In one month, seventeen-year-old Cara Tillman will die. But until then, she plans to enjoy every look, touch and kiss with her boyfriend Logan, the new boy in Ashlan Falls. Cara is a descendant of the mythical Phoenix bird, and her rebirth is nearing. But first, she must die and forget all that she knew before, including Logan's face, his laugh, and the way he says her name. With precious little time left for the two of them, Cara does all she can to savor every moment, unwittingly drawing a Phoenix hunter to her doorstep with every move.
In one month, I’m going to die and be reborn from my own ashes. I’ll forget everything and nearly everyone I know. But I can’t worry about that right now. Jeremy needs me, and I need him to remember. Please remember me.
The fire alarm screeches, making me jump, and thick smoke wafts up from the basement. This is more than Jeremy setting his pillow on fire again. It’s time. He’s going to be reborn. Mom and I exchange a look, and the panic that washes over her face sends my heart racing. “He’ll be fine,” she says, but I’m not sure if she’s trying to convince me or herself. We rush downstairs to find Jeremy standing next to his bed, staring at his arms, already beginning to ripple with the first signs of fire. I don’t know which of us is more freaked out right now.
Mom grabs the broom we’ve kept by the stairs for just this occasion, and she smashes it against the blaring fire alarm, sending it crashing to the floor. “Remove the batteries, and hurry. The last thing we need is the fire department showing up,” she says as she picks up the alarm and shoves it into my hands.
I scramble to get the battery compartment to open, but my hands are shaking so much I can’t get the panel off. Mom shoots me a look. The screeching must be making her nerves worse, just like it’s doing to me. I scream, putting all my fear and frustration into that stupid alarm. The compartment finally opens, and I yank the batteries out, tossing them and the alarm to the ground. I’m already breathing heavily and the worst is still to come. I can smell Jeremy’s flesh burning, reminding me that my baby brother is dying.
“We have to get him to the bathtub before he burns the whole room down.” Mom’s voice is calm, and she’s already leading Jeremy to the bathroom. I follow, not having a clue what to do or how to help. He steps into the tub and stares at Mom. The expression on his face reminds me of when he was four years old and he’d crawl into bed with me after having a bad dream. If only I knew how to comfort him now.
“Relax, Jeremy. The flames won’t harm you. Keep telling yourself that. There’s no pain during a rebirth, and your body will know what to do on its own. Don’t fight it.” Even though her voice is steady and reassuring, Mom’s eyes fill with tears. She’s scared for Jeremy.
“Remember,” he chokes out. The word is followed by a puff of smoke.
“I promise you’ll remember us.” Mom forces a smile, the strain of her sorrow evident in the lines of her face.
The only people he’ll remember when he’s reborn will be our kind, the Phoenixes. Everyone else will be a stranger to him, no matter how close they once were. Jeremy won’t even remember me as anything other than his sister. He’ll know we’re related, but all those memories...they’ll be gone. I’ll mean virtually nothing to the one person who should know me best in this world. My insides lurch as Jeremy studies my face like he’s trying to take in every detail. I try to tell him I love him, but the words get caught in my throat.
Mom reaches for his hand, but flames rise from his fingers and palm. She grabs the shower curtain, yanking it down before it catches fire.
I bite my tongue to hold back my tears as the flames spread up Jeremy’s arms and across his chest. They dance and flicker until only his head is visible. I step closer, wanting the fire to consume me too. It has to be better than the agony of knowing I’m going to lose everything, starting with Jeremy.
“I’m so proud of you, Jeremy.” Mom’s eyes are puffy and red as she forces herself to coach him through this.
I’m terrified for Jeremy but jealous at the same time. He’s my little brother, but in a way, going through the rebirthing process makes him the older one now. I shudder as flames shoot from where Jeremy’s eyes used to be. It’s like something straight out of a horror movie. My eyes close, unable to watch anymore. When I force them open again, Jeremy is gone. Nothing but a pile of ashes remains.
I can barely breathe thanks to the hollow feeling in my chest, but I force myself to ask, “What’s going to happen?” I never stopped to think about the whole rising out of the ashes part. I kind of assumed that was a metaphorical thing, that the flames would die out and he’d still be standing there—only different somehow. But Jeremy is gone, and it feels like he took a part of me with him.
Mom squeezes my hand. “It will be okay. Give him time.” She bites her lower lip, probably to stop it from shaking.
My heart hammers with each passing second. Why is this taking so long? I count in my head. Forty-five seconds. Fifty. Fifty-five. The tension in the air is strangling me, and if I have to wait much longer, my heart is going to burst from my chest. “Jer,” I choke out. The ashes stir and begin to take shape. “Jeremy?” Steaming hot tears burn my eyes as I stare at the ashes and silently pray that my brother is all right. My nails dig into my palms, and I don’t breathe until Jeremy’s lying in the bathtub in the same pajamas he was wearing when this began. I swallow the lump in my throat, but I can’t speak. I’m frozen, wondering what he’ll remember and if he’s really okay. I’m afraid to touch him. Afraid he’s not real.
Mom breathes out long and hard and relief washes over her features. She reaches for Jeremy’s hand, but he backs away. A vague recognition flashes across his face, but there’s nothing behind it—no feeling. He knows who we are, but it’s clear he doesn’t remember much else, like the fact that he loves us and we love him. I knew this would happen, but my God, it’s killing me.
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Ashelyn Drake is a New Adult and Young Adult romance author. While it’s rare for her not to have either a book in hand or her fingers flying across a laptop, she also enjoys spending time with her family. She believes you are never too old to enjoy a good swing set and there’s never a bad time for some dark chocolate. She is represented by Sarah Negovetich of Corvisiero Literary Agency. Drake also writes speculative fiction as Kelly Hashway.
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