Cursed - Page 34

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“I wanna see my mom.” I turned away from him, realizing then we had company.

The twins stood in the doorway, flanked by the cherub-faced Gabe. They all stared at me.

“What?” I grumbled.

Gabe’s lips pursed. “You have blood all over your left cheek.”

Hastily, I used the good sleeve of my hoodie and swiped it over my face.

Hayden caught my arm, pulling it down. “It’s okay. Gabe, where’s Liz?”

“She’s with Olivia.” Gabe folded his arms as he shifted his weight to his other foot. “Olivia wanted Liz to stay with her until she fell asleep or something.”

My shoulders slumped. Olivia hadn’t asked me to do that since we’d come here.

“So… what happened?” Phoebe asked quietly.

“She thinks I slice up rabbits.” Kurt pulled out a chair and dropped into it. I scowled as he stretched out his legs. He winked. “She thinks I’m your run-of-the-mill psychopath.”

Phoebe’s eyes went wide.

“Kurt,” Hayden warned softly.

“You are a psychopath,” I said.

“Ember, what did I tell you in the car?” Cromwell grabbed a water from the fridge. “You’ve had a troubling evening—”

“You can’t tell me these things aren’t related!” I backed away, hitting the edge of the counter. “Y-you just expect me to think all these things are coincidences?”

Phoebe crossed her arms, stricken-looking. “Oh, damn…”

“What?” asked her twin, frowning. Then his eyes narrowed. “What did you do?”

Those words had a stilling effect on everyone in the room, probably because Parker rarely ever spoke. I’d forgotten how soft and melodious his voice was.

Phoebe rubbed a hand down her face. The kitchen light caught and reflected off the deep purple nail polish. Suddenly, she whirled on her twin. “I know,” she hissed. “I’m fucked up. Don’t you think I know that?”

“What’s going on?” Cromwell demanded.

Parker shook his head. “Tell them, or I will.”

I leaned against the counter as Hayden stepped forward. Compassion marked his gaze as he approached Phoebe. At once, I had a feeling I should be sitting down.

“Phoebe? You can tell us.” Hayden took her hand. “What did you do?”

I squeezed my eyes shut. He cared for her. It was so evident; probably everyone in the room could sense it. How had I missed it? Because I was a glutton for punishment, I opened my eyes in time to see Hayden pull her against his chest. Had I really meant anything to Hayden? Or was Phoebe just more broken than me?

Then Phoebe started crying. “I’m sorry. I really am.” Her voice was muffled against Hayden’s sweater. “I just couldn’t take it.”

Cromwell walked around the table, placing his hand on Phoebe’s back. His eyes met Hayden’s as he spoke. “Couldn’t take what, Phoebe?”

“Her,” she said. “Her emotions are all over the place, and they’re dark. They keep pulling me in!” She tore away from Hayden, whirling on Cromwell. “You brought her here without any regard to us! How it would affect any of us!”

I felt my stomach sink, and then Kurt was beside me, guiding me into a chair. “You look like you’re going to fall over.”

Phoebe wiped the palms of her hands across her cheeks. “I just wanted her to leave, so everything could go back to normal. Then I’d be able to come home and not have to rely on Hayden to take the edge off everything!”

“Why didn’t you say something?” asked Cromwell. “We could’ve been working on your blocking.”

She laughed, and suddenly, she was composed—only her wet lashes gave an indication that she’d been crying. “It was me. I did it.”

The room tilted a bit as I stared at her.

Hayden took a step back. A muscle feathered along his jaw. “Did what?”

“I’ve been the one putting stuff in her locker,” she said. Kurt swore under his breath, but everyone ignored him. “I just wanted her to leave. And I thought it would scare her enough to make her go away.”

I was out of the chair before I realized it. “I never did anything to you!”

Hayden was fast, positioning himself between the two of us. Cromwell just looked shocked, and Gabe’s eyes were wide.

“You came here!” Phoebe screamed.

So much anger welled up, boiling over. “You killed a rabbit! And shoved it in my locker! What is wrong with you?”

“The rabbit was already dead. I’m not a freak.”

“Really? You aren’t?” I started around Hayden, but he blocked me. “You did everything else! How did you know what the car looked like?”

She was watching Hayden now, her lower lip trembling. “I saw the pictures Jonathan had of the accident.”

I wanted to hurt her.

“Phoebe,” Hayden said so softly. There was such disappointment in his voice. “You should’ve told us it was bothering you so much. There was more I could’ve done.”

She laughed. “Like what? You can’t just keep draining my gift all the time.”

Part of me could understand how much my mixed-up emotions messed with her. Hell, they got to me. But still… “I don’t want her around my sister.” My voice shook. “Anywhere near her.”

Phoebe’s mouth dropped. “I wouldn’t hurt your sister!”

“You’re crazy!”

She started crying again.

Cromwell took Phoebe’s arm. “We need to talk in private,” he said to her. “Parker, please come with us.” He turned to me, his expression blank. “You need to get some rest.”

Tears burned my eyes as it all settled on me at once. Phoebe hated me so badly—it was an ugly feeling that slid over my skin. The three of them left the room, with Kurt trailing behind them.

Gabe slowly backed out of the kitchen, hands raised. “Wow. That takes family drama to a whole new level.”

Hayden stared at him.

“And I think I’ll go to my room now,” Gabe said.

I watched him disappear down the hall. A numb feeling settled in my bones.

It’d been Phoebe this entire time.


Slowly, I lifted my gaze to Hayden’s. “You didn’t believe me.”

He opened his mouth, but closed it.

I laughed, but it sounded harsh. “What will Cromwell do with her?”

“I don’t know.” He ran a hand through his hair. “I don’t think he’ll send her to the Facility, but I’m sure he’ll work with her more to help her block… everything.”

“It’s not my fault.”

His gaze fell to my face. “I know it’s not.”

“Your girlfriend is pretty messed up, you know that?”

Hayden frowned. “Phoebe’s not my girlfriend.”

“Yeah.” I waved my hand, too tired to argue with the obvious. “I can’t believe she… she hated me so much that she would take it that far.”

“She has… problems, Ember. Her gift is difficult.”

“And mine isn’t? I don’t use my gift as an excuse to terrorize people.” I felt my face pale. “Is me being here really that bad? That I would drive someone to do those things? Am I that bad?” My voice broke, and I choked back a sob. “I can’t help what I am.”

“Ember.” Hayden reached for me, but stopped short. “None of this is your fault. And you’re not a bad person.”

I drew in a breath, but it got stuck in my throat. “But you don’t even want to be around me anymore and no one—” I bit my lip to keep from crying. “No one wants me here.”

“That’s not true.”

Everything I felt started to boil over again. I pressed my lips together, but they still trembled.

“I’m sorry,” Hayden said. “I didn’t want to believe that it was someone in my family. I should’ve believed you.” He ran his hand through his hair, clasping the back of his neck. “When I saw you tonight and realized you were bleeding? God, it scared me. Em, I don’t like this.”

Which part didn’t he like—the arguing between us, the tension in his family, people possibly trying to skewer me in the woods… or both of us wanting something we couldn’t have? I didn’t know where that last part came from. Most of the anger drained out of me. “I don’t like this, either.”

“Then why are we doing it?” Hayden asked me, stepping forward. Less than a foot separated us and he reached out, not stopping this time. His hand circled my uninjured arm. I thought he was going to pull me to him like he had in my bedroom, and something in my chest fluttered. “Em, I don’t want to—”

“Gabe said I was needed to help Ember,” Liz called from the entrance to the kitchen. “Or are you helping her?”

I hoped he’d say that he was. That way he’d spend a little more time with me and we’d pick up where we’d left off. I’d apologize for blaming his entire family—no one else had known what Phoebe had been doing—and he’d apologize for not believing me and say everything would be okay.

Hayden dropped my arm. Those dark eyes lingered for a second and then he turned around. “No.”

My heart sank all the way to my stomach. He didn’t even look back, not once—which probably was a good thing because I was sure the disappointment I felt was written all over my face.

Chapter 23

I spent the entire next day in my room, trying to sketch, but I couldn’t commit anything to paper. Everything I drew looked bleak and boring. By dinnertime, the floor of my bedroom was covered with crumpled balls of paper.

Mr. Cromwell insisted on family dinners. They were always awkward, but tonight, with everything that had happened, that hit an epic high. A thick tension clung to the entire table.

“Yuck.” Olivia pushed the peas around on her plate with her fork.

I sighed and wondered if blowing chunks across the table would get me excused. Olivia had been kept in the dark about last night’s events, which was the only thing Cromwell had done I could agree with. My chunky sweater covered the bandage around my arm.

“Peas are gross,” Gabe said.

“Gabriel,” Liz warned. “Peas are not gross, Olivia. They help you grow up to be big…”

I blocked her out at that point and tried to manage what I hoped would be an inconspicuous glance across the table. Except, when I did look, Hayden stared right back at me, slouched in his chair, jaw clenched. He hadn’t even touched his plate. Averting my gaze, I accidentally settled on Phoebe. Her hands clenched the edge of the table. I couldn’t believe that she still sat here, at dinner, after everything she’d done. Stupidly, a part of me felt bad for her, and I hoped someone would get her help.

Parker, as always, had his nose in a book. He hadn’t even looked up when Olivia knocked over her glass of milk when I tried to get her to not throw her peas.

Tags: Jennifer L. Armentrout Fantasy