SPOILER ALERT: DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU HAVEN’T FINISHED TEMPUS
(Official Disclaimer: This text was not sent through a professional editor, so I can promise you there are some typos … somewhere … somehow.)
It all started when that Valentine kid fell asleep in English class. Again.
He sat in front of me, his head jerking back and forth like a tethered boat on rough waters.
In my pocket, my cellphone vibrated. I slipped it out and glimpsed at the screen. It was from Rush.
How’s our girl-next-door today? Sneak me a picture of what she’s wearing.
I powered the phone off and leaned back in my desk.
It was my fault that he knew I had a class with Chapel Ryan. I’d made the mistake of mentioning it once during a debrief meeting.
“You mean the girl who lives next to us?” he’d asked. “The one in the white bikini?”
From Rush’s window, you could see into the Taylors’ backyard.
I hadn’t answered Rush during that debrief meeting. Instead, I’d asked Jackson to move to the next question. Nothing was more important than my undivided focus.
At eighteen, I was the youngest in our cell and our only opportunity to get inside Bennett Park High School. And since I’d read a suspicious Genex energy there on more than one occasion, I would not tolerate the slightest distraction.
Regardless of how the distraction looked in a white bikini.
My eyes trailed to where she sat, one row over and one desk up. She wore a long navy skirt and a white tank top—which I would not be relaying to Rush— her attention drawn to the window to our right.
Then the Valentine kid started breathing heavily and she flicked a look across the aisle.
Her eyes closed briefly and she rubbed a finger across the bridge of her nose.
She was interesting. Some moments—like now—I knew exactly what she was thinking: Not again.
But others, when she stared out windows like she was dying to escape through them, I wondered what she was thinking.
She whispered his name and I almost laughed. There was no way that was going to rescue the kid from the sleep he was in. She needed something more substantial. Like a missile or a grenade.
I watched as the second and third and forth attempts to wake him up failed miserably.
It truly was laughable, though. How determined those green eyes looked, squinted and annoyed. How waking him up had suddenly become the most important thing on planet Earth to her.
It was intense. It was like she thought getting caught sleeping in class was the worst thing that could happen to a kid in Bennett Park.
With that dark reminder, I stopped watching Chapel Ryan and leaned forward in my desk. I needed to focus. I needed to—.
Something flew into my right eye. Before I even knew what it was, my hand shot up, batting it away.
What the …?
I leaned over and saw what had to be the most poorly constructed paper airplane to ever be built. Literally.
I felt her eyes move to me then, the weight of them heavy and unavoidable.
Her eyes weren’t the kind of eyes that you would notice right away. But the way it felt to be looked at by them? It was.
“Sorry,” she said. “I was …” She motioned to Valentine as if I hadn’t been sitting six inches from his snoring head for the last five minutes.
Part of me wanted to tease her for not just asking for my help sooner, but teasing would look like flirting, and flirting was not a part of my current assignment.
We were a training cell, one who helped Jackson find recruits to potentially join our teams and others’. But after picking up on odd Genex energy signatures in the area, Jackson had allowed me to take part in their investigation.
There was no time for idle flirtations. That was too much like the old Zay. And I would die a thousand deaths before I would allow him to come back to life.
Besides. No matter how it felt to be looked at by her, she was just a girl.
One who looked nearly mad with panic.
To put her out of her misery, I tapped Valentine on the shoulder and he jerked awake. Immediately, his eyes found hers. The smile she gave him had me looking away.
If I didn’t know better, I’d think those two were in love with each other. But that couldn’t be true.
Chapel wasn’t the prettiest girl in the school, but I had seen enough to know she was definitely the most attractive.
And Valentine? He was the President of the Math Club. His hair was terrible, only trumped in terribleness by his wardrobe.
How long had they known each other? How did they become friends? Did she know he watched her out of the corner of his eye, too?
And I wondered again what she thought about when she looked out the window.
“Miss Ryan?” our teacher said. Freeman. Everyone called her Freeman. “Your expression is particularly sour. Thoughts on Edna?”
Chapel straightened her shoulders and cleared her throat. I knew she hadn’t been paying attention for most of the lecture, and I was curious to see how she would BS her way through this answer.
“If I’m being honest,” she said calmly, “I think Edna was a spoiled brat.”
That was the first time Chapel Ryan really surprised me.
Of course Freeman ate up her candidness, pressing for more.
Then the blonde in the front of the room spun around with a look of pure disgust on her face. She was not bad-looking, but I knew if I kissed her she would taste chalky with too much makeup.
She was exactly the kind of girl I used to go for. Before Marielle’s … incident.
I shivered. I hated thinking about that night. The worst night of my life. I could still hear her screams sometimes. They stole my sleep.
I forced my mind to concentrate on the room I was inside of—anything to evade reliving that nightmare.
“You’re right, Brandy,” Chapel was saying. “She can do what she wants with her life. But I don’t have to call her a hero for it.”
The Valentine kid’s head eased back too far again, and his desk whined in response. He was teetering back on the metal legs of the chair. If he fell asleep with it tilted like that, he would flip over.
Chapel shot Valentine a look of terror.
“Edna knew what was necessary to get what she wanted,” Brandy said. Her eyes narrowed with a knowing expression.
Ah. I remembered, then. Brandy was the girl Logan Breeze was with. I saw them making out in the school parking lot one day after practice.
But when the players passed the cheerleaders on their way to the field, his eyes always searched out Chapel’s. Not the tall blonde with all that lipstick.
Jealousy. What was uglier on a woman than that?
Valentine’s desk wobbled in front of me and Chapel didn’t seem to notice. She was too busy staring down the white noise in the front of the room.
I coughed into my fist until she looked at me, then quickly to Valentine. Her eyes shot open wider.
“Mr. Halstead?” Freeman said, sounding happy I drew attention to myself. “Would you like to contribute?”
I pushed my hair back, trying to replay the last few words I’d heard her say. “I think doing what you want is cheap,” I said.
“Go on,” Freeman said.
Chapel’s eyes were on me again. Everyone’s were.
I knew what they thought of me. I had heard the rumors. I didn’t mind them. They kept an invisible field of protection around me. They kept me separated from them, which was what was needed.
“It’s simple, really,” I said. “What Edna did is what a lot of women do—she followed her heart.”
“And you think that’s wrong.”
Yes. “Not necessarily wrong. Just stupid. Emotions make things blurry.”
“So, what?” Brandy said, her voice sounding sharp in my ears. “Heroes can’t have emotions?”
I wanted to laugh out loud. This time because the answer was so obvious that I couldn’t believe she’d ask it—even rhetorically.
No. Heroes can’t have emotions. At least—not emotions they reacted to. That was what separated heroes from the regular guys. Heroes made sacrifices.
I opened my mouth to tell her that when Valentine’s desk finally started spilling over. I stuck my pen in my mouth to lean up and catch him when something began tickling the edge of my consciousness.
A bright explosion of it in my mind.
A clattering of notes on a scale I was still perfecting.
Three two three, three two three. Seven, seven, seven. A A A B. Three two three, three two three. Seven, seven, seven. A A A B. Three two three, three two three. Seven, seven, seven. A A A B.
My brain had already started cataloguing the sounds before I realized what was actually happening.
The room was frozen. Except for one person. Chapel Ryan. She was on the floor. Her back heaved with the unsteady shake of her breaths.
The truth shot through me like a bullet—she is Genex. And not just any Genex. I’d only read about this exception.
That was what it was called. Chapel Ryan had Tempus.
Several thoughts flushed through my head quickly.
I knew she was special.
I hope she’s not the Rogue.
Does she know what I am?
If I recruit her, Jackson will love it.
She started getting to her feet beside me and I stayed as still as possible. I wasn’t a person who showed my emotions easily, but even my heart couldn’t remain unaffected after the shock of this new development.
I felt it thudding in my chest, pulsing against my black shirt.
She shook her face slowly, pieces of reddish-blonde hair falling from the knot on top of her head.
“Valentine?” she whispered. She whispered it like he might answer. Did that mean …? Surely she knew how these worked, didn’t she?
She moved slowly and pushed down Valentine’s desk. I could tell she was confused, disoriented, and in pain, but she pulled her shirt away from her chest and blew down the front of it.
“And you think I’m high maintenance.”
A joke. She had just cracked a joke. Who was this girl?
A soft laugh escaped my throat before I could suck it back in.
Then her eyes were on me again. She’d heard me.
Smooth, Zay, I told myself. She could easily be the Rogue I’d been hunting, or working with the Rogue. But as soon as I had the thought, I dismissed it.
Something about her energy. The sound of it. It was distinct. I’d never heard it. It had a pattern to it. Almost like poetry. Like a song.
God, Zay, you sound like such a pansy right now.
“You will not be creepy,” Chapel hissed beside me. She had her hands over her eyes. “You will not be creepy.”
Had she been staring at me? The thought hitched somewhere in my throat and my lungs made an involuntary wheeze.
Startled, I almost dropped the pin from my mouth and pushed it to the other side.
I am an idiot.
Her hand slipped and she was staring at me again. She was studying me, taking me apart molecule by molecule. She stepped toward me.
“Isaiah?” she whispered.
She knew my name.
Then she leaned closer to me. Bending with those green eyes on my mouth like she was about to kiss me.
I told my neck not to reach up to meet her. I told my tongue to stay behind my lips. I told my eyes not to connect with hers.
I was wound so taut that when Chapel’s knee collided with my desk, I flinched. And, for half a breath, our eyes met before her energy was silenced and the room came back to life.
She fell into her chair and the bell rang.
Valentine started groaning about sleep loss. Freeman was barking about the homework. Brandy sauntered by me so slowly I wondered if she were still moving under Chapel’s Tempus.
And Chapel Ryan was staring at me as if her entire world had been rocked beneath her. And like I had been the one to do it.
“I—. Did you?” Chapel had trouble getting the words out.
I stood and picked up my book bag. If she looked at me with those intense eyes and asked me to tell her the truth, I just might be stupid enough to tell her.
No. I needed to think this through. I needed to talk to Jackson. I needed to talk to Rush. I needed to understand what had just happened.
I needed to get to know Chapel Ryan.
A thrill settled over the landscape of my skin as I came up with a plan. I could satisfy several cravings through it.
One, I could show Jackson that I could not only dig up leads on recruits, but I could close the deal with them as well.
Two, I could figure out what the heck it was she thought about when she stared out the window.
And three, I could prove to myself that she was what I knew she had to be—just another girl.
I moved between our desks to stand beside her. She smelled like fresh laundry and something else I couldn’t pick out right away.
“Isaiah?” she asked again, her perpetually smooth voice sounding rough. She looked totally and completely bewildered in that moment—terrified and confused and beautiful.
My full name on her lips sounded too heavy. Too formal.
I leaned toward her ear. Candy. That was the other thing she smelled like.
“It’s Zay,” I told her. “You can call my Zay.”
Then I hurried from the room before I could tell her all my secrets.
Holly Lauren is the author of TEMPUS, a Young Adult Science-Fiction Romance available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.