World After

World After by Susan Ee Page A

Book: World After by Susan Ee Read Free Book Online
Authors: Susan Ee
of anything to say to calm her. Paige was always the one who did that. So I do the only thing that comes to mind.
    I hum.
    It’s the song that she hums to us when she’s coming out of a particularly bad spell. It’s what I think of as her apology song. Sunsets, castles, surf, bruises.
    She might ignore me or she might go berserk. It could soothe her or make her angrier than ever to hear me humming her song. If there’s one thing you can count on with my mother, it’s that she’s unpredictable.
    Her hand whips up and slaps my face.
    She hits so hard I think I’ll always carry a palm print on my cheek.
    She slaps me again.
    The third time, I grab her wrist before she makes contact.
    In my training, I’ve been hit, punched, kicked, shoved, slammed, and choked by all kinds of opponents. But nothing hurts as much as a slap from your mom.
    I remind myself that it’s been several weeks since she’s been off her medication, but that does nothing to ease the sting.
    I brace myself to subdue her somehow without hurting her, hoping it doesn’t escalate too far out of control. But it turns out I don’t have to.
    Her expression shifts from fury to anguish. Her fingers loosen against the metal mesh. Her shoulders stoop, and she curls into a fetal ball against the door.
    She shakes as the tears take over. She cries in big, baby-girl sobs.
    Like her husband has abandoned her to the monsters.
    Like her daughters have been torn from her by demons.
    Like the world has come to an end.
    And nobody understands.
    If Paige were here, she’d hold Mom and stroke her hair. Paige would comfort her until she fell asleep. She’s done that countless times, even after our mother hurt her.
    But I am not Paige.
    I curl into my own corner, gripping the soft fur of my teddy bear.

I DREAM I’m with Raffe again.
    The surroundings look familiar. We’re in the guest cottage that Raffe and I slept in the night we left the office. It’s the night I learned his name, the night he went from prisoner to partner, and the night he held me in his arms as I shivered in a nightmare.
    The tat-tat of the rain against the windows fills the cabin.
    I look down at my then-self who is asleep on the couch under a thin blanket.
    Raffe lies on the other sofa, watching me. His muscular body stretches languidly across the cushions. His dark blue eyes swirl with thoughts I can’t hear. It’s as if the sword became self-conscious after telling me so much about Raffe, and now it’s keeping his thoughts hidden. Maybe I pushed too hard when I asked about that kiss.
    There’s a softness to Raffe’s look that I’ve never seen before. It’s not that I see naked longing or tender love or anything like that. And if I did, it would just be in my messed-up fantasies.
    Not
that I fantasize about him.
    It’s more the way a tough guy who doesn’t like cats might look at a kitten and notice for the first time that it can be kind of cute.Sort of a reluctant, private acknowledgment that maybe cats aren’t
all
bad.
    The unguarded moment is gone in a heartbeat. Raffe’s eyes shift to look toward the hallway. He hears something.
    He tenses.
    I wait, straining to see.
    Two sets of red eyes get larger as they creep closer, silent as death. They peer into the living room from the darkness of the hallway, watching me.
    Whoa. Why didn’t I know about this?
    In a flash, Raffe is up and running, grabbing his sword on his way to the hall.
    The hellion shadows leap and bound back toward the bedroom, absolute black against dark gray. They dive through the open door where cold air flows out like a river.
    Raffe and the creatures drop into slow-mo as they race for the broken window beside the bed. The rain sheets in through the gaping shards as the curtains dance in the wind in slow motion.
    I know I’m supposed to copy Raffe’s movements as he attacks but I’m too busy watching what’s happening. The creatures are running, not attacking.
    Were they spying on him? Are they going back

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