Bumble(Legend of the Ir'Indicti,Book 1)(24) by Connie Suttle
"Look, ponytail is getting involved. That empty your boyfriend?" Chad taunted Wynn. Jeremy walked up and laughed at Chad's latest comment. Jeremy Booth had lighter hair and hazel eyes, reflecting the colors of his Wildcat, but he followed in Chad's shadow much of the time, allowing Chad to select their targets for bullying.
"Get to your classes," Mr. Harris walked over to warn the older boys. "Before I call Billings."
"Billings is on our side," Chad muttered softly as he walked away. Most of the class didn't hear Chad's last words, but Ashe did. Ashe fumed over it as he sat at his desk. More than anything, he wanted to turn in class, just to show everybody he could. But he'd decided to keep that secret. He couldn't explain why, even to himself.
"Dude," Sali swatted at Ashe, bringing him back to Earth with a jolt. Mrs. Rocklin was asking him to pick up Dori's clothing.
"I'm about to go to the accountant's office," Adele told Ashe. He'd called her cell at five minutes past six. Ashe didn't know why he felt so shaky about his mother being alone in Cordell, but he did. His dad wouldn't wake until eight. Two hours. Ashe felt helpless, stuck as he was at the DeLucas' home. Sali was in the kitchen trying to wangle something to eat from his mother while Ashe borrowed the phone.
Cori and Dori had gone home with Wynn's mother, so it was just the two of them in the house with Denise DeLuca. Mr. Winkler was in Oklahoma City on business. Ashe hoped the Dallas Packmaster was getting information from the Medical Examiner's office and from the OSBI Forensics department. Ashe also wondered where Marco was—he hadn't driven home after school. Denise DeLuca seemed annoyed about it but she wasn't going to say anything in front of Ashe.
"Mom, just be careful, all right?" Ashe begged as his mother said good-bye.
"I will. You do the same," she said. Ashe hung up the phone with a sigh.
"How's your mom?" Mrs. DeLuca was putting pot roast together, setting carrots, onions and potatoes around the nearly cooked roast before slipping hand-shaped potholders on and returning the pan to the oven.
"Fine. She's on her way to the accountant's to pick up the taxes."
"I mailed ours off last Monday," Denise said, setting the potholders onto the counter.
"I wish ours were already mailed off," Ashe said. If they were, then his mother would be driving home instead of going to Rory Dalton's office. "I think I'll go work on my essay."
"Dude, you can't be serious," Sali said, coming away from the counter with four crackers spread with peanut butter. It was all his mother would allow him to have.
"You could do the same, since you want to win the contest," Denise reminded him.
"Crumbs," Sali muttered, stuffing a peanut butter-covered cracker into his mouth. "Did you have to mention that?" he said, chewing his food noisily.
"I heard that," his mother shook a wooden spoon in Sali's direction. "And don't talk with your mouth full."
Sali answered by grabbing Ashe's arm and hauling him away from the kitchen and down the hall leading to his bedroom. "What topic did you pick?" Sali asked, stuffing another cracker laden with peanut butter into his mouth.
"I haven't. I've got a lot of possibilities, but none of them look good," Ashe pulled the notebook from his book bag and opened it to the proper page. At least fifteen possible topics were listed, some of those crossed through. A few of them marked through violently.
"Dude, what's wrong with Living Among Humans? We all do it, just not all the time."
"It just seems trite," Ashe grumped. It was one of the topics he'd crossed out. "Take it if you want. A better topic might be what the humans would do if they found out we weren't human."
"I don't even want to think about that," Sali shivered. "How different do you think they are from us? Really?"
"Think about it, Sali. Some of them hunt, just not in the same way. Before animals were domesticated, hunting ensured their survival. You eat vegetables, even though you don't want to sometimes. I hear it's the same with some of them. There are a few with medical conditions that keep them out of sunlight. It can harm those people; just like it can my dad. They just don't grow fangs or claws."
"Or fur on the full moon," Sali nodded. "Mom's keeping my allowance for the next month because I jumped up on the back door last time and put scratches in the varnish."
"Dude, isn't that the sixth time you've done that?" Ashe tore out the page of rejected essay topics and handed it to Sali. He didn't want any of them.
"Maybe," Sali grinned and ducked his head. He couldn't help scratching at the door while he was wolf. He figured it was because he wanted out to run when the Moon was full. "Someday, Ashe, you're gonna buy a convertible and I'm gonna sit in the passenger seat while I'm wolf and let the wind blow through my fur."
"No doubt you'll be leering at all the cars we pass, too," Ashe said dryly.
"Goes without saying," Sali shrugged.
"Dinner's done," Ashe said, closing his notebook half an hour later. He'd heard Mrs. DeLuca pulling the pan out of the oven. Denise DeLuca confirmed it, calling out to them moments later.
"This is really good, Mrs. DeLuca," Ashe said. The pot roast had turned out perfectly and Marcus and Mr. Winkler had come in and sat at the table to eat with everyone else. Marco was still absent. Ashe noticed Mr. DeLuca's frown over Marco's empty seat at the table, but Marcus didn't say anything. Ashe imagined that Marcus wouldn't be silent once Ashe went home. He and Sali helped with the dishes afterward, even as Ashe began to feel strangely uncomfortable. His skin felt itchy-tingly, for some reason. He felt the need to call his mother as he hung up the dishtowel and followed Sali to his bedroom again. Ashe became more and more agitated as he walked until he wanted to crawl out of his own skin.
"Sali," Ashe hissed, once Sali's bedroom door was closed, "you can't tell anybody about this. Promise me!"
"Okay. Uh, tell anybody what?" Sali was confused.
"About this," Ashe whispered and turned to mist. Sali's eyes were huge as Ashe disappeared and flew straight through the ceiling of Sali's bedroom.
Floating above the DeLucas' home, Ashe took a moment to get his bearings before hurtling toward Cordell. His mother was in trouble, he just knew it. Something was happening and Ashe was frightened witless. Mr. Dalton's CPA office was near the bank on East First Street. Ashe was flying so fast as mist that the ground and trees were a blur beneath him, and he was speeding along in a straight line instead of following roads. It was just as Mr. Dawkins, Ashe’s Math teacher always said—the shortest distance between two points was a straight line. Ashe arrived above Cordell in a matter of minutes, only to find his mother's old blue Ford speeding westward on Highway 152. There wasn't any reason for her to be going in that direction. None at all. Ashe was following the truck in very little time, worrying that he wasn't going to catch up with it. Fear had him flying faster than ever, and he had no time to concern himself with how swiftly he might be going; he was focused and determined to reach the truck.
* * *
"I didn't see that, I didn't see that," Sali drew in the deepest of breaths while he murmured the litany to himself. Ashe had disappeared. Just went invisible, and now Sali couldn't find him. Didn't even know if Ashe was still inside the bedroom with him. "Dude," Sali whined, "please show up again. Please. I didn't see that, I didn't see that," Sali repeated.
* * *
"Adele is at the accountant's office, dealing with this year's taxes," Aedan said as he and Radomir walked through the garage. "Ashe is with the DeLucas, and Adele will pick him up. We can check the site Marco found yesterday," Aedan added, clicking the button on the garage door opener to close the steel door.
"He seems sure James Johnson was killed in that wooded area?" Radomir asked.
"Near the Johnson's pond at the back of their property," Aedan nodded. "How the body came to be behind our house afterward is still a mystery, but Marco says there were signs of a conflict on the eastern edge of the pond. He claims there are claw marks there, but the rain and the passage of time have obliterated the scents."
"I doubt we'll find anything to substantiate this claim," Radomir said, climbing into Aedan's SUV. "But we will look anyway."
"We're grasping at straws as it is. I'll follow any lead at this point." Aedan started the vehicle and drove toward the Johnson's wheat farm. "Paul and Jean Johnson are not only devastated at the loss of their son but they'll have to hire someone to help with the harvest."
"I have never had a child, not even a vampire child," Radomir admitted as Aedan drove along. "I think it might destroy me to lose one."
"It might," Aedan agreed, thinking of Ashe.
* * *
Ashe was terrified and screaming mentally as he flew through the roof of the old blue Ford. The truck had begun to weave dangerously on the highway as he misted through the metal top, but what he found when he reached the inside frightened him more than that, if it were possible. His mother, unconscious, slumped on the passenger side of the truck while the driver's seat was completely empty. Ashe had less than a blink to do something. Should he attempt to drive the truck himself or pull his mother into his mist and get away? Ashe stared through the windshield and made up his mind quickly.
* * *
"Marco could be right," Aedan examined the area carefully, his vampire sight showing him everything as clearly as if the sun had been high overhead. The ground surrounding the pond was covered in grass and newly grown weeds, some nearly a foot tall, except for a spot where the earth looked as if it had been churned up and disturbed. Clumps and clods of dirt, many with dried grasses still clinging to them, were scattered throughout the site.
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