tagRomanceThe Link Pt. 02: The Hunted

The Link Pt. 02: The Hunted

byDreamCloud©

Author's Note: This story was edited by RPGer. I can't thank him enough for all the time he put into it. Hopefully, my errors have been minimized. If you haven't read 'The Link,' then you might be a little lost.

Chapter 1 - Teegan



I am human, mostly. At least, that's what I've been told. I don't always feel human. Then again, what high schooler does? My friend Samantha tells me she doesn't feel normal either, and she came into the world the old-fashioned way. Maybe I would feel more normal if I had a date for the prom.

Old Town, Maine is where I've lived most of my life. I don't remember my early childhood, which I'm told was fairly exciting. My mom tells me I was a happy baby, and Dad fondly calls me Stinky from time to time. Not sure how that's supposed to make me feel. Mom always scolds him and forgives him in the same breath.

I was born with a gift, or so they call it. Uncle Hank calls it my power. I've never given it a name and usually find it more of a nuisance. It circulates in my mind, hemmed in by barriers I have built so that it doesn't leach out at the simplest touch. Consciously, I can keep it stable and inside. Others find it amazing, though I have yet to see any great benefits. I guess it's like being a rock star. You play all that wonderful music, but barely hear it yourself because the amplifiers have ruined your ears.

The world is filled with music only I can hear. It's not really a sound as the ears know it, more a bombardment of waves that moves into and through me. I know them to be people, but the din is overwhelming and useless. I've learned to filter it out of my life, ignoring what I don't understand and letting it pass untouched, or unthought of. Some of the rhythms I know well and don't ignore, though I can if I choose.

My younger brother Zane thinks it's a power. Of course, he thinks Uncle Hank is always right about everything. I'm sure it has something to do with the gifts Uncle Hank brings during his visits. I bonded with Zane when he was still in my mother's womb. My dad told me it was the most amazing thing he had ever felt, but of course, I was too young to remember. I keep wondering if I peaked at a year-old and it's all downhill from there.

Bonding is a lot like recognizing a voice. In the midst of the cacophony, I can find those I know well. The better I know them, the easier they are to find and the harder they are to block. Everyone has their unique set of rhythms. By touching someone new, I can, if I choose, synchronize my music with theirs. The waves are more pronounced when I touch, allowing me to easily separate them from the noise. Uncle Hank thinks touching increases the resonance. I just know it allows me to single them out from a world of noise.

I don't synchronize with others. My family are the voices I know best and I prefer to keep it that way. Mom requires a shift in style, more of a twangy country beat. Zane's music is quicker with a slight staccato pattern. Dad hardly takes any effort. Our emanations are nearly the same, bonding with him is as easy as breathing. He's like a cozy blanket over my mind when we flow together. It's like I was designed for him. Designed is a good word for what I am.

"Come on, Teegs," Zane begged, "Mom said I can go if you drive me." Zane had shortened my name from Teegan to Teegs when he was two. I hated that some of my friends had latched onto it as well. Zane had friends he wanted to meet at the mall in Bangor. Of course, that meant I would have to hang out until he was done. I would have said no, but I could feel how much he wanted it. No matter what barriers I build, my family could always leak through when I lost concentration. Truly a nuisance.

"You'll owe me," I said. I might as well have given him a million dollars. His joy surged into me. Okay, it wasn't all a nuisance. I could probably parley that joy into him doing some of my chores. I watched his blond hair bouncing as he ran upstairs to get ready. It was a strange cut, buzzed short around his ears and neck, but longer at the top so that it could be parted down the middle.

"Someone must have said yes," my Mom said as she rounded the corner from the kitchen. She always worked from home when we had a holiday from school. Not that we needed an adult, it was just a habit that she had continued from when we were younger.

"No secrets in this house," I said, letting it become a nuisance again. Mom leaned down as she passed and kissed my forehead. At the same time, I felt her love mixed with a little pride. I wanted to hate the intrusion, but it felt good. I really needed to graduate and head out on my own. I needed the distance to find who I am without the constant intrusions.

"I'm glad you look out for him," Mom said. "He always 'does' before he thinks. With you around, he thinks more."

"That's how I spend my time," I complained, "thinking." Mom stopped and turned back toward me. She had been growing her hair longer. Not as long as mine, but past her shoulders. I think she was dying it darker, trying to fight off some gray.

"Do I hear a little self-pity?" Mom asked. Her smile disarmed my next complaint. She rounded the couch and sat down next to me. I wasn't prepared for a mother-daughter talk, but I did want to complain.

"Zane's got more plans than I do," I said, "more friends, more things to do. I have nothing. Maybe I'll become a hermit, or join a convent."

"Giving up at eighteen," my mother teased. Her hand wrapped around my shoulder and pulled me close.

"It's not funny," I said, sending my disgust when I should have kept it to myself, "I'll be one of those cat ladies you see on the news." I was older than my birth certificate. My birthday was moved two and a half months forward from my actual birth. We were in hiding, and the date change helped keep my identity hidden. Something about making database queries less effective.

"Still no date?" Mom asked. I felt her sympathy and was happy it didn't contain pity. Pity would have made me angry and I didn't want to be mad. I wanted to be sad.

"I'll be the only one without a date," I sighed, "destined to the prom-loser table." I felt a burst of love from Dad. He was out of town on business and my sadness leaked. He could be a million miles away, and I would feel him. I concentrated and blocked his link. He was ruining a perfectly good bout of misery. I didn't want to be content with my lot in life; I wanted more.

"There's still plenty of time," Mom said, "you could always ask someone yourself." I rolled my eyes.

"Women don't ask men," I said, "it would just confirm I'm desperate. Look at the loner begging for a date." I over did the waving of my arms, but I was exasperated.

"Your father would have never asked me," Mom said. "Some men need a little prodding. There's nothing wrong with a woman asking a man in this day and age." It was easy for her to say. She had the love of her life. Parents always pretended that things were easy after their lives were settled. Mine was unsettled and there was no way I could ask a guy to the prom.

"Yeah, I guess," I lied. "It's just that it's supposed to work the other way." Samantha turned down one guy and then accepted Gene's request. She had an overflow, making me feel ugly and unwanted. I was happy for her, of course. Sort of. It would be better all around if some guy would just ask.

"If life were perfect, we wouldn't have had to change our name and hide here in Maine," Mom said, "There's always something that throws a wrench in the works. It's how we deal with those things that defines us." I didn't roll my eyes. I wanted to, but I knew it would insult her. She had no idea how bad it felt to be unwanted. Well, unwanted by people outside of my family. I feel nearly invisible to my peers.

"Samantha has a date," I complained. "How can I show up without a date?"

"You've cut off your father," Mom interrupted. Her smile was forgiving, "This is really bothering you."

"He makes me forget that I'm unwanted," I admitted.

"You're far from unwanted," Mom said, pulling me tighter, "I'm sure if you asked someone, they would jump at the chance. There are probably a bunch of boys trying to work up the courage to ask you." I collapsed into her embrace.

"Then why don't they?" I said, my eyes welling up.

"Their fear is no less than yours," Mom whispered, stroking the back of my hair. "The idea that you would tell them 'no' is a crushing weight."

"Two boys have asked Samantha," I countered.

"She's not as smart as you," Mom continued. "Boys fear what an intelligent girl might say. Males have a problem not being superior. They don't always recognize that we're just people on the inside."

"Are you telling me to act stupid?" I asked. Mom chuckled and kissed my forehead. I liked the laugh, it was soft and meant to counter my statement. I curled in closer, something I hadn't done in a few years. I could feel how much Mom liked it.

"Never be what you're not," Mom said softly. "There's a man out there waiting to meet you. You may not find him tomorrow, next week, or in a year. Just trust me that he's out there feeling empty, and waiting for you to fill up his life. When you find him, you have to have the courage to tell him so."

"What if he doesn't want a freak?" I said. The thought came so quickly I didn't have a chance to hold it back. For many years, my so called power had eaten at me. I was unique in the world, destined to float through it as an anomaly. Alone.

"My sweet girl," Mom said, her eyes now as wet as mine, "you are not and never will be a freak. You have more love than anyone. There's someone out there; you just need to find him and flatten his tires." I half cried, half laughed at her words. Dad had told us about my late Grandmother's tale of meeting her husband, my grandfather. A delivery man whose tires she secretly slashed to get him to stay awhile.

"You want me to play dirty," I said, my smile creeping toward my teary eyes.

"Absolutely," Mom said, wiping her eyes, "Men can be idiots when it comes to women. They learn quickly enough with our help. Your father was no different."

"There aren't many men like Daddy," I sighed.

"No," Mom said, smiling about things I didn't want to know, "but there is someone out there who will someday hold your heart more tightly than your father." I liked the idea of finding someone I could love and be loved by. I had been kissed a few times and found it enjoyable. Nothing like those heart-pounding experiences I had read about. Certainly nothing like the passion I had seen in the movies. Maybe I should have let it go beyond kissing. I was sure I was missing something.

"Are you two done?" Zane called from the top of the stairs. I blushed and wiped my eyes. It sucks when I forget to shut him out of my moods. I knew he wanted to get going, with his friends waiting and an exciting life to pursue.

"Yes," I shouted back. Mom kissed my forehead again and let me go. Her smile was as important as her kiss. Nothing was solved, yet I felt a little better. It was good to know that men were stupid. Somehow, it was important to know they were my equal.

*****



"If I tell you something, you promise not to get mad?" Zane asked me as he buckled his seatbelt. I looked over as I pushed the start button. He had on his I've-done-something-I-regret face. The same one he had on when Dad made him tell me he was the one who spilled ink on my American Girl doll's dress in the fifth grade.

"No," I said and meant it. I pulled the car out of the driveway.

"I heard what you said to Mom," Zane said anyway, then his voice went to a whisper, "then I felt it."

"So what," I nearly yelled, "like you never have issues. You should mind your own damn business."

"You know I can't," Zane said, "it's not like I can stop it." My bond to my family had become an all or nothing thing. Any feelings beyond normal were broadcast loudly.

"Sorry."

"It's my fault," Zane said as he looked at his feet. I felt his shame and regret.

"What," I said, trying to remember to look at the road, "that I'm too weird to be dated?"

"No," Zane stuttered, "I mean yes, but not because you're weird."

"What are you babbling about?"

"Mason Crawford asked me about you," Zane said.

"He's a jerk," I said quickly. Mason was only interested in Mason. He broke into the school once to have a look at an upcoming math test. Everyone knew he did it, but he blamed it on Levi Patterson, a freshman, who had helped him. Levi was immediately expelled and ended up in a private school.

"He's not the first one to ask," Zane admitted.

"Ask what?"

"About you," Zane hedged.

"What about me?"

"Guys ask me about you," Zane replied. "They think I control your social calendar or something."

"Ask what?" I repeated, looking at Zane.

"The road," Zane said quickly, pointing forward. I looked back and straightened the car. I took a deep breath and repeated my question again.

"They want to know things," Zane said, "like if you're with anyone. I don't like how they say it, so I sort of brush them off."

"What did you say?" I asked, wondering if I should be angry.

"Mason asked if you had a date for the prom," Zane said, then he looked out the passenger window and mumbled something I didn't understand. I could feel Zane's apprehension. It was ink all over my doll's dress again.

"Zane?"

"I told him you had a date," Zane said.

"So what?" I said, "he's a jerk."

"It kind of got around school," Zane said. He gritted his teeth and looked back at me.

"That he asked about me?"

"That you already have a date," Zane admitted. Anger, mixed with relief, filled me quickly. Anger that I was dateless due to my brother, relief because it wasn't that I was a social outcast. "The road!" Zane shouted.

My eyes refocused, and I pulled the car back across the centerline and into my lane. A million feelings ran through me, and I lost concentration. I felt my father's feelings intermingle with my own stabilizing my train of thought. The anger lessened.

"The thought of Mason even talking to you..." Zane said, "well, I wanted to hit him." I took a deep breath and concentrated on my driving.

"He'd kill you," I said. Mason was the star running back for the football team. One of the reasons the school didn't look too deep into the break-in.

"I lied," Zane admitted. "I didn't think it would go any further. They shouldn't be asking me about you." I could feel the contradiction in his mind. He wanted to undo it, and yet do it again. Whatever problems we had, Zane and I were brother and sister. Closer than most due to my power.

"Next time," I said as calmly as I could, "tell me when crap like that happens."

"Sorry."

"Who did you say I was going with?" I asked.

"Some college guy," Zane replied, "he's a lot bigger than Mason." I had to laugh. My brother was protecting me as best he could, and now I had an imaginary Frankenstein-like boyfriend. "I didn't want him to think he had a chance," Zane added in his defense.

"He never did," I said when my breath returned, "and thank you."

"You're not mad?"

"Furious," I said, "and grateful." How could I hold it against him? I couldn't, not with my father's strength in me. I did need a date for the prom, but I needed a faithful brother more.

"You know that Mom doesn't like you blocking Dad," Zane said almost offhandedly. He had felt me letting Dad in again.

"She's never said anything to me," I said, "I only do it when I want to feel only me. It's hard sometimes, being with everyone."

"Mom likes to feel Dad," Zane said with a stupid smile. "When you block him, you block her from him."

"Gross," I said, imagining what he was implying.

"Yep," Zane laughed, "better you than me." I couldn't imagine how others would feel about my family. Zane grew up with it from before day-one. He knew no other way. Dad and Mom had taken it on of their free will. I wondered what kind of family I could have. Would it be true love or some type of bonded slavery? I often wondered if I was the reason Mom and Dad were Mom and Dad.

Chapter 2 - Teegan



"Two hours," I reminded Zane as I pulled up in front of Dick's Sporting Goods. The mall wasn't worth two hours of browsing, but if I walked slowly enough, I could chew up the time.

"Three," Zane negotiated as he unbuckled.

"Two or you're walking home," I insisted. He smiled, knowing I wouldn't live up to the threat.

"I'll call you in two," Zane said, and quickly left before I could solidify the time. He would call me in two hours and attempt to pad the clock. I sighed and drove to the other side of the mall to park next to Macy's. Their shoe department had some boots I had been eyeing. If they were on sale, it might make the trip worthwhile. No way Mom would turn me down if I'm driving Zane around.

The store was empty of customers as I made my way to the shoe department. It was nice to roam the aisles without having to dodge strollers and bags. I found the boots quickly, brown leather with a brass buckle holding barely useful leather straps secure above the ankle. It was a tall boot that would look great with my skirts. I liked the lines and the way it would shape my calf. The $260 price tag was more than Mom would swallow, at least not without a birthday or Christmas.

"Those would look so good on you," I heard from behind me. I recognized the voice as Samantha's and turned with a smile.

"They would, wouldn't they?" I agreed. Samantha nodded. I held my smile even though her hand was entwined with Gene's. I was disappointed she wasn't alone. I hated my jealousy. "Hi, Gene."

"Hi, Teegs," Gene said as he pushed some of his auburn hair out of his eyes with his free hand. He had one of those chiseled faces I wasn't sure was handsome. I knew he wasn't ugly, or average, it was just that something wasn't quite right with the symmetry.

"A little over my budget right now," I added, putting the boot back on the display table. "You two doing some shopping?"

"Just hanging out," Samantha smiled. Gene looked strangely at her like he didn't understand. I could see Samantha squeeze his hand hard. His face went quiet, and he left it alone.

"Prom dress?" I asked. Samantha didn't want to remind me that I was without a date.

"Tux," Samantha replied almost sadly. I loved her and hated her in the same thought. It wasn't pity in her tone; it was regret. "You shopping for boots?" she asked, trying to change the subject.

"NO, chauffeur," I replied, "Zane is running around here somewhere."

"Doesn't he have his license yet?" Gene asked. He let go of Samantha's hand, strangely making me feel a little better.

"Another five months," I answered shaking my head, "We'll have to share the car then, so I'm not sure I'm looking forward to it."

"Look," Gene said, "we don't know what we're doing. If you got some time, maybe you could help out." His eyes were honest though Samantha looked hesitant. "I could use another opinion," Gene added as he looked at Samantha, then back at me. I wasn't sure if I wanted to get involved in Gene's tux. Being the third wheel wasn't appealing.

"You've always had better taste than me," Samantha said. "We could use the help." There was an honest pleading in her voice. I had two hours to kill.

"Are you sure I wouldn't be in the way?"

"Not if you know anything about tuxes," Gene said.

"Please," Samantha said. She smiled and looked at me in a way only I would understand. It wasn't the get-lost look; it was her please-come-with-me face.

"Well," I said, "I'm not sure I know what's fashionable, but I can veto the dogs." Gene smiled and nodded his head. Samantha grabbed my hand and pulled me down the aisle. At least I wasn't going to wallow in self-pity all day.

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