The Blood Between Us

By: Zac Brewer

CHAPTER 1


ABSOLUTE ZERO:


The lowest temperature possible, at which particles are essentially stationary



There’s nothing like the acrid smell of a building on fire. Even once the flames have been extinguished and the smoke has withered into nothingness, the smell permeates everything. The burned remains that the fire didn’t claim. The air that hangs above the hollowed, blackened walls. The clothing of anyone who was unfortunate enough to be nearby. The fire doesn’t just smell, either. It has a taste.

No one thinks about that. The taste of a house fire. It tastes sour. Bitter, even.

I wasn’t surprised to get called out of my eighth-grade lit class to the headmaster’s office that morning—not when I realized that my sister, Grace, had been called in, too. The two of us were always getting lectured on our behavior toward each other. But that morning, as I tried to think of what I had done or said about her recently so I could prepare my defense, nothing came to mind.

When I walked in, she didn’t even glance in my direction. Her ankles were crossed, her hands folded neatly in her lap. There wasn’t a single wrinkle on her school uniform. Every pleat of her navy skirt was in order; her gray cardigan was buttoned precisely over her white blouse. The front of her long, black hair was pinned neatly back with a single silver barrette—the rest lay in ringlets on her thin shoulders. She was the picture of perfection, making every effort to live up to her name. It kind of made me nauseous. We didn’t speak. We rarely did, because when we actually made the effort, it inevitably ended in an argument. It had always been that way between us. Some things just were.

In contrast to Grace’s flawless exterior, I couldn’t care less about appearances. My uniform jacket was wrinkled, its sleeves rolled up and pushed to just below my elbows. I’d once again passed on the required polished oxford shoes for a pair of Chucks that had seen better days. My hair was disheveled and longer than the dean allowed in his thick book of rules. But some things were worth a few demerits. And if the Wills Institute was so concerned about outward appearance that they would actually kick out a student because of his shoes, then so be it. At least then I wouldn’t have to look at Grace’s smug face anymore.

I scratched my head and yawned, my black hair sticking up haphazardly with the distinct air of not giving a crap. Funnily enough, I mused, our hair color was the only thing Grace and I really had in common. Maybe that’s why our parents had chosen me for adoption—because I had at least one obvious physical trait like my adoptive sister, which might make people ask fewer questions about my heritage. Or maybe they’d walked into the adoption agency and chosen me at random. I didn’t know. What I did know was that my parents had loved me just as much as my sister for as long as I could remember—adoption or no adoption—despite what Grace might have said otherwise.

The clock on the wall was the only thing in the room making a sound, and its constant ticking was driving me crazy. Crazy enough to attempt to engage in conversation with Grace. Sighing, I rolled my head to the side and looked at my sister again. “So what’d you do this time?”

Other than the slight twitch in her left cheek, she gave no indication that she had heard a word I’d said. It wasn’t a surprise. Grace was only ever semipolite to me when she was forced to be.

Mrs. Noonan, the headmaster’s secretary, opened the door to his office and said, “Headmaster Snelgrove will see you both now.”

Grace stood, took a moment to straighten her skirt, and stepped forward with her head held high. I dragged myself from my chair, dreading every moment of whatever conversation was waiting for us on the other side of that door. Once Grace stepped inside, I stood and followed, muttering under my breath, “Nice talking to ya, sis.”

There were two leather club chairs on the receiving side of the headmaster’s desk, and I’d spent so much time in here, I even had a favorite. So naturally, when I walked into the room, I found Grace sitting in it. I bumped the chair—not accidentally—on my way to the other one, inciting a glare from her. Yeah, I’d pay for that one later.

The headmaster was sitting on the authoritative side of the desk, and when he looked up at us, everything that I thought this conversation would be about blew away like ash in the wind. The familiar chastising look in his eyes was gone, replaced by sorrow and regret. Something had happened. Something terrible.

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