“I brought a dead cheerleader back to life,” she blurted.
Naitanui’s luminous yellow eyes widened.
“I probably would have gone with ‘hello’ to break the ice. But that was definitely another option,” Austin said.
“Where am I?” She demanded.
“You’re outside the Break,” Austin said.
“You could have killed her.” Naitanui gave Austin a look Cate was all too familiar look. Her mother used it often. It came with an “I’ll deal with you later” clause.
“But I didn’t. We found her. I couldn’t risk her vanishing.”
“Inside.” Naitanui stepped backward through the cascading water.
“Huh?” Cate muttered. The water didn’t splash on Naitanui’s head. He passed through, leaving the water undisturbed. She pulled back, digging her heels into the ground and crossing her arms. Until Austin did some explaining, she wasn’t going a step further.
“Have it your way.” Austin bent and grabbed her behind the knees, then slung her over his shoulder.
“Put me down.” She pounded on his back with her fists. Unperturbed, he strode toward where Naitanui had disappeared. A shudder ran through her body, and the waterfall was behind them. They had walked straight through and arrived dry on the other side. She stretched to touch the water, and her fingers glided through nothing. Another shudder ran up her arm yet it remained dry.
“It’s a glamour.” Austin set her down. “More magic.” He strolled further into the cave, heading for an opening in the rock wall. The slightest hint of light filtered through the gap.
She looked from Austin to the waterfall, deliberating whether to run or follow.
“You can’t go back to 2014 without me. Come and learn about time travel.” Austin ducked through the archway. “You demanded I bring you here for answers, so man up and come and get them.”
Little puffs of red dirt rose as she marched after him. Time travel. What the hell? This wasn’t going at all how she expected.
“If you’re rifling through my brain with your little Time-Jedi tricks, stop it.” At this rate she wouldn’t have a brain to rifle through, it was taking such a beating.
“I can’t read your mind, happy?”
She was light years away from happy. “How do you travel through time like that?”
“It’s a combination of magic and science. Your body dematerialises–”
“No! You look like you’ve stepped from one room to another.” She smoothed her hair and removed a few stands of grass. “I look like I’ve be pulled through a tornado.”
He chuckled as he plucked random plant matter from her hair. His broad shoulders blocked the sun, which outlined him with its silver glow. As his hand ran over her hair, tingles shimmered over her scalp.
She swatted his hand away. “I can do it.”
“I’ve been surfing for longer than you’ve been alive.” He dropped his hand. “It takes practice.”
“What, so now you’re a century old, immortal, magical time traveller who’s frozen forever at sixteen?”
“Whoa! Big leap there. I’m nineteen, but I’ve been Timesurfing since before I could walk. My mum, who is an immortal, hid out in a different time each week until I was five. She had a relationship that went bad.”
“Your mother’s an immortal?”
“Keep up. I’m off. Eve’s headed this way from cheer practice. ETA, two minutes.”
“But we’ve been gone for ages.”
“Perks of time travel. Spend as long as you want in my present—only lose a few minutes in your present. That’s my past.”
“Yeah, yeah, I got that. When you were talking to Naitanui before, who did you think I was?”
“The magic won’t let me say.” Austin’s impish grin frustrated her. He pushed all her buttons so effortlessly with his infectious boyish charm and the promise of an uncomplicated good time.
“You know I’m going to tell Eve everything?”
Austin shrugged. “It’s you risking the frontal lobotomy. Naitanui!” He flickered and disappeared.
“What?” Cate automatically followed Eve’s gaze. A good few inches taller than her friend, she had an uninterrupted view of what had caught Eve’s attention.
“Um...Ah...” Eve mumbled as a supertall boy who could have walked straight out of a Ralph Lauren advertisement stepped between them.
He wore a loose, black silk shirt with leather cuffs and black trousers. His height held Cate’s attention, and he got better the more she looked. The tousled griminess of his rich chocolate hair promised finesse in the most wicked of ways. He had distinct cheekbones and an angular jaw.
Women were suddenly attentive. Their eyes intense, heads high, and bodies alert, enthralled by the potent swirl of pheromones and lust that trailed in his wake. Her eyes, along with everyone else’s, followed him until he disappeared around the corner. She was trained to remember faces. That face she had never seen around Tempus Falls before.
In this small town, an unfamiliar face was cause for concern. She needed to get home. Something was amiss. “Let’s just get on the bus and focus on how I’m going to live through the next few days of humiliation at school.” She dug her elbow into Eve’s rib cage when her friend didn’t answer. “Eve!” She flapped her hand across Eve’s vacant face. “Eve—helloo!”
A prickle of apprehension scuttled up her neck. She stepped closer to Eve. When their noses were nearly touching she stuck her tongue out. Nothing, nada, zip! Her friend seemed...frozen, like a statue.
Turning in a circle, Cate’s uneasiness ratcheted up to fear. A woman was perched awkwardly with one leg on the ground, the other halfway out of the car she was exiting. A group of people were poised midstep on the crosswalk, and a street performer, his mouth open, stood silently, frozen midsong. The entire street resembled a photograph. All the people were still, petrified statues. An icy chill rippled across her skin. What was going on?
Two hazy figures flickered like static, their grainy outlines solidifying with each purposeful stride through the unmoving crowd. Tendrils of fear coiled around her heart and squeezed. A girl and boy prowled into focus. She’d never seen them around before either. Run! Run! Run! Her brain shrieked. Her feet remained nailed to the ground with fear.
The two figures were close now. The girl’s black mermaid hair shimmered as she executed the perfect do-not-mess-with-me head toss. Cate knew instantly they would never be friends. Their genes were designed to repel one another. Aggressively.
The girl reached the bus shelter and surveyed the unmoving crowd, hands on hips. Her tartan coat parted to reveal black velvet knee-high boots with a surprisingly sensible low wedge heel and crimson jeans. She tapped her foot impatiently. “Where is he?”
The voice of self-preservation spluttered through Cate’s panic, urging her to stay utterly still.
“Chill, Rose, you know Rafe likes to make an entrance.” The guy brushed a hand over his combat-short brown hair and slouched nonchalantly against the Bus Stop sign. He looked underdressed with his fleecy red and white checked shirt and worn blue denim jeans ripped through one knee. His fingers drummed the Bus Stop signpost as his eyes roamed the frozen crowd.
A determined ray of sunlight pierced the black clouds, spotlighting him at the exact moment he smiled. Even totally freaked out, his killer smile registered with her. That smile would get him anything that he wanted.
“We need to disarm this bomb, pronto.” Rose’s tone matched her head toss.
Bomb? Cate’s stomach contracted.
No. There would be a logical explanation. Maybe she was being Punk’d. Hmm, while that would explain Zach’s sudden popularity it would never happen. Tempus Falls went crazy when there was a population explosion of one. Hiding an entire TV crew would be impossible.
Okay...no need to overreact. She tasted bile. Who was she kidding—considering the bizarreness of the situation, overreaction was impossible. She wanted to run, but if she left Eve frozen in the street, that would make her the worst friend ever. As the self-proclaimed queen of weird, there was only one thing to do. She wove through the frozen people. “Um...excuse me.”