Chapter One: Rylee
Sweat dripped down the side of my face, collecting in the collar of my shirt. The heat was almost unbearable, but I didn’t want to be inside. Mom was away for work again—this time for a full week—and Dad was stuck in front of the television set watching another football game. I hated it when Mom was gone, because my dad didn’t really know how to handle me. He had no problem bonding with my brother, but where I was concerned, he acted completely clueless. So Sundays became the day I’d take a book and sit in the back yard beneath a tree.
I brought my water bottle to my lips when something caught my attention near the privacy fence, separating the houses in the neighborhood and the wooded area behind it. It ran up the side yard, offering us seclusion to the house next door. The young woman who lived there often had guests over, which made my parents uneasy. But now, someone was in her back yard, climbing her fence.
No…not just someone.
His stick-straight hair, the color of sand, hung to the middle of his ears. But I couldn’t see his face. He had his back to me as he climbed, just before jumping over to the side filled with trees. His black T-shirt was a blur. He was there one second and gone the next.
I stared at the barrier, wondering if I could climb over and follow him. I knew everyone in the neighborhood, but I’d never seen him before. I glanced over my shoulder and waited a moment, just to make sure my dad or my brother weren’t on their way out. When I noticed no movement beyond the sliding glass door, I jumped up and ran as fast as I could. Without second guessing it, I began to scale the tall slats of the wood.
Once I made it to the top, I looked down and realized it was much higher on the other side. I’d never been in the wooded area before, and for a second, I contemplated just going back to my yard. I thought about my book I’d left beneath the tree and my father who might’ve gone looking for me. But then I remembered the boy—and I so desperately wanted to find out where he came from.
Curiosity got the best of me.
I swung my leg over and, with the pace of a sloth, I used the wood between the slats to lower myself to the ground. Standing on my feet again, I searched through the trees, hoping to spot the boy with blond hair and a black shirt.
But he was nowhere.
I carefully walked farther into the trees on the soft dirt, keeping as quiet as possible. I didn’t want to venture too far, because I worried I wouldn’t be able to make it back to my house. From this side, I couldn’t tell which house was which. So I made sure not to deviate too far from behind my back yard.
It felt like an hour, but realistically, it was probably closer to five minutes before I decided to give up. I thought it might’ve been better to have just waited until he came back. I turned around, ready to head home, when I spotted him.
Or…he spotted me.
He stood maybe fifteen feet away, staring at me. The first thing I noticed were his eyes—seafoam green, my favorite color, which I had my entire room decorated in it—locked on me, holding my gaze captive. I couldn’t look anywhere else but into his intense, almost worried stare. It was as if he’d been caught doing something wrong—or criminal even.
I glanced over my shoulder, making sure there wasn’t anyone else behind me. When I realized no one had followed us, no one had come looking for me, I faced him again, only to see he’d turned around. He sat down in the packed dirt, his back arched forward, shoulders slumped. His long hair hung in front of him, and I noticed the back of his head, beneath the veil of sandy-blond locks, was buzzed close to his scalp. I’d seen kids with the same cut, but they were all older, closer to my brother’s age—sixteen. This boy didn’t look that old. However, he didn’t appear to be my age, either.
My feet carried me toward him. His body grew stiff just before I sat down, but I ignored it. I bent my knees to my chest and wrapped my arms around my shins, all while keeping my gaze on him. But he never looked my way. He sat with his legs crossed, his elbows on his knees, shoulders pulled up to his ears with his head down, his hair covering his face, like he didn’t want to be bothered. A notepad sat in his lap, a pen between his fingers, but he made no move to write anything. Just sat there in silence, pretending I wasn’t next to him.
“My name is Rylee Anderson. What’s yours?” I asked with a shaky voice.
His hand moved, and the next thing I knew, he held up the notebook, still refusing to look at me. On the blank page, in black ink, written in chicken scratch was the word, Killian. At first, all I saw was “kill” and my breathing almost stopped. But then I read it to myself a few times and realized it was his name.
He had answered me.
“Killian,” I said out loud, almost a whisper. It rolled off my tongue like a foreign language, one I’d never spoken before, yet it came out so effortlessly. “That’s a really cool name. How old are you?” Again, he scribbled something on the paper, his face still hidden from sight. When he held the notebook back up, I realized he had answered me again. “Eleven? You’re only a year older than me.” Excitement took hold of my chest, knowing there was a kid around my age nearby. “What grade are you in?”
That time, he didn’t bother writing anything down, and instead, shrugged his slouched shoulders.
“You don’t know? Do you go to school?”
“Oh. That’s cool. I wish I had a tutor. I don’t like going to school.” Silence fell upon us, which prompted me to ask another question. It didn’t take long to understand he wasn’t a conversationalist, but it seemed he had no problems answering when asked something. “Do you live around here?”
He grew so still I wondered if he’d stopped breathing. But then he glanced over his shoulder, away from me, and pointed through the trees. I studied the line of the fence, thinking about which direction I’d gone. When I realized he had pointed in the vicinity of my house, I took a guess and assumed he’d meant my neighbor’s house, the woman who always had people over.
“Ms. Newberry’s house?”
He nodded and went back to staring at his notepad.
“Are you just visiting?”
His hair swayed as he shook his head.
“You’re living with her? Is she a relative?” I didn’t recall her having any children, and if she did, they had never come over before, let alone ever lived with her. I knew for a fact I’d never seen Killian over there before.
He nodded, but didn’t offer any other explanation.
I paused, wondering if I’d overstepped by following him out here. He wasn’t speaking to me, and it seemed he didn’t want to look my way. But I wasn’t a sensitive person afraid of meeting new people. Sometimes I ended up making friends. Other times, they wanted nothing to do with me and I’d move on to someone else. I wasn’t about to give up on Killian until he told me to leave.
“Are you shy? Or do you just not like to talk?”
I stared at his messy writing, studied the way he crossed his T, the line long and drawn out. When he pulled his notebook back into his lap, it broke the spell and brought me back to his answer. “You can’t talk? Do you know sign language?”
I stared at the paper, willing him to answer me, but instead of writing anything, he turned his head toward me. I glanced up, mesmerized by his eyes once again. They shone like a beacon of light, the pale green mixed with just a hint of blue. I started to smile at the sight, but as soon as I began to take in the rest of his features, wanting to memorize them all, I gasped and covered my open mouth with the tips of my fingers.
He immediately turned away and closed in on himself once more.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do that. Please, look at me again.”
I made no move to leave. Instead, I shifted in the dirt beneath my butt and leaned closer to him. I opened my mouth to say something but was stopped just shy of getting my first word out. His hand moved fast, the pen scratching furiously against the paper.
Do I scare you?
“No,” I whispered, telling the absolute truth. I may have overreacted, but he didn’t scare me. “I was surprised. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do that.”
Slowly, he lifted his face, his eyes meeting mine. I carefully scanned his features, taking in his straight and narrow nose, his nostrils prominent only when they flared. His top lip was thin with a deep V in the middle, the bottom plumper and glossy from where it appeared he’d licked it before turning to face me.
I’d never seen a boy so pretty before.
What had caused me to gasp before were the scars on his cheeks. They started at the corners of his mouth and extended toward his jaw about two inches on either side, creating the illusion of a smile.
My fingers reached up, almost on their own accord, until his hand wrapped around my wrist and pulled it away. His eyes flickered between mine, and then briefly dropped to my mouth before looking away. However, he didn’t let go of my wrist. He looped my arm beneath his, where he held my hand in his lap, on top of his notebook.
“Is that why you can’t talk?” My voice came out hoarse, sounding like I’d somehow caught a cold in the last ten seconds. When he nodded, I felt the need to ask another question, to prod him for another answer. “When did that happen?”
When I was 8.
I moved closer to his side so I could see his answer, written next to where my hand rested. When I shifted, his body hardened, tensed, but I didn’t let it stop me. “What happened?” It didn’t look to me like an accident, but I couldn’t imagine what might’ve caused scars like that.
My focus remained on the piece of paper, even though he made no move to write anything. As soon as I glanced up to look at him, he began to move the pen. But it wasn’t to write in his notebook. Instead, tingles broke out on the skin on the back of my hand. When I peered over his arm to see what it was, I noticed he’d started to draw something on me.
I leaned my head against his shoulder to watch. He stilled for a moment, but when I didn’t move, he continued. Line after line, stroke after stroke, he created a vivid flower in black ink, starting at the webbing between my thumb and forefinger.
Our conversation was apparently over.
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