Finally, I found my voice. “Whose failure? And how is it unfair to you?”
Phoebe wouldn’t look at me. “None of us want her here, Hayden. Do you understand that? She’s going to screw everything up—ruin everything.”
Hayden’s eyes snapped fire. “Phoebe, just shut up.”
“Ruin what?” I asked, but no one was listening to me.
“Don’t. Tell. Me. To. Shut up! You’re the only one who wants her here!” She paused, finally looking at me. “Kurt should’ve wiped her.”
Wiped me like he’d wiped Adam. Pure rage blasted through me. I shot to my feet. The moment her cockiness dried up and fear took over, a wild, vindictive smile spread across my face.
Moving lightning-fast, Hayden was in front of me. The heat from his body blocked the chill in the breeze. “Don’t.”
One word spoken so low, so powerful—everyone froze.
Then Hayden turned to Phoebe. “Get out of here.”
Blazing green eyes locked onto Hayden’s. “You’re going to be sorry, Hayden. All of us are going to be.” Then she grabbed her bag and stalked across the field.
Gabe stood, his eyes were wide and lips thin. “Well, this went just as planned, huh?”
Hayden whirled on the younger boy so quickly my head spun.
Gabe threw up his hands. “Don’t blow anything up, Hayden. I’m just sayin’.” He turned to me, actually looking sheepish. “Sorry. I think your little sis is pretty cool, but we all got a lot to lose.”
I barely heard him. I was still fighting the urge to take off after Phoebe and sink my hands deep into her glossy black hair.
Lunch quickly fell apart after that. Gabe followed Phoebe; only Hayden and I remained on the rocks. Fury still radiated from him like gusts of hot air. I stared down at my half-eaten pizza.
“I’m sorry about Phoebe—about all of them.”
Shaking my head, I picked up my bag. “What am I ruining being here? Like, is the world going to implode or something because I’m here?”
“No,” Hayden said as he ran his hands through his hair.
“Why is she freaking out so bad?”
He pushed off the rock and folded his arms. “They’re worried you’re going to do something that will draw attention to us.”
I stared at him. “Like what?”
“All of us have been trained to control our gifts, Ember, and Olivia’s gift isn’t dangerous, but…”
“But mine is?”
“They’re afraid the Facility will come, and we’ll all have to go to South Dakota—to the Facility. We like it here, and trust me, you wouldn’t like it there.”
A cold shiver lifted the fine hair on my neck. “What happened there?”
His face turned distant, cold even. “Nothing—it’s nothing to worry about now. Look, all of our lives are affected. I mean, we all have to be careful.”
“I don’t get it. How am I supposed to care about the Facility if I don’t know what or who they are?”
“Okay. The Facility is like… like the police of the gifted. I know that sounds stupid, but they kind of create the rules and make sure we follow them.”
“What kind of rules?”
“There are a lot, Ember, but the most important is that we don’t lose control of our gifts and expose ourselves to the outsiders.”
I pressed my lips together. Looking at Hayden now, I wasn’t too sure he had a firm grasp on his gift either. Even now he looked like he wanted to destroy an entire town.
“A lot is riding on you, Ember. It might not be fair, but if you can’t control your gift, something is bound to happen,” Hayden said. “And it’s just not Olivia who’ll be affected. All of us will be.”
My palms were sweaty the rest of the day. Gross. I’d always thought my curse wouldn’t affect anyone else as long as I didn’t touch them, but I couldn’t continue to hide from the fact one day I might zap someone again—by accident… or on purpose.
And that’d bring the Facility down on everyone.
All I knew about the Facility were the little tidbits dropped here and there. They existed somewhere in South Dakota. If gifted people acted up or did something that brought unwanted attention, they ended up there, and finally, they took the gifted who couldn’t control their abilities.
I did sound like a prime candidate when I thought about it, which put me in a fog the rest of the day. In bio, I got the seat next to Cory.
“How do you like it here?” Cory ran a hand over his cropped hair.
I stopped fidgeting with my pen and looked at him. He blinked and leaned back an inch or two. “It’s really nice,” I said.
“That’s good.” Cory looked to the front of the class and bit his lip.
“What’s the teacher’s name?” I asked, hoping that was a normal, appropriate question.
“Coach Ashford. He’s a nice guy. Coaches the football team,” he explained. “I’m the quarterback.”
Go figure. I tried not to yawn in the guy’s face. “Oh, that sounds interesting.”
Cory nodded eagerly. “Yeah, I’m hoping to get a full ride at the University. Coach says I have a good chance as long I don’t blow it.” He laughed as if he that would be funny. “Gotta keep this arm…”
I zoned out at that point and stared at the front of the class. Actually, I stared at Hayden’s back. His lab partner appeared to be just as talkative, but he did a better job at listening. And that kind of made me feel like a bitch, so I made myself focus on what Cory was saying.
Coach Ashford showed up late, immediately turned on the projector and sat behind the desk. Confused, I looked around and saw people hastily scribbling notes. All except Hayden. He looked like he was taking a nap. By the time I figured out we were supposed to write down the notes, Coach flipped to the next screen.
The rest of the class went like that. By the end, I was pretty sure Hayden had slept through most of it and that Cory suffered from some sort of hyperactivity disorder.
Hayden waited for me in the hallway after class. His eyes dropped to the load of books in my arms. “You’re not taking all your books home, are you?”
“No. I have to go to my locker.”
“Meet me outside?”
“Sure,” I headed off toward my locker, which seemed strategically placed on the other side of the school.
I fumbled with the lock until it popped open on the third try. One of the books I tossed in slid out and hit the floor by my feet. It was my math book, ridiculously huge and unnecessary. I hated trig.
I bent over to pick up the book and froze. My mind rebelled. It must be a stuffed animal—someone’s idea of a horrible joke. It just couldn’t be what it looked like.
The smell of rust and death proved me wrong.
Lying at the bottom of my locker was a rabbit—a bunny rabbit, actually—the kind I’d wanted for a pet as a kid. It was the same kind Olivia would’ve loved to snuggle, all fluffy and soft-looking.
But the tuffs of white fur now were stained red.
Its stomach had been torn open; the insides looked jellylike. The rabbit had to be a fake, because this… this couldn’t be real.
I covered my mouth, but it couldn’t stop the horrified scream from escaping. Time stopped, and for the first time in my life, I wanted to have Olivia’s gift. I wanted to reach inside that locker and bring the poor bunny back.
“Ms. McWilliams, are you okay?”
The voiced snapped me out of the daze. I jerked back from the locker, breathing heavily.
“Ember, what’s going…” Mr. Theo trailed off when his eyes fell into the locker. “Is this some kind of joke?”
Nausea built up in my stomach. “I don’t know.”
“Okay.” Mr. Theo turned, about to place his hand on my shoulder, but he stopped short. He pulled back, shaking his head. “Don’t look at it.”
“Why would someone do that?”
“Has anyone been giving you a hard time here?” He looked back into the locker.
“No. I don’t know anyone here.” But I could think of three people right off who didn’t like me. But did any of them dislike me enough to gut a poor rabbit? I shuddered. God, I hoped not. Whoever’d done this was messed up, really messed up.
I wanted to hurl.
“Are you sure, Ember? People, well, people just don’t do that.”
The sound of footsteps echoed through the empty hall, drawing my attention. Hayden stalked down the hallway. “What’s taking you so…” His words faded off as he halted beside me. “Ember, are you okay?”
I pointed at my locker, pretty sure if I opened up my mouth I’d vomit.
“Holy crap.” Hayden stepped forward, eyes narrowing. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“Mr. Cromwell, do you have any idea who would do this?” Suspicion colored Mr. Theo’s words.
Hayden’s head snapped up, his eyes burning. I swore the temperature in the hallway skyrocketed. “No, but I’d like to know who did.”
“As would I,” Mr. Theo said.
“I want a new locker.” My voice came out small, but it stopped both of them.
Theo cleared his throat. “That can be done. I’ll talk to the principal and get you reassigned, but that doesn’t address this issue here. Who would put this in your locker?”
I had my suspicions, but it wasn’t like I could voice them—not with my English teacher standing there. Mr. Theo continued asking questions I didn’t have any answers to, and all I wanted was to get away from the locker, away from what was in there.
“Can you take care of this?” Hayden asked. “I’d like to get Ember out of here.”
“Yes, but I want to know if anything like this happens again,” Mr. Theo said. I looked at him and nodded. “Okay. I’ll get this cleaned up.”
Hayden picked up my books and cradled them under one arm. “Let’s get out of here,” he said in the softest voice I’d ever heard.
We left Mr. Theo to deal with the rabbit. A few minutes later, we stood outside his car. The walk had been silent. In my mind, I kept seeing the poor bunny. What Hayden thought, I had no idea. Only after he’d dumped my books on the backseat and pried the strap to my backpack away from my fingers, did he speak. “Are you okay?”
What was I supposed to say? Yes. No. It wasn’t every day I found a slaughtered white rabbit in my locker. “It’s just so sick. Who would want to do that to an animal? No one knows me here. I mean, at my old school, I’d kinda expect something bizarre, but here? No one knows me except…”
“Except us.” Anger shone in his eyes like tiny flames. “Ember, I know what you’re thinking, but none of us would’ve done something like that.”
I slumped back against the car, staring up at him. “Then who would’ve?”
Hayden looked away, drawing in a deep breath. “Ember—”
“Kurt doesn’t want me here. You heard him! And Phoebe hates me. Who else would want to do that? And why? To freak me out? Make me leave? Or draw attention…” I trailed off, heart dropping. “Oh my God, you can’t let your father know.”