Nick Merrick sat on his bed and ran his thumb along the
edge of the sealed envelope.
He didn’t want to open it.
He probably didn’t need to. It was thin, and thin letters
from universities typically meant one thing: rejection.
It wasn’t his first-choice school anyway. He’d applied at
University of Maryland because they had a solid physics
program and it was an in-state school. If they rejected him,
he didn’t really care.
He’d thought applying early at a few local schools would
be a safe bet, just to get himself into the rhythm of it, seeing
what kind of feedback he’d get.
Apparently it meant he’d get used to rejection right off the
The worst part was the twinge of guilt in his stomach.
Not because he might have to go out of state.
The guilt was because he wanted to. Sort of.
A new town would mean anonymity. No one would know
about his powers.
No one would know him as Gabriel Merrick’s twin
brother, half of a unit.
A new town meant he could just be Nick.
Whatever that meant. Sometimes he worried that he’d get
his wish, that he’d end up in some strange town, surrounded
by new people, and he’d realize that there was nothing there,
that his entire being was based on his brothers’ expectations
Well, it wasn’t like he didn’t have options. A local school
would have meant he could still stay home and help Michael
with the business. If he couldn’t go to Maryland, he could go
to the community college down the road. Nothing wrong
Except...he didn’t want to go to the community college.
The colored balls in the Galileo thermometer on his desk
started to shift, and Nick glanced up. He was changing the
temperature. His blinds rattled against the window frame,
too, as a gusty breeze tore through his room.
This was stupid. He should just open the envelope.
If only his powers gave him X-ray vision.
Not like he really needed it. He could imagine how the
letter would begin.
Dear Nicholas, We regret to inform you that you’re a selfish
Yeah, right. Nick swore and shoved the letter between two
textbooks on the desk. He could read it later.
Michael had asked him to reconcile a stack of invoices
anyway. Better to let numbers steal his attention, especially
since his oldest brother would be pissed if he got home and
found a stack of paperwork still waiting for him.
The kitchen was empty, but he’d passed his youngest brother
in the living room, along with his girlfriend. Chris and
Becca were watching a movie, but from the glimpse Nick
had gotten, there wasn’t a whole lot of watching going on.
Not like Nick needed a glimpse: the air was more than happy
to whisper about their activities.
Gabriel was out, doing something with Layne, and
Michael would be on a job for another hour, at least.
Nick tore into a foil package of Pop-Tarts and fired up the
laptop. With a toaster pastry between his teeth, he began to
sort through the pile of carbon credit card slips, invoices,
and canceled checks.
Michael was great about documenting what he was doing
and how much it cost.
He wasn’t so great about making sure he was actually
paid for it.
Nick had been doing most of the bookkeeping since he
was thirteen. Now he could do it in his sleep.
His brain kept drifting to that letter, sandwiched between
those textbooks on his desk.
At least he’d been the one to get the mail today, so no one
else knew. God, that would have been a disaster. Hell,
Gabriel probably would have put him in a headlock until he
tore the envelope open.
Aw. Poor Nicky. They don’t want you.
Gabriel wouldn’t be upset. He didn’t want his twin to go.
That was another big part of the guilt.
He caught himself entering line items twice, and he
pulled his hands off the keys to rub at his eyes. School was
closed this week, thanks to the recent fire in the library, but
he should probably be using the extra time to study. There
was no money for college, so grades were everything right
His cell phone buzzed against the table, making him
jump. The air had turned sharp and cold while he’d been
going through these invoices, and he tried to make himself
relax, knowing the air would do the same if he could mentally
get himself to a better place.
He ran a thumb along the screen to wake it. A text message.
Quinn. His girlfriend.
Really, his relationship with Quinn was just one more
thing that belonged on a list of all that made him feel insecure,
uncertain, and guilty.
Any way you can pick me up at the Y?
Nick glanced at the clock. Gabriel had the car and
Michael had the truck. Michael would be home first, but not
for another twenty minutes. He typed back quickly.
Not for a while. You OK?
Fought with Mom again.
Nick winced. He texted back.
I can get you. 30 mins OK?
Sure. I’ll be in studio.
The studio was really just a room at the back of the Y,
with half a mirrored wall and a barre bolted awkwardly into
the patches of drywall. But Quinn’s parents wouldn’t pay for
dance lessons, and Quinn had been kicked off the school
Unlike Nick, she knew exactly who, what, and where she
wanted to be.
She just couldn’t get there.
He hadn’t met her parents yet, but apparently her mother
had been put on this earth with the sole purpose of torturing
Quinn, and her dad had nothing better to do than stare at the
television—when he wasn’t running his mouth about how
amazing Quinn’s older brother was. Quinn had a younger
brother, too. He stayed out of the line of fire by hiding behind
headphones and video game controllers.
Tensions had been running high in Quinn’s house before
a fire had burned the place down—part of a string of arson
attacks started by another Elemental in town. But now her
family was living in temporary housing, a cramped three-
bedroom condo closer to Annapolis.
And Nick thought he had problems.
He didn’t hear the front door open, but the air told him
when Michael was home.
It also told him that Chris and Becca were struggling to
right themselves in the living room.
Nick smiled and entered the last invoice into the computer,
then set aside the three where payments were missing.
Michael looked beat when he walked into the kitchen,
and Nick was glad he’d gotten the paperwork done.
His brother grabbed a bottle of water from the refrigerator
and dropped into a chair. “Thanks for taking care of
Nick always did, but he shrugged. “It’s nothing.”
“You think you could help me with a job tomorrow, since
school is out?”
Nick had been planning to spend the day doing more college
applications, tweaking entrance essays, and taking a
few more SAT practice tests.
But Michael looked exhausted, and Nick could put that
stuff off for a few hours. “Sure,” he said. Then he paused,
thinking of Quinn. “You think you could let me borrow the
truck for an hour?”
Michael had to be tired, because he took another drink of
water, then tossed the keys on the table.
Nick’s eyebrows went up.
Michael shrugged, then shoved out of the chair, heading
for the doorway. “I know you won’t do anything irresponsible.”
Nick never did.
And sometimes he wondered if that was part of the
Quinn Briscoe stretched her left leg against the barre in
the empty room, then folded her upper body as low as she
could. She didn’t do ballet, not really, but she’d taken enough
classes as a kid that she always started and finished with a
classical warm-up—just because that was the most thorough
routine she knew, and it hadn’t let her down yet.
Her thighs were screaming, and she told them to go to
Really, she wished she’d worn sweatpants instead of these
stretchy booty shorts. Then she wouldn’t have to look at how
massive her legs were.
Besides, it was probably cold outside.
The shorts hadn’t been her choice. They were part of the
cheerleading uniform at Old Mill, and she’d had her first
practice this afternoon. Apparently athletes didn’t get the
week off from school, just a modified schedule.