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Devour (Devoured #1)(9) by Shelly Crane

I didn’t see him anywhere yet, but I had a feeling he would be here, so I just walked around, thinking about all the times I’d eaten there and all the stupid things my ‘friends’ had done.

“What are you thinking about?” I heard him say behind me. “You’re concentrating pretty hard.”

I turned to see him sitting on the tabletop, half in the shadows a few tables away.

“I’m just wondering who you are, and why I feel strange around you.”

“Strange how?”

“Strange like...I don’t know. Like I should be afraid but I’m not. I trust you but I don’t even know you.”

“What if you did know me? Would that help things?”

“Would you still come to me when I closed my eyes?”

“Yes.”

“Then I don’t know. I guess I’d feel like I was cheating on my boyfriend. I shouldn’t be thinking about other guys.”

“But it’s not real, right?” he said and his tone indicated he didn’t believe it.

“Why does it feel so real?”

He ignored my question and asked me one.

“Why are you so sad?”

“What?”

“The sorrow...it’s pouring off you.”

I sat down on the table top like him, but I was still a table away.

“My parents died not too long ago. I’m not over it.”

“I’m sorry. That must be tough.”

“It is. Or it was. It’s not so bad now I just miss them. I live with a really great family.”

He seemed to absorb that answer. Then he spoke again and leaned back even further in the shadows.

“I wish I could take it all from you; your sadness, your sorrow. I’d want you to never feel pain again if I had the say in it.”

“Thanks, but everyone has to feel those things at some point. It’s what makes us who we are...makes us human.”

“You are a remarkable person. I can’t wait to get to know you. I want to know everything about you.”

“Everything?” I laughed. “There’s not much to know. So, are you.... are you going to scare me again, like last night?” I asked and felt bold and blunt. I wanted to go to him but knew there was some unspoken boundary there.

“No. No more scaring. That was a mistake, one I regret and apologize for. Had I known then what I know now, things would have gone differently.”

“What do you know now?”

“That I am completely and utterly taken by you. I can’t function without you invading my mind, day and night.”

“I have a boyfriend,” I said though I knew he knew.

“Yes, I know. But can he invade your subconscious?” he said and I heard the smile in his voice.

“No,” I whispered. “Can I see your face?”

“Does it matter what I look like to you?”

“No, but I want to know the face to look at in my mind when I remember this later.”

He chuckled.

“One day,” he promised. “There are a few things I have to take care of first.”

“What’s that?”

I didn’t hear or see him move but I felt his breath on my neck and his voice in my ear saying, “All in good time, Clara.”

~ ~ ~

The next day was a repeat of the first, minus bullies on the way to Menendez. Tate let Eli walk me to class and it was all fine. He talked to Bishop about it and he said it wasn’t his problem. So, begrudged, Tate asked Eli to walk me to class everyday if he didn’t mind.

We all met at the school that night for another match. Dee, Megan, Sarah, Eli, Mike and I sat in the bleachers and watched as the guys warmed up and sparred in preparation.

Dee worked overtime to get Eli’s attention as he and Mike talked about our football team and how Eli should sign up. Eli avoided her a lot more and once, he leaned forward to put his elbows on his knees while he watched the first match start and she rubbed his back. He shrugged her hand off and turned to look at me. It was like he was telling me he was done pretending with her. His case was made and he was waiting on me.

But all was forgotten soon when Tate started acting funny. Even if you didn’t know him you could see something was wrong. He was shaking his head from side to side furiously when he took his stance and his face was as red and twisted as I ever seen it.

I heard Eli take a deep startled breath beside me and the look was back. This time there was no painful look involved. Eli was just soaking in whatever it was he was doing. Pure ecstasy and goodness was all over his face as he watched the boys face off. It made me stiffen with concern and curiosity, but Tate was taking my focus right then.

Then Tate did the thing that matched the face he was wearing. He threw the boy on the mat and with a cry of battle rage began to smash the guys face with his fists, over and over. It seemed he’d hit him at least ten times before someone reached them to stop him. Tate was straining and yelling for them to let him go; he was bloodthirsty. The crowd all stood in silent shock. The boy was bleeding from many places and groaning as he rolled on the mat in obvious pain.

Without thought, I stepped down the bleachers and went to Tate as he struggled with coach. I touched his arm and started to say his name, hoping to calm him.

“Ta-” I said but he reached and punched me hard in the chest with a fist that got free.

I fell back forcefully to the mat on my back and heard a big gasp from the onlookers. I rubbed the spot he’d hit and felt the sting of it. I looked around shocked and realized what had just happened. Tate had just pushed me down in front of the entire school and half the town.

Three

I was stunned as I looked up to him and saw him finally register it too. His whole face changed and he looked so incredibly guilty.

The other coach, Mr. Mackey, came to help me up. He kept his arm around me, for support or courage to pass Tate, I wasn’t sure which, but as we passed him Tate spoke to me in a gut wrenchingly heartbreaking voice.

“Clara, I didn’t mean to. I didn’t know it was you. Please, babe, I’d never hurt you. You know that.”

I didn’t say anything, just walked. I didn’t know what to say.

“I’ll call your parents,” coach Mackey said and then blanched. “I mean, the Pastor.”

“No, It’s ok. I just live across the street. I can make it.”

“I’ll make sure she gets home safely,” I heard behind me and saw Eli there, a grim and unhappy look on his face.

“Alright, Mr. Thames. Good of you. Go on then. We’ll take care of Tate, you just get on home.”

“Yes, sir,” I answered and let Eli lead me away, a thousand eyes on me, with his hand on my lower back. Once we reached the parking lot I finally felt the weight of the situation. “Oh my- what just happened?” I whispered hoarsely, my hands on my cheeks.

“What happened was your junkie boyfriend hit you,” he said angrily. “Are you ok?”

I rubbed the spot on my chest and winced as the sting.

“Yeah, I’m ok. Wait- junkie? What do you mean?” I asked hotly and stood with him by the gate to the school entrance.

“I mean he’s using steroids. He’s got classic hot head syndrome.”

“Steroids,” I whispered and shook my head back and forth furiously. “No. No, he wouldn’t.”