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Chapter Twelve – Falling

Question hanging in the air for all of one minute, Weston scrunched his nose at Miranda again, a sign she didn't understand. "I think—"

She had to escape. "Beth wants—needs—yeah," Miranda said, pushing her chair back and getting away. She should've left earlier, before she found out. Did she really want more details, like he seemed ready to spill into?

"Miranda," Weston said sharply, grabbing onto her exposed wrist.

A painful fever encompassed her like a shock, nearly sending her toppling.

Except she felt empowered as well. Adrenaline?

"Come back after." A demand, not a request. Still dazed from the strange warmth making her muscles say they could do more, more, more, Miranda thought she nodded as she slipped past chairs to the back.

Not once did she hit a table or trip.

Before she could think over that further, Beth looked at her expectantly, and the warmth faded, leaving her feeling chilled and bereft.

"Well?" Beth prompted. "You've obviously been busy!"

Tiredly, Miranda admitted, "I-I didn't get the job." Better to get it over with. "They said I-I needed more school."

"Well, Keri's leaving for college soon or something, so we'll keep you," Beth breezed. Miranda's back straightened in shock: they'd never had room for her. "But what about the boy? I've never seen you here with anyone. Or with anyone, ever."

Beth didn't really leave her café, but Miranda didn't think it was the time to mention that. "He's new," Miranda decided, keeping things simple.

Easier to wipe him from Beth's memory later that way.

Not that Beth was likely to forget the first-boy-seen-with-Miranda. Possibly the last boy, if he'd decided on fulfilling her father's request tonight. Longingly, Miranda looked through the kitchen doors to the front, planning her permanent escape that would inevitably fail.

"That's it?" Beth asked. "Seriously?" Pulling up her disappointed but understanding voice, Beth said, "Well, you know I'm always here for you. If there's ever anything you want to talk about, especially something you can't talk about with your dad, like, boys, I'm here for you." Her eyebrows lifted, an invitation.

"I-It's not like that," Miranda said. Her voice, meant to sound apologetic, came out wistful. Beth arched her eyebrows higher in interest, making Miranda wince. "I-I've got to g-get back," she said, hooking her thumb to the doors.

Coyly, Beth prompted, "To your not boy."

To her killer, really, but she couldn't tell Beth—or anyone—that. "Yeah," Miranda said. "Do I-I still come in t-tomorrow?" If she lived.

"Sure," Beth waved, which meant an indifferent yes.

Typical. Everything worked on Beth's time and on Beth's interest, which was probably why she ran the café and not someone else she'd hired. Slipping into her seat like she didn't yearn for life with every fiber of her being, Miranda tried to ask Weston nonchalantly, "S-So what else?"

Continuing his words from before, Weston said, "I don't think you understand."

"Y-You're here t-t-to kill me?"

"Eradicate."

Allowing his preference—same thing—Miranda decided, "T-Then that's all I-I-I need to k-know."

His eyes said there was more, and his pursed lips held back the answers. Miranda tried to look like a picture of peace, waiting for the information, but whatever he saw made him shake his head. "Are you ready?"

"For w-what?" Miranda asked. Her searching gaze found Keri had brought a check, which appeared to be paid for.

"More talking," Weston said. From his tone, if she said no he'd pull the "life and death" thing on her again. Knowing now he wasn't lying about the severity, Miranda sighed and stood when he did, savoring the sound of the bell overhead upon their exit.

She might not hear it again.

The air held hints of unseasonably cool spring weather that chilled below her knees. Wrapping her arms around herself, Miranda asked, "W-Where are w-we going now?" She wanted to ask, "Are you sure we have to stay outside?"

"Somewhere I think will help."

So he could admit to being hired to kill her, but not where they were going. Wondering if his admission had gained her any new answers at all, she asked again, "W-Where are y-you from?"

"We're working toward that."

Disbelieving, she asked, "S-Still?"

"Still."

She fell silent out of stubbornness. If he had nothing to offer her, she wouldn't continue playing his game of beating around the bush, either. They took a back road, but gradually Miranda realized the path avoided her neighborhood but forked toward a popular walking trail that met a familiar one near her house. One she normally avoided the because of mosquitos that liked the water around the bridge on the trail.

"Something wrong?" he asked, as though he'd sensed her hesitation.

Maybe she'd slowed. Elongating her stride, Miranda answered, "I-I don't normally w-w-walk this way." At least he hadn't walked by her house, parading her in front of her father before he killed her.

She shivered, and definitely not from the small chill.

"Through here," Weston said absently, leading them through the thickest part of trees along the path. They cut straight through, skirting the water, like when Miranda had chased after Peanut. A pang of sadness hit her heart at the thought of never seeing that dog again.

She hadn't even remembered to ask if Peanut still acted strange when she picked up her money from the owners.

Wondering if Weston spooked easily, Miranda offered, "I-I hear these w-woods are haunted." She hoped he didn't ask for a story: she'd have to make one up.

"Do you believe that sort of thing?" he asked, flipping the question. His voice held more than a healthy interest in her answer, also not her intention.

Hiding her annoyance, Miranda said, "I-I don't know." She believed in some kind of force, because something had given her bad luck. Maybe her family's wanna-be fortune teller from decades ago, upset at an adopted kid carrying on their name, had cursed her with bad luck.

She'd ask Beth, if she lived until tomorrow.

Nothing rustled, like the last time she'd come through here. Possibly because of Weston beside her. Suspiciously, Miranda asked, "H-Have y-you been here before?"

"I think you know the answer."

For a moment she accepted that. Then: "A-Are you going t-t-to really answer?"

"We're working up to it," Weston said, which told Miranda he hadn't decided yet. He could just say he didn't know. When they arrived at the base of the hill she'd found Peanut on, she slowed. "We're almost there," Weston encouraged.

"W-Where y-you kill me?" Miranda whispered.

She'd meant it as a joke—a poor one, to calm her raging nerves—but he didn't smile. And worse, he didn't answer.

If she wanted to save her life, she had to act now.

With enough drama she knew she'd never be a good actress, Miranda fell into the grass. Following his script, Weston stared down at her, unsure what to make of her constant—chronic?—misfortune. Sighing to cover the noise, Miranda slid her dad's knife from her waistband.

Still following the script, the knife sliced through part of Miranda's thigh as she fought to hold it correctly. Ignoring the pain—there was always pain in her world—she stood in a hopefully fluid motion, brandishing the knife at him.

She'd hoped he would cave and spill all of his secrets, but he didn't move, eyes invisible in the darkness.

Knowing he could disarm her in moments, Miranda darted forward, slashing like a madwoman. "I'm s-s-sorry," she blubbered when she saw his shirt shredding. How could she explain her selfish wish to live? "I'm s-sorry." One deep stab caught him between his ribs, sending blood gushing out as soon as she moved away. "I-I can't—"

Somehow, he still moved. "Drop the knife," he tried to convince her, his fingers wrapping around her wrists to restrain her motions. As soon as his skin touched hers she flinched from the heat, squirming against his hold even harder.

Strength found her.

Pulling from his grasp, Miranda turned and stabbed again. "I won't!" she practically screamed.

This time, he grunted. Before she could stab again, feeling empowered from hurting him for once, he sent her sprawling to the ground. He hadn't touched her, but the grass in her mouth and her stinging, grazed knees proved his point.

"Why aren't you wearing more clothes?" Weston asked, apparently perplexed above her. His words sounded like a low oath, and curse words spilled out when he lifted her around the middle, bear hug style, and she kicked at his legs as hard as she could. "We're almost there," Weston said, trying to soothe her.

Like she wanted to arrive at the spot where he'd kill her.

"I d-don't want to d-die!"

"We still have things to talk about." Weston didn't stumble under her weight, and the top of the hill neared, sooner now that she saw things at almost his height.

Desperately, she tried, "I've already been h-here, it's n-nothing special. I-I-I don't want t-to talk. I'm n-not a threat. I-I'm sorry I stabbed y-you. Just—"

He dropped her, letting her sit in the grass.

Her knife hung from his hand, glinting. The full moon, even closer to the middle of the sky, seemed to mock her now. The grass blades tickled the undersides of her legs, making her think of fingers trying to skin her. The knife and all the pain it could cause had taken over her mind.

"You fell from the sky."

Having heard those words so many times before, they didn't even surprise her in Weston's tone. With the giant crater at her back, Miranda thought of her investigation, of how Peanut had led her here. Closing her eyes, she played along and guessed, "But n-not here." Someone would've told her by now.

"No."

From the tone of his voice, he wasn't playing. Her father had meant it. Opening her eyes again, Miranda whispered, "T-T-That's why? Because I-I fell from t-the sky?"

Solemnly, he nodded. "There's—"

"I-I'm human," Miranda protested, feeling tears well into her eyes. "I-I have memories of being l-little. I-I-I have pictures. I've been t-t-told my mom l-loved me, that I-I was a miracle. They adopted m-me, I went to school. I h-have a job. I'm r-real. R-Real people d-don't fall out of the s-s-sky."

Normally she would've applauded his patience at her stuttering speech, but now she glared at him, the guy who had entered her life only to take it away.

"More," Weston said, lowering himself to hold one of her hands with his free one, blazingly warm. "There's more. Think about me."

Him? "Your palms are ridiculously warm," Miranda said, blinking at her smooth words. "They make me feel strange. Anytime I'm around you things go strangely. You changed everything." She dropped her hand out from under his. "But that doesn't matter. You're h-here to kill me."

"Erad-—"

"W-What kind of money are y-you getting for t-t-this, anyway?" That had bothered her. She made all the money in the family: had she been secretly buying her own death this whole time? And how would her dad continue without her?

Standing, Weston said, "I'm not here because of your father. I'm here because I fell from the sky."

She waited for the punchline.