Embers and Fire

(The Dreamcatchers Saga #3)

by Jessie McClain

Embers of love smother. Patiently glowing for the one that will ignite an eternal flame. But for whom? Rachel, an old love – addict, people user, and all out she-devil? Or Ralina, a breath of fresh air – cute, kindhearted, and a friend to all? Or neither. Dane’s world – where love is complicated and embers burn at his heart.


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Chapter 1


Tap, tap, tap…

It’s all I hear from my pen as I stare at the blank white page in front of me. It’s not that I don’t have anything to fill the pages with. It’s that I’m afraid of how I may fill them. I write about everything that I do not feel. Because if I acknowledge my feelings, it’s real. If I think about it, it’s memorable. If I write it and give it life, I will create it. I will gain fear and lose value. I will…

My train of thought diverts as I try to think of something different to write about. But I can’t because there is only one feeling that I know right now. One thought. I am crippled by the fear of losing someone I love. The fear of letting go. The fear of it not being me. I don’t know what’s worse. It never being me, or a real love at one point that has been long since forgotten. When did I become a memory?

I never understood that. How can people just simply wake up one day and realize that they don’t love someone that they have devoted a huge part of their life to? How can one simply stop feeling? How can one go on… just fine… like nothing ever happened? My hand trembles and I reach for a fresh cup of coffee as I imagine that she is reaching for another shot of whiskey across the bar. Yes, if I write it, I will give it life. But if I ignore it, maybe I can continue to walk this life easier, dumb and ignorant.

When I was a child, a teacher suggested that I write something once a day on a piece of paper. Or anything really. A napkin, wrapper, cardboard. All of which I have used. He said even if it’s just one sentence, it’s something powerful. Because it’s a thought I have brought to life. It is a group of words that I have released to the world, even if the world doesn’t read it. So ever since, I have written. Some days it’s only one word. Some days, whole pages. I have separate boxes hidden in corners, under my bed, under blankets in closets, each box with a name on it. Each box filled with thoughts, words, or letters to a particular person. When I started to lose track of my scraps of paper, that’s when I created my system. It was such a long time ago… another life it seems.

Standing, I watch from my third story apartment window as passersby exchange glances and casual words, friends and enemies alike. That’s how Falls City is. Even if people hate you, they at least say your name. Blankets of blinding white fluff lies heaping on the ground from the fresh snowfall last night. Some flakes are still coming down, but nothing that will accumulate. For a split second I think of Ebenezer Scrooge looking down from his window at the white town below the morning after his ghostly encounters. It reminds me of that. And I had my own ghostly encounters as well. Just different ones, but no less life-like.

Rachel came home and we fought, just like we do almost every night. I don’t even remember what about anymore. And just that in itself makes me laugh a little. We are so toxic for each other. But I need her. She is the poison that I drink and drink and can’t get enough of. It’s so sweet and so bitter and so damn addictive. And I watch myself die a little more with each willing sip I take in.

Rachel left after our fight and she was gone all night. I’m not sure where. And I’m not sure if I want to even know where. Where is she ever? Where is she now? I push the curtains completely to the side and open the window. Weatherman says it’s going to snow again tonight and that it’s going to be freezing. It doesn’t stop me. I need to let in some frigid air to freeze up the fog in my mind and harden my heart just a little bit more.

I breathe in the ice until my lungs hurt. Inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth? Bullshit. I gasp the freshness as if it’s my only lifeline. I think I may be panicking. Isn’t that a symptom? Not being able to do something as simple as breathing? If that is so, I’ve had one very long panic attack because I haven’t been able to breathe or think properly since I’ve met Rachel. She’s one of those girls that do that to you. You know? Makes you question everything you thought you’ve ever known. One second you think you may know what’s going on and you’re catching on to this little thing called life. And then the next second you’re stupid dumb and don’t remember what your life was like before she walked into it.

I met Rachel at a rock show. She was standing right beside me. Just standing there in the middle of a rowdy crowd. She had on a white tank top and torn up jeans. All I can remember from that night is red lips that tasted of cherries and sweat and cheap wine in a coffee cup. We made out in the back of the hole in the wall building by the bar and later that night hung our legs out over my front room window ledge as we sat on the sill, looking at the neon shop signs and shooting stars. It was early morning and the night of one of the best meteor showers I had ever witnessed. The sky was literally falling down around us, streaming magic and stardust into our open, waiting palms.

If it were another life and not my own, I’d go back. We would never have ended up so broken and in shambles. We would keep all of our promises to each other no matter the cost. And we would never say the things that we have so callously thrown at each other like sharp weapons of destruction slipping off of lying tongues. If I could go back things would be so different than they are for us now. If I could go back…

If I could…

I sigh at the memories and look down at my own cup, now half empty. The cream in it swirls like wisps of smoke and I shiver from the cold and close the window, drawing the curtains to block out the painful glare of light off of all that pristine white. I think of tossing the coffee cup into the sink and watching the remnants of what is left splash up in a light caramel color and settle to the bottom by the drain. If my heart is pounding like a hammer, if I can’t breathe to save my life (literally), if I do feel as if I’m floating, ungrounded, unyielding, if I am feeling too much and not enough all at the same time, then maybe the last thing I need is caffeine. However, I drink more anyway.

More time passes. It’s dark outside now. Wasn’t it daytime when I sat down to write? I jerk when I hear something hard and small hitting my window. Setting my latest cup of coffee down and ripping the curtains aside, I lift the paint-chipped window and lean out. Down below Iris smiles and waves, bundled thick in layers of scarves with a white winter hat, red wavy hair cascading all around. I imagine her emerald eyes shining in the twinkling of the gold Christmas lights lining the street. With her is Tala and Ralina. Ralina is in a pair of black pants and biker boots with a leather coat, her short black hair sticking out in random directions, a perfect smirk playing havoc on her narrow face. Tala is standing surprisingly lightweight and uncaring. She doesn’t appear to be freezing even though she just wears a thin jacket, unzipped, and a single home-made scarf. She’s always run hot though. Iris, however, is cold when a breeze blows on a spring day and I wonder if she is so heavily padded that I will have to end up rolling her around if she falls.

“Heeeeeey!” I draw out with a small wave. My hot breath hits the frosty air, freezes, and falls to the ground.

“Come cause chaos with us!” Iris calls up.

“What kind?” I ask, mildly interested.

“We don’t quite know yet. But the tree lighting is tonight in the town square, and they’re having their usual hot chocolate and warm apple cider with candy and carols,” she pauses. “You know. Like every year.”

“We go every year…”

“Yeah,” she says.

“It’s always the same,” I complain.

“That’s the beauty in it! We know what to expect. We know the bells are going to be ringing and Mr. Panes will be annoyed about it and he’ll threaten to break them. We know that at first the voltage in the lights will be too much and a fuse will blow and Joe will have to help fix it. While he’s helping, people will help themselves to drinks in the bar before he comes back,” Iris starts.

“Rick will get his free donuts and muffins stolen whenever he turns his back to get more cups for the hot chocolate and cider…” Tala continues.

“And someone will get drunk and try to climb the gazebo again. They’ll break the lattice and Randy from hardware will replace it tomorrow free of charge!” Ralina finishes off.

They’re right. The same thing happens every year. I’m sure if you paid attention to a clock you could probably time it all out like Bill Murray from Groundhog’s Day.

I shrug. I have nothing else to do but go crazy inside of myself. “Be down in a minute!” I shout before forcing the stained window shut.

I take time to turn off the ceiling fan. I had it on low, an empty Mountain Dew bottle tied to it going around and around in circles. It acts as a make shift pendulum and actually feels calming. I had lain on the couch earlier this afternoon and watched that bottle spin for two hours while I thought about everything that I wish now I hadn’t.

I remember when I first met Rachel she had some problems and a lot of Daddy issues. I can’t quite pinpoint when things started to progressively get worse for her. I think I went into this thing, this relationship with her, thinking that maybe I could be the one to help her or save her. Maybe I could find her some happiness. Just maybe I could be the one she could be happy with.

But instead, with some sick turn of events, I ended up being the one she has been relentlessly pulling down. It’s as if I keep struggling to the surface to gasp a breath of fresh air, but come up just slightly short as she grips my leg and drags me back down into the depths of her bleak darkness. I’m not a savior. I know that now. It took me losing myself to realize this. And I was stupid to think that I could have ever been anything other than simply human.

Turning off all the lights but the small one over the kitchen stove, I head downstairs without bothering locking my door. The chill of the air instantly soaks through my jeans and jacket. My hair is blown sideways by the wind and I push it out of my face. Ralina is the first to greet me.

The thin and tiny girl, just about Iris’ height, runs up to greet me, a wide smile brightening her face. Her lips are stained red from some sort of candy it seems and she has a new piercing on her lip to go with the ring in her nose and bar through the eyebrow. It suits her well. I have a feeling though that her entire face could be pierced and she’d still be beautiful. No tattoos are visible on this cold night, but I know for a fact that she just got a brand new one of a bright orange and red paint spattered poppy winding around her forearm. I idly wonder if there are more that I haven’t seen.

“Dane!” she wraps her small yet well-toned arms around me, then let’s go and ties them through my own. I notice how drastically different she is from Rachel and I try to shake the thought from my head, not wanting to taint her with that sort of poison in my mind.

The four of us walk awkwardly so as to not leave anyone behind. Passing the bench outside of the bar we see Sam. He is sitting content with a half-empty bottle of Jack in his hands.

“Why aren’t you inside?” Iris asks, concerned. “It’s cold out here. At least walk with us and keep warm!”

Sam simply shakes his head. “This ol’ bottle is keeping me warm just fine. Keep on your way and don’t let me distract you!”

“You’re no distraction at all. Just be careful walking home. And I’ll see you tomorrow for lunch?” Iris asks.

“I’ll be there at three!” Sam cheers with a sloppy grin.

“One!” Iris reminds him.

“That’s what I said, one!” he slightly slurs and somewhat stumbles over his words.

We chuckle and keep walking.

Sam drunk, not unusual. The clock strikes six and the bells start to toll. We stand freezing across from the gazebo and next to Rick’s. Sam stumbles up and joins us, swaying gently to his own beat. After only a couple of rounds through the bell, Mr. Panes walks briefly down the sidewalk like he is on a mission, cursing about the bells loud enough for everyone on the block to hear. Our small group looks at each other and laughs. Then the Christmas tree in the square suddenly glows brightly of greens, reds, and golds. I smile at my friends who make it all worth it. The festivities have begun!

A moment later, hot, bright gold sparks fly from the plugs and outlet and everything goes black while the light Christmas music, womp… womp… womp, dies. You can still hear Mr. Panes hollering around and crashing about up in the church’s tower where the bell is. I shove my hands in my coat pockets and listen to the murmurs of the crowd while staring at the dark and bleak tree.

“I got this! I got it,” Joe calls, stalking out of the corner bar behind us with a flashlight.

He’s pretty fast at this and it will take no time before the lights are displayed bright and sparkling again.

Sam elbows Iris, who is just on the other side of Ralina. She flinches and nudges him back. Sam sways a little to the side then reclaims his position just like an advanced alcoholic. He snickers and slowly slurs, “I’m going in for a few drinks on the house. Cover me.”

Iris nods and then yells jokingly. “Come on, Joe! Hurry!”

Sam shushes her and scuttles as fast as his legs can carry him towards the bar.

“Calm it down, Iris! Don’t get all bent out of shape!” Joe shouts back.

“Faster Joe! Move it!” Tala adds to the disarray.

I grin as Joe shines the flashlight our way. “Tala? You two are up to no good.” Then he looks at me. “I know you’re up to no good when Dane is with you. Where’s Ian and Jason? Setting up the traps?”

Iris lets out an evil laugh and with the flip of a switch everything is shining as bright as the Fourth of July again. The music speeds up and starts and Joe unplugs a couple of the gazebos’ decorations and plugs them into a different extension.

“Now wouldn’t it be easier if you were to just do that next year, Joe?” I ask, biding Sam some time.

“What are you talking about?” he asks.

“You know, the lights going out, and cords and…” I see Sam slink out of the bar from the corner of my eye. “Never mind, move along.”

He gives me an odd confused glance and then looking past me, races to his bar. I turn to see customers through the window, on or over the counter, helping themselves out.

“Hey! Get out of there!” he yells, leaping through the door and yanking a few of the drinkers by the backs of their shirts.

The girls all look at me and smile, the only thing they have to do to tell me that they were right. The next couple of hours I become so cold that I can’t even feel the chill anymore. Everything has turned numb and I keep sniffling. Jason and Ian join us and just being with my group of friends makes me feel wanted. A feeling that has, of late, been a stranger to me. And though I don’t like to think about it too much, just looking at Ralina makes me for one second forget about Rachel. I like that. I like it a lot. And the fact that I like it makes me hate myself.

As we walk over for some assorted muffins from Rick, he turns to pour a Styrofoam cupful of hot chocolate into a cup for a girl. While he’s pouring, the girl and a few others grab for the donuts and run away.

“Damn it!” he mutters under his breath as we approach. “Every year…” He looks so defeated.

“You need to get someone to help you next year, Rick. You can have two pairs of eyes,” Tala says.

“Oh! Me! I’ll help!” Iris chirps, raising her hand as Ian reaches behind Jason and lowers it.

“That’s not a bad idea. I’ll take you up on that, Iris,” Rick says.

Jason reaches for a crème filled donut. “We’ll take some of what’s left. I’m starving.”

As he picks it up, Ian smacks it out of his hand and it plops back down onto the counter, rolling a little before stopping.

“What the hell, man?”

“That one’s the last crème filled. I claimed it,” Ian argues.

“No you didn’t!” And Jason picks it back up quickly and takes a bite. “I would have given it to you if you would quit being a donkey butt.”

We all ignore them. They’re best friends, but their brotherly bickering is common in this town. Rick fills up a bag as we hear a loud crash outside. We all run out, including Rick, just in time to see all of the lights around one side of the gazebo by the tree fall, a man dangling from the lattice by one hand. He’s in shadows and I don’t care enough to pay attention to who it is.

Randy, in the hardware store next door, peers out and looks as if he’s going to say something. Then he just waves it off saying “I’ll get it tomorrow,” as he lumbers back inside.

Five minutes later, all six of us are sitting on the cold sidewalk, our backs against the broken and faded brick walls, drinking our drinks and passing around the bags that Rick filled up for us. I settle on a cinnamon twist donut and double chocolate chip muffin. Ian was looking at it but I grabbed it before he could, smiling the whole time. He’s always getting the last of the suckers at work. As a matter of fact you can’t get anything sweet around him. Or Jason. It’s gone.

“My butt is numb,” I say.

“Mine too,” Ian agrees.

“I mean, I really can’t feel it. I’m not sure it’s there,” I continue.

“You two sound like a bunch of babies,” Tala says.

“You only say that because you sit in the snow waiting for turkeys,” Ian jokes back.

“And I do it without complaint.”

“Because you’re a weirdo.”

Tala lightly smacks his shoulder and it’s as if his muffin leaps out of his hand and falls to the salt covered sidewalk.

“Kids, kids…” Iris chides.

“Oops,” giggles Tala, biting down on her own muffin and then sipping at her drink.

“Oops? Oops!” Ian says, raising his voice slightly. “Well, you know what? That’s okay!” And he snatches his muffin off of the ground, brushes it off, and sticks in all in his mouth. We all groan. Such an Ian thing to do.

Ralina wrinkles her nose. “Now that’s just sick.”

Tala laughs.

“That’s just Ian,” Iris explains, as if he needs explaining on his behalf.

Jason shakes his head. “And that’s not even the worse that he’s done.”

Ian is about to say something, swallowing his food hard, when a dog abruptly runs down the street, leash still attached, chasing a yellow cat that is screaming and hissing. Every decoration on the gazebo that lay in the path of the animals is immediately obliterated and the cat latches itself to the tree pulling down the bottom part of the lights before finding a hiding spot inside. The owner, far behind, finally catches up, screaming his dog’s name. By the time the leash is back in his hand and he’s dragging his dog home, cursing the day he ever bought him, it looks like a tornado had hit the gazebo and the tree has seen better days too. Decorations are smashed or broken and lattice is still barely hanging on. Joe silently comes out of the bar, rips the decoration lighting from the outlet, and then just as solemnly stalks back in.

Jason swallows his food and takes a drink.

“Well, that was new,” Iris says.

Both Tala and Ralina nod in agreement as I finish off my hot cider.

Sam stumbles by, fist raised in the air, on his way back home. “Better day tomorrow, folks. Better day tomorrow.” His declaration brings smiles to all of our cold lips.

Before I can hold my smile for too long though, I spot a wave of dark hair, red lips, and a flash of a red coat. Rachel and I meet eyes and immensely stare for I don’t know how long. Seconds? Minutes? Have days gone by? A touch of gold from the tree skims across her skin and ricochets off. She seems to twinkle, a light emanating from her soft yet tough frame. All it takes is one second. One second and I blink. After that one second, she is gone. She has disappeared and in her place, a crowd of other people that could be five, but feels like a million. Just like my reasons I should have for trying to find her. I should have a million, but I have none.

With our drinks gone and our butts iced we reluctantly climb to our feet. Parties over, or so we thought. Through a group of evergreens across the square where Rachel disappeared a crowd is gathering and our looks of curiosity cause us to drift over to see what is going on. Fire lit lamps are being lit and released. Wow, a new custom.

“Well, I guess we couldn’t have guessed this,” Iris says in awe, tiny little lamp lights reflecting off of her eyes.

The beauty of it is unreal. Gold glittering all around in an explosion and calamity of complete radiance. I stare for a moment before I weave myself through the crowd to try to catch up with Rachel somewhere on the other side. But red lips are nowhere to be seen. She’s still on the other side of somewhere. And I fear it’s where she will always be as I keep bouncing off of invisible barricades.

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