with the smell of sage, and a moment later, she lay back on the blanket next to him, shivering. He hugged her until she was warm. They watched the vast, calming reach of the constellations.

But tonight, solace evaded him.

“Have you ever wondered why halves exist at all?” said Amber. “I mean, why we’re even entangled in the first place?”

“That’s all I used to think about,” he said. “Stuff like that gets to you when doctors tell you something’s wrong with your half. You drive yourself crazy asking why this and why that . . . and why me.” The stars winked out as a line of dark birds passed overhead.

She squeezed closer to him. “What do you think it is?”

“Maybe something out there.” He nodded to the sky. “ . . . or maybe we caused it.”

“Do you think there’s a loophole?”

“I think we’re missing something obvious. Like why don’t animals have halves?” he said. “There’s a simple answer . . . I know there’s a simple answer.”

“You just reminded me of this quote I really like,” she said. “‘The task is not to see what no one has yet seen; but to think what nobody has yet thought about that which everybody sees.’”

“Who said that?”

“I think it was Schrödinger.”

“Nice. I thought you hated the guy.”

“I’m not against halves; it’s what we chose to do with it that scares me.”

“Like juvengamy?”

Amber propped herself up on her elbow, then leaned in and kissed him. Her hair shimmered against the stars, translucent. “Can we not talk about that?” she said.

Aaron spotted a light moving against the stars—an orbiting satellite—and waited until it winked out before he responded. “Tell me about your dad.”

“He thinks I’m with Clive,” she said.

“Wow, I bet Clive’s got it easy,” said Aaron.

“I already told you, he’s a family friend,” she said.

“Since when?” he said. “Since he joined the Juvengamy Brotherhood?”

She sighed and rolled onto her back. “Are we really getting into this?”

“When did your dad join?” said Aaron, taking his attention off the sky to look at her. “Or was he born into it? Were you ever going to tell me?”

***

His accusation didn’t surprise her, but it still stung. He didn’t trust her. Amber closed her eyes, wishing they could just rewind. “Would you have told me?” she said. “If it was your parents?”

“But it’s not my parents,” he said.

“So why do you care?” she said.

He propped himself up, and moonlight revealed the concern in his eyes. “Is your mom like the rest of them?” he said. “Is she hollow like—?”

“It’s not like that for my parents,” Amber said quickly, not wanting to hear the rest of his description. “It hurt their channel, but at least they both got the same amount of clairvoyance. They’re normal, they just can’t stand each other.”

“Why would anyone think juvengamy is a good idea?” said Aaron.

“I don’t know,” she said, “why would anyone think meeting at eighteen is a good idea?”

“Because it doesn’t permanently damage you.”

Amber felt her body tense up. “They don’t think of it as damage,” she said.

“Then what is it?”

“The natural form of halves,” she said, and after a pause, added, “and a sacrifice for the potentate.”

“That’s sick,” said Aaron.

Amber glared at him. “Can we drop this?”

“How do they get away with it?” he said. “It’s illegal.”

“There’s more of us than you think,” she said. “The United States Ambassador to the Chamber of Halves was a juvengamy baby, so are some of the Ambassadors from other countries.”

“Jesus, how long has this been going on?”

“As long as everything else,” she said. “The Brotherhood was founded the same year Schrödinger discovered halves.”

“By who?”

“I don’t know, Aaron. He was the Chancellor of Germany at the time . . . someone named Adolph Hitler.”

“Never heard of him.”

“Because he disappeared.”

“And what about you?” said Aaron. “How do you fit into all this?”

Amber sighed. “Do I have to tell you everything about my life?” she said.

“Do you tell me anything?”

“Why should I?” she said, holding his gaze. “You hardly know me.”

For a long time, he stared back at her, his eyes dark and cryptic. “Well it might have occurred to you,” he said, “sometime after you kissed me and before you started wishing I was your half.”

His words hurt more than she expected. She swiveled away from him and let her hair fall between them, hiding her face. “Actually, Aaron, you kissed me.”

“Want to know what else?” he said, “I wish you were my half, too.”

Her heart fluttered, suddenly in free-fall, and she forgot she was even irritated with him. If he wanted her to be his half—and she definitely wanted him to be hers—then nothing else mattered. “That’s kind of nice to know,” she said, catching his eye again.

He shook his head. “I’m sorry I said that.”

“I’m not,” she said.

After a silence, he lifted his gaze to hers. “I meant to ask you, what’s the deal with Clive? I heard last night there’s something screwed up with his half. Like he doesn’t have one.”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I wasn’t there . . . obviously.”

“You still think he’s your half?”

“I only thought that because my parents and their friends said he was,” she said. “They’ve been saying it for years. They’re wrong, though.”

“What changed your mind?” he said.

“They have to be wrong,” she said, “because I think . . . ” she lowered her eyes, and her heartbeat climbed to a blur when she realized what she was about to say. “because I think I’m falling for you.”

There, she had said it. She peeked at his face, her pulse refusing to slow as she waited for him to drag her down and kiss her passionately. For a moment, the night retreated from his eyes and left them unguarded, he was hers—before darkness rushed back in and made him more inaccessible than ever. He sat up, and she saw guilt burning behind his pupils.

“Take that back,” he whispered.

Amber felt her heart go still. “But it’s true,” she said, “we’re only supposed to be able to love one person, right?”

“Yeah, so take it back. It’s not me.”

Now she glared at him. “Then who the fuck do you think it is, Aaron?”

Aaron tried to stroke her hair, but she wriggled away from him and he gave up. “Look,” he said, his voice hollow, “my clairvoyant channel is supposed to collapse when I meet my half. It didn’t collapse when I met you. In fact, it doesn’t even hurt right now. Amber, I’m fighting not to fall in love with you because you can’t possibly be my half. I’d probably be screaming in agony right now if you were.”

***

The following morning, Aaron woke to the gong from the Chamber of Halves. The air was damp and yeasty, and beads of sweat clung to his forehead like leeches.

As he watched, a bluish hue crept along the dark horizon. It was six in the morning; he was due at the Chamber in twenty-nine hours.

Aaron rolled onto his side, and Amber’s warm scent floated up from his bed. It had rubbed into his pores and rubbed off on his sheets—and then he remembered the previous night, how much he’d hurt her. He groaned and buried is face in his comforter.

Supposing Amber was right, though. Supposing they were halves. Everything would make sense that way. Doctors were pessimists; it shouldn’t come as a surprise if they had falsely predicted the collapse of his channel when, in fact, nothing had happened.

Aaron closed his eyes, and for the dozenth time, he performed the calculation in his head. With a hundred thousand people in Tularosa, there couldn’t be more than a few thousand seventeen year olds—merely a dozen of whom turned eighteen this Saturday. A few boys and a few girls. In reality, if Aaron and Amber were halves, their odds of finding each other were even higher. Clairvoyance brought halves together like magnets.

But the blue haze of dawn pried his eyelids apart. He already knew how it ended. He had known since his first nauseating sniff of the sterile, bleached insides of an MRI machine. He didn’t get to have Amber. His channel wouldn’t allow it.

Yet hope still leaked into his blood stream, itching in places he couldn’t scratch. And he knew he had to see her again tonight, in case it wasn’t their last night together.

And, in case it was.

***

At 6:25 that evening, Amber waited for Aaron with Tina and Buff outside the gate into Pueblo’s rugby stadium. Sunlight slanted through the trees and tinted their faces orange. Amber had meant to keep her previous night with Aaron to herself, but she was on the verge of tears and Tina had no trouble prying it out of her. She was getting worse and worse at hiding her feelings.

“He’s an asshole,” said Tina. “We all knew that.”

“No bullshit, Tina. Buddy was only trying to protect her.” Buff stood tall in a crisp warm-up jersey, his hair neatly combed. He looked . . . cute.

“Well, she doesn’t need his protection,” said Tina.

“Somebody had to bring it up the fact that tomorrow’s their—”

Tina shot him a warning glare. “We’re not talking about tomorrow.”

Amber sighed. “You guys can just say it,” she said. “Our birthday’s in six hours. We shouldn’t be anywhere near each other right now.”

Tina and Buff flinched and averted their eyes. In other words, they couldn’t have said it better themselves.

Amber stopped paying attention to them and scanned the faces of unfamiliar boys entering the stadium. She wished for once that she could be invisible. She hated being stared at when she felt like she was about to cry.

Why didn’t Aaron think they were halves? The previous night, he had ruined her pride. Okay fine, so he was right. Amber knew she didn’t get to have him. She was naïve to think she could just run away from her birthday, from what her parents had always told her. From Clive. But at least they could have pretended they were halves for one night. Tonight, after the game, she would have to confess the truth.

Tomorrow, when Aaron saw what she was supposed to become, he would wish she had never existed.

Finally, Aaron arrived at the gate, hair unkempt and skin bronze in the afternoon sun, looking more like he was modeling that leather jacket of his for a magazine than meeting friends at a rugby game.

Amber watched him, bubbly with excitement. Aaron nodded to Buff—who nodded stiffly back—then gathered her in his arms. She was breathless immediately, drinking in his smell.

Tina and Buff averted their eyes and headed down to the field.

“I’m sorry,” Aaron whispered when they were gone, and she heard the pain in his voice. He was just as distraught over the previous night as she was.

And right then, as she looked up into his dark, sunset streaked eyes, feeling euphoric and implausibly safe now that he was here, Amber realized she was in love with him.

The wrong boy.

***

Aaron and Amber sat in the bleachers facing Pueblo’s rugby field. Deep purples and maroons smoldered out on the horizon, the remains of their last sunset as seventeen-year-olds. Gone. A gentle mist settled in its wake.

The crowd groaned as Dominic Brees flattened the fullback and scored. Without Buff Normandy, Pueblo was getting ground to pulp. But Aaron’s nerves were too occupied with Amber to care. His body felt rigid, his tendons strained like rubber bands about to snap. He couldn’t relax, not around her. Not when he had fifteen hours left before his appointment.

He caught Amber peering at him.

“You’re doing it too,” she said, brushing her hair behind her ear. “You’re risking everything for me. We both turn eighteen tomorrow.”

“Amber, it’s not a game of chicken,” he said. “You have your whole life—”

“My whole life?” Her lips formed a cruel, haunted smile. “Wait and see.”

A moment later the stadium roared with cheers. Fans screamed and leapt from their seats, but the two of them hardly budged. Their bodies stayed rigid, as if linked by a taut cord.

“You make me nervous,” he said.

“I know.” Amber’s eyes reflected the misty halos blazing from the stadium lights.

Down by the field, though, he saw the flash of a green windbreaker, Corona’s color. His gaze snapped to the bottom of the stands, and the skin burned behind his ears.

Clive Selavio was scanning the bleachers for open seats, and in that instant, his eyes locked on Aaron and Amber. His pale eyes narrowed in their sockets, and he barged through the first bench of fans and scurried up the stairs toward them.

***

As Clive approached, the glare of the quartz lights eroded his scarred face. He reached the end of the aisle and cut toward them, gripping an unopened can of beer.

Amber finally noticed him, and the color drained from her face. He would reach her first.

Aaron stood, crossed her lap, and blocked Clive’s path just as he reached her. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he said.

“You don’t mind if I slide in next to Amber, do you?” said Clive, drenching him with beer breath.

“The seat’s taken,” said Aaron.

“No, I believe it’s free.

“I’d be careful in that green jacket,” said Aaron.

Clive peered around at the red and white stadium and then held up his index finger, studying it. “Harper, all I have to do is touch the back of your skull, and a little more leaks out.”

“What are you talking about?” said Aaron.

“And how long would you guess before you’re empty?” He smirked. “My father can help you, you know.” With that, he shoved past Aaron and squeezed into the chair next to Amber. She gave Clive a quick, hateful stare and flattened herself against the far armrest.

Clive’s milky, lizard-like eyes surveyed the contours of her face as if she was prey. “Don’t I get a kiss?” he said.

Though her cheeks flushed, Amber continued to stare vaguely into the distance. Aaron rolled up his sleeves and prepared to extricate Clive from the seat. He motioned for Amber to scoot over and dropped into the seat between them, facing Clive. Their eyes burned into each other.

“Harper, how many times must I warn you—”

“What was that your dad said about you on Wednesday?” said Aaron, interrupting him. “The boy without a half?”

“If you’d actually stayed,” said Clive, “then you would have learned I got a new one.”

Aaron felt white-hot adrenaline prickle into his blood. He didn’t blink. Finally, Clive leaned around him and spoke to Amber again.

“Your father asked me to drive you home tonight. Apparently you’ve been sneaking off?”

Amber ignored him.

“Amber, I’m talking to you—”

Aaron yanked him back by his hood. “She doesn’t want to hear it,” he said.

Clive clamped his fingers around Aaron’s wrists and pried them off his jacket. “You need to learn when to keep your ugly nose out of other people’s business.”

“You can’t get a new half.”

“Can’t you?” said Clive, and he popped open his beer, spraying the seats in front of them with foam. He leaned around Aaron again.

“Amber, you still haven’t done what I told you to do, and since you’re going to be my half tomorrow . . . ”

She was looking down now.

“Amber—”

Suddenly, she grabbed her bag, stood up, and squeezed past them. “I have to go,” she muttered.

For a second, Aaron watched her hurrying down the stairs. Then he slapped Clive’s beer. The can flew from his hand, spiraling foam, and landed several rows down. He rose and stumbled after her.

Aaron caught her at the gate and grabbed her hand. “Forget him,” he said. “Come back to my house.”

“Didn’t you hear him?” she said.

“He’s lying.”

“I lied.”

“I don’t care,” he said.

“I lied,” she repeated, “because I wanted you instead. I wanted them to be wrong.” Silver wisps of her hair sparkled against the stadium lights. “But it’s just like Clive says.”

It was the opposite of what she’d told him last night. Something had changed. Aaron felt the damp, chilly night clawing into him.

“He’s not your half—” But the half time bell rang behind them, interrupting him and flooding him with shivers. Their time was up.

Amber kissed him, letting her fingers linger on his neck before letting go of him. “Clive and I have known since childhood,” she said, her eyes cinders, extinguished of hope. “We weren’t proper juvengamy babies because he was too sick when he was born. The operation would have killed him—it would have killed us . . . But I’m still his half.”

The words pierced Aaron’s heart.

“I’m sorry,” Amber whispered. Then she walked away.

***

He was still standing in the same spot when Clive squeezed his shoulder.

“I do hope that meant something to you,” he said, his pale eyes gleaming with triumph. “Because that’s the last time you see her.”

Aaron said nothing.

“You know, Harper, she’s the one who’s going to get hurt tomorrow, after what you’ve done to her.”

Aaron swiveled away from him and leaned against the bleachers, just as Dominic Brees jogged over, dripping sweat and grinning from behind his plastic nose guard.

“Twenty-five to three!” he said. “Please tell me you guys saw that spin move.” A loud clang made him look back, and his grin vanished.

“Enjoying yourself out there, Breezie?” came a voice from under the stands. Aaron followed Dominic’s gaze to a large figure emerging from the shadows. Buff Normandy.

From his vantage point, Aaron saw Clive reach into his pocket and hand something to Dominic, which he concealed in his hand.

“It was better when you weren’t too pussy to play,” said Dominic.

“Bet you won’t say that after the second half,” said Buff. “Coach wants a fair game. He’s putting me in.”

“He can’t do that,” said Dominic. You’re below the minimum GPA.”

“Ever heard of extra credit?” Buff grinned and turned back to the field.

Aaron heard the click.

“Buff, behind you!” he shouted, but it was too late.

Before Buff could turn, Dominic lunged, the switchblade glinting in his fist.

No time to think. Aaron spun, off balance, and tackled Dominic, sank his shoulder into the rugby player’s chest. They collided into the bleachers, into the sharp edges of the steel struts. Rusted metal bit into Aaron’s ear and rattled his brain, but it was nothing like the clean slash of the switchblade down his forearm.

At first, he hardly felt it, just an eerie itch deep in his blood veins, but then came the hideous sensation of his flesh peeling open to the cold air. He grabbed his arm and staggered backwards. His hand came back warm and wet. In the dark, he saw nothing. Then every thunderous beat of his heart was like a douse of gasoline on the inferno in his arm.

Buff descended on Dominic and plowed his face into the cement. They rolled, grunting and kicking up dust. Dominic grasped for a crossbeam, caught one, and hauled himself to freedom. Corona’s superstar was fast, but Buff was faster. In three steps, he overtook him and downed him again. Buff’s fists were a blur.

“Buff! You’re going to kill him!” said Aaron, now doing everything he could to restrain his best friend’s arm. A few other rugby players sprinted over from the field.

“Normandy—” His teammates dragged him off. “Security’s just outside.”

“Right—” Buff stood and straightened his jersey. “No more bullshit, Breezie.” He glanced at Aaron, his face cloaked in shadow.

Aaron tried to decipher his friend’s expression, but his teammates were already ushering him back to the field, telling him they needed to bolt before the guards came. Reluctantly, Buff peeled his gaze away from Aaron. Feeling dizzy, Aaron fell to his knees in a patch of silver light.

Next to him, Dominic groaned and rolled onto his back. Aaron’s eyes felt heavy as he watched his own blood drain into the dirt from the gaping slash above his wrist.

***

“Number eleven—” Dominic climbed to his feet and staggered over to him. “What the hell was that?”

Aaron ignored him, but a second later Dominic’s wheezing face leered in front of him.

“You’re about to go down a very painful road.” He grabbed Aaron’s sleeve and wiped the blood off his switchblade.

The outlines of Dominic’s face blurred and started spinning, and Aaron had to shut his eyes.

“And you—” Dominic advanced on Clive next. “Couldn’t even lift your pinky finger, could you?”

“I was unarmed,” said Clive. “You had a knife.”

“Oh yeah? Did Normandy have a knife? Did number eleven have a knife?” Dominic gurgled phlegm in his throat and spat. “I’m beginning to doubt your loyalty, Selavio.”

“It’s my wedding tomorrow,” said Clive.

“Don’t kid yourself,” said Dominic. “A black eye would be an improvement.”

“It’s going to be televised.”

“So? You’re not the one we’ll be watching.”

Clive’s eyes shrank to slits. “You better get a real good look then,” he said. “Because it’s the last time you’ll see her.”

Dominic shook his head and slid the nose guard off his face. His curly hair bounced back into place. “Clive, I’m talking about your father. I don’t give a damn about your half.”

Aaron was still on the ground. Through the fog in his brain, he could barely hear Clive’s tense voice.

“And what exactly about my father?”

“It’s that machine he has in my basement that bothers me. I can’t sleep with that God-awful racket.”

“Then wear earplugs,” said Clive. “Your parents agreed to let him test it.”

“Don’t even start,” said Dominic, spitting again. “With all the rap they’ve taken for you guys, lying to the police and everything—”

“I’d stay out of it,” Clive warned.

Dominic flipped the switchblade closed and leaned forward. “Selavio, I know that thing doesn’t cure half death. If it did, Justin Gorski would still be alive.” With that, he spun and hobbled back to the field. Before he was gone though, he yelled over his shoulder. “And if I was you, number eleven, I wouldn’t fall asleep tonight.”

Aaron was only half-aware of him. Later, once Clive left too, he ripped off a section of his T-shirt. With one hand, he wrapped the material around his arm, pulled it tight, and tied it off in a knot. Then he hunched forward and cradled his forehead in his palms. As the pain ebbed from his sliced forearm, he became aware of the slow smolder in his lips, leftover from Amber’s last kiss. And he knew then.

He was in love with her.





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