Shadow Bloodlines – Book 1 #YA #Fantasy

Here’s a sneak peek of Chapter One of my YA Fantasy novel, Shadow Bloodlines

Classical portal with corinthian columns and an arcadeDon’t go to school today! – Dad.

I re-read the text message and double-checked the unlisted number. Was this a practical joke? Dad hadn’t contacted Mom since before I was born, let alone me. I didn’t exist as far as he was concerned.

Why would he suddenly send me a message anyway, and at five after eight in the morning? Did he do a Google search on me or something? Whoever it was must not have read the school rules about no cell phone use, period, until lunchtime or after school. Made that mistake too many times before, so the text was too late now…four hours and twenty-four minutes too late.

I thrust the phone in my pocket and dragged myself back to my seat in the school cafeteria. The smell of greasy fries, burgers, and spicy nachos with fake cheese choked the lunchtime air. Shrilling, the bell rang and metal chairs scraped across the linoleum floor as everyone scrambled to finish their lunch. A guy across from me shoveled a whole candy bar into his mouth, then high-fived his friend. I’d lost my appetite since finding Dad’s text, as evidenced by my burger sitting half-eaten on the table.

Wrong number perhaps?

“You ‘k, Beth?” Melody pushed away from our table.

“Yeah.” I nodded, refusing to bring up my Father issues with my swim team partner. If I ignored the message, I could pretend it never happened.

“Thanks for covering my babysitting shift yesterday,” she said.

“No problem. The twins are cute.”

She picked up her tray and a crease marred the space between her brows. “If you say so. I had to clean toothpaste off the ceiling and mirror last weekend. Those kids are monsters.”

I forced a smile and wadded up my napkin. “They’re not too bad.” Not as bad as receiving a message from an estranged father. The next words flew from my mouth before I could stop them. “Hey, did you guys get any weird messages on your phones?”

Melody glanced at her cell and frowned. Ryan, who sat across the table from me, shook his head. “Nah, nothing except my mom reminding me to take out the trash when I get home. Why, did you?” he asked.

A creepy feeling tickled the back of my neck; the same kind I get right before something jumps out at me in those Halloween haunted house exhibits. “Just spam.” Must be a wrong number. My thoughts shot to Mom who had raced out the door this morning, late for a last minute meeting, without even her normal hug goodbye, just a quick peck on my forehead. I tucked my backpack over my shoulder and stood, banishing the paranoia to the back of my head where it belonged.

Biology II was next. An added requirement for my senior year. Yay, me. I could do without the dissecting and rancid smells. Even now, as I rushed with the other kids out of the lunchroom, the embalming fluid wafted down the hallway and clogged my throat. While no one else seemed to mind the odor, especially outside the classroom, for some reason it gave me the worst headache, like someone pounding with a sharp butcher knife on either side of my temples.

“Beth!” Jacqueline elbowed me as she careened through the crowd leaving her Calculus class. “You still coming over after the college tour? I’ve got the perfect dress you can borrow for tonight, and I rented Night of the Demons, you know, that horror movie everyone’s raving about.”

She was skipping the local college tour since she’d already gotten into the University of Texas’s software engineering program. Swim scholarships had been given out late January, but I was still debating between Texas A&M and the University of Florida. Mom suggested keeping my options open and visiting some schools closer to home. I preferred to be near the ocean, but that would mean leaving Mom and my friends. Both University counselors said they’d give me until the end of June to decide. The tour was an easy way to get out of school early and show Mom I was considering her idea.

“Not your crazy B-trash movies again. I swear the last one gave me nightmares about that three-headed croc.” I fought to hold the cafeteria door from slamming into me as a horde of fellow students bulldozed past.

“It’ll be great, you’ll love it.” She winked at me, then took off toward gym class.

The first warning bell rang. Damn it! I hustled to the north wing, elbowing my way through the crowd. I reached my classroom before the tardy bell sounded.

Seated in my assigned Bio seat, I retrieved my notebook and pen from my backpack; the light on my cell blinked for either another message or an email, but I ignored it. No use having my phone taken for using it during class time. Since I was staying with Jacqueline for the weekend while her parents were away on their cruise, maybe I could trace the call and confront my loser Dad. Mom would never go for it, but the idea of seeing him face-to-face and telling him off made me smile. Jacqueline loved an adventure.

“Hey, Iron Lungs,” one of the basketball players called out across the classroom, and his buddy high-fived him.

I turned around as they both stared my way, waiting for a response. I offered them a wry smile in return and slumped into my seat. Jeez, win one breath-holding contest in middle school and no one lets you forget it.

Hearing the door squeak open, everyone piled into their seats.

A woman with a long nose and squinty eyes behind wide-rimmed glasses entered the room along with a man. They both stood behind the teacher’s desk. “Hello, everyone. Mrs. Adelle is out today. I’m your sub, Ms. Moor. And Mr. Hastings will be assisting me.”

Two teachers? I slumped further down into my seat. I should have skipped this class.

Maybe Mr. Hastings was a teacher in training? He appeared to be in his late thirties and looked like a wrestler stuffed inside a suit. His eyes scanned the room as if searching a police lineup.

“Now,” the woman straightened her suit jacket, “today we’re going to talk about genetics and recessive genes.”

The class groaned.

“We’ll be taking note of each of your eye colors to see which is most prevalent. Whichever shade has the most votes; those individuals won’t have to do any homework for the weekend.”

The kids and I grumbled. One of the football players muttered a curse word, but Ms. Moor ignored him.

Briskly, the sub-teacher marched around the class, staring into everyone’s eyes. “Brown. Green,” she called out over her shoulder and the suited wrestler scribbled across his pad. “Brown. Blue. Brown.”

I picked at my nails as I waited. Had my dad sent me another message? Ms. Moor was two rows away. It would just take a second to glance at the phone. I dug through my backpack. Where was my cell? There, my fingers grasped the edge of it, but suddenly Ms. Moor swung in front of me and I dropped my cell back inside the bag. Her eyebrow rose, but she didn’t say anything. My heart hammered in my chest.

Please don’t ask me what I was doing. If she found my phone on, it would be taken to the principal’s office and Mom would have to pay the fine for me to have it returned. No cell use during school hours between eight a.m. and two forty-five p.m., the only exception was during lunch.

Ms. Moor stood before me, squinting. Then she stopped and pulled off her glasses. My cheeks heated as she gawked at me, unblinking. Some of the kids snickered. Great. Just what I needed. She leaned in closer, staring.

“Weird.” Her eyes widened, and she stepped back, bumping into the empty desk in front of mine.

I bit my lip as I glanced around at the other students who were now trying to see my eye color. A guy in the row next to mine even stood up partially in his seat to look back at me.

“Back off, I’m not a zoo specimen,” I snapped.

Mr. Hastings dropped the writing pad on the teacher’s desk and flipped open his cell. He exchanged a look of excitement with Ms. Moor.

“I don’t have signal in here.” He gave Ms. Moor an anxious look and at her nod, rushed out of the room. From the hallway, he said, “We got one.”

How could I hear that? I shrugged, must be an echo or a random acoustic spot where he was standing.

Ms. Moor lurched back to the front of the classroom. “Okay, so brown eyes have the highest count in this class, followed by blue and then green.”

“What about Bethany’s?” Bruce pointed at me. “You didn’t call out hers. They look blue from here.”

My stomach clenched. I knew my eyes had three different colors: blue, green, and gold. I turned toward Bruce. “Maybe focus on your own crap.”

“Shut up, Bethany.”

“Enough,” the teacher said.

“Green. They look green to me.” The girl sitting across from me twisted in her seat. She’d never said a word to me before, and now she glared as if I was a freak on the dissecting table and she’d get ten extra credit points for the right answer.

My hands felt clammy, so I wiped them on my jeans. A cold sweat broke out all over my body.

Ms. Moor straightened her glasses and shuffled through papers on Mrs. Adelle’s desk as though looking for something specific.

When the bell shrilled three times in quick succession, Ms. Moor jumped. “A fire alarm? Now?”

We scrambled out of our chairs.

“Stop,” Ms. Moor shouted over the squeaking desks. “Everyone stay in your seats.”

Yeah, right. Since I didn’t want to come back to class, I snatched up my backpack and threw it over my shoulder and crammed with everyone in front of me until I squeezed out into the hallway.

Ms. Moor snatched my arm, but I wrenched free with the help of two big guys who I bounced down the hallway with along with a throng of students among them. What was her problem? Ms. Moor gave me the creeps.

The heat from a hundred bodies bustled through the hallways. We shuffled forward like mindless zombies scenting fresh blood at the nearest exit.

Finally, everyone stood outside, behind the school and waited for the hall monitors to tell us it was safe to go back inside. From across the schoolyard, Jacqueline pushed through people to reach me with a pinched expression on her face. Glancing around to ensure no teacher watched, I handed my phone to her when we met in the middle of the crowd.

“What’s this?” She glanced behind her and her hand shook slightly as she took the phone.

“Are you okay? You seem nervous, but it’s just a drill or I’d smell the smoke already.”

“Uh, nothing. I’m okay.”

Maybe she was nervous about finals next week. “Just read my text message. I got it this morning but didn’t see it until lunch. Do you think it’s him?” I crossed my arms over my stomach. Yeah, Mom would forbid me to chase after this. But I had to know if it was him or not.

Jacqui shrugged and handed me back my cell. “Probably a prank or something. We can check it out tomorrow if you like. Be all spy girl badasses.” She waggled her eyebrows and did a Bruce Lee impersonation complete with a sidekick and hit a guy’s backpack.

“Sorry.” She giggled.

He scowled and scooted closer to his friends.

I laughed, loving the idea. Boy would my dad be surprised to see me. Did he even know what I looked like? Did he even care? A freshman took a girl’s glasses and she chased him through the crowd. The chatter of the other students rose in pitch.

“What classes do you have left?” Jacqueline asked, her voice catching slightly.

“French and Swim.” Mom thought foreign language would be good on my rez and for college. But who spoke French in the middle of Texas? Well, besides my teacher. And she acted French—even though I knew she’d moved here from Idaho—or at least the license plate on her car said she had. Spanish class had filled up before the second day of registration.

“Ditch them both.” A breeze tangled her blonde hair and she shoved the strands away from her face.

“Can’t. Practice.” As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t skip swim drills. “Seriously, I don’t even think a doctor’s note would save me, unless… maybe I can get Coach to let me swim now and skip the weight training and stuff.”

“You can’t call yourself a senior if you’ve never ditched a class.” Jacqueline folded her arms across her chest and scanned the crowd. Was she searching for someone? “Let’s go straight to La Promada after we freshen up.”

Promada was a nightclub that allowed eighteen-year-olds in free. I’d been dreaming of clubbing but hardly had the time with swim meets, practices, homework, and my mom’s overbearing rules about being home before dark. She only allowed me to skip curfew a few times a year.

Maybe Jacqueline was right.

“Okay, I’ll do it. Just let me get a few laps in. I can meet you in an hour since I’ll skip weight and dry land training.” If Coach Johnson let me. She loved gummy bears, maybe I could snag some from the lunchroom to bribe her with.

“‘K. Hurry up.” Jacqueline dashed off to rejoin her gym class, already headed back inside.

I could have missed swim altogether, but I’d get caught. Mom would be contacted, my weekend with my best friend canceled. No way was I going to let anything ruin our plans.

Instead of following my biology class back inside, I sauntered to the pool. Coach Johnson was folding towels on a bench outside the girls’ locker-room.

“Mind if I take my laps now? I want to be ready for the college bus and not dripping wet.” I really hated lying, and prayed this wouldn’t get me in trouble or Mom notified. She’d ground me forever.

“What class do you have now?” Coach frowned as she looked up at me.

“Umm… French?” Well, Bio was almost over anyway. When she shook her head, I rambled. “But we’re doing crossword puzzles and I have mine already completed.” I yanked it out of my backpack and tons of papers spilled out. “Please?”

I gathered up the papers, stuffing them back inside my bulging backpack.

After a moment’s hesitation, she nodded. “But I’ll let your French teacher know you’ll miss her class today.”

I didn’t wait but dashed inside the locker room.

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