The Academy:HoaxBy: C. L. Stone
The Scarab Beetle Series
“I want you to show me how you feel about me. If you think I’m wrong about something, tell me why. Tell me everything you’re thinking. I’m giving you my permission to do anything you want. Right now.”
It was the truth. If he was angry and wanted to walk away, I wanted him to. If this was too much, and if it proved he couldn’t handle Blake or the others doing the same, and this was over, I wanted to end it as quickly as possible, to allow them to heal or move on.
But I trembled, fearing his answer. My own heart was breaking, seeing him like this. I didn’t hate what I’d done with Blake, but it was the true extent of how nonexclusive I needed to be right now. I couldn’t hide my feelings from them and still figure out how to feel about them, either. If I was going to figure this out, I needed to be free to be myself and do anything with them without boundaries.
If that wasn’t going to happen, with one or all of them, then they needed to bow out. I would have to be okay with that.
The storm brewing inside him filled the air around me. His electricity lit up the hairs on the back of my neck. Every cell within me was alive, holding out for whatever he decided.
He pulled his fist from my hand.
My heart sank. He was leaving. I couldn’t blame him at all. I knew it was insane to even ask.
Just as I was about to step out of his way to let him access the door, he reached for my face, cupping my cheeks and pulling me to him.
I had only one little fraction of a second where I didn’t understand what he was doing and hesitated.
He kissed me.
Salt and Sand
I dreamed of eating McNuggets with Raven while we watched SpongeBob.
I dreamed of kissing Marc in a pool of black water. I saw Brandon and Corey, the three of us holding hands while being photographed. Axel was there, with a hurt expression.
I dreamed I couldn’t breathe.
Blake was next to me, also not breathing, his face turning blue.
At some point, like a wave of icy seawater hitting my heart, I realized all at once I had killed Blake in my dream, if not by my own hands, then by my own inaction.
I was powerless.
Blake nudged my arm, waking me up. “Kayli. We should go,” he said. “We’ve got a ship to catch.”
The anger faded, but as it receded, in came the realization that my body was itchy, and I was sore from head to toe. When my eyes opened and the blur cleared, I spotted a clock radio on a side table, glaring three in the morning. I groaned, burying my head in the pillow, mumbling curses into it.
Never an early riser, I wanted to retreat, even back to my dark dreams, just to find that numbness that sleep provided. I wanted to hide from the world because it was a confusing mess and I was too tired to make sense of it.
I felt Blake’s touch on my shoulder and then I realized it was his lips kissing my skin. “Come on. You can sleep once we’re there.”
His kiss drew me out of my internal gloom, but at the price of having to deal with the soreness and itchiness. My eyes didn’t want to open, but I moved to try to sit up. My long brown hair was clumped and dry, stiff, like I’d used a ton of hairspray and teased it. My stomach and breasts were raw, the skin irritated. The bed was gritty with sand.
My heart was a tight ball of misery.
I was surprised to find myself mostly naked, only in underwear. He must have removed the shirt I’d been wearing after…
I sat up sharply. I rubbed the grit from my dry and crusted eyes, looking around and realizing we were in a hotel room.
What the hell?
Not a nice hotel room, either, but one that was run-down and reeked of smoke, probably the cause of my burning eyes.
How did we get here? And why were we getting up in the middle of the night?
Beside me, Blake got out of bed, his feet padding on the carpet toward the bathroom. He flipped a light switch. The orange glow of the overhead lights was too bright for my sore eyes, but I focused on a dark corner until they adjusted.
Blake was in his early twenties, just a little older than me. He was wealthy, a part of Charleston’s elite who moved within their polished world. He seemed the playboy type, well put-together with expensive clothes, perfectly cut hair and manicured nails.
I stretched, trying to figure out why we were here and what was going on.
▶ Also By C. L. Stone
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