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“An excellent YA triumph surpassing Twilight, with excellent mystery and well-written characters, a likeable protagonist the reader cares about, and looks forward to seeing more of. If the sequel to this book were here, this judge would have read it with enthusiasm.” ~Judge, Writer’s Digest Self-Published e-Book Awards

“This book was like nothing else I’d ever read. The idea and concept ... drew me in the moment I began reading.” ~ Wonderland’s Reader

“It’s full of secrets, mysteries, and revelations that ... [t]ake hold of you until the end.” ~ Literary Panda

“This is a must read that will have you eagerly awaiting the second installment!” ~Faerie Tale Books

“I think the YA/Paranormal romance genre has deinitely hit its mark with Peacemaker by Eva Gerald. There is something for everyone.” ~ Brooke Blogs


Copyright © 2013 Eva Gerald Edited by Jeanne Hedden Cover design by Dawné Dominique Book design by Emmaline Hoffmeister Author image by Jaime Pawlinga ISBN: 978-0-9896999-1-4 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical method without the prior written permission of the author. This is a work of iction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used ictitiously. Any similarities to persons, living or dead, are coincidental and not intended by the author.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Writing, editing, and preparing this book for publication took well over three years. During that time I leaned heavily on my family and friends and owe them a huge debt of gratitude. Some, like my mother and husband, were there for moral support and to provide me with the quiet time I needed to write. Some, like my critique partner, Debbie, always gave me encouragement and, more importantly, the harsh truth when warranted. I certainly couldn’t forget my two favorite cheerleaders, Colin and Liam, who make every accomplishment in my life sweeter. All the friends and family who read early versions of this book and gave me their feedback made it better. Thank you! Finally, I need to give a special thanks to Sara and Chris Park for their invaluable assistance with all things computer, graphic and marketing related. I would have been lost without you.


DEDICATION To my mother, Catherine, for teaching me at an early age that there is little in life better than a good book, and to my husband, Todd, for his tireless support and encouragement.


PEA EM KER Book 1

C

A

Born to manipulate ... destined to change the world.

EVA GERALD


One Who kneW hell would be so colorful? I stood on the front steps of the school and looked down at the place I now called home. The school was at the top of a hill overlooking the town and the shimmering lake at its center. As far as the eye could see the landscape was suffused in red, orange, and yellow leaves; the trees’ inal, splendid song before they fell dormant and desolate for the long Vermont winter. I was still in shock that this was happening. Two months ago my life was ine. I had two normal parents, I lived next door to my best friend, and I was about to start my senior year of high school. Then he died. My father just dropped dead while playing golf on a hot, Sunday morning in August. The next thing I knew my mom packed up and moved us to Shine, Vermont in the Northeast Kingdom of nowhere. Now I was starting school with a handful of local yokels and, to add insult to injury, I was wearing both a jacket and a hoodie in October because it was only forty degrees in this frosty wasteland. Shine was the town where my mom grew up and she claimed that the move was for the best; that she was doing it for me. But that was crap. She was having some


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kind of breakdown, wanting to relive the glory days of her youth or some other mid-life, newly widowed nonsense. It was the only explanation. My ingers were numb from gripping the door handle, indicating it was time to stop procrastinating. After taking a deep breath I threw my long hair over my shoulder, opened the door and turned to the left. The good thing about this pimple-sized school was that it didn’t take long to ind the ofice. In fact, I ran right into it. “You must be Maya,” said the short, plump lady behind the counter. “Uhhh, yeah, that’s me.” “Welcome, dear. I’m Ms. Beasley, the school secretary. Everyone is excited about your arrival.” It looked like the lady was bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet. “I think I’m supposed to get my schedule from here?” “Of course, dear, I have it right here. We have a bright bunch of kids this year, so you’ll it right in.” Her smile was so wide that her ears were in jeopardy of being swallowed. I didn’t bother smiling back. I just mumbled my thanks and turned to leave. All the room numbers on my schedule were in the two hundreds so I assumed they were located upstairs. It was a complex code but I was iguring it out. “Have a great day, Maya,” Ms. Beasley called after me. “If you need anything, just come back down and see me.” “Ah, sure.” On my way out the door, I was struck by a question and turned back towards the overly chipper secretary. “I was just wondering, how many kids are in the senior class?” “You make twenty four. It’s actually the largest 2


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graduating class we’ve had since 1980.” I hid my gasp of horror in a cough as I left to ind my homeroom. The stairs were opposite the main entrance doors. There was a hallway that went to the left and right of the staircase; the gymnasium or cafeteria, or, I shuddered at the thought, the cafenasium, was located behind the stairwell. I wondered if we would have to roll tables out of the way before playing dodge ball every eighth period. I could hear people whispering behind me as I walked up the stairs and my heart started to race. It was going to be almost impossible to blend into the woodwork here, the way I had inally managed to do in Virginia. It took a long time to achieve invisibility there and that was in a class of seven hundred. Some might think that having only one friend was pathetic, but I was cool with it. Being ignored by everyone else was a lot better than the alternative. I swallowed down my rising panic at the memories that were surfacing; memories of the taunting and tormenting I endured in middle school. I shook my head to clear the thoughts and picked up my pace. There was no point dwelling on the past now. I left all that behind, along with the comfortable fall temperatures of Virginia. I had to stay focused on the present and the fact that I was stuck in this backwater town, about to be the senior class show-n-tell. “Ms. Voland, welcome,” said the attractive, well dressed woman at the front of the classroom the moment I walked through the door. All of the kids turned to stare, and stare, and stare some more. Come on, couldn’t they at least pretend disinterest? I gave a weak smile and scanned the room for a seat. Of course, the only one available was in the front row. 3


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I walked past the gawking group, trying hard to ignore them. “We are so happy to have you here. My name is Mrs. Hughes.” I nodded as I slid into my seat. “Come on up here so I can introduce you to the class. We’re a tightly knit group so you’ll get to know everyone well in no time.” I stared at the woman, dumbfounded. She couldn’t be serious. “Come on, don’t be shy.” When I still didn’t move, the teacher came over and took my arm. She was gentle, but it was clear that she was not going to take no for an answer. I followed Mrs. Hughes to the front of the room. I stood with my body angled toward the windows and my head bowed so that my long hair fell in a curtain over part of my face. Mrs. Hughes cleared her throat, as if that were necessary to get the classes’ attention. All eyes were already focused on me. It was so quiet that you could hear the clock ticking in the next room. “Go on Maya. Tell everyone a little bit about yourself,” said the devil disguised as a teacher. I thought about saying something crazy like, “Yeah, you guessed it. I’m a vampire. Now run while you still can.” Fortunately, it occurred to me in a split second of lucidity that in a town this size I would never be able to live that down. The stares would grow worse by the day. I opted for the less said the better approach and grumbled, “I’m Maya.” Then I shrugged my shoulders to indicate there was really nothing else of interest to say. “Yes, we’ve already established that. We want to know a little bit about your life. What are your likes and dislikes, do you play any kind of sports, and where have you been hiding all these years?” As she asked the last question she reached over and pulled my hair back so she could stare into my eyes. It was creepy. She was creepy. 4


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“Well ... I like music, I guess, I run, and I haven’t been hiding anywhere. I moved here from Fairfax, Virginia.” The bell had to ring soon, didn’t it? Homeroom couldn’t go on all day. Ah, there it was— escape. I started to move toward my desk to grab my bag, but Mrs. Hughes tugged on my arm again. “Don’t worry about the bell, Maya. We’re not so formal here. Most of the class stays with me for irst period and Mr. Roche is expecting the rest of you to be late this morning. Tristan, why don’t you start the class off by introducing yourself?” she said while pointing to a boy sitting in the front row. So much for escape. At least the class was now focused on someone else. The boys were looking at him with reverence and the girls with dreamy eyes. I couldn’t blame them. This guy was cute, with the potential to be gorgeous. His hair was dark, just a couple of shades shy of black and his eyes were eerily light blue. I suspected they might glow if we turned off the lights. His face was young looking. I would have guessed that he was a freshman or sophomore, instead of a senior, but one day he was going to be really hot. When he smiled his perfect, straight, white smile, the girl next to him started to fan herself with a notebook. “Hey Maya, welcome to Shine. I’m Tristan Knightly.” He sounded friendly and casual and his smile matched his words, but his eyes bore into me, searching for something. The rest of the class introduced themselves one by one. I didn’t hear any of it. Instead, I kept glancing back at Tristan, who was still staring straight into my soul. I started to shiver.

q 5


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i got through the morning in a bit of a haze. The entire school was curious about me, but most kept their distance. Everyone except for Tristan respected my I’m not interested in making friends signals. During the morning Tristan made several attempts to start conversations even though I only gave him monosyllabic responses. I thought he’d get the hint and back off, but he was either persistent or completely incapable of interpreting social cues. Before lunch I stopped by the bathroom to give myself a pep talk. I waited in a stall for the place to empty out and then went to stand before the dingy mirror. Staring back at me was a scrawny girl with long, frizzy brown hair. My features were fairly nondescript, all blending together to create an unremarkable face. My hazel eyes stood out only because they had a haunted look about them. I had one attractive asset— my nice golden coloring—and at the moment that had taken on a pale, sickly appearance. “Come on,” I muttered. “There are only twenty three of them. How bad could it be?” I splashed cold water on my face, tried to dry it with a rough, nonabsorbent paper towel, squared my shoulders and headed to lunch. Tristan made a beeline for me as soon as I entered the cafeteria. When he asked me to have lunch with him it was impossible to say no. I’m stand-ofish, not rude. We sat at an empty table in the back of the cafeteria. Tristan sent all the kids who approached away with a slight shake of his head. At irst, I assumed he was saving the seats, but by ten minutes into lunch it was obvious that wasn’t the case. “So, what’s up?” I asked. He tilted his head in question. 6


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“Well, I mean, this is all a little odd. You’ve driven the entire class away. Now we sit here, just the two of us, in complete silence.” “I got the impression you liked silence,” he said, like this whole thing was normal. When I just kept looking at him, he grinned. Man, I swear my heart luttered. “I’m sorry if I freaked you out. I thought you were a little overwhelmed by all the attention, so I brought you over here to give you a break.” “Oh.” Now I felt foolish. That was actually really sweet of him. “But why the silent treatment?” “I igured you’d talk when you were ready. I can invite a bunch of the guys over if you want. I’m sure they’ll liven things up.” When he saw my face he laughed. “Don’t panic, I was just kidding. Anyway, they’re not so bad. Most of them mean well. It’s just that you coming back is a big deal around here.” “What do you mean ‘coming back’? I’ve never lived here before. I’ve never even visited this place.” Tristan stared at me, his brow furrowed. Then it cleared and he put on that amazing grin again. “I meant that your parents are from here and that means a lot in this town.” “I’d rather it meant less,” I said. “I just want to blend in, inish the year, and get out of here.” He stared at me again with those piercing blue eyes. I wish he’d stop doing that. I returned to picking at my food in the hopes that he would get the hint. Who knew mac and cheese could be so fascinating. If I swirled it fast enough I could make a cheesy vortex. “Where would you go?” Tristan asked after a long silence. “Huh?” I’d been so focused on my mac and cheese 7


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that I forgot what we’d been talking about. “You said that you want to get through the year so that you can leave. Where do you want to go?” he asked, like it was strange to want to escape from this microscopic town that had barely emerged from the ice age. “Um, I don’t know, away from here,” I spurted out before I registered how critical that must sound. “I mean someplace warmer and ... bigger.” “Well that won’t be too hard to ind,” he joked, ignoring the insult to his town. “But you’ve only been here a couple of days. You may end up liking it.” I snorted. As luck would have it, my mouth was full of water at the time. Half the water shot up my nose and the other half was inhaled straight into my lungs. I started to cough and sputter. By the time I was done I could tell my face was beet red. I glanced around at the rest of the cafeteria to ind everyone looking at me. Tristan managed to maintain a straight face but his eyes were full of laughter. “Yeah, well,” I rasped, and then paused to let out a couple of more coughs. I cleared my throat, “I guess I’ll give it a shot. Maybe it will grow on me. But, really, is it that unusual for kids to want to leave this place?” I gave a couple of more coughs for good measure. Tristan waited several heartbeats to make sure I had recovered from my water induced attack, before responding. “Yes, actually. Most people don’t go far. Believe it or not, people like it here. I think getting to know the people that live in town will make you feel differently about the place. I can help you with that.” He laughed at the expression on my face. I always did suck at hiding my emotions and the thought of being paraded around town so everyone could gawk at me made my skin crawl. He reached across the table and squeezed my hand. 8


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“I’ll introduce you to everyone in small doses. What do you say?” “Okay, I guess,” I replied, not knowing what else to say. “How about Friday night? A few of us are going out to the lake to hang out.” I paused, trying to think of a way to get out of this. No doubt, it would be incredibly awkward. Either I’d be the center of attention or the odd man out. “Could we maybe take it in smaller doses?” There was that damn irresistible smile again. “This is small. I promise, it will be fun.” The bell rang and I tried to escape without answering. “Nice try, Maya,” Tristan laughed from behind me. “We’re in all of the same classes. If you don’t answer me now, I’ll just ask you again every period of every day until Friday.” I looked back at him, totally exasperated. “I’m persistent,” he said with a boyish grin. “Fine, but I drive myself and I’m only staying for a little while.” I tried to stare him down but his eyes just kept laughing at me. “I mean it Tristan. I leave when I want. Promise me you won’t push me to stay any longer or I won’t go, no matter how much you nag.” “All right, it’s a deal. But, Maya,” he touched my arm, “you have to give us a chance.”

q By Friday i didn’t feel any better about going to the party. My classmates had generally left me alone all week, but it was the beginning of middle school all over again with the stares. Back then it was a pre-curser to two hellish years of bullying, so I was wary. But none 9


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of my stuff had been stolen and nobody had stuck used gum on my locker yet, so I was trying to stay positive. Tristan insisted that I eat lunch with him every day so that he could deliver on his promise to introduce Shine to me in small quantities. On Tuesday, Frank joined us. He was a big, burly kid, who would have been a linebacker if the school had a football team. On Wednesday it was Amber. Perky, blond, petite, Amber. She had freckles covering her nose and cheeks. How someone got freckles in this godforsaken climate, I had no idea. They were two of the most outgoing kids in class but neither of them had much to say around me. Even Tristan couldn’t keep the conversation lowing. On Thursday it was Fallon. She was tall, beautiful, and raven-haired. Unfortunately, her attitude was a bit uglier than her appearance. She spent most of lunch glaring daggers at me. I’d never experienced anything so uncomfortable in my life and this from someone with ophthalmophobia—a phobia of being stared at. Yes, I Googled it. I’m the kind of girl who likes to label her neuroses. When the lunch period was over, and the agony at an end, I asked Tristan what was up with the girl. He said that Fallon was just nervous around new people. Yeah, right. I got the impression that nothing made Fallon nervous. Angry, pissed off, capable of postalsize rages—yes. Nervous—not so much. On Friday we had no special guest speakers at our lunch table. I guess he thought Fallon was enough torture to cover two days. Tristan smiled when he saw my look of relief. “You’ll be meeting enough people tonight. I don’t have to push it with more lunchtime introductions.” I groaned at the reminder of tonight’s lakeside extravaganza. “About that ...” 10


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“Oh no, it’s too late to back out now,” he interrupted. “How could it be too late? Do you have a lawn chair and blanket reserved just for me? I think the party can go on as planned even if I don’t show up.” “You’re coming, Maya, even if I have to hunt you down and bring you there myself.” He smiled when he said it, but there was determination in his voice. I knew he’d follow through on the threat, so I didn’t bother with any further objections. As we were leaving the cafeteria Frank pulled Tristan aside. Something didn’t feel right about it. Frank was jumpy and furtive and kept looking in my direction. Tristan excused himself, promising to meet up with me in math. Curious, I followed behind the boys at a discreet distance. When they tucked themselves into the doorway of a janitor’s closet, I stopped several lockers away and knelt down to tie my shoe. “Are you sure about Maya?” Frank was whispering, but being a big guy with a big voice, I didn’t have trouble hearing him. “Yeah, Frank, I’m sure,” Tristan said in a placating manner, as though he was reassuring a small child. There was a pause and then, “but ... I don’t know ... she just doesn’t seem like one of us.” I caught Tristan’s quiet chuckle. “She’s new Frank. Give her time.” “What about your brother? Does he know you’re bringing her tonight?” “I don’t have to ask his permission to bring someone to the lake.” Tristan’s voice was as cold as the weather in this town. Frank had clearly hit a nerve. “Sorry man,” Frank mumbled. I thought their discussion might be over and started to lift up from my crouched position, but Frank’s next words froze me in place. “You know he has the right to know. If she’s the 11


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one, then everything changes for him.” I heard Tristan puff out a burst of air. I could imagine his eyes glowing with anger. “Yeah, well, she is the one and the sooner he accepts that the better. He’s just going to have to man up and deal.” I knew the conversation was near its end but for several long moments I couldn’t move. Finally, I was able to hoist myself up. I had just gotten vertical when I heard Tristan call out to me. “Hey Maya, what’s up?” I looked up and saw a big grin on his face. “Were you looking for me?” His smile was almost enough to make me forget that he had been talking about me in an alarming manner mere seconds earlier. Almost—but not quite. A million questions swirled through my head. I wanted to ask him what the hell was going on but I knew that this wasn’t the time or place. Tristan would easily evade the question and I didn’t have time to push it. We had all of one minute to get to class. For now I went along with his iction that I was loitering in the hallway because I needed something from him. “Yeah, well, I was just looking for directions to the lake.” I could feel the heat rising up my cheeks. It was clear that I didn’t share Tristan’s skill at deception. “No problem, I’ll text them to you,” he replied as though he wasn’t just skulking around doorways talking about me. More than ever I didn’t want to go to the party tonight. Unfortunately, I knew it was the only way to unravel this intriguing mystery.

q aFter

school my

mom picked me up. I glanced over at 12


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her while she drove down the tree lined street that led away from the school. I noticed that she’d lost even more weight recently. She had lost about ten pounds after my dad died and was already too thin. It didn’t look good on her. Her face was gaunt and hollow. Even the roots of her dark brown hair were showing a lot more grays. For the irst time ever, I thought she looked old. We went down Main Street, passing the general store and Maggie’s Diner. Across the street were the town hall/post ofice combination and an old Episcopal Church. The more popular Catholic Church was two streets away. Further down Main Street, past our turnoff, housed the bar, a hardware store and a mechanic’s/ snowmobiling shop. That about summed up the town of Shine. Our house was another mile past the middle of town. It was on a pretty large lot and set way back from the road. I guess you would label it a farm house. I imagined there was a time when it was quaint, even beautiful, with its pale yellow paint and navy shutters, hugged by its wide, wraparound porch. But now the house looked neglected and forlorn. The proud, colorful oak trees surrounding the structure only served to highlight the house’s peeling paint and drooping eaves. My normal routine consisted of going straight up to my room and staying there until dinner. But today I dropped off my backpack and came back down to talk to my mother. I made the conscious decision to wait until the last minute to mention the party to her. I held out a slim hope that because of the late notice she would deny me permission. After all, in Virginia, there was no way she would have let me go to a lake, at night, with a group of complete strangers. She would have insisted on meeting every kid in attendance and then called 13


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their parents to make sure we would be adequately supervised. But things had changed since my father’s death. My mother didn’t seem to care much about what I did or where I went anymore. She was in the middle of making coffee and looked over in surprise at my entrance. Avoiding eye contact, I went to the fridge and rummaged around. I waited until my mother was seated with her coffee and book before broaching the subject. “I need the car tonight.” I didn’t even bother posing it as a question. “Why?” she asked without looking up from her book. The question was typical of my mom; the uninterested attitude in which it was asked was not. “There’s going to be a bonire at the lake. Some of the kids from school are going,” I said, making no effort to make it sound safe and uninteresting. “I have plans to go out tonight myself. One of the other kids will have to pick you up,” she replied without hesitation. I actually felt my mouth drop open. “Are you kidding me, Mom? You don’t even know who is going. They could be total losers, druggies, or rapists, for all you know. You’re just going to throw me to the wolves without a second thought, and without a mode of escape?” Perhaps that was a bit over the top, but I was making a point here. And wasn’t this the point she was supposed to be making? My mother inally looked up from her book. “You’re confusing me, Maya. I thought you wanted to go to the lake.” “Yeah, in my own car and on my own terms. If things go south I can just leave. If I don’t have the car, who knows what will happen. I could be left behind to wander the woods, lost and confused. Don’t stress about it though; maybe we’ll see each other again next summer, after the thaw.” 14


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“Don’t be melodramatic. They’re a good bunch of kids.” “What do you know?” I asked. “You’ve never even met them.” “I know all their parents. Remember, I grew up here.” “And they were all your best friends, which is why you moved away and never once mentioned this place, or anyone in it. Now I feel comforted. I’ll put myself at the mercy of the offspring of your cherished, childhood friends without another thought.” “All right, you win. Who’s going to be there?” she sighed. “Oh no, you don’t get to act like you care now.” Man, this conversation had gotten away from me. Was I ighting to go or stay? My mother must have read my mind. “I’m getting a headache. Do you want to go, or don’t you? It’s up to you.” “I want to drive my own car. That’s what I want to do. That’s the safe thing to do. That’s the thing you would advise me to do if you were in your right mind, which, clearly, you’re not.” “I’ve had enough, Maya,” my mother said as she stood up and brought her coffee mug to the sink. “I need my car tonight. You’re welcome to go to the lake if you want or stay home if you want. It’s completely up to you.” “Kind of like my safety and well-being,” I huffed as I stormed out of the room. I should have seen that coming. Questioning your parent’s sanity is a sureire way to put an end to a conversation without getting anything you want. I went upstairs and stomped around my room for a while. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I’d entered 15


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a new dimension, one in which my mother didn’t give a damn about me and we lived in the middle of nowhere, Vermont, in a town radically misnamed Shine. Sitting down at my desk I reached deep into the top drawer and wrapped my hand around the envelope tucked in the back corner. I pulled my arm out bit by bit, breathing faster with every inch. Even though I’d read the letter a hundred times, it never got easier. When I’d freed it from the drawer I closed my eyes for a moment to get my emotions under control. I got up and made my way to the bed. Curling into a ball under the covers I raised the envelope to my nose trying to catch the smell that reminded me of my father. The letter had spent time locked away in his desk drawer and the cedar scent still clung to it. I remembered that smell from childhood when I used to play under his desk while he worked. Every once in a while he’d peer down at me and give me a wink, never complaining about my intrusion into his space. God, I missed him. No matter what the letter said, I missed my dad. My hand shook as I traced my name on the envelope; the strong, angular writing so familiar. The content of this letter was the real root of the problems between my mother and me. The secret my parents had kept my entire life. I wiped the tears from my eyes before pulling the letter from the envelope and reading it one more time. Sweetheart, I just tucked you into bed for the night. You went down without any complaint, so exhausted from a day of wreaking havoc in the garden. You managed to pull out all the lowers just as fast as your mother could plant them, despite 16


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being conined to your play pen several times. It’s truly amazing how fast you can escape that little prison. I think you won today’s battle of the wills and I suspect we won’t be having a garden any time soon. I hope to be around to see your children testing their boundaries. In fact, I look forward to it with an inordinate amount of glee. If I do live to see that day, this letter will be obsolete. You will have heard the truth from my own mouth. Maybe we’ll read it together so that we can laugh and reminisce about what a scamp you were. If you’re reading this without me, I’m so very sorry that I’m not there to deliver this news in person. It was never our intention to hide things from you, only to keep you safe. There is no easy way to tell you this, so I will simply be direct and honest. You’re our child, our beautiful girl. We could not love you more. But you did not come from our bodies. That privilege belonged to another couple, who also loved you more than you could possibly imagine. Circumstances forced your biological family to part with you and your mother and I were granted the honor of raising you as our own. Please do not let this knowledge diminish your feelings for your mother. We have known and loved you since before you were born. We will continue to love you into eternity. You are our greatest gift, however granted. Your mother will have to make tough decisions for you. Please don’t ight her. As always, her primary goal in life is to keep you safe. 17


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Did you feel that? I just blew you a kiss. Now go kiss your mother. She will need your love and support more than ever. Love, Dad

The pillow below my head was wet from my tears. I wiped my face with the back of my arm and sniffed loudly. After reading the letter so many times it still confused the hell out of me. I was adopted, that much was clear. But who were my parents and why did they give me up? Of course, I asked my mom these questions, but she refused to talk about it; completely shutting down every time the subject was raised. Dad’s lawyer knew of the letter’s existence and told me where to ind it after Dad died. My mom was furious that the truth was revealed. She said that she planned to tell me in her own time, which I can only assume meant never. Damn it, I had a right to know. This was about my life! Because there was no point in demanding information about my birth from my mom, I channeled that anger into a more immediate problem. I stormed back to the kitchen and put my hands on my hips. “And don’t think I’m going to take the bus to school starting Monday,” I said as if our conversation about the car had never been interrupted. “Either you have to igure out a way to get me to school and pick me up, or I’m going to need my own car.” “For now you can have one of the other kids pick you up. The Knightlys live less than a mile from here.” “Let me guess, you’re not going to bother to ask anything about Tristan’s driving record. You’re not going to verify with the DMV that he has a valid license 18


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and no outstanding parking tickets.” My mother rubbed her temples with her middle inger and thumb. ‘No, I’m not. Things are different around here. You’re just going to have to trust me on this.” “Sure, your actions since Dad died have been quite conidence inducing. How could I not but trust you?” I said with as much sarcasm as I could muster. My mother walked out of the kitchen, up the stairs, and into her bedroom without a backward glance. I fell into one of the kitchen chairs and sighed. I didn’t know what to do about the party. After the emotional turmoil of the afternoon, I really didn’t feel like going. I deinitely didn’t want to be stuck there waiting for someone else to leave. I could bring my sneakers and run home but the roads were narrow and windy, not exactly safe for nighttime running. For some reason I hadn’t considered that I’d be allowed to go to the party but would have to rely on some unknown source to get me there and back. There really was nothing left of the mother I knew. She died right alongside my father that Sunday afternoon in Virginia. Then again, maybe everything about her had always been a lie and now I was seeing the genuine article—the cold, uncaring woman who wanted nothing to do with the kid she’d been saddled with years ago. I took out my cell phone and scrolled through the contacts. There weren’t a whole lot and most of them were from my life before Shine, but Tristan’s number was there. He had put it in himself. I hesitated when I reached his name, tapping my inger against the phone. I paced the hallway a few more times, took a deep breath, and then made the call.

19


Two aFter all that deliberation about making the call, I didn’t know what to say when Tristan answered. He said “hello” three times before I responded. “Uhh, yeah, it’s me, Maya,” I stuttered. “I know, what’s up?” Tristan had a way of treating people like they were perfectly normal even when they were acting like complete imbeciles. I was getting quite familiar with this particular talent of his. “You better not be calling to bail on me tonight.” “Well, actually, the thing is, I don’t have a way to get there.” “Sure you do, I’ll drive you,” he said without hesitation. There was an awkward pause in the conversation. I could hear voices in the background and dishes clanging on the other end of the phone. “I don’t know,” I blurted, for lack of anything better to say. “Trust me, as soon as you want to go, we’re gone.” “But I don’t want to make you leave before you’re ready. I guarantee I’m going to want to go home early.” Tristan chuckled. “You’re not getting out of this that easily. If you want to leave early, I’ll drop you home and go back. It’s no big deal.”


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“Well, if you’re sure.” I covered my mouth with my hand. Crap. What did I just say? I could put up a better ight than that. “Yep, it’s no problem. I’ll be by to pick you up around 7:00.” He hung up before I could say anything else. I suspected he didn’t want to give me a chance to change my mind. I stood leaning against the wall in the hallway with the phone pressed to my ear for a few moments longer. Well, that was it; I guess I was going. At 6:45 I was still staring into my closet wondering what to wear to a lakeside bonire in Vermont. It was probably going to be cold. It was always cold. I’d only been here a week and I was already getting sick of the jeans and hoodie look. I ended up opting for layers, with a tank top and a couple of long sleeve tees. I was pulling the third layer over my head when I heard the doorbell ring. I glanced at the clock on my nightstand and watched the six turn to seven while the doorbell continued to reverberate through the house. Who was that punctual? Had he been lingering outside with his inger poised over the bell waiting for the hour to turn? I didn’t know if my mom was around to answer the door so I scrambled to inish dressing. My shirt went on ine but I did a face plant on my bed when I tried to hurry the process of putting on my jeans. Right, one foot at a time. This was nuts. Was I so nervous that I’d forgotten how to dress? I hauled myself off the bed and hopped to the window. It was right above the front porch so I yelled out, “I’ll be down in a minute.” Or ten, I thought. I mean really, it was his own fault for being so early. Even though I hadn’t bothered to open the window, Tristan obviously heard because his “no problem” iltered back to me. I was too busy ighting with my 21


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jeans to pay it much attention. Finally, I was zipped, buttoned and ready to go. I reached up to tuck my hair behind my ear when I realized that I’d forgotten to brush it. Good thing I’m a pretty low maintenance girl. I grabbed my brush and stroked it through my thick mane ive times before tucking one side behind my ear. I snagged my purse on the way out, hesitating to stare at the sweatshirt lying across my desk chair. “What the hell,” I muttered as I grabbed the stupid thing. “Like to keep a guy waiting, don’t you?” Tristan drawled when I opened the door. He was leaning against the porch railing dressed in jeans and a navy T-shirt that set off the intensity of his eyes even more than usual. “Where I’m from, ‘around 7:00’ doesn’t actually mean 7:00. It means 7:00ish, which actually means around 7:30ish.” “Huh? What exactly does around 7:30ish mean? Are we talking 8:00 or should I have just picked you up some time tomorrow morning?” “Very funny, smartass. I’m just saying if you mean exactly 7:00, be precise and say what you mean. Otherwise, don’t complain if you’re kept waiting.” “Who’s complaining? I took the time to take a look around. My brother and I can ix that rotten step for you.” “You didn’t fall through it, did you?” “Sorry to disappoint,” he smirked. I shrugged. “I’m sure my mother would appreciate the help, but you better ask her irst.” “I’ll talk to her later.” He grabbed my hand and pulled me out the door. “Now, we gotta go.” He practically dragged me to his truck, threw open the passenger door and pushed me in. “In a hurry much?” I snapped when he got into the driver’s seat. 22


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He smiled, “I just want to get there before all the food is gone.” After a few moments of silence he looked down at the sweatshirt in my lap. “Good call. You thin blooded folk tend to get cold down by the lake.” “Hey, I’m not going to deny it. This is Frosty the Snowman territory around here. I prefer to live where my nose isn’t always red and running from the cold. If that makes me a wimp, well, I can live with that.” “You think this is bad, wait until January.” “Just another thing to look forward to,” I mumbled. Before long, Tristan pulled onto a dirt road that meandered through the woods. We bumped along for three or four minutes before I saw a clearing up ahead. Apparently it wasn’t just redneck sentimentality that caused everyone to drive trucks around here; it was necessity. I couldn’t imagine my mother’s Honda Civic surviving this bout of off-roading. Before we reached the clearing, the road started to slope downward. Once we emerged from the trees, the terrain changed from hard, rocky soil, to softer, packed sand. I saw half a dozen other trucks of varying age and color, two SUVs and a lone sedan parked along a small embankment. Beyond that, I could see a ire lickering in the night sky. Tristan parked next to the sedan. Despite his hunger, he didn’t immediately get out. Instead, he turned in his seat to look at me. After a moment, he took my hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. “You’ve got nothing to worry about. I promise, it’ll be fun.” The look in his eyes was so sincere that I could do nothing but nod my agreement. In that moment I wanted to like this place and all the people in it. My desire to please Tristan was alarming. I opened the door and hopped out. “Let’s just get 23


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this over with,” I said as I walked to the front of the truck. When we climbed the embankment, I could see that the bonire was huge and there were about a dozen people sitting around it in a variety of styles of outdoor chairs. Tristan led me straight to the group. Surprisingly, there was a mix of ages. There were several people close to my mother’s age and some even older. I held back a little as Tristan greeted everyone around the ire affectionately. He shook hands with the guys and kissed the girls and women on their cheeks. Everyone had been enjoying themselves before we reached them, but I could see that Tristan’s presence added a spark of ... joy, I guess. He eventually made his way back to me, took me by the hand and led me into the circle to start the introductions. Once we were close to the ire, he started pointing to people, naming them and describing their relationship to him. Many were relatives or family friends but a few I recognized from school. Amber and Frank were both there. Tristan didn’t point to the last two people in the circle. Instead, he pulled me over to them. They were a couple about my mother’s age. The woman was still quite attractive with long, sable colored hair pulled back from her face, revealing smooth golden colored skin, high cheek bones and piercing blue eyes. The man was large with an open, friendly face and a shock of grey hair sticking up at odd angles from his head. “These are my parents, Rose and Jack Knightly.” They looked excited by my presence, both sporting big smiles. Rose grabbed my hand. “We’re so glad you could make it, Maya.” “Thanks,” I mumbled, taken aback by her enthusiasm. 24


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“Welcome to Shine,” Jack chimed in. He patted his wife’s arm and chuckled. She gave me a sheepish smile and let go of my hand. “You may not realize it yet, but you have a lot of history here. Your parents were well known in this town.” Rose paused and looked over at Tristan. “Why don’t you inish up the introductions, Tristan? We’re about to start eating.” Tristan didn’t need any more prompting than that. He was practically salivating at the thought of roasted hot dogs. We headed away from the warmth of the ire and towards a couple of Frisbee players. I recognized both of them from school but didn’t remember either of their names. The player farthest from us caught the Frisbee and then started walking in our direction. As we waited for him to reach us, my attention was drawn down to the water, where three other people were gooing around. It was a guy and two girls playing some version of tag. The girls had no hope. The guy was tall and lean, with broad shoulders. He was facing the water so I could only see his back, but even so, the view was pretty nice. His jeans hung perfectly on his hips, accentuating his butt, which looked good ... really good. “Maya,” Tristan called in an annoying sing song voice. “Huh? Oh, sorry, I was just looking out at the ... water. It looks really cold. I hope those people don’t fall in.” “It’s more likely that the girls will be thrown in,” Tristan said on a laugh. “All right, we’ll see you later” he said to the Frisbee players while pulling me away. I’m sure Tristan had made introductions but I hadn’t heard any of it. Just then, the guy playing tag turned and looked 25


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right at us. He was still laughing from his game. I instantly recognized him. He was everything that Tristan promised to be in a few years. In a word – drop dead gorgeous. Okay, that was three words, but one just didn’t do him justice. He had Tristan’s dark hair, eyes a few shades darker but just as penetrating, and the same mesmerizing smile and dimples. He was taller than his brother and his shoulders were broader. Where Tristan’s face still had curves and softness, his brother’s was all angles. Where Tristan was cute, perhaps even hot, in a boyish way, this man was beautiful. The guy was the perfect mixture of beauty and masculinity, resulting in molten hot sex appeal. He started to approach and it was like watching lava ooze straight towards me. Instead of wanting to run, I stood there willing it to engulf me in lames. Tristan took my hand and started to lead me forward. I instinctively pulled back. It’s one thing to stand still while the lava approached, it was an entirely different matter to run up and embrace it. That would just be crazy. Man, this guy was even spectacular when he scowled—scary, but spectacular. And he was scowling—at me. My heart stuttered as I remembered the conversation between Frank and Tristan. This was the brother who didn’t want to meet me because I was somehow going to change his life; obviously, not for the better. Great, the hottest man I’d ever seen hates me before we’re even introduced. When the guy was within a couple of feet of us, Tristan said, “Maya, this is my brother, Shea. Shea, this is Maya.” Shea gave me a curt nod and then turned a hostile glare on his brother. “Tristan, we talked about this,” he ground out through clenched teeth. “Yeah, I know, that’s why it shouldn’t be a surprise,” 26


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Tristan said, seeming unaffected by his brother’s foul mood. “We decided now was not the right time, remember?” “No, actually, that’s not how I remember it at all.” Tristan looked over at me and gave a half smile and a shrug. Then he stepped forward so his back was to me and grabbed Shea’s arm to turn him in the same direction. It was a rather useless exercise since I could still hear everything they said. “You’re the only one who wanted to wait. The rest of us agreed the sooner she was introduced to everyone, the better,” said Tristan. “But I am the only person who matters,” replied Shea. Tristan paused. When he responded, his voice was quieter. “That’s not true. You may have a greater personal involvement in this, but it certainly matters to all of us.” Shea ran his hand through his hair and bowed his head. “Maybe, but I should have a say in how fast this happens. I need time and you need to respect that.” Tristan reached up and put his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “It’s like ripping off a Band-Aid. Time is not going to make it any easier, so you might as well get started now. Anyway, we don’t have any time to waste.” Just as I was contemplating my role as the dreaded Band-Aid in this scenario—or maybe I was the nasty infected cut under the Band-Aid—the two girls from the game of tag approached Shea and Tristan. The taller of the two wrapped her arms around Shea’s waist and rested her head on his chest. Her proile was visible to me and I realized with a jolt that it was Fallon, the beautiful ice queen from yesterday’s painful lunchtime meet-and-greet session. 27


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Shea rubbed Fallon’s back with one hand and ran his other hand through her long dark hair. It was such an intimate moment between the two that I felt the need to avert my eyes. Tristan turned towards me. “Maya, you remember Fallon. And this is her friend, Leslie,” Tristan said, pointing to the petite girl at Fallon’s side. Not surprisingly, she too was beautiful, with dark hair, skin and eyes. Fallon gave me the cold stare that I remembered well from yesterday. She and Shea made a beautiful couple. Whereas Shea was so steamy he likely fogged up mirrors wherever he went, Fallon’s stunning beauty was like a shock of ice water to the face. They were probably some previously undiscovered superhero duo, saving the world by boiling and freezing water in turn. I wondered what their costumes would look like and snorted at the image that thought conjured up. Realizing I was still under the scrutiny of the other four members of our little huddle, I tried to turn it into a cough. “It sounds like you have a cold,” said Fallon. “Maybe you should go home. As a matter of fact, maybe you should go back to Virginia. You know, since the weather here doesn’t seem to agree with you.” Shea’s grip on Fallon tightened. I couldn’t tell if it was a gesture of solidarity or a way to get her to shut up. “Shea?” Tristan questioned, before I could make a pithy response; I was conident something pithy was about to occur to me. “Tristan?” Shea retorted. “Control your pet.” Tristan said. Fallon actually snarled in response. She did look a bit like a cat—one of the mountain variety. “Don’t,” Shea warned his brother. “I told you 28


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something like this would happen.” “Oh please, why do you think he brought her here?” Fallon jabbed her inger in my direction. “Tristan’s loving every minute of this. Do you really think Mr. Popular would be bothered babysitting Plain Jane over there if it wasn’t to have a front row seat at my destruction?” I didn’t know whether to be insulted or fascinated. I guess I was a little of both. “That’s enough.” Shea said. “Tristan’s not like that, Fallon.” Well, at least Shea stuck up for his brother. I didn’t fail to notice that nothing was said about the insult to me. It felt like I was in enemy territory here and the only wise course of action was retreat—with or without Tristan. I mean really, he got us into this mess, he could get himself out. “Well, umm, it was nice to meet all of you,” I nodded in the general direction of the group as I started to back away. “I think I heard something about hot dogs.” I rubbed my stomach in the universal sign for hunger. Now would be a good time for a rumble or two in support of my story, but, of course, my stomach reserved that noise for slicing through the silence during exams. “I’m just going to go back ... there,” I waved towards the ire and then turned to go. “Wait,” Tristan said. “I’ll go with you.” “Coward,” I whispered when we were several feet away. “No, I just have a healthy sense of self-preservation, a trait we obviously share.” “Yeah, well, you don’t get out of this that easily.” I grabbed him by the upper arm and dragged him towards the trees. 29


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“Hey!” I said nothing in response. “Come on Maya, it wasn’t that bad,” he said, but followed me without a ight. As annoyed as I was, I still couldn’t have made him go anywhere he wasn’t willing to go. Sometimes it really sucked to be wimpy. I led us far enough into the woods that we were out of sight from the beach. Then I dropped his arm and turned to look at him. He gave me his endearing grin. In response, I put a hand on my hip and scowled. “Enough. I don’t want to be part of this game anymore.” “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, all innocence. “Of course you do. I’m not a complete idiot. I know something’s not right. You have an agenda here and not everyone is happy about it. I’m done being pushed and pulled and manipulated by you. From now on, I decide whether or not I meet people and at what pace. I want to go home—now.” “Come on Maya, don’t be so melodramatic.” “What did you just say?” Now I was ticked off, because really, being called melodramatic twice in one day was outside of enough. My mother, I can brush off because she’s crazy, and she’s ... my mother. But to hear it from Tristan, whose brother, along with his brother’s girlfriend, appeared ready to wipe me from the earth through the power of temperature luctuation—well, that was just too much. Okay, perhaps the super villain scenario was a touch over the top, but on the whole, I was not being melodramatic. I must have looked as angry as I felt because Tristan held out his hands in a gesture of surrender. At least that was how I chose to interpret it, which was a good thing for him, because had he continued down the path of accusing me of making mountains out of molehills, I 30


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might have had to punch him. “You’re right, there is a lot going on here and some of it does have to do with you. But I promise, no one is playing games with you.” He barked a laugh, but it sounded hollow, nothing like Tristan’s usual deep, rich laugh. “As much as I like you, Maya, sometimes I wish ...” After a full minute of silence I burst out with, “What? You wish what?” “I wish this was all as easy as this town making a joke out of you.” When he didn’t elaborate I pushed harder, “What are you talking about? His failure to respond right away had me yelling his name. “Okay, okay.” He kicked a rock at his feet and then another. Then he went in search of rocks to kick, walking in a circle around a tree. It was a herculean effort, but I managed to hold my tongue. I gave myself a mental pat on the back for not shaking him to get the answers I needed. Finally, he stopped just a couple of feet from me and looked me in the eye. “I can’t tell you everything. It wouldn’t make any sense to you. But I will tell you this—your presence in this town is important.” He looked down to watch his foot push around some dirt. “I know you don’t understand small town dynamics. We’re close here, like family. When someone from that family leaves, it’s painful. That’s what happened when your family left. And it wasn’t that you guys just moved to a different town, you disappeared, never to be heard from again—until now. Your family had their reasons for losing touch, but it still hurt.” “You’re acting like it hurt you. You weren’t even born yet. Neither was I.” He gave a slight smile. “You don’t always have to 31


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know someone personally to miss them.” This all seemed a little farfetched to me, but his intensity had me believing he was sincere. He really had felt my absence. It was strange to imagine that all these years I had been living my life completely unaware that this town existed and yet it was illed with people that mourned the loss of my family. Well, perhaps not illed with them. “Your brother doesn’t seem too broken up about my absence. In fact, I think he might like it if I were to disappear. And his girlfriend—well, she probably wouldn’t have a problem making me disappear.” Tristan chuckled and it sounded a lot more like the guy I had gotten to know this last week. He even leaned his shoulder against the tree he had been circling earlier and struck a nonchalant pose. “Don’t read too much into that. I doubt Fallon has murder in mind. She can be a little bit ... intense. And Shea just needs time. This is all a shock to him.” “But why does my presence affect Shea so much?” Tristan stood motionless for a few moments. I could tell by the look on his face that he was weighing his words carefully before speaking. “Because it’s Shea’s responsibility to welcome you and to teach you about life here in Shine.” “Why? Why can’t you do it?” He gave me one of his stunning smiles. “I’m lattered that you would choose me as your guide. I guess I’ve been doing a pretty good job of it, haven’t I?” “Well, no, actually. Mostly you’ve been driving me nuts. But if the choice is between you or Mr. Resentment over there,” I pointed in the general direction of the lake, “I choose you.” Tristan laughed his full, hearty laugh. “You’re such 32


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a latterer. Despite your cynicism, I wish I could be the one to keep showing you around, but it makes more sense for Shea to do it. He’s pretty much the town historian. And he’s the town’s deputy mayor, if you can believe that.” I couldn’t. I’d be surprised if Shea was even twenty. “It’s important that you understand your history with this town as soon as possible. Shea’s the guy to help you with that. But don’t worry, I’ll be around if you get sick of him.” I wanted to say that I was already sick of him, but my curiosity was piqued. I needed to get to know Tristan’s gorgeous brother to get to the bottom of this town’s weirdness. “I don’t think Shea is ready to spend time with me.” “Yeah, well, he’s wrong about that. He can be such a pill, always waiting and weighing all of his options. Sometimes he just needs a good kick in the ass to get him moving.” “I didn’t just walk into the middle of a sibling rivalry, did I?” “No, don’t worry. There’s not going to be a smack down at the Knightly house over you, but Shea does need a nudge in the right direction. That’s why you’re here tonight, although, I might have miscalculated that one.” Tristan’s face turned pensive. I could see that he was concerned about something. “I’ve never heard Shea behave so rudely in my life. He’s usually annoyingly self-contained.” “It’s nice to know that I bring out the worst in him.” “Don’t worry about it, he’ll come around. Come on, let’s get back to the bonire. I’m starving.” He started to walk away. “No, wait! I ...” There was so many questions racing around my head but I couldn’t grab hold of one. I think 33


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I was more confused than ever after this conversation. Tristan turned back to me. “There’s nothing more I can tell you. You’ll igure all this out when you’re ready. Right now, we need to eat.” “But ...” He walked back to me and grabbed my hand but I pulled it out of his grasp. I wasn’t ready to face all those people yet, especially Shea and Fallon. I needed time to assimilate all this new information. “You go ahead. I just need a minute.” Tristan hesitated. Maybe he was afraid I would bolt and try to walk home. “Really, I’ll be right there. I need a minute to think.” For a moment he still looked like he wanted to protest, but ultimately decided against it. When he headed back to the ire, I slumped against the nearest tree and let out the breath I was holding. My thoughts and emotions were a jumble. How could this town possibly need me? I couldn’t igure out if I had stepped into an after-school special or a Stephen King novel. Neither option was all that appealing. My conversation with Tristan swirled around and around in my mind for a good ten minutes. Before my head exploded, I gave up trying to make sense of it and started to ind my way back to the beach. I was still so dazed by my encounter with Tristan that I didn’t notice the two people sitting just to the side of the narrow path until I was right next to them. They sat facing one another, only inches apart, eyes closed and holding hands. Recognizing Fallon as one of the two kids and not prepared for another confrontation, I picked up my pace. I couldn’t help glancing back and saw that neither of them had taken notice of my passing. There was no way they could have missed it, being that close to the path. 34


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I hesitated, fearing that something was wrong. Taking the coward’s way out, I took a large step further down the path and then cleared my throat—loudly. Still nothing. Man, Fallon was going to be ticked if I was interrupting some intimate moment. Then again, it would be so much worse if the two of them were discovered dead tomorrow. Okay, decision made. I was going to have to interrupt their love fest just to satisfy my conscience and my horribly active imagination. “Hey!” Still nothing. I walked a few steps closer. “Helloooo? Anybody home?” Oh man, this was getting creepy. I looked behind me to determine if there was any chance of back-up arriving on the scene. Okay, maybe I was also on the lookout for the horror movie villain who had clearly sapped the life out of these two. I mean, come on, they hadn’t moved since I stumbled upon them. Not a single twitch. I was about to step closer when the two of them shuddered and their eyes lew open, causing me to jump back. The two were staring at each other. They weren’t moving exactly, but their bodies weren’t still. They— vibrated. It was a little like watching an old movie where things got blurry along the edges. I was too stunned to speak so I observed for a couple of moments. Fallon’s back was to me so I only saw the boy’s face. He was one of the Frisbee players from earlier in the evening. Even though I was quite a few feet away, I could see that his eyes were odd. His pupils looked huge, consuming almost every centimeter of space in his eye. As I watched him, several beads of sweat escaped from his hairline and dripped down to his chin. At last, the boy made his move. He raised their clasped hands to Fallon’s cheek. Her back arched at the 35


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contact and I heard her take a deep breath. The boy’s breath was so shallow I was concerned he was going to hyperventilate. I must have stepped forward without even realizing it because I heard the twig snap at the same time as both their heads swiveled around to face me. It was terrifying. They reminded me of animals ready to pounce on their prey. Their huge black eyes devoured me and their bodies hummed with pent-up energy. “Sorry” I mumbled and turned to run. “Shhhh, don’t move, don’t speak,” whispered Fallon. She said it so softly that I had to strain to catch it all. She then turned to the boy and said something to him that I couldn’t make out. He gave her a questioning look and then shrugged his shoulders. He uncurled himself and stood with an amazing amount of grace for a guy his size. I don’t even think he used his hands as leverage. But the walk over to me looked as if it pained him and he took a couple of breaks to catch his breath. I thought about running during those moments, but I felt like I was caught in one of those dreams where my mind demanded that I lee and my body was frozen in place, too terriied to move. “What do you want?” I inally forced out through the lump in my throat. His inger lew up to his lips, silencing me. “Do you want to come play with us?” he hissed as he reached for my arm. I shook my head frantically and my legs inally started to move. I backed away, but his arm was too fast and he grabbed me before I could escape. His whole body convulsed a bit when he made contact. “Come on, it’s fun,” he said in a reptilian-like voice. His breathing was labored and the manic look in his eyes was frightening. Before I got a scream out, his head jerked 36


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up and he glanced towards the woods on the other side of the path. A moment later Shea appeared from the very spot the freaky kid was looking. “Let go, Kyle.” Shea’s voice was soft but deadly. Whatever Kyle was on, he still had enough brains to know a threat when it was standing right in front of him. He let go of my arm and put his hands in the air. “Come on Shea. We’re just showing Maya the ropes. Why don’t you join us?” Fallon whispered. It was odd that everyone was speaking so quietly, although it made sense that they didn’t want a lot of attention drawn to them. I still didn’t know what was going on, but it was probably something dangerous and possibly even illegal. Shea didn’t bother to answer. He shot Fallon an angry look and then took me by the hand and led me out of the woods.

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