Teen & Young AdultMystery, Thriller & Suspense

What It Means to Burn

Cassie Sue Silvester

Sasha James is just your normal 16-year old high-school girl, nothing special or important (so she thinks), but her life was always quite nice. Sure, her mom didn’t have it easy—try raising 3 kids by yourself—but they managed to get by. Things were going well enough, until Aiden Carter arrived on the scene. At first he seemed charming, but Sasha will quickly learn that his cute smile is hiding something dark and sinister.

Age Rating: 18+ (Content Warning: Ableism, Assault, Domestic Violence, Extreme Violence/Gore, Violence Against Women, Violent Death, Abuse, Toxic Relationship, Mental Health Complications)

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What It Means to Burn - Book cover
Teen & Young AdultMystery, Thriller & Suspense

What It Means to Burn

Cassie Sue Silvester

Sasha James is just your normal 16-year old high-school girl, nothing special or important (so she thinks), but her life was always quite nice. Sure, her mom didn’t have it easy—try raising 3 kids by yourself—but they managed to get by. Things were going well enough, until Aiden Carter arrived on the scene. At first he seemed charming, but Sasha will quickly learn that his cute smile is hiding something dark and sinister.

Age Rating: 18+ (Content Warning: Ableism, Assault, Domestic Violence, Extreme Violence/Gore, Violence Against Women, Violent Death, Abuse, Toxic Relationship, Mental Health Complications)

1: Chapter One

SASHA

What is greater than God,

more evil than the devil,

the poor have it,

the rich need it,

and if you eat it, you’ll die?

My name is Sasha James, and I am sixteen years old. Though I’ve never actually voiced this opinion, I have always preferred spending my time outside of the spotlight.

It’s not that I don’t have friends or hobbies. I simply do not feel the need to draw attention to myself. Upon first meeting me, some accuse me of being a bit of a snob, but in reality, I am just shy.

Along with my long, golden-blond hair, which falls halfway down my back, I have always been thin. I often joke that my skinniness is due to how much and how fast my two older brothers eat.

I was blessed with straight, white teeth, fortunate as my single mother would never have been able to afford braces. Of all things considered, I still think of myself as far from perfect.

These things aside, by far my most stunning characteristic, or so I hear, is my teal eyes. The very eyes from which my mother claims to be able to determine my mood.

“It’s simple,” my mother said one day, “When you are sad or disappointed, your eyes become the most radiant shade of blue.

“The surrounding area of your irises is graced with a glorious green glow whenever you are happy, and in the rare instances that you’re angry, a light, cloudy shade of gray.”

I have always been one to modestly downplay compliments as I do not feel the need or desire to hear others speak of me in such a manner.

This is not to say that it only occurred on rare occasions.

Although I enjoy flirting with boys, like my best friend Leah (pronounced like LAY-a) Kemper, I have never been interested in dating. To put it mildly, Leah can be considered a dating expert.

Though many boys have expressed interest in dating me throughout the years, I never responded in a manner which pleased these boys. My lack of a love life, so to speak, has kept my life simple and manageable.

Everything was about to change on one rainy day in May.

It was near the end of the school year and with only three weeks left of classes.

The essence of summer seemed to seep through the windows, leaving on every student’s mind the endless possibilities of the weeks and months to come.

For the average teenager, it’s difficult to spend the majority of your day sitting at a desk. This feeling of apprehension is escalated when the desk happens to be the same size as the desks used by a second-grade student…

…although I had often wondered if the reason high school classrooms are filled with child-sized desks was a ploy to keep students from getting too comfortable.

At this point in the school year, I wanted the same thing as the three hundred fifty other students at Bedford High: I longed for the freedom of summer.

We live in the humid, subtropical climate of Virginia. Though the average temperature of midsummer is only about 80 degrees, the moist heat can lead me to feel quite claustrophobic.

I am generally grateful to be inside at this time with the privilege of air-conditioning, even if that meant listening to another teacher’s lecture and sitting in a child’s desk.

Considering the circumstances, it took me little to no effort to ignore my teachers lecture on some uninteresting prehistoric marine life.

Today, my mind was elsewhere.

While most sixteen-year-old girls daydreamed of boys, boys weren’t as much of a priority for me. My focus was on as the possibility of breaking away for a few weeks for my summer vacation.

True, my grandparents place is not ritzy or exciting, but that did not matter. I found myself bored with my hometown of Bedford, and any change would suffice, even if it was just for a short sabbatical to another state.

Given my current state of mind, it should come as no surprise that I failed to notice the strange young man with the dark hair and brooding eyes peering at me over his textbook in class.

I even failed to notice him following me to my car after school.

Upon hearing the final bell, I bolted from the annex where my marine biology class was held and into an unexpected downpour of rain, which had begun to fall at some point in my final hour of classes.

I dashed through the rain with no regard of protecting myself from the weather. Fair-skinned as I am, the heat has always been difficult to bear, so I welcomed the relief from the sun.

I had kept my head down while running and was startled when the deep voice of a young man broke my concentration.

“Sasha?”

Quickly, I raised my head and turned while blinking back the rain, all the while knowing that, at this point, the rain had completely washed away what little makeup I had bothered to put on.

“Um, yes?” I hesitantly replied.

As I stared up at the stranger, one thing was apparent: the phrase “tall, dark, and handsome” was created for this guy.

After what felt like an eternity of staring, I turned away as a warm flush slowly spread across my face, hoping that the rain had somewhat camouflaged my embarrassment.

I quickly recovered, though I fidgeted with my keys, and once again glanced into the eyes of the mysterious young man who had yet to respond to my previous inquiry.

Having always been the blunt type, I spouted, “So, do you have a name?”

“Um…right…sorry…”

His stuttering gave me insight into his vulnerable side, which was not what I first expected from someone of such large stature.

“I’m Aiden.” His response followed a long, anticipating bout of silence.

As I said, I tend to be blunt and honest, characteristics often not accompanied by tactfulness or the ability to take a hint.

So I did not feel the need to respond as Aiden may have hoped. As far as I was concerned, he already knew my name, it was raining heavily, and what more could he want to know?

I began to climb into my jeep, with the realization that the conversation was not progressing, and the situation had become more awkward.

“Wait!” said Aiden, his tone hastened. I looked to him once more, exasperated.

With his left hand, Aiden hesitantly brushed a wet strand of hair out of my face before quickly turning to walk away.

At first, I couldn’t decide whether I should be startled or intrigued.

In my, admittedly limited, experience with boys, I had concluded that large, athletic boys like Aiden didn’t stumble over their words—they took what they wanted, with little to no regard to other people’s opinions or feelings.

Maybe everything I thought I knew about boys was wrong.

Pulling out of the parking lot, I couldn’t help but smile as I did a mental review of the prior ten minutes. What was it that Aiden had wanted to tell me that had been so hard to say?

Little did I know that the weeks to come would hold many strange encounters that would stretch my capacity of understanding. These experiences would leave me with the same lingering question of what was going on in Aiden’s mind.

The following day was Friday, which is often the most difficult day for a teenager to sit quietly through class, or at least I can only assume based on my own experience. For me, the situation was typically no different.

Today I had a pang of curiosity in the pit of my stomach, preventing me from doing something rash, like fabricating an illness—not that my mother would have believed me anyway.

I have never been successful in my attempts to deceive her.

It isn’t often that I wear my hair down. When I do, I am always amazed at the length. My mother says that I am the type of girl who looks great in everything I wear—she’s very complementary.

On this particular day, I had chosen my slightly worn but still favorite denim jeans and a charcoal-colored baby doll tank top. Since it wasn’t raining, I also wore my black stiletto shoes to match my black leather purse.

To put it modestly, I was dressed to impress.

Much to my delight, I saw Aiden immediately as I climbed out of the jeep. I couldn’t help but smile as Aiden not only performed an obvious double take but also dropped his jaw about half an inch.

With traces of the slightest grin on my face, I proceeded to my first class. Shortly after choosing a seat in trigonometry, I heard the door open and glanced up to see the undeniably handsome young man who entered.

Aiden avoided my gaze and crossed the room, finally settling in a desk two rows over and three rows in front of where I was sitting.

Although his behavior continued to perplex me, I knew that I needed to focus on the teacher’s lesson. Trigonometry was my most difficult subject.

The fact that I was trying to pay attention to the lecture doesn’t mean that Aiden was doing the same.

Throughout the lecture, the task of focusing became challenging as I felt myself further and further weighed down by the weight of the mysterious young man’s stare.

Outside of the classroom, I found that I had many lingering questions weighing on my mind. In the midst of my stupor, Aiden caught up with me, attempting an approach much bolder than any he had used prior.

“Sasha, you are beautiful,” Aiden said, slowly though confidently.

These words startled me, and I took a moment to pause before responding.

Unfortunately, I had never been very eloquent in my speech and found I was incapable of anything other than an awkward but honest response.

“Uh, thanks, you look great too,” I said.

Though Aiden had not been overly confident in our first encounter, it was apparent to me that I, and likely every other girl, couldn’t help but find him irresistible.

With Aiden’s dark eyes, almost black hair, stern chin, and broad athletic shoulders and the way he dressed— casual clothes that flattered his body—one would never know that he lacked the confidence necessary to approach a girl.

However, just as I began to find myself engulfed in my thoughts, Aiden found yet another way to surprise me.

As he advanced in my direction, I felt my breath catch in my throat and barely suppressed the cough that resulted. Aiden leaned in close enough that I could smell his sweet cologne.

At last, he spoke, breaking my trance. “There is something about you that I cannot figure out, yet I owe it to myself to get to know you better—that is, if you would be willing to comply.”

His articulate phrasing gave me the strange sense that I was about to undergo an intense interrogation.

It was all I could do to contain the grin that threatened to dominate my facial expression that would collapse my confident composure.

“What exactly did you have in mind?” I asked.

Aiden invited me to join him the same evening for the premiere of the latest movie in the Graveyard series, a popular horror movie saga.

Of course, at that moment I remembered my commitment to a night full of romance movies and pampering with Leah.

Though the prospect of seeing a scary movie with a gorgeous guy was tempting, I knew that Leah would not be thrilled with a last-minute cancellation of our plans.

Besides, we don’t get as frequent of opportunity to see each other since we had started our new jobs.

Reluctantly, I looked up and slowly shook my head.

“I already have plans tonight.” It wasn’t until I realized that Aiden was still gazing at me expectantly that I added, “With Leah Kemper.”

“What about tomorrow?” Aiden probed instantly.

“I wish, but tomorrows plans are far less exciting. I have to work.”

“Don’t you work at Bedford Video?” Aiden offered.

“Right.”

The tardy bell rang then, signaling second hour, forcing me to end my awkward conversation with Aiden. Although I was rather intrigued by the outcome of the conversation, I did harbor some aggravation about my tardiness to class.

The rest of the morning classes passed as a blur. Before I knew it, it was lunch time.

I found myself still dwelling on the conversation which had occurred that morning. What perplexed me the most was my inability to move on since I could find no hint or reason as to why it should be so difficult.

After all, any guys had shown interest in me in the past, some more openly, and all of them I had been able to dismiss and forget almost instantly. What was it about Aiden that made me want to give him a chance?

I attempted to shake off those thoughts as Leah waved to me from across the cafeteria. If there was one talent that Leah could undeniably claim, it was her incredible sense of intuition.

In fact, Leah could pick out any person on the street and read them like a book. As I had been her best friend for over seven years, my book happened to be the one that she could read with the least effort.

Fortunately for me, Leah had not immediately noticed my strange behavior. Today, Leah had stories to tell of her own internal struggle.

“Jonathan read my paper in front of the class again,” Leah said in dismay. “He used it as the example of what not to do while pointing out my grammatical errors. What is his problem anyway?”

I responded, “Maybe Mr. Ralph is just upset that you continue referring to him as ‘Jonathan’ in front of the entire class…not to mention how nervous he gets when you wink at him as you walk to his desk.”

Leah laughed.

Leah would never be the type to engage in an inappropriate relationship with a teacher, but she knew that she was attractive, and sometimes, she would use this fact to her benefit.

It was all I could do to suppress laughter as Leah continued to complain about her creative writing teacher.

Just then, I felt as though I was being watched and, a moment later, felt a hand touch my shoulders. The caress was over almost immediately after I became aware of it.

Noticing the abrupt quiet, I realized that Leah must have seen it too. Leah never interrupted one of her rant sessions unless it was for something that she deemed juicier to be going on.

Already fairly certain of who to expect, I turned to look over my right shoulder—and I was not disappointed.

Aiden stood slightly behind me, the expression which he did adorn was unlike any other that I had ever seen him wear; he was smiling.

I could not explain the sensation at the time and would not be able to do it justice even in the future. I was certain that time must have been standing still.

There was no doubt in my mind that if Aiden had not been excessively attractive before, he was now.

With all of these thoughts occurring within a few seconds of each other, I had nearly forgotten that Leah was still sitting across the table, observing the scene with a clearly amused expression.

It was Leah who spoke first. “Aiden Carter, is it?”

“Yeah. Hey, Leah.” Aiden nodded his head in Leah’s direction without ever taking his eyes off of me, and I returned his gaze.

“Hey, um, have a good weekend,” he muttered while examining me once more with his eyes and sauntering away with his hands in his pockets.

I was smiling when I turned once more toward Leah, who had perched both elbows on the table as if preparing herself to hear a great story.

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