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Song of the Fireflies
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From the New York Times bestselling author of The Edge of Never and The Edge of Always
The Truth Will Set Them Free
Brayelle Bates has always been a force of nature. Even as a child, Bray’s wild and carefree spirit intimidated everyone around her. The only person who’s ever truly understood her is her best friend, Elias Kline. Though every fiber of her being wants to stay with Elias forever, Bray can’t bear the thought of him discovering her agonizing history. She’s done everything she can to keep him at arm’s length, including moving away. But their undying bond was too strong a pull to deny, and Bray couldn’t survive without him. Now she’s back home with Elias, and things have never felt more right–until one night changes everything.
Elias vowed never to be separated from Bray again. So when she decides to flee in a desperate attempt to escape her fate, Elias knows he must go with her. As the two try to make the most of their circumstance, taking up with a reckless group of new friends, Elias soon realizes there’s a darkness driving Bray he can’t ignore. Now in order to save her, he’ll have to convince Bray to accept the consequences of their reality–even if it means losing her.
Table of Contents
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They say you never forget your first love, and I have to say that they are right. I met the girl of my dreams when we were both still fans of tree houses and dirt cakes—she made the best dirt cakes in Georgia—and today, seventeen years later, I still see her smile in everything good.
But Bray's life has always been… complicated. Mine, well, I guess the same can be said for me, but as much as she and I are alike, there are just as many things that make us so very different.
I never thought that a relationship with her, other than being the best of friends, sometimes with benefits, could ever work. Neither did she. I guess in the beginning, we were both right. But by the end—and damn, the end sure as hell blindsided us—we were proven wrong. I admit a few dozen mistakes along the way are what led us here to this moment, holed up in the back of a convenience store with cops surrounding the building.
But wait. Let me start from the beginning.
Fourth of July—Seventeen Years Ago…
The kind of crush a nine-year-old boy has on an eight-year-old girl is almost always innocent. And cruel. The first time I saw Brayelle Bates flitting toward me through the wide-open field by Mr. Parson's pond, she was marked my victim. She wore a white sundress and a pair of flip-flops with little purple flowers made of fabric sewn to the tops. Her long, dark hair had been pulled neatly into ponytails on each side of her head and tied with purple ribbons. I loved her. OK, so I didn't really "love" her, but she sure was pretty.
So, naturally I gave her a hard time.
"What's that on your face?" I asked, as she started to walk by.
She stopped and crossed her arms and looked down at me sitting on my blanket beside my mother, pursing her lips at me disapprovingly.
"There's nothing on my face," she said with a smirk.
"Yes there is." I pointed up at her. "Right there. It's really gross."
Instinctively, she reached up and began touching her face all over with her fingertips. "Well, what is it? What does it look like?"
"It's everywhere. And I told you it's gross, that's what it looks like."
She propped both hands on her hips and chewed on the inside of her mouth. "You're lying."
"No, I'm not. Your whole face, it's really ugly. You should go to the doctor and get that checked out."
The tip of her flip-flop and her big toe jabbed me in the back of my hip.
"Owww! What was that for?" I reached around and rubbed the spot with my fingertips.
I noticed my mother shake her head at us, but she went back to her conversation with my aunt Janice.
Bray crossed her arms and snarled down at me. "If anyone out here is gross, it's you. Your face looks just like my dog's ass."
Upon hearing that, my mom snapped her head around, and she glared at me as if I was the one who had just cursed.
I just shrugged.
Bray turned on her heel, sauntered away with her chin held high, and caught up with her parents, who were already many feet out ahead of her. I watched her go, the throbbing in my hip a reminder that if I was going to mess with that girl again, there would be more pain and abuse where that came from.
Of course, it only made me want to do it again.
As the pasture filled up with Athens's residents, come to see the yearly fireworks display, I watched Bray do cartwheels in the grass with her friend. Every now and then I saw her look over at me, showing off and taunting me. She did get the best of me, after all, and it was only natural for her to gloat about it. I got bored fast sitting with my mom, especially since Bray seemed to be having so much fun over there.
"Where are you going, Elias?" my mom asked, as I got up from the blanket.
"Just right over there," I said, pointing in Bray's direction.
"OK, but please stay in my sight."
I sighed and rolled my eyes; Mom was always worried I would get kidnapped or lost or hurt or wet or dirty or any number of things.
"I will," I said and walked away.
I weaved my way through the few families sitting in the space between us in lawn chairs and on blankets, ice chests filled with beer and soda next to them, until I was standing in front of that abusive girl I couldn't get enough of.
"You really shouldn't do cartwheels in a dress, you know that, right?" I asked.
Bray's mouth fell open. Her pale-skinned friend, Lissa, who had long, curly, white-blonde hair, and who I knew from school, smiled up at me. I think she liked me.
"I have shorts on under my dress thank-you-very-much," Bray snapped. "Why were you looking, anyway?"
"I wasn't looking, I just…"
Bray and Lissa burst into laughter.
My face flushed hot.
Bray had only just moved here from Atlanta a week ago, and it hadn't taken long for her to fit in. Or rather to pretty much own the place as far as the kids went. She was the kind of girl so damn mean and intimidating and pretty that the other girls knew they had better befriend her or else end up her enemy. She wasn't a bully; she just had this way about her that demanded respect.
"Want to go sit by the pond?" I asked. "The fireworks look cool reflected off the water."
Bray shrugged. "I guess so." Then she got to her feet; Lissa was already standing up, ready to go, before Bray had even made up her mind.
Lissa was a nice girl but clingy at times, and I admit I was the one who started a rumor about her being albino because of her white hair and sheet-white skin. I felt bad afterward. I hadn't expected the whole school to call her that every single day. When Bray moved to town, she told a group of girls off on her first day for making fun of Lissa. Afterward, Lissa naturally clung to Bray like Velcro.
And just like that, as if I'd never called Bray ugly and she had never kicked me, we walked side by side toward the pond and sat together for the next two hours. My friend Mitchell joined us eventually, and the four of us lay on our backs on the grass and watched the fireworks explode in an array of colors in the clear black sky. And although Lissa and Mitchell were there with us, Bray and I carried on with each other as if we were alone. We laughed at stupid jokes and made fun of people walking by. It was the best night of my life, and it was only just beginning.
Shortly after the fireworks ended and the darkness settled across the pasture again, most of the town had already packed up and gone home.
My mom found me with Bray, Lissa, and Mitchell.
"Time to go," she said, standing over me.
Bray was lying next to me, her head pressed against the side of my shoulder. I hadn't really noticed it much, but my mom sure did. I saw a look in her eye—upside down, since she was standing behind us, which made that look all the more scary—that I'd never seen before. I raised myself up from the grass and turned around to face her.
"Can't I stay and hang out a while longer?"
"No, Elias, I have to work in the morning. It's already late." She gestured with her free hand for me to get up and follow.
Reluctantly, I did as I was told.
"Oh come on, please, Ms. Kline?" Mitchell said on the other side of me, looking goofy with a front tooth missing and a light brown mullet lying against the back of his T-shirt. "I'll walk home with him."
Mitchell was a year older than me, but I did not need him to walk me home. This made me mad, probably because it embarrassed me in front of Bray.
I glared at Mitchell, and he looked back at me with apologetic eyes.
"I'll see you guys later," I said.
I took the ice chest from my mom to relieve her of some of the load she was carrying, and I followed her through the pasture toward our truck parked along the dirt road. Aunt Janice waved good-bye and sputtered away in her old beat-up Corsica.
My mom went to bed right after we got home. She was the manager at a hotel and rarely got any time off. My dad lived in Savannah. They had divorced three years ago. But I had a great relationship with them both. I often stayed at my dad's in the summer, except this year he had to go to Michigan for his job, so I was staying with my mom all summer for the first time since their divorce.
I think it was fate. Bray never would've ended up outside my bedroom window that night, tapping on the glass with the tip of her finger, if my dad hadn't gone to Michigan. I wondered how she knew where I lived but I never asked, figuring Mitchell or Lissa must've told her.
"You're already in bed?" Bray asked with mock disbelief as she looked up at me.
I raised the window the rest of the way, and the humid summer air rushed in past me.
"No. I'm just in my room. What are you doin' out here?"
A sly little grin crept up on the edges of Bray's lips. "Want to go swimming?" she asked.
"Yeah. Swimming." She crossed her arms and cocked her head to one side. "Or are you too chicken to sneak out?"
"I'm not afraid to sneak out."
Actually, I kind of am. If my mom catches me she'll whip me with the fly swatter.
"Then come on," she said, waving at me. "Prove it."
A challenge. Fly swatter or not, I couldn't back down from a challenge or she'd never let me live it down. She'd go to school and turn my friends against me. The whole town would think I was a chicken afraid of his mommy, and I'd grow up an outcast and never have a girlfriend. I'd end up homeless and die an old man living underneath a bridge—these are the things my mom told me would happen to me if I ever dropped out of school.
OK, so I was overthinking this whole sneaking-out thing.
I bit down on my bottom lip, thought about it for a moment. When I noticed Bray about to start running that mouth of hers again, I tossed one leg over the windowsill and hopped outside, landing in a smooth, crouched position, which I was quite proud of.
Bray grinned, grabbed my hand, and pulled me along with her away from my house.
Admittedly, I thought of the fly swatter all the way back to the pond in the pasture.
Bray was so free-spirited, she didn't seem to have a worry in the world. I noticed this about her the moment we reached the outskirts of the pasture and she broke away from me and ran out toward it. Her arms were raised high above her head, as if she was reaching for the stars. Her laughter was infectious, and I found myself laughing right along with her as I ran behind her. We jumped off the end of the little rickety dock and hit the water with a loud splash. She didn't even stop to take off her flip-flops, nor I my shirt, beforehand.
We swam for a while, and I splashed her in the face every chance I got, until she finally had enough and swam back to the dock.
"Have you ever kissed a girl before?" Bray asked, taking me by surprise.
I glanced nervously at her to my left; we both moved our feet back and forth in the water.
"No. Have you?"
Her shoulder bumped against mine hard, and she giggled and made a horrible face at me.
"No way. I wouldn't kiss a girl. Talk about gross."
I laughed, too. Really, I didn't realize what I had said until after she pointed it out; I was too blindsided by the kissing topic to notice. But I played it off smoothly as though I was just being weird.
"I've never kissed a boy," she said.
There was an awkward bout of silence. Mostly the awkwardness was coming from me, I was sure. I swallowed and looked out at the calm water. Every now and then I heard a random firework pop off in the distance somewhere. And the song of crickets and frogs surrounded us.
Not knowing what to say, or if I was supposed to say anything at all, I finally added, "Why not?"
"Why not what?"
"Why haven't you kissed a boy before?"
She looked at me suspiciously. "Why haven't you kissed a girl before?"
I shrugged. "I dunno. I just haven't."
"Well, maybe you should."
Silence. We stared out at the water together, both of us with our hands braced against the dock's edge, our bodies slumped between our shoulders, our feet moving steadily in the water and pushing poetic ripples outward across the surface.
I leaned over and kissed her on the cheek, right next to the corner of her mouth.
She blushed and smiled, and I knew my face must've been bright red, but I didn't care and I didn't regret it.
I wanted to do it again.
Next thing I knew, Bray jumped up from the dock and ran back out into the pasture.
"Fireflies!" she shouted.
I stood up and watched her run away from me beneath the dark star-filled sky and she grew smaller and smaller. Hundreds of little green-yellow dots of light blinked off and on out in the wide-open space.
"Come on, Elias!" Her voice carried my name on the wind.
I knew I'd never forget this night. I couldn't have understood why back then, but something within me knew. I would never forget it.
I ran out after her.
"We should've brought a jar!" She kept reaching out her hands, trying to catch one of the fireflies, but she was always a second too late.
On my third try, I caught one and held it carefully in the hollow of both hands so that I wouldn't crush it.
"Oh, you got one! Let me see!"
I held my hands out slowly and Bray looked inside the tiny opening between my thumb and index finger. Every few seconds my hand would light up with a dull glow and then fade again.
"So pretty," she said, wide-eyed.
"Just like you," I said, though I had no idea what made me say that. Out loud, anyway.
Bray just smiled at me and looked back down into my hand.
"OK, let it go," she said. "I don't want it to die."
I opened my hands and held them up, but the firefly just stayed there crawling across the ball of my thumb. I leaned in to blow on it and its tiny black wings finally sprang to life and it flew away into the darkness.
Bray and I spent the whole night in the field chasing the fireflies and laying on the grass, staring up at the stars. She told me all about her sister, Rian, and how she was a snob and was always mean to Bray. I told her about my parents, because I didn't have any brothers or sisters. She said I was lucky. We talked forever, it seemed. We may have been young, but we connected deeply on that night. I knew we would be great friends, even better friends than Mitchell and I had been, and I had known him since first grade, when he had tried to con me out of my peach cup at lunch.
And before the night was over, we made a pact with each other that would later prove to see us through some very troubled times.
"Promise we'll always be best friends," Bray said, lying next to me. "No matter what. Even if you grow up ugly and I grow up mean."
I laughed. "You're already mean!"
She elbowed me.
"And you're already ugly," she said with a blush in her cheeks.
I gave in, though really I needed no convincing. "OK, I promise."
We gazed back up at the stars; her fingers were interlaced and her hands rested on her belly.
I had no idea what I was getting into with Brayelle Bates. I didn't know about such things when I was nine. I didn't know. But I would never regret a moment with her. Never.
Bray and I were found early the following morning, fast asleep in the grass. We were awoken by three cops; Mr. Parson, who owned the land; and my frantic mother, who thought I had been kidnapped from my room, stuffed in a suitcase, and thrown on the side of a highway somewhere.
"Elias! Oh dear God, I thought you were gone!" She scooped me into her arms and squeezed me so tight I thought my eyeballs were going to burst out of the sockets. She pulled away, kissed me on the forehead, embarrassing the crap out of me, and then squeezed me again.
Bray's mom and dad were there, too.
"Have you been out here all night with him?" Bray's dad asked with a sharp edge in his voice.
My mom immediately went into defensive mode. She stood up the rest of the way with me and wrapped one arm around the front of me, pressing my head against her stomach.
"That daughter of yours," my mom said, and already I was flinching before she finished, "she has a mouth on her. My son would never have snuck out unless he was influenced."
I sighed and threw my head back against her.
"Are you blaming this on my daughter?" Bray's mother said, stepping up front and center.
"As a matter of fact, I am," my mom said boldly.
Bray started to shrink behind her dad and every second that passed I felt even worse about her being blamed.
Before this got too out of hand, I broke away from my mom's arms. "Dammit, Mom—!" Her eyes grew wide and fierce, and I stopped midsentence.
"Watch your mouth, Elias!" Then she looked at Bray's mom again and added, "See, Elias never uses language like that."
"Stop it! Please! I snuck out on my own, so leave Bray out of it!"
I hated shouting. I hated that I had to put my mom in her place like that, but I spoke what I felt in my heart, and that was something my mom always taught me to do. Take up for the bullied, Elias. Never stand back and watch someone take advantage of someone else, Elias. Always do and say what you know in your heart to be right, no matter what, Elias.
I hoped she would remember those things when we were back at home.
My mom sighed deeply and I watched the anger deflate with her breath. "I apologize," she said to Bray's parents. "Really, I am sorry. I was just so scared something had happened to him."
Bray's mom nodded, accepting my mom's apology with sincerity. "I understand. I'm sorry, too. I'm just glad they're safe."
Bray's dad said nothing. I got the feeling he wasn't as forgiving as her mom had been.
I was grounded for the rest of the summer for that stunt I pulled. And yes, I met the fly swatter that day, after which I vowed never to sneak out of the house again. But whenever it came to Bray, from that time up until we graduated high school, I did sneak out. A lot. But I never got caught again after that first time.
I know you must be wondering why after so many years of being best friends, attending the same school, working together at the local Dairy Queen, even often sharing a bed, why we never became something more to each other.
Well, the truth is that we did.
Four years ago…
I turned twenty-two on August 2, a week after I had moved into my first apartment. Bray, like she did every year, insisted that I not stay at home on my birthday. She wanted to drag me out to a party somewhere, get drunk, have some fun. And while I was never opposed to parties, drinking, and getting laid every now and then, the last party I went to with Bray landed me in jail and Bray in the emergency room of Athens Regional. It was a wild night, that's for sure.
"It won't be like last time," Bray said from the doorway, trying to convince me.
She closed the front door with her foot and practically danced her way into my living room. She plopped down on my oversized chair and draped her legs over the arm.
I closed the fridge and sat down on the ottoman next to her, bringing my Gatorade bottle to my lips and taking a swig.
"You mean you won't get roofied, and I won't overhear the douchebag who did it bragging to his friends and then beat the shit out of him?" I laughed and took another drink. "That's hardly something that can be predicted."
She leaned forward and swung her arms around my neck. The smell of her freshly washed hair and lightly perfumed skin intoxicated me.
"I won't drink anything unless you or Lissa give it to me," she said and then pressed her lips to the side of my face.
I always hated it when she did that. Best friend, so what, it made me hard.
"I guess I'll go," I said, giving in. "But you have to promise you'll be on your best behavior." I shook my finger at her playfully.
In all reality, asking Bray to be on her best behavior was a far-fetched request that was almost always met with disappointment. But nothing she could ever do would push me away from her.
She raised both of her hands up in the air, as if surrendering.
"I fucking promise," she laughed. "I'll be good. If I don't, you have my permission to bend me over your knee and spank the shit out of me."
Oh Jesus Christ… seriously? That's worse than her innocent "best friend" kiss to my cheek.
I inhaled a very deep breath, composed myself, and then got up from the ottoman, Gatorade bottle in hand.
"Where are you going?"
"To get dressed?" I looked at her like she'd just asked a stupid question.
"What you're wearing is fine," she said. "You're one hot piece of ass, as usual." She stuck her tongue out at me and then looked me over.
She did tend to look me over a lot in the years we'd known each other. I often wondered if she secretly had the same feelings for me that I'd always had for her, but I could never really be sure. I always knew she cared for me and was attracted to me, but regarding the two of us together, I was as confused as you probably are.
I ignored her and went into my bedroom to change my clothes.
While it was never anything unusual for her to see me naked, this time her following me did strike me as odd.
I looked from the open top drawer of my dresser to her.
"There's something I want to talk to you about."
This was serious. I had only seen that thoughtful, intent look on her face a few times before, and it was always about something that would later prove to define our strange relationship even more, like adding colors to a black-and-white painting. So far only a quarter of that painting had been filled in. Once with her confession to me that she lost her virginity to Michael Pearson—that about fucking killed me. Once when I admitted I lost mine to Abigail Rutherford—I thought Bray was going to hate me forever after that. Apparently, Abigail Rutherford was Bray's worst enemy, though I never got that impression until after I slept with her. Then once when she gave me her first blowjob because she "needed the practice"—for days after that, I was in a haze. I couldn't get the image out of my head, not necessarily because of the act itself but because of the trust she had in me to want me to be the one. And once when I ate her out in my car underneath a bridge overpass, because she dared me to do it. Bray never ceased to shock the hell out of me. Always in a good way. Yeah, those were some colorful fucking brushstrokes.
As I stood at the dresser, new boxers in my hand, I could only wonder what color we would be adding to that painting today.
She sat down on the end of my bed. Her silky dark hair framed her peach-colored face and fell down over both of her bare shoulders.
"What's up?" I asked, concealing my impatience.
She glanced toward the closet and then looked back at me. "Madelyn will be at this party."
I thought I knew where this was going, but I couldn't be sure. I was having a hard time reading Bray, which in itself was foreign to me.
"So, I know you have a thing for her. I don't like her." Bray struggled with those words; I could see it in her face that she really wanted to say something else. She was hiding something. I was pretty sure I knew what it was, but I needed a bit more proof.
Giving up on changing clothes, I shut the top drawer and leaned against the edge of the dresser, crossing my arms over my chest.
"I don't have a thing for her," I said. I wouldn't mind sleeping with her once, but that's not a "thing." "Why don't you like her?"
"She's… well, she's just not right for you. She's a nice girl, but I get bad vibes from her." The more she tried to explain, the more uncomfortable she looked. "Just trust me on this, OK?" She swallowed nervously.
Bray never gets nervous around me.
I crouched down in front of her, forcing her blue-eyed gaze to connect with mine.
"Why don't you just say what you're really thinking?"
She looked stunned. "What do you mean?"
"You know what I mean."
"No, really I don't." Trying to avoid it, she stood up and moved to the other side of the bed, crossing her arms and putting her back to me.
"Don't do this," I said, rising to my feet, too. "We've been doing this for as long as I can remember. We have to stop."
I stepped up behind her. "Why don't we just try it, Bray?"
She swung her head around to face me, her eyes harboring confusion and shock and worry all at the same time. Only her confusion wasn't convincing. She knew exactly what I was talking about, but she wasn't masking it very well.
I placed my hands on her upper arms. "Being together."
It was as if my words sucked all of the air and sound out of the room. For a long time she just stared at me, unblinking.
"I've wanted to be with you since we were kids in that pasture, Bray. You know this—you've known this. But anytime I ever tried to get closer to you, you pushed me away. Why don't we stop this, quit playing these games with each other, and just… be together."
Her big blue eyes fell away from mine. She took a step backward and sat down on the edge of the bed, letting her hands fall in between her thighs. She wouldn't look at me, and I was getting frustrated. I wanted her to say something, anything.
I crouched in front of her again and rested my hands on the tops of her bare knees. "Please look at me," I said softly. "Say something."
It seemed a struggle, but finally she met my gaze. I saw nothing but conflict in her eyes.
"I can't," she said.
"Why not? Are you not into me? If that's it, just say so. I can take it. I'll hate it, but at least I'll know—"
"That's not it at all," she said, shaking her head gently.
"Is it because of your dad?" I asked. "I know he's never really liked me much."
"No, Elias. It doesn't have anything to do with that. You should know that by now."
- "I loved every last word! Beautiful, heartfelt, consuming--I couldn't put it down. There's pure magic in J. A. Redmerski's pen."—KATY EVANS, New York Times bestselling author of the REAL series
- "Andrew and Camryn's journey was unlike any other I've read. Their story really stands out and I was just so impressed with the direction the author took this story in and with the way she stayed so true to these beloved characters. This series has the perfect blend of romance and adventure combined with heartfelt emotional depth....fans of The Edge of Never will be very happy with this sequel!"—Aestas Book Blog on The Edge of Always
- "5 stars! [J. A. Redmerski] did not disappoint...The Edge of Always had me on the edge of my seat until the very last page."—Kindle Crack Book Reviews on The Edge of Always
- "Magic. J. A. Redmerski once again recreates that special, intangible something... that intense and enduring connection between two people that makes this story so unforgettable. I felt every moment as Camryn and Andrew unravel the lingering tangles from their past and embark on a journey to define their always. I just can't get enough of their romance."—Vilma's Book Blog on The Edge of Always
- "Addictive and fast paced. Readers will be drawn to Camryn, a smart girl who has become emotionally numb. Her partner in crime, the systerious, spontaneous and sweet Andrew is the real highlight. Readers will quickly get wrapped up in the adventure."—RT Book Reivews on The Edge of Never
- "5 STARS PLUS! This is one of the BEST BOOKS THAT I HAVE EVER READ...THE EDGE OF NEVER will forever live in my heart and I just know, years from now I'll still be reminiscing, or better yet, re-reading this book."—Maryse's Book Blog
- "I found their blooming romance to be slow-burning and sensual, making for a real connection that gets lost in other books . . . All-consuming and riveting . . . Redmerski pours passion into this book .and I know it will not fail in touching readers' hearts."—FreshFiction.com on The Edge of Never
- "Knocked me down and left me gasping for breath . . . Every morsel of pain the characters felt, every intimate moment and deep love that the characters experienced, I experienced right along with them."—GliteraryGirl.com on The Edge of Never
- On Sale
- Feb 4, 2014
- Page Count
- 464 pages