The sharp, brisk click of heels on the polished concrete floor echoed through the corridor outside the Voice classroom. Mia Burke perked up, vaulting out of her chair to peer out into the hall. She saw only the back of him as he rounded the corner towards the school's entrance hall; a quick, flash of his long, black jacket and pale, white blonde hair. She turned back into the classroom, scooped up her backpack from the floor beside the large, circular staff table, and darted out after Ian Crane.
Her footsteps sounded as loud as gunshots in her ears as she rounded the corner behind him, but he did not pause or spin to confront her. He turned his head slightly, though, as if to acknowledge that he knew she was behind him and had no intention of stopping for her. His shoulders hitched in a deep, long-suffering sigh. He continued towards the sunlit front entrance without slackening his pace. His legs were longer than hers and swifter. He did not seem to be moving any more quickly than his usual sauntering gate, but Mia was gasping with the effort of keeping up with his long strides by the time he had located his black Nissan in the student parking lot.
She heard the chirp of the Nissan's automatic locks. She redirected towards her own car parked several spaces away, frantically jabbing her key into her own manual locks while he slid casually into his driver's seat. As he steered out of the parking lot towards the center of town, Mia drove a safe distance behind him. It was pretty unlikely he had not instantly spotted the garish baby blue Toyota Echo from a mile off. Honestly, a truly successful investigative reporter should not have to work under these conditions. It was extremely difficult to tail someone in the most ostentatious car on the road, especially when that person was already aware they were being followed.
She didn't have a lot of time to consider how to charm her parents into investing in a more suitable vehicle for the advancement of her career path. It would have to wait. Ian swung his car into a narrow parking space along Main Street, barely pausing to signal the abrupt turn. Mia searched vainly for a space for several moments before a dirty white Volvo backed out of the space in front of the Baked Dreams Bakery. She exhaled in heavy relief.
Ian strode casually down Main Street, as though someone like him walked down every Main Street every day in every town across the country. They didn't, though. In fact, she wasn't sure there was anyone else like Ian Crane in the entire world. He wasn't like other high school boys. He wasn't like other humans. Mia was not going to give up until she found out exactly what made him so different, either. As if she didn't already know. It wasn't just the way he looked, with his black clothes, pale blonde hair and marble chiseled features. That was a just little unusual. It wasn't the way he acted like a prince among unworthy subjects. That was only pretty irritating.
It was what he could do, not that she knew exactly what that was. It was something amazing, though. Something powerful and dangerous...something deadly. Well, maybe deadly. Probably deadly, if her eyes hadn't been deceiving her when he'd rescued her from a murderous English teacher a couple weeks ago. She wasn't about to believe that, even though he'd been trying to convince her she'd imagined it ever since. No, she had seen him do something, and she intended to see him do it again. Or, at least, she intended to pester and follow him around town until he admitted to her that she hadn't just been imagining things. If she accidentally caught him doing something magical or extraordinary in the meantime, well... she wanted to know, and she wasn't giving up until she found out the truth about the Cranes and Flicker Island, even if the truth was a little terrifying.
Ian did not reveal any sort of special abilities as he strode down Main Street towards Café Serenity today, however. As he walked, the townspeople of Davenport greeted him cheerfully as they passed. Though he'd become something of a local hero since the news of Mia's brush with a notorious murderer and his rescue in the very nick of time, it hadn't improved his social skills by very much. He did not reply to anyone who spoke to him. He did incline his head imperiously, as though their praise and admiration was to be naturally expected towards someone so majestic and important as himself.
Mia rolled her eyes. She smirked when Ian finally reached the patio square of Café Serenity. All Ian's imperiousness and self-importance wasn't going to get him past Eddie Prence, the intractable editor of the Sentinel, Davenport's premier daily newspaper, who was waiting for him at a table on the patio. Well, premier was what Prence preferred to call it. Mia liked to refer to the Sentinel as Davenport's only daily newspaper. Prence was a tall, hefty man in a pale, slightly wrinkled grey suit with thick, dark, curling hair that fell over his pale blue eyes. When he rose to greet Ian, the hand he offered looked as large as a catcher's mitt.
Despite their rivalry, Mia liked Eddie Prence. She had to admire his tenacity; the man had been pursuing Ian as doggedly as she had. He'd had little more success than she at persuading Ian to speak out about the events of that terrible Monday afternoon in the Voice classroom. At least Prence's failure caused her to feel just slightly more cheerful about her own. Ian, however, did not seem to like the reporter. He peered down at the older man's proffered hand with a slight sneer of distaste and crossed his arms over his chest.
"Ian," Prence greeted him in a booming, cheerful voice, despite his cold reception. "Great to see you, kid. How is school? Why don't you sit down and let me buy you a coffee? We can talk a bit more about that little incident with your classmate and a nefarious murderer."
"No thanks," Mia heard Ian reply shortly, moving as if to side-step the editor towards the entrance.
Prence grinned broadly. He clapped a hand on Ian's arm. "You're going to have to tell your story some time, son. Why not share it with the Sentinel? Don't you want to be a hero?"
Ian's shoulders were rigid. "I'm no hero," he muttered.
"Now, that's just what the readers like to hear." Prence held up his hands in a sweeping gesture, as if to mimic a headline. "Young man saves classmate from notorious murderer; claims 'I'm no hero.' Can I quote you on that?"
Prence's supercilious smile barely wavered. "You can't avoid me forever, kid. I'll get your story one way or another."
Now Ian moved past him, jerking away from his grasping hand. "I am not going to talk to you; stop coming here if you don't want another headline: 'Young man files harassment charges against newspaper editor.'"
Prence laughed as he watched Ian stride towards the employee entrance of the café. His intelligent eyes glittered when they fell on Mia, who was attempting to slip past him unnoticed to the front door. "Well, Mia Burke," he exclaimed in the same hearty, booming voice with which he'd greeted Ian. "I should have expected to see you following on Ian Crane's heels. You do seem to be his little shadow lately. Care to comment on that?"
Mia rolled her eyes. "I've got a few choice comments for you, Mr. Prence."
He smirked. "And why don't you sit down so we can get them all on record?"
"I don't think so."
He didn't seem phased by her reticence any more than he had Ian's. "So, Mia, are you ready to give me your story? The people need to hear the hottest new scoop in town."
Mia grinned. "You're a bit late, Mr. Prence. Didn't you hear? The Voice published the full exclusive last week."
His brow furrowed. "That's isn't right, Mia. That story should have been in the Sentinel. It should be in a real newspaper available to the entire town, not in an amateur student broadsheet."
She lifted her chin. Her smile was smug. "Actually, it was read by the entire town. In fact, it was so popular, we had to re-print the edition three times. I believe several dozen copies even made to New Haven. I suppose you could say it was a fairly successful feature."
Prence glared at her. Then his expression changed, and his pale eyes glinted slyly. "I noticed you didn't interview Ian Crane for the piece. Why is that? Isn't he your savior? You didn't actually mention how he managed to rescue you from someone so much bigger and stronger than him."
Now Mia's brow furrowed, and then she tilted her nose in the air. "I already know everything about what happened that day."
"Oh, really? Then why do you keep following him all over town? And why does he keep avoiding you?" His tone was superior, and his expression radiated self-satisfaction.
Mia's mouth tightened. "What's your point, Eddie?"
"My point is, his story is still up for grabs, isn't it? And he doesn't seem all that keen to give it to you."
"And you think you'll get it before I do?"
He smirked. "I have every intention of it."
Mia shot him a glare and stormed past him towards the entrance to Café Serenity. She ignored his chuckling behind her; she would be damned if she let Eddie Prence get one over on her. She strode up to the counter, craning her neck over the tall, glass case displaying the day's special sandwiches, pastries and desserts. It wasn't any use. Ian was not behind the counter, and she could not see him through the swinging door that led into the full kitchen behind the espresso bar.
Maritza Oglesbee, the proprietor, met Mia at the counter, beaming. "Hello, Mia. Nice to see you. How are you feeling?" Her voice was low and soothing. As she always did when Maritza was near, Mia felt a sweet, contented calm wash over her. "You're looking very well."
Mia smiled genuinely back at her. "I am great, thanks to Ian." She glanced over Maritza's shoulder. "Is he back there?"
Maritza's eyes slid away, and she half turned her head towards the kitchen door. When she turned back to Mia, it was with an apologetic smile. "He told me to tell you that he isn't."
Mia snorted. "Of course he did."
Maritza shrugged sheepishly, but she needn't have worried over Mia's reaction. The carefully-timed arrival of Ian's twin, Aylin, dissolved the tension in an instant. Aylin dropped an arm around Mia's shoulder and snatched up the steaming vanilla latte Maritza placed on the counter. "Mia!" Aylin exclaimed cheerfully, her marble pale features illuminated with a brilliant smile.
Mia sighed, but she allowed Aylin to lead her outside to the patio. Mia glanced around for Eddie Prence, but he had apparently decided to cut his losses for the day. The table he'd lately occupied was empty. Aylin guided Mia to sit in one of the padded wooden chairs at a table in the corner, just beneath the scarlet red canopy of the large tree that overlooked the café's patio. Mia resisted for a moment, resentful despite the gentleness of Aylin's intervention. The pale girl's smile was cheerful, but her hand was unexpectedly firm.
Aylin pushed the vanilla latte across the table towards Mia. Mia hesitated before taking a sip; it had the distinct flavor of a sweet vanilla consolation prize. "How are you doing, Mia?" she asked in a soft voice, pressing a hand to her arm. "Are you feeling better?"
"I'm feeling fine." She leaned forward with a rebellious expression. "You aren't going to keep me from finding out what happened that day, you know. I will get Ian to talk to me."
Aylin's smile was sympathetic. Her shoulders hitched apologetically. "I really think you should let it go, Mia."
Mia lifted her chin in defiance of the gentleness of Aylin's tone. "Well, of course you think I should. You are his sister, and you have some secrets of your own." Mia jabbed her finger at Aylin across the table. "Don't think I don't know."
Aylin's smile faded, and she darted a glance around the patio. When she spoke again, it was in a low, serious voice. "Mia, you have to let it go. It's better that way." Mia sighed deeply, but Aylin persisted. "Forget you saw anything. Ian didn't do anything. There's no story."
"Oh, there's a story all right."
Aylin's brow furrowed, and she looked almost hurt. "What will you do, Mia? Find out all our secrets and expose us?"
Mia was aghast. "What? Of course not!"
Aylin blinked. "What? Really?"
"Yes, really. You're my friend, Aylin, and your brother saved my life. I'm not trying to find out your secrets just to pay him back by ruining your lives. But something is going on. Something really, really weird, and my inquisitive nature compels me to discover what it is."
The corners of Aylin's mouth twitched, as though she were suppressing a smile. "You really wouldn't expose us?"
"Aylin, come on."
Aylin chuckled, but she shook her head. "I'm sorry. I promised my brother. I can't tell you anything."
Mia perked up. "Ah, but you want to."
Aylin sighed. "Mia, you are probably my best friend on the mainland, but family is family. We have to stick together."
Mia considered her. "Well, how about I tell you what I know, and you can indicate, with a nod or shake of your head if I'm right or not?"
"I know Flicker Island is not what it seems to be. I know it isn't on any map and no one seems to be able to reach it who hasn't already been there." When Aylin glanced away, Mia smirked. "Is that a nod?"
Aylin's face was curiously blank. "I confirm nothing."
"Sure you do." Mia leaned forward, her voice gaining momentum as she continued. "I know you can heal yourself. Probably other people, too." Aylin's mouth tightened, and she was stiffly, resolutely still. "Ian can do something...really dangerous. He couldn't do it before, but he must have learned how because he was able to do it to save me from Mr. Quillen." Aylin's ears turned pink, and her pale cheeks flushed. Mia narrowed her eyes. "What is it? He was hurting him somehow. There was blood coming out of his eyes and mouth and his ears. He might have killed him, too, if I hadn't stopped him."
At this, Aylin shook her head emphatically.
Mia smirked. "Ah, now we're getting somewhere, at least." Aylin lifted her chin in defiance, but Mia ignored this. "Maritza can do something, too, can't she?" Mia's eyes slid away as she considered Maritza, the tranquil, contented feeling she got anytime she was around the older woman. Mia's eyes snapped to Aylin. "She can do something to people's minds, can't she?"
"Not their minds!" Aylin blurted. Seconds later, she clapped her hands over her mouth.
Mia raised her hand to point triumphantly at the other girl. "Ah! Now, this is something. What, then? Their emotions?"
Aylin frowned, lowering her hands. "Mia, you are being purposely dense to get me to say something I can't say." When Mia merely chuckled, she added, "You are being very sneaky and unfair."
Mia shrugged. "Well, I won't get anywhere as a journalist if I'm not willing to be unfair sometimes."
"I'm your friend, not a story," Aylin said plaintively.
Mia felt instantly guilty. She sighed. "All right. You're right. I'm sorry." She lifted her mug, swallowing the last dregs of the sweet, warm coffee, and rose to her feet. "I'll see you around, Aylin."
Aylin jumped up. Her smile returned full force. "Does this mean you're giving up on the island?"
Mia smiled. "No, not giving up." She eyed Aylin for a moment. "But I won't ask you again. I'll figure it out on my own."
Aylin sighed again. "Mia..."
"Don't worry, Aylin. I won't do anything unscrupulous with what I find out."
Aylin rolled her eyes. "Fine. Okay. See you in class."
Mia scooped up her backpack. "Yes, you will. Thanks for the coffee. I do love the sweet, sweet taste of bribery." She winked at Aylin. "Sorry it didn't quite work."
The morning air was crisp with a chill autumn breeze. Mia shoved her hands in the pockets of her black windbreaker, striding quickly across the parking lot towards Davenport High School. Red, yellow and gold leaves crunched under her boots as she crossed the courtyard. She sighed, smiling slightly at the sight of the trees, still plump and gilded with the changing season.
Mia loved fall in New England. Even the balmy beaches of Southern California paled in comparison, though she did wish her favorite season came with slightly warmer weather. You can't have everything, she supposed. Besides, it wasn't any fun drinking hot apple cider when the temperatures hovered in the 80's.
Still, it would be nice not to have to brave the chill every morning as she walked from her car to the school; she had enough problems these days forcing herself to face her classmates after the incident with their former English teacher. It didn't help when her body was just as eager to simply crawl back under the covers of her bed and hibernate until everyone forgot that she'd had anything to do with it. Preferably sometime around spring.
"Mia!" Lorien Montalvo caught her arm before Mia had ever realized she was beside her.
Mia smiled. "Hello, Lorien."
"Hey, Mia." Lorien smirked as she guided Mia towards the main entrance. "I heard you were following Ian Crane around downtown last night."
Mia glanced sidelong at her friend with lifted eyebrows. "Where did you hear that?"
Lorien's laughter echoed across the cold courtyard, and a few younger students glanced their way in curiosity. "Kellen Kline."
"I didn't see him at Café Serenity last night."
Lorien smirked. "Yeah, well, I think he might still be avoiding you a little."
Mia sighed. "Yeah. I suppose I don't blame him. I did get him arrested, anyway."
"You did do that." Lorien nudged her. "But I think he forgives you. He's just..." She shrugged. "You know. Still feeling a little sore about the whole thing."
Mia's brow creased. "Who isn't?"
Lorien paused, glancing down at her best friend. "What does that mean?"
Mia shook her head. "Nothing. I just never realized how awkward school could be until this year."
Lorien laughed and lifted her arm to wrap around Mia's shoulders. "It will get better."
"That's easy for you to say. You don't have to spend the whole year in homeroom with Micah Hathaway and Ian Crane."
"Oh, Mia, two very hot boys mooning over you is hardly something to be unhappy about."
"They are not mooning," Mia replied sulkily. "Micah broke up with me, and Ian doesn't even seem to like me."
"Micah Hathaway broke up with you because he thinks you like Ian Crane. Which, by the way, I am not so certain you don't, considering you have been chasing him all around school and town."
Mia stamped her foot. "I do not like Ian Crane!"
Lorien rolled her eyes. "Please. I am your best friend. I know you better than you know yourself."
"Yeah, and you're the expert. Remember the debacle with Luke? And anyway, if I did like Ian, he doesn't like me back."
"Oh, right, because Ian Crane just happened to be wandering around the school looking for some random girl to save." Mia stopped dead, and Lorien had moved several paces ahead before she'd realized her friend was no longer beside her. Lorien paused and spun around, marching back towards Mia with an expectant expression. "Mia? Did I lose you somewhere?"
Mia blinked at her, but her eyes were unfocussed, as though she were not seeing Lorien or the courtyard around them at all. "Yeah. What was Ian Crane doing at school so late after class?"
"He doesn't have after school activities."
"Really?" Lorien looked completely incredulous. "You're questioning him now? He did save your life."
"Come on, Lorien, there is something really weird about him and Aylin."
Lorien's sigh was huge and dramatic. "Oh, Mia, you have got to let that go. There is nothing going on at that stupid, boring island! Ian and Aylin are just normal kids." She paused, considering a moment. "Well, not normal so much, but they definitely aren't superheroes or something."
"I never said they were superheroes. I just said they can do stuff...weird stuff." Mia sighed, moving against towards the school. "I shouldn't have even told you. It just sounds stupid when you say it."
"Well, if you can't tell your best friend about your stupid and insane suspicions, who can you tell? Making you realize how stupid you sound is practically what friends are for."
"I don't think that's really what friends are for."
"Just let it go, Mia."
"You sound like Aylin."
"Well, she's right."
"Yeah, but of course she would say that; it concerns her."
"It concerns me, too. It's all you've been talking about since... the thing with Mr. Quillen."
Mia lifted her eyebrows. "When he planned to kill you and tried to strangle me to death when I found out about it? I would rather talk about just about anything but that."
"Don't get snippy with me, Mia Burke. If you like Ian Crane, you should just deal with it like a normal person instead of chasing him around school acting like a crazy person." When Mia opened her mouth to scathingly rebuke her, Lorien held up a hand. "No, Mia. I will not listen to any more about it. You are being ridiculous. I have heard of being in denial over your feelings, but this is out of control."
Mia crossed her arms over her chest, turning her chin away sulkily.
"Don't sulk. I am just trying to be a good friend."
"You just need to sit down and have it out with Ian."
"We have it out often enough, in case you hadn't noticed."
"That is not what I meant. You should talk to him, and you should do it like a normal person and not some bloodthirsty reporter looking for a story." She held up her hand again, as if expecting Mia to protest. "No story. Just a girl and a boy who want to hold hands and kiss in a tree or something."
"I do not want to hold hands with Ian!"
"That is not the point. I am warning you, Mia. If you don't do something, so help me god, I will find a way to get you two locked in a closet together until you work things out."
Mia looked suspicious. "That doesn't sound something like a good friend would do."
"No, probably not." Lorien shrugged loftily. "But it would be very fun for me."
"Sometimes you can be really mean."
"I beg your pardon, I am an altruist to the core." The warning bell trilled across the campus. Lorien clapped her hands together, turning sparkling eyes on her best friend. "Oh, god, I can't wait for homeroom," she said, tugging on Mia's arm. "It has gotten so much more fun since Homecoming."
Mia shook her head. "Nice girls don't enjoy other people's misery, Lorien."
"Nice girls don't have two boys waiting for them in homeroom right now, either."
"Hey!" Mia shouted at Lorien's back as she trounced towards the door, giggling. "I'm nice!"