Winter Touched: An Elle Frost Novel-Part One
I smiled at the stranger in the mirror. A skinny girl with too-pale skin and inky black hair stared back at me. My grin spread wider, testing out my newly painted rose-colored lips. The girl in the mirror looked great, normal. She was a little awkward, a little shy, a little pretty. Nothing about her stood out. This was a girl who could get lost in a crowd, not send them running at first sight.
No one would be gawking at this girl. No one would be whispering about her. She looked like any other high school student. I nodded, congratulating myself on a job well done. Now that I looked like one of them, I was almost excited to be starting school with the rest of the Neuros. Almost.
I glanced around my bedroom as memories of the home mom, and I had shared at BellCade Industries crept through my mind. This room was three times the size of the one I had spent the last sixteen years in, but I still missed it. It hadn’t all been rainbows and unicorns at BellCade. I’d lost my father, been betrayed by my best friend, and watched the people I love suffer at the hands of those evil jerkwads, but that place had been my home.
It was where I first learned how to walk, ride a bike, and control the power than ran through my veins. The best thing about that place had been the other people like mom and I. All of us were EHs, humans that had been genetically enhanced by BellCade. Our abilities were supposed to make the world a better place. We were supposed to end wars, cure starvation, and prevent catastrophes. It turned out we were just BellCade’s meal ticket, super-soldiers for hire. Only, we didn’t have a choice about the jobs we went on, and BellCade had plenty of safeguards in place should any of us fall out of line. It was my father who saved us in the end, though it had cost him his life.
All of us were free now. The Neuros, or neurotypicals as the scientists used to call them, hadn’t exactly greeted us with open arms. It had taken a near-apocalyptic event to convince them we weren’t a threat. We had saved them, and in return, the majority of them had dropped their prejudices. It hadn’t happened overnight, but after months of protests and public outcries of injustice, laws had been passed in every country preventing genetic discrimination. That didn’t mean that people loved us.
The waters were still rocky for those of us who couldn’t fit in as easily as the others, which was why I had ordered over two hundred dollars’ worth of cosmetic supplies on-line. BellCade had been kind enough to pick up the tab. I grinned, Shea was going to be getting a really big present from me this Christmas.
What do you get a guy that has the ability to hack into anything just by thinking about it? A knock on the bedroom door interrupted my thoughts.
“El, are you ready yet? What have you been doing in there? Your breakfast was ready over an hour ago.”
I rolled my eyes.
“Not all of us have super speed, mom.”
I imagined my mother closing her eyes and pursing her lips the way she always did when she was trying to be patient. She probably had a finger curled through a lock of her honey blonde hair. Any moment now, the floor would start vibrating from her version of a foot tap. The floor began to hum. I let out a breath and strode towards the door, preparing myself for the lecture I knew was coming. One look was all it took for her to bring out the big guns.
“Ella Gracelyn Frost,” she began.
I cringed at the tone.
“What have you done to yourself?!”
The question was rhetorical, but I answered it anyway.
“Not too shabby, huh?”
I held my hands out and spun in a slow circle, allowing her to get the full view of the awesomeness that I had created.
“I could totally be one of those chicks from that make-up show you love.”
My mother’s eyes flared, and a vein in her forehead began to twitch. I grinned.
“You know, the one with the neuros who use plaster and all, to make other neuros into monsters.”
She didn’t answer. Instead, her nostrils flared. An instant later, she was gone, leaving behind a gust of lavender-scented wind that knocked me back a step. I knew the reprieve wouldn’t last long. I had a minute, maybe two before she’d be blowing back home to diatribe me into oblivion. I glanced at the clock. Perfect. Everything was going according to plan.
Not wasting my time, I grabbed my backpack and headed down the stairs. Two stacks of soggy pancakes sat on a plate on the kitchen table. I snatched a few granola bars and an apple instead. It wouldn’t be enough to hold me until lunch, but I’d prepared for that. My second pack, an ice teal messenger bag that matched the color of my nails, was filled to the brim with goodies for me to snack on during the day. I strapped it over my shoulder and made a beeline for the bus stop. I was just finishing my first granola when a streak of honey and lavender sped past me. The wind kicked up, and the other kids looked around, confused.
“Did anyone else see that?”
A curvy girl about my age had been the one to ask the question.
I bit into my apple. A few of the other kids grunted in agreement. The rest didn’t bother to answer. From the corner of my eye, I saw my mother come out of our house down the street and start to make her way towards me. Fear pierced my heart for a moment as I wondered whether she would use her speed and expose me right here at the bus stop.
She walked slowly, though. I knew it must be killing her to do so, and a little pang of guilt hit me as I watched her approach. I dismissed it immediately. She didn’t get to make me feel guilty for wanting to fit in. She had no clue what it was like being me. The only thing that identified her as an EH was her super speed. As long as she moved like a neuro, no one would ever know that she wasn’t one of them. She made it to the edge of the crowd of kids I was standing in. My watch beeped at the same time the bus rounded the corner down the street. Mom let out a curse under her breath that made some of the kids closer to her chuckle. She blushed and stepped back as the bus approached. I shuffled into line with the other kids and smiled at her. She let out a breath, knowing I had won this round.
“You timed this, didn’t you?”
“Punctuality and all that.”
My mother arched a brow at me. Punctuality wasn’t a strength of mine.
“Have a good first day, El.”
I stepped up to the bus, my victory grin in place.
“You too, mom.”
I found a window seat and watched my mother fade away as the bus headed towards its next stop. I knew there would be hell to pay when I got home this afternoon, but for now, I had dodged a bullet. The curvy girl turned out to be Alice. She took the aisle seat next to me and regaled me with tales of Midtown High when I told her it was my first day. I liked her instantly. She was quirky, like me, only nicer. She promised to show me around the school and kept her word. By lunchtime, she had introduced me to the rest of the kids she hung out with. Each of them was just as friendly and warm as she was.
There was Sasha, a stunning girl with ebony skin and amber eyes. She was quiet and reserved, with an intelligent air about her that reminded me of some of the scientists back at BellCade. Then, there was Thomas, a gangly boy whose eyes sparkled with mischief. Lucas and Lexie were twins. Both had smooth, caramel skin and chocolate eyes, but that was where their similarities ended.
Lexie was a tomboy. She didn’t speak much, but I couldn’t tell if it was because that was her nature or the fact that her brother spoke enough for them both. Lucas was a happy kid. His presence brightened the group, and his laughter was infectious.
All in all, the day had been a success. I managed to get through the entire morning without ruining the make-up that caked my body. Not one person had looked at me like I belonged in a zoo. No one gasped in shock at my appearance. No one whispered behind my back, and no one ogled openly at me. At least, not until lunch.
Alice had noticed my messenger bag during first period and caught me snacking vigorously throughout the day, but was polite enough not to say anything. When I made it to the table, they had gathered around with two trays filled to the brim. However, she had reached her breaking point.
“Do you have a tapeworm or something?”
I sat at the now silent table and blinked up at Alice, confused.
She let out a chuckle and pointed to my double lunch portion.
“You’ve been eating all day. How can you possibly have room for that?”
I looked around the table, realizing the other kids’ plates barely had anything on them. Okay, so neuros didn’t like food. Tough. This was one area I was just going to have to stand out in. I did not play around when it came to calorie consumption.
“Fast metabolism,” I said before digging in.
The food wasn’t great, but it was better than the cardboard tasting bricks they used to give us at BellCade. The taste wasn’t important, anyway. I needed the calories. I was already starting to feel weak. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t used my abilities all day. In fact, that was probably helping. EHs were constantly burning energy to feed the power that coursed through them. Not eating wasn’t an option. Ever. Withholding food had been one of BellCade’s favorite forms of punishment. I’d been on the receiving end of that particular pleasure more times than I liked to think about. I shuddered at the memory and ate faster.
“Hey, a girl who likes to eat. I can respect that.”
Thomas winked at me, and I smiled gratefully around my forkful of what was supposed to be spaghetti. Sasha caught my eye, and something in her expression made me pause. Sympathy and understanding passed between us for a split second before the table around us erupted with laughter at something Lucas had said. When I looked back, Sasha had turned her attention to her own food, though she ate with much more grace than I did. The table settled into a quiet conversation as everyone began to eat.
I really liked these people. The way they interacted reminded me of my friends back at BellCade. I could tell they’d known each other for a long time, but it wasn’t intimidating. I found it comforting. Being accepted so quickly made me think I had made the right decision by disguising myself. Things were going great, better than I imagined they would. That is until a group of queen bees and their beefy boyfriends ruined everything…