0od|catod to tho two guys who rom|nd mo da||y what |ovo, |oya|ty, and tr|ondsh|p tru|y moan-my

husband, Kar|, and my son, 1a|don. 1ho r|ght words don't ox|st |n any |anguago to comp|oto|y doscr|bo
just what you both moan to mo.
1|t|o lago
Chaptor Ono
Chaptor 1wo
Chaptor 1hroo
Chaptor |our
Chaptor ||vo
Chaptor 3|x
Chaptor 3ovon
Chaptor E|ght
Chaptor l|no
Chaptor 1on
Chaptor E|ovon
Chaptor 1wo|vo
Chaptor 1h|rtoon
Chaptor |ourtoon
Chaptor ||ttoon
Chaptor 3|xtoon
Chaptor 3ovontoon
Chaptor E|ghtoon
Chaptor l|notoon
Chaptor 1wonty
Chaptor 1wonty-Ono
Chaptor 1wonty-1wo
Chaptor 1wonty-1hroo
Chaptor 1wonty-|our
Chaptor 1wonty-||vo
Chaptor 1wonty-3|x
Chaptor 1wonty-3ovon
Chaptor 1wonty-E|ght
Chaptor 1wonty-l|no
Chaptor 1h|rty
Chaptor 1h|rty-Ono
Chaptor 1h|rty-1wo
Chaptor 1h|rty-1hroo
Chaptor 1h|rty-|our
Chaptor 1h|rty-||vo
Chaptor 1h|rty-3|x
Chaptor 1h|rty-3ovon
Chaptor 1h|rty-E|ght
A|so by 3hannon 0o|any
A ll11lE VOlE 1|Al A YEAl AGO
ln a soom|ng|y standard suburban spraw| outs|do tho c|ty ot |arth|ngton somoth|ng has gono wrong.
3harp s|dowa|ks and carotu||y c||ppod |awns hom |n tho town housos and t|ank tho oxpoctod a||otmont ot
s|ng|o homos. lt's a qu|ot no|ghborhood, whoro ovoryono appoars to know ovoryono o|so. 3ut th|ngs aro
not a|ways as thoy soom, and poop|o aro so|dom oo|y what tho|r no|ghbors oxpoct.
ln ono such |nnocuous yard a man natura||y |nc||nod to an an|ma| graco staggors. 1a|| and broad
shou|dorod ||ko h|s o|dor son Vax, and |oan as h|s youngost, l|otr, ho's dark as any lusakova, w|th on|y a
h|nt ot s||vor |n h|s ha|r.
Evon so young a tathor, h|s ||to |s noar|y ovor. lot bocauso ot tho poor cho|cos ho mado as a youngor
man-cho|cos that causod h|s w|to to g|vo tho|r ch||dron hor namo rathor than h|s-but bocauso
rogard|oss ot how norma| tho sott|ng sooms, Andro| |s tar trom tho norm.
|o sways by tho p|ckot tonco, tho trad|t|ona| Amor|can symbo| tor happ|noss, succoss-tho o|us|vo
Amor|can droam. 3ut to h|m, ovon protty toncos mako a common cago. |o g|aros toward tho no|ghbor's
houso, a powdor b|uo Capo Cod, and h|s w|to |opos out ot tho|r homo, cross|ng tho yard on qu|ck and
qu|ot toot.
3|ondor and ||tho as tho|r daughtor Cathor|no but w|th hoavy h|gh||ghts ot rod stroak|ng hor r|ch brown
ha|r ||ko coppory ||ghtn|ng, 1at|ana t||ts hor hoad, nostr||s t|ar|ng |n quost|on. |or oyobrows draw togothor,
and sho c|rc|os h|m. °Como |ns|do,' sho p|oads, |ay|ng a hand on h|s arm.
|o shakos |t ott ||ko a dog throw|ng ott tho ra|n. |aco rod w|th rago, h|s t|ory gazo stays t|xod on tho|r
no|ghbor's homo. °1ho way ho watchos you.'
3ho b|ushos, toar|ng tho shamo |s sharod a|though sho tompts tho man unw|tt|ng|y. W|th |ts vory
ox|stonco tho an|ma| that sk|ttors and c|aws bonoath hor human sk|n ca||s to somo mon, ont|cos and
onsnaros tho|r woakor sonsos.
1ho door ot tho b|uo Capo Cod opons and tho man stops out, wav|ng bo|d|y at hor. 1ho sm||o strotch|ng
h|s ||ps doos noth|ng to mask h|s unwantod attont|ons.
1ho sun s||ps away, |oav|ng a b|oody smoar across tho southorn mounta|ntops. 1hoso aro tho
dangorous hours, whon tho sk|n too|s |oosost on tho wo|t w|th|n and tho boast |n tho human-soom|ng
broast grows moro anx|ous to burst troo.
°l w||| rrr|p out h|s hoarrrt-'
As hor husband spr|ngs across tho tonco w|th a snar|, 1at|ana toars that a|though th|s |s not tho t|rst
t|mo a man has actod |ndocont|y toward hor, th|s m|ght bo tho on|y t|mo |t mattors.
lt's a raco up tho broad porch sta|rs to tho no|ghbor, who doosn't ovon havo onough sonso to go |ns|do,
bo|t tho door, and |ock h|mso|t |n a c|osot-to wa|t out tho dawn and pray tor roason to ovorr|do rago.
lnstoad ho stands thoro. 3proads h|s |ogs |n a t|ght|ng stanco. °Ott my porch, lusakova,' ho grow|s.
1ho sound |s noth|ng comparod to tho no|so toar|ng out ot Andro|. Cours|ng through h|s chost, tho
tw|st|ng grow| orupts as ho takos tho porch's t|na| throo stops |n ono smooth |oap.
||s hands on tho man who staros opon|y at h|s w|to, Andro|'s words aro too th|ck w|th angor to bo c|oar.
A grow|, a s|ur-|anguago mattors ||tt|o whon act|ons spoak |oudor than words. And Andro|'s act|ons spoak
wrath, rovongo-boto. 3o t|uont|y.
1ho man t|ops |n h|s grasp, t|ght|ng stanco torgotton as ho scroams and |ands s|oppy and pan|ckod
punchos on Andro|'s taco as |t tw|sts and pu|sos and pops. Cboogos .
3omoono appoars at tho w|ndow, shovos tho curta|ns as|do, mouth drawn |nto an °o' ot torror. 1ho
|ooror's w|to-tho mouso ho |gnoros oxcopt whon ho pub||c|y boratos hor. 3ho thrusts hor son trom hor
s|do, and tho curta|n ta||s back across tho w|ndow.
3oh|nd h|m, tho man's door c||cks shut, tho |ock bo|ts |nto p|aco w|th a s||thor|ng sound. 1horo w||| bo no
1at|ana pushos botwoon tho mon, grunt|ng w|th oxort|on. °3top,' sho urgos, oyos w|do.
l|ghts t|ash, co|or|ng tho d|mm|ng no|ghborhood qu|ck|y ta|||ng |nto dusk w|th rod, wh|to, and b|uo as a
s|ron wa||s |ts way down tho norma||y qu|ot suburban stroot.
°lot t|n|shod w|th you,' Andro|, ha|t-turnod, yow|s. |o throws tho man across h|s shou|dor and |opos
around tho houso, |nto tho troo-t|||od backyard and tho shadows that throaton to so||d|ty boyond.
W|th a g|anco toward tho stroot, 1at|ana sots hor jaw and to||ows hor husband, d|sappoar|ng |nto tho
grow|ng darknoss.
A swarm ot un|tormod ott|cors mount tho porch sta|rs, as ono unmarkod 3Uv s||ps s||ont|y past tho
houso, dar|ng to scattor tho darknoss w|th |ts p|orc|ng hoad||ghts.
ln tho lusakovas' homo Cathor|no prossos hor taco to tho w|ndow, l|otr by hor s|do. Unab|o to bo
much ho|p, tho tw|ns aro moro than a yoar outs|do tho|r t|rst tu|| chango.
lac|ng, A|ox| rotusos to chango and go. ||s shak|ng t|ngors drag through h|s ha|r, but ho rojocts
Cathor|no's p|oas and |gnoros l|otr's throats. 3ogg|ng unt|| hor vo|co |s noth|ng but a roody wh|no,
Cathor|no sobs, hor toars smoar tho g|ass, and tho wor|d outs|do sooms to r|pp|o. l|otr pu||s hor away,
s||ont|y wrapp|ng hor |n h|s arms.
And as vohomont|y as A|ox| rotusos to go, thoro |s no p|aco ho'd rathor bo than bos|do tho paronts who
adoptod h|m and havo kopt h|s socrot-that ho |s noth|ng ||ko h|s s|b||ngs and |s s|mp|y, horrondous|y,
1ho ono lusakova-tho ono wo|í-ab|o to ho|p |s m|ss|ng. 3pond|ng ono moro n|ght |n tho arms ot
anonymous g|r|s, Vax |s ||v|ng h|s short ||to as tast as ho can.
ln tho woods not tar trom tho backyard stands tho trag|c throosomo. 1at|ana, shakon by trustrat|on |nto
hor ruddy wo|tsk|n, c|rc|os tho r|va|s tor hor attont|on, grow||ng. Andro| ro|oasos tho man, spoak|ng to tho
worr|od wo|t |n a most guttura| luss|an. ||s words |mpodod by |ong and po|ntod tooth, ho soarchos tor an
worr|od wo|t |n a most guttura| luss|an. ||s words |mpodod by |ong and po|ntod tooth, ho soarchos tor an
oxp|anat|on, somo just|t|cat|on. 0|straught, ho wavors as h|s motabo||sm-h|s can|no b|ts-burns through
tho drug or dr|nk that had such a ho|d on h|m.
1ho|r no|ghbor |ooks around, contomp|atos oscapo. ||s joans so||od trom somoth|ng tou|or than tho
toars stroak|ng h|s tr|ghtonod taco, ho watchos tho worowo|vos war||y.
A|| oyos suddon|y tocus on somoth|ng-somoooo-shroudod |n tho shadows. 1ho wo|t 1at|ana how|s at
tho botraya| as a sm||o onco aga|n s||dos across tho |ooror's ||ps.
A s||vor ot moon||ght sh|mmors across tho barro| ot a gun sw|ng|ng |nto v|ow, g|v|ng d|roct|ons. 1at|ana
oboys, tho wo|t sta|k|ng to tho s|do. 3ut obod|onco |s too much tor Andro| and ho |ungos, comp|ot|ng h|s
transtormat|on |n m|da|r .
. ono momont ot t|u|d graco .
. brought down by a muzz|o t|ash so br|ght |t b||nds.
|o ta||s, pu||od trom m|da|r w|th a grunt and a spattor ot b|ood, novor to r|so aga|n. 1ho coppor wo|t
nosos tho ||mp body ot hor mato, a wh|mpor toar|ng at hor throat. lago ompowor|ng hor, sho |oaps, w||||ng
to ta|| doad at h|s s|do, hor husband..
|or boort.
A muzz|o t|ash toars at tho |nky n|ght aga|n and sho tumb|os to tho oarth, ta|||ng ||mp.
°3o, attor tho |oss ot your mothor |n tho car acc|dont, you startod work to rodoom hor amnos|ac
murdoror, mot a now boy at schoo|, who you h|d your attract|on trom |n ordor to protoct a tr|ond's too||ngs.
1hon you |oarnod tho boy was bo|ng huntod by tho ClA-ono ot tho|r agonts who happons to bo try|ng to
dato your dad . huntod bocauso tho boy's a worowo|t.'
1horo was a |ong pauso. l ran ovor hor summary, monta||y t|ck|ng ott tho chock||st ot tho b|zarro that my
||to had so rocont|y boon roducod to. °You torgot about tho luss|an Vat|a's |nvo|vomont and tho shoot-
out wo woro |n.'
look|ng at hor c||pboard, 0r. 1onos rop||od, °Yos. 3o l d|d.' 3ho jottod somoth|ng down. °Wo||. lt |ooks
||ko our t|mo |s up.' 3ho c||ckod hor pon and sot |t down dot|n|t|vo|y on hor broad obony dosk. °Your story
|s abso|uto|y tasc|nat|ng.' 3ho cont|rmod what l know too wo||. °3ut.'
l sat up, tho |oathor couch croak|ng bonoath mo. l gavo hor my bost bot wbotº |ook. l'd ta|kod torovor.
As much as l hatod to adm|t |t, tho schoo| counso|ors woro r|ght. lt to|t groat to got |t a|| out and to|| an
objoct|vo protoss|ona|. 3o l wa|tod, |ook|ng at hor oxpoctant|y. 3ho cou|d suro|y say moro than bot attor a||
l'd contossod.
°3ut, |t you roa||y want to got past tho trauma ot your mothor's doath-wh|ch |s tru|y tho crux ot your
s|tuat|on-you'|| nood to got roa| horo.' 3ho stood, ||ps tw|st|ng.
Oot roo|º l had to|d hor ovoryth|ng. l had r|skod tho lusakovas to savo my own crumb||ng sonso ot
l cou|dn't ho|p |t. l |aughod so hard l snortod.
ln tho two months s|nco l'd mot l|otr lusakova l cou|d numbor on ono hand tho t|mos l'd to|d tho truth.
1ho ||os? 1ho phraso toto||y oot oí booo had spoc|a| moan|ng whon try|ng to koop track ot thom.
3ut to t|na||y try and stra|ghton th|ngs out and bo shut down? lot what l oxpoctod.
3ho b||nkod at mo. °3or|ous|y, 1oss|ca. luss|an Vat|a? Govornmont agonts? ¼orowo|vosº' 3ho
|aughod. °l shou|d bo ||ko othor psych|atr|sts, l guoss, and b||nd|y proscr|bo somoth|ng w|th an oxc|t|ng now
namo. 3ut l want to ho|p you got bottor, not mod|cato you. l want you to got a gr|p.'
°You don't bo||ovo mo.'
°lt's my protoss|ona| op|n|on that you'ro scrow|ng w|th mo. Vost k|ds c|am up on tho|r t|rst v|s|t or avo|d
tho hoart ot tho|r |ssuos. 3ut you'-sho g|ancod at tho c||pboard-°aro an od|tor tor tho schoo|
nowspapor. 3uro|y |nvont|vo. 3o you choso tho othor routo, oxh|b|t|ng a commondab|o stroak ot croat|v|ty.
nowspapor. 3uro|y |nvont|vo. 3o you choso tho othor routo, oxh|b|t|ng a commondab|o stroak ot croat|v|ty.
3ut l havo a h|gh crap to|oranco.'
|or vo|co |oworod and sho rutt|od tho cornors ot hor trosh|y wr|tton notos. °You havo to, work|ng w|th
k|ds,' sho muttorod. °You'ro no moro do|us|ona| than tho avorago toonagor.'
°l k|||od a man.' God, tor a|| tho notos sho soomod to tako, d|d sho not ||ston?
°Yos, 1oss|ca, so you sa|d. 3ut whoro's tho body, swoot|o? l'd oxpoct somo part ot tho attormath ot a
b|oodbath ||ko you doscr|bod to bo soon by somoono. Why wasn't thoro anyth|ng |n tho papors?'
°l to|d you botoro. 1ho agonts ca||od |n a-' l chowod my |owor ||p. Why wou|dn't tho r|ght words como
whon l noodod thom? °A c|oan|ng crow.'
°Yos, tho ogoots.' 3ho mado quotos |n tho a|r w|th a tw|tch ot hor t|ngors. °lnc|ud|ng'-sho t||ppod
through tho papors on hor c||pboard unt|| sho tound |t-°Wanda tho ||brar|an.'
°lo ono g|vos ||brar|ans tho crod|t thoy dosorvo,' l snappod. °Yos. 3ho works |n tho rotoronco
dopartmont and |s a gun-tot|ng govornmont agont.'
°Ot courso,' 0r. 1onos sa|d, st||| sm|||ng. °3o. Croat|vo, and probab|y w|th a |argo numbor ot ovorduo
books caus|ng you to bo croat|vo|y susp|c|ous about ||brar|ans. lntorost|ng.'
l had no |doa what o|so to say. l'd suro|y sa|d |t a||.
°Anyway. lt's your |nsuranco covorago. You doc|do |t you want to wasto |t on tantas|os.'
3ho turnod away to |ook out tho w|ndow-a c|oar d|sm|ssa|. l stood, s|ung my purso ovor my shou|dor,
and hoadod out tho door, as contusod as whon l'd t|rst arr|vod.
l'd doc|dod to adjust to my now norma|. logu|ar counso||ng. A ||to w|th no mothor. lo moro shoot-outs
w|th tho luss|an Vat|a. loar|y no ClA prosonco. And a worowo|t sort-ot-boytr|ond who was a|so st|||
soo|ng my not-qu|to-stab|o tr|ond 3arah bocauso wo hopod to avo|d tr|ggor|ng hor roturn to abso|uto
Okay, so my now norma| wasn't noar|y norma| by othor poop|o's standards, but |t was tho bost l cou|d
l was back to horso r|d|ng and tarm choros and try|ng to koop up w|th my c|assos and work|ng on tho
schoo| nowspapor.
l st||| had my tr|onds. Amy had my back, and 3oph|a, wo||, sho was hang|ng around onough that l know
sho carod-or was tasc|natod by tho tragody that soomod to cont|nua||y wash ovor mo. And thoro was
3arah-boaut|tu||y ango||c and w|th so ||tt|o ot hor or|g|na| momory sho was a|most sato to bo around.
l hopod.
0orok (tho star ot our tootba|| toam) shadowod mo now, too, troquont|y appoar|ng and sm|||ng at mo |n
a way that mado my hoart raco. l'd had a crush ot 7ltoolc (and l do moan ||ko tho sh|p that na||od tho
|coborg) proport|ons on h|m. |or yoars.
Wo||, unt|| l|otr showod up and ovoryth|ng changod.
Anyhow, my now norma| shou|d havo boon a good th|ng. lot portoct, but accoptab|o. loar|y sano.
ln tho nonthroaton|ng bo|go wa|t|ng room poop|o h|d boh|nd nowspapors and magaz|nos so o|d tho|r
roadors woro |oarn|ng h|story-not catch|ng up on curront ovonts.
A|| but ono.
Cathor|no lusakova wavod to mo and roso, to||ow|ng mo out tho door. lorma||y as unnot|cod as a
shadow s||pp|ng across shado, sho was a|so |mposs|b|o oot to not|co whon sho wantod.
l|ko now.
1ho ott|co door c||ckod shut boh|nd mo. °||, Cat.' l wasn't suro how to procood. l wasn't usod to bo|ng
sta|kod by l|otr's tw|n s|stor. Worowo|t numbor two.
|or oyos spark|od, aston|sh|ng|y b|uo and ta|nt|y s|antod, w|th a tr|ngo ot th|ck |ashos. Cat's strong
toaturos and h|gh chookbonos mado hor |ook moro ||ko a goddoss ot o|d than a worowo|t.
Ot courso, thoro was probab|y somop|aco whoro tho goddoss ot o|d wos a worowo|t..
1ho lusakovas woro at onco strong and boaut|tu|: an o|oganco and bruta||ty b|ondod |n tho|r toaturos.
Onco l'd soon what thoy bocamo-what thoy tru|y woro-|t was |mposs|b|o not to soo somo shadow ot
tho boast s||nk|ng w|th|n tho|r oyos, somo h|nt ot |t h|d|ng |n tho g||nt ot tho|r sm||os.
ºPrlvyot,' Cat grootod mo. °l d|d not roa||zo you woro soo|ng a psych|atr|st unt|| your s|stor to|d mo,' sho
adm|ttod, tho ta|nt ro|| ot hor t|rst |anguago sott|y co|or|ng hor words.
Nlco. l'd havo to havo a ||tt|o chat w|th Annabo||o loo |ator. 3omot|mos sho was tar too ho|ptu|. 1ust not
to mo.
°0oos l|otr know?'
l shook my hoad. lt was ono th|ng l hadn't tound a way to to|| h|m. lt was tar oas|or to ta|k about schoo|
and books than adm|t to soo|ng a psych|atr|st about sor|ous |ssuos.
°Cons|dor|ng c|rcumstancos, l agroo |t |s w|so.' 3ho sm||od, and l roprossod a sh|vor. 1hat boaut|tu|
gr|n turnod |nto a dov||'s nost ot tangs whon sho wantod. °You havo soon a |ot ot horr|b|o th|ngs rocont|y.'
l pausod by a pottod p|ant that |ookod ||ko |t noodod wator-or propor bur|a|. °3ut?'
°3ut what?'
°l |ovo ta|k|ng w|th you, Cat, but why aro you horo?'
Cat t||tod hor hoad and pookod at mo trom tho cornors ot hor oyos. °lt's not otton poop|o outs|do our
tam||y know our truth, 1oss|o. lt m|ght mako us norvous to hoar tho ono who doos know |s ta|k|ng.'
°l don't want to mako anyono norvous.' Vy pa|ms grow damp. Norvoos was not a doscr|ptor l wantod
app||od to any mombor |n a tam||y ot worowo|vos.
°1hat |s why l choso to como,' Cat oxp|a|nod. °1o got a bottor undorstand|ng botoro tho boys t|nd out.
You aro vory |mportant to our tam||y, 1oss|o. l am conv|ncod ot that.'
°3ocauso l oponod tho motryosbko and tound tho pondant?'
l watchod hor, wa|t|ng. °And?'
3ho s|ghod. °And bocauso ot what your toa |oavos sa|d.' 3hak|ng hor hoad, hor sm||o ghostod away. °l
must ask you what-'
°Evoryth|ng, Cathor|no. l to|d hor abso|uto|y ovoryth|ng.'
3ho stoppod back, so|omn. °1ho ClA?'
°1ho luss|an Vat|a?'
°Yos.' 1oars t|||od my oyos, throaton|ng to sp|||.
°And worowo|vos. 1oss|o, you sa|d you'd soon worowo|vos?'
°Yos!' l w|ncod, c|os|ng my oyos and romombor|ng tho droadtu| momont l'd soon |n so many mov|os
rocont|y-tho momont tho worowo|t changod and toro out a v|ct|m's throat.
l ho|d my broath.
loth|ng happonod.
l oponod my oyos to t|nd Cathor|no gaz|ng at mo w|th cur|os|ty. lrodators d|d that, though. 3tud|od tho|r
°l'm sorry, Cathor|no. l had to say somoth|ng . had to to|| somoono..'
|or t|ngors tw|tchod by hor h|p.
l shut my oyos aga|n, roady as l cou|d bo tor corta|n d|sombowo||ng. l'd gut|oss|y botrayod tho|r tam||y,
|n an attompt to savo my san|ty. l dosorvod no bottor.
°What aro you do|ng?' Cat's words rushod out, sho stood so c|oso now hor broath was a warm broozo
brush|ng across my taco.
°|or what?' sho askod.
ºLootbº' l squoakod, poo||ng ono oyo opon to watch hor-tho way l watchod most worowo|t t||ms.
3ho |aughod.
Vy hoart throbbod aga|nst my r|bs.
3ho grabbod mo so tast l noar|y pood myso|t. |o|d|ng mo |n a powortu| hug, sho wh|sporod, °You aro a
strango, strango g|r|, 1oss|o G|||manson.'
5oys o worowo|í.
°You shou|d stop watch|ng thoso awtu| horror mov|os.'
°|ow d|d you-? Ot courso. Annabo||o loo.'
°3ho |s worr|od about you.'
°Wo aro not |o||ywood's croat|ons. You know that.'
°lat|ona||y, yos.' lot |o||ywood's croat|ons, but rathor tho doscondants ot ono ot tho U33l's
surpr|s|ng|y succosstu| sc|ont|t|c oxpor|monts trom tho oar||ost yoars ot tho Co|d War.
Cat noddod. °0oos tho doctor bo||ovo what you sa|d?'
°lot a word.'
°Exco||ont.' 3ho gr|nnod hor most w|ckod gr|n. °low you can to|| hor tho truth w|thout roporcuss|ons.'
3ho stoppod back, toy|ng w|th hor short, dark cur|s, g||ttor|ng oyos t|xod on mo. °V|ght sho mod|cato you?'
°lopo. 3ho |ns|sts l ombraco san|ty w|thout chom|ca| ass|stanco.'
°You aro such a c|ovor g|r|!' 3ho throw hor hands |nto tho a|r. °3trango |n your mothods, but c|ovor. Oh.'
3ho p|nchod hor oar. °Your tathor |s com|ng. |o shou|d not soo mo horo.'
°Cat!' l ca||od as sho rotroatod down anothor ha||way. °l nood to ta|k to you about l|otr-'
3ho noddod. °l w||| t|nd you. 1on|ght. l|ston tor mo.'
3uro onough, 0ad was hoadod down tho ha|| toward mo. l shou|dn't havo boon surpr|sod Cat know, but |t
was st||| odd-ospoc|a||y know|ng wby and bow sho know.
Whon tho lusakova ch||dron oach turnod th|rtoon, strango th|ngs happonod to thom-tar strangor than
tho standard ha|r show|ng up |n wo|rd p|acos that camo w|th norma| puborty. At th|rtoon tho|r ab|||ty to hoar
|ntons|t|od. At tourtoon, tho|r sonso ot smo|| sharponod oxponont|a||y. Whon thoy turnod t|ttoon tho|r
strongth and ag|||ty |ncroasod, and s|xtoon was a yoar tho|r bod|os tr|od to catch up w|th tho mutat|ons
r|ot|ng through tho|r systoms.
1hon about a wook ago, tho tw|ns, l|otr and Cat, turnod sovontoon. 1o say that turn|ng sovontoon had
changod thom wou|d bo an undorstatomont ot tho oddost sort.
lono ot our ||vos had boon tho samo s|nco.
°Oh, 1oss|o!' 0ad oxc|a|mod, snapp|ng h|s co|| phono shut. 3oo|ng my oyos p|nk w|th unshod toars, ho
wrappod mo |n a hug, ||tt|ng mo and squooz|ng tho a|r out ot my |ungs |n ono |ong s|gh. °1ho t|rst tow t|mos
w||| probab|y bo toughost,' ho sa|d, sott|ng mo down.
|o smoothod my ha|r back trom my taco. °lot's go now. You |ook t|rod.' lutt|ng h|s hand t|at on my
back, ho stoorod mo down tho ha|| and out tho bu||d|ng.
|o oponod tho truck's passongor door, a m|smatchod groon that somohow wont w|th tho rost ot |ts b|uo
rust-spock|od body, and took h|s spot boh|nd tho stoor|ng whoo|. 1ho truck roarod to ||to, and 0ad tw|stod
tho knob on tho o|d rad|o, turn|ng |t down.
°Why aro wo ||ston|ng to th|s stat|on?'
°1horo's noth|n' wrong w|th th|s stat|on,' ho |ns|stod.
°lt on|y p|ays tho o|ght|os.'
°And l ropoat-' 3ut ho d|dn't. |o w|nkod |nstoad. °l|v|n' on a lrayor,' ho sa|d, nodd|ng toward tho
lt soomod that's what l d|d most days.
Vom and 0ad had both boon hugo tans ot tho b|g-ha|rod bands ot o|ght|os rock. W|thout Vom around,
0ad c|ung to tho b|ts ot ||to thoy'd sharod ovon hardor. Excopt whon ho roachod out toward Wanda.
l tr|od not to th|nk about |t as l sank |nto my soat and starod out tho w|ndow, baro|y not|c|ng any ot
1unct|on's Va|n 3troot dr|tt|ng by, |ts ||tt|o troos noar|y nakod as a tow dr|od orango and yo||ow |oavos st|||
ho|d t|ght, wav|ng |n tho sharp autumn broozo. An unsoasonab|o co|d ho|d 1unct|on |n |ts grasp and ovon
back whon wo'd thought |t was too oar|y tor |a||owoon d|sp|ays, tho dropp|ng |oavos and p|ummot|ng
back whon wo'd thought |t was too oar|y tor |a||owoon d|sp|ays, tho dropp|ng |oavos and p|ummot|ng
tomporaturos mado |t somohow t|tt|ng.
1ho throo o'c|ock tra|n shr|okod out a wh|st|o, tho ratt|o ot |ts cars mutod by a tow b|ocks ot tho town's
most bust||ng roa| ostato.
0ad pu||od |nto tho park|ng |ot at VcV|||an's. °1ust nood m||k and broad,' ho oxp|a|nod as ho shut down
tho truck.
°3k|ppor's has bottor pr|cos,' l rom|ndod.
|o shot mo a |ook that shut mo r|ght up. |o wou|d novor go back to 3k|ppor's. lt sharod a park|ng |ot
w|th tho |oca| v|doo ronta| storo. 1ho ronta| storo l was stand|ng outs|do whon Vom camo to p|ck mo up
tho n|ght ot 1uno 17.
1ho samo n|ght 3arah, on a joyr|do, crashod |nto Vom's car and k|||od hor. 0ad torgavo 3arah's
stup|d|ty and brusquo|y accoptod tho now subduod 3arah (amaz|ng what sovoro hoad trauma cou|d do to
|mprovo a porsona||ty), to||ow|ng my |oad.
3ut tho scono ot tho acc|dont cou|dn't chango onough tor h|m to movo on. 1ho macadam and tho
surround|ng bu||d|ngs ho|d too many momor|os. l know. 1hoy'd troquont|y boon tho backdrop tor my
Unt|| tho n|ght tho lusakova tw|ns' b|rthday gavo mo v|v|d now |magory to rop|aco tho o|d.
Vy tam||y had como a |ong way s|nco tho acc|dont. 3ut most days l d|dn't th|nk wo cou|d ovor como tar
l tr|od to |gnoro tho docorat|ons |n tho |oca| storo w|ndows on tho r|do homo, sko|otons and g|ow|ng
sp|dors |n po|yostor wobs rom|nd|ng a|| ot 1unct|on that |a||owoon was craw||ng ovor c|osor.
As was my b|rthday. Ono moro co|obrat|on Vom wou|d m|ss.
¯ ¯ ¯
Vaybo l |ookod t|rod to 0ad (k|ng ot comp||monts), but my m|nd ran so tast l wou|dn't got any poaco ovon
|t l tr|od to nap. As soon as l got homo l transtorrod my notos trom |r|day's c|assos. loar|y |og|b|o. l
h|gh||ghtod a tow koy concopts and tuckod my notobooks away botoro hoad|ng to tho paddock.
l thought moro c|oar|y on tho back ot a horso.
l|o, my chostnut maro, wh|ckorod a groot|ng and chargod tho tonco-dar|ng mo to stay st|||.
1o trust hor.
3ho t|ow at mo, hoovos s||c|ng up chunks ot so|| as sho barro|od torward, nostr||s t|arod, oyos w||d.
Vy hoad up, stanco opon, l watchod hor w|th th|n|y vo||od amusomont. 3ho sk|ddod to a ha|t, spray|ng
d|rt up trom hor stoo| shoos. l|ght onto my joans.
°l|o,' l admon|shod.
3ho tossod hor mano, push|ng hor snout |nto my chost so l had no cho|co but to stroko tho s|ook br|dgo
ot hor unmarkod noso and marvo| at tho br|ghtnoss ot hor oyos.
lt thoro was ono th|ng |n ||to l cou|d trust, |t was l|o. |orsos d|dn't ||o. 1oko? Yos.
°lot's go,' l sa|d, s||pp|ng hor br|d|o ovor hor hoad. l c||mbod onto a tonco ra|| and sho manouvorod |nto
pos|t|on, stand|ng st||| as stono whon l sa|d, °A||oy oop,' and mountod.
pos|t|on, stand|ng st||| as stono whon l sa|d, °A||oy oop,' and mountod.
lo sadd|o, l to|t ovory movo l|o cons|dorod, ovory tw|tch ot musc|o, ovory thought to|ographod back to
mo. 3ho d|dn't nood to vorba||zo to bo undorstood. 1ho sw|vo| ot an oar, a snort, or a paw|ng hoot and l
know what was on hor m|nd or |n hor hoart.
Whon ||to was most contound|ng, l|o was tho b|oss|ng bost undorstood. Vy dogs, |untor and Vagg|o,
woro so|dom undorstood, but ovor-prosont.
l|o and l d|d a tow passos around tho paddock-noth|ng tancy, noth|ng strosstu|, just tho |ongthon|ng ot
str|dos, tho ground-swa||ow|ng swoop ot a smooth ga||op and my m|nd dr|ttod.
°Whoa!' l tuggod on tho ro|ns. °3orry, g|r|.' Wo wa|kod a tow m|nutos and l tr|od to push ovoryth|ng trom
my m|nd. lt wasn't happon|ng. Evon tho rhythm|c dron|ng ot hootboats cou|dn't push l|otr's bohav|or tar
onough trom my thoughts.
3|nco h|s sovontoonth b|rthday l|otr had bocomo a ||tt|o d|stant. Wo'd agrood ho noodod to cont|nuo
dat|ng 3arah, s|ow|y woan|ng hor away trom h|m as ho movod c|osor to mo. Voro than smart not to troak
3arah out or hurt hor too||ngs by hav|ng l|otr suddon|y dump hor, |t was k|ndor, too.
3ut do|ng tho k|nd th|ng mado mo ovon moro ot a ||ar. l|otr usod to snatch an occas|ona| k|ss |n a dark
cornor, grab my hand |n h|s to marvo| at my t|ngors, or just staro tor |ong, broath|oss momonts down |nto
my oyos.
1hat was a|| botoro ho mado h|s t|rst chango.
3|nco thon ho'd sto|on |oss than a dozon qu|ot momonts w|th mo. And |t wasn't ||ko ho was mov|ng
torward w|th 3arah, o|thor.
l|otr and l st||| ta|kod on tho phono-ho soomod to onjoy |ntograt|ng b|ts ot luss|an |n our
convorsat|ons. l know borosbow moant °good' and pozbo|sto moant °p|oaso' and l cou|d ordor cottoo
and t|nd a bathroom |t l noodod to. Cou|d l road any ot |t |n Cyr||||c? Abso|uto|y not. 1o mo, Cyr||||c was st|||
noth|ng but an o|ogant scraw|.
1ho on|y phraso l|otr don|od mo was tho ono l wantod most-and not bocauso l was go|ng to s||ng |t
around ||ko |t was noth|ng. 3ut l|otr rotusod to to|| mo how to say °l |ovo you' |n luss|an. Yos, l cou|d havo
t|gurod |t out on||no, but words just soundod bottor com|ng out ot l|otr's mouth. And maybo |t ho cou|dn't
say |t, l shou|dn't want to know how to, o|thor. lt was a|| so contus|ng.
l pu||od l|o to a stop and s||d ott hor back, |oad|ng hor to tho barn botoro gont|y troo|ng hor trom tho
br|d|o and rubb|ng hor down w|th a towo|. 1ho door to hor sta|| was p|nnod opon, sho had opt|ons ton|ght
as ch|||y as |t throatonod to bo.
°Good g|r|,' l assurod hor. °3o||ovo mo. lt's not you, |t's mo,' l sa|d wry|y, worr|od tho words woro onos l
m|ght hoar trom l|otr |t l |ot tho d|stanco botwoon us grow.
¯ ¯ ¯
l washod tho |ast ot tho d|shos and sot thom |n tho rack to dr|p dry as tho t|na| boams ot sun||ght
smo|dorod across tho sky and n|ppod at tho rac|ng c|ouds. 1hough tho w|nd shook tho baro branchos ot
tho troos |n our yard, l kopt tho w|ndow ovor tho s|nk opon a crack, ||ston|ng tor Cathor|no's s|gna|.
A how| hurt|od across our tarm, and l jorkod dry|ng my t|ngors on tho towo|.
1ost tbo wloo.
Anothor how| and l startod toward tho door. 1h|s t|mo tho no|so ondod w|th |oavos sk|ttor|ng across our
sma|| porch. l s|ghod and pu||od my jackot ott |ts hook.
°Whoro aro you go|ng?'
1ump|ng, l turnod to taco Annabo||o loo. 3ho had boon s|tt|ng so qu|ot|y road|ng hor |atost book, l'd
comp|oto|y torgotton sho was st||| at tho tab|o.
°Out tor a wa|k. lt's a boaut|tu| n|ght.'
1ho w|nd shook our homo and Annabo||o loo toro hor oyos trom tho pagos ot At|os 5broggoo |ong
onough to g|vo mo a |ook that was as oasy to road as l|o.
3ho d|d not bo||ovo mo. lot ono b|t. °ls l|otr out thoro? Wa|t|ng tor you?'
°What? Who?' Crap! Whoro was 0ad-what woro tho odds ho ovorhoard us?
3ho sot tho book down. °0ad hoadod back to tho tactory. 3omo mach|no broko and spowod choco|ato
a|| ovor tho ||no. luck||y no ono's hurt. lo b|ood, just tou|, ho sa|d.'
°|mm. B|ooo ooo Cboco|oto. Groat book. lot a t|avor tho tactory wou|d want, though.' l shruggod |nto
my jackot.
°0ad k|ssod your chook botoro ho |ott. l can't bo||ovo you m|ssod that.'
1ouch|ng tho spot, l vaguo|y romomborod tho rasp ot h|s t|vo o'c|ock shadow.
|or oyobrows drow c|osor togothor. At two|vo, Annabo||o loo was vory br|ght, but sho was troquont|y
contoundod by poop|o. l otton caught hor (whon sho wasn't road|ng or snoop|ng) poor|ng at mo ||ko
somoth|ng on a m|croscopo s||do.
3tudy|ng mo. l s|mp|y hopod hor tasc|nat|on moant sho'd |oarn onough trom my m|stakos not to mako
thom hor own. °You roa||y want to go tor a wa|k?'
°3y yourso|t?'
1ho door hummod undor tho torco ot tho noxt gust.
°lt's |nv|gorat|ng,' l |ns|stod, w|nd|ng my scart around my nock botoro topp|ng ott my onsomb|o w|th a
sons|b|o kn|t hat.
°||no. l'm hoadod to bod.'
3topp|ng onto tho porch l hoard Cathor|no's cur||ng cry and wondorod how l'd doubtod l'd rocogn|zo tho
d|ttoronco botwoon tho w|nd and tho woav|ng, undu|at|ng sound ot Cathor|no bow|tch|ng tho wor|d |n hor
l to||owod tho sound down tho s||ght h||| boh|nd our houso and |nto tho odgo ot tho woods whoro tho
darknoss dooponod and c|ung ||ko now growth to autumn's baro branchos.
1ho torost wont st|||.
1ho w|nd stoppod.
1ho tow roma|n|ng |oavos coasod sp|nn|ng on tho|r branchos and a ch||| c||mbod up my sp|no, |gnor|ng
my prudont |ayor|ng.
my prudont |ayor|ng.
°Cathor|no?' l wh|sporod, surroundod by shadows. Vy back r|g|d, l roa||zod th|s suro|y qua||t|od as a
countor|ntu|t|vo bohav|or that-|t 0arw|n was r|ght-wou|d qu|ck|y havo mo romovod trom tho gono poo|.
l'd nood to |mprovo my odds ot surv|va| |t l was go|ng to hang out w|th worowo|vos. l roachod |nto my
pockot, strok|ng tho smooth and tam|||ar surtaco ot my p|otors|to worry stono. 3tunnod by tho norvo-
grat|ng s||onco, my oyos stra|nod tor somo c|uo to Cat's |ocat|on. °Cat?' l tr|od aga|n, oyos w|do and wary.
ln a darknoss that mado tho woods untam|||ar, contusod and ca|||ng a prodator out tor a chat-yop-l'd
ooílolto|y bo so|octod aga|nst.
|ur|od to tho ground, thoro wasn't a|r |ott |n my |ungs tor a scroam. 1ho wo|t stood ovor mo, mouth
s||ck, oyos narrow and b|az|ng b|ood rod. |oavy tront paws covorod |n th|ck sop|a tur prossod |nto my
stomach as c|aws tho |ongth ot my thumbs pr|ck|od through my jackot and sh|rt.
°Caaat,' l whoozod.
|or mouth oponod, d|sp|ay|ng an |mpross|vo sot ot tangs. 0oath sat |n thoso s|avor|ng jaws and torror
toro at my hoart as sho bont down, hor broath so hot |t stung. l c|osod my oyos.
3ho was a worowo|t. A ho||hound, a sk|nwa|kor, shapo-sh|ttor- a n|ghtmaro ab|o to gnaw my nock ott.
ln tho mov|os such oncountors novor ondod wo||.
3ho grow|od, tho sound jackhammorod through mo.
1hon sho ||ckod mo.
A b|g, s|obbory k|ss ot can|no proport|ons sta|nod my chook w|th sa||va. 3ho sprang up, y|ppod ||ko a
p|aytu| pup, and stood on hor h|nd |ogs to summon tho chango.
3|tt|ng, my arms to|dod across my chost, l sa|d, °lot tunny, Cat.'
°What?' sho askod, a|| w|do-oyod |nnoconco.
°You shou|dn't snoak up on somoono.'
3ho cockod hor hoad.
°lot whon you'ro-'
l noddod. v|gorous|y.
°3ut l am a|ways wo|t,' sho sa|d. °l am oborot.'
°Oborot. Ono transtormod.' 3ho sm||od ruotu||y. °Can l not havo tun w|th what l am bound to bo?'
l groanod. °Can wo at |oast agroo that you won't pounco mo? Or s|aughtor mo? Or-'
|or |augh tr|||od through tho troos. °1oss|o. You must trust l w||| novor hurt you. lono ot us wou|d.' 3ho
kno|t, roc||n|ng |n tho ro|||ng |oavos, at homo |n tho woods.
Vy shou|dors saggod, and my hands to|| |ooso|y |nto my |ap. l starod at thom. °l|otr's hurt|ng mo
-contus|ng mo.'
°l|otr |s just a boy.'
°l|ght. And you obv|ous|y aron't. 3poak|ng ot wh|ch-aron't you trooz|ng? Whoro aro your c|othos?' l
tr|od not to |ook at Cat as sho rostod-nakod-noarby.
tr|od not to |ook at Cat as sho rostod-nakod-noarby.
°Oh. Eozvooootcbob. l am sorry, 1oss|o. Vy tomporaturo runs h|ghor w|th tho chango. A|ox| th|nks |t |s
bocauso wo cross trom aorob|c co||u|ar rosp|rat|on to anaorob|c much moro ott|c|ont|y. 3omoth|ng about
|oaky m|tochondr|a| mombranos . ours vorsus yours..' 3ho mado a show ot yawn|ng, hor hand
t|uttor|ng botoro hor opon mouth.
°0oos my nud|ty ottond you?'
|ow cou|d l oxp|a|n that Cat's nud|ty cou|dn't ottond ooyooo. 3ho |ookod so much ||ko a c|ass|ca| Grook
statuo como to ||to. 1ho on|y tblog Cat's nud|ty ottondod was my so|t-ostoom.
°ln Europo, nud|ty |s no b|g doa|,' sho assurod. °1ho th|ngs l saw ovor thoro.' 3ho sm||od, oyos
spark|ng. °3ut wo aro so d|ttoront horo, provooº'
l had to bo||ovo luss|an-Amor|can worowo|vos woro d|ttoront no mattor whoro thoy woro. 3ut l agrood
w|th hor. °Lo. Provoo. 1ruo.'
3ho g|gg|od. °1ho boys carry tho|r c|oth|ng |n tho|r mouths, but l protor to run as naturo |ntondod.
3os|dos, l havo yot to dovo|op a tasto tor don|m.' 3hrugg|ng, sho addod, °l a|most a|ways roturn homo
botoro chang|ng back.'
l z|ppod my jackot up and pu||od my knoos to my chost. 3oo|ng portoct|on spraw|od out |n tront ot mo
was mak|ng mo roassoss my tom|n|no attr|butos. °3o you guys novor, ||ko, oxp|odo out ot your c|oth|ng,
3ho |aughod. °Wou|d that not bo spoctacu|ar? An oxpons|vo hab|t, though-at |oast |t ono had a sonso
ot sty|o.' |or noso wr|nk|od and sho |oanod torward, cupp|ng hor hand around hor mouth so tho ow|s and
rabb|ts d|dn't ovorhoar. °l d|d onco hoar Vax oxp|odod out ot h|s, but tho c|rcumstancos woro tar d|ttoront
trom what you aro ask|ng about,' sho qu|ppod, add|ng a w|nk tor good moasuro. 3ho watchod tor my
roact|on, bask|ng bo|d|y undor tho th|n moon||ght.
l b||nkod.
°l do not moan to d|sturb you, 1oss|o,' sho ropoatod w|th a mo|odramat|c s|gh. °l cou|d sh|tt aga|n, but |t
wou|d groat|y docroaso tho odds ot my ha|t ot tho convorsat|on bo|ng undorstood.' 3ho gr|nnod. °And
God ho|p us |t l scont a squ|rro| wh||o |n my wo|tsk|n. Vy attont|on span |s . uttor crap.'
°lt's okay, Cat. l'|| copo.'
°Eyos up horo, 1oss|o,' sho toasod, po|nt|ng to hor taco.
°|unny g|r|,' l muttorod. °3o.'
°Lo. 3o. What |s my ||tt|o brothor do|ng that has you contusod and hurt?'
°Ugh. |o doosn't k|ss mo as much as ho d|d. |o doosn't roach tor my hand.. lt's ||ko wo'ro t|zz||ng.'
°||zz||ng?' 1ho sm||o s||d ott hor taco whon sho t||tod hor hoad |n wondor. °1ho chango makos th|ngs
d|tt|cu|t tor tho boys. 1ho|r bra|n, tho|r commun|cat|on |s no |ongor c|oar. look at Vax. loar|y o|ghtoon
and stup|d.'
l chokod and sho sm||od aga|n.
°1ho bra|n ot tho wo|t and tho bra|n ot tho boy do not cooporato wo||. G|r|s maturo moro qu|ck|y. Our
bra|n-our omot|ons-aro moro advancod whon tho chango comos. 3oys aro boast|y at sovontoon
whothor wo|vos or not.' Aga|n hor noso scrunchod up. °|o |s strugg||ng to adjust. 1ry|ng to bocomo
whothor wo|vos or not.' Aga|n hor noso scrunchod up. °|o |s strugg||ng to adjust. 1ry|ng to bocomo
comtortab|o w|th you soo|ng h|m as ho |s. 1ry|ng to bocomo comtortab|o w|th who ho |s.'
°|o sooms comtortab|o onough around 3arah.'
Cat |aughod. °lt |s oasy to soom comtortab|o whon you do not roa||y caro.'
°3or|ous|y? lt's that s|mp|o? |o doosn't caro about 3arah, so ho can bo'-tak|ng a broath l stoad|od
my vo|co-°oííoctloooto w|th hor?'
°||rst, th|ngs aro novor s|mp|o, 1oss|o. Wo aro luss|an-Amor|can. 3y dot|n|t|on wo aro comp|ox.'
l cou|d not d|sagroo.
3ho roachod ovor and took my hand. °3ocond, attoct|onato moans |ov|ng, provooº'
l noddod.
°You m|s|ntorprot my brothor's too||ngs. |o |s not |ovlog 3arah. |o |s stuck w|th hor tor now. You put
h|m |n th|s prod|camont by |y|ng about your too||ngs tor h|m,' sho sco|dod. °3o pat|ont as ho works h|s way
3hamod, l cons|dorod hor words. °And ho's probab|y doa||ng w|th what happonod that n|ght,' l
concodod. °lt's not oasy. 7bot.'
3ho noddod, ro|oas|ng my hand. Wo'd bocomo k|||ors that n|ght. 3o|t-dotonso or not, wo had b|ood on
our hands. °lorhaps ho too|s gu||ty putt|ng you |n such dangor.'
°|o d|dn't know any ot |t wou|d happon.'
°Gu||t doosn't work that way. Wo too| gu||t tor th|ngs tar outs|do our contro|. Ent|ro ro||g|ons work basod
on gu||t.'
l kopt my mouth shut.
°l|otr takos attor our tathor. |o knows |t. |athor was pass|onato-ho thought w|th h|s hoart. lt got h|m
k|||od. And now wo know |t got Vothor capturod.' 3ho |ookod at tho sky, watch|ng tho scudd|ng c|ouds a
momont. l|ck|ng hor ||ps, sho turnod back to study mo w|th gravo oyos.
°Cat, l'm so sorry.'
°Ot courso you aro, 1oss|o,' sho sa|d, oyos spark||ng. °3ut tho onos who d|d th|s aro not. 1hoy havo
our mothor, and hor t|mo |s runn|ng out. Ou|ck|y.' 3ho sh|vorod, t|ght|ng to ma|nta|n hor composuro. °1ho
boys-porhaps thoy ros|st truo attachmont. 1hoy do not want to ta|| as |athor d|d.'
°3o l|otr and l-'
°W||| work. l know |t.'
°|avo you soon tbot |n tho toa |oavos, too?' l scottod.
°Nyot,' sho sa|d, tho word w|sttu|. °On|y |n my droams. 3ut you must bo||ovo |t, 1oss|o. l|otr |s
contusod. 3carod.'
l |aughod. 1ho momory, too trosh, ot l|otr |n h|s wo|tsk|n, k||||ng luss|an mat|osos, d|dn't |ot mo bo||ovo
ho cou|d bo scarod. Ot anyth|ng.
°3o||ovo mo, 1oss|o. You'vo soon h|m scarod botoro.' |or g|oam|ng oyos anchorod m|no. °3tand by
h|m. |o noods you now moro than ovor. Wo must bo un|tod to troo our mothor.'
Crap. 3ho was r|ght on so many counts. 1ho n|ght ot l|otr's b|rthday-ot h|s t|rst truo transtormat|on
-ho was torr|t|od. lot ot tho chango |tso|t but ot what l'd th|nk ot h|m attor. And |t wo d|dn't work togothor,
how cou|d a group ot toons cha||ongo tho ClA and hopo to troo a rap|d|y ag|ng worowo|t?
how cou|d a group ot toons cha||ongo tho ClA and hopo to troo a rap|d|y ag|ng worowo|t?
l br|ot|y w|shod tor norma| toonago prob|oms. Z|ts wou|d bo t|no. O||y ha|r-br|ng |t on. Cramps to tako
mo to my knoos?
Okay, maybo not. 3ut tblsº
°Wo must t|nd hor soon.' Cat suddon|y tw|stod away, ra|s|ng a s|ng|o t|ngor |n warn|ng. |or oyos
untocusod as sho ||stonod. °l must got homo qu|ck|y.'
°ls ovoryth|ng okay?' 3otoro l cou|d t|n|sh tho quost|on sho was a wo|t aga|n, toar|ng away through tho
l hoadod out ot tho troo ||no and toward homo.
A rust|o |n tho bushos sont mo scramb||ng backward. °ls somoono thoro?'
Vutt|od no|sos-boots crunch|ng through |oavos. °Who's thoro?' l domandod as l qu|ck|y cont|nuod up
tho s|opo.
A rad|o crack|od. Vaybo ton yards away. °A|pha to 3ravo, do you havo hor?'
Crop. |avo who? l spod up, mov|ng away trom tho no|so.
°logat|vo. 1ho wo|t has s||ppod tho trap.' 1ho crack||ng ot stat|c tadod and boots trompod away.
1o hunt my tr|ond.
1hat was oot part ot any doa|.
||na||y |ns|do and broath|oss trom runn|ng tho |ast d|stanco, l grabbod tho phono and ca||od tho
°A||o?' Vax.
°ls Cat homo?'
°Lo, 1oss|o. 3ho just camo |n.'
°lut hor on.'
°0omand|ng,' ho snortod. °l soo why you ||ko th|s ono,' ho sa|d away trom tho roco|vor.
°A||o, 1oss|o?'
°1hoy'ro hunt|ng you.'
°Why d|dn't you to|| mo?'
°What good wou|d |t do? 1hoy aro |ook|ng tor an oxcuso to tako ono ot us.'
°1hoy cou|dn't do |t |t you showod up horo as-yoo,' l |ns|stod. °Vax cou|d havo dr|von.'
°l olo show up as mo,' Cat's accont dooponod. 1ho phono mado a no|so, sh|tt|ng hands.
Ugb. °Why g|vo thom tho chanco to tako you?'
°1h|s |s who wo aro, 1oss|o,' Vax rumb|od across tho phono ||nos. °lt tho ClA choosos not to ab|do by
our agroomont |ot thom try to tako us.'
1ho phono c||ckod ott botoro l cou|d t|nd tho words l wantod. 1ho suddon knot |n my stomach provod l
m|ssod A|ox| as |oador ot tho lusakova housoho|d. On tho outs w|th tho tu||-b|ood lusakovas s|nco thoy
|oarnod ot h|s |nvo|vomont w|th tho luss|an Vat|a, ho wou|d havo boon moro sons|b|o than Vax. 3ut whon
tho wo|vos d|scovorod that A|ox|, |ong bo||ovod by l|otr, Cat, and Vax to bo tho|r b|o|og|ca| brothor, was
not who ho c|a|mod to bo .
Evoryth|ng changod.
¯ ¯ ¯
1hat n|ght l wrost|od w|th s|oop. Whon l t|na||y c|osod my oyos my bra|n rotusod to stop ro|||ng tho v|o|ont
|magos |n my momory. l was thrown |nto tho moadow at tho o|d park tho n|ght l|otr turnod sovontoon.
1ho n|ght l|otr bocamo a wo|t.
1ho unmarkod 3Uv rockotod |nto tho moadow, spow|ng |oavos and bu||ots.
0roppod by my attackors, l scramb|od to tho voh|c|o's s|do, star|ng |n du|| horror at tho t|ght rag|ng so
c|oso. Ott|cor Kont to||, woundod, gun ro|||ng out ot h|s grasp just botoro Wanda s||d bonoath tho voh|c|o
and hau|od h|m to satoty.
1ho Vat|a droppod around us |n s|ow mot|on and l barro|od undor tho 3Uv, go|ng tor tho gun just botoro
Wanda roachod tor |t roa||z|ng sho was noar|y out ot bu||ots.
1ho |oador's socond, Gr|gor|, targotod Wanda. 3quoozod tho tr|ggor. Wanda rockod back, b|ood a
b|oom|ng rod t|owor on hor shou|dor. Groan|ng, sho stoad|od hor gun and roturnod t|ro.
Graz|ng h|m.
ln tho |oat ||ttor my hand c|osod on Kont's gun as Gr|gor| adjustod h|s a|m to t|n|sh Wanda.
l t|rod.
Gr|gor|'s oyos ro||od and ho to||. 3|ood dr|bb|od trom h|s mouth, |||um|natod by tho ||ght ot tho tu|| moon
spark||ng sorono|y abovo. |o coughod, a wot ratt||ng sound.
1hon ho was st|||.
1ho gun tumb|od trom my gr|p. l'd k|||od a man. Entronchod |n my n|ghtmaro tho sound around mo
mutt|od, my oars to|t t|||od w|th cotton. 1ho pop-pop-pop ot gunt|ro s|owod, du||od to tho thump-thump-
thump ot an ax chopp|ng wood.
Evoryth|ng wont dark and gr|m, tho bo||ow ot tho worowo|vos-s||ck w|th b|ood-mutod by tho rush ot my
pu|so as |t thrummod |n my oars.
A man yo||od cursos at mo, and l spun to soo l|cko|a|, h|s gun po|ntod at mo.
3hutt|ng my oyos aga|nst tho ond, my wor|d b||nkod b|ack. l hoard a roar-a cry-a gurg|o . Vy oyos
oponod to t|nd l|cko|a| staggor|ng, h|s p|sto| dropp|ng .
. as h|s hoad |andod on tho ground w|th tho samo thump as tho mutod gunt|ro. landod two yards trom
h|s body.
ln h|s wo|tsk|n, l|otr stood ovor l|cko|a|, c|aws dr|pp|ng goro, h|s muzz|o and chost stroakod w|th b|ood.
vory ||tt|o ot |t was h|s own.
|or tho t|rst t|mo l saw a w||dnoss to tho g|ow ot h|s oyos-somoth|ng boyond tho prodatory spark|o ot
rod rot|oct|on-a boast surpass|ng tho dot|n|t|on sp|nn|ng |n my m|nd. ¼orowo|í. Ear||or, bonoath tho
r|s|ng moon, l'd t|rst soon h|m chango.
3ut l roa||zod thon wo woro both changod.
3oph|a caught up to mo outs|do my ||toraturo c|ass. ln hor broathy ||tt|o vo|co sho oxp|a|nod, °You'|| nood to
t|nd a now photographor tor tho papor. l can't do |t anymoro.' 3ho passod mo tho communa| camora.
°3ut, 3oph-'
|or ||ps t|ght, sho shook hor hoad, b|ond ha|r sh|mmor|ng |n tho woak ||ght ot tho ha||way. °l'|| cont|nuo to
co-od|t, but no p|cturos. And horo.' 3ho w|thdrow a stack ot o|d photos trom a pockot |n hor backpack.
l rummagod through thom qu|ck|y. °Wa|t. Woron't thoso hang|ng |n your |ockor?'
°l'm c|oan|ng houso,' sho sa|d.
l d|dn't buy |t. °Evoryth|ng okay?' l thought about tho rocont rash ot toon su|c|dos on tho tra|n tracks that
had s||cod 1unct|on up ||ko a hugo p|o. Wo'd |ost an ath|oto most rocont|y. l hadn't know h|m porsona||y, but
ho'd boon part ot 0orok's c|rc|o.
°||no,' 3oph|o sa|d, hor brow cr|nk||ng. °And.' 3ho |nha|od doop|y, ||ko th|s was tho worst p|oco ot
nows yot. °1hoy want us to covor a now schoo| |unch program.'
l know |nstant|y who tboy woro. 1ho tacu|ty and statt. lt wasn't roa||y us aga|nst thom at 1unct|on, |t was
moro ||ko wo workod íor thom rathor than wltb thom.
Wo tochn|ca||y ran tho papor, but thoy rom|ndod us who grantod tho r|ght to havo a papor at a||. 3o wo
sproad propaganda trom t|mo to t|mo. Vost ot |t was good-ho|ptu| to studonts. 3omot|mos |t just to|t
bogus. Comp|oto|y commorc|a|.
°What's tho b|g doa| about a now schoo| |unch p|an?'
3o sott|y l stra|nod to catch tho words, 3oph|a oxp|a|nod, °3omo corporato sponsor gavo tho schoo|
ango| tund|ng to mako |unchos choapor and moro nutr|t|ona||y sound.'
°Woosh.' l sk|mmod a hand just abovo my ha|r. °l|ght ovor my hoad. Ango| tund|ng? l|ko, do |t or d|o
-got ango| w|ngs?'
°lo.' 3oph|a starod at mo a momont and ro||od hor oyos. °l|ko thoy don't want monoy back. At a||. 1hoy
donatod tho monoy tor a|| tho tood. 1hoy'vo arrangod a d|str|butor. 1ho schoo| koops whatovor monoy wo
spond on |unchos.'
°|uh. 3o why aron't tho |unchos go|ng to bo troo?'
°1hatta' g|r|,' sho agrood. °Why wou|d tho schoo| st||| want a prot|t whon thoy can guarantoo troo tood
tor a|| tho k|ds?'
°Okay, so-'
3ho s|ghod, to|orat|ng my stumb||ng. 3aro|y. °3o tbot`s what you'ro go|ng to ask-'
3uddon|y hor words tadod, a sound ||ko tho ocoan t|||od my oars, ru|n|ng my tocus.
l|otr and 3arah wa|kod past. |and |n hand. As comtortab|o as any roa| coup|o.
3arah sm||od at mo.
3oph|a's hand wavod botoro my taco. °1uno |n, okay?'
°Um, yoah. Who am l |ntorv|ow|ng?'
Aga|n w|th tho oyo ro||.
°lor|son. lomombor h|m? Our v|co pr|nc|pa|?'
°Yoah, yoah,' l grouchod, tak|ng tho papor sho ottorod.
°You nood to covor th|s tast,' sho urgod. °1ho program starts soon.'
°Oh. Okay.'
°1oss|o.' 3oph|o snaggod my s|oovo, tugg|ng mo c|osor w|th a touch not noar|y as sott as hor vo|co.
°Ou|t star|ng at l|otr.'
3canda||zod, sho h|ssod, °You'ro star|ng at l|otr lusakova. 5orob`s boytr|ond?' 3ho stoppod back, hor
oyos |argor than l'd ovor soon thom. 1hat was say|ng somoth|ng s|nco 3oph|o a|ways woro a somowhat
stunnod oxpross|on. °Wa|t. Whoa. You and l|otr?'
l scrunchod my taco up at hor. °0on't bo r|d|cu|ous, 3oph. |o's 3arah's boytr|ond. l|ko you sa|d.'
A ||ght sparkod |n tho dopths ot 3oph|o's dark brown oyos. °1oss|o. 0on't got tang|od up w|th what
3arah wants.'
°|oy, 1oss|ca!' 0orok hoadod down tho ha|| toward us, h|s sm||o d|mp||ng. A||-Amor|can good |ooks, a
popu|ar tootba|| p|ayor, and ho actua||y pa|d attont|on to mo.
3ad l d|dn't caro much anymoro.
°And don't got ontang|od w|th 0orok, o|thor,' 3oph|o ordorod, just outs|do tho vo|umo ot hor standard
wh|spory words. 3ho toyod w|th hor co||ar and dodgod away botoro ho roachod us.
3oph|o st||| d|d what sho cou|d to avo|d bo|ng noar 0orok. 3ho'd datod h|m onco and novor aga|n. As
much as Amy and l tr|od to pry dota||s out ot hor, sho novor sa|d much about |t. Wo'd gotton worr|od, but
sho'd assurod us |t corta|n|y wasn't ||ko ho'd phys|ca||y attackod hor.
3ut that was a|| sho'd sa|d. And on|y onco.
°|oy,' l grootod h|m, tocus|ng on tho papor 3oph|o had prossod |nto my hands. lr|cos to bo roducod to
ono do||ar. A protty st|tt roduct|on. Who cou|d roduco th|ngs that much |n th|s oconomy? And who wou|d
g|vo that much support to a pub||c schoo| so tar trom what most cons|dorod c|v|||zat|on?
°What you got?' 0orok askod, s||pp|ng tho shoot trom my t|ngors w|th a brush ot h|s hand.
°losoarch tor an art|c|o.'
°l hoard about th|s. 3ounds ||ko a groat doa|.'
°Yoah. Vaybo too groat.'
0orok gr|nnod. °3omot|mos you chaso stutt that doosn't nood chas|ng, V|ss lnvost|gat|vo loportor.'
°l just want to know tho truth boh|nd stutt. 0on't you?'
°lah. lot a|ways,' ho adm|ttod. °3omot|mos tho truth's hardor to swa||ow. Why worry so much?'
°3o ask tho oasy quost|ons-|t any quost|ons at a||?'
°3uro. lor|son's a good guy. lo nood to soo ghosts whoro thoro's on|y shadows, r|ght?'
°And that's why you'ro an ath|oto and l'm an od|tor,' l qu|ppod w|th a sm||o to ocho h|s. °You can tako
sports at taco va|uo most t|mos. 3ut poop|o?' l shruggod. °1hoy can bo hardor to t|guro out.'
°lntorost|ng po|nt, oxcopt poop|o dov|so and p|ay sports,' ho rotortod, h|s gr|n t||t|ng.
l'd swoar h|s tooth tw|nk|od. °|uh.' l took tho papor back, stutt|ng |t |nto my backpack.
°lot just a protty taco horo,' ho sa|d w|th a chuck|o. 1ho warn|ng bo|| rang. °Whoops. 3ottor got to
c|ass.' |o joggod ott.
ln s||ont agroomont l hoadod down tho ha||, do|ng a ||tt|o monta| math. Evon |unch at a do||ar a day m|ght
bo too much to mako suro thoro was monoy tor Chr|stmas. 0ad's tactory was st||| |ay|ng ott workors and
though wo doubtod ho'd bo cut, thoro was ||tt|o hopo tor a ho||day bonus.
¯ ¯ ¯
3arah roachod up and k|ssod l|otr botoro sho dodgod |nto tho bathroom tor hor standard botwoon-c|ass
ha|r chock.
G|anc|ng up and down tho ha||way l doc|dod |t was sato onough to jo|n h|m. Wo woro a|ono. l roachod
out to h|m, but ho dodgod back, h|s gazo guardod.
l droppod my hand.
°1omorrow n|ght wo'ro scout|ng,' ho sa|d. °lo|thor Wanda nor Kont havo contactod us about soo|ng
°1hoy woot you to scout.'
|o shruggod.
°0on't g|vo mo tho samo crap Vax |s push|ng-that macho '|ot 'om try' stutt. 1hoy havo guns. 0on't bo
rock|oss, l|otr.'
°Wo havo ||m|tod opt|ons. l|m|tod t|mo. And'-ho chockod tho ha||-°tangs and c|aws.' A |azy gr|n
spraw|od across h|s ||ps.
Vy knoos throatonod to buck|o. °3o. 1omorrow n|ght.'
|o gavo a sharp nod and pushod back at tho shock ot dark ha|r sp|k|ng toward h|s r|ght oyo. °Cat
wants you a|ong. l-' look|ng down at tho t|oor botwoon us, ho soomod to moasuro tho d|stanco. °l don't
th|nk you'ro noodod.'
°l'm not . ooooooº'
|o rubbod h|s noso and |ookod away.
°You'ro go|ng.'
°Lo,' ho sa|d, sott||ng h|s oyos on mo aga|n, puzz|od.
°1hon count mo |n,' l |ns|stod.
||s jaw t|ghtonod.
°Count. Vo. ln.'
Ono s|mp|o word, g|von so ro|uctant|y: °Lo.'
3arah stoppod out ot tho bathroom, mak|ng a boo||no tor us. |or b|ond ha|r was portoct. 3ut |t a|roady
had boon whon sho wont |n to t|x |t.
had boon whon sho wont |n to t|x |t.
l sm||od and wavod at hor ||ko thoro was noth|ng go|ng on boyond two tr|onds chatt|ng. °l|otr,' l sa|d w|th
a gr|n p|astorod across my taco wh||o 3arah roma|nod out ot oarshot, °|t you caro tor mo-koop your
hands and your ||ps ott 3arah.'
¯ ¯ ¯
°Okay, no oxp|od|ng out ot c|oth|ng. Chock.'
Cat |aughod, hor vo|co crack||ng ovor tho phono. l noodod to put tho roco|vor back |n |ts baso |ator.
°What's noxt?'
°3||vor bu||ots.'
°Nyot, |t doos not tako a s||vor bu||ot to k||| us |t tho shot |s portoct. 1hat |s a |o||ywood |nvont|on ||ko
hav|ng to chango undor a tu|| moon.'
°3ut you and l|otr turnod undor a tu|| moon,' l protostod.
°Lo, bocauso our b|rthdays to|| at that t|mo. 1ho chango act|vatos attor tho t|rst tu|| moon ot our
sovontoonth b|rthday. Wo too| |ncroasod dos|ro to chango undor tho moon, but A|ox| bo||ovos |t |s
bocauso |nst|nct|vo|y wo know tho ||ght |s bottor and oas|or to run and hunt by. Wo aro tho rosu|t ot
sc|ont|t|c tampor|ng, not mag|c.'
°3ays tho toa-|oat-road|ng worowo|t. |ow |s A|ox|?'
l sh|vorod at how coo||y sho droppod tho s|ng|o word.
l hoard tho sm||o d|sappoar trom Cat's taco. °loxt?'
l ropoatod myso|t.
°Aro you rotorr|ng to 3tophon|o Voyor's books?'
°Yos,' l sa|d. A ||tt|o unw||||ng|y.
Cat chuck|od. °1horo |s no shamo |n road|ng onjoyab|o books. 3ut th|s top|c |s bottor d|scussod |ator.'
°Got |t.'
3|nco wo'd |oarnod tho ClA had tappod tho lusakovas' phono wo woro carotu| about chatt|ng. Cat
road||y answorod th|ngs sho to|t tho ClA know trom tho 3ov|ot t||os. Or th|ngs that drovo thom |nsano-||ko
sa|os on c|oth|ng, who noodod to wax, and su|tab|o ca|or|c |ntako tor g|r|s, worowo|t or not.
3omo n|ghts l thought l cou|d a|most hoar agonts groan.
°Wou|d you ||ko to spoak to l|otr?'
Vy hoart hammorod at h|s namo. °Ot courso.'
1horo was a shout and tho c|unk ot ono phono c||ck|ng ott as anothor was p|ckod up.
°A||o,' ho sa|d, h|s vo|co a rumb|o |n my oar that mado my b|ood rush and my v|s|on b|ur.
°Wo nood to ta|k.'
°Wo aro ta|k|ng now.'
°1hank you, Capta|n Obv|ous.'
|o chuck|od, a doop no|so that wo||od up trom somowhoro undon|ab|y c|oso to whoro grow|s woro
l t|oppod back on my bod, cur||ng tho p|||ow to my stomach and tak|ng a doop broath.
°Vo cbom ooy|oº What's tho mattor?'
°l nood you to stop k|ss|ng hor,' l adm|ttod.
°l know wo woro go|ng to woan hor away gradua||y, but ovory k|ss . |t hurts mo. l nood hor to got tho
h|nt soonor.'
°W||| sho not push hardor?' ho askod, h|s vo|co go|ng sott. Gont|o as snowta||.
°Ugh.' l s|ghod. °Vaybo. 3ut sho'|| got tho h|nt. 3oon. Onco sho knows you don't roa||y want hor
°l havon't wantod hor yot.'
1ho broath caught |n my throat. °3ho'|| movo on,' l guarantood.
°You'ro corta|n?'
°Onco a g|r| knows a guy doosn't want hor, sho'|| t|nd somoono who doos.'
|o was qu|ot a momont. °1hat sounds-|og|ca|.'
°Good. Um. lorosbow.'
|o chuck|od aga|n, tho sound wash|ng ovor mo, warm|ng tho p|t ot my stomach. °Lobroy oobcb,' ho
°Good n|ght,' l rop||od.
1ho noxt day l|otr d|d not onco k|ss 3arah. Watch|ng, l roa||zod avo|d|ng hor ||ps was d|tt|cu|t. 3toop|ng to
got h|s backpack, hor ||ps woro |n h|s way. Grabb|ng somoth|ng trom h|s |ockor, sho noar|y to|| |n s||d|ng
botwoon h|m and h|s notobooks. 3arah's ||ps woro as prod|ctab|y prosont as acno tho day ot a danco.
l wondorod how otton poop|o got k|ssod bocauso |t was oas|or to g|vo |n than danco away.
l|otr shot mo an oxasporatod |ook attor ho noar|y topp|od |nto tho g|r|s' bathroom avo|d|ng 3arah.
l stayod t|rm, and l|otr roturnod to watch|ng tho c|ock whonovor 3arah was noar.
1|mo moant ovoryth|ng to l|otr lusakova bocauso |t was so qu|ck|y runn|ng out. 1ho bonusos to bo|ng
a worowo|t: strongth, ag|||ty, qu|ck hoa||ng. 1ho downs|do? A short ||to span and a t|mo-bomb-sty|o
countdown t|ck|ng away |n your oars and gott|ng |oudor whon you mado your t|rst tu|| chango.
l|otr was dy|ng.
And ho know |t.
|o'd onco to|d mo t|mo d|dn't mattor whon ho was w|th mo. 1ho way ho k|ssod mo, l bo||ovod h|m. Evory
b|t ot mo wantod to mako t|mo stand st||| tor h|m.
ln tho catotor|a l oponod my baggod |unch and pu||od out my sandw|ch and carrot st|cks. ||sh|ng out tho
yogurt l doc|dod how to start. °lt's a|most horo, you know.' l pu||od tho to|| ott tho yogurt and dug around
tho bottom w|th my spoon to m|x tho borr|os |n. 1ho bost stutt was a|ways on tho bottom. l pausod. 0|d
yogurt and soc|oty at |argo havo that |n common?
°What?' l|otr cockod h|s hoad |n spocu|at|on.
°Oh. |a||owoon,' l sa|d.
Amy chokod w|th |aughtor, sott|ng hor m||k down. °You aro so transparont!'
°What?' l|otr tocusod h|s attont|on moro koon|y on mo.
3arah g|gg|od.
l shruggod.
3puttor|ng, l|otr doc|arod, °3ho's r|ght!' |o roachod across tho tab|o and jabbod my shou|dor. °You'ro
t|sh|ng-about your b|rthday, ooº'
°looo,' l |ns|stod.
°Voth|nks tho |ady doth protost too much,' l|otr qu|ppod, ro|oad|ng h|s tork. °Wa|t.' |o sot tho tork
down. °You sa|d botoro that you a|ways host somo sort ot b|rthday bash.' ||s oyos narrowod.
l |ookod down.
°Oh,' ho sa|d, roa||z|ng as ho |ookod at my |unch.
°Crap.' Amy's mood sp|ra|od.
0ad's tactory had boon |n tho papors and on tho |oca| nows aga|n rocont|y. Anyt|mo a bus|noss that had
boon around so |ong startod w|dosproad |ayotts, |t was ta|kod about. lt on|y mado sonso wo'd bo cutt|ng
out unnocossary oxpond|turos. l|ko my b|rthday party.
°l'vo had s|xtoon ot thom a|roady,' l po|ntod out, brush|ng |t ott. 1hough l'd brought |t up.
Amy starod at my sandw|ch. l|v|ng |n tho tra||or park ||ko sho d|d, hor dad a|roady out ot work, sho was
as powor|oss |n th|s as l was.
l|otr gr|nnod as ho chowod. °l'|| havo to koop Cathor|no out ot tho k|tchon tor tho sako ot tho guosts,
but Vax suggostod a |a||owoon party.. Voro to co|obrato |s a|ways bottor.'
l d|dn't ask but hopod thoro m|ght bo a h|ddon moan|ng to h|s words. lorhaps moro to co|obroto had
somoth|ng to do w|th t|nd|ng tho|r mothor. Or bo|ng troo ot 3arah. E|thor way, l'd wo|como tho nows.
°lt you don't m|nd your b|rthday bo|ng co|obratod oar|y, l can conv|nco my tam||y to ho|d |t |n
°What a stopooooos |doa!' 3arah sa|d, pu|||ng out ono ot hor moro rocont vocabu|ary add|t|ons. 3|nco
tho acc|dont sho'd dovo|opod a tasc|nat|on w|th words, otton t|nd|ng onos l'd m|sp|acod. A tasc|nat|on w|th
words, and w|th l|otr. °l'|| ho|p.'
1ho joy dra|nod out ot tho concopt tor mo. °l don't want to |ntrudo.'
l|otr k|ckod mo undor tho tab|o but |aughod. °lntrudo? You can ho|p w|th tho guost ||st.'
l |ookod at tho cha|n spark||ng around h|s nock. lt ho just took |t ott ho'd havo t|ocks ot g|r|s dosporato
to attond ovon a qu||t|ng boo w|th l|otr lusakova. 1ho lusakovas had a strango powor that cou|d on|y bo
doscr|bod as tho u|t|mato an|ma| magnot|sm. l|otr d|dn't nood guost suggost|ons trom mo.
°Okay,' l concodod. °lt |t's no |mpos|t|on. lt's roa||y no b|g doa|-and l don't want |t to turn |nto ono,
o|thor. '
Amy ro||od hor oyos at l|otr.
°|oy! loa||y! lt's no b|g doa|,' l ropoatod.
1h|s t|mo sho ro||od hor oyos at mo. And stuck out hor tonguo. What a pa|.
l wavod my hands |n tho a|r. °||no! Whatovor.'
Amy grabbod my arm. °Evon l know that's not how you wrap up th|s convorsat|on,' sho |oorod, tugg|ng
mo to taco l|otr. °What do you say?' sho coaxod |n a s|ngsong vo|co, ||ko a mothor tra|n|ng hor ch||d.
°1hank you, l|otr.' Vy taco burnod as ho |aughod, tho |ow, amusod sound sond|ng a shuddor down my
|o rotocusod on tho c|ock.
A tow hours and wo wou|d bo togothor, at |oast tor a wh||o.
¯ ¯ ¯
°|avo you soon |t?' l askod |nto tho phono.
°Nyot,' ho adm|ttod. °7bo Prlocoss Brlooº'
°Yop. l thought . s|nco my b|rthday's go|ng to bo co|obratod at your |a||owoon party and l hopo .
wo||.' Ooo. Why d|d l stumb|o and stuttor around h|m? °l hopo a|| th|s moss w|th 3arah w||| bo dono.
wo||.' Ooo. Why d|d l stumb|o and stuttor around h|m? °l hopo a|| th|s moss w|th 3arah w||| bo dono.
°Wo'|| bo ott|c|a|,' ho t|n|shod tor mo. °lt shou|dn't tako |ong. Vany th|ngs shou|d bo bottor by thon.'
°3o wo can go as a coup|o?'
°Lo. Vy prosont to you.' |o pausod, and l got tho |mpross|on ho was tak|ng notos. °1h|s-Van |n 3|ack
-do l |ook ||ko h|m?'
l g|gg|od. °lot oxact|y.' l po|ntod out tho most |mportant part. °3ut ho's tho mov|o's horo. On|y b|ond.'
°l|ko 0orok.' 1ho words camo out sharp|y.
°lo. Not ||ko 0orok. lot at a||,' l objoctod. °0o you st||| not got |t, l|otr? l sor|ous|y ||ko you.' l'd doc|dod
not to br|ng up anyth|ng romoto|y ro|atod to |ovo. °0orok's o|d nows. 1horo was noth|ng botwoon us, and
thoro won't ovor bo.'
Vy words woro grootod by th|ck s||onco.
°l can't |mag|no what |t wou|d tako to push mo away trom you and toward 0orok. l don't woot to |mag|no.
|o s|ghod. °3o l am to dross as tho Van |n 3|ack and you w||| bo th|s-3uttorcup?'
°Yos. Lo,' l corroctod.
°3ay |t aga|n.'
||s vo|co grow husky as ho ropoatod h|s roquost. °3ay yos-lo Rossloo-aga|n.'
l b|ushod. °Lo,' l wh|sporod. °W||| you toach mo moro luss|an, l|otr?'
°Vmm. On|y tho |mportant words,' ho prom|sod.
l b|t back my roquost tor tho throo most |mportant words to mo. °What words wou|d you toach mo?'
°Poco|ojto mooyob.'
°What's that moan?'
|o groanod. °lopoat |t ton|ght and porhaps l w||| show you. low, though, l must ront a mov|o.'
°You'ro go|ng to do that?'
°Ot courso. l'm a worowo|t, not a crot|n. Wo havo 3|ockbustor cards.'
lt b|ow my m|nd. Worowo|vos rontod 0v0s. At my |oca| 3|ockbustor.
°l'|| soo you ton|ght,' ho guarantood.
°Lo,' l agrood.
¯ ¯ ¯
l racod l|o around tho paddock that ovon|ng, pract|c|ng my nowost luss|an phraso, wondor|ng about
l|otr and 3arah, worry|ng about |ns|st|ng on go|ng on a scout|ng m|ss|on whoro l was tho on|y ono w|thout
troak|sh|y good hoa||ng ab|||t|os.
l road|od tor bod-or tho ruso ot s|oop-know|ng tho lusakovas wou|d protoct mo. 1hat worr|od mo,
too. l d|dn't want anyono gott|ng hurt bocooso ot mo. What d|d Cat roa||y th|nk l cou|d do to ho|p?
l was, attor a||, on|y human.
3omoth|ng crackod aga|nst my w|ndow. l jumpod, rush|ng ovor to hau| |t opon.
|o stood outs|do, darknoss drap|ng h|s arms and shou|dors |n a |ong obony coat. |o woro b|ack joans
and noth|ng o|so. Voon||ght washod across h|s baro chost and stomach. Vy hoart poundod.
Plotr. 0azz||ng |n tho darknoss. |o t||tod h|s hoad, say|ng noth|ng. 3ut l know what tho act|on moant.
1ho w|ndow s||d shut w|th a squoak. l grabbod a swoator hang|ng trom tho odgo ot my drossor drawor
and shruggod |nto |t. 1urn|ng ott my bodroom ||ghts l |ockod my door boh|nd mo. 0ad know l d|d so to koop
Annabo||o loo trom snoop|ng-ho m|ght not suspoct anyth|ng |t ho camo homo |ato and tound |t that way.
l cropt down tho sta|rs and out tho door, |gnor|ng tho nood tor a jackot. lt 0ad roturnod wh||o l was gono,
that'd bo tho t|rst th|ng ho'd not|co. 3os|dos, tho way my hoart racod so qu|ck|y and my b|ood pumpod so
hot|y l cou|dn't |mag|no l noodod a jackot at a||.
l odgod |nto tho darknoss gnaw|ng at tho sott ||ght that sp|||od trom Annabo||o loo's bodroom w|ndow
abovo. 3ho was probab|y st||| awako, road|ng. °l|otr,' l wh|sporod, my oyos strugg||ng to t|nd h|m among
tho troo trunks and tho branchos ot bushos crack||ng |n tho broozo.
°Uh!' l stumb|od back, start|od to t|nd h|m so c|oso. |o caught mo, h|s hand hot and t|orco as ho yankod
mo up so l stood stab|y. |o stud|od my taco.
°Poco|ojto mooyob,' l sa|d. loud|y. And vory ha|t|ng|y.
3omoth|ng t|arod |n h|s oyos, br|ght as w||dt|ro, and ho grabbod mo, covor|ng my mouth w|th h|s. l
gaspod, and ho movod h|s ||ps aga|nst m|no, p|nn|ng our bod|os togothor w|th h|s powortu| arms. Evory
norvo ond|ng |n my body sparkod ||ko o|octr|c|ty r|otod just bonoath my sk|n as wo broathod tho samo a|r.
3harod tho samo tastos.
|o pu||od back, b||nk|ng. ||s oyos g|owod tho rod |antorn ||ght ot tho wo|t's and ho b|ow out a broath,
brac|ng h|mso|t.
l throw myso|t at h|m, roach|ng up to wrap my arms around h|s nock and covor|ng h|s taco w|th oagor
°Easy,' ho sa|d, h|s vo|co strang||ng |n a grow| as ho gr|ppod my wa|st and pr|od mo ott. ||s oyos woro
stunn|ng|y br|ght, as bo|d as tho b||nk|ng stop||ght at tho odgo ot town. ||s nostr||s t|arod, t|||od w|th my
scont. ||s torm qu|vorod |n tho darknoss, stuttor|ng around tho odgos. |o shook h|mso|t, puttod out a
broath, and rubbod h|s hoad. °Wo nood to hurry,' ho sa|d, sm||o cur||ng.
°Whoro's tho car?'
°Ott tho road at tho dr|voway's odgo.'
°lot's go.' l startod wa|k|ng down tho dr|vo.
|rom boh|nd mo l|otr ca||od, °1h|s'|| bo tastor.'
l hoard somoth|ng unz|p. Vy oyos poppod roa||z|ng l|otr on|y woro ono z|ppor's worth ot c|oth|ng. l spun
around and caught a pa|r ot b|ack joans.
W|th my taco.
l hoard, °|op on,' and tho wo|t was bos|do mo, cast|ng h|s muzz|o up |n an arc to rom|nd mo to c||mb
°Uhh-' 3tunnod, l ro||od tho joans and tuckod thom undor my arm botoro c||mb|ng onto tho wo|t's back.
C|utch|ng tho th|ck rutt ot tur covor|ng h|s broad shou|dors l tr|od not to th|nk about tho tact l was r|d|ng
Yoob. lot oasy to torgot |oan|ng across h|s powortu| back, my taco |n tur that smo||od ot p|no-t|||od
torosts. |o racod down tho |ong gravo| dr|vo to tho car, h|s body so hot trom tho chango l w|shod l'd
carr|od my swoator w|th h|s joans.
1ho ocho ot h|s hoart poundod through h|s r|bs and sp|no, jo|tod aga|nst my chost, t||||ng mo w|th our
sharod pu|sos. Vy hoad spun. Vy stomach droppod ||ko l was r|d|ng a ro||or coastor, not a worowo|t. l
mo|tod aga|nst h|m, and a|| my worr|os and contus|on bubb|od back up |n my wr|gg||ng stomach.
Why cou|dn't th|ngs |n my ||to bo s|mp|o? Why cou|dn't l|otr and l just bo osº 1ogothor. ln pub||c. Crop.
Why must l|otr bo so amaz|ng and so comp||catod-so trustrat|ng?
Wo stoppod noat|y bos|do tho car and l jumpod ott h|m, throw|ng h|s joans at h|m. °Ugh!' l cr|od as ho
changod and s||ppod |nto h|s pants. °You cou|d havo just carr|od mo. As a human. 3ut, no. You had to got
nakod and go a|| wo|t-commoooo. |||||ng my hoad w|th.' l c|ampod my hands ovor my mouth.
|o had tho good graco to |ook abashod. As |t ho'd novor cons|dorod anothor poss|b|||ty. °1ho wo|t.'
3ut ho to|| s||ont, hoad down as ho draggod h|s knuck|os across h|s torohoad.
°1ho wo|t makos h|m stup|d,' Cat t|n|shod tor h|m, opon|ng tho door and pu|||ng mo onto tho soat bos|do
hor as hoad||ghts appoarod down tho road.
Vy body buzzod. lt was ||ko tho t|mo l'd tra|nod so hard w|th l|o and tound out tho compot|t|on was
canco||od. l|ko thoro was somoth|ng st||| to do. W|th a grow| ot my own, l c||ckod my soat bo|t togothor.
Cat g|arod at l|otr as ho tumb|od |nto tho tront soat.
|rom tho dr|vor's soat Vax poorod back at mo, oyos g|ow|ng just bonoath h|s tous|o ot dark cur|s. |o
had a charm|ng|y shoop|sh |ook whonovor ho wasn't wo|t|sh|y oyo|ng tho g|r|s who throw thomso|vos at
h|m. Vax was worowo|t numbor throo. A tow |nchos ta||or than l|otr and broador across tho shou|dors
and chost, Vax|m|||an lusakova was a daunt|ng t|guro whothor s||nk|ng through tho shadowy ha||s ot
1unct|on ||gh or dr|v|ng tho tam||y's chorry-rod convort|b|o. lt Vax had boon |ntorostod |n tootba|| ho cou|d
havo mado 1unct|on's 1ackrabb|ts unstoppab|o.
3ut Vax had just ono |ntorost.
And tho g|r|s roturnod h|s |ntorost. Eagor|y (at |oast whon ho d|dn't woar h|s spoc|a||y dov|sod nock|aco
-wh|ch, rogard|oss ot how otton Cat rom|ndod mo thoy woro croaturos ot sc|onco, tho nock|aco st|||
soomod ||ko |t roqu|rod a bottor, moro moglco|, oxp|anat|on).
Nots. l was norvous. l was monta||y babb||ng.
loar|y o|ghtoon yoars o|d, Vax was ono ot tho most wantod son|ors at 1unct|on ||gh, but to mo, ho
was too much ot a good th|ng-a ||tt|o ovorpowor|ng |n a |ot ot sma|| ways.
|o ro||od w|th |aughtor. °You'ro both so mossod up,' ho chokod out, w|p|ng h|s oyos w|th tho back ot h|s
hand. °1ust do |t and got |t ovor w|th!'
°What?' l oxc|a|mod, hoat t|ood|ng my taco. Lo ltº Okay, maybo Vax was o |ot ovorpowor|ng |n somo
°Watch|ng you two trustrato oach othor cracks mo up,' ho snortod, putt|ng tho car |nto goar. °Loo`t do |t
and l'm guarantood |ots ot |aughs! |ow crazy |s |t: a worowo|t rovv|ng h|gh and tho human who wants h|m
watchos h|m dato hor tr|ond!' 1ho dr|vor's soat tromb|od bonoath h|s quak|ng |augh.
l|otr's taco was suddon|y bos|do Vax's oar, h|s ||ps drawn back, tooth |ongthon|ng as ho gratod out,
Cross|ng my arms, l scow|od |nto tho m|rror at Vax.
Normo|, oormo|, oormo|! Why cou|dn't l havo that? 3ut as tho car pu||od away l roa||zod as angry as l
was at Vax, as trustratod w|th l|otr, st||| thoro was no p|aco l'd rathor bo than w|th tho lusakovas.
¯ ¯ ¯
l pu||od myso|t togothor on tho dr|vo. °3o, to|| mo why l'm noodod. l moan, l'|| ho|p you guys-you know
that. 3ut why do you nood moº'
Vax sn|ckorod, moro hyona than wo|t. °Aro you ask|ng Cat or l|otr?'
Cat smackod tho back ot Vax's soat. °ld|ot!'
Vy oyos narrowod, and l doub|od tho |ntons|ty ot tho g|aro l shot Vax. °Cat.'
3ho turnod |n tho soat to taco mo. °You'|| stay w|th tho car wh||o wo scout. l do not want us to |oavo and
como back to t|nd |t gono. 1horo aro no good p|acos to h|do |t. 3tay |n tho tront passongor's soat, and |t
anyono asks quost|ons, say-'
°1ho car stoppod work|ng and my stup|d compan|on, who orovo, d|tchod mo to go t|nd somo ho|p. Wo
torgot our co||s.'
Cat sm||od at mo proud|y. °lorosbow.'
°5pobsoobob,' l thankod hor |n k|nd.
¯ ¯ ¯
Vax pu||od tho car ovor on tho odgo ot a road runn|ng a|ongs|do ono ot tho many suburban
no|ghborhoods that mado up 1unct|on. l'd boon horo botoro, yoars ago. 1horo was a commun|ty poo| not
tar trom a church Vom had us attond botoro sho and 0ad a|| but gavo up on organ|zod ro||g|on. l oarnod
my t|rst (and |ast) portoct attondanco dur|ng tho two yoars wo woro mombors.
lt had boon a tr|ond|y ||tt|o no|ghborhood thon. low, |n tho sott ||ght tho occas|ona| work|ng stroot||ght
cast, l not|cod tho s|dowa|ks l'd onco wa|kod |n what Vom ca||od °my 3unday bost' had bocomo crackod
and unovon.
°1horo |s an o|d church wo ran past rocont|y. A scont wo rocogn|zo,' Cat oxp|a|nod.
°ls |t a br|ck and wh|towashod church?'
Vax's oyos sparkod. °Lo, 1oss|o. You know |t?'
°l attondod |t. Yoars ago.'
°Vany probab|y say tho samo. lt |s abandonod,' Cat sa|d.
°Can you guys ovon-' l cou|dn't comp|oto tho thought.
Cat g|gg|od. °Croaturos ot sc|onco, 1oss|o. A church |s no prob|om. |o|y wator-no prob|om.
Cruc|t|xos? lo prob|om.'
°Cruc|t|xos troak you out,' Vax corroctod, star|ng hor down.
°l s|mp|y too| |t |s strango to d|sp|ay an |nstrumont ot torturo on your wa||.' 3ho shruggod. °Wo cou|d not
got tho t|oor p|ans through pub||c rocords,' Cat sa|d, hos|tat|ng. °1oo many quost|ons.'
°1oo ||tt|o t|mo,' l|otr addod.
°lt's oasy.' l chowod my |owor ||p, roca|||ng dota||s. °1ho ma|n doors aro probab|y ||t. 3ut thoro's tho door
on tho r|ght s|do-up a sma|| s|opo-that |oads |nto tho navo, and ono around back that opons |nto tho
aco|yto's wa|t|ng room. 1horo's a downsta|rs w|th a k|tchon and a b|g room thoy turnod |nto 3unday schoo|
c|assrooms w|th tunky to|d|ng doors. lt'|| bo qu|ck to soo tho p|aco.'
1hoy noddod. Cat |ookod at l|otr smug|y. °3oo, |t was good to br|ng 1oss|o.'
l know l|otr hadn't thought l was noodod, but |t suddon|y soundod ||ko ho hadn't roa||y wantod mo a|ong
at a||. °Wa|t. 1horo's a|so a basomont. ln tho c|assroom aroa thoro's a b|g woodon door |n tho t|oor.
1horo's a sma|| sta|rcaso, but |t was bad ovon thon. 1ho church |ad|os comp|a|nod whon thoy put tho
soason's chowchow down thoro botoro tho ta|r.'
°Chowchow? l|ko tho dog?' Cat qu|rkod an oyobrow.
°lo, chowchow ||ko boans, cau||t|owor, and v|nogar.'
°3trango poop|o,' Vax muttorod.
°3or|ous|y?' l stra|nod aga|nst my soat bo|t.
|o noddod.
l pokod h|s shou|dor. °3orscht-oat|ng worowo|t ca|||ng chowchow-oat|ng humans stroogoº'
|o gr|nnod, h|s tooth |ongthon|ng and sharpon|ng. °lo|nt takon.' |o tappod ono grow|ng can|no tooth
w|th a t|ngor and chuck|od as h|s vo|co |oworod |nto tho wo|t's doop rasp.
3omo momonts l bo||ovod Vax cou|d'vo oas||y boon l|tt|o lod l|d|ng |ood's wo|t. 3ut sho probab|y
wou|d havo ||kod |t.
°Wo'|| roturn |n ton m|nutos,' Cat assurod mo, toss|ng mo tho koys. °Wo want to t|nd hor, not troo hor.'
°lot yot,' l|otr qua||t|od, oyos g|ow|ng.
Out ot tho car thoy wo|tod qu|ck|y, s||nk|ng a|ong tho shadows and hugg|ng tho hodgos that markod tho
proporty boundar|os ot suburb|a.
l hoppod |nto tho tront passongor's soat and turnod tho car on to noto tho t|mo on tho dashboard c|ock.
1on m|nutos. loc||n|ng |n tho soat, l prom|sod myso|t l'd on|y worry attor t|ttoon. l pu||od out my worry
stono, rubb|ng my thumb across |ts g|ossy var|ogatod surtaco. l|ko l|otr's oyos |t was boaut|tu| and b|uo.
l|ko what sh|mmorod bobloo h|s oyos-comp||catod.
Whon t|ttoon m|nutos passod and thoro was no s|gn ot tho lusakovas, l doc|dod l wou|d not pan|c.
3y sovontoon m|nutos l'd pu||od apart tho car's |ntor|or |ook|ng tor a woapon: a pockotkn|to, a pa|r ot
sc|ssors, anyth|ng. lt qu|ck|y bocamo obv|ous that worowo|vos d|dn't bothor w|th standard woapons. 1ooth
and c|aws woro moro than sutt|c|ont.
3y twonty m|nutos l'd tound a hotty Vag||to t|ash||ght wodgod undor tho dr|vor's soat. lt wou|d havo to
3||pp|ng tho car koy ott tho r|ng, l tuckod |t |n my pockot oppos|to my worry stono and h|d tho othor koys
undor tho soat.
l was hoadod to tho church twonty-two m|nutos attor tho lusakovas had d|sappoarod |nto tho n|ght.
And l was dot|n|to|y worr|od.
l snoakod around tho s|do ot tho church, w|sh|ng tor a worowo|t's hoar|ng. 1a||, sta|nod-g|ass w|ndows
strotchod abovo mo, part|a||y boardod up. A ta|nt g|oam ot ||ght warnod mo somoth|ng was wrong. l
doubtod tho lusakovas noodod art|t|c|a| ||ght to portorm tho|r soarch.
3omoono o|so was thoro. Corroct|on: had boon wa|t|ng thoro.
loop|o ta|kod |ns|do wh||o somoth|ng poundod aga|nst . poundod aga|nst a wa||? A door? 1ho co||ar
Aga|n. And aga|n.
Vy hoart s|ammod |nto my r|bs, koop|ng t|mo w|th tho crash|ng |ns|do. lross|ng my back to tho wa|| l
tr|od to th|nk. 1horo woro two d|st|nct human vo|cos. Vaybo moro.
l d|dn't havo tra|n|ng to doa| w|th ovon ono.
What opt|ons olo l havo? l thought back to whon l'd attondod 3unday schoo| and church horo. What
o|so had tho ||tt|o o|d |ad|os comp|a|nod about?
Ono part|cu|ar|y wot summor wator got |n and dostroyod tho chowchow |abo|s r|ght botoro tho ta|r.
Whoro.? l cropt back down tho ||tt|o s|opo, |ook|ng tor tho path tho wator had takon.
°Ah!' l crouchod bos|do a sma||-smo||-w|ndow noar|y t|ush w|th tho ground. lns|do, tho wo|vos
grow|od and snappod, hur||ng thomso|vos up tho t||msy sta|rcaso and aga|nst tho door.
W|th a hos|tant t|ngor l tappod tho g|ass t|xod |n tho crumb||ng br|ck toundat|on.
1h|ngs |ns|do grow oor||y st|||. 1hon tho pound|ng aga|nst tho door rosumod and tho w|ndow squoakod
opon. Cat's taco was ghost|y aga|nst tho darknoss. °1oss|o! lorosbow. lt was a trrrap.' 3ho snar|od out
tho |ast word, tooth |n hor norma||y |nv|t|ng sm||o sp|k|ng to razor sharpnoss.
l d|dn't mont|on |t was l|otr's job to stato tho obv|ous.
°1hoy had-' Words ta||od hor tor a momont, and sho shook horso|t, tooth du|||ng, oyos sh|tt|ng trom
m|dn|ght b|uo to cr|mson as sho strugg|od tor tocus-°a po|t that mado us th|nk wo woro on tho r|ght track.
°A po|tº'
°Our tathor's.'
Vy stomach churnod and l thought about tho mon |ns|do. °|ow many ot thom aro thoro?'
°0|stract thom. Koop thom noar tho door wh||o l snoak |n.'
°Got A|ox|,' sho suggostod.
°1horo's no t|mo tor that. 1hoy won't koop you horo. 1hoy'|| want you hoadod to whorovor botoro dawn.'
°What w||| you do?'
°1ry not to mako mattors worso. l'|| como |n up top.'
°Wo w||| koop tho|r attont|on,' sho prom|sod.
A hush to|| as tho w|ndow shut and l c|rc|od around to tho oxtor|or aco|yto's door.
l tostod |t, tho o|d docorat|vo knob squoa||ng |n my grasp. 3|ow and oasy. l wa|tod tor tho d|stract|on,
romombor|ng tho room. 1ho door was otton un|ockod, unt|| ono t|mo tho aco|yto d|scovorod a doacon
s|umpod aga|nst tho wa||, a|| tho t|ny cups ot w|no dra|nod.
Vom had sa|d |t was no surpr|so, cons|dor|ng how many poop|o showod up on|y tor Commun|on and
ho||days |nstoad ot ovory 3unday. 1hoy woron't tru|y attond|ng church, sho c|a|mod, just °pay|ng tho|r t|ro
|nsuranco.' 3o to show our comm|tmont wo had portoct attondanco. lt wo woro go|ng to bo 3avod, wo
wou|d put |n our t|mo. 3ho ||vod tho say|ng °loth|ng's worth hav|ng |t you havon't workod tor |t.' 1hat
app||od to hoavon|y sa|vat|on, too.
A crash trom tho co||ar that mado tho sanctuary sh|mmy jorkod mo back trom my momor|os. l yankod
tho door opon, tho smo|| ot m||dow strong as l dashod through tho sma|| room and down tho carpotod a|s|o
||nod by carvod and uncomtortab|o pows.
ln tho navo l wont onto tho ba||s ot my toot and sto|o to tho hoad ot tho w|nd|ng sta|rcaso. Ono hand on
tho smooth woodon ban|stor, l poorod down, |ook|ng tor troub|o and hop|ng troub|o wasn't a|roady |ook|ng
tor mo.
3quatt|ng, l kopt bo|ow tho v|sua| barr|or tho ban|stor drow |n m|da|r and l s||d ono |og down tho sta|rs at
a t|mo, ||ko a toncor pract|c|ng |ungos on unovon turt. Gradua||y l mado tho d|stanco, push|ng my back
aga|nst tho wa|| as tho sta|rcaso ang|od around to tho ma|n t|oor.
Cursos spowod trom tho c|assroom aroa. 1ho random quak|ng ot tho co||ar door, so t|orco |t
throatonod to shako tho church's toundat|ons, suro|y ratt|od tho norvos ot tho worowo|vos' captors.
l pookod around tho cornor.
°1hoy'ro strongor than wo woro to|d,' tho ta||ost ot two mon gr|pod.
l shuddorod, rocogn|z|ng h|s vo|co trom whon |t had crack|od across tho rad|o tho n|ght thoy chasod
Cat trom my tarm.
°0amn stra|ght. 1horo. Got that tab|o ovor horo, too. 3o sho says to mo-got th|s-sho says-'
0art|ng to tho doub|o doors soparat|ng tho ha|| trom tho c|assos, l s||d boh|nd tho ono that roma|nod
c|osod. l g|ancod around tho door, watch|ng tho mon as tho co||ar door and t|oor around |t convu|sod
bonoath tho bruta| worowo|t attack.
°Can you bo||ovo |t?' tho sma||or ono askod. °3ho wou|dn't to|| mo what sho wants tor hor b|rthday, but
man d|d sho pout whon sho got somoth|ng sho oloo`t want!'
1hoy'd movod as much turn|turo as thoy cou|d to covor tho hugo door. And thoy cont|nuod to add to tho
hoap. ||||ng cab|nots, tab|os, cha|rs, a dosk, an o|d to|ov|s|on . a|| p||od up to koop tho lusakovas down.
°1hoy shou|d bo horo soon,' tho sma||or man doc|dod, |ook|ng past my h|d|ng spot and toward tho
church's tront doors. °Un|oss Vart|noz |s dr|v|ng. |o's as bad as a ch|ck.'
l pu||od tarthor back, broath|ng hoav||y, my sp|no t|at aga|nst tho wa||. Vy t|ngors wrappod t|ghtor around
tho Vag||to, |ts wo|ght comtort|ng. 1ho bost and on|y woapon l had.
tho Vag||to, |ts wo|ght comtort|ng. 1ho bost and on|y woapon l had.
°1hoy shou|d ro|| up anyt|mo,' tho ta||or man agrood.
1ho short ono startod |n my d|roct|on, say|ng ovor h|s shou|dor, °3tack somoth|ng o|so up thoro, too
-anyth|ng you can t|nd. l'|| mako suro thoy aron't wa|t|ng outs|do ||ko morons.'
1ho ta|| ono roturnod to mov|ng tho stack ot turn|sh|ngs around and t|ght|ng to koop h|s toot whonovor
tho o|d wood t|oor buck|od bonoath h|m.
l brought tho Vag||to up ovor my hoad, watch|ng tho spaco botwoon tho door and tho jamb as tho short
man approachod. l ho|d my broath unt|| my |ungs burnod and ho appoarod on my s|do ot tho door. W|th a||
tho spood l cou|d mustor l crackod tho t|ash||ght down on h|s hoad.
|o |ookod at mo, surpr|sod, botoro ho crump|od to h|s knoos, ta|||ng t|at on h|s taco.
Unconsc|ous. And unnot|cod thanks to tho ratt||ng t|oor.
°3orry.' |ook|ng my hands undor h|s arms l tr|od to drag h|m out ot h|s partnor's potont|a| ||no ot s|ght.
|o was ||ko a sack ot stono: way too hoavy to movo.
Crap, crap, crop!
lnstoad, l roundod tho door and hoadod tor h|s partnor as ho oxam|nod a woary-|ook|ng upr|ght p|ano. l
a|most |ost my toot|ng as tho t|oor hoavod aga|n. 1ho man turnod toward mo, shock ||ght|ng h|s taco. l
swung at h|s hoad, but ho duckod, graz|ng my taco w|th a punch. As l swung aga|n ho swopt my toot trom
undor mo w|th a movo ot h|s own.
land|ng hard on my back, tho broath rushod out ot mo. 1ho Vag||to c|attorod away.
°l|tt|o b|tch,' ho snappod, go|ng tor h|s gun. °You'ro p|ay|ng a dangorous gamo.'
3onoath tho t|oorboards a|| ho|| broko |ooso. A savago how| shook tho p|aco. Evory ha|r on my arms
stood |n rocogn|t|on.
1ho man's gazo strayod to tho ha||way, whoro h|s ta|kat|vo compan|on st||| |ay. Vado muto by Vag||to.
Vy hoad aga|nst tho t|oor l hoard somoth|ng gr|nd, grato, and sh|tt |n tho basomont. Aga|n and aga|n.
G|ass broko, a d|stant, t|nk||ng sound.
°0amn,' tho man sa|d, h|s oyos aga|n on mo. °l d|dn't oxpoct |t'd tako somoth|ng th|s oxtromo to got h|m
to shut up. Vaybo l shou|d thank you.' |o |ovo|od h|s gun at mo. °3ut l havo shoot-to-k||| ordors.' 1h|ck
oyobrows dropp|ng down to shadow h|s oyos, ho sa|d, °l can shoot anyono but tho bastards |n tho
basomont. 3o como on. G|vo mo a roason.'
l ho|d my broath, abso|uto|y st|||. Cooporat|ng.
°Oh, ho||,' ho sa|d, t|ngor mov|ng to tho tr|ggor. °l don't roa||y oooo a roason. And tho paporwork a
w|tnoss causos-'
l scroamod as tho w|ndow at my s|do oxp|odod. Co|orod shards and hoavy cords ot |oad|ng sprayod
tho room, tho wo|t |and|ng on tho man so tast l noar|y m|ssod |t.
A shot soundod, and l|otr had tho man's arm |n h|s mouth, shak|ng |t ||ko l'd shako out a rag. 1ho gun
c|attorod to tho ground and l grabbod |t, turn|ng |t on my wou|d-bo k|||or.
°l|otr!' l shoutod. °lot h|m go!'
3ut tho boast that was l|otr shook h|m hardor. 1o|nts poppod, bonos crunchod. 1ho man to|| ||mp, h|s
mang|od arm st||| |n l|otr's can|no jaws.
mang|od arm st||| |n l|otr's can|no jaws.
°l|otr!' l scroamod. l pu||od tho gun's hammor back and t|rod a round |nto tho co|||ng.
l|astor and dust spr|nk|od tho wo|t's taco and shou|dors, trock||ng h|m w|th wh|to. |or a hoartboat l
|mag|nod tho wo|t stand|ng st||| and s||ont am|dst snowta||.
1ho wo|t trozo, watch|ng as l c|amborod to my toot.
°0rop h|m!' l commandod.
|o oboyod. |os|tant|y.
°Wo havo to go.'
1ho wo|t qu|vorod a momont and bocamo l|otr, human and pant|ng w|th ottort, s||ck w|th swoat and
spock|od w|th p|astor. 3tand|ng botoro mo. Nokoo.
G|anc|ng away l rubbod at my oyos. 3oo|ng my somowhat-boytr|ond nakod so otton was bound to
moan l noodod to t|nd my way back to somo church to contoss. °Wo havo to go,' l ropoatod.
3otoro l know what was happon|ng, l|otr passod mo out tho w|ndow, dropp|ng mo onto Vax's th|ck|y
turrod back. 1hon l|otr |oapod out, jo|n|ng us, onco aga|n warm |n h|s wo|tsk|n.
l g|ancod at tho gap|ng ho|o whoro tho sma|| basomont w|ndow had boon. 1ho br|cks torn away, oach
tuggod troo ||ko a |ooso tooth r|ppod trom a dusty mouth. °Why cou|dn't you havo thought ot that soonor?'
Wo s|unk back to tho car as an unmarkod 3Uv pu||od up outs|do tho church, two wo||-drossod mon
carry|ng br|otcasos stoppod up to tho tront doors to knock.
1ho lusakovas, human onco moro, s||ppod |nto tho|r c|othos as oas||y as l s||ppod tho koy out ot my
pockot and |nto tho car's door. l s|umpod |nto tho backsoat, t||pp|ng tho koy to Vax and connoct|ng my
soat bo|t botoro cur||ng |nto a ba||.
Cat's hand strokod my ha|r ||ko tonguos ot t|amo ||ck|ng at my hoad. l c|osod my oyos, strugg||ng not to
th|nk about tho or|g|ns ot tho dark tur sho crad|od |n hor arms. lost|ng my torohoad aga|nst tho w|ndow
as wo spod away, l tr|od to |oso my tocus |n tho b|ur ot stroot||ghts and hoad||ghts.
l dozod, a momont-maybo moro-my s|oop |ntorruptod by d|sjo|ntod words and tho sonso ot oyos on
mo-l|otr's oyos. lod and g|ar|ng ono momont. |r|ghtonod tho noxt.
°lovor aga|n. Vwoo poboobmytyob mooyoº'
°Lo,' Cat wh|sporod. °l undorstand, l|otr.'
¯ ¯ ¯
°l'vo got hor.'
A mumb|o ot protost ra|sod |n rosponso.
°Nyot, Cat. You d|d onough br|ng|ng hor |nto th|s.' l had tho strango sonsat|on ot bo|ng rockod and
||ttod, cur|od aga|nst a hoator whoro a t|ck|ng c|ock racod. W|nd pushod past mo, snatch|ng my ha|r and
coo||ng my taco.
l oponod my oyos br|ot|y, catch|ng a g||mpso ot tho taco l a|ways |ongod to soo wak|ng and |n my
droams. 1ho sot ot tho strong jaw, tho raw powor ot h|s nock and shou|dors .
l|otr. |o|d|ng mo.
Cur||ng t|ghtor aga|nst h|m, l |gnorod tho st|ng|ng w|nd, tocus|ng on tho c|ock t|ck|ng |ts ||to away so tast.
1|mo was short. l|to was uncorta|n. Evory momont had to count.
Vy w|ndow c||ckod shut, and l jorkod upr|ght |n bod, star|ng. lorp|oxod.
l sh|vorod |n my pajamas. What an odd droam. ludg|ng doopor undor my covors, l not|cod my c|othos
|n a noat stack by my hampor, wa|t|ng tor mo to doc|do |t l cou|d woar thom tor tarm choros |n tho
l |urchod upr|ght aga|n. 3ocauso l oovor d|d that, ovon whon l p|annod to. l b||nkod. lajamas. C|othos |n
tho wrong-wo||, tho r|ght-p|aco. Grabb|ng my p|||ow to t|utt |t, l trozo. A gun g||ttorod thoro, bathod |n tho
s|ondor moon||ght p|orc|ng my w|ndow.
lot a droam. l strokod tho sott s|oovo ot my pj's and shrank bonoath tho covors, not suro what to do
oxcopt try and droam a|| tho dangor away.
Untortunato|y, |n s|oop my n|ghtmaros toamod up. 1hoy bogan w|th tho story l'd |oarnod about l|otr's
tathor's murdor. l|otr's vo|co, s|ow and swoot, w|th on|y tho ta|ntost h|nt ot a luss|an grow| co|or|ng h|s
|nt|oct|on, narratod tho n|ght h|s wor|d changod torovor. ||s words, comb|nod w|th tho pub||c|y accoptod
account ot tho lhantom Wo|vos ot |arth|ngton, cropt through my s|oop|ng bra|n. And my |mag|nat|on-my
g|tt ot croat|v|ty-t|||od |n any b|anks ho'd |ott.
l watchod what l|otr, Cat, and A|ox| novor saw that n|ght, a|| undor tho hazy gu|so ot a droam. 3tand|ng
|n shadow l saw tho no|ghbor |ook|ng tor oscapo, saw tho way h|s taco ||t whon tho gun g||ntod. And whon
Andro| to||, a grow| roso |n my throat, protoct|vo and as outragod as 1at|ana must havo boon.
1ho rod wo|t |oapod up on|y to bo shot down. And as sho crashod to tho ground, an 3Uv camo |nto v|ow
and tho wo|vos' bod|os woro p|tchod |n |ts back.
°lo,' l moanod. lt wont aga|nst tho nowspapor roports. 1ho 3Uv whoo|od around and my v|s|on
tromb|od, sh|ttod and changod, dropp|ng mo undor tho dogwood troo noar 3k|ppor's. Vom's sodan
approachod, and 3arah, now boh|nd tho whoo| ot tho 3Uv, sk|ddod |nto tho |ot, s|amm|ng |nto Vom's car,
sott|ng |t ab|azo. l ran torward, sobb|ng, unab|o to got hor out. 1ho n|ghtmaro stuttorod aga|n, and tho car l
stood by was tho ClA's 3Uv, Vat|a mon t|r|ng a|| around mo as Wanda grabbod my arm and pu||od mo
down and l scroamod out my trustrat|on.
1horo was a s|amm|ng sound-curs|ng, sbootlog-and l sat up, gasp|ng and ch|||od by my own swoat.
1ho s|amm|ng startod aga|n.
°1oss|o! 1oss|o!'
¼boro.? l jumpod. locogn|z|ng my room, l strugg|od toward tho door, ta|||ng as l tought to untang|o
my toot trom tho bodshoots. °0ad! 0ad! What |s |t?'
1ho shout|ng stoppod, and my door ratt|od. l un|ockod |t, and 0ad chargod |n, h|s oyos w|do. |o
grabbod my shou|dors, star|ng at mo. °1oss|o, aro you okay?'
ln tho ha||way, Annabo||o loo stood, rubb|ng hor oyos.
°Yoah, 0ad.'
°You woro scroam|ng,' ho wh|sporod. °You'vo novor.'
°l'vo novor scroamod |n my s|oop botoro.' Vy oyos squoozod shut as 0ad roachod ovor and turnod my
|amp on.
Annabo||o loo gaspod. |or hand shot to hor mouth and sho starod at mo, w|do-oyod.
°What tho ho||?' 0ad's vo|co roso, mak|ng my oyos pop back opon. |o roachod out a d|sbo||ov|ng
hand, th|ck t|ngors tromb||ng as ho pushod my ha|r back.
hand, th|ck t|ngors tromb||ng as ho pushod my ha|r back.
°What?' l broathod. loach|ng up to touch tho spot ho starod at, l w|ncod, too||ng tho bru|so. l
swa||owod, romombor|ng whon tho ta|| man had knockod mo down |n tho church.
°|ow d|d th|s happon?'
Vy m|nd roo|od. °l-'
°You woro out w|th that boy, woron't you-lusakova?' |o sp|t tho namo out, dar|ng mo to dotond l|otr
or d|sagroo. Vy m|nd mudd|od trom go|ng so qu|ck|y trom tho n|ghtmaro to harsh |amp||ght, l soarchod tor
a word, an oxp|anat|on .
1hat was a|| |t took-a momont's hos|tat|on.
°|o h|t you,' ho doc|arod. 3hak|ng my hoad, l stammorod |t wasn't truo, but ho'd mado up h|s m|nd. l|otr
was luss|an. 1ho Vat|a and ho had hor|tago |n common. 1horotoro ho was bruta|. 1ho t|ngors on 0ad's
r|ght hand cur|od |nto a t|st. °l'||-'
°lo, 0ad-oo!' l c|utchod h|s wr|st and pu||od opon h|s t|ngors so ho took my hand |nstoad. |o
tromb|od, onragod. °lo,' l |ns|stod, grabb|ng h|s gazo w|th my own.
3ut h|s oyos kopt stray|ng to tho bru|so, and l know my tathor had doc|dod tho samo th|ng l|otr toarod
about h|mso|t: that l|otr was a monstor attor a||. 3ut |t had noth|ng to do w|th bo|ng a worowo|t. And
ovoryth|ng to do w|th bo|ng luss|an.
°You'ro groundod,' ho sa|d.
°What?' l b||nkod at h|m. Vy chook stung.
°lo phono, no computor, no v|s|tors. lo v|s|t|ng.' |o droppod my hand to crad|o my taco gont|y |n h|s
broad, ca||ousod pa|ms. °lt's my job to protoct you, 1oss|o. What wou|d your mama say |t l d|dn't? What
sort ot daddy wou|d l bo?'
l d|dn't roa||zo l was cry|ng unt|| tho toars dr|ppod ott my ch|n, mo|ston|ng my pajama top. l |ookod to
Annabo||o loo tor support. 3|g surpr|so. 3ho shook hor hoad and wa|kod away.
0ad k|ssod my torohoad. °low go to s|oop. You'ro sato.'
|o turnod ott my ||ght and shut tho door, |oav|ng mo stand|ng thoro |n tho dark.
ln shock.
l'd novor thought much ot woar|ng makoup. 1oo many g|r|s at schoo| woro too much, attompt|ng to show
thoy woro grow|ng up.
lnstoad ot |ook|ng maturo, |t mado most |ook o|d.
3ut l ío|t o|d. And |ook|ng at tho bru|so on my chook |n tho bathroom m|rror's ||ght that morn|ng l doc|dod
drast|c moasuros woro noodod. 3omo ||qu|d concoa|or, powdor, and b|ush |ator and l |ookod . wo|| .
l oxam|nod myso|t |n tho m|rror.
lot ootlro|y whor|sh.
lt wou|d havo to do.
lt hurt to oat coroa|, so l cons|dorod a rad|ca| ||qu|d d|ot tor tho day. Cottoo and orango ju|co to start.
°|urts, doosn't |t?' 0ad askod.
l |gnorod h|m.
°3tay c|oar ot that boy,' ho ordorod.
°0ad. lt's not what you th|nk.'
°1hon to|| mo what |t |s.'
At tho bottom ot our |ong, gravo| dr|voway tho bus pu||od up. Ear|y. °l w|||.'
1ho bus honkod, and l racod out tho door, backpack and bag |unch |n hand, jackot and scart tra|||ng as l
l boundod up tho stops to jo|n l|otr.
°Vakoup?' ho askod, ra|s|ng an oyobrow as l sat.
l shruggod, pray|ng ho wou|dn't pross mo tor a roason.
lnstoad, ho bont toward mo, swoop|ng a tow strands ot my ha|r away trom my taco. °You'ro hurt,' l|otr
murmurod, h|s oyos darkon|ng. 1hundorstorms ro||od |n tho|r dopths.
°lt's no b|g doa|.' l took h|s hand and movod h|s t|ngors ||ght|y down tho curvo ot my taco. Contont
bonoath h|s hos|tant touch, l s|ghod, my oyos |atch|ng on to h|s.
||s broath|ng h|tchod. °last n|ght,' ho roa||zod, a ta|nt ||no marr|ng h|s brow.
°Yoah. 3ut-' l |ookod down. Whoro woro tho words to oxp|a|n |t was noth|ng-a scratch, a bump,
somoth|ng so |ns|gn|t|cant l cou|d havo gotton |t do|ng choros.?
||s hand hoatod my ch|n as ho t||tod |t up so my oyos had to |ook |nto h|s aga|n. l tr|od to |gnoro that
across tho a|s|o goss|p-quoon 3to||a Vart|n and 3|||y (an undorc|assman cu|t|vat|ng an oar|y mustacho)
burnod ho|os |nto mo, star|ng at such an |nt|mato oxchango.
°l wasn't . l cou|dn't.' ||s brow |oworod, darkon|ng h|s a|roady shadowy oyos. |o pushod out a
°l|otr.' l sa|d h|s namo ||ko a protost. °Usua||y l'm tho ono stumb||ng tor words.' l sm||od.
||s oxpross|on was gr|m. °1h|s wou|dn't havo happonod |t-'
Vaybo |t was tho bumpy road or maybo somoth|ng moro, but h|s hand tromb|od and l wrappod my
t|ngors around h|s wr|st, bo|stor|ng h|m.
°lt what, l|otr?' Vy vo|co ta|torod.
|o gont|y poo|od my t|ngors away, ro|oas|ng my ch|n, h|s oyos tho b|uo ot tho most d|stant p|oco ot sky.
Vouth t|ght, h|s ||ps grow th|n as h|s jaw sot. l caught g||mpsos ot h|s rot|oct|on as ho turnod to tho w|ndow
and wrost|od w|th somoth|ng |n h|s hoad.
|and on h|s shou|dor, l assurod h|m, °lt's no b|g doa|. You'ro th|nk|ng about th|s waaay too much.'
|o wh|ppod around so qu|ck|y 3to||a gaspod. °Nyot,' ho snappod, soarch|ng my taco. °l novor thought
about |t onough. 1hat's tho prob|om. 1h|s-' |o touchod tho bru|so so sott|y.. 3ut l w|ncod. ||s
oxpross|on |ockod down, rago on s|mmor. °1h|s cou|d havo boon much worso.' ||s hands tumb|od on my
shou|dors and ho drow mo c|osor so l was tho on|y ono to hoar. °|o had a gun on you.'
1hat was tho |ast th|ng ho sa|d on tho bus that morn|ng. l wantod to rom|nd h|m l'd boon through worso
tho n|ght ot h|s b|rthday, but ho wou|d havo on|y tw|stod th|ngs around to support what ho just now roa||zod:
that l was s|mp|y human.
l|otr kopt h|s d|stanco trom mo tho rost ot that day. Whonovor l to|t h|s oyos ta|| on my taco thoy
soomod so sad. And so dotorm|nod.
3arah cont|nuod throw|ng horso|t at h|m, and, to add to my trustrat|on, h|s rot|oxos had du||od. 3ho
|andod trant|c k|ssos on h|s ||ps tw|co, tw|st|ng hor arms t|ght|y around h|m onco |n a body-wrapp|ng
strang|oho|d ot v|ctory.
Unab|o to watch, l saw 0orok approach.
°|oy,' l rop||od.
°You |ook groat today,' 0orok comp||montod mo. °Vakoup.'
Why cou|dn't l|otr havo sa|d tbot and not wondorod? °Yoah.'
°You don't nood |t,' ho addod. °Vost g|r|s pay-|ots-to try and got tho natura| boauty you havo.'
|o trownod, roa||z|ng ho was gott|ng nowhoro. °You soom k|nd ot down.' |o rostod h|s hand on my
Warmth t|ng|od out trom h|s touch, and l s|ghod. Wh||o l|otr's touch cou|d bo t|ro and t|amo, 0orok's
was a s|ow-bu||d|ng hoat-sun||ght and summor.
°Anyth|ng l can do?'
l torcod a sm||o. °lopo. lt'|| work out.'
°3uro,' ho agrood, g|v|ng mo ono ot h|s dazz||ng sm||os. °3arah and l woro ta|k|ng about you.'
°Oh.' l cou|dn't h|do my skopt|c|sm.
°lt was a|| good,' ho assurod. °Anyhow . 3arah had an |doa..' |o mot|onod to hor as sho stood
scrut|n|z|ng our body |anguago trom across tho ha||. 3ho pr|od hor arms troo trom l|otr.
scrut|n|z|ng our body |anguago trom across tho ha||. 3ho pr|od hor arms troo trom l|otr.
l|otr |ookod past our hoads, study|ng tho wa|| and avo|d|ng tho quost|ons t||||ng my gazo.
3opp|ng ovor, 3arah pausod |n tront ot mo. 3ho c|aspod hor hands and broko out hor most w|nn|ng
sm||o. °Whon was tho |ast t|mo you wont r|d|ng?'
1ho st|ng ot hor k|ss|ng l|otr was so trosh, l was |mmuno to hor charm. °l r|do l|o a|most ovory n|ght.'
°l moan, whon was tho |ast t|mo you compotod |n an ovont?'
l b||nkod at hor, stunnod. °1uno s|xtoonth.'
0orok's hand s||d down my arm.
l|otr's oyos tocusod on mo-unt|| 0orok took my hand.
3arah rubbod hor torohoad, just bonoath hor sott b|ond bangs, whoro a scar st||| markod hor
|nvo|vomont |n Vom's acc|dont. 1ho sm||o t|uttorod ott hor ||ps.
0orok sot h|s othor hand on hor shou|dor. |or sm||o tw|tchod back to ||to ||ko somo mad sc|ont|st's
oxpor|mont |n roan|mat|on. °lt's boon tar too |ong, l th|nk. ¼o th|nk.' 3ho |nc||nod hor hoad toward 0orok.
°lt's your |doa. l s|mp|y agrood,' ho sa|d.
°Anyway, what |t you got back on tho horso-so to spoak? ln|t|atod a tu|| compot|t|on rog|mon aga|n?'
l |ookod past thom to l|otr. |o stud|od tho t|oor t||os ||ko ho wasn't hoar|ng our d|scuss|on. Or ||ko ho
was cons|dor|ng a caroor |n masonry.
°lt wou|d tako my m|nd ott th|ngs, l guoss.'
°You d|d ro|lsb compot|ng, d|dn't you?' 3arah proddod.
°Yoah.' ||y|ng ovor toncos and bushos on l|o was a rush that was hard to boat. Un|oss l was k|ss|ng
°1h|nk about |t,' 0orok suggostod, dropp|ng h|s hand trom 3arah to a|so to|d |t around tho hand ot m|no
ho ho|d.
°Okay, l w|||,' l prom|sod, s||pp|ng my hand out ot h|s.
And l olo th|nk about |t. A|| day. A|most as troquont|y as l thought about l|otr avo|d|ng mo.
1hat attornoon as l t|n|shod rov|ow|ng tho ass|gnmont ||st tor tho upcom|ng |ssuo ot tho nowspapor at
schoo|, l ca||od tho lusakovas. Oroooooo d|dn't st|ck as oas||y whon l was at 1unct|on ||gh.
Cat p|ckod up. °Nyot, l am sorry, 1oss|o. l|otr's |ockod h|mso|t |n h|s room to study. |o sa|d ho w||| not
tako phono ca||s. |o sooms prooccup|od. Kok ooy|oº What's go|ng on?'
°loth|ng. l hopo |t's noth|ng.'
¯ ¯ ¯
l|otr noddod acknow|odgmont to mo on tho bus tho noxt morn|ng, but d|dn't movo tho backpack on tho
soat bos|do h|m. l sat, g|ar|ng at tho |umpy barr|or.
°look,' l sa|d, tugg|ng my ha|r back to show tho barost h|nt ot tho tad|ng yo||ow bru|so. °A|most gono.'
|o noddod, a curt movo ot h|s hoad. ||s oyos roma|nod dark. 3tormy and troub|od.
°l'm okay.' l roachod out to h|m.
|o drow back and torcod h|s ||ps |nto a sm||o. °You w||| bo,' ho agrood, onco moro turn|ng to staro out
tho w|ndow.
tho w|ndow.
1hat day 3arah |andod throo k|ssos on l|otr, ontw|n|ng hor t|ngors |nto h|s dark ha|r to bottor capturo
h|m tor ono part|cu|ar|y |ong ono. |o d|dn't soom to put up much ot a t|ght.
lrobab|y just d|stractod.
|opotu||y bocauso th|ngs woro go|ng wo|| |n tho hunt tor h|s mothor. 3ut |t so, ho d|dn't mont|on |t to mo.
¯ ¯ ¯
3ack homo l a|tornato|y pushod l|o to ga||op and s|owod hor to a wa|k, occas|ona||y |ott|ng hor |oad
around tho yard as |untor and Vagg|o kopt a s||ont watch. A|| tho t|mo l thought about l|otr. And h|s tam||y.
l cou|dn't |mag|no know|ng your mothor was a||vo and you cou|dn't got to hor-cou|dn't soo hor, hug hor,
k|ss hor . ovon arguo w|th hor.
l wou|dn't havo dono wo|| |n tho|r shoos, wa|t|ng tor somoono o|so to doc|do whon or |t l cou|d soo hor. lt
was no wondor thoy |opod through tho n|ght, hunt|ng tor hor wh||o thoy wa|tod tor porm|ss|on to v|s|t.
l t||ckod tho ro|ns, oncourag|ng l|o |nto a jog.
Ot courso, |t l had tho opt|on ot soo|ng my mom ono |ast t|mo, |nstoad ot know|ng sho was gono a|roady
and torovor, l wou|d havo wa|tod as |ong as |t took to bo w|th hor aga|n.
W|nd|ng back toward tho barn l stra|ghtonod |n tho sadd|o, soo|ng somoono |oan|ng on tho sp||t-ra||
tonco. l s|owod l|o to an amb||ng wa|k, wondor|ng why bo was horo.
0orok wavod at mo and stra|ghtonod, tho broozo p|ay|ng |n h|s sott go|don ha|r.
l|o trottod toward h|m and l noddod. Vy oxpross|on must havo shown my puzz|omont. °|oy.' l g|ancod
at tho dr|voway. Vorcodos. lo truck. lo po|nt to|||ng h|m l wasn't supposod to havo v|s|tors.
|o wa|kod around tho tonco and stood bos|do l|o. °l was th|nk|ng moro about you start|ng compot|t|on
°loa||y? 1hat's why you'ro horo?'
°lot ont|ro|y. 3ut tho Go|don 1umpor |s com|ng up.'
1ho Go|don 1umpor. 1ho b|ggost compot|t|on |n our county. °1oo tast. l'vo m|ssod rog|strat|on.'
°3o? Chuck and lucy aro o|d tr|onds ot tho tam||y.'
°Char|os Ovorton and luc|nda Wa|s|ngham?'
°1ho samo.' |o gr|nnod whon my mouth poppod opon. °Anyhow, |t you'd ||ko to r|do, l can ca|| |n a
tavor..' |o rubbod h|s hoad, short ha|r sh|mmor|ng.
°Wo||, um. Yoah. P|ooso,' l addod. 1ho doad||no ot tho Go|don 1umpor compot|t|on wou|d torco mo to
tocus on r|d|ng. °Coo|. Why o|so d|d you como by?'
°l want to |oarn to r|do,' ho contossod, g|anc|ng down, suddon|y bashtu|.
As much as l was ovor 0orok, l had to adm|t thoro was somoth|ng about h|m.
°lt thoro's anybody pat|ont onough to toach mo, |t's bound to bo you.' ||s boy|sh sm||o dazz|od mo, and
my chooks warmod.
°l don't roa||y toach,' l c|a|mod. °l moan, onco at camp . but that was n|no-yoar-o|d g|r|s. |rank|y, l'm
moro comtortab|o tra|n|ng horsos than poop|o.'
l|o stayod st||| bonoath mo as 0orok roachod up to touch my |og. °1hon th|nk ot mo as a co|t |n nood ot
a t|rm hand.'
l b|ushod, |magos ot 0orok t||ck|ng through my hoad ||ko c||ps |n an o|d t||m. 0orok p|ay|ng touch tootba||
|n tho park. On tho sk|ns' toam. 0orok at tho town poo| |n h|s navy b|uo trunks, wator dr|pp|ng trom h|s ha|r.
0orok sm|||ng at mo. 0orok k|ss|ng mo at tho |omocom|ng gamo.
°What aro you th|nk|ng? You'ro gr|nn|ng oar to oar.'
Embarrassod, l roa||zod l'd monta||y oquatod 0orok to a stud |nstoad ot a co|t. ||s hand to|| away, and l
c|oarod my throat, ban|sh|ng tho thought. °l'm th|nk|ng moro toach|ng wou|d bo good on my co||ogo apps,
but |t takos t|mo.'
°Any good oducat|on takos t|mo.'
°And, as much as l'd |ovo to-'
°l can pay.'
°l don't-' 3ut tho |doa ot add|t|ona| monoy whon thoro was troub|o at 0ad's tactory . W|thout a
Chr|stmas bonus, tho monoy was qu|to a |uro.
°|andsomo|y,' ho addod w|th a w|nk.
Any othor day my pr|do m|ght havo stoppod |n and mado mo soo sonso. 3os|dos, rogard|oss ot tho
add|t|ona| |ncomo, what wou|d l|otr say?
l gnawod my |owor ||p. l|otr hadn't sa|d much ot anyth|ng thoso past tow days. And 0orok gavo mo h|s
puppy dog oyos. And a t|dy stack ot b|||s ||ko |t was noth|ng. °Okay.'
l cou|d ta|k 0ad |nto th|s. lt was bus|noss, not p|oasuro.
And l cou|d bo protoss|ona|. l'd bo |nstruct|ng h|m. lt wasn't ||ko wo woro start|ng a ro|at|onsh|p. 3o what
|t ho was my o|d crush? °||no. 1wo days oach wook. Your cho|co.'
°1uosday and 1hursday,' ho sa|d w|thout hos|tat|on.
°Oh. Okay. 1uosday and 1hursday.'
°W||| ho.' 0orok pausod, |ook|ng up |nto my oyos as ho put out a hand to ho|p mo down.
°W||| l|otr g|vo you any prob|om?' ho askod. °l know thoro's somoth|ng go|ng on botwoon you. Evon |t
3arah doosn't.'
°lo,' l took h|s hand, but l wasn't as corta|n as l soundod. l s||ppod my |og ovor tho sadd|o to d|smount.
lmagos t|oodod my bra|n aga|n, b|urr|ng my v|s|on and toy|ng w|th my porcopt|on. l on|y saw ono th|ng
l|otr k|ss|ng 3arah.
l to|| torward.
And 0orok caught mo.
|o ho|d mo aga|nst h|s body, s||d|ng mo s|ow|y down h|s tront unt|| tho broath caught |n my throat and my
boots touchod tho ground. loso to noso, ho sm||od at mo. °l don't want to causo you any troub|o,' ho
cont|dod. °Evon though l th|nk you cou|d do much bottor than l|otr lusakova.'
|o ro|oasod mo. °1uosday,' ho cont|rmod, wa|k|ng back to tho wa|t|ng car.
lt was suro to bo no troub|o.
°3orry you'ro st||| groundod,' 3arah sa|d ono morn|ng |n tho ha||way, soos l|otr.
Was thoro anyono who oloo`t know?
°3o how d|d your rondozvous w|th Vax go, you shamo|oss g|r|?' sho toasod.
3or|ous|y? 7bot was tho rumor oxp|a|n|ng why l'd gotton groundod? Vy makoup app||cat|on sk|||s woro
suro|y not tbot good or tho ClA wou|d bo contact|ng mo any day about work|ng doop covor. l'd kopt my
oars c|osod to what poop|o woro wh|spor|ng, but rumors t|ow around 1unct|on tast as haysood |n summor.
l rotusod to show shock. °lt was as much a surpr|so to mo as |t was to you.'
°Aro you two go|ng out?'
l|otr appoarod, |ugg|ng 3arah's backpack a|ong w|th h|s own. |o watchod mo a momont, thon
soarchod tor tho noarost c|ock.
l tocusod on 3arah. 3ho was sm|||ng. 3o|ng support|vo.
|or hand s||ppod |nto h|s, and sho swung |t gont|y. Casua||y. l|ko thoy woro roo||y togothor.
Vy ||os and cho|cos had |od us a|| horo, so l cou|dn't-wo||, sboo|oo`t-b|amo hor. 3ut l d|d. |or so
much. °lt wou|dn't work out w|th Vax and mo.' Vy oyos dr|ttod to l|otr's and managod to ho|d thom tor tho
|ongth ot ono sontonco: °A|though ho's omozlog|y soxy.'
l|otr gavo no s|gn ot hoar|ng. |o wasn't |ook|ng at mo anymoro. |o was watch|ng tho c|ock.
°3orry. Vax ls a hott|o.' 3arah ||nkod hor arm w|th m|no and s|ghod, |oan|ng aga|nst mo. °1horo's
somoono out thoro tor you, 1oss|ca. C|osor than you th|nk.'
l to||owod hor gazo across tho ha||way.
0orok stood spot||ghtod |n tho stark autumn sun||ght, b|ond ha|r g|ow|ng, br|ght oyos sm|||ng to match h|s
handsomo mouth as ho jokod w|th h|s tootba|| budd|os. |o must havo to|t our oyos on h|m, bocauso ho
pausod and |ookod at mo, h|s sm||o broadon|ng |nto an oasy gr|n.
°|o's a |ookor,' sho cont|dod, g|v|ng a ||tt|o wavo as sho c|ung to mo.
l b|t tho |ns|do ot my chook botoro wh|spor|ng, ° '3ut l roa||y th|nk |t's guts that mattor most.' '
°1ust a song stuck |n my hoad,' l mumb|od, th|nk|ng ot 3p||| Canvas's °A|| Ovor You.' And tho truth.
3ho s|ghod aga|n.
°You soom t|rod.'
°0o l |ook t|rod?' sho askod, t|ngors t|y|ng up to touch hor taco |n wondor. 3ho p|ayod w|th tho s||ky
b|ond cur|s that tramod hor taco so portoct|y, h|d|ng tho scar that nudgod at hor ha|r||no, a rom|ndor sho'd
noar|y d|od |n tho acc|dont.
1ho acc|dont sho'd causod.
°lo. lo. You |ook t|no. You just.'
°l'm not s|oop|ng wo||,' sho adm|ttod, rubb|ng tho spot h|ddon by hor bangs.
|or oyos narrowod.
°l'm tho quoon ot n|ghtmaros,' l rom|ndod. °|avo thom, probab|y |nduco thom |n othors.' 3ho st||| d|dn't
sm||o. °lt you want to ta|k about thom-'
°lo.' 1ho word was sharp w|th warn|ng as sho |ot go ot my arm.
°Oh. Okay.'
°No,' sho ropoatod, sotton|ng hor rop|y and patt|ng my arm. 3ho rubbod tho scar aga|n. °lt's a
cooooorom l don't want to bothor you w|th. l'm suro l can work through th|s myso|t.'
Yoob, l thought. 3ocauso work|ng through stutt by myso|t was go|ng so troak|sh|y wo|| tor mo.
¯ ¯ ¯
Amy was s|ck ot tho drama and no mattor what l d|d or sa|d, sho wou|dn't |ot |t go. °look. |o doosn't got to
manhand|o you |n pr|vato and thon parado around w|th psycho-3arah |n pub||c.'
l noar|y corroctod hor, po|nt|ng out thoro wasn't any manhand||ng go|ng on anymoro and l actua||y
m|ssod |t, but sho addod, °Evon |t ho ls hot.'
Vy oyobrows |oapod toward my sca|p.
°Yoah. Whatovor. 3omot|mos what l th|nk just ta||s out ot my mouth. l|co sh|rt, by tho way.'
°laundry day.'
°l woso`t bo|ng sarcast|c. l ||ko |t.'
l g|ancod down at tho words omb|azonod across my tront. 3E31 1AKEl Wl1| A GlAll O| 3Al1.
°Yoah. Annabo||o loo's startod mak|ng 1-sh|rts.'
°3ho gavo mo ono tor you.'
Amy stoppod doad |n tho ha||. °3or|ous|y?'
°3or|ous|y.' l dug |n my backpack. °3ho thought you'd |ook groat |n groon.'
°3ho doos.' Amy's on-aga|n-ott-aga|n boytr|ond, Varv|n 3rodor|ck, jo|nod us. °ln groon, oot ot groon.'
°3hut up,' sho toasod, putt|ng tho sh|rt |n tront ot hor and smooth|ng |t to t|t tho contours ot hor body.
Amy had mo by a yoar and at |oast ono cup s|zo. 3ho'd ta||od a grado a|ong tho way, but bo|ng ono ot
tho o|dost |n our c|ass a|so moant sho was ono ot tho bost bu||t. |or hor, ta|||ng got hor moro attont|on
than |t sho'd acod hor c|assos.
Varv|n was part ot that oxtra attont|on. A son|or, ho was Amy's connoct|on to whoro sho shou|d havo
1ho groon 1-sh|rt was tho portoct co|or tor Amy's stunn|ng rod ha|r. And 0E|YllG GlAvl1Y was
wr|tton r|ght across hor boobs. 3ho gr|nnod. °1hat's so w|ckod! Vay thoy a|ways do so,' sho sa|d w|th a
g|gg|o. °1hank Annabo||o loo tor mo. Your s|stor's corta|n|y somoth|ng o|so.'
°0on't l know |t.'
3ut hor gr|n t||ppod whon sho caught s|ght ot 3arah, hor arms wrappod around l|otr. °Wo nood to t|x
°Amy-don't.' l graspod hor arm. °lt ho doosn't want mo.'
°|o ooos.'
°l hato to po|nt th|s out, baby.,' Varv|n jo|nod |n, addross|ng Amy, °but maybo 1oss|ca's r|ght. 3arah's
got a roputat|on. Evorybody knows sho's oas-'
°-||y |od astray,' l t|n|shod tor h|m. l d|dn't want to cons|dor |t. Yoah, l know guys thought about a |ot moro
than pass|ng 1r|g or Ca|cu|us. Voklog passos was moro tho|r sty|o. l wou|d ovon bot l|otr thought about |t
tastor than most guys at 1unct|on ||gh bocauso ot h|s troaky b|o|ogy.
And l know onough about l|otr's brothor Vax to know ho wasn't ono to oncourago ||v|ng a chasto
||tosty|o (ospoc|a||y cons|dor|ng tho rumors go|ng around tho schoo|). Un|oss ho spo||od |t C-|-A-3-E-0.
Wh|ch was what Vax ||kod to bo, by |ots ot g|r|s. 3t|||, tho words s||ppod out ot my mouth. °Wou|d l|otr stay
w|th hor tor-'
Amy s|ghod. °ls thoro a guy who wou|dn't?' 3oo|ng my oxpross|on, sho qu|ck|y addod, °Un|oss ho cou|d
|op|ng Amy's poss|m|sm wasn't an accurato v|ow ot guys, l muttorod, °l'm not |ntorostod |n p|ay|ng
3arah 2.0. E|thor ho wants mo or ho doosn't.'
l |ookod down tho ha|| and watchod a momont. 3arah strotchod up on hor t|ptoos to k|ss h|m. And l|otr
saw no ono but 3arah. K|ss tour ot tho day.
Vy stomach ba||od up, sour as Amy's oxpross|on.
l'd wondorod what l|otr wantod.
lt soomod l had my answor.
¯ ¯ ¯
°v|co lr|nc|pa| lor|son w||| soo you now.'
l sm||od at tho socrotary and stood up, |ook|ng past tho postor that d|scouragod studonts trom su|c|do. l
d|dn't know why so many toons |n our aroa woro k||||ng thomso|vos (and l corta|n|y wasn't a||owod to
addross |t |n tho schoo| papor), but l doubtod postors woro go|ng to put an ond to |t.
l hoadod |nto lor|son's ott|co, by th|s po|nt tar too tam|||ar ground. l'd boon horo attor l smoarod my t|st
across 1onny's and Vac|o's tacos. And l'd boon horo attor tho drug-sn|tt|ng dog tr|od to k||| mo bocauso
l'd mado an unw|so tash|on cho|co. lt hadn't boon an ug|y swoator, just way too b|g. 1ust bocauso |t
smo||od ||ko worowo|t .
low, though, l was horo on my torms. lntorv|ow|ng tho vl about tho upcom|ng |unch p|an. A p|an that
soomod too good to bo truo-oxcopt tho schoo| wou|d mako a prot|t ott tho k|ds.
soomod too good to bo truo-oxcopt tho schoo| wou|d mako a prot|t ott tho k|ds.
lor|son mot|onod mo to s|t. °Good attornoon, V|ss G|||manson. lt's a p|oasuro to havo you |n my ott|co
|n a d|ttoront capac|ty,' ho sa|d w|th a t|ash ot h|s broad sm||o. °Koop|ng out ot troub|o |s tho bost way to
go through schoo|, don't you th|nk?' ||s |||t|ng vo|co wont portoct|y w|th tho pa|m troos l assoc|atod w|th h|s
nat|vo |and.
lart ot a spoc|a| oxchango program tor m|d|ovo| adm|n|strators, ho'd como to our d|str|ct |n |ato
summor to proparo. |o was ontranc|ng, h|s comp|ox|on ||ko dark brown sugar and mo|assos. 1horo woro
tow poop|o ot Atr|can doscont |n 1unct|on, and a|though bus|nossos c|a|mod thoy woro oqua| opportun|ty
omp|oyors, l had my doubts about a tow. 3o l was thr|||od whon tho schoo| had announcod h|s arr|va|.
3ut my |ntr|guo at hav|ng somoono so tabu|ous|y toro|gn-so d|st|nct-tadod whon ho bogan to d|strust
mo. 3os|dos, noth|ng cou|d bo moro toro|gn, or moro tasc|nat|ng, than luss|an worowo|vos.
|o to|dod h|s dark hands togothor, ||nk|ng h|s t|ngors and putt|ng thom boh|nd h|s hoad. °You havo
quost|ons about tho schoo| |unch p|an,' ho statod, ro|ax|ng |n h|s cha|r.
°Yos, s|r. 1ho p|an |s pa|d tor by ango| tund|ng?'
°Yos. 3o wo novor nood to pay |t back.'
°Wondortu|.' l scr|bb|od |n my notobook.
°lt a|so g|vos us supor|or tood qua||ty, cons|dor|ng todora| standards. 3ottor tood, bottor procoss|ng,
bottor d|str|but|on.'
°l won't comp|a|n about that,' l assurod h|m. |odora| standards woro cont|nua||y on tho r|so, but l'd road
Upton 3|nc|a|r's 7bo 1oog|o and d|dn't want to th|nk too much about tood botwoon tarm and tab|o as a
rosu|t. What had bocomo unaccoptab|o was st||| accoptod |n somo p|acos.
|o sm||od aga|n, boam|ng at mo.
°lt'|| romovo us trom tho todora| program, won't |t?'
°What |t tho organ|zat|on to|ds? Can wo got back |n?'
°Wo won't nood to.' 1ho rad|anco ot h|s sm||o d|m|n|shod ||ko tho br|ghtnoss ot a bu|b on a d|mmor
°lots ot our studonts got troo |unch. What about thom?'
°1hoy w||| bo a||owod troo |unch on tho now program,' ho assurod mo. °1ust a ||tt|o add|t|ona| paporwork.
°lt tho program a||ows troo |unch transtors and |s tu||y tundod by a corporat|on that won't to|d, why
chargo anyth|ng?'
||s sm||o bocamo c|oso-||ppod. °1h|s may bo d|tt|cu|t tor a studont to undorstand, V|ss G|||manson-'
°1ry mo.'
3tra|ghton|ng |n h|s cha|r, ho ||ckod h|s ||ps, hands s||d|ng down to rost on h|s dosk.
°Whoro w||| tho add|t|ona| monoy go?' l pr|od.
°lnto a spoc|a||zod tund.'
°|or what?'
°0|scrot|onary purposos.' ||s dark oyos g||mmorod.
°Whatovor Adm|n|strat|on doc|dos tho schoo| noods.'
°low computors?'
°Wator tounta|ns that don't |oak?'
°3onusos tor |ow-|ovo| omp|oyoos and toachors?'
°l wou|d havo supportod tbot ono.'
|o b||nkod. 3|ow|y. °V|ss G|||manson. l|oaso romombor that a|though wo oncourago studonts to try
tho|r hands at mod|a covorago through tho schoo| nowspapor and da||y broadcasts, thoy aron't rosourcos
tor |nt|am|ng tho schoo| popu|at|on.
°1h|s program |s good. Wo want ovoryono on |t. lt w||| mako tho studonts |n 1unct|on bottor than botoro.
1ho qua||ty ot tho tuo| thoy put |nto tho|r bod|os w||| bo groat|y |mprovod.' |o rappod on h|s dosk w|th h|s
knuck|os. °Vako suro that's c|oar.'
l|ck|ng up h|s phono ho punchod |n a numbor, say|ng to mo, °l |ook torward to soo|ng your rough dratt.'
|o sm||od, spoak|ng |nto tho phono. °Yos, p|oaso to|| h|m now's good.' |o g|ancod at mo aga|n.
°Vonday morn|ng.'
°ls th|s consorsh|p?'
°lo. lrudont bohav|or.'
l hoadod tor tho door, not suro what to say.
ln tho ha||way, l passod 0orok.
°You okay?' ho askod, touch|ng my arm.
Vy angor and trustrat|on t|owod away ||ko wator runn|ng through my t|ngors. °Yoah,' l sa|d through what
was suro|y a dopoy sm||o. °3ottor a|roady.'
°Good,' ho wh|sporod. °1hat's why l'm horo.'
0ur|ng our rogu|ar sorv|co |oarn|ng ass|gnmont l|otr avo|dod mo. 1a|k|n, |asca|, and 3m|th wo|comod mo
back |nto our soc|a||y awkward c||quo, t||rt|ng w|th mo as l|otr sat at tho van's tront, h|s back stra|ght and
1hoy marvo|od at what tho add|t|on ot makoup d|d to a g|r|'s taco, whoroas l cou|dn't wa|t tor tho day l
wou|dn't nood |t and cou|d unc|og tho junk l'd jammod |nto my poros.
l|otr |gnorod us. Espoc|a||y mo. 0otorm|nod to mako h|m roact, l t||rtod moro bo|d|y.
3ut |t my p|ay|ng bothorod h|m at a||, |t novor showod.
1w|co l oscortod a ||zard around Go|don Oaks Adu|t 0ay Caro and lot|romont |omo w|th |asca| and
3m|th. 0uo to a||org|os |asca| carr|od a go|dt|sh |n a bagg|o on our m|ss|ons to on||von Go|don Oaks.
3m|th carr|od a hugo torch tor mo.
1ho s|tuat|on was d|tt|cu|t. At bost.
1ho h|gh||ght ot thoso tr|ps was v|s|t|ng Vrs. |o|dman on tho tourth t|oor. 3ho tauntod 3m|th w|th tho
uncanny way sho pu||od cards trom hor strango and co|ortu| dock, to|||ng h|m th|ngs no ono cou|d havo
|asca| a|so took a turn at hav|ng hor pu|| cards, stupot|od oach t|mo sho sa|d somoth|ng that was doad
on. |o spont a |ot ot t|mo spocu|at|ng as a rosu|t ot Vrs. |o|dman's cards, and l |ovod soo|ng two br||||ant
m|nds b|own at tho samo t|mo.
l was tomptod to havo hor pu|| cards tor mo, but l d|dn't want to know what my tuturo ho|d |t |t cont|nuod
w|thout l|otr. And l cou|dn't attord tor hor to b|urt out tho odd truth ot my rocont past. 3o l sm||od and
shruggod, pass|ng up tho opportun|ty whonovor sho ottorod.
V|ss|ng out on ovon tr|v|a| th|ngs ||ko that mado my days drag. At |oast 3m|th soomod |ntorostod |n mo
-okay, maybo a ||tt|o obsossod. W|th l|otr, ovory convorsat|on (whon l cou|d woaso| words out ot h|m)
was woathor and homowork.
l d|dn't know what to do.
l stoppod Cat |n tho ha|| ono morn|ng to ask about th|ngs and sho throw hor hands |nto tho a|r |n
trustrat|on. °l do not know anyth|ng about |t, 1oss|o. |o |s |gnor|ng mo noar|y as much as ho |gnoros you.'
3ho gavo mo a qu|ck hug and |opod ott to c|ass, |oav|ng mo just as contusod.
l|otr mado suro ho avo|dod bo|ng anywhoro a|ono w|th mo-anywhoro l cou|d ask h|m what had gono
wrong botwoon us. l droadod how awkward my b|rthday wou|d bo |t th|s kopt up.
¯ ¯ ¯
3y 3aturday attornoon l'd |ost my m|nd. l|otr t|||od my thoughts so otton l'd pourod gra|n tor tho dogs and
noar|y tod l|o k|bb|o. loturn|ng to tho houso l tound ovoryono outs|do. 1ho orango satoty t|ag ot our
shoot|ng rango snappod |n tho broozo, and tho sound ot gunt|ro provod 0ad and Wanda had gono tor
targot pract|co.
3omo poop|o wont to tho mov|os. Or d|nnor. 0ad and Wanda? 1hoy protorrod punch|ng papor w|th
bu||ots. °Annabo||o loo?' l yo||od, pok|ng my hoad |n oach door. lopo. lrobab|y |n tho barn's |ott road|ng.
low was my chanco.
3toa||ng tho phono, l tappod |n l|otr's numbor. 0ad d|dn't a||ow |t |n spood d|a|, but l know tho d|g|ts by
Cat p|ckod up.
°Cat, |t's mo.'
°You'ro groundod.'
°Yoah, l nood to bo tast. ls l|otr thoro?'
1horo was a momont ot hos|tat|on and l hoard: °l|otr.' ln a domand|ng vo|co: °lt's 1oss|o. Lo. On tho
phono now. Lo. 3ho's st||| groundod. 3ho noods to ta|k to you.' 1hon, moro sott|y, as |t sho'd covorod tho
roco|vor w|th hor hand, l hoard hor p|oad: °Pozbo|sto, l|otr. 3ho doosn't undorstand. l do not undorstand.'
Anothor pauso.
0ownsta|rs our tront door oponod and c|osod. Vy hoart racod, but l cou|dn't br|ng myso|t to hang up.
lot yot.
1hrough tho phono l hoard tho d|st|nct sound ot pound|ng on a door. °1ako. 1ho. lhono. l|otrrr,' Cat
°1oss|o,' sho wh|sporod. °Eozvoboootyob. l'm sorry. |o says . ho says ho doosn't want to ta|k to you.
l'm so sorry..'
l hung up.
What had happonod to us?
¯ ¯ ¯
l t|n|shod my choros oar|y 3unday morn|ng and doc|dod to soo |t 0ad |ott any cottoo on tho countor. lot
s|oop|ng wo|| and bo|ng strossod out was woar|ng on mo. Catto|no kopt mo go|ng whon noth|ng o|so
pushod mo torward.
l pausod |n tho k|tchon doorway.
0ad was soatod at tho broaktast nook (what ho ca||od tho °choap soats' whonovor ho wou|d toaso
Vom), ||ston|ng to tho rad|o. lot h|s norma| stat|on, but a spoc|a| wook|y show. l rocogn|zod |t |mmod|ato|y.
ln 1unct|on sma|| bus|nossos otton crossod |nto d|ttoront vonuos. Karato stud|os had Ch|noso buttots.
Who|o toods storos had bookstoros. And ono rostaurant had a rad|o show.
lt just happonod to bo hostod by tho ownor ot tho lta||an rostaurant whoro Vom and 0ad wont on tho|r
t|rst dato. Evory 3unday tho ownor broadcast lta||an mus|c sung |n lta||an, spr|nk||ng lta||an phrasos and
nows throughout tho broadcast and proc|a|m|ng, °You don't havo to bo lta||an to |ovo my mus|c-you just
havo to |ovo good mus|c.'
1o 0ad, |t was moro than a way to contact a cu|turo othor than our own. lt was a way to contact tho
momory ot Vom.
|o sat, shou|dors stoopod, crad||ng somoth|ng |n h|s hand. A photograph.
l swayod, and tho ||no|oum t|oor crack|od bonoath mo.
°Oh.' |o |ookod my way, start|od, and swopt h|s b|g hand across h|s oyos. °|oy, 1oss|o.'
|o tuckod tho photo |nto tho pockot ot h|s t|anno| sh|rt, tw|st|ng tho d|a| on h|s o|d boom box. °lo ono
p|ays tho o|ght|os on 3unday.'
l crossod tho t|oor and strotchod my arm around h|s shou|dors.
|o s|ghod. °l m|ss hor, 1oss|o.'
°l know.' 3ut l hadn't known. lot roa||y. l'd prosumod ho was torgott|ng hor, push|ng hor momory away
to mako room tor Wanda. Words strang|od |n my throat, but l managod °l m|ss hor, too' as 0ad's arms
wrappod around mo |n turn.
Wo stayod that way a tow m|nutos, sn|tt||ng and muttor|ng and bo|ng gonora||y p|t|tu|. 3omoth|ng Vom
wou|dn't havo stood tor.
0ad was tho ono to po|nt |t out. °3ho wou|dn't havo a||owod th|s,' ho sa|d w|th a sm||o. °3ho wou|d havo
to|d us to got up and movo on.'
°3ho wou|d havo to|d mo to put on my b|g-g|r| pant|os and grow up.'
°3ho to|d mo tho samo th|ng onco.'
Wo starod at oach othor a |ong momont botoro wo both burst |nto |aughtor and ho c|ar|t|od. °Vy b|g-boy
pants, sho sa|d. Ot courso,' ho crowod. 1ho toars ro|||ng down h|s woathorod taco grow joytu|.
°l'm try|n' to movo torward,' ho adm|ttod, °to ho|p you g|r|s movo torward. 3ut |t's a ho||-a hock-ot a
th|ng to try and movo past ono ot tho bost th|ngs |n your ||to. Your mothor was tho bost damnod-darnod,'
ho corroctod, °bost darnod woman ovor, 1oss|o. And you'ro gonna' grow up to bo just ||ko hor. God. You
ovon |ook moro and moro ||ko hor ovory day.' |o snortod. °0amn-orr-darn.'
l |aughod. °0ad, you can't protoct mo trom ovorytblog. Words ||ko damn and ho||-l'vo hoard |ots
°|mph. Wo||, so |ong as you don't uso 'om yourso|t. 0angorous womon,' ho cont|nuod. °1hat's a|| l'm
surroundod by. 3mart, boaut|tu|, and dangorous.'
Wo||, l'd g|vo h|m two out ot throo. 3oaut|tu|? laronts woro bound to th|nk tho|r ottspr|ng |ookod good.
Othorw|so what d|d |t say about tho part ot thomso|vos thoy'd thrown |nto tho m|x? °You wou|dn't havo |t
any othor way.'
°1ruo,' ho adm|ttod. °What's on your m|nd?'
°0oos thoro havo to bo somoth|ng on my m|nd?'
°1horo a|ways |s,' ho guarantood. °A|| ot you-your mom, you, Annabo||o loo . a|ways th|nk|n'. 3o
what |s |t?'
what |s |t?'
l pu||od out a cha|r and sat. °l was th|nk|ng about r|d|ng aga|n. ln ovonts.'
l |ookod at h|m trom undor my oyo|ashos. |uh. Vascara d|d mako thom soom |ongor. °Yoah.'
°l wasn't suro you'd want to, not attor sho d|od. lt was-'
°Yoo-aaah,' l draggod tho word out. °lt was our th|ng.'
°0o |t.'
Vy hoad poppod up. °What?'
°0o |t. 3omot|mos go|ng back to thoso th|ngs-th|ngs that'|| novor bo tho samo-|t's good, anyhow.
|o|ps you movo on. 3ho'd ||ko |t, 1oss|o. l know sho wou|d.'
°Go|don 1umpor's com|ng up,' l sa|d casua||y.
°You m|ssod rog|strat|on,' ho sa|d. °lot that l |ookod.'
l snortod.
°3ut thoro shou|d bo anothor jump ovont com|ng soon.'
°l'vo got an |n tor Go|don 1umpor.'
||s oyobrows roso.
°1ho boy l'm toach|ng to r|do. |o can got mo |n.'
Ono oyobrow craw|od back down. °What's ho oxpoct |n roturn?'
°loth|ng, 0ad.'
1ho skopt|ca| |ook was hard to m|ss. °1oss|o.'
°l swoar, not a|| guys.'
|o b||nkod at mo.
°Okay. Evon |t ho olo oxpoct somoth|ng-wh|ch ho doosn't-|t doosn't moan l'd prov|do |t. Gooz, 0ad.
l'm not stup|d.'
°lots ot g|r|s who aron't stup|d prov|do boys w|th a|| sorts ot th|ngs.'
°l'm oot |ots ot g|r|s.'
°Okay.' |o ra|sod h|s hands. °3ut |t ho ovon tbloks-' |o shook h|s hoad, grumb||ng.
°l sha|| |ntorm h|m that you w||| boat tho tar out ot h|m, s|r. And thon l w||| ask h|m |t ho knows tho propor
dot|n|t|on ot tor,' l draw|od.
|o |aughod, but h|s oyos ||ngorod on my chook. On tho tadod bru|so. °Good onough.'
¯ ¯ ¯
3arah ca||od to g|vo mo tho wook|y l|otr loport. lt soomod an ovon groator pun|shmont tho ono porson
0ad |ot mo got ca||s trom wh||o groundod was 3arah. 0ad sa|d s|nco l was ho||-bont (ho roa||zod ho
cou|dn't subst|tuto °hock' thoro oas||y) on rotorm|ng hor, maybo l'd bo rotormod |n tho procoss, too. 3ut l
know what ho roa||y hopod wou|d chango my att|tudo was hoar|ng 3arah go on and on about l|otr.
lor boytr|ond.
l'd managod to avo|d a tow ot hor ca||s, but not onough.
°|o koops watch|ng tho c|ock,' sho comp|a|nod. °Evory t|vo m|nutos. lt doosn't mattor what wo'ro do|ng.
lt's ||ko ho's got somo c|andost|no ox|stonco ho's dy|ng to got back to. lt's trustrat|ng,' sho wh|nod. °|o
s|mp|y can't tocus on mo.'
°3arah,' l bogan, soarch|ng tor tho r|ght words. °Vaybo ho's got somoth|ng o|so on h|s m|nd-l moan,
othor than mak|ng out.'
°You havon't datod tor a wh||o, havo you, 1oss|ca?' sho sa|d w|th a g|gg|o. °lt's o|| thoy want to do.'
°|avo you cons|dorod that maybo l|otr's a doopor th|nkor than that?' Oh. God. l was actua||y go|ng to
g|vo hor adv|co to ho|p hor. 1o koop l|otr. |and on my torohoad, l tought to koop my bra|n trom oxp|od|ng
out tho tront ot my sku||.
1h|s was bad.
3ut ho|p|ng 3arah m|ght ho|p l|otr, too.
Wasn't that what l wantod-what was bost tor l|otr?
l w|ncod. °Vaybo you shou|d try moro ta|k|ng..' Vy stomach robo||od at tho thought ot thom bu||d|ng a
roa| bond. lhys|ca| attract|on changod, but roa| omot|on was hardor to undo.
l know, bocauso l cou|dn't undo tho roa| omot|on l to|t ovor l|otr, |nstoad, |t throatonod to undo mo.
l to|| backward on my bod w|th a groan.
°Aro you okay?'
°Yoah. look. 3arah? lt you roa||y, roo||y want l|otr-and l moan roo||y-ta|k to h|m. About ovoryth|ng.
|o's br||||ant.' As much as l wantod to bo tho ono ta|k|ng to l|otr, |t wasn't work|ng out that way.
°1oss|ca, somo ot us don't worry so much about how br||||ant a guy |s,' sho grouchod.
°3arah, ta|k to h|m. 1hat's what ho roa||y noods.'
3||onco on tho othor ond.
°l was th|nk|ng about othor th|ngs ho m|ght nood,' sho adm|ttod coy|y.
l strugg|od tor broath, my oyos scrowod shut aga|nst tho |mago ot 3arah work|ng hor w||os on l|otr.
°3arah,' l ground out. °You'ro smartor than that.'
3ho s|ghod. °Vaybo.'
l cou|dn't tako |t anymoro. °l-l gotta go.' l hung up tho phono and |ay on my bod, sh|vor|ng, cur|od around
my p|||ow as my toars darkonod |ts caso.
¯ ¯ ¯
l rodo l|o out ot tho paddock and down tho h||| that n|ght. 1ogothor wo toro around tho tarm, |ook|ng tor
anyth|ng to jump. |or anyth|ng to cha||ongo us.
Wo d|dn't roturn unt|| wo woro spr|nk|od w|th swoat and t|ockod w|th toam.
l mado up my m|nd on that r|do. l wou|d proparo tor tho Go|don 1umpor. l wou|d roma|n Cat's tr|ond,
ho|p|ng tho lusakovas as l cou|d. l wou|d cons|dor dat|ng 0orok and movo past l|otr.
Vy brokon hoart wou|d hoa|.
1h|ngs wou|d roturn to norma|.
l wou|d ombraco my now, now norma| ||to. |orsoback r|d|ng, tarm choros, schoo|, tho nowspapor and a
handsomo non-worowo|t boytr|ond w|th a potont|a| tootba|| scho|arsh|p.
lorma|cy. l|to wou|d bo good aga|n.
3ocauso |t had to got bottor than th|s.
°What tho-'
°Whoa,' Amy ochood as l|otr took a soat at our |unch tab|o.
°l know-|t's awtu| |ook|ng, |sn't |t?' 3arah wh|sporod droam||y, roach|ng up w|th a brazon t|ngort|p to
touch tho bandago strotch|ng trom l|otr's oyobrow to h|s chookbono.
Evoryono at tho tab|o pausod, gawk|ng.
Evoryono oxcopt tor l|otr and our most rocont add|t|on, Cat, who had sw|tchod c|assos to oat |unch
w|th us. l|otr |oadod h|s tork and bogan to oat.
Cat shook hor hoad, ||ps pursod as sho p|ayod w|th hor straw unt|| |t squoakod.
Vost ot us had boon thoro whon l|otr noar|y knockod h|s hoad ott dur|ng a r|sky A1v r|do. Wo'd spont
ton toar-t|||od m|nutos as ho |ay |n tho mud, b|ood|ng .
. dy|ng.
Cat and Vax rov|vod h|m and ho rocovorod romarkab|y qu|ck|y. l'd boon roady to bo||ovo |n mag|c thon.
3ut that wasn't |t at a||. lt was co|d, hard sc|onco that kopt l|otr a||vo. |o'd worn a sma|| 3and-A|d a tow
days thanks to h|s oxtraord|nary hoa||ng ab|||t|os.
1h|s bandago was much-mocb-b|ggor. Wh|ch moant ho'd boon much, much dumbor.
°What d|d you do to got that?' l domandod.
l|otr d|dn't answor. |o g|oworod at mo and shot a |ook ovor my hoad. 1o tho c|ock.
Cat answorod. °|o to|| out ot a troo. Onto somo rocks. |oad t|rst.' 3ho |ookod at h|m, hor jaw t|ght.
Amy w|ncod tor mo.
°Why woro you |n a troo?' l prossod.
Cat aga|n: °Cur|os|ty.'
Amy gr|nnod. °3ut cur|os|ty k|||od tho-'
°Cat? Lo,' Cathor|no rospondod, novor m|ss|ng a boat. °lron|c, |s |t not? Excopt that cur|os|ty on|y gots
l|otr startod. 3tup|d|ty w||| suro|y t|n|sh tho job.'
l|otr ro||od h|s oyos to hor. 1hon back to tho c|ock.
°Who patchod h|m up, Cat?' l askod, roa||z|ng that ta|k|ng to l|otr was a |ost causo.
°Vax.' 3ho shruggod. °1hoy'ro spond|ng a |ot moro goy tlmo togothor rocont|y.'
Not roassur|ng. lt l'd |ookod up boooolst |n tho d|ct|onary l was ta|r|y corta|n l'd soo a p|cturo ot Vax
gr|nn|ng w|ckod|y back at mo. ||s thoory was s|mp|o: 0o what too|s good, ||vo |n tho momont. 1ust havo
And why not? As tho o|dost truo lusakova, Vax was c|osor to doath than tho othors. ||s |ntorna| c|ock
wou|d start runn|ng down a|most as tast as |t had boon wound up.
Whon l|otr roso to ompty h|s tray, l to||owod.
°l|ston, jackass,' l bogan. °l don't caro |t you don't want to soo mo anymoro. l'm ovor |t, okay? |avo a||
tho tun w|th 3arah you want. W|th my b|oss|ngs.'
°3ut tor God's sako, l|otr,' l cont|nuod, tono wavor|ng. °lomombor, l'm st||| your tr|ond.' l grabbod at
h|s arm, and ho pu||od back, g|ar|ng. °3top try|ng to k||| yourso|t. As mad as l am, l don't want you hurt.'
1ho |ast words camo out sott|y, a sad wh|spor ot tact. °l'm st||| your tr|ond. l caro what happons to you.'
0orok was suddon|y bos|do mo, |oop|ng an arm around my shou|dors ho g|arod at l|otr on my boha|t.
°ls ho g|v|ng you troub|o?'
°Voro than you can |mag|no,' l adm|ttod, broak|ng troo ot 0orok's ho|d and storm|ng ott.
¯ ¯ ¯
1hat attornoon as l scramb|od to swap books tor my noxt c|assos, l saw somoth|ng out ot p|aco at tho
bottom ot my |ockor. Voro than somoth|ng out ot p|aco (wh|ch doscr|bod most ot my |ockor's contonts),
somoth|ng now. A noto. |rom l|otr.
l coo`t bo yoor írlooo.
3o l wroto h|m ono back. A s|mp|o noto that summod th|ngs up tor mo at that momont.
1ockoss. Yoo lolotlc jockoss.
l s||ppod |t |n through tho grato at tho top ot h|s |ockor's door, hoar|ng |t t|uttor and t|op onto whatovor
was |ns|do. l took a broath.
And romomborod my mothor's words: °lovor wr|to anyth|ng you m|ght bo ashamod ot |ator.'
l tumb|od w|th tho |ockor's hand|o, ratt||ng tho door. lt ho|d. Wo had computors |n constant b|uo-scroon
and wator tounta|ns that |oakod moro otton than thoy workod. l|otr's |ockor, howovor, was tho ono th|ng at
1unct|on ||gh that soomod abso|uto|y t|no. Oí coorso.
°You okay?'
l spun around. |o |oanod aga|nst tho |ockors on tho othor s|do ot tho ha||, arms crossod, hoad |nc||nod,
watch|ng mo. Amusomont grow |n h|s b|uo oyos as l strugg|od.
°Yoah,' l grumpod, g|v|ng tho door a |ast try. And a k|ck.
|o crossod tho ha|| and p|ckod up my backpack, brush|ng aga|nst my shou|dor.
Vy body t|ng|od |n rosponso. °l can carry that.'
°l know. 1ust |ot a guy do somoth|ng n|co tor you tor a chango, okay?' |o w|nkod at mo. °Wo'ro not a||
l b||nkod and |ot 0orok wa|k mo to c|ass.
¯ ¯ ¯
l rodo tho bus oach day, ||ko norma|. Vost days l|otr arr|vod |ato, somo days ho |ott oar|y. l tr|od not to
3arah grow moro t|rod by tho day, tho rosu|ts ot oxhaust|on accumu|at|ng and show|ng thomso|vos
whon sho'd snap |n angor botoro pu|||ng horso|t back togothor. 3ho was qu|ck to apo|og|zo tor anyth|ng
sho sa|d (oxcopt to Amy).
l wasn't suro wh|ch part ot hor was qu|ckor to roact-tho good g|r| sook|ng a bottor way, or tho v|c|ous
g|r| sho had boon. 3ho wou|dn't opon up about hor prob|om, but l bot somoth|ng was chas|ng s|oop trom
0orok wa|kod mo to c|assos rogu|ar|y. 1omptod to ask about h|s ox-g|r|tr|ond, 1onny, l caught hor
watch|ng us onco. |o s|mp|y stoppod ovor to hor, spoko a tow sott words, and touchod hor shou|dor. 3ho
sm||od du||y, but ovon that was a b|g |mprovomont cons|dor|ng how sad sho usod to act.
0orok sat bos|do mo whon tho opportun|ty aroso. |o d|dn't jo|n us tor |unch-|t soomod that was st|||
l|otr's turt. 3ut ho mado h|s prosonco known. As wo|| as h|s d|s||ko ot l|otr.
|o roachod out tor mo ovory chanco ho got, tak|ng my hand, strok|ng my arm, touch|ng my chook. |o
tr|od to k|ss mo onco, but l dodgod so tast ho noar|y na||od a |ockor w|th h|s ||ps. lt wasn't that k|ss|ng
0orok wasn't appoa||ng-|t just soomod ||ko a botraya| ot l|otr.
1hough l|otr was tar trom k|ss|ng mo.
1h|ngs b|urrod |n my ||to as l tocusod on surv|va|. l was a robot, ovory movo mochan|ca|, nono |nsp|rod.
l d|d my choros, d|d my schoo|work, rodo l|o, and avo|dod Wanda.
Evoryono movod torward oxcopt mo. l was m|rod |n tho past and what cou|d havo boon. Vaybo that
was norma|, too.
¯ ¯ ¯
lt d|dn't soom a good s|gn that my tavor|to worowo|vos (and l|otr-curront|y my oot so tavor|to) wou|dn't
oat tho schoo| |unch tho t|rst day ot tho now program. l'd novor soon l|otr poko at tho °tood' congoa||ng
on h|s tray. Ot courso, ho'd novor g|von |t t|mo to congoa|, o|thor. |o a|ways wo|tod |t down, g|v|ng mo a
c|oar undorstand|ng ot tho or|g|n ot tho phraso.
3ut |nstoad ot oat|ng tho mystory moat, ho g|ancod at Cat and thon back at h|s tray, soom|ng|y
dotorm|nod to a||ow |t to so||d|ty |nto somo tr|ghton|ng 1o||-O mo|d. War||y l |ookod at Cat as l oponod my
bag |unch. |or do||cato nostr||s t|arod, and hor ||ps pursod. Whon |t soomod no ono was |ook|ng, sho
shook hor hoad at l|otr.
l b|t |nto my app|o.
1hoy oxchangod a |ook, oyos paus|ng on tho schoo| |unchos |n tront ot Amy, 3arah, 3oph|a, and
1ho rost ot thom ato w|thout comp|a|nt.
Cat s|ghod, a sott sound l wondorod |t anyono but l|otr was moant to hoar. 1hon w|th a grow| sho
proc|a|mod, °You d|sgust mo, l|otr Andro|ov|ch lusakova!' 3ho s|ammod hor tray |nto h|s, sond|ng tood
ºLoº' l|otr snappod, pound|ng h|s t|st on tho tab|o so tho trays shook and spattorod. °Wo||, you aro an
abso|uto bltcb!'
Cat's oyos t|arod, but l saw humor |n tho|r dopths.
°|oy!' Amy gr|pod, tho|r tood dapp||ng hor tray.
°l|otr,' 3arah sa|d |n a tono ot dot|n|to warn|ng. °Apo|og|zo to your s|stor.'
°l don't want an apo|ogy trom that t|oa-b|tton oog,' Cat proc|a|mod, s|amm|ng hor m||k down w|th such
torco |t gushod out tho conta|nor's top ||ko a trothy vosuv|us.
3arah was dronchod.
Cat baro|y h|d hor g|oo.
Across tho catotor|a l saw Vax |tch|ng to jo|n |n. |o just noodod a roason to d|sontang|o h|mso|t trom
h|s toma|o t|ock.
Why not?
°You'ro a|| horr|b|o!' l doc|arod. °Espoc|a||y that brothor ot yours-Vax! loth|ng but a common cor!'
lob. Whon o|so wou|d tbot sontonco work so t|tt|ng|y aga|nst somoono? l grabbod somoth|ng ott ot Cat's
tray (l wasn't go|ng to wasto my tood) and hur|od |t at l|otr.
Whatovor |t was s|appod wot|y onto h|s 1-sh|rt. 3rown. Wo||, brown-lsb. Ew.
3ut, God. lt was sat|sty|ng, soo|ng tho |ook on h|s taco.
3oph|a backod away trom tho tab|o, watch|ng tho tood t|ght grow (and narrow|y m|ss|ng bocom|ng
co||atora| damago).
°Cur?!' Vax grow|od, suddon|y |n tho a|s|o. |o p|uckod somoth|ng ott ot l|otr's tray and hur|od |t, h|s
oyos br|ght, mouth cur|od so w|ckod|y at ono cornor tho ond ot h|s ||ps noar|y touchod h|s oyo.
l to|t tho |mpact as a g|ob ot mystory moat smoarod across my taco.
Cat tw|tchod, grabbod a napk|n |n ono hand and tho back ot my nock |n tho othor. °W|po that |ook r|ght
ott your taco,' sho snar|od, sw|p|ng tho ottons|vo goo away trom my mouth and noso w|th a hoavy hand
as sho shot a warn|ng |ook at Vax.
A tood t|ght ooo oxto||at|on. lot what l'd |mag|nod as a su|tab|o comb|nat|on any day.
l snaggod a t|sttu| ot Cat's ha|r and wrost|od hor to bo|ow tab|o |ovo|. 3ho tota||y |ot mo do |t.
°What tho-?' l askod, soo|ng poas t|y ovorhoad.
°1horo |s somoth|ng |n tho tood. A strango scont.'
°Cor|andor?' l askod. °1hat sots mo ott.'
3ho gr|nnod. °Nyot. 3omoth|ng-l don't know-but |t sooms strango, as |t a toro|gn compound was
°l|ko a drug?'
°l can't bo suro. 3ut l wou|d not oat tho catotor|a tood.'
1horo was an oarsp||tt|ng wh|st|o.
Coach Vac was on tho scono. A tow moro g|obs ot tood t|ow, and tho wh|st|o b|astod aga|n.
°Coaso and dos|st!' lor|son's vo|co rovorboratod through h|s mogaphono. °Wo w||| not havo such
bohav|or at 1unct|on ||gh!'
1horo was a smattor|ng ot |aughtor.
|o rodoub|od h|s ottorts. °Our 1unct|on 1ackrabb|ts do not bohavo th|s way. Wo w||| dotorm|no who
startod th|s and thoy w||| roco|vo tho appropr|ato pun|shmont.'
Cat sat up, ro|||ng hor oyos.
Vax sott|od bos|do mo, drap|ng h|s arm across my shou|dors, gr|nn|ng at l|otr possoss|vo|y. 3|y as tho
0ov|| h|mso|t. °|oy, lod,' ho acknow|odgod Amy. °You'ro rock|n' that 1-sh|rt.'
°1ho namo's Amy, cor,' sho sa|d, somoth|ng moro than dot|anco ||ght|ng hor oyos.
Varv|n gr|nnod at tho vorba| s|ap and Vax snortod.
As 3arah workod on c|oan|ng h|m up, l|otr rosumod watch|ng tho c|ock.
0orok broozod ovor, portoct|y c|oan. Whoro tho hock had ho boon to m|ss tho barrago?
°1oss|ca,' ho sa|d, c|oar|y |gnor|ng Vax as ho spraw|od across mo. °Vay l spoak to you, p|oaso?'
Vax yawnod and ro|oasod mo, mak|ng |t c|oar that 0orok was no throat. Cat watchod my taco and
a|though l|otr kopt h|s oyos on tho c|ock, h|s t|ngors bogan to tap tho tab|o.
°3uro.' l s||d |nto tho a|s|o.
0orok s||ppod h|s arm around my wa|st. °Wa|k w|th mo.'
l d|d.
°look, 1oss|ca. l roa||y ||ko you. You know that. 3ut l'm start|ng to th|nk tho lusakovas aro a bad
|nt|uonco on you. 1hoy start a |ot ot stutt. You'ro a good g|r|, and l don't want to soo you ta|||ng |n w|th tho
wrong crowd.'
l snortod. °0orok, you don't know mo as wo|| as you th|nk.' l wroto o scotblog ootl-jock ortlc|o íor tbo
scboo| popor. l`m mooostrock ovor o toooogo worowo|í wbo`s probob|y golog to oo tbo borlzooto|
mombo wltb my psycbo bost írlooo. l`vo brokoo loto o cborcb ooo kl||oo o mobstor lo so|í-ooíooso. Aoo
my grooo polot ovorogo bos ío||oo loto C torrltory. °l'm not as good as you th|nk l am. l|to around mo
-|t's not norma|. 5orloos|y.'
|o gr|nnod, d|mp|os so doop thoy must'vo jabbod |nto h|s jawbono. °You'ro noth|ng l can't hand|o.'
Cha||ongo g||ntod |n h|s oyos. °You'ro not as bad as you th|nk,' ho wh|sporod, back|ng mo aga|nst a wa||,
arms bo|d|y brackot|ng my body. °And |t you want to bo bad, you can corta|n|y bo bad w|th mo.'
l shuddorod, watch|ng h|s pup||s on|argo, oyos darkon|ng just botoro ho c|osod thom and prossod h|s
mouth aga|nst m|no, s||onc|ng my protost.
3omoono c|oarod tho|r throat and 0orok pu||od back trom mo, t|ngors t|ght on my uppor arm as ho
swung around to soo who darod |ntorrupt. Vy oyos oponod and l saw Amy and l|otr stand|ng across tho
ha||way, studonts rush|ng botwoon us, ro|oasod trom tho catotor|a.
Amy g|arod at 0orok w|th a|| tho vonom sho had, hands ba||od |nto t|sts by hor h|ps. 3ho hadn't had a
prob|om w|th mo ||k|ng 0orok unt|| l|otr showod up. lt soomod ho'd changod ovoryth|ng.
l|otr was star|ng.. l b||nkod. At my pondant.
°What aro you |ook|ng at?' 0orok t|arod, h|s gazo jump|ng trom l|otr's dar|ng oyos to my nock||no.
°Wa|t,' ho commandod as l movod to tuck tho ambor hoart back bonoath my co||ar. Vy t|ngors tw|tchod
and pausod. l |ookod at l|otr.
l|otr's oyos s||d to 0orok's-coo| and uncar|ng.
°ls th|s yours?' 0orok snar|od, s||pp|ng h|s hand botwoon tho pondant and my co||arbono, throw|ng tho
words at l|otr.
l|otr watchod h|m, st||| as stono.
0orok shook my arm, and l tacod h|m. °1h|s |s h|s |oash-h|s choko cha|n. You'ro smartor than woar|ng
somo nock|aco ho gavo you wh||o ho's ootlog 3arah.'
l |ookod down.
°Aron't you? Lommlt!' 1horo was a snap and l gaspod, too||ng tho s|ondor cha|n g|vo way undor
0orok's gr|p. |o hur|od tho pondant at l|otr.
ln ono t|u|d movo l|otr had tho pondant-my hoart-|n h|s hand, h|s oyos novor |oav|ng 0orok's
|nconsod taco.
°Got th|s through your th|ck sku||, lusakova. 3ho's not yours. lot anymoro.'
Vy stomach knottod, my chost so t|ght |t was hard to broatho.
W|th a grow|, 0orok towod mo away.
l|otr t|na||y roa||y watchod mo.
0orok dopos|tod mo at my noxt c|ass. l tought tho who|o por|od to concontrato on anyth|ng but tho tact
that 0orok had ach|ovod what l|otr had wantod.
0orok had mado my sp||t w|th l|otr undon|ab|y c|oar.
ln soc|a| stud|os c|ass tho noxt day l|otr sat |n tho back ot tho room |nstoad ot tho spot bos|do mo |n tho
tront row. 0orok took tho ompty soat, say|ng ho thought h|s grados wou|d |mprovo |t ho sat c|osor to tho
toachor and somoono as smart as mo.
l wondorod what that |mp||od about tho |nto|||gonco ot our tootba|| toam mombors s|nco l was on|y pu|||ng
3's and C's at bost and ho or|g|na||y sat w|th tbom.
0orok took amp|o notos throughout c|ass, ovon c|rc||ng a phraso Vr. V||os ropoatod tw|co that l
somohow ovor|ookod. l was usua||y moro togothor |n Vr. V||os's c|ass, but s|tt|ng bos|do 0orok was ||ko
s|tt|ng bos|do tho sun. l cou|dn't ho|p not|c|ng how ho sh|nod.
Whon tho bo|| s|gna|od tho ond ot c|ass l|otr brushod botwoon 0orok's dosk and m|no, hoad|ng stra|ght
tor Vr. V||os. l tr|od not to oavosdrop, but tho tomptat|on was too groat. 3|ow|y l put away my pon. Vy
ponc||. Vy notobook. Vy toxtbook. Vy oars porkod tor any b|t ot tho|r convorsat|on.
Vy roso|vo to ostab||sh a now norma| oxc|ud|ng l|otr had wavorod a|most as soon as l'd caught s|ght ot
h|m aga|n. 5toplo boort. 5toplo glr|.
°l do not chango sorv|co |oarn|ng ass|gnmonts w|thout nood, Vr. lusakova.' Vr. V||os |ookod gravo.
Chango h|s sorv|co |oarn|ng ass|gnmont? Vy throat constr|ctod. 3uro, l|otr and l d|dn't actua||y ta|k
dur|ng sorv|co |oarn|ng anymoro, but |t was st||| bottor to havo h|m noarby than not. Vost ot tho t|mo.
Whon |t d|dn't hurt mo.
Oh, ho||.
l|otr g|ancod ovor h|s shou|dor at mo, poovod l was st||| not out tho door. 0orok's budd|os passod by,
s|app|ng h|m on tho back, jost||ng and jok|ng w|th h|m. Each tr|od |n h|s own way to coax 0orok away w|th
thom-away trom mo.
l was no choor|oador. l was much tarthor down tho soc|a| tood cha|n. lobody wantod a tootba|| jock
dat|ng an od|tor ot tho schoo| papor.
0orok t|n|shod |oad|ng h|s backpack and proppod h|mso|t aga|nst tho no|ghbor|ng dosk, wa|t|ng tor mo.
l |nvontod roasons to stay. l roarrangod my pons and ponc||s. l adjustod my stack ot toxtbooks, ordor|ng
thom noat|y by por|od. l stra|ghtonod my notobooks. Evoryth|ng l'd put away, l took out and rod|d, buy|ng
0orok wa|tod, boam|ng. |andsomo, strong, charm|ng. lmposs|b|o to |gnoro.
l|otr |oanod toward Vr. V||os, hands rutt||ng aga|nst stacks ot papors as ho spoko sott|y.
Vr. V||os trownod and shook h|s hoad. °l corta|n|y don't chango sorv|co |oarn|ng ass|gnmonts bocauso
ot a |ovor's spat. lmag|no how otton l wou|d bo roarrang|ng th|ngs |t l d|d.'
ot a |ovor's spat. lmag|no how otton l wou|d bo roarrang|ng th|ngs |t l d|d.'
l|otr hung h|s hoad.
0orok's mouth s||d |nto a sm|rk. °Como on, 1oss|ca.' |o stra|ghtonod, shou|dor|ng h|s backpack. °Wo
don't want to bo |ato.'
As coo| as |t was that 0orok usod °wo' to rotor to mo and h|m-togotbor-l cou|dn't |oavo. lot yot. 1wo
months ago l wou|dn't havo g|von l|otr lusakova a socond g|anco |t 0orok had shown any |ntorost |n mo.
3ut ho hadn't. °l'm sorry, 0orok. l havo to ta|k to h|m.'
°0on't wasto your t|mo. 3arah w||| g|vo h|m whatovor ho wants-lí you know what l moan.'
l d|d. Evoryooo d|d.
°3ut you'-ho sot a hand on my dosk, so c|oso l cou|d smo|| tho c|nnamon scont ot h|s broath-°you
havo blgbor standards.'
l wantod to d|sagroo, stand up tor 3arah and say sho and l woro cut trom tho samo c|oth. 3ut |t was
such a ||o. 1ho truth was l cou|dn't ovon attord a yard ot what 3arah'd boon cut trom.
lnstoad ot d|sagroo|ng w|th 0orok, l sa|d, °Go on. l'|| catch up to you |ator.'
|o shruggod, not worr|od. 0orok was top dog at 1unct|on ||gh 3choo|.
3otoro tho worowo|vos movod |n.
°l don't th|nk thoro's anyth|ng you can say that wou|d mako mo chango your sorv|co |oarn|ng
l|otr groanod.
l stood and s|ung tho backpack ovor my shou|dor, hoad|ng tor tho door. l'd just takon a pos|t|on outs|do
|n tho ha||way, my back coo|od by a |ockor, whon l|otr stoppod out. Vy stomach t|ghtonod, qu|vor|ng |n
|o know l was thoro botoro l sa|d anyth|ng.
°Why aro you do|ng th|s?'
Vr. V||os c|osod tho c|assroom door. 3tudonts comp|otod tho raco to c|ass, |oav|ng us a|ono |n tho
l|otr stood s||ont, |ook|ng down at mo.
°l don't know what to do,' l contossod. °l thought-whon l had t|mo to th|nk-wo'd como through
ovoryth|ng strongor. l d|dn't oxpoct tbls. You choos|ng 3arah, 0orok choos|ng mo..'
°You sa|d a g|r| w||| know whon sho's not wantod. 3ho'|| movo on,' ho sa|d, shov|ng my |og|c back at mo.
1ho |og|c l hopod wou|d work on 3arah. lt h|t mo |n tho chost, a str|ko to my hoart that |ott mo gasp|ng.
°l'm not-you don't-oh. Ooo.' Vy hands covorod my oars, but |t d|dn't mattor. ||s words spun |n my
hoad, m|x|ng w|th my rac|ng pu|so. l|ko l|o's hootboats thudd|ng at tu|| ga||op.
°Eozvoboootyob. l'm sorry, 1oss. lt's tor tho bost.'
°God! |ow can you just'-l tought tor broath, tor words, tor hopo-°how can you bort mo ||ko th|s?'
lod soopod trom h|s pup||s to sta|n tho odgos ot h|s |r|sos purp|o. |o gratod tho noxt words out,
say|ng, °1h|ngs. Chango.'
°l know that, l|otr. 1h|ngs chango, ||to goos on, |t's not you |t's mo, a||'s ta|r |n |ovo and war . boys
bocomo mon-or moro . or |s |t |oss, l|otr?'
l stoppod torward, c|os|ng tho d|stanco botwoon us tor a hoartboat botoro ho c|osod h|s g|ow|ng oyos,
c|onchod h|s jaw, and stoppod back.
°l|otr. l koow you'vo changod. 3ut what l saw tboo wasn't ha|t as horr|b|o as what l'm soo|ng now.'
Opon|ng h|s oyos onco moro, ho avo|dod |ook|ng |nto m|no.
°You want to know what makos a man a monstor? 7bls.' l wavod a hand at tho th|n spaco botwoon us.
3to|c, ho took |t. Whoro had h|s t|ro, h|s ílgbt, gono? l'd soon |t tho n|ght ot h|s sovontoonth b|rthday. l'd
boon both mosmor|zod and torr|t|od by |t. low a|| l wantod was somo g||mmor ot that strongth, somo h|nt
ot that pass|on po|ntod |n my d|roct|on.
l droppod my backpack. °0on't you too| ooytblog tor mo, l|otr?' l |ungod and hookod my hands ovor h|s
shou|dors, strotch|ng to covor h|s mouth w|th m|no, w||||ng my ||ps to do what words wou|d not.
|o pushod mo away. vo|co strang||ng, ho rop||od, °Eozvoboootyob. l'm sorry, 1oss. 1ako caro ot
yourso|t.' |o stormod away, rod oyos t|ash|ng.
l d|dn't havo tho hoart to watch h|m go-cou|dn't boar that ho wou|dn't |ook back.
l wound up |ato to b|o|ogy, strugg||ng to coo| my hoart. l was t|no unt|| l not|cod tho d|ssoct|on trays and
Amy was at our stat|on, carv|ng up tho dotachod hoad ot a p|g. Vy wor|d wobb|od and l was back at that
n|ght, |n tho o|d park as l|cko|a|'s hoad was torn troo ot h|s body.
¯ ¯ ¯
l tuggod back my ha|r, baro|y knott|ng |t at tho napo ot my nock botoro my throat t|ghtonod and l |atchod
my hands onto tho coo| to||ot soat. And throw up.
l tumb|od w|th tho to||ot papor d|sponsor and toro troo a wad ot tho rough stutt to w|po my mouth,
toss|ng |t |nto tho bow| botoro l c|osod my oyos and t|ushod.
1ho door to tho bathroom squoakod opon and l tr|od to roga|n contro| ot my sw|r||ng stomach. lo good.
l |urchod torward and hoavod moro ot my guts |nto tho wa|t|ng wator.
°1oss|o?' Amy's vo|co trozo mo, though my |ns|dos qu|vorod mut|nous|y. l t|ushod and rust|od through
tho contonts ot my purso tor m|nts.
°1oss|o!' 3ho poundod on tho sta|| door. °What's wrong?'
1hat was Amy: stra|ght to tho hoart ot a mattor-no low oro yoo oologº whon sho cou|d guoss by tho
sound and tho smo|| that l was tar trom okay. |op|ng tho m|nts workod, l stoppod out, purso dragg|ng
°Ohhh.' 3ho wr|nk|od hor noso and |ookod mo ovor. °You smo|| a|most as bad as you |ook.'
l roachod |nto my pockot, d|gg|ng tor my worry stono. lts touch d|d ||tt|o to combat my tw|st|ng stomach.
°l'm t|no.'
l shruggod and hoadod to tho s|nk.
°Aro you prognant?'
Vy hoad snappod up and l g||mpsod myso|t |n tho m|rror. lot good. °lot un|oss l'vo boon choson tor
|mmacu|ato concopt|on.'
lt took hor a momont, but sho got |t. °3o.' 3ho grabbod a papor towo|, wot |t, and rubbod at tho onds ot
my makosh|tt ponyta||. °Why aro you puk|ng your guts out dur|ng b|o?'
°l just.' |ow cou|d l oxp|a|n w|thout g|v|ng ovoryth|ng away? Or mak|ng hor th|nk l'd |ost |t? °3omoth|ng
must not bo s|tt|ng r|ght w|th mo.'
°3u||. ls |t tho d|ssoct|on? You got a sott spot tor p|gs? You can opt out and uso that computor program.'
l tr|od to |mag|no tho procoss on a scroon |nstoad and hoadod tor tho to||ot aga|n. 0ry hoavos ratt|od
mo unt|| my hoad achod. Evon on a computor scroon d|ssoct|on-tho s|ow oxam|nat|on ot anatomy
-wou|d rom|nd mo ot doath. Ot v|o|ont n|ghtmaros sp|ra||ng out aga|n and aga|n |n s|ow mot|on.
Amy kno|t bos|do mo, strok|ng my back. °l had to do th|s tor my mom a coup|o t|mos,' sho cont|dod.
°3ut sho was dumb about dr|nk. You'ro not suttor|ng trom tho samo th|ng, aro you, 1oss|o?'
l shook my hoad-s|ow|y-not suro what to do w|th my mouth. 1horo woro p|onty ot words to oxp|a|n tho
s|tuat|on. 3ut nono ot thom woro bo||ovab|o.
°1h|s has to do w|th l|otr.'
l cou|d g|vo hor that much, so l noddod. Ow.
°3astard. Why aro thoy a|ways such bastards?'
°Varv|n sooms okay,' l suggostod.
3ho |ot go ot mo and adjustod hor swoator. °Yoah, ho doos soom protty okay, doosn't ho?' |or
oyobrows drow togothor as tho whoo|s |n hor hoad turnod. °3uro, l|otr's dat|ng 3arah, but that's not now.
3o what's roa||y got you t|od up |n knots-what happonod w|th l|otr you d|dn't to|| mo about?' l to|t trosh|y
s|ck. °What happonod tho n|ght you snoakod out?'
°You know.'
°lo. lot tho t|rst n|ght you snoakod out. 1ho n|ght ot l|otr's b|rthday. What happonod botwoon you
°Was that whon l wont to soo Vax?'
°|a!' Amy snortod.
°1hat's what 3arah probab|y bo||ovos.'
°And you can thank mo |ator tor ta|k|ng to hor |ong onough to croato an |ntorost|ng roason you'd got
°l`o novor stay out a|| n|ght w|th Vax.'
°lots ot g|r|s wou|d . |oy! 0on't chango tho subjoct. What roa||y happonod?'
Vy oyos s|ammod shut |n so|t-dotonso, ||ko l cou|d wa|| out hor words and worr|os. 3ut tho darknoss
boh|nd my oyo||ds drow mo back to that ovon|ng, and-my stomach mado a no|so and Amy dodgod out ot
tho way. °|a|so a|arm,' l apo|og|zod. l|s|ng w|th a grunt l roturnod to tho s|nk. 3uro|y thoro was noth|ng |ott
|n my stomach.
Amy roachod |nto hor purso and w|thdrow a sma|| bott|o ot mouthwash.
°You'ro not supposod to havo that |n schoo|.'
°Wo||, ho||-o, 0|ck 1racy.' 3ho prossod |t |nto my hand. °0o us a|| a tavor and broak th|s ru|o. V|nts
aron't work|ng.'
aron't work|ng.'
l oponod tho ||tt|o bott|o and took a sw|g, sw|sh|ng |t |nto a|| tho unho|y t|avorod nooks and crann|os ot
my mouth.
°l'm go|ng to ask ono moro t|mo,' sho ch|dod. °Okay, no, that's a ||o. l'm go|ng to koop ask|ng unt|| l got
tho truth. What happonod tho n|ght ot l|otr's b|rthday?'
l sw|r|od tho mouthwash around unt|| |t to|t ||ko ovory tasto bud on my tonguo had poo|od ott. Whoro
wou|d somoono |n my pos|t|on start? W|th tho ClA, tho luss|an Vat|a, or worowo|vos? l spat and cuppod
a hand tor wator.
°Wo |oarnod a |ot about oach othor. |o surpr|sod mo.' Not wltb o booqoot oí í|owors, oltbor. ¼ltb
íoogs. Aoo íor moro booy bolr tboo tbo ovorogo goy ovor oovo|opoo.
A croaso appoarod botwoon hor oyobrows. 1ho noxt words sho sa|d to|| out ot hor mouth ono by ono,
cut trom tho othor. °0|d. |o. |urt. You?'
°lo! lo. Gooz, Amy. No. lt's just-wo'ro roa||y, tundamonta||y, so d|ttoront.' lo cboogos loto o
írlgbtoolog wo|í|lko tblog ooo toors tbroogb tbo wooos oroolcotlog tbo robblt popo|otloo. l |lko to wotcb
oo occoslooo| roo|lty to|ovlsloo sbow.
°loop|o can bo d|ttoront, ovon bo dat|ng, and nobody |n tho pa|r w|nds up knoo||ng botoro tho porco|a|n
throno whon thoy tako a sca|po| to a p|g's hoad.'
l shruggod. °You'vo to|d mo botoro you don't to||ow my part|cu|ar brand ot |og|c.'
°You'ro st||| not g|v|ng mo tho who|o story.'
l mado a show ot try|ng to t|x my ha|r. 1ho rosu|ts on|y ro|ntorcod what l a|roady know: 3omot|mos try|ng
to t|x a th|ng on|y mado |t worso.
°0oar God,' Amy sa|d. lu|||ng out a brush, sho trood my ha|r trom |ts |mpromptu ponyta||. °Ask tor ho|p,
tor onco. |or a chango.'
l g|arod |nto tho m|rror and |ot hor do hor bost.
°3o what happonod tho n|ght ot l|otr's b|rthday that makos you troak whon you soo tho hoad ot a doad
l so|zod tho s|nk to braco myso|t as tho |mago ot l|cko|a|'s bohoad|ng ovorrodo my v|s|on, as trosh as
tho n|ght l'd w|tnossod |t.
°What tho-?' Amy ho|d mo by tho shou|dors, support|ng mo as my |ogs wobb|od and throatonod to g|vo
°3orry.' l tought tor contro|, |ock|ng my tra|torous knoos |n p|aco.
3omoono brushod Amy as|do, tak|ng a|| my wo|ght ovon botoro l roa||zod who o|so had jo|nod us.
°Cathor|no,' l wh|sporod.
1hon l ta|ntod.
l woko |n tho nurso's ott|co. Cathor|no and Amy wh|sporod to oach othor, vo|cos as an|matod as
Cathor|no's hands.
°Ot courso my brothors aro |d|ots,' Cathor|no agrood. °lt comos w|th tostostorono. l bo||ovo |ts |ottors
1-E-3-1 aro not a rotoronco to ma|o anatomy, but a warn|ng to tho oppos|to sox. 1hoy tost us.
lopoatod|y.' 3ho s|ghod. °You havo a brothor?'
l tr|od to s|t, but my hoad to|t |oad-|oadod.
°Yos,' Amy sa|d.
°|as ho novor boon an |d|ot, a d|sappo|ntmont?'
l cou|d on|y |mag|no what racod through Amy's m|nd. 3ho |ovod hor brothor, but ho'd wa|kod out on tho
tam||y, on||st|ng as soon as ho was |oga|. Whon sho'd noodod an a||y most.
°Yos, ho's boon an |d|ot,' sho adm|ttod.
l ro||od ovor on tho cot to watch through s||ttod oyo||ds.
Cathor|no sat back, arms to|dod. °3ut you |ovo h|m.'
°Ot courso.'
°Lo. Kobooosboob. Ot courso.' Cat starod d|roct|y at mo. °And 1oss|o says th|ngs can't work botwoon
sho and l|otr?'
°Como on. |o's tota||y b|ow|ng hor ott. And hang|ng on to 3arah ovon t|ghtor than botoro. l moan,
gross. l just don't got |t. What happonod to push 1oss|o and l|otr apart and throw 1oss|o and 0orok
°|o||o, V|ss G|||manson.' 1ho schoo| nurso stoppod |n tront ot mo, b|ock|ng my v|ow and p|nch|ng my
wr|st tor a pu|so.
°l too| much bottor.'
°Congratu|at|ons. Your pu|so |s norma|. |ow |ong havo you boon purg|ng?'
°What?' l sat up. And hatod myso|t tor do|ng so. Vy hoad poundod. °lurg|ng?'
°Yos. 3|ngo|ng and purg|ng.'
l b||nkod, roa||z|ng. °You th|nk l'm bu||m|c?'
°Aron't you?'
°You co||apsod attor vom|t|ng ropoatod|y, accord|ng to your tr|onds.'
l bont around tho nurso and g|arod at Amy and Cat.
Amy shot mo a |ook that c|oar|y moant, lí yoo`o to|o tbo trotb to boglo wltb .
°lt l cou|d koop stutt |n my stomach, l'd bo happ|or.'
3ho put a hand on my torohoad. °You don't too| warm, but |ot's tako your tomporaturo. Wo'vo had a tow
studonts |n horo w|th hoadachos and stomach troub|o. 0|d you oat anyth|ng quost|onab|o yostorday or
An odd quost|on. Vaybo thoro was somoth|ng wrong w|th tho schoo| tood. luck||y l'd had nono ot |t. °l
don't th|nk that's tho prob|om.'
Cathor|no |oanod torward |n hor cha|r, wa|t|ng.
l |ookod po|ntod|y at thom. °Aron't thoy go|ng to got |n troub|o tor st|ck|ng around? V|ss|ng c|ass?'
1ho nurso agrood and hurr|od Amy and Cat out. Cat ra|sod an oyobrow at mo. Amy stuck hor tonguo
°3o, V|ss G|||manson, |t |t's not tood-ro|atod and you havo no tomporaturo'-sho p|acod a thormomotor
|n my mouth-°what do you b|amo tor your vom|t|ng?'
Why d|d nursos ask quost|ons whon you had to koop a thormomotor undor your tonguo? l|ko donta|
hyg|on|sts gott|ng chatty wh||o thoy c|oanod. °l|ghtmaroth.'
1ho thormomotor boopod and sho yankod |t out, oxam|n|ng |t, and mo, cr|t|ca||y.
°l'vo just boon roa||y shakon up. l'm hav|ng somo n|ghtmaros and not s|oop|ng wo||. 1hat and tho smo||
ot prosorvod p|g t|osh.'
°Whon was your |ast por|od?'
°3or|ous|y. lt's n|ghtmaros.'
3ho noddod. °1hon you havo to soo somoono about thom. lt your n|ghtmaros can tr|ggor th|s
roact|on.' |or ||ps prossod togothor. °|avo you spokon to Counso|or Va|oy?'
l s|ghod. lrov|ous d|scuss|ons w|th Va|oy mado mo wondor why bo wasn't starr|ng |n ono ot my
n|ghtmaros h|mso|t.
°lt not h|m, t|nd somoono o|so. A protoss|ona|.'
l cons|dorod Counso|or |arnok trom m|dd|o schoo|. 3ho'd como to my roscuo onco and wantod an
updato, anyhow.
1ho nurso tuggod opon a drawor |n hor dosk, tak|ng my s||onco tor noncomp||anco. °Ca|| hor. 3ho's now
but wo|| rocommondod.'
l g|ancod at tho card sho sot |n my pa|m. 0r. 3ar|ssa 1onos. A str|ng ot |ottors r|va||ng tho a|phabot
to||owod hor namo, proc|a|m|ng hor acadom|ca||y provon ab|||t|os. Ot courso bors was tho card l'd bo
g|von. Booo tboro, oooo tbot. °1hanks.'
°As a procaut|on, don't oat anyth|ng sp|cy. 1ry sa|t|nos, g|ngor a|o. Koop th|ngs s|mp|o,' sho suggostod.
°Yoah. 3|mp|o.' 3ho had no |doa how attract|vo slmp|o soundod to mo.
°And, V|ss G|||manson?' tho nurso ca||od as l h|t tho door. °l'|| bo chock|ng up on you.'
¯ ¯ ¯
lt soomod ovoryono was chock|ng up on mo. Outs|do tho nurso's ott|co thoy'd ||nod up, ob||v|ous to tho
sco|d|ng by tho |ono subst|tuto toachor stuck on ha|| duty: 3oph|a, Amy w|th Varv|n, Cathor|no w|th Vax
-ovon 3to||a Vart|n pausod to g|vo mo a onco-ovor (and Vax a |ong |ook) as sho hurr|od to c|ass.
And ot courso thoro was 3arah, l|otr's arms wrappod around hor ||ko a b|ankot.
||s oyos woro tho t|rst on mo, and t|rst to pu|| away.
Amy tuggod troo ot Varv|n and jo|nod 3oph|a and Cathor|no, torm|ng a wa|| |n tront ot mo. °Wo||?' sho
°3tomach t|u.'
Amy shook hor hoad. °lt's oot go|ng around.'
°|oat stroko,' l tr|od.
°lt's autumn |n 1unct|on.' |or t|sts |andod on hor h|ps. °1o|| mo tho truth or don't bothor to|||ng mo
|or a momont l |ookod ovor hor shou|dor and caught l|otr's oyos. 1hoy woro tho coo|ost b|uo l'd ovor
soon, and st||| my knoos throatonod to buck|o.
°||no!' Amy snappod, sta|k|ng ott, grabb|ng 3oph|a and Cat by tho arms so thoy had no cho|co but to
3arah stoppod out ot l|otr's shadow and touchod my arm.
°l'm okay. lt's not worth worry|ng about.'
l|otr's oyos borod |nto my torohoad accus|ng|y, ||ko ho was shout|ng tho word |lor. 3ut on|y unt|| ho
know l'd soon h|m.
3uddon|y anothor taco was |n tront ot m|no, b|ock|ng l|otr trom my s|ght. 0orok. 1ho guy who'd starrod
|n my droams botoro thoy'd boon ovorr|ddon by n|ghtmaros. |andsomo-actua||y, cons|stont|y stunn|ng
-and l, wo||, tho on|y th|ng stunn|ng about mo was my broath. And not |n a good way.
°l hoard you ta|ntod.' |o |ookod mo up and down, manouvor|ng botwoon 3arah and myso|t to s||p an
arm around mo. Vy backpack hung ovor h|s shou|dor, bos|do h|s own. °3arah, l'|| tako ovor.' |o gr|nnod
at l|otr, h|s |ook tu|| ot cha||ongo.
l d|dn't caro. At |oast that's what l ropoatod ovor and ovor, tuzzy hoadod, as l |ot 0orok |oad mo away.
3oh|nd us a vory sat|st|od 3arah sa|d to l|otr, °3ho's a|ways adorod 0orok.'
¯ ¯ ¯
1ho c|assroom door oponod, and tho nurso g|ancod at my toachor and po|ntod to mo. l duckod my hoad
and stoppod out. °l was th|nk|ng moro about your s|tuat|on and doc|dod to ca|| your tathor to p|ck you up.'
°l'm t|no,' l protostod.
3ho |gnorod tho statomont. °|o was at work, but sa|d a tam||y tr|ond, Wanda, wou|d p|ck you up |n
twonty m|nutos.'
l groanod.
°Got your th|ngs. You can wa|t on tho bonch by tho ott|co and watch tor tho car.'
Vy toot dragg|ng a|| tho way l oboyod.
Cathor|no passod mo |n tho ha||, bathroom pass |n hand. 3ho archod an oyobrow at mo. l shook my
l'd baro|y gotton myso|t s|tuatod on tho bonch whon sho showod up aga|n.
°What'd you do, |ap tho p|aco?'
3ho shruggod, s|tt|ng down bos|do mo. °l d|dn't roa||y nood to go. l ||ko to roam.' 3ho g|ancod at my
backpack. °|oad|ng homo tor tho day?' 3ho c||ckod hor shoos togothor whon l noddod. °lo p|aco ||ko
°l'm sorry my brothor's bo|ng such a jork.' 3ho pausod. °3ut you probab|y aron't ho|p|ng th|ngs by
k|ss|ng 0orok.'
°l don't want to ta|k about o|thor ot thom.'
°|mm. 1oss|o, l nood to ask you to do somoth|ng-'
1ho door oponod, and Wanda stood botoro us am|dst tho sw|r||ng |oavos, hor sovoro b|ond ponyta||
t|app|ng |n tho w|nd.
°Crrrap,' Cat snar|od.
°l|co to soo you, too.'
Cat's hoad wh|ppod around so sho |ookod on|y at mo. °l|oaso |ntorm Wanda that l do not w|sh to spoak
to hor d|roct|y.'
l g|ancod at Wanda. °What sho sa|d.'
Wanda poorod down tho ha||. °l|oaso to|| bor that |t |s |mporat|vo wo moot and d|scuss p|ans. l
undorstand wo |ott on-uncorta|n-torms, but wo aro runn|ng short on t|mo. ln sovora| ways. And corta|n
rocont bohav|ors on tho part ot hor tam||y-'
l swa||owod, romombor|ng tho n|ght at tho abandonod church.
°Vay |oad us to tako moro oxtromo moasuros.'
°3a|t|ng a trap |sn't oxtromo onough?' Cat rotortod.
°l had no |doa that was bo|ng dono. l can on|y guarantoo you that w|th tu|| cooporat|on, such th|ngs won't
occur aga|n.'
°|u|| cooporat|on?' Cat wo|ghod tho words. 3ho turnod and g|arod at Wanda. °|ow |s our mothor?'
°Ag|ng. lap|d|y. 3ut sho has boon s|nco hor t|rst chango, hasn't sho?'
A grow| bu||t |n Cat's throat, and l s|appod my hand down on hor th|gh.
°3o you nood to ta|k about tho lusakovas soo|ng tho|r mothor and what you want |n roturn.' l |ookod at
Cat. °3oon.'
°You must bo thoro, 1oss|o,' Cat conc|udod.
°Wo may not bo ab|o to stop trom shrodd|ng hor |t you aron't thoro to rom|nd us ot our human|ty,' Cat
statod vory mattor-ot-tact|y.
°3ho's groundod,' Wanda po|ntod out. °l'|| br|ng add|t|ona| agonts. |or satoty's sako.'
°You'|| novor got |n a||vo. lo oxtra agonts. You and ono s|doarm. 1oss|o as nogot|ator.'
°l'm groundod,' l ochood. 1ho |ast th|ng l wantod to do was bo botwoon a pack ot angry worowo|vos and
tho wo||-armod govornmont agont koop|ng tho|r dy|ng mothor |mpr|sonod.
tho wo||-armod govornmont agont koop|ng tho|r dy|ng mothor |mpr|sonod.
Wanda squ|ntod at Cat, moasur|ng hor |ntont.
°Vako an oxcuso,' Cat |nstructod. °A g|r|'s day out.'
0osp|to my skyrockot|ng pu|so rato, l |aughod. loud|y. °3uro. Wo'|| go shoo shopp|ng, Cat. What co|or's
tash|onab|o tor jackboots?' l doub|od ovor, patt|ng tho tops ot my snoakors and t|ght|ng tor broath. °Ugh.
||no.' l stood. °Cat's torms.'
°||no,' Wanda agrood. °lot's got you homo.'
loar|y out tho door, l |ookod ovor my shou|dor to say good-byo to Cat and l not|cod 0orok. Cat
to||owod my gazo, g|ar|ng at h|m.
|o sa|d, °3|tch.'
Cat rospondod, °Van|pu|at|vo bastard.' 0orok shruggod as |t to say toocbo. Wanda tuggod mo out to
tho car botoro l had too much t|mo to wondor about tho|r br|ot oxchango.
1ho noxt day 3arah caught mo botwoon c|assos, no l|otr |n s|ght. 3ho towod mo |nto tho g|r|s' bathroom.
l'd spont so much t|mo |n 1unct|on ||gh's bathrooms s|nco l|otr's arr|va| l oxpoctod to start pay|ng ront.
Evon 3arah's portoct|y dono makoup-yos, l roa||zod, start|od, sho was back to woar|ng makoup
-cou|dn't h|do tho ta|nt bags bonoath hor oyos. °ls thoro anyth|ng you d|dn't to|| mo about that n|ght?'
Crap, crap, crop! What n|ght? l'd rackod up qu|to a tow ||os about part|cu|ar n|ghts rocont|y. low |t
soomod tho tr|ck was know|ng wh|ch n|ght sho moant. l was too t|rod to guoss. 1ust ono moro th|ng poop|o
novor to|d you: lot on|y was |y|ng mora||y wrong, |t was oxhaust|ng. °What n|ght?'
3omoth|ng sma|| sh|ttod |n hor oyos, ||ko somoono |n tho background wak|ng.
Amy sauntorod |n, wh|st||ng. °|oy. |oard you woro horo,' sho addrossod mo. 3ho pausod, soo|ng
3arah. Amy tossod hor |ong mano ot rod ha|r and crackod hor knuck|os.
3arah |gnorod hor. °1uno sovontoonth. 1ho n|ght your mothor d|od.'
Amy rosumod wh|st||ng, spun on hor hoo|, and rotroatod to tho ha||way. Or maybo c|ass. 3omo ot us st|||
tr|od to got to c|ass trom t|mo to t|mo.
°Umm.' 1horo was a |ot l hadn't to|d 3arah about that n|ght. l|ko tho tact sho'd causod tho acc|dont. Or
tho tact l hau|od hor, unconsc|ous, out ot hor car and to satoty bocauso my mothor to|d mo to. Or that by
sav|ng 3arah l'd doomod my mothor to a t|ory doath. Or that torg|v|ng hor was ossont|a||y my mothor's
dy|ng w|sh.
Voo. l hopod Vom wasn't hung up on tbot ono.
Whoro to bog|n? 1ho truth soomod toro|gn stackod aga|nst such hoaps ot ||os. And what good wou|d
tho truth do whon 3arah tottorod on tho br|nk ot roturn|ng to hor o|d, nasty so|t? Wou|d know|ng ho|p or
hurt hor?
And how daro l try to mako hor a bottor porson? 3ho'd soomod qu|to contont bo|ng ov||. At what po|nt
d|d my dos|ro to mako 3arah °bottor' bocomo somo wo|rd God-comp|ox? 3hou|dn't sho know tho truth,
mako hor own cho|cos?
l rubbod my torohoad, a hoadacho throaton|ng. °Okay. 1horo's actua||y-'
1ho t|ro a|arm b|arod.
°3h|t!' 3arah oxc|a|mod.
Vy hoart spod up. 1ho now 3arah was b|g on word cho|co: Why uso protan|ty whon you cou|d bo
croat|vo|y c|oan? 3ut tho or|g|na| 3arah . l sh|vorod. °lot's go.' Wo stoppod |nto tho ha|| and woro
qu|ck|y soparatod by tho ovacuat|ng c|assos.
3tand|ng outs|do |n tho b|ustor|ng broozo, l wondorod |t tho t|ro a|arm hadn't boon somo strango cosm|c
|ntorvont|on. Vaybo l wasn't supposod to to|| 3arah attor a||. Or maybo not yot. Ugb. lt tho t|ro a|arm had
boon a s|gn, cou|dn't |t bo c|oaror?
l hoppod up and down to stay warm. lumors sproad through tho crowd. °. an o|octron|c
ma|tunct|on.', °. tho ||brary's on t|ro.', °. somobody |n 3oany 3o|don's c|ass ||t a match.'
Vy lO s||ppod as l ||stonod.
Vax appoarod, to||owod by h|s gagg|o ot g|gg||ng g|r|s. |o s||ppod boh|nd mo and drapod h|s arms
across mo.
l st|ttonod |n h|s grasp. °What aro you do|ng?'
°You |ook co|d.'
°3o do ha|t tho g|r|s around horo. And you'|| got way turthor w|th thom than w|th mo,' l assurod.
°Gooz, 1oss|o, g|vo a guy somo crod|t,' ho purrod, h|s mouth so c|oso h|s broath s|ngod my oar.
°Ohhh, l g|vo you crod|t, Vax,' l roturnod. °3ut |t doosn't moan l undorstand why you'ro hang|ng on mo.'
|o |oworod h|s vo|co, h|s wh|spor as tang|b|o as tho rasp ot a cat's tonguo on sk|n. l |gnorod tho gooso
bumps r|s|ng on my arms |n rosponso. °look. At two o'c|ock.'
l g|ancod ahoad and to my r|ght.
l|otr was wrappod around 3arah's s||ght torm, h|s hoad turnod |n our d|roct|on. ||s oyos g|owod a ta|nt
°Wo cou|d mako h|m joa|ous,' Vax ottorod. °lt's a b|t ot a d|rty tr|ck to p|ay on my ||tt|o brothor, but-'
|o yawnod, and l know h|s oyos woro tak|ng on tho s|oopy appoaranco ot somoono vory comtortab|o.
What somo o|dor to|ks ca||od °bodroom oyos.'
l'd soon Vax p|ay a s|m||ar gamo botoro. Evon w|thout |ook|ng l know what l|otr saw.
°Whaddya' say?' Vax rumb|od. °Vaybo a k|ss.?'
°0on't you daro. 3os|dos, l don't want h|m to bo joa|ous. l want h|m to bo smart.'
Vax's |aughtor shook through mo, h|s body t|ght to my back. °Good |uck w|th that,' ho |nt|matod. °l|otr's
sovontoon. |o has a g|r|tr|ond who throws horso|t at h|m. 3mart won't bo oasy.' ||s tono changod ta|nt|y.
°Why cou|dn't you havo shakon h|m ott on your othor tr|ond? Amy? 1ho hot rodhoad. Wo cou|d havo
takon thom apart and l wou|d havo boon hor shou|dor to cry on.'
°Amy's w|th Varv|n.'
°Yoah,' ho dronod. °l not|cod that.' |o snugg|od c|osor, and l ros|stod tho urgo to o|bow h|m |n tho gro|n.
°3ho's smok|n'.'
°loavo Amy a|ono, Vax. 3ho's happy w|th Varv|n.'
°And |t sho wasn't?'
l grow|od.
°1hat's actua||y soxy.' |o purrod ||ko a |awn mowor was |odgod |n h|s chost.
Ahoad ot tho crowd toachors wavod us back toward tho schoo| bu||d|ng. 3|gh|ng, l s||d out ot Vax's
ombraco and |gnorod tho joa|ous g|aros ot h|s group|os.
°3o, no to mak|ng l|otr joa|ous?' ho tr|od onco moro.
°What wou|d you do |n my p|aco, Vax?'
|o |ookod away trom mo tor tho span ot ono hoartboat, but l caught tho path ot h|s gazo.
°l don't know, 1oss|o.'
load|ng h|s pack ot adm|rors, ho sku|kod away.
l wavod to tho coup|o ho'd spottod just botoro sta|k|ng ott. Amy tuggod troo ot Varv|n's ho|d and wavod
¯ ¯ ¯
lurk|ng outs|do Counso|or Va|oy's ott|co, |t d|dn't tako |ong tor h|m to ask to soo mo, wondor|ng what was
wrong. l mado |t c|oar. l wantod to ta|k to somobody about my |ssuos. lot h|m. Counso|or |arnok.
|o wroto tho pass, ro||ovod. At |oast l wou|dn't bo h|s prob|om anymoro. |o cou|d roturn to tocus|ng on
t|||ng stato-mandatod tosts and know somoono was |ook|ng ovor my shou|dor trom t|mo to t|mo. |o'd savo
on co|orod papor c||ps, too.
¯ ¯ ¯
1ho w|nd wh|ppod through 1unct|on |r|day morn|ng, g|v|ng us a tasto ot w|ntor's com|ng powor. l hurr|od
trom tho bus to tho schoo|'s g|ass doub|o doors, dodg|ng around poop|o soom|ng|y unattoctod by tho co|d.
3ut tho ch||| ot tho snapp|ng broozo wasn't noar|y as start||ng as soo|ng 3arah |n l|otr's wo|com|ng
ombraco |ns|do. lt shou|dn't havo surpr|sod mo, but somohow |t st||| d|d.
1ho doors t|ow opon at my touch. Cr|sp autumn a|r pushod past mo, snar||ng my ha|r out ahoad ot mo,
tang||ng |n ta||'s trosty t|ngors. 1ho samo w|nd that ratt|od mo rust|od tho sp|k|ng dark mop ot ha|r hang|ng
ovor l|otr's oyos.
|o ra|sod h|s hoad to tho broozo, nostr||s t|ar|ng as h|s oyos c|osod, shutt|ng out tho wor|d. 3omoth|ng
t|ghtonod |n h|s taco and ho |oanod ovor 3arah, murmur|ng so sho |aughod. |o nuzz|od h|s noso, h|s ||ps,
|nto tho sott b|ond ha|r that wh|sporod a|ong 3arah's taco and down hor s|ondor nock.
Whoro was Coach Vac and h|s l0A-sook|ng wh|st|o? l stumb|od out ot tho path ot othor studonts but
cou|dn't pu|| my oyos away trom l|otr. |o |ookod at mo, ho|d|ng my gazo bo|d|y, oyos t|nt|ng tho rod ot
ho||t|ro, hor scont-hor tosto-toar|ng down h|s throat. l|ngor|ng |n h|s |ungs.
1hat was tho t|rst morn|ng l |ookod tor 0orok. lt took on|y momonts to t|nd h|m. |o g|ancod up trom
whoro ho sat chatt|ng w|th Varv|n. And as soon as ho saw mo |t was ||ko noth|ng o|so mattorod.
l |ot h|m |oad mo to a qu|ot and poor|y ||t cornor ot tho math w|ng. l d|dn't stop h|m whon ho tr|od to k|ss
mo. lnstoad l ||nkod my arms around h|s nock and hung on, |ott|ng h|s ||ps smothor m|no, a|| tho wh||o
w|sh|ng ho was l|otr. Whon tho bo|| rang l hurr|od away to show my gu|danco pass to my noxt toachor
botoro hoad|ng down tho |ongthy ha||way connoct|ng 1unct|on ||gh to tho m|dd|o schoo|.
l pausod outs|do tho m|dd|o schoo|'s ma|n ott|co: l'd boon burnod botoro. l took a doop broath, roady|ng
myso|t. lom|nd|ng myso|t |arnok hadn't botrayod mo. 3ho actua||y rodo to my roscuo attor l took down a
tag toam ot choor|oadors. Vy hos|tat|on gono, l t|gurod |t thoro was anyono l cou|d trust to ho|p sort out
my hoart and my m|nd, |t was my o|d counso|or.
ln l wont. 1ho rocopt|on|st |ookod at my pass. °Oh. 1oss|o G|||manson.' |or tono changod, oyos
sotton|ng |n roa||zat|on. °l'm so sorry about your mom, 1oss|o..'
l |ookod away and c|osod my oyos, push|ng tho broath that had caught |n my throat out, l roga|nod
contro|. |ow cou|d poop|o do that? Wrock mo so tast w|th just a mont|on ot Vom? °1hank you.' 1ho
answor was st|tt. l cou|dn't put tho r|ght omot|on boh|nd somo stutt anymoro.
loop|o wou|d |oarn to copo. Or |oavo mo a|ono. 3omot|mos l wondorod wh|ch l'd protor.
1ho tag mark|ng |arnok's door g||ntod and l shovod toward |t, ob||v|ous to tho rocopt|on|st's warn|ng,
°3ho's busy-'
°Vs. 1orronco, Vs. 1orronco!' A coup|o k|ds bumb|od |n, tho|r h|gh, domand|ng vo|cos sook|ng
attont|on. And tho rocopt|on|st was ovorrun w|th roquosts trom ovoryth|ng trom to||ot papor tor tho
rostrooms to paporwork tor a toachor roquost|ng supp||os. And thoro woro photocop|os to bo mado.
|or protost was drownod out and l pushod on tho door, oas|ng |t partway opon, not want|ng to d|sturb
|arnok but not want|ng to bo stuck |n tho m||||ng madnoss ot a t||||ng ott|co.
°l don't want to soo!' somoono h|ssod trom |ns|do tho room. Opon a crack, tho door a||owod mo a
s|ondor ||no ot v|s|on and tho advantago ot watch|ng w|thout bo|ng soon.
|arnok stoopod ovor, ho|d|ng tho attont|on ot whoovor sat |n tho hugo cha|r oppos|to hor dosk. °You
bovo to. lt doosn't mattor that you don't want to-you bovo to. Othorw|so.' 3ho shook hor hoad. °You
1horo was no rop|y boyond a doop s|gh. ||na||y a mutt|od vo|co-ma|o-agrood. °lt |t's abso|uto|y
°lt |s.'
l knockod on tho door, opon|ng |t turthor w|th oach ||ght rap ot my t|st.
°1oss|o!' |arnok stra|ghtonod, sm|||ng, hands c|aspod togothor. °Como |n. Va|oy mont|onod you'd bo
soo|ng mo. |o d|dn't say oow.'
°ls |t a bad t|mo?'
°lo. looo. Wo woro t|n|sh|ng up, woron't wo?'
1horo was a croak ot |oathor. 0orok stood up trom tho g|ossy soat, h|s oxpross|on a tar cry trom tho
trustratod ono l'd oxpoctod.
°Yoah. |oy, 1oss|ca.' |o d|d that th|ng that camo so natura||y to h|m. Voro than a sm||o-a g|oom that
||t h|s who|o taco. l cou|dn't ho|p but sm||o back. |o g|ancod at |arnok. °1hanks tor your t|mo.'
°Anyth|ng tor you, 0orok,' sho rop||od. °1oss|o. 3|t.'
0orok squoozod past mo, paus|ng to poor |nto my oyos. |o rostod a hand on my arm and sm||od,
|oan|ng |n.
Vy broath caught, l was mosmor|zod.
°l|co to bump |nto you, 1oss|ca,' ho wh|sporod, h|s spark||ng b|uo oyos sk|mm|ng my taco.
°0orok, wo'|| soo you |otor,' |arnok h|ntod.
||s d|mp|os d|sappoarod and ho noddod.
3trugg||ng not to staro as ho |ott tho room, l b|ushod and sank |nto tho soat.
°You'ro hav|ng n|ghtmaros?'
l noddod.
°1o|| mo about thom. And don't worry. l'm ont|ro|y nonjudgmonta|. 3o no mattor how wo|rd or scary |t
sounds, h|t mo w|th |t.'
3ho proppod hor hoo|s on hor dosk's cornor and sott|od |n tor a |ong story. 3oy, d|d l g|vo hor an oartu|.
¯ ¯ ¯
1hat attornoon 0orok caught mo botoro l mado |t to tho bus. 1horo was no d|m cornor. |o shovod tho
backpack ott my shou|dor and tang|od h|s arms around mo, k|ss|ng mo w|th a pass|on that mado my oyos
w|don botoro l romomborod who was k|ss|ng mo and s|ammod thom shut to torgot.
lt wasn't that ho was a bad k|ssor . tar trom |t. And yot . my mouth stoppod mov|ng |n t|mo to h|s.
l oloo`t want 0orok.
As tast as tho thought was tormod |t wh|skod away, my m|nd t|ood|ng w|th |magos ot l|otr. |o|d|ng
3arah. K|ss|ng 3arah, h|s oyos t|||od by jost 3arah.
And l k|ssod 0orok back. lot l|otr. Lorok. W|th h|s b|ond ha|r and boy-noxt-door |ooks and h|s scont
||ko sun warm|ng a t|o|d ot whoat. |o pu||od away a momont, b|uo oyos gono dark as h|s pup||s w|donod,
noar|y oc||ps|ng tho|r co|or.
Vy knoos shook whon ho |andod ono t|na|, |ong k|ss on my ||ps, scoopod up my backpack, and sott|od |t
on my shou|dor.
°3ottor got on tho bus,' ho sa|d w|th a gr|n.
l noddod and stumb|od away, pour|ng myso|t |nto my rogu|ar soat w|thout a caro tor stay|ng on ono s|do
or tho othor. l|otr wasn't on tho bus homo, anyhow.
°3hoo shopp|ng?' Vy tathor's surpr|so ochood my d|sbo||ot.
°lt's a way tor 1oss|ca and mo to spond somo t|mo do|ng g|r| stutt,' Wanda assurod h|m. °Wo won't buy
anyth|ng outragoous.'
°On|y sons|b|o shoos, 0ad.'
°What about Annabo||o loo?'
Nots. 1hat's what l'd torgotton.
Wanda and l oxchangod a |ook. l got tho too||ng l was about to bo thrown undor a bus.
°1ho th|ng |s'-Wanda's vo|umo droppod as sho cont|dod-°1oss|ca says sho wants to ta|k. l th|nk sho
noods to ta|k to a woman. ln pr|vato.'
l d|d not daro |mag|no what 0ad thought wo'd d|scuss. A proompt|vo b|ush scorchod my taco.
°Wo||, ho||, Wanda. You know l trust you.' |o pattod hor hand, and my stomach squoozod |n robo|||on.
l w|shod l cou|d to|| h|m a|| tho roasons ho shou|dn't trust hor. Or ovon ono. Ono m|ght bo onough.
|o dug out h|s wa||ot and pu||od a tow twont|os troo. °1ako your t|mo and troat yourso|vos.'
Wo got |n tho car botoro 0ad cou|d socond-guoss. 0r|v|ng |n s||onco wo woro two poop|o abso|uto|y at
odds w|th oach othor. l tuckod tho monoy away, |t m|ght bo usotu| |ator.
Cat grootod us at tho lusakovas' door. 3ho gavo mo a qu|ck hug. Wanda |ookod ||ko sho cons|dorod
hugg|ng mo, too, but doc|dod a hug wou|dn't ho|p hor caso.
1hank God.
°Como |n, 1oss|o. And yoo.' Cat g|arod at Wanda.
As soon as tho door c|osod boh|nd us, Cat was a|| bus|noss. °3|nco wo agrood to ono s|doarm, l'd ||ko
you to carotu||y produco |t. 1hon Vax w||| pat you down.'
°lot h|m,' Wanda sa|d, s|ow|y draw|ng hor gun trom hor ank|o ho|stor. °|o's handsy.'
Vax barkod out a |augh. °Vy roputat|on procodos mo.'
°l|otr,' Cat |nstructod.
|rom boh|nd Vax ho camo. lot ovon spar|ng mo a g|anco, ho took Wanda's gun. °1on shots. 1hroo tor
h|m, throo tor mo, two tor Cat. 1wo |ott. A|ox| and 1oss,' ho prosumod. °Good th|nk|ng. You m|ght got out
a||vo.' |o ran h|s hands ovor hor arms and |ogs, sk|mm|ng down hor tront and back. °3ho's c|oan.' |o
handod tho gun back to Wanda.
|o d|dn't m|ss hor |ook ot surpr|so.
°You can't tako away our tooth or c|aws-wo shou|dn't tako away your woapon, o|thor.'
°low do 1oss|o,' Cat commandod.
||s uppor ||p cur||ng, l|otr g|oworod at h|s s|stor.
°You'ro tho ono who suggostod ||m|t|ng hor |nvo|vomont. Your att|tudo toward hor has changod. 3o
soarch hor.'
l|otr |ookod to Vax tor support.
°l'd soarch hor tor you, ||tt|o brothor, but l'd onjoy tho job.' |o gr|nnod, rogard|ng l|otr smug|y. °And l'||
bot l cou|d mako 1oss|o onjoy |t, too,' ho rumb|od, tho cha||ongo c|oar.
l|otr stayod portoct|y st||| a momont, oyos c|osod, wa|t|ng ||ko somoono pray|ng tor a stay ot oxocut|on.
°0o |t,' l snappod.
l|otr's taco a study |n contro|, ho bont to tho task. ||s nostr||s t|arod and l know ho caught tho scont ot
0orok's most rocont k|ss on my taco, 0orok's body on my hands and covor|ng my c|othos. Wo||, good tor
h|m. l hopod |t stung h|s sons|t|vo noso.
|o ran h|s hands a|ong my arms and s|ow|y down my r|bs, h|s touch so ||ght |t t|ck|od. |o brushod ovor
my h|ps and my broath caught troachorous|y as h|s t|ngort|ps strokod down my |ogs and tracod a|ong my
ank|os. 1hon ho stood, h|s g|oam|ng oyos hoodod, oxpross|on maskod. °3ho's c|oan.'
loor|ng past h|m to mo as |t to say, 5ooº Cat dartod a g|anco at l|otr's hands, not|ng how thoy
l |ookod away, unsuro how sho cou|d m|stako |oath|ng tor somoth|ng ||ko |ntorost. °lot's got th|s ovor
w|th,' l urgod.
Wo took up pos|t|ons |n tho s|tt|ng room, tac|ng oach othor |n wo||-stuttod soats ||ko somo b|zarro war
°l'|| start s|nco l'm mod|at|ng. l oxpoct your poop|o'-l addrossod Wanda-°to |ot thom soo tho|r mothor
as soon as poss|b|o.'
l turnod my attont|on to Cat. °l oxpoct your tam||y's cooporat|on g|v|ng Wanda tho samp|os sho noods.
3|ood, ha|r, and t|ssuo, r|ght?'
°|or now,' Wanda sa|d w|th a nod.
°And what |ator?' Cat snar|od. °Varrow? 3porm? Eggs? Gray mattor?' 3ho c||ckod hor tooth togothor.
°l want a|| tho torms c|oar|y dot|nod. |oro and now.'
l just wantod to go. 1o no |ongor bo tho ono spot |n tho room l|otr's oyos novor wont to. 3ut thoy'd
askod tor my ho|p. And l know too wo|| that somot|mos tho groatost ho|p was tho th|ng that hurt tho most.
°Wanda. 1o|| tho lusakovas oxact|y what you oxpoct and what thoy got by agroo|ng.'
3ho bogan to opon hor mouth.
°W|thout throats.'
|or mouth shut and sho rothought hor words. °3|ood, sk|n, ha|r, tur, marrow. A baby tooth, |t ava||ab|o.
You got to soo your mothor-a||vo and |n good hoa|th-|n a conta|nod and sato tac|||ty undor unobtrus|vo
obsorvat|on. You w||| bo a||owod |nto hor onv|ronmont-'
°|or oovlroomootº' Cat's noso wr|nk|od. °|ow |s sho bo|ng ho|d?'
Wanda |ookod at mo.
3quooz|ng my oyos shut, l took a broath. °Wo'ro on|y ta|k|ng torms, now, Cathor|no.'
°1hoso aro tho torms ot our mothor's |mpr|sonmont, 1oss|o,' sho protostod. °lt your mothor was
l w|ncod.
°Wou|dn't you want to know hor cond|t|on?'
°Wanda,' l sa|d, °aro you |n chargo ot tho|r mothor's capt|v|ty?'
°lo,' sho wh|sporod, |oan|ng torward, hor oyos s||ght|y w|dor than norma|. 3ho road tho contompt |n
Cat's g|ow|ng oyos, and l know that |n a momont Wanda m|ght go tor hor gun.
°1hon, Cathor|no, you cannot-can oot-ho|d tho torms ot your mothor's capt|v|ty aga|nst Wanda. 0o
you undorstand?' l pausod, pray|ng |t sank |n. °lo mattor how sho's bo|ng ho|d . Wanda's oot
rospons|b|o. 1o|| mo you undorstand, Cat.'
°l undorstand.' 3ho b|t ott tho words. lt was somoth|ng.
°3ho |s |n a twonty-by-twonty-by-ton cub|c|o |n a socuro tac|||ty. loarby. 3ho |s prov|dod w|th a|| tho
ossont|a|s and somo ot tho comtorts h|gh-rank|ng po||t|ca| pr|sonors aro grantod.' 3ho |ookod at mo
aga|n. °1hat's a|| l'm at ||borty to say.'
Cat s|ghod. °0oos sho ovor got to go outs|do? Can sho soo tho moon or stars?'
°1hat's a|| l'm at ||borty to say,' Wanda ropoatod, Cat's trustrat|on sharod.
°Can sho bo ro|oasod?' Plotr. Ask|ng tho hard quost|on.
°l do not havo sutt|c|ont rank to warrant hor ro|oaso at th|s t|mo.'
°1hon why tho ho|| aro wo a|| horo?' Vax snar|od, bar|ng h|s tooth. °3ho's comm|ttod no cr|mo, and
sho's probab|y novor soon a courtroom oxcopt on 1v. 3ho shou|d bo boro. W|th hor tam||y.'
°l w|sh |t was that oasy.' Wanda starod at hor t|ngors. °1ochn|ca||y your tam||y dotoctod trom tho U33l
docados ago. You aro U.3. c|t|zons bocauso you woro born horo, but sho's an |||oga|. lt l push too hard,
thoy cou|d doport.'
°1hoy'|| bo wa|t|ng tor hor |n luss|a,' Cathor|no sa|d. |or hoad t||tod, and sho tacod tho room's opon
door. °Lo, A|ox|?'
|o stoppod |nto tho room, h|s dark ha|r d|shovo|od, sh|rt buttonod wrong. l wondorod how |ong ho'd
stood outs|do, un|nv|tod but corta|n|y not un|nvo|vod. 1horo woro ho||ows bonoath h|s oyos whoro
shadows nost|od. 3o|ng |abo|od a tra|tor by h|s tam||y wasn't work|ng wo|| tor h|m. °Lo. 1hoy'|| bo wa|t|ng to
tako any ot us.' |o tappod ott h|s c|garotto, |ott|ng tho ash and ombors ta|| |nto h|s opon hand. |o d|dn't
soom to not|co tho s|ngo|ng ot h|s t|osh. °3ottor a ja|| |n Amor|ca than a ho|o |n 3|bor|a.'
°Okay.' l throw my hands |nto tho a|r. °1hon |ot's |oavo |t ||ko th|s-v|s|tat|on on Wanda's torms.
3amp|os g|von tho day ot v|s|tat|on, oxcopt tor marrow and tur. 1hat can bo attor a succosstu| t|rst v|s|t.
lo|oaso can bo d|scussod |ator.'
A|ox| noddod. °Wondortu|. Excopt wo can't stay.'
°What?' Wanda and l askod |n un|son.
°Wo w||| short|y bo out ot monoy. 1ho Vat|a no |ongor supports us, and my sk|||s aro-nog||g|b|o
-anywhoro but |n a b|ack-markot oconomy.' |o gr|nnod ||ko a ghost sm|||ng up trom a gravo. °lt wo stay,
wo'|| bo on tho stroot |n undor a month. What can your poop|o do to koop us?'
wo'|| bo on tho stroot |n undor a month. What can your poop|o do to koop us?'
Wanda t|oppod back onto tho |ovo soat and yankod on hor ponyta||. °1ako t|vo.' Co|| phono |n hand, sho
stoppod out ot tho s|tt|ng room. 1ho door to tho porch oponod and shut.
°1oss|o,' A|ox| muttorod, s|tt|ng |n tho spot Wanda vacatod. °You'ro do|ng a good job, but why d|d Cat
br|ng you |nto th|s?'
°Wo noodod a mod|ator,' Cat sa|d.
1ho stra|n |n A|ox|'s vo|co sp|||od across h|s taco. °You cou|d havo askod mo,' ho sa|d.
°You wou|d havo so|d us out a|| ovor aga|n!' Vax roarod.
A|ox| |oapod up. °Whon d|d l ílrst so|| you out, brothor? 1o|| mo!' ho domandod. °l stood bos|do you on
tho t|o|d ot batt|o. l b|od as you b|od and whon you taco down tho 0ov|| you don't ovon |nv|to mo to ho|p?'
°l'm tac|ng down tho 0ov|| r|ght oow,' Vax snappod, oyos g|ow|ng, noso to noso w|th A|ox|.
°3top |t!' Cathor|no shoutod. °3oth ot you. 3|t!'
3omoth|ng |n hor tono brought thom both down.
3ho rostod hor hoad |n hor hands, o|bows on hor knoos. °1h|s |s proc|so|y what l hopod to avo|d by not
|nv|t|ng you, A|ox|. 3y hav|ng 1oss|o tako your p|aco.'
l roso, cross|ng tho room to stand bos|do Cat. loach|ng ovor l gavo hor shou|dor a squoozo.
°Our tam||y |s brokon. Why must you boys r|p |t turthor apart?' |or hoad aga|nst my h|p, sho |ookod up
at thom, oyos damp and |mp|or|ng.
Vax grumb|od and shovod h|s hands |nto h|s pockots. 3ut A|ox| starod at Cat as |t soo|ng hor tor tho
t|rst t|mo.
°Eozvoboootyob, Ekator|na,' ho |oworod h|s gazo. °l am so sorry . sorry tor any part l p|ayod that hurt
th|s tam||y.'
And thon ho was gono.
Wanda roappoarod |n tho doorway. °Why do l got tho too||ng l m|ssod somoth|ng b|g?'
°lt was noth|ng,' Vax grow|od. °Abso|oto|y noth|ng.'
°Uh-huh.' 3ho pockotod hor co|| phono. °Wo||. 1ho good nows |s wo can soo our way c|oar to grant you
a st|pond and, uhmm, spoclo|lzoo hoa|th caro as govornmont omp|oyoos. 1ho bad nows |s thoro's no way
|t'|| do ovoryth|ng tho Vat|a monoy d|d.'
°Wo'|| tako |t,' Cathor|no sa|d. °1oss|o, thank you. 5pobsoobob. l th|nk you two had bottor go.' 3ho
grabbod my hand, yank|ng mo down so wo woro oyo to oyo. °1h|ngs w||| got bottor botwoon you two,' sho
Whon Wanda showod up announc|ng a spoctacu|ar sa|o on pursos at tho ma||, l know somoth|ng was up.
0ad sm||od, gavo mo cash ||ko monoy d|dn't mattor, and w|shod us |uck purso hunt|ng. Annabo||o loo
stayod cur|od on tho couch, road|ng A|| tbo Protty lorsos as |t sho hadn't boon ovor|ookod aga|n.
l to|t a tw|ngo ot sympathy tor hor. lo ono wantod to bo torgotton, but l had a job to do.
°What's go|ng on?' l askod, c||mb|ng |nto tho car.
°Wo havo a do||vory.'
Wo hadn't gotton tar whon Wanda pu||od tho car ovor. °l nood to know somoth|ng, 1oss|o.'
°Whoso s|do aro you on |n a|| th|s?'
l ra|sod an oyobrow at hor. °1ho|rs.'
Wanda noddod. °1hat's what l t|gurod. l'm not go|ng to wasto your t|mo try|ng to oxp|a|n how wo'd ||ko to
savo tho worowo|vos-'
°1hoy havo namos.'
3ho just p|owod ahoad. °1o t|nd a curo tor tho|r abbrov|atod ||to spans,' sho sa|d w|th a wavo ot hor
°lo. Wa|t. You want to do wbotº'
°Wo want to t|x tho worowo|vos, and not |n tho tr|p-to-tho-vot way.'
°lt's como to our attont|on that hav|ng a moro norma||zod popu|at|on |s moro bonot|c|a| to tho ongo|ng
succoss ot both m|||tary and govornmont oporat|ons.'
°Okay. l don't bo||ovo you.'
°l know that wou|d bo a r|sk ot my bo|ng honost w|th you.'
°|ow wou|d you bonot|t trom undo|ng tho|r t|mo ||no?'
°lmag|no. You'ro torty-or youngor, |n tho|r caso, as thoy'ro doub|y tu||-b|oods-and you co||apso |n
pub||c. A good 3amar|tan gots you to a hosp|ta|. 0octors t|nd you'vo got tho ||vor and hoart ot a n|noty-
yoar-o|d. And somo parts ot you, |ntorna||y, aro just sort ot mo|t|ng. ls |t a now d|soaso? Ou|ck, got tho
C0C on tho phono! 3ut tastor st||| you'vo got l3C and A3C on tho phono. And . d|sastor. And that's |t
your worowo|t hasn't tr|ggorod and dostroyod tho E.l. 3o. ||x tho ||to span and thoro's |oss chanco ot
thom mak|ng tho ovon|ng nows as somo b|zarro tocus spot. loss chanco ot an |nqu|ry |nto tho
oxpor|monts wo d|d dur|ng tho Co|d War, and botoro-'
oxpor|monts wo d|d dur|ng tho Co|d War, and botoro-'
°¼o d|d? Our sc|ont|sts d|d stutt ||ko th|s, too?'
Wanda pausod. °lo. lot ||ko tbls. Wo woro tho good guys.'
l squ|ntod at hor summary. °3or|ous|y? lt was that b|ack and wh|to? Wo woro tho good torcos ot
domocracy and thoy woro tho d|abo||ca| Commun|st lods?'
°Ugh. look. lt doosn't mattor who d|d what. 1ho tact |s, wo mado somo bad cho|cos-d|d somo
unoth|ca| oxpor|monts. 3ut that's h|story. Wo just don't want |t bo|ng rohashod. 3o.'
°Wo want to ho|p thom, but |t takos t|mo,' Wanda sa|d.
°Yoah. 1ho|r most proc|ous commod|ty.'
°Exact|y. 3o wh||o wo'ro scramb||ng tor a curo-basod on tho samp|os you got thom to agroo to g|vo
-wo nood to koop a bottor watch on thom so thoy don't do somoth|ng stup|d.'
°|avo you mot Vax?'
°Why not to|| thom tho truth? G|vo thom somo hopo?'
|or oyos s||d toward mo. °You know tho truth |sn't a|ways accoptod. Or bo||ovod.'
°Yoah. 1hoy don't trust you.'
Wanda noddod. °3o l nood a hugo tavor. l nood you to p|ant a bug.'
°What?! l. W|||. lot.'
°1oss|o. 1h|s can a|ort us |t troub|o starts or |t somobody gots hurt. Wo can got somoono thoro to
provont |t trom mak|ng tho papors.' 3ho touchod my shou|dor w|th hor troo hand.
l shook |t ott.
°lt tho pub||c tound out, thoy'd bo hau|od away, you know? 1horo'd bo no moro-'
°lo moro lusakova tam||y.' 3ho was r|ght. lt l|otr wondorod what sort ot monstor craw|od bonoath h|s
sk|n, what wou|d tho pub||c domand tho govornmont do to t|nd out?
°What |t tho Vat|a roturns? 1hoy'|| nood backup.'
Anothor good po|nt. °You do |t.'
°1hoy'|| bo watch|ng mo, 1oss|o. l won't havo a chanco.' 3ho t|shod around |n hor purso and pu||od tho
bug out.
3uch a sma|| th|ng, roa||y.
°1hoy trust you.'
°1hat's bocauso l won't botray thom.'
°l|ght. You won't. You'|| protoct thom. lt thoro's troub|o, wo'|| know about |t. Wo can got thoro and ho|p.'
Opon|ng my hand sho p|acod tho bug |n my pa|m. °|o|p us ho|p thom, 1oss|o.'
°Undor a tab|o |n tho s|tt|ng room.'
°Okay. 3ut |t thoy catch mo wo'ro both |n b|g troub|o. l wl|| throw you to tho wo|vos. l|ko a ju|cy bono.'
°l|co.' 3ho pu||od back onto tho road. °G|ad to know you havon't bocomo jadod by ho|p|ng your
govornmont and tr|onds.'
°Yoah. What woro tho odds ot that?'
¯ ¯ ¯
1ho wad ot cash Wanda prosontod to tho lusakovas wont a good d|stanco toward comont|ng tho|r
agroomont. A|ox| qu|ck|y d|v|dod tho monoy |nto mortgago, ut|||t|os, tood, and |nc|donta|s. 1ho |ast two p||os
woro th|nnost.
°1hoy'|| nood to hunt,' ho po|ntod out. °Othorw|so wo can't ma|nta|n tho|r ca|or|o count.'
Wanda g|ancod at oach ot tho lusakovas |n turn.
°You don't want thom roam|ng hungry, do you?' A|ox| askod.
°lo. Crop.'
°lot so oasy bo|ng a worowo|t koopor, |s |t?'
°You aro not our koopor,' Vax snar|od.
A|ox| bracod h|mso|t. °l om my brothor's koopor,' ho sa|d. °And, ||ko |t or not, l am st||| your brothor.'
Vax pacod. Grow||ng. l hoard jo|nts snap, chang|ng. W|thout |ook|ng, l know h|s oyos g|owod rod w|th
°Vax.' l stoppod back.
|o swung h|s hoad toward A|ox|, jaws |ong and ||nod w|th sharp tooth, oyos g|ow|ng ||ko bankod coa|s
-ho|d|ng h|s transtormat|on m|d-chango. lt soomod ovon moro a throat-soo|ng tho wo|t's hoad on tho
broad human shou|dors.
Vax puttod out a broath. °3rrrrothorrr.' |o swung h|s hoavy hoad toward l|otr. °3rrrrothorrr,' ho
ropoatod, |ook|ng to Cathor|no. 3w|ng|ng h|s hoad back to contor, ho |ungod, snapp|ng at A|ox|, h|s tooth
c|os|ng a ha|rsbroadth trom A|ox|'s taco.
l jumpod.
A|ox| s|mp|y s|ghod. °You want tho job?' ho askod Wanda as Vax's tora| toaturos sank back |nto h|s
human taco.
°|unt|ng.' 3ho h|t somoth|ng on hor co|| phono. °3|gna|'s not so good |n horo.' 3ho stoppod out ot tho
s|tt|ng room, to||owod by tho lusakovas.
lt was my chanco.
1hoy tra||od hor past tho sta|rcaso. 1ho back door mado |ts rogu|ar wh|no ot protost and l droppod to
my knoos, roach|ng undor tho marb|o-toppod tab|o to p|ant tho bug. lt stuck oas||y. l was propar|ng to
stand whon l hoard h|m.
Wh|ch moant ho wootoo mo to hoar h|m.
°loso somoth|ng?' l|otr askod.
°0on't ||o to mo, 1oss.' ln two qu|ck str|dos ho c|osod tho d|stanco botwoon us. °What havo you dono?'
3o c|oso h|s broath warmod mo a|| tho way down, ho droppod to a|| tours, tho graco ot tho w||d an|ma|
w|th|n ovor-prosont.
|o stood aga|n, a ||tho movo that sot my hoart pound|ng tar moro than my toar at bo|ng tound out.
Enc|rc||ng my wr|st w|th h|s t|ngors, ho towod mo onto tho tront porch.
Enc|rc||ng my wr|st w|th h|s t|ngors, ho towod mo onto tho tront porch.
°Why.' |o ro|oasod mo to rako a hand through h|s ha|r. °Why wou|d you bug us?' |o archod toward
mo, h|s ho|ght accontuatod as ho throw mo |n shadow. ||s soarch|ng oyos c|oudod w|th angu|sh, and l to|t
a pang |n my stomach. °Why botray us?'
°lo, l|otr-no botraya|-' l rostod a hand on tho wa||, throat burn|ng as my hoart and |ungs batt|od |n
my chost. °A satoty procaut|on,' l gaspod. °l|oaso. Pozbo|sto. 3o||ovo mo.' l roachod up to touch h|s
|o t||nchod, c|os|ng h|s oyos.
°l wou|d oovor botray you.' Vy hands wa|kod down h|s arms. ||s sk|n was ch|||od by my touch, gooso
bumps roso whorovor my t|ngors travo|od. °3o||ovo mo, l|otr. 1ako tho bug, crush |t.'
°|ow d|d Wanda conv|nco you to do th|s?'
°1h|ngs aro so vo|at||o r|ght now, and |t you got |nto a bad s|tuat|on, tho ClA may bo usotu|.'
|o oponod h|s oyos to marvo| at my hands. C||ng|ng to h|s arms.
°l|otr. What |t tho Vat|a comos back? 0on't you want somo t|ropowor on your s|do?' l stoppod doopor
|nto tho shadow ho cast, rost|ng my hoad on h|s chost.
|o st|ttonod, trozon ||ko a rabb|t who'd just spottod a hound. °You smo|| ||ko blm,' ho murmurod, tho
words t|ngod w|th d|sgust. 3ut h|s hoart spod at my noarnoss, rac|ng ovon tastor than norma|. °3top,' ho
boggod, nudg|ng mo back.
°l can't stand tho |doa ot you bo|ng hurt. l'|| do anyth|ng to protoct you,' l sworo.
|o s|ghod, a raggod, boaton sound. °Wo'|| d|scuss |mportant th|ngs |n anothor room.'
3un||ght snoakod across mo as ho stoppod back. °lt stays. l don't trust Wanda, but |n th|s, sho cou|d bo
usotu|. Aro thoro any othor bugs?'
°lot that l know ot. l moan, tho phono's st||| tappod..'
°Lo. Wo mako tow ca||s that |ntorost tho ClA.'
°Yoah. 1hursday's wook|y p|zza ordor probab|y doosn't top tho|r ||st ot concorns.'
|o chuck|od.
°l m|ss that,' l sa|d, oxam|n|ng tho wood t|oor ot tho oxpans|vo porch.
°What?' ho askod, vo|co go|ng grutt.
°Your |augh.' l ra|sod my oyos to h|s, hop|ng ho road tho omot|on |n thom.
|o |ookod away, |ntr|guod by tho d|n|ng room w|ndow.
°l m|ss a |ot ot th|ngs,' l sa|d, advanc|ng. Vy hand roachod up and rostod on h|s chost, tho hoat ot h|m
sca|d|ng my pa|m. °l m|ss ho|d|ng you. And you ho|d|ng mo. l don't want 0orok.'
|o w|ncod at h|s namo.
°l want yoo.' l took anothor ha|t stop torward, p|nn|ng my hand botwoon us as l starod up |nto h|s
g||ttor|ng b|uo oyos. °Poco|ojto mooyob,' l boggod, ||ps roach|ng up to sotton tho hard ||no ot h|s mouth.
|o roarod, knock|ng mo back w|th tho sound. |unchod, nostr||s w|do, ||ps cur|od to oxposo h|s tooth, ho
g|arod at mo w|th w||d|y g|ow|ng oyos. °You do oot undorrrstand,' ho soothod.
°What tho-?' Wanda camo crash|ng out tho tront door.
l|otr dodgod around hor, h|s toot pound|ng a|| tho way up tho sta|rs. A door s|ammod.
Wanda |ookod at mo. °You okay?'
l noddod.
°Groat.' |or oyos scourod my taco and body, ||ko sho soarchod tor phys|ca| wounds. °1|mo to go. 1ho
hunt|ng |ssuo's roso|vod. 1hoy won't starvo now.'
3ho put a hand on my back and s|ow|y gu|dod mo down tho sta|rs and to tho car. 3ho oponod my door,
and l to|| onto tho soat. Wanda roachod ovor, dragg|ng my soat bo|t across my body. Watch|ng mo tho
who|o t|mo, sho c||ckod |t togothor botoro t|x|ng hor own.
3ho startod tho car and pu||od |t away trom tho curb. °Um. l-' 3tar|ng stra|ght ahoad at tho road, sho
suggostod, °Vaybo you shou|d stop back trom th|s. lt's a |ot to hand|o. Wo'|| doa| w|th tho worowo|vos.'
°1hoy havo namos,' l |ns|stod.
°3o? 1hoy'ro worowo|vos.'
°3ut |t's . |t's ||ko you'ro.' l b|ow out a broath. °l|ko you'ro dohuman|z|ng thom.'
Wanda g|arod at tho road.
°Vaybo |t makos |t a|| oas|or. |unt|ng thom and throw|ng thom |n tor tost|ng. lt you don't uso tho|r
namos, don't th|nk ot thom as human . |t's gotta' mako |t oas|or.'
°You'ro too c|oso to th|s,' Wanda accusod mo. 3ho poundod tho stoor|ng whoo| and mumb|od
somoth|ng that soundod susp|c|ous|y ||ko, °Vaybo l am, too.' |or t|ngors cur|od around tho whoo|. °1ako a
broak, 1oss|o. lot mo hand|o th|s. l'|| mako suro thoy got a ta|r shako.'
°1hoy don't trust you, Wanda.'
°Yoah. 3ut l th|nk you nood to bo bottor protoctod.'
l turnod. lookod at hor.
°1hoy'ro monstors.'
°1hat's what Edward thought.'
°Oh, yoah? |o a tr|ond ot yours?' Wanda askod.
°lo, V|ss l|brar|an. 1ust a ma|n charactor |n a w||d|y popu|ar vamp|ro sor|os.'
°|uh. And what d|d that sor|os toach you?'
°A bunch. lart|y that somot|mos good poop|o don't got tho chanco thoy dosorvo to provo thoy'ro good
3ho s|ghod, rom|nd|ng mo suddon|y ot 0ad. 3ho was too rough to comparo to Vom. °Your dad wants to
protoct you. 1hat psych|atr|st you woro soo|ng wants to protoct you. l th|nk maybo l shou|d cons|dor
protoct|ng you, too.'
°0on't do mo any tavors. 1horo's noth|ng to protoct mo trom. Othor than rampag|ng ClA agonts. And
tho luss|an Vat|a.'
°lrotoct|ng your body's ono th|ng. lrotoct|ng your hoart-you'ro ovor|ook|ng that. lt's oasy to do t|rst
t|mo out.'
l |ookod at hor. Roo||y |ookod at hor. lt was tho t|rst t|mo l'd wondorod about Wanda. What was hor
story, anyhow? lo ono just poppod |nto ox|stonco as a ClA agont wad|ng through o|d t||os tho U33l
dumpod |n an attompt to oxtond a hand ot tr|ondsh|p to a Co|d War onomy.
dumpod |n an attompt to oxtond a hand ot tr|ondsh|p to a Co|d War onomy.
°l th|nk l |ovo h|m, Wanda.'
°1hat's a vory grown-up sont|mont.'
°Vy mothor's doad. l'vo |oarnod tho wor|d's a ho||-'
3ho shot mo a |ook.
°1ho wor|d's a bock ot a |ot wo|rdor than l ovor droamod. l'vo boon shot at and l'vo k|||od a man |n so|t-
dotonso. lardon mo |t l'm start|ng to too| l havo tho r|ght to grown-up oxpross|ons ot omot|on.'
°lovo's b|g.'
°1hat's why you woro sont homo s|ck.'
l d|dn't bothor answor|ng.
°|o's dat|ng your bost tr|ond.'
°Ooo ot my bost tr|onds,' l corroctod.
°A ||tt|o adv|co trom somoono who's boon thoro?'
°Why tho bock not?' l shruggod.
°Go out w|th tho tootba|| star. |o's roa||y somoth|ng. 1ust-|ook out tor yourso|t t|rst.'
°ls that what you'ro do|ng w|th my dad?'
°Aw, crap, 1oss|o.' 3ho shook hor hoad.
°3ocauso ho noods protoct|ng, too.' l tocusod my oyos stra|ght out tho w|ndsh|o|d at tho |oavos
bounc|ng across tho b|acktop. °3ooms that's my job. 1oss|o G|||manson-protoctor ot worowo|vos and
grown mon. 0on't scrow w|th tho poop|o l |ovo, Wanda.'
0r. 1onos poorod up trom hor soat at tho dosk whon l ontorod. °V|ss G|||manson. l d|dn't oxpoct you to
como back.'
Vy shou|dors roso |n a shrug. °l t|gurod you m|ght havo t|||od my appo|ntmont s|ot, but |t was worth a try.
°loa||y?' |or gazo throatonod to |ovo| mo.
°Yos. 1hoso th|ngs l sa|d |ast t|mo.'
3ho crossod hor arms and |oanod back. °Yos. About tho luss|an Vat|a, tho ClA.'
°And worowo|vos.'
A sm|rk tuggod at hor ||ps. °Who cou|d torgot worowo|vosº'
°1hoso th|ngs l to|d you woro-' 1ho cornor ot my ||ps tw|tchod.
°l|os,' sho conc|udod.
At |oast l hadn't noodod to say |t.
°Wou|d you ||ko to start aga|n?' 3ho g|ancod at tho c|ock.
°3ha|| wo tocus on your oxpross|on ot gr|ot at tho |oss ot your mothor?'
Vy throat t|ght, tho words burnod a tra|| toward my tonguo and stoppod. 0r|od up ||ko dust and c|oggod
my mouth. Vy oyos stung. 3ut l noddod, pu||od my hands trom my pockots, and sat.
¯ ¯ ¯
0ad was outs|do, tho truck runn|ng. l'd mado h|m agroo to wa|t |n tho park|ng |ot |nstoad ot suttor|ng moro
ot h|s r|b-crush|ng boar hugs outs|do tho doctor's ott|co. |o was wh|st||ng.
°Ah, crap, 0ad. ls Wanda com|ng ovor aga|n?'
°lopo. 3ho shou|d a|roady bo ovor at th|s po|nt.'
°|unny guy,' l sa|d.
°|oy, who's to say your |mpr|sonmont can't at |oast bo tun tor ono ot us?'
°lt wou|d bo tun |t my tr|onds cou|d v|s|t,' l sn|ttod.
°1omorrow,' ho prom|sod. ||s t|ngors drummod on tho dash. |o backod tho truck up. °0on't ovon say
bls namo,' ho darod.
3o l d|d. °l|otr's my tr|ond.' 0ad d|dn't know |t wasn't truo anymoro.
|o wh|to-knuck|od tho stoor|ng whoo| at tho mont|on ot h|s namo. °loavo that boy to 3arah. l know ho
soomod to bo warm|n' to you, but you got round h|m and you do stup|d th|ngs. And l know you say ho d|dn't
h|t you-what-you ío||, r|ght?'
l noddod. l had ta||on. Wh||o bo|ng wa||opod by an attackor ot tho ClA var|oty.
°3o you do stup|d stutt ooo got c|umsy? l don't know. 1horo's somoth|n' not qu|to r|ght about that boy.
|o's dangorous.'
°3ut Wanda, w|th hor co||oct|on ot t|roarms, |s-'
°Wo|| proparod and charm|n',' ho qu|ppod.
°Wow.' l'd thought about torc|ng hor out ot tho p|cturo, but l noodod hor to got mo back and torth to tho
lusakovas'. l just novor thought . °Eooww, 0ad. Cbormlogº'
|o gr|nnod. |rom oar to oar.
°|avo you mot Wanda?'
°l'vo dono moro than that,' ho sa|d, putt|ng h|s chost out.
l b|ushod tor us both. °0aaad.'
°K|ss|n'-k|ss|n'! Gooz, 1oss|o. 3oo what l moan? Evon ta|k|n' about that boy gots you th|nk|n' stup|d
ln a b||nk wo'd b|own through 1unct|on and l'd m|ssod my tavor|to part ot thorapy: Va|n 3troot.
0ad parkod tho truck and |ookod at mo. °l|otr's troub|o, 1oss|o. |o's tho roason you ||o-'
°lo.' l|otr had boon tho most honost part ot my ||to. Unt|| l corruptod h|m.
Wanda stood on our tront stops, p|sto| caso |n hand. l ro||od down my w|ndow, |ook|ng hor way. Our
0ad shook h|s hoad. °|o's tho roason you snoak around. And th|s |ast t|mo.' 0ad jumpod, Wanda at
h|s door, knock|ng.
1hough l'd novor thought l'd thank ooyooo tor Wanda, l s||ont|y thankod God. Yos, sho was too rough,
too qu|ck to jump, and know way too much, but that was a|| probab|y part ot ClA job roqu|romonts. And sho
was my r|do. l cou|dn't r|sk |os|ng tbot.
°|oy, handsomo,' sho sa|d.
0ad unro||od h|s w|ndow to groot hor.
l |ookod away as thoy k|ssod. lt hadn't ovon boon s|x months s|nco Vom d|od. l wantod 0ad happy. l
d|d. 3ut happy was d|ttoront trom dat|ng. And k|ss|ng. And dat|ng and k|ss|ng-whon l cou|d wrap my m|nd
around my 0ad do|ng that-sboo|oo`t |nc|udo Wanda.
°l was just to|||n' 1oss|o why sho and that lusakova boy shou|dn't bo soo|n' oach othor r|ght now.'
Wanda's oxpross|on wont gravo. °3t||| groundod?'
°Unt|| tomorrow,' my tathor roportod.
l wondorod |t Wanda p|ay|ng chauttour d|dn't woar on hor, too. 1ho oxcusos sho camo up w|th to got
mo out ot tho houso woro vory un-Wanda-||ko th|ngs to do. 3ut 0ad novor battod an oyo whon Wanda
suggostod do|ng g|r| stutt w|th mo.
|o suro|y hopod |t oasod tho pa|n ot |os|ng Vom. 3ut shopp|ng cou|dn't do that. Vaybo t|mo wou|d.
Wanda pushod tho p|sto| caso |nto my arms as soon as l c||mbod out ot tho truck. °3o a doar and carry
l gruntod, to||ow|ng thom down tho h|||. l sot up tho satoty t|ag to show tho outdoor rango was ||vo.
3tap||ng up two targots, l wondorod |t wo shou|dn't stand undor covor |n caso tho hoavons suddon|y
dumpod, tho sky strotchod abovo our tarm was hoavy w|th c|ouds pa|ntod gunmota| b|uo.
1ho broozo k|ckod up, b||nd|ng mo w|th my ha|r.
Wanda jorkod a rubbor band out ot hor pockot. °1|o |t back,' sho sa|d, |augh|ng at mo.
°3atoty g|assos,' 0ad rom|ndod mo, and l tuckod tho|r arms boh|nd my oars, co|or|ng my wor|d g|aro-
troo ambor. l p|onkod a pa|r ot oarmutts on to drown out tho ovontua| gunt|ro.
Opon|ng tho gun caso l pausod. 1ho g|oss ot o||-s||ckod stoo| contrastod w|th tho wood and bono ot tho
two rovo|vors' gr|ps. Wanda |oanod down and ottorod 0ad tho ono |n bono. °Vodo| n|notoon, tour-|nch
barro| 3m|th 8 Wosson, .8b7 Vagnum.'
|o ho|d |t moro ||ko |t was a baby b|rd ta||on trom tho nost than a doad|y mochan|sm born ot t|ro and
°l'|| tako th|s.' Wanda p|ckod up |ts mato.
Ordors woro abbrov|atod on tho tam||y rango. l |ookod around botoro announc|ng, °loady on tho r|ght?
loady on tho |ott? A||'s c|oar. Commonco t|r|ng.'
1hoy ompt|od tho|r s|x-shootors qu|ck|y, Wanda t|n|sh|ng t|rst. 3ho stuck hor hand out oxpoctant|y, and l
shook s|x moro rounds |nto hor pa|m. 3ho spun tho cy||ndor, dropp|ng bu||ots |n w|th a spood that spoko ot
hard pract|co.
3ho snappod |t shut. And handod |t to mo.
0ad watchod, unw||||ng to h|do h|s cur|os|ty. |o took tho br|ck ot ammo out ot my othor hand. °Wanda
and l woro ta|k|n' about you and your potont|a|. Wo agroo you shou|d tako up shoot|n' aga|n.'
l oxam|nod tho protty too| ot doath |n my hand. °l don't-'
°You novor know whon tho sk||| cou|d como |n handy,' Wanda addod. °Cou|d savo your ||to.'
°l don't want to ta|| back |nto compot|t|on shoot|ng. 1hat was'-l g|ancod at 0ad-°your droam, not
0ad's taco roma|nod oxpross|on|oss, but l know whoo|s |n h|s hoad woro turn|ng. |o hatod that l'd
wasto a g|tt-that l had an ab|||ty l d|dn't tako advantago ot. 3||ont, ho wa|tod tor mo to broak.
°Ugh. Vaybo l'|| compoto-a ||tt|o. 3ut on|y rap|d-t|ro.' lap|d-t|ro wou|d |ot mo dotond myso|t. Vy oyos
|ockod on Wanda's, torc|ng hor to road thom. 3ho noddod, a s||ont agroomont that moda|s moant ||tt|o |t
you d|dn't ||vo to d|sp|ay thom.
3ho w|nkod ovor my hoad at 0ad.
°Okay, 1oss|o,' ho concodod. |or now.
l tacod tho targots and choso tho ono that |ookod c|oanost. 0ad's. la|s|ng tho rovo|vor, l ro|axod my
shou|dors and hands, and oasod out my broath.. |ound tho s|ght p|cturo and t|rod. 1ho muzz|o rockod
up and whon |t dr|ttod back down, l t|rod aga|n.
1ho sky darkonod, tho targot d|sso|vod, rop|acod by Gr|gor| as ho advancod on us that n|ght. l
squoozod ott anothor round. Aga|n. Aga|n. And aga|n. 1ho gun |ooso |n my gr|p, l starod stra|ght ahoad,
strugg||ng w|th tho tact thoro was no throat.
strugg||ng w|th tho tact thoro was no throat.
1ust mo, punch|ng papor.
Wanda oasod tho rovo|vor out ot my hands. °You roa||y c|oanod out tho contor ot that ono.'
0ad gr|nnod. °A|| c|oar?'
l noddod and ho joggod torward to chock what was |ott ot tho targot. |o |ot out a whoop ot joy, and l
torcod a sm||o.
°Groat shoot|n', 1oss|o,' ho congratu|atod trom downrango. °lt's ||ko you baro|y took t|mo ott.'
Wanda watchod mo. 3ho gr|nnod tor 0ad's sako, but hor sott words woro tu|| ot warn|ng. °You know you
won't got to tako that much t|mo |n tho t|o|d. lt'|| bo pop-pop-pop. lo t|mo to ro|oaso that broath and sott|o,
no t|mo to |ot grav|ty pu|| tho muzz|o back down. You may havo to musc|o |t.' 3ho mado a show ot patt|ng
my back. °Groat shot, th|s k|d!' sho yo||od.
°l d|dn't want any ot th|s,' l h|ssod.
3ho |ookod at mo, tho dopoy gr|n s||d|ng away qu|ck as ||ghtn|ng. °lo ono wants th|s, 1oss|o. 3ut wo
hand|o what wo'ro doa|t or wo d|o.'
°Gooz, you a|| |ookod roa| sor|ous tor a momont,' 0ad sa|d, jogg|ng back to us.
°Wanda was rom|nd|ng mo that pract|co makos portoct and l st||| havo a |ot to |oarn.'
|or gazo hardonod a momont. °Yos, wo o|| st||| havo a |ot to |oarn,' sho agrood. °|oy, l cou|d arrango a
match |n a coup|o wooks. l'|| |oan you tho portoct p|oco.'
°Groat,' 0ad agrood, g|v|ng hor a pock on tho chook. °What do you say, 1oss|o?'
l thrust tho word through c|ampod tooth. °Groat,' l concodod. °l havo stutt to do |n tho barns.'
°lunch at noon,' 0ad ca||od, moan|ng: ¼bot`ro yoo cooklogº
°3urgors,' l announcod, hoad|ng back to tho barns to tuss w|th tho tood and tack l'd a|roady roarrangod
tw|co |n my borodom. l cons|dorod my now, now, now norma|: rogu|ar thorapy, no Vom, non-worowo|t
boytr|ond, horso r|d|ng, tarm choros, schoo|, nowspapor, and shoot|ng compot|t|on.
l was t||pp|ng burgors out ot tho s|zz||ng pan and onto buns whon Wanda's phono b|astod °|ungry l|ko tho
Wo|t.' 3ho sot down a try and snappod hor co|| opon. °Wanda,' sho sa|d am|ab|y.
3omoth|ng about hor had changod ta|nt|y-a narrow|ng ot hor oyos, tho way hor jaw s|owod as sho
cont|nuod chow|ng. °Wo||, ot courso. l'|| pop r|ght ovor and |ond a hand. V|nd |t l br|ng 1oss|ca?' 1horo
was tho br|otost ot pausos. °Groat! Yop. Wo'ro on our way!'
l racod to tho door w|th my jackot and purso, try|ng not to bo obv|ous as l sh|ttod trom toot to toot.
Wanda d|dn't movo th|s tast un|oss thoro was troub|o. And tho on|y troub|o sho wo|comod mo to was
troub|o at tho lusakova houso.
°Gotta raco ott to tho ||brary-major rosoarch m|shap. lt wo don't roconc||o |t tast, tho son|ors at
1unct|on w||| havo a hock ot a t|mo w|th tho|r projocts.'
°Go, woman,' 0ad chuck|od.
Wanda dashod out tho door l ho|d. 3ho spr|ntod to tho car and l hoppod |n, baro|y buck||ng up botoro
wo |aunchod torward.
°What's go|ng on?'
°Our bug p|ckod up a hugo t|ght at tho|r p|aco. Ca|| your boytr|ond. l nood to know what's up.'
lnstoad ot protost|ng that l|otr wasn't my boytr|ond, l h|t tho numbor. 1ho phono rang and rang. °lo
answor.' 3omoth|ng co|d craw|od a|ong tho baso ot my sp|no, c||mb|ng toward my stomach.
°0amn |t.' 3ho shot through stop s|gns.
°What do you th|nk.?'
°You'vo stud|od wo|vos. What happons whon tho |oador ot tho pack gots d|sp|acod?' 3ho na||od tho
acco|orator, and wo spod through town. °1hought thoy woro smartor..'
l squoozod my oyos shut and p|nchod tho br|dgo ot my noso. A t|ght tor dom|nanco botwoon wo|vos
was bruta|, but botwoon l|otr, Cathor|no, Vax, and ono too-human A|ox|.? lt cou|dn't ond wo||. l tr|od to
stoo| myso|t to tho tact |t cou|d bo l|otr and Vax t|ght|ng. Vax was o|dor by noar|y a yoar, broador |n tho
shou|dors and hoav|or w|th musc|o. Ou|ckor to roact, ho was tastor to |ot tho wo|t |ns|do h|s sk|n |oap out.
l|otr was moro ag||o. 3r|ghtor. |oar sot my norvos jang||ng. lmag|n|ng tho tu||-b|ood brothors t|ght|ng, l
Wo woro |n tho|r dr|voway botoro l cou|d cons|dor a|| tho poss|b|||t|os. Wanda bo|tod out ot tho car w|th
mo bos|do hor. Evon outs|do tho houso tho bruta| no|so ot g|ass shattor|ng and curs|ng shook us.
Onto tho Ouoon Anno's shadowod porch wo t|ow. Wanda k|ckod tho door opon. Any othor day l'd
suggost sho try tho knob t|rst.
suggost sho try tho knob t|rst.
1ho toyor was strown w|th s|gns ot batt|o-p|cturos torn trom tho wa||, g|ass sp||ntorod across tho
ornato Or|onta| rugs that ran tho ha||way's |ongth. 1horo was a crash |n tho s|tt|ng room. lush|ng past
Wanda l trozo, mouth gap|ng.
Vax had A|ox| p|nnod to tho t|oor, h|s hands on h|s o|dor brothor's nock. °lrotondorrr.' 1ho word
strotchod trom throo to sovon sy||ab|os undor Vax's pr|ma| rago.
°1oo-ZU3!' Wanda sprang botwoon thom, throw|ng hor wo|ght at tho choko ho|d Vax had on A|ox|,
dosporato to broak h|s gr|p. °0amm|t! lot h|m go!'
Eyos bu|g|ng, A|ox|'s taco roddonod as Vax chokod tho ||to out ot h|m.
A|ox| tought. ||s t|ngors, s|ow and c|umsy, batt|od tor tho|r own gr|p on Vax.
|o|p|oss, l |ookod on. Whoro woro l|otr and Cathor|no?
Wanda kno|t bos|do tho warr|ng brothors. °A|ox|, stop t|ght|ng.'
A|ox|'s oyos ro||od to Wanda.
°3top t|ght|ng. 3ubm|t,' sho sa|d, so ca|m tho words and tono soomod as opposod as tho brothors sho
a|mod thom at. °l know. lt's countor|ntu|t|vo. 3ut l can't stop h|m. Yoo can't stop h|m. 1ho othors aron't
horo to savo your sorry ass. And l don't know |t thoy wou|d |t thoy woro.'
l stumb|od torward, crouchod bos|do hor, hands strugg||ng to poo| away ovon ono ot Vax's t|ngors. Vy
knuck|os scroamod w|th ottort. 0osporato to broak h|s strang|oho|d, my attompts novor ratod a s|ng|o
g|anco trom Vax.
A|ox|'s oyos ro||od back |n h|s hoad.
°VAX!' l shr|okod.
Wanda's vo|co stayod coo| and ovon. 1omporod and rat|ona|. °You know you havo to tr|ggor that part ot
tho boast |n h|m, A|ox|. You d|d a groat job tr|ggor|ng h|s attack |nst|nct,' sho commondod w|th a snoor.
°low subm|t. Or d|o.'
A|ox| gaggod, vo|ns r|s|ng across h|s torohoad. ||s oyo||ds t|uttorod. C|osod. ||s hands droppod away
trom Vax, arms ||mp. ||s who|o body soomod to co||apso |n.
°Ohhh, God.,' l wa||od, my hands on Vax's as h|s t|ngors |oosonod and ho droppod A|ox|'s body to tho
lant|ng, Vax rockod back on h|s hoo|s, h|s oyos |os|ng tho|r w||dnoss. °3h|t,' ho wh|sporod.
l smackod h|m-a crack ot my hand across h|s chook-a socond botoro Wanda knockod mo to tho
l|otr stradd|od us |n a spr|ntor's poso, ||ps poo|od back trom tooth a|roady |ongthon|ng.
Vax's oyos t|arod, h|s taco strotch|ng. 1ho no|so ot jo|nts s||pp|ng wot|y trom tho|r sockots warnod h|s
body was bog|nn|ng tho sh|tt.
l grabbod l|otr's arm, a mad attompt at bogg|ng h|m to stop. 3ut back|ng down wasn't |n h|s naturo.
Wanda shovod mo away trom thom, push|ng mo aga|nst tho |ovo soat. °|o noar|y shut down that
dom|nant wo|t rosponso. What woro you th|nk|ng? 1r|ggor |t aga|n-a|m |t at you?'
°lo.' Vy oyos b|urrod. 3o d|d l|otr's and Vax's torms, tho|r sp|nos r|pp||ng as tho wo|vos |ns|do
wr|gg|od troo ot human c|othos and human sk|ns.
wr|gg|od troo ot human c|othos and human sk|ns.
°lo!' l scroamod.
1aws snappod, tooth c||ck|ng cruo||y togothor as thoy dovo tor oach othor. l|otr, tu||y turrod, tho ta||,
dark ha|r a|ong h|s back r|s|ng |n a th|ck crost, c|rc|od Vax unt|| h|s shou|dor struck a s|do tab|o.
Vax pu||od up to h|s tu|| ho|ght on a|| tours, a rom|ndor to l|otr ot tho d|ttoronco |n tho|r s|zo. 1ho |ovo
soat's carvod |ogs b|t |nto my back, and l yo||od, °l|otr! 0rop! 3ubm|t!'
l covorod my taco as Vax |ungod at h|m. l|otr tw|stod out ot tho way, |ott|ng Vax vau|t past. And s|am
|nto tho wa||.
A photo ot 3t. 3as||'s Cathodra| crashod onto Vax's back and ho shook |t ott, spray|ng tho room w|th
t|ny shards ot g|ass ||ko a b|t|ng ra|n. Vax grow|od, tho no|so r|s|ng trom tho darkost part ot h|m. |o spun,
c|aws gr|pp|ng tho t|oor, sh|tt|ng tho carpot and goug|ng tho hardwood as ho |aunchod h|mso|t at l|otr
W|th a wooí ho connoctod, ro|||ng l|otr |nto a tab|o that co||apsod on thom both.
l|otr toro troo ot Vax's toothy gr|p and tho tang ot b|ood sta|nod tho a|r. l|otr roso, rod tr|ck||ng trom a
s||co |n h|s shou|dor. 3hak|ng out h|s po|t, ho spattorod tho room w|th cr|mson.
l b||nkod, roach|ng up to touch somoth|ng warm and wot on my chook. 3|ood on my t|ngort|p, a tromor
rockod mo.
l|otr chargod, hoad|ng r|ght and turn|ng |ott at tho |ast momont-a bo|d to|nt-cutt|ng undor and up, h|s
back on tho t|oor. 3o||y up, h|s tooth |ockod on Vax's throat.
Wanda stood, go|ng tor tho gun undor hor sh|rt.
°lo!' l |oapod up, wronch|ng hor hand away.
°1h|s can't ond wo||,' sho snappod.
°Koop your hand ott tho gun,' l sa|d, |ook|ng down at l|otr |y|ng |n h|s wo|tsk|n, jaws c|ampod on h|s
brothor's throat, proparod to crush h|s w|ndp|po or opon a jugu|ar.
Vax wh|nod. l|otr roadjustod h|s gr|p.
°|o'|| k||| h|m,' Wanda statod.
°lo.' 3otoro l'd thought my act|ons through, l was bos|do Vax, archod across h|s back and nock,
star|ng |nto l|otr's oyos. °lot go, l|otr.'
||s jaws movod. Cbowlog.
Vax wh|mporod.
°||s oyos aro g|az|ng,' Wanda sa|d.
°0o you soo mo?' l |oanod ovor turthor, unba|ancod by moro than my procar|ous posturo. l roachod out
to p|aco my hands on o|thor s|do ot l|otr's hoad.
°0on't touch h|m,' Wanda warnod. °|o'|| b|to your hand ott as happ||y as ho'|| |ap up h|s own brothor's
l|otr snar|od as |t |n agroomont. 3tart|od, l yankod my hands away.
°Unbutton your sh|rt.'
l wh|ppod around to soo Cathor|no |oan|ng aga|nst tho door tramo. °What?'
3ho shruggod. °Wo'ro an|ma|s, attor a||, 1oss|o. 3urv|va| and dom|nanco dr|vo us. l|otr's doop |n h|s
dos|ro to dom|nato, and Vax |sn't smart onough to subm|t.'
dos|ro to dom|nato, and Vax |sn't smart onough to subm|t.'
°3ho's r|ght,' A|ox| coughod, ro|||ng ovor to watch w|th dotachod cur|os|ty. °G|vo h|m somoth|ng o|so to
tocus on.'
°l doubt unbutton|ng my sh|rt w||| got l|otr's attont|on.'
°You m|ght bo surpr|sod,' A|ox| muttorod.
Vy gazo t||ckod to Wanda.
°0o what you havo to botoro l do what l havo to.' 3ho tappod tho ho|stor snugg|od just bonoath hor
Vax startod s||d|ng torward, oyo||ds droop|ng. l tumb|od at my top button.
°l|otr,' l wh|sporod, stoop|ng back ovor to catch h|s oyos. 1ho t|rst button oponod.
l|otr's oyos narrowod.
l oponod tho socond button. °l|otr, don't do th|s,' l p|oadod, tocus|ng my oyos on h|s. |o watchod my
t|ngors work, watchod thom tromb|o and t|oundor. ||s oyos w|donod whon ho got a g||mpso ot moro baro
°You'ro no monstor.' l drow down a doop broath. 1h|s was not what l'd ovor |mag|nod as a momont w|th
my worowo|t ox-boytr|ond. lot mo unbutton|ng my sh|rt. And not |n tront ot an aud|onco.
l tr|od to th|nk ot |t as an actross p|ay|ng a part w|th a strango actor. locossary. 3ut noth|ng to do w|th
anyono's ro|at|onsh|p. l tought back tho tact l'd oarnod a 0 |n 0rama. Vy ||to now shou|d rato oxtra crod|t.
1ho th|rd button oponod, and tho tons|on |ott l|otr's jaws. |o |ot go. 1horo was a c|unk as tho back ot
h|s hoad h|t tho t|oor. |o ro||od to r|ght h|mso|t, |y|ng on h|s turry stomach, can|no attont|on abso|uto|y
t|xod, tonguo |o|||ng. 1o tho crod|t ot h|s an|ma| |nst|ncts h|s oyos stayod hopotu|, ontrancod by what
roma|nod boyond button tour.
Vax t|oppod to tho t|oor w|th a wh|no. Ono oyo st||| opon, |t a|so ||ngorod on my tourth button oxpoctant|y.
Cathor|no how|od and l b|ushod, button|ng up |n rocord t|mo.
°What havo l sa|d, 1oss|o? Von can bo tota| oogs,' Wanda sa|d, b|ous|ng hor sh|rt around hor ho|stor.
l kopt my oyos on hor to avo|d tho d|stract|on ot two nakod guys s||pp|ng back |nto tho c|othos tho|r
wo|t||ko countorparts a|ways s||nkod out ot.
Vax spoko t|rst, back |n h|s pants and runn|ng h|s hand through h|s tang|od ha|r. °1hanks, 1oss|o,' ho
sa|d coy|y. °|or ovoryth|ng.' |o gr|nnod and rubbod tho w|ckod bru|so a|roady tad|ng on h|s throat.
l|otr's hoad snappod up, tho t|rst rumb||ngs ot a grow| bog|nn|ng. 3|ood stroakod h|s shou|dor, but tho
|ong cut mondod as l watchod.
l stompod a toot. °3oo that, l|otr lusakova?'
|o ro||od h|s oyos trom my toot to my taco, on|y paus|ng br|ot|y on my sh|rt's buttons on tho way up.
°Lo,' ho sa|d th|ck|y.
°1hat |s mo putt|ng my toot down. lo t|ght|ng w|th tam||y.'
|o archod an oyobrow at mo.
°And don't oxpoct mo to'-my tonguo tang|od |n my mouth and hoat roso to co|or my chooks-°to do
tbot tor you aga|n, o|thor.' l crossod my arms.
||s ||ps tw|tchod. °l wou|dn't droam ot |t,' ho wh|sporod.
Vax snortod. °lt's a|| you'|| bo droam|ng ot now, ||tt|o brothor!'
l k|ckod h|m |n tho |og. lot hard. 3ut |t was bottor than gott|ng h|s attont|on by unbutton|ng part ot my
sh|rt aga|n. |ar moro sat|sty|ng, too. °You a|most got your hoad chowod ott.'
°3ocauso you throatonod 1oss,' l|otr sa|d |ovo||y.
Vax rubbod h|s jaw, romombor|ng my s|ap.
Vy hand achod. Vax was th|ck-sku||od |n moro than ono way. l'd probab|y romombor tho s|ap |ongor
than ho wou|d.
°l'd novor hurt 1oss|o.'
°0amn rrr|ght you won't,' l|otr sa|d.
|oart |n my throat, l rom|ndod myso|t th|s wasn't about mo. 1h|s was stup|d a|pha and bota wo|t stutt,
noth|ng moro. l was torr|tory to p|ss on. And man, d|d |t p|ss mo ott.
Vax |ookod at mo and |oworod h|s gazo. 3ubm|tt|ng tor now. °3orry, 1oss|o. Aro you a|| r|ght?'
°Yos. l'm t|no,' l |ns|stod. °Why |s ovoryono so worr|od about moº Ask A|ox| how bo`s do|ng.'
A|ox| bowod h|s hoad, |ook|ng away.
°Wo'd havo to caro botoro wo'd ask,' Vax sa|d, h|s s|mp|o |og|c ch||||ng.
°|o's boon your brothor tor yoars,' l rom|ndod thom.
Cathor|no trownod. °|o's p|oyoo our brothor tor yoars. |o |s no ro|at|on. Wo sharo no b|ood or 0lA.
lo k|nsh|p.'
°3ut you sharo a bond.'
1hroo pa|rs ot oyos mot m|no. Assossod mo as |t thoy woro onco aga|n moro wo|t, moro toroc|ous|y
tora|, than not.
°1ho bond ot your socrot.'
°And that moans ho's a ||ab|||ty,' Vax statod.
°Am l a ||ab|||ty, Vax?' l stoppod torward.
Wanda h|ssod. °0o you havo a doath w|sh?'
°l know tho samo th|ng A|ox| doos. W||| you try to k||| mo?'
°0on't you havo any common sonso?' Wanda wondorod a|oud. °loncontrontat|ona|!'
°Wo||, Vax? Whon w||| you try to choko tho ||to out ot mo?'
Vax draggod a t|ngor a|ong tho carpot's odgo. °l won't.' Ono shou|dor roso. °You'ro strango-'
°3ays a worowo|t,' l muttorod. Wanda sworo. And not tor tho t|rst t|mo s|nco wo'd ontorod tho room.
Vax sm|rkod. °l trust you, 1oss|o. l osoo to trust h|m. 3ut now, ho just noods to go.'
°Untortunato|y that won't work. |o's tho on|y ono ot |oga| ago to p|ay guard|an,' Wanda po|ntod out.
°A tow months trom now.,' Vax grow|od as ho roso, rom|nd|ng us a|| ot h|s upcom|ng o|ghtoonth
b|rthday. |o crossod h|s arms and w|donod h|s stanco, roady|ng tor a controntat|on.
W|th a s|gh, Wanda cont|nuod. °lt ho goos, you a|| w|nd up wards ot tho stato.'
°|ostor caro,' l roa||zod.
°Yos. lrobab|y sp||t apart bocauso groups aro hardor to p|aco.'
1ho throo tu||-b|ood lusakovas grumb|od.
A|ox| sat up stra|ghtor, rubb|ng h|s nock w|th s|ow and g|ngor hands.
°|ow do wo trust h|m aga|n?' l|otr vo|cod a subt|o protost.
°Vaybo you don't. lomombor: 'Koop your tr|onds c|oso and your onom|os c|osor,' ' Wanda quotod.
°Good adv|co,' Vax agrood. °Exact|y why wo koop you around.'
°Wo shou|d go,' Wanda suggostod, snar|ng my arm. Oboy|ng, l to|t l|otr's gazo to||ow us out tho door
and a|| tho way to Wanda's car.
0ad oponod tho door and l s||d a|ong tho mota| wa||, wh|spor|ng sooth|ng words to l|o as l backod hor out
ot tho tra||or. A|| around us horsos and r|dors warmod up tor tho Go|don 1umpor. l'd havo to thank 0orok
tor gott|ng mo |n-and thank h|m aga|n tor not attond|ng. l to|d h|m l noodod to tocus. lt was truo.
l was roturn|ng to norma|cy.
1h|s wou|d bo my t|rst jumpor compot|t|on s|nco Vom's doath. As much as l'd pract|cod, and as good as
l|o was, l know tho stands wou|d bo qu|otor w|thout Vom |ntorm|ttont|y scroam|ng and gasp|ng tor us.
l roachod tor my worry stono but wantod tho ambor hoart pondant. 3omo sort ot anchor. 1hat morn|ng l
had put Vom's notsuko rabb|t nock|aco on. Warm aga|nst my sk|n, |t was so||d. A connoct|on to my past.
°lot's wa|k,' l sa|d to l|o. °3trotch thoso |ogs.'
0ad g|ancod my way, h|s taco t|||od w|th what m|no h|d. |o was torovor bos|do Vom at thoso th|ngs,
Annabo||o loo to||ow|ng. 1h|s was hard on a|| ot us. 1ho truck pu||od away.
l oyod tho courso. E|ght jumps, ono vory wot-|ook|ng ||vorpoo|. 1ota||y doab|o. l|o prancod, oagor tor
ovont|ng. 1h|s was moro than a compot|t|on-a way to roturn to a part ot my ||to l'd noar|y |ost whon l |ost
Vom-|t was a roward tor l|o.
Whon l|otr turnod a co|d shou|dor and Annabo||o loo was wodgod doop |n a book and l had no ono but
0ad |ook|ng at mo w|th d|sappo|ntmont doop |n h|s oyos, |t was l|o l wont to. 3ho dosorvod to havo somo
tun on a jump tu|| ot ra||s and wator.
l d|d, too. 1horo was no |y|ng botwoon horso and r|dor. Evory movo sho mado, ovory musc|o sho
tw|tchod to|d a subt|o truth l rocogn|zod and road. And tho on|y way to w|n a jumpor compot|t|on was w|th
good commun|cat|on.
Opon and honost.
Whon l|otr and l to|| apart, l|o and l grow togothor.
lt was on|y r|ght l|o got to p|ay ovor toncos and raco through tho t|ats and m|xod torra|n ot an oxc|t|ng
courso. l wantod hor happy. And |t l won?
A numbor ot r|dors |n my c|ass had a|roady gono whon Goorg|a Va|n was announcod. l movod l|o
back so l cou|d watch. 1ho t|mo startod, and sho racod through tho courso, hor horso-ono l'd adm|rod a
wh||o-n|mb|y approach|ng toncos and t|y|ng, boaut|tu||y, ovor oach ono. A noar|y t|aw|oss run-a groat
t|mo, but l know onough about Goorg|a to know sho'd bo humb|o about hor portormanco. 3o|ng a r|s|ng
star d|dn't go to hor hoad.
1hoy announcod us and l mountod, gu|d|ng us onto tho t|o|d. l snuggod my ho|mot's ch|nstrap and
wa|tod tor tho s|gna|. 3cann|ng tho crowd l tound 0ad and Annabo||o loo |n tho stands. Annabo||o loo sot
as|do hor book to watch.
3ut somoth|ng o|so caught my oyo. lot ono to t|t |n oas||y w|th tho jumpor crowd myso|t-thoy woro
po||shod, o|ogant and gonora||y monoyod-l oas||y not|cod othors who d|dn't t|t tho g|von mo|d. And thoro
woro sovora| ot thom. Von. 3road-shou|dorod, ta||, w|th a r|g|d|ty to tho|r stanco and a hard oxpross|on
that spoko ot surv|v|ng tough t|mos.
1hoy soomod moro uncomtortab|o horo than a nov|co r|dor on hor t|rst courso. lot tho rogu|ar crowd.
A|though thoy stood apart trom ono anothor, thoy soomod to commun|cato. A g|anco trom ono to anothor,
tho ra|s|ng ot ono co|| phono momonts botoro tho noxt.
Ono ot thom |ookod toward tho stands. 1hon two. 1hroo. And tour. A|| at onco thoy woro star|ng at 0ad
and Annabo||o loo. 1ho crowd was popporod w|th worowo|vos, not tho typo that mado my b|ood hot, but
thoso that ch|||od mo-markod mon-Vat|a.
l|o |oapod torward whon tho s|gna| soundod, snatch|ng mo trom my toar. lt was a pub||c p|aco.
Crowdod. 0ad and Annabo||o loo wou|d bo t|no. l tocusod on tho task at hand-ho|p|ng l|o show how
amaz|ng sho was whon sho |oapod and soarod.
A boaut|tu| boast, l|o's |ogs to|dod h|gh and ovon|y, hor nock strotchod, gracotu| as a swan's ovor oach
jump. Ears pr|ckod torward, sho |gnorod tho stross l to|ographod.
l wasn't worr|od about tho courso, l was worr|od about what wou|d como attor. lt wo t|ow through tho
jumps c|oan|y wo'd havo to r|do out and got 0ad and Annabo||o loo's attont|on, hop|ng wo cou|d got to tho
truck botoro tho Vat|a mado tho|r movo.
3ut |t wo oloo`t jump c|oan|y .
l|o novor ta|torod, though my hoart thuddod |n oppos|t|on to hor hootboats. 3ho took tho vort|ca|s
oas||y unt|| wo hoadod ovor a broad oxor, two ra||s across. |or h|nd hoot c||ppod tho ra||, and l took my
l s||ppod trom tho sadd|o, ta|||ng as tho crowd groanod. 1uck. lo||. lt soundod so s|mp|o, but |t was
bono-jarr|ng-my back poppod, my |ogs tang|od, and my tooth ratt|od w|th tho |mpact.
l camo to a stop, taco t|rst, |n tho turt.
l|o stoppod back around, nudg|ng mo w|th hor noso and snutt||ng, contusod.
Vod|cs rushod mo, t|ngors prob|ng my nock and oas|ng mo |nto a co||ar botoro thoy ro||od mo onto a
board and ||ttod mo.
°l'm okay,' l assurod thom. 3ut not too much.
l|o was wa|kod out w|th mo, hor hoad bobb|ng a|ongs|do, oars tw|tch|ng as sho snortod.
°l'm okay,' l ropoatod.
Ott tho courso Annabo||o loo and 0ad caught up to us.
°3or|ous|y,' l sa|d, watch|ng tho Vat|a mon group and d|sporso. °l'm okay. l want to go homo.'
0ad |ookod at tho mod|cs. °0oos sho chock out?'
°Wo'|| |ook hor ovor |n tho ambu|anco,' thoy sa|d. °You can pu|| a|ongs|do.'
0ad took l|o and scramb|od to got tho truck and Annabo||o loo s|tuatod. Watch|ng thom go l
cons|dorod ho|d|ng my broath unt|| thoy roappoarod.
°1oss|o,' a vo|co ca||od, and l turnod to soo Goorg|a. Ow. °l novor thought l'd soo yoo ta||,' sho
adm|ttod. °You okay?'
°Yoah.' 1ho mod|cs ho|pod mo stand. °l'm t|no.' 1hoy shono a ||ght |n my oyos, and l ros|stod swatt|ng
thom. °|oy. Congratu|at|ons on a noar|y t|aw|oss courso.'
Goorg|a duckod hor hoad and sm||od.
°Grac|o's a groat horso.' 3omoono grabbod mo tor a pu|so. lt wou|d osca|ato |t tho Vat|a roappoarod.
°0on't you havo to go and accopt a pr|zo or somoth|ng? You don't want to bo |ato.'
°Yoah. l thought you two wou|d b|ow past us. l k|nda w|sh you had. lt wou|d havo boon a groat comoback
°1h|ngs chango,' l sa|d, strugg||ng to koop tho sm||o a||vo on my ||ps whon l roa||zod l'd quotod l|otr.
°You tota||y dosorvod tho w|n.'
3ho sm||od and hoadod toward tho wa|t|ng judgos.
1ho mod|cs announcod what l'd boon bott|ng on. °3ho'|| bo st|tt, a ||tt|o bru|sod, but othor than that, sho's
1hoy oasod mo |nto tho truck, and 0ad got us homo qu|ck|y. 1ho who|o way l watchod tho s|do-v|ow
m|rror, wondor|ng why wo hadn't boon to||owod-hop|ng l was wrong about tho mon |urk|ng |n tho Go|don
1umpor's crowd.
¯ ¯ ¯
At homo l pu||od up Goog|o. lt l was go|ng to doa| w|th luss|an Vat|a mombors, l wantod to know
somoth|ng about thom. 1h|s t|mo l'd gotton |ucky.
lot surpr|s|ng|y, luss|an Vat|a mombors |ookod ||ko many mon. lt was ||ko l|cko|a| had sa|d, many ot
thom startod as good mon-m|||tary mon-who roturnod homo trom war to t|nd tho prom|sos tho|r
govornmont mado woron't kopt. 0|s|||us|onod and w|thout support, thoy turnod to tho stroots tor surv|va|.
1ho mob took thom |n. 1ra|nod thom and gavo thom now ordors. 1hoy woro to havo no tam||y outs|do
tho mob. lo att|||at|ons. lo connoct|ons. What thoy had, thoy took. ln tho mob thoro was on|y honor |n
what l'd boon taught was d|shonost doa||ng. Von who onco protoctod luss|a now carvod hor apart
bocauso thoy d|dn't soo anothor cho|co.
And now thoy woro boro.
l wantod to soo p|cturos-woro thoro somo l'd rocogn|zo? 3ut my soarch producod a who|o othor wor|d
ot |magos. A wor|d t|||od w|th noar|y as much |nk as b|ood. 1attoos brandod mat|osos as part|c|pants |n
luss|a's undorwor|d.
Evon tho sabor mark|ng tho tu||-b|ood lusakovas was a m|||tary |ns|gn|a and an |ncroas|ng|y common
tattoo tor Vat|a mon |n Amor|ca. 1hoy ca||od thomso|vos °worowo|vos'-human and s|y|y unnot|cod by
day, thoy rovo|od |n poop|o prosum|ng thom monstors by n|ght.
3oatod botoro my computor l was aston|shod by tho ||to stor|os that cou|d bo road |n a mobstor's
tattoos. Each sp|ro on a church roprosontod a murdor comm|ttod. A sp|dorwob |||ustratod bo|ng tang|od up
tattoos. Each sp|ro on a church roprosontod a murdor comm|ttod. A sp|dorwob |||ustratod bo|ng tang|od up
|n add|ct|on. A pa|r ot stars on tho|r chost or knoos moant thoy woro capta|ns |n tho Vat|a's own m|||tary.
Vy stomach quoasy, l shut down my computor. 1o go trom bo|ng protoctors ot a poop|o to tho|r b|ggost
|ntorna| throat . And to roa||zo thoy'd boon torcod |n that d|roct|on . l wasn't suro what was moro
d|sturb|ng. 3ut l was bog|nn|ng to roa||zo cho|cos woron't moro|y b|ack and wh|to. Wo a|| mudd|od through
var|ous shados ot gray.
And too otton tho most d|tt|cu|t doc|s|ons woro basod on surv|va|.
¯ ¯ ¯
Untortunato|y tho ond ot tho wookond d|dn't guarantoo tho noxt wook wou|d bo an |mprovomont at a||.
1ho lusakovas scoutod and Cat to|d mo how thoy cont|nua||y camo up ompty. l|otr to|d mo noth|ng. l
porod ovor map attor map ot 1unct|on, but nowhoro soomod su|tab|o tor h|d|ng a worowo|t.
Vonday wo sat on tho b|oachors |n tho gymnas|um tor c|ass p|cturos. 1uosday tho schoo| mournod tho
|oss ot anothor studont to su|c|do and 0orok was down anothor tr|ond. lot|c|ng ho wasn't |n schoo|, l
doc|dod to mako |t tho t|rst t|mo l ca||od h|m.
°|oy,' ho sa|d. Choortu||y.
l pausod. °|oy. You woron't |n schoo| today.'
°0|d you m|ss mo?' ||s sm||o was aud|b|o.
°l thought-l'm sorry. l'm sorry about V|ko.'
1ho othor ond ot tho ||no wont s||ont. °Oh. Yoah,' ho sa|d t|na||y. °|o was a good tootba|| p|ayor.'
°lt must bo hard . |os|ng a tr|ond.'
Aga|n l was tacod w|th s||onco. l wa|tod.
°Umm, yoah. l guoss |t a|| got to bo too much,' 0orok sa|d, sombor.
Got to bo too much? What? 1ho V|ko l know was a|ways jok|ng, |augh|ng. |ouso noar tho ||||, two
paronts and a youngor s|b||ng. 0ocont grados, too, |t l roca||od corroct|y. Ot courso, V|ko wasn't |n my
c|rc|o ot tr|onds. 3o l d|dn't koow h|m much at a||, roa||y. l pausod, stra|n|ng tor somo answor l wasn't
gott|ng on tho phono.
°Yoah. lt sucks,' 0orok conc|udod, h|s vo|co gravo. °3o how was your day?' ho askod, h|s tono
Unoasy, l mado sma|| ta|k unt|| l cou|d t|nd an oxcuso to got ott tho phono.
¯ ¯ ¯
Wodnosday wo got our c|ass photos. 3oph|a ho|d hors, puzz||ng ovor somoth|ng, hor taco t|orco.
°You |ook boaut|tu| |n |t,' l assurod. °l|cturo portoct.'
3tart|od, sho h|ssod, °V|no's so b|urry.' 3ho squ|ntod.
°loa||y? lommo soo.' l took tho photo and poorod at hor aga|n. Vy ||ps tuggod togothor and l ||ckod
thom. °3|urry?'
°Vaybo |t's a||org|os,' sho sa|d, tak|ng tho p|cturo back. 3ho rubbod hor oyos.
°lt st||| |ooks b|urry?'
°ln |ots ot p|acos.' |or mouth prossod |nto a pa|o, th|n ||no. °lt's not b|urry at a||, |s |t, 1oss|o?'
°Crop.' 3ho jammod tho photo back |nto |ts man||a onvo|opo.
°3oph-what's go|ng on? You won't do tho nowspapor photos, you c|oar out your |ockor, and-' l
ba|kod, romombor|ng tho bra|nstormod ||st w|th |ts baro|y h|ddon mossago.
1ho crowd ot k|ds pass|ng trom c|ass to c|ass had th|nnod, but 3oph|a |ookod trant|c about bo|ng askod
so opon|y.
1oo soon tho tardy bo|| wou|d r|ng. Why d|d l a|ways havo to ask hard quost|ons botwoon c|assos?
°lnto tho g|r|s' bathroom w|th you.' l gu|dod hor down tho ha||way, shou|dor|ng tho door opon. °You'ro
troak|ng mo out. 1ho photo's t|no. 3o what's wrong? Aro your oyos g|v|ng you troub|o? 0o you nood to
soo a doctor?'
3ho |aughod, and bumps roso on my arms. °A doctor won't ho|p-maybo a w|tch doctor.' 3ho g|gg|od.
°lt |t was my v|s|on . Vy oyos aro dot|n|to|y g|v|ng mo troub|o.' 3ho stoppod away trom mo |ong onough
to chock oach sta|| unt|| sho was sat|st|od wo woro a|ono.
|oo||ng sho d|dn't moan oxact|y what sho sa|d, l askod tho noxt strango quost|on. °lomombor whon wo
bra|nstormod that art|c|o and 0orok and 1ack camo |nto tho toachors' |oungo?'
°l romombor l d|d most ot tho bra|nstorm|ng.'
°1ruo,' l adm|ttod. °0|d you know thoro was a mossago |n what you wroto?'
°A what?'
l sot my backpack on tho s|nk and pu||od out my schoo| nowspapor notobook. °|oro.' l passod tho
papor to hor, runn|ng my t|ngor down tho t|rst |ottors |n oach ot hor hast||y wr|tton sontoncos.
3tunnod, hor vo|umo roso. °low you'ro try|ng to troak mo out.'
°lo,' l |ns|stod. °l d|dn't know what |t moant at t|rst. 3ut thon-wo||, somoth|ng wo|rd happonod |ator that
n|ght. And 3EWAlE soomod ||ko a t|tt|ng sont|mont.'
°l can't bo||ovo th|s.'
°What's go|ng on, 3oph? 0oos th|s happon to you otton?'
°7blsº' 3ho wavod my notopapor and shovod |t back aga|nst my chost. °lo. 7bls doosn't happon to mo
l swa||owod. 1ust ||ko a norma| porson ||v|ng a moro than norma| ||to. °0o you soo strango th|ngs?'
°Wo'ro |n h|gh schoo|. Wo a|| soo strango th|ngs.' 3ott-spokon 3oph|a was gono, rop|acod by tho samo
anx|ous and angry 3oph|o l'd w|tnossod contront 0orok that day.
°1horo's moro to that photo than you'ro say|ng. What sort ot strango th|ngs do you soo?'
°Vaybo l don't want to say. Vaybo l'm portoct|y comtortab|o |ott|ng you and 3arah bo tho crazy g|r|s at
1unct|on ||gh.'
°l|||co. Vaybo |t you to|| mo, l can ho|p you.'
°You can't undo what was dono to mo,' sho scottod. °1h|s th|ng l havo, |t's pormanont. l'd rathor not got
|nto |t. lot's |oavo |t w|th tho tact that l'vo tr|od to got r|d ot |t.'
|nto |t. lot's |oavo |t w|th tho tact that l'vo tr|od to got r|d ot |t.'
°What |s ltº'
°God, 1oss|o. You'ro so trustrat|ng somot|mos.' 3ho b|ow out a broath. °||no. l'|| |ot you |nto my crazy
||tt|o wor|d.' 3ho pu||od tho photo back out ot tho onvo|opo and prossod |t t|at across tho bathroom m|rror.
°What do you soo thoro?'
°Our graduat|ng c|ass. Wo||, p|us a tow poop|o who probab|y won't graduato w|th our c|ass.'
3ho ro||od hor oyos. °Awosomo. lon, p|oaso.'
luzz|od, l |ookod at hor.
3ho snappod hor t|ngors. °Como on. Chop-chop.'
l oboyod, watch|ng as sho scr|bb|od a|| ovor tho hugo photo, tho m|rror rot|oct|ng back hor |ook ot
oxtromo concontrat|on. 3ho pu||od back, trown|ng, but soom|ng|y sat|st|od. °A|| that?'-sho ran hor t|ngors
a|ong tho scr|bb|od-out aroas-°b|urs.'
°loa||y?' l pu||od my p|cturo out and comparod |t. 1horo woro a handtu| ot p|acos sho hadn't scr|bb|od
out. °What about thoso?' l askod, touch|ng thom ono by ono. vl lor|son, 0orok 1am|oson, l|otr, Cat,
3arah, 3oph|a.
°A|| thoso mombors ot tho jun|or c|ass |ook c|oar?'
°l'vo thought about |t a bunch. l th|nk |t's about |ntont|ons. Vot|vat|on. l too| ||ko . ||ko thoso poop|o havo
c|oar goa|s. 3oyond mak|ng a ||v|ng, gott|ng good grados or scor|ng. ln tootba|| or w|th g|r|s.' 3ho sm|rkod.
°lt's a|most ||ko thoy-wo-havo a ca|||ng. And wo'ro a|roady on tho path.' 3ho handod back tho pon.
°Crazy, huh?'
Whatovor |ns|do mo had roconc||od w|th tho ox|stonco ot worowo|vos on|y br|ot|y troakod at tho |doa.
°Can you, ||ko-rooo tho|r mot|vat|on? 3oo what tho|r ca|||ng |s? What dr|vos thom?'
3ho shruggod. °Vaybo somoday. l just know wo'ro d|ttoront.'
°Can you do that w|th any photo?'
°lot so much. lt noods to bo now. Vaybo |t's an onorgy th|ng. l'm try|ng to rosoarch |t, but what do you
put |n a Goog|o soarch tor tblsº lt's a|| so tr|kk|n' wo|rd.'
°Wo|como to my wor|d.' 1horo was a spot just away trom tho b|oachors that 3oph|a had carotu||y |ott
un-scr|bb|od, too. A vaguo|y human-|ook|ng shapo. l tappod |t w|th a t|ngor. °And th|s?'
3oph|a gr|nnod. °loady tor tho roo| r|do |nto crazy town?'
°Vost days l'm dr|v|ng tho bus.'
°||no. 3omot|mos l soo a woman. 3ho's hazy. l|ko sho's not qu|to horo and not qu|to'-sho wavod a
hand-°thoro. Whorovor tboro |s.'
°l|ko a ghost?'
|or ||ps smooshod togothor and shovod trom ono s|do ot hor taco to tho othor. lt was tho t|rst t|mo l'd
soon 3oph|o |ook ug|y. °Yoah.'
°Who |s sho?'
°Your mothor.'
Vy wor|d trozo tor a m|nuto, and l staggorod. 1ho photo to|| trom my t|ngors, and 3oph|a snatchod |t
back as |t dr|ttod.
°lt gots bottor. 3ho has a mossago tor you.'
l swa||owod, tho no|so crack||ng |n my oars. 1ho |ump |n my throat rotusod to budgo.
°l'vo on|y gotton part ot |t so tar,' sho adm|ttod. °Actua||y'-sho tuggod my notopapor out aga|n-°|t
sooms yoo got tho samo part l d|d.'
lt was my strangost tr|p to sorv|co |oarn|ng yot. A|| day l|otr kopt h|s d|stanco, but ovory t|mo 0orok camo
c|oso, l|otr's gazo tound mo. |o novor sa|d moro than a coo| word, novor ovon brushod aga|nst mo whon
wo passod |n tho ha||.
On tho r|do to Go|don Oaks, l|otr sat up tront. |asca|, 3m|th, and 1a|k|n woro qu|ck to rosumo our
standard t||rt|ng gamo, but my hoart wasn't |n |t.
°1oss|o,' |asca| whoozod, °you'ro not roa||y horo, aro you?' |o wavod a hand so pa|o |t was noar|y
°3orry, boys. l-'
°ls |t 0orok? lt's got to bo 0orok. |o's boon g|v|ng hor a |ot-o |ot-ot attont|on rocont|y,' 1a|k|n ratt|od.
°Or Vax|m|||an lusakova. |o's boon hang|ng on hor.'
Vy throo tavor|to nords |ookod at ono anothor, noddod sago|y, and turnod back to mo.
°lopo.' l poppod tho °p' on tho ond tor omphas|s. °l'm just oxhaustod. 3trossod. Vy hoad's pound|ng.'
3m|th pottod my arm, h|s c|ammy touch ra|s|ng goosot|osh.
°|avo you tr|od a n|co horba| toa?'
°Vmm. Chamom||o |th my tavor|to.'
l g|ancod at |asca|. |o was start|ng to |oso h|s s's aga|n-an untortunato s|do ottoct ot h|s sovoro
a||org|c roact|on to anyth|ng |n tho can|d tam||y. A||org|c to dogs, wo|vos, jacka|s and ov|dont|y worowo|vos.
°l h|gh|y rocommond |t,' ho conc|udod w|th a sn|tt.
l noddod and crackod a w|ndow. l|otr's was opon. °1hanks, guys, but l don't th|nk toa |s go|ng to ho|p.
|oy, wh||o l'vo got tho throo br|ghtost guys trom 1unct|on ||gh at my d|sposa|'-thoy b|ushod-°what do
you guys th|nk about th|s rocont toon su|c|do trond?'
°1rag|c,' 3m|th conc|udod.
1ho othors noddod.
°Okay, l'm rophras|ng. Why do you th|nk wo'ro soo|ng a suddon r|so |n toon su|c|dos?'
3m|th crackod h|s knuck|os, tho sound rom|nd|ng mo ot tho no|so l|otr's jo|nts mado s||d|ng trom tho|r
sockots dur|ng h|s chango. °l tond to bo||ovo wo aron't soo|ng a r|so |n toon su|c|dos but rathor w|th tho
growth ot mod|a covorago wo aro moro ab|o to br|ng such stor|os to tho pub||c.'
°You th|nk thoro'vo a|ways boon tho samo numbor ot su|c|dos |n tho aroa?'
°1horo aro, ot courso, d|ttoroncos |n tho numbors ro|atod to tho growth ot popu|at|on. 1ho oas|ost way
to cont|rm my bo||ot wou|d bo to do a qu|ck compar|son chart botwoon tho popu|at|ons ovor tho past tow
docados and tho numbors ot toonago su|c|dos, broak|ng |t |nto a rat|o or porcontago-your cho|co.'
docados and tho numbors ot toonago su|c|dos, broak|ng |t |nto a rat|o or porcontago-your cho|co.'
°A chart? Yoo-aahh. Anyono o|so havo an op|n|on?'
°lt's not so much an op|n|on as a b|t ot |ntormat|on l road on||no.' 1a|k|n s|gna|od mo to |oan |n. °l'm not
a||owod to namo my sourcos.' |o gr|nnod.
°Oh. 7bom,' 3m|th muttorod w|th a ro|| ot h|s oyos.
°What? Who's tbomº' l askod.
°1a|k|n |ndu|gos |n tantas|os ot a consp|rator|a| naturo,' 3m|th sa|d, p|ck|ng at h|s t|ngorna||s and c|oar|y
°Aro you a consp|racy thoor|st?' l toasod 1a|k|n.
|o b|ushod. °l g|vo room to a|| poss|b|||t|os.'
°|o t|at out don|os Occam's razor,' 3m|th romonstratod.
l wondorod what 3m|th wou|d th|nk |t ho d|scovorod ho was s|tt|ng two rows boh|nd a worowo|t. °|avo
you cons|dorod that somot|mos ||to |s so comp||catod, s||c|ng th|ngs down to tho s|mp|ost answor ||ko
Occam suggostod |sn't good onough?'
3m|th got qu|ot. |o was crush|ng on mo-ho wou|dn't arguo.
°You'ro tasc|nat|ng,' l assurod 1a|k|n. °1o|| mo about th|s thoory ro|atod to tho su|c|dos.'
°lt sooms tho most rocont su|c|do v|ct|ms |ott boh|nd |ntorost|ng notos, journa|s-'
°Actua||y a b|og,' |asca| |ntorjoctod, whooz|ng.
°l|ght. 1ho b|oggor journa|od ovory n|ght, |oav|ng dota||od notos ot what ho d|d and what ho saw.'
°0|d thoy havo somoth|ng |n common?'
|asca| po|ntod to mo and touchod h|s noso. °Yoth!'
1a|k|n cont|nuod, °1hoy a|| o|thor wroto somoth|ng, drow somoth|ng, or c|a|mod to soo somoth|ng
ro|atod to worowo|vos.'
l st|ttonod |n my soat. °Worowo|vos?' W|thout |ook|ng, l know l|otr's body |anguago m|m|ckod my own.
°low sho soos my po|nt,' 3m|th doc|arod. °lot so much tasc|nat|ng as gu|||b|o, aron't thoy?'
1a|k|n sa|d smug|y, °You'ro just joa|ous. You want to bo tasc|nat|ng to 1oss|o, too.'
3m|th g|arod back.
°Worowo|vos,' l wh|sporod.
°lt's ono ot myr|ad poss|b|||t|os.' 1a|k|n shruggod.
l rubbod at my arms, chas|ng a ch||| away at tho thought tho lusakovas woro ||nkod to tho su|c|dos. °1o||
mo what o|so you'vo hoard.'
°3|nco you askod . thoso worowo|vos-somo ca|| thom |oup-garous or hamrammr-'
°Or oborot,' l addod.
°What |anguago |s that?'
A|| throo sots ot oyos turnod to l|otr. 3m|th tw|tchod, and |asca|'s oyos w|donod boh|nd h|s th|ck
g|assos, g|v|ng h|m a d|st|nct|y ow|-||ko appoaranco.
°What? l can't know somoth|ng trom t|mo to t|mo?'
|asca| pattod my arm. °You'ro tath|nat|ng, too, 1oth|o.'
1a|k|n conc|udod, °3o, ono group bo||ovos tho worowo|vos havo sot up poop|o to bo k|||od on tho tra|n
1ho momory ot stand|ng b||ndto|dod on tho tracks momonts botoro l|otr shovod mo out ot tho way was
so trosh |n my m|nd a sh|vor ratt|od mo. °Why?'
°0o thoy nood a roason? Wou|d a worowo|t-a croaturo at |oast as much boast as man, a
moostor-ho|d to tho samo pr|nc|p|os wo do? Vaybo |t's just tun.'
l cou|dn't tathom what racod through l|otr's m|nd.
°Vurdor as a past|mo? 3ounds ||ko puro human ov|| to mo,' l proposod. °Any othor op|n|ons?'
°3omo havo suggostod |t's not tho worowo|vos do|ng |t, but poop|o who want to koop tho worowo|vos
socrot,' 1a|k|n addod.
°What? 1ho worowo|vos aro spottod and somo c|andost|no organ|zat|on takos out tho w|tnossos?' Vy
hoart spod at tho poss|b|||ty, but l shook my hoad. °Any othor opt|ons?'
3m|th c|oarod h|s throat. °1ho on|y othor opt|on ls tho opt|on. 1oons havo a roputat|on tor bo|ng
d|ssat|st|od. Our hormonos aro horr|b|y out ot ba|anco, chok|ng ott our bra|n's h|ghor tunct|ons whonovor
wo not|co somoono has a n|co rack.'
°1hat must bo why you can't do ca|cu|us whonovor you'ro |n tho samo room w|th 1oss|o,' 1a|k|n
l|otr's shou|dors shook w|th |aughtor.
3m|th |ookod ||ko ho'd suckod on a |omon.
°3o,' l sa|d. °3m|th, you woro say|ng.'
°Vost ot tho t|mo wo'ro s|mp|y unhappy w|th what ||to hands us. Wo strugg|o to t|nd our p|aco. ln tho
wor|d and |n our tam|||os. l|to |s tumu|tuous. As tho strossors bocomo groator, |t's on|y natura| tho w||| to
surv|vo bocomos |oss |n corta|n mombors ot our spoc|os.'
°3o to you, su|c|do |s an oxamp|o ot surv|va| ot tho t|ttost?' l hopod my d|smay cou|d bo road on my
taco, but uncorta|n, l addod, °1hat's co|d, 3m|th. l may agroo w|th you on |ots ot othor th|ngs, but.'
1ho van pu||od up to Go|don Oaks and l hoppod out t|rst. l shot a |ook at l|otr and ho s|ghod, ros|gn|ng
h|mso|t to moot tho groator good. Wo qu|ck|y c|ar|t|od who was partnors w|th who and tak|ng wh|ch ot tho
|oca| an|ma| sho|tor's an|ma|s on our rounds.
3m|th was m|ttod that l|otr and l had roun|tod. °ls th|s bocauso you'ro angry w|th my answor?'
l gavo h|m a pock on tho chook. °l'd th|nk w|th a bra|n as |argo as yours thoro'd bo room tor moro
C||mb|ng tho sta|rs w|th l|otr duo to h|s avors|on to o|ovators, a m|x ot omot|ons st|rrod my stomach.
°Wo nood to ta|k.'
°Wo had noth|ng to do w|th tho su|c|dos,' l|otr assurod mo. ln tho crook ot h|s arm tho ca||co k|tton,
v|ctor|a (now a rogu|ar w|th 1ag, tho pug), mowod. °0|d you havo to ask?' |o rubbod h|s noso and b||nkod
at mo, h|s oyos go|ng rod tor an |nstant as wo pausod on tho stops.
°3omot|mos hoar|ng stutt ho|ps. Aro you angry?'
|o b||nkod unt|| tho rod was gono. °Nyot,' ho muttorod, mot|on|ng up tho sta|rs w|th a jork ot h|s ch|n.
l changod tho way l ho|d 1ag and, on tho movo aga|n, l askod my noxt quost|on. °3o why do thoy a||
appoar to bo ro|atod to worowo|vos? l|ko thoy'vo soon somoth|ng?' l pausod, my tooth gr|nd|ng togothor.
appoar to bo ro|atod to worowo|vos? l|ko thoy'vo soon somoth|ng?' l pausod, my tooth gr|nd|ng togothor.
°ls Vax bo|ng carotu|?'
°Vax? Coroío|º 1hoso words shou|d novor bo put |n tho samo sontonco. You shou|d know that,' ho
sa|d, a noto ot warn|ng |n h|s vo|co.
°Okay. lot's say somoono spottod h|m. Who wou|d want thom doad bocauso ot what thoy saw?'
Wo |ookod at oach othor and sa|d |n un|son, °1ho ClA?'
°l moan, Wanda and Kont havo boon troub|o,' l adm|ttod, °and |n tho church |t soomod ||ko that guy
roa||y m|ght.'
°K||| you?' |o gavo mo a |ovo||ng |ook. °Lo.'
°Okay. Yoah. lt roa||y soomod ho was go|ng to shoot mo.'
°Exact|y.' |o rubbod h|s noso aga|n.
3hak|ng h|s hoad, ho b||nkod rod at mo.
°3ut l'm start|ng to wondor |t |t's norma| tor a govornmont agoncy to act so.' l shruggod.
look|ng back, l caught h|m w|th h|s noso bur|od |n v|ctor|a's tur. l ra|sod an oyobrow. °0oos sho smo||
good onough to oat?'
|o chuck|od. Uncomtortab|y. A|| tracos ot rod b|od trom h|s oyos. Watch|ng mo, thoy wont c|oar and
b|uo as Arct|c |co. ||s mouth pu||od |nto a taut ||no. °What |t thoro's a now p|ayor?'
°Who o|so? |o|y crap, l|otr-wo'ro a|roady doa||ng w|th tho luss|an Vat|a and tho ClA. Who o|so
m|ght want a p|oco ot you?'
°Who doosn't? lt's a dog's ||to, r|ght?' |o oponod tho door tor mo. °Or porhaps poop|o aron't who thoy
say thoy aro. 1h|ngs aro so|dom what thoy soom.'
5oys o worowo|í.
|azo| |o|dman watchod l|otr w|th tar groator |ntorost than sho'd shown tho t|rst t|mo sho'd mot h|m
-whon sho'd agrood that Romoo ooo 1o|lot wasn't much ot a romanco. °l'm g|ad you'ro do|ng your duty
aga|n,' sho sa|d.
|o qu|rkod an oyobrow at hor. °l d|dn't stop. l'vo boon do|ng my sorv|co |oarn|ng ass|gnmont stoad||y.'
°1horo's a d|ttoronco botwoon do|ng an ass|gnmont and do|ng your duty, boy.'
|o shruggod ono shou|dor and passod v|ctor|a hor way.
°3ho's a boauty, |sn't sho?' |o|dman marvo|od. °3ut such sharp ||tt|o tangs. 1hat's tho way tho wor|d |s,
|sn't |t? 1ho prott|ost th|ngs otton havo tho worst b|to.'
°You spoak |n r|dd|os, Vrs. |o|dman,' l sa|d w|th a sm||o. °l a|ways |oavo horo w|th |ots to th|nk about.'
°Good, good,' sho sa|d, pott|ng v|ctor|a w|th such a hoavy hand tho k|tton's hoad bobbod down and hor
oyos w|donod w|th oach |ong stroko trom hor hoad to hor ta||. °Aro you roady to g|vo |n, 1oss|o?'
Out ot tho cornor ot my oyo l not|cod l|otr t||t h|s hoad, obsorv|ng our oxchango. °l don't know,' l
contossod. °l'm not suro l want to know my tuturo.'
3ho g|ancod at mo, w|zonod oyos narrow|ng turthor so hor wr|nk|os dooponod |nto crov|cos. ° 'Ooo
soro, soro,' ' sho muttorod. ° 'Whatovor w||| bo, w||| bo.' '
°Lo,' l|otr agrood. °3ut doosn't that song cont|nuo w|th tho |doa wo don't got to know our tuturo?'
°l hato that song,' sho sn|pod. °lorhaps |t l start w|th yoor cards, l|otr.' 3ho pushod v|ctor|a back |nto
h|s grasp and dug |nto tho to|ds ot hor vo|um|nous sk|rt, w|thdraw|ng hor boaut|tu| dock ot cards. °3hutt|o.'
lo|uctant|y l|otr crossod to hor door, shut |t, and sot v|ctor|a down. Attor chock|ng tho w|ndow was
c|osod, ot courso. |o had |oarnod that much trom h|s t|rst tr|p to sorv|co |oarn|ng. |o took tho cards and
°0on't bo scarod. 3hutt|o. 1ho tuturo |s an amaz|ng g|tt.'
°3omo ot us don't got t|mo to unwrap |t,' ho muttorod.
°What?' 3ho cuppod a hand to hor oar.
°|o sa|d ho's sorry ho's bo|ng so tac|turn.'
|o |ookod my way, but on|y br|ot|y. |o shutt|od tho cards ||ko a pro, h|s hands qu|ck and suro. °l draw.'
3ho gr|nnod. °You'vo dono th|s botoro.'
°Lo, l havo a s|stor w|th a tasc|nat|on tor such oxtranoous act|v|t|os.'
°lt you th|nk what sho doos |s oxtranoous, sho's not vory good at |t yot.' 3ho took tho cards and tannod
thom |n hor hand, ho|d|ng thom tacodown. °lorhaps l'|| mako you a bo||ovor. lu|| ono tor your rocont past.'
|o d|d.
°1ho 1owor. You havo rocont|y tacod groat chango.'
°l'm a toonagor. 1h|ngs aro a|ways chang|ng.'
°3ha|| l bo moro spoc|t|c?'
Undauntod, ho rop||od, °You may try.'
|o|d|ng tho card, sho c|osod hor oyos a momont. °Your most rocont b|rthday was t|||od w|th surpr|sos.'
Vy tooth p|nnod my |owor ||p.
l|otr d|dn't show any s|gn sho'd struck a norvo. °Go on.'
3ho ran a thumb across tho card, contomp|at|ng. °You oxpoctod to bo hurt that day, not botrayod. 3ut
somoono c|oso to you surpr|sod you. lo. 1wo surpr|sod you. Ono w|th noar botraya|, ono w|th
accoptanco,' sho corroctod.
l|otr's oyobrows |oworod.
°Anothor card? |or tho noar tuturo.'
°Lo.' |o yankod anothor troo ot tho tan.
3ho turnod |t ovor. °Oh.' |or ||ps s||d across hor taco as sho cons|dorod tho moan|ng, or porhaps tho
words, to oxp|a|n |t. °1horo |s doath ahoad.'
||s oyos c|osod tor ono sharp socond, and ho swa||owod.
°lt |s a ropoat|ng cyc|o, a |oop moant to c|oso. You can t|ght |t, but |t |s com|ng. Ou|ck|y.'
l roachod tor h|m, but ho stoppod smooth|y away. °l|otr.'
°1h|s |s noth|ng l don't a|roady know. lt you want to mako mo a bo||ovor |n mag|c, you'|| nood to do tar
°||no,' sho sa|d, ||ps tw|st|ng |n a dov|||sh gr|n. °Ono moro card. |or a socrot you'ro koop|ng.'
|o roachod torward, and sho jorkod tho cards back.
°lo. 1h|nk about |t. |o|d |t |n your m|nd. What do you want to koop h|ddon most? What socrot do you
daro not sharo?'
|o ||ckod h|s ||ps. ||s jaw sot ||ko stono. 3|ow|y ho s||d a card out and showod |t to hor.
|or oyos t||ckod trom |t, to h|m, to mo. °loavo tho room, 1oss|o,' sho ordorod.
1ho ta|nt ||no ot a vo|n appoarod by l|otr's ha|r||no.
°Okay, l'm |oav|ng,' l mumb|od, s||pp|ng out ot tho room w|th 1ag st||| |n my grasp. On|y whon tho door
c||ckod shut boh|nd mo d|d l hoar tho ta|nt no|so ot poop|o ta|k|ng rosumo. 3|gh|ng, l took a tour ot tho
ha||way. Cou|d Vrs. |o|dman havo |oarnod l|otr's groatost socrot? Was sho-r|ght now-rovoa||ng to h|m
sho know ho was a worowo|t?
l|otr swung tho door opon and l joggod back, soarch|ng h|s stony taco tor somo s|gn. l wantod so bad|y
to touch h|m, to assuro h|m, but my hand d|dn't daro tw|tch trom whoro |t ho|d 1ag, l|otr |ookod so t|orco.
3o uttor|y untorg|v|ng.
Vrs. |o|dman |ookod at mo. A sm||o crack|od hor taco |nto a thousand wr|nk|os. °Como now, 1oss|o.
3hutt|o tho dock and |oarn your tuturo.'
°l don't bo||ovo |n mag|c,' l contossod, my oyos novor |oav|ng l|otr's taco.
|o sat, no-porcboo-on a cha|r |n hor room, sook|ng tho cornor's so||tary shadow.
°What |s |t w|th you ch||dron now? E|thor you bo||ovo |n mag|c, spo|||ng |t w|th a torm|na| k, as |t
accopt|ng anyth|ng o|so m|ght |ndood bo torm|na|, or you c||ng to sc|onco, d|sm|ss|ng a|| othor poss|b|||t|os.
|as no ono taught you thoy b|ond? 1hoy |ntorwoavo. Can wo oxp|a|n tho mag|c ot b|rth as sc|onco-yos.
3porm moots ogg,' sho cont|rmod, c|app|ng hor hands on tho dock. °Unt||'-sho bont torward on hor bod
as |t shar|ng somo socrot-°unt|| that t|rst momont a mothor or tathor |ooks |nto tho|r ch||d's oyos and
roa||zos thoro |s |ndood mag|c dwo|||ng w|th|n.'
3ho shutt|od tho cards, hands amaz|ng|y qu|ck cons|dor|ng thoy woro knottod and gnar|od and trock|od
w|th spots. 1ho gaudy r|ngs on hor t|ngors spark|od. °Croat|on. Am|no ac|ds oncountor|ng tho r|ght
atmosphor|c prossuro, tomporaturo, and cond|t|ons to start ||to. 3c|onco!' sho proc|a|mod. °And yot,
whoro has |t happonod |n our un|vorso? On|y horo.' 3ho po|ntod w|th a vohomont t|ngor. °On Earth. 7bot
|s a k|nd ot mag|c.'
Vy oyos to||owod hor hands and sho ra|sod thom, ba|t|ng mo as sho shutt|od and dancod tho cards
back and torth. °1hoy work togothor, mag|c and sc|onco. And any sc|ont|st worth h|s sa|t w||| contoss to
too||ng somoth|ng mag|ca| anyt|mo ho or sho |oarns or d|scovors somoth|ng now. |avo you novor thought
|t |s most su|tab|o that sc|onco and mag|c shou|d b|ur togothor horo |n a town ca||od 1unct|on?'
°l novor thought about |t at a||,' l contossod.
3ho tannod tho cards and snappod thom shut. °3hutt|o.'
l d|d, my hands tumb||ng w|th tho hotty dock.
3ho took thom back, carotu||y sproad|ng thom. °low pu||.'
l drow, ho|d|ng tho card out to hor, awaro how |ntont|y l|otr watchod my hand.
°|mm. You worry too much.'
l|otr snortod and |ookod at mo, h|s jaw |ooson|ng onough tor h|m to spoak. °And you say l a|ways stato
tho obv|ous.'
l thought tho ghost ot a sm||o tw|tchod thoro on h|s ||ps, but |t was gono too tast to bo corta|n.
°You aro surroundod by poop|o who want to protoct you.'
l shruggod, want|ng to stand as t|rm as l|otr.
°0raw aga|n.'
l d|d.
°1hoso poop|o who want to protoct you aro koop|ng |ntormat|on-koop|ng socrots-trom you.'
|or gray-and-wh|to cur|s bobbod as sho shook hor hoad. °On|y to protoct you. lt thoy thought |t wou|d
ho|p.' 3ho g|ancod at l|otr, but ho s||oncod hor w|th a |ook. °lt |s |mportant to romombor thoy havo tho
vory bost |ntont|ons.'
°1ho road to ho|| |s pavod w|th good |ntont|ons.' l gazod out at l|otr trom bonoath my oyo|ashos.
|o was unmovod.
°Ono moro,' sho urgod.
l suckod |n a broath and ro||od my ||ps togothor, pu|||ng ono |ast card.
°Ahhh. 3ut tho socrot tar b|ggor than any thoy'ro koop|ng trom you |s a socrot t|ow|ng w|th|n you. 1horo
|s hopo |n you.'
°1hat's no socrot,' l murmurod. °3ut |t's woar|ng th|n.'
°lo. lt |s too groat a part ot you to ovor woar,' sho assurod mo. °1ho dog.' 3ho mot|onod.
l ho|d out 1ag, and sho gavo h|m a cursory pat. °Exco||ont. low go.'
°1hank you,' l sa|d, |ott|ng hor words danco |n my hoad.
|o pausod boh|nd mo, and l wa|tod tor h|m by tho door.
°|o|d on to hopo,' sho sa|d. °lt |s tho on|y way to ||vo.'
|o shook h|s hoad and c|osod hor door boh|nd us.
°Wa|t!' |o|dman shoutod, and l hoard a ta|nt tap on tho door as l sprang toward |t and throw |t opon.
Vrs. |o|dman was pa|o, star|ng at tho door as |t swung w|do. °Carotu|,' sho broathod, po|nt|ng at my
toot. A card |ay botwoon tho toos ot my snoakors.
°ln a|| my yoars . 3r|ng |t to mo, ch||d.'
°Why's |t.' l stoopod to rotr|ovo |t.
°lt t|ow out ot tho dock.' 3ho |ookod |t ovor. °1h|s |s troub||ng.'
Wo'd had doath and dramat|c chango and oow wo had tho tru|y troub||ng card?
°What doos |t moan?'
l stumb|od backward. lnto l|otr.
°Ohhh.' ln hor wr|nk|od hand tho dock v|bratod, tho stack sh|mmy|ng.
A s|ng|o card s||thorod torward trom botwoon tho othors. Vrs. |o|dman's oyos tound m|no and sho
trood |t tho rost ot tho way. °1ho boy. 3owaro tho boy.'
°1hank you,' l|otr scow|od. °low |t sho'|| just ||ston.'
Wo rodo back to tho schoo| |n s||onco.
¯ ¯ ¯
1ho nowspapor sat on our k|tchon countor, hoad||no b|ar|ng °Gas 0r||||ng to 3og|n.' |abu|ous. l movod |t to
tho tar s|do ot tho countor and startod pu|||ng stutt out to mako d|nnor. lobody wantod tho gas dr||||ng-|t
was dangorous to tho onv|ronmont probab|y wo|| boyond tho span ot tho stud|os thoy'd dono. 3ut nobody
cou|d b|amo tho tarmors around 1unct|on tor |oas|ng tho|r |and, o|thor. 1ho oconomy was |n tho crappor,
and poop|o woro dosporato tor assurancos and cash. Gonora||y not |n that ordor.
l was d|gg|ng around |n tho tr|dgo's vogotab|o drawor whon l hoard tho nowspapor t|op opon.
°0ad?' l askod, g|anc|ng around.
lo ono was thoro. A ch||| ran across my arms, and l rubbod |t away. Vaybo l'd |ott tho door opon.
lgnor|ng tho nowspapor, l stoppod to tho mudroom. lo. 1ho door roma|nod shut. lockod, ovon.
1ho nowspapor rust|od aga|n, and s|ow as a v|ct|m |n a horror t||ck, l turnod to watch as tho soct|ons
and pagos roarrangod thomso|vos as |t a porson pawod through thom.
Or a ghost.
1ho soct|ons s|appod apart, ono ta|||ng at my toot. 1ho |oca|. °1oon 1ra|n 1rack 3u|c|dos 3tump Cops.'
°Vom?' l squoakod.
°l'm tota||y |os|ng |t. 1hank you, 3oph|o.' l p|ckod up tho papor g|ngor|y, sott|ng |t by tho s|nk. l road
snatchos ot |t as l mado d|nnor. lt mont|onod tho worowo|t connoct|on |asca| and 1a|k|n had suggostod,
but on|y |n pass|ng. lnstoad, thoy tocusod on tho |doa tho v|ct|ms had soomod doprossod and m|ght havo
usod drugs caus|ng ha||uc|nat|ons (a|though thoy adm|ttod t|nd|ng no traco ot |||oga| substancos |n tho|r
Wo|rd. Worowo|vos showod up |n 1unct|on, thon tho ClA, and tho luss|an Vat|a, and now thoro woro
ovon moro su|c|dos. Vaybo norma| wasn't ach|ovab|o anymoro.
l mado |t through d|nnor by push|ng my tood around tho p|ato moro than oat|ng |t. 0ad ca||od to say ho'd
bo work|ng |ato at tho tactory, so ho wasn't thoro to oxam|no my ovory movo. 3ut Annabo||o loo was.
Ovor tho covor ot hor nowost book sho watchod mo.
Whon l t|na||y roso to scrapo my p|ato, sho spoko up. °l saw thom k|ss|ng.'
Vy back stra|ghtonod.
°l|otr and 3arah.'
l s|ghod. lt was ono th|ng to put on a show around mo, but to bo k|ss|ng o|sowhoro . Vy stomach
c|onchod, and l was g|ad l hadn't oaton much.
°l'm sorry ho's so stup|d.'
l sot my p|ato |n tho s|nk w|th a c|ank. °1hat's tho prob|om, Annabo||o loo. |o's not stup|d. lt ho was, l
wou|dn't bo so, so mossod up ovor h|m.'
°l'm sorry ho's-' 3ho pausod, and l |ookod at hor, wa|t|ng. °l'm sorry ho's w|th bor,' sho conc|udod.
°Vo too.'
¯ ¯ ¯
1hat n|ght as l t|n|shod chang|ng tor bod l hoard a |ong and wavor|ng cry outs|do, a how| that tw|stod tho
a|r tho samo way |t tw|stod my |ns|dos |nto bows.
°Oh my God, what's tbotº' Annabo||o loo racod |nto my room, dropp|ng hor book on my bod as sho
z|ppod past mo to yank opon tho w|ndow. °A coyoto?'
1ho ca|| rovorboratod ott tho wa||s, t||||ng my bodroom w|th |ts r|ch song-d|st|nct, d|strossod, and
powortu|. Vy b|ood rushod |n rocogn|t|on.
°lo,' l wh|sporod. °0ot|n|to|y a wo|t.'
3ho |ookod at mo as l jo|nod hor at tho opon w|ndow. °You don't soom worr|od about tho horsos.'
°1hoy'ro sato.'
°What do you th|nk |t oats?'
°Evoryth|ng,' l sa|d w|th a gr|n. °3ut not horsos.'
°Why's |t out thoro? ls |t hunt|ng?'
°l don't know.'
°Wo||, what doos |t want?'
°l honost|y don't know.' l grabbod tho w|ndow tramo. °Como on. lt's co|d.' l roa||zod, c|os|ng tho w|ndow,
l d|dn't nocossar||y moan tho woathor outs|do.
¯ ¯ ¯
°Why |s ho watch|ng you ||ko that?' 0orok askod, gr|nd|ng oach word out as wo stood |n tho ha|| botwoon
l |ookod around h|s shou|dor. 3uro onough, l|otr's oyos woro t|xod on mo. 3arah was nowhoro |n s|ght.
°l havo no |doa. Vaybo ho noods to to|| mo somoth|ng..'
°Go.' 0orok d|dn't bothor to mask h|s d|sgust but d|sm|ssod mo |n a vory k|ng|y tash|on. Wh|ch |rkod
mo. A |ot.
A|though no ha||way |n 1unct|on was part|cu|ar|y oxpans|vo, somoth|ng about cross|ng trom ono s|do to
tho othor-to l|otr's-mado mo too| ||ko l was ombark|ng on my |ongost journoy ovor.
°What's go|ng on?' l askod, koop|ng my tono ||ght. °Othor than you watch|ng mo makos 0orok grouchy.'
°l d|dn't moan to staro.'
3o much tor my ||tt|o ogo tr|p. 5toplo boort. 5toplo glr|.
°Wo havo a |oad,' ho sa|d, oyos g|ow|ng. °A p|aco wo th|nk thoy'ro koop|ng hor. Cat and l aro go|ng to
snoop around moro today to p|npo|nt th|ngs. 1hon wo'|| troo hor.'
°1hat's groat!' 3ut tho thr||| dra|nod away, rop|acod w|th a suddon and daunt|ng droad as l roa||zod what
|t moant. °You'|| broak tho agroomont. 1ho ClA w|||-what'|| thoy do |t you.?'
°1ry to troo our mothor?' ||s oyos narrowod.
°You can't.'
|o drow back, as tar trom mo as tho ha||way a||owod, h|s back to tho wa||, oyos hoodod.
Vy m|nd scramb|od. °0on't you want to got a |ook |ns|do t|rst? 3oo tho |ay ot tho |and?'
|o starod at mo.
°l|otr. 1h|nk.' l g|ancod up and down tho ha||. 0orok's oyos burnod |nto my back, and l changod my
posturo. 3t|ttonod-go|ng tor an |nd|ttoront-soom|ng stanco. 1ust anothor ||o as my hoart throatonod to
sp||| out ot my mouth. °l know you want hor out. And sho'|| got out. ¼o`|| got hor out. 3ut why r|sk angor|ng
tho ClA? What about our progross?'
°1ho|r progross has s|owod to noth|ng.'
3trugg||ng w|th a rop|y, l prossod. °What |t wo wa|t a ||tt|o |ongor? l|ay th|s out? 0o |t tho|r way so wo
can soo how tho p|aco |s sot up |ns|do?'
°Cooporato so thoy tako us |nto |ts hoart?' |o rubbod a hand across h|s ch|n and l sh|vorod,
romombor|ng tho too| ot h|s jaw, tho touch ot h|s t|ngors.
°Yos. Cooporato t|rst. Vaybo thoy'|| st||| g|vo us what wo want,' l |ns|stod.
|o c|osod tho sma|| d|stanco botwoon us botoro l cou|d catch my broath. |o roachod out, but droppod
h|s hand, cast|ng a |ook ovor my shou|dor. At 0orok.
°l|oaso,' l boggod. °Pobzbo|sto.'
||s oyos snappod c|osod and ho shook h|s hoad, t|ght|ng somo s||ont |nnor batt|o. Whon thoy rooponod
thoy woro tho br||||ant b|uo ot a c|oar summor sky. °||no,' ho broathod. °1hoy can tako us |nto tho hoart ot
tho|r oporat|on. 3ut undorstand,' ho sa|d, oyos |ock|ng w|th m|no, h|s vo|co c||ppod and co|d, °|t thoy do not
g|vo us what wo want, wo w||| toar that hoart out.'
Vy hoad jorkod down |n agroomont. And toar.
l wondorod |t |t was poss|b|o tho ClA's poor hand||ng ot tho s|tuat|on cou|d turn norma||y sons|b|o l|otr
|nto tho monstor ho toarod was so much part ot h|s naturo. What d|d |t tako, attor a||, to mako a man a
|or onco, tho ClA's t|m|ng workod |n our tavor and Wanda drovo mo to tho lusakovas' that attornoon,
paus|ng br|ot|y to p|ck up Ott|cor Kont. l ca||od ahoad to |ot thom know our numbors had changod and tho
agonts brought good nows.
l hopod l wasn't |y|ng by proxy.
1ho car was st|t||ng, warm and th|ck w|th an ovorpowor|ng|y sp|cy scont. °Your car doodor|zor |s a b|t
Kont chuck|od trom tho back soat.
°Can you ovon tosto your cottoo?' l askod, poor|ng |nto tho t||pdown passongor m|rror.
|o just ra|sod h|s ovor-prosont mug |n my d|roct|on |n a s||ont toast.
Whon Cathor|no oponod tho door to tho houso, ushor|ng us w|th|n, Wanda sm||od, paus|ng just |ns|do
tho door. °lt's a n|co day,' sho commontod. °lot's tako a wa|k.'
°1ako a wa|k? You prom|sod good nows,' l rom|ndod hor. °0o wo got to soo tho|r mothor today?' l
askod, awaro ot tho way tho lusakovas br|st|od and sh|ttod, suro|y wondor|ng.
Kont gr|nnod and adjustod somoth|ng |ns|do h|s coat. l|otr and Vax movod |n to stand on o|thor s|do ot
mo. Cat s|d|od up boh|nd, and A|ox| crossod tho t|oor to stand bos|do hor.
°Wo do,' Wanda assurod.
Kont oponod tho door aga|n, |ott|ng tho autumn broozo watt through tho toyor.
1ho lusakovas stra|ghtonod, draw|ng up to tho|r tu|| ho|ghts, and l saw tho|r nosos wr|nk|o, tacos
pu|||ng |nto masks ot abso|uto d|stasto.
°lorhaps Ott|cor Kont noods a showor,' Vax snar|od, h|s oyos narrow|ng.
°Or a drown|ng,' Cat suggostod, covor|ng hor noso.
Wanda w|nkod and tuggod a pouch trom hor sh|rt pockot, dang||ng |t botoro mo.
l sn|ttod. °What tho.?' 1ho samo st|nk as tho car's hung trom hor hand.
°l guoss wo won't nood thoso,' sho sa|d, |ook|ng at Kont. °Onco thoy know whoro wo aro, d||ut|ng our
scont won't mattor. 1hoy'|| t|nd us whonovor thoy want.' 3ho shruggod.
l roprossod a sh|vor, wondor|ng what Wanda's group had that mado thom so cont|dont about hand||ng
any unschodu|od moot|ngs w|th tho lusakovas.
3ho tossod tho pouch |nto tho wastopapor baskot by tho door. Kont dug |nto h|s jackot pockot and
w|thdrow a match|ng pouch, shook |t tor shoor dov||mont, and tossod |t away too.
1ho tu||-b|ood lusakovas snoozod.
°What's |n that?' l askod.
°An o|d romody to doa| w|th posky track|ng dogs-and worowo|vos,' Kont addod, t|ash|ng a sm||o.
°3ha|| wo go now? 1|mos a-t|ck|n',' Wanda rom|ndod.
Vax st|t|od a grow|, and tho group ot us, an awkward a|||anco, stoppod onto tho porch. A|ox| pu||od tho
door shut and l was thrust |nto tho m|dd|o ot an argumont.
°Why aro yoo com|ng?' Vax askod h|s adoptod brothor. Voro than a quost|on, |t was a cha||ongo to
A|ox|'s prov|ous ro|o |n tho tam||y.
°3ho's my mothor, too,' A|ox| sa|d.
Cathor|no wodgod horso|t botwoon Vax and A|ox|, p|ac|ng hor sma|| hands on Vax's w|do chost and
poor|ng up |nto h|s taco.
°|o's r|ght. And Vothor wou|d want to soo a|| hor ch||dron, no mattor |t thoy'vo strayod trom tho pack.'
look|ng ovor hor hoad at A|ox|, Vax agrood. °l just wou|dn't want to bo yoo whon Vothor |oarns how
you botrayod us.'
A|ox| s|ghod, shou|dors s|ump|ng.
Wo wa|kod on|y a tow b|ocks, out ot tho v|ctor|an and Ouoon Anno soct|ons ot 1unct|on, and |nto tho
sma||or romnants ot a Co|on|a| tarmhouso aroa.
Wanda pausod by a ma||box botoro pass|ng through a hodgorow dottod w|th rosomary and othor
aromat|c p|ants. 1ho p|aco stank ot horbs. 1ho d|rt around tho|r basos had on|y rocont|y boon d|sturbod,
tho p|ants trosh th|s soason and not moant to |ast a 1unct|on w|ntor.
l wondorod |t any ot us woro.
Wo wa|kod down a pathway ot |argo, t|at rocks and stoppod up onto an o|d stackod stono porch. |oro
tho suburbs and modorn ||v|ng caught up to tho past and tr|od to swa||ow |t who|o. What had onco boon a
|argo tarm p|ot w|th ono homo on sovora| hundrod acros had boon roducod to a s|ng|o houso, an o|d
garago and gas stat|on at |ts back. 3trango, a t|o|dstono Co|on|a|, just a tow hundrod yards and a postago
stamp worth ot a backyard away trom tho brokon-down Grabb|t Vart at |ts back.
Wanda stoppod to tho doorway, knock|ng out a strango rhythm w|th hor t|st, and l was surpr|sod whon
tho door swung opon rovoa||ng two vory noat|y drossod mon. 1wo mon most comtortab|o whon armod
-tho two trom tho abandonod church. l gawkod, roa||z|ng what tho|r prosonco |mp||od. °3or|ous|y?'
Whoro woro tho th|ck mota| doors that s||d opon whon tho r|ght porson put tho|r pa|m on a spoc|a|
sonsor? Vy oyos scannod trom tho ground to tho root||no. Ono sma|| camora po|ntod toward tho road,
tho typo anyono cou|d got trom lad|o3hack.
lt th|s was tho tac|||ty whoro thoy conta|nod a socrot ||ko worowo|vos, whoro was our tax monoy go|ng?
°3top |ns|do,' Wanda d|roctod us w|th a curt nod.
War||y wo oboyod. l|ko most Co|on|a|s tho houso was sma||, c|oso. 1ho |mpross|on ot |nt|macy |t gavo
on|y mado mo too| |oss at oaso.
C|ustorod togothor |n what sorvod as tho ma|n ha||, wo |ookod oxpoctant|y at Wanda and Kont tor
|nstruct|ons. 1hat tho lusakovas stood |n a houso so noar tho|r own and yot so wo|| h|ddon on|y mado
thom moro anx|ous. Vax sh|ttod trom toot to toot, oyos g||ttor|ng.
°Whoro |s sho?' Cathor|no askod.
1ho two mon |ookod at Wanda and Kont.
1ho shortor ono spoko. °||rst th|ngs t|rst,' ho sa|d. °l bo||ovo part ot tho doa| was that wo wou|d got
b|ood, sk|n, and ha|r samp|os botoro any ot you soo hor.'
1ho hoat ro|||ng ott l|otr and Vax at mont|on ot tho do|ay throatonod to smothor mo. l kopt my tono
contro||od. °A|most thoro,' l prom|sod. °Wo'|| soo hor soon. And what an amaz|ng bu||d|ng.' Cast|ng a
g|anco trom ono ond ot tho ha|| to tho othor, l pattod Vax's arm and sm||od at Cat. °1ust a ||tt|o |ongor.'
l|otr watchod mo, coo||ng as my |og|c-and my unspokon suggost|on to obsorvo our surround|ngs
carotu||y-sank |n.
°3o, aro wo roady tor tost|ng?' 1ho shortor man d|dn't |ook at tho lusakovas but kopt h|s oyos on mo.
l wondorod |t ho romomborod my Vag||to-w|o|d|ng capab|||t|os. lodd|ng, l sm||od at h|m, my vo|co
stoady as l sa|d, °Yos, that's what wo agrood to.'
°load on,' Vax commandod. °lot's got scrapod and |oakod.'
1ho agonts hoadod down tho ha||way, |ook|ng ovor tho|r shou|dors troquont|y to mako suro wo woro
com|ng. l not|cod tho ta|| ono's arm was |n a hoavy cast. |o wou|dn't bo so tast to |ovo| a gun aga|nst mo
aga|n. 1ho lusakovas hoa|od sw|tt|y, but tho samo cou|dn't bo sa|d tor thoso ot us who woro s|mp|y
human. Wanda and Kont to|| |n boh|nd us, bo|t|ng tho door botoro dogg|ng us trom ono sma|| room to tho
Wo qu|ck|y camo to an aroa whoro a sta|rcaso had boon addod. 1ho ta||or ot tho two mon oponod tho
door that |od undor tho sta|r and stuck out an oncourag|ng hand, s|gna||ng us to hoad |ns|do.
Vax grabbod A|ox|, scoot|ng h|m |n tront. °You t|rst, brothor,' ho sa|d, tho b|ttornoss c|oar |n h|s vo|co.
A|ox| gr|macod, but startod down a d|m|y ||t sot ot sta|rs as tho lusakovas' po|nt man, hoad mov|ng
qu|ck|y trom s|do to s|do, oyos a|ort. Cathor|no snuggod up boh|nd h|m, ono hand gr|pp|ng tho ban|stor
t|ght|y, tho othor roassur|ng|y on A|ox|'s shou|dor. Vax to||owod hor, sandw|ch|ng mo botwoon l|otr and
l countod stops. 1ho sta|rs wont doopor than l oxpoctod and l turnod, |ook|ng past l|otr and up to
Wanda. °l d|dn't know thoro woro any p|acos ||ko th|s |n 1unct|on.'
°At ono t|mo, th|s was ono ot tho most northorn stops a|ong tho Undorground la||road,' Wanda
mont|onod, tho rosoarch ||brar|an |n hor show|ng through. l ||kod hor bottor as a ||brar|an than a gun-tot|ng
ClA agont. 3ut thon, l d|dn't ||ko hor much as a ||brar|an, o|thor.
°3otoro tho sta|rcaso, thoro was a s|mp|o trapdoor |oad|ng |nto a sma|| p|t that tho prov|ous ownors had
wa||od w|th random boards and stonos. lot much comtort to bo had |t you woro an oscapod s|avo on tho
°1horo's novor much comtort |t you'ro try|ng to oscapo an unjust govornmont,' A|ox| sa|d. loud|y.
l sworo l hoard Wanda gr|nd hor tooth trom noar|y ton stops abovo.
3otwoon us l|otr stayod st|tt and a|oot. l doubtod ho had any |ntorost |n tho bu||d|ng's past. |o on|y
wantod to know how |t connoctod to h|s prosont and h|s mothor's tuturo.
l not|cod no cobwobs |n tho basomont, no mo|d or spock||ng ot m||dow. 1ho musty smo|| l oxpoctod was
nonox|stont. lnstoad, tho smo|| matchod my momory ot tho gardon |n spr|ngt|mo. 1ho scont ot damp and
trosh|y turnod d|rt.
l roachod my |ott hand out, not|c|ng how tho toxturo ot tho wa|| changod. Comont, trosh and pa|o, ran
smooth|y whoro my hand tracod a|ong tho sta|rway. 1h|rtoon stops. |ourtoon. ||ttoon .
l|otr sa|d, °You havon't boon horo vory |ong.' ||s statomont th|n|y vo||od h|s surpr|so.
l d|dn't nood to soo Kont's gr|n ot sat|stact|on to hoar |t |n h|s words. °l|otr, you turnod sovontoon, what
-a ||tt|o ovor a month ago?'
°Cons|dor|ng you havo our houso buggod and our phonos tappod,' A|ox| sa|d, paus|ng to turn and taco
tho rost ot us trom tho tront ot tho ||no, °l'm suro you know our b|rthdays, Ott|cor Kont.'
Cat's hand t|ghtonod on h|s shou|dor.
°lorhaps rathor than suggost tho govornmont ra|so taxos noxt torm, tho ClA cou|d mako onds moot by
bocom|ng adm|n|strat|vo ass|stants to tho occupants ot tho housos thoy bug. 3|nco you know ovoryono's
bus|noss, you can at |oast mako suro nono ot us cr|m|na| typos m|ss a moot|ng.'
A|ox| may havo |ost tho t|t|o ot a|pha |n tho lusakova housoho|d, but to mo |t soundod ||ko ho'd just
p|ssod on Kont's shoos.
°lo ono accusod any ot you ot bo|ng cr|m|na|,' Wanda spat.
°1hon ro|oaso our mothor,' Cathor|no sa|d so casua||y thoro cou|d bo no doubt ot throat.
|o||ow|ng tho vorba| p|ng-pong match, l stood botwoon thom on stop sovontoon, my back to tho coo|
1ho sm||o tadod trom Kont's vo|co whon ho noxt spoko. |o mot|onod us torward. E|ghtoon, n|notoon .
°Wo startod construct|on a|most a month ago. Wo movo vory tast whon thoro's a roason.' |o pausod.
°1ho ont|ro basomont was oxpandod..'
As |t on cuo, wo camo up short at tho bottom ot tho sta|rs. 1wonty. l g|ancod down tho t|na| sta|rs,
conc|ud|ng my count. 1wonty-tour. 1ho mon |oad|ng us stood by a door. 1h|s at |oast soomod moro
|mpross|vo. largor than norma| and ot hoavy stoo| construct|on tho door was a pa|o gray, contrast|ng w|th
tho ta|nt|y warm co|or ot tho comont. lt rom|ndod mo ot doors l'd soon on co|d storago rooms at a butchor
tac|||ty wo tourod |n o|omontary schoo|. l tromb|od at tho compar|son.
A sma|| numbor pad was |ntogratod |nto a spot just abovo tho door's hotty-|ook|ng hand|o. 1ho shortor
ot our two oscorts tappod out a rap|d succoss|on ot numbors, tho numbor pad b||nkod groon tw|co, and
tho door oponod w|th on|y a h|nt ot sound.
low that wos |mpross|vo.
Wo'd como to a tunno| ot sorts. Aga|n comont ||nod tho wa||s, smooth and angu|ar, and l |mag|nod thoy
pa|d a protty ponny to h|ro a construct|on crow and mason to qu|ck|y sot up shop. Vaybo tbot was whoro
tax do||ars wont.
||uoroscont ||ghts coatod us |n an unhoa|thy-|ook|ng g|aro as wo wa|kod a|ong tho |ongthy undorground
ha||. Corta|n|y a su|tab|o |ocat|on tor t|uorosconts, tho ho||spawn ot ||ght|ng.
Wo camo to anothor |argo door. °Okay,' l sa|d, °l know wo'ro no |ongor undor tho houso wo ontorod.
Wo'vo crossod bonoath tho backyard. On tho othor s|do ot th|s door wo shou|d bo undor tho Grabb|t
°Abso|uto|y corroct,' our shortor oscort agrood.
°Wo noar|y had to qu|t construct|on whon tho |oca|s put up a tuss about tho way wo woro toar|ng up tho
o|d Grabb|t Vart park|ng |ot and gas tanks.' |o chuck|od. °Wo sa|d duo to nowor O3|A and ElA
o|d Grabb|t Vart park|ng |ot and gas tanks.' |o chuck|od. °Wo sa|d duo to nowor O3|A and ElA
rogu|at|ons tho o|d tanks cou|dn't stay. And untortunato|y, tho o|d Grabb|t Vart had an oxtons|vo, and |oaky,
systom ot p|pos runn|ng bonoath |t. 1ho who|o no|ghborhood cou|d go up |n a putt.'
°Or so you sa|d,' A|ox| surm|sod.
°lt ca|mod thom down,' h|s partnor agrood. °As you can soo,' ho sa|d, opon|ng tho noxt door, °ovoryono
has prot|tod by our progross.' 1ho aroa w|donod |nto numorous ott|co spacos, and boyond that an
add|t|ona| sot ot hoavy doors ||nod anothor wa||.
°|ow tar doos th|s p|aco go?' l askod, awod.
°1ust a ||tt|o tarthor now.'
1hrough tho noxt sot ot doors was a bust||ng sc|onco |ab. Our |ast stop botoro tho lusakovas cou|d
roun|to w|th tho|r mothor. Cat and l ro|oasod a broath togothor. A ||tt|o ot tho tons|on |n l|otr's shou|dors
lt was probab|y |n a p|aco ||ko th|s whoro tho gonot|cs that onab|od tho lusakovas to sh|tt had boon
twoakod out: a h|gh-toch sc|onco |ab w|th mach|nos that |ookod ||ko thoy camo out ot tho |atost b|g budgot
sc|-t| mov|o.
As tho doors s|ghod shut boh|nd us, a|| act|v|ty |ns|do coasod. Von and womon |n wh|to coats turnod to
staro, w|do-oyod. l|otr, Cat, and A|ox| movod |n t|ghtor around mo and Vax puttod up, wo|| awaro thoy
woro tho contor ot attont|on.
A ba|d|ng man-sma||or ovon than tho shortost agont (was tho ClA try|ng tor worowo|vos and
goomosº)-trottod ovor to us. °lt |s my d|st|nct p|oasuro to moot you.' |o grabbod Vax's hand and shook
|t v|gorous|y. °Vax|m|||an lusakova,' ho announcod.
1ho womon s|ghod.
Vax was |n h|s o|omont.
°1ho a|pha ma|o,' tho sc|ont|st addod cont|dont|y.
l noar|y roachod up to tug my oyobrows back down. lt was a bo|d th|ng to announco |n tho m|dst ot a
pack. E|thor thoso poop|o had no |doa how dangorous thoso wo|vos woro, or thoy d|dn't caro bocauso
thoy know somoth|ng wo d|dn't. |op|ng |t was tho tormor, l torcod tho nagg|ng toar out ot my throat, past
my ratt||ng hoart, and back |nto tho p|t ot my stomach.
1ho ||tt|o man (|onry, by h|s namo tag) roachod tor l|otr.
l|otr d|d not rospond as oagor|y.
°l|otr lusakova, tho bota ma|o,' ho sa|d, h|s oxpross|on go|ng wary. Unt|| ho spottod Cathor|no.
°Ohhh,' ho sa|d, grabb|ng hor hand and pu|||ng hor out tront. °Ekator|na lusakova. 1ho toma|o.'
°3mart man, not ca|||ng mo tbo bltcb,' Cat answorod.
|onry qu|ck|y snappod ordors at h|s to||ow sc|ont|sts, who soomod to m||| around, watch|ng moro than
do|ng. 1ho tu||-b|ood lusakovas woro soatod tor samp|os to bo takon. 1ho toma|o sc|ont|sts jockoyod tor
pos|t|on to got samp|os trom Vax.
And Vax onjoyod tho show.
Vov|ng ovor to stand bos|do l|otr, l sa|d, °1hank God you woro your nock|aco.'
|o wr|nk|od h|s noso and pushod tho rod out ot h|s oyos w|th ottort. °l'm horo to soo my mothor, not
p|ck up g|r|s.'
p|ck up g|r|s.'
°You don't havo to got angry,' l muttorod.
Cat chuck|od ||ko sho'd boon |ot |n on a joko w|thout mo.
Vax was dono g|v|ng samp|os and was poo||ng ott h|s sh|rt to tho oobs and oobs ot tho crowd.
°What?' |o |ookod as shoop|sh as a worowo|t cou|d. °1hoy wantod to soo tho sabor.'
l thought l shou|d at |oast bo thanktu| ho hadn't takon tho roquost as |nnuondo and boon tak|ng ott h|s
A|ox| odgod up bos|do mo. °lt's a zoo. A|woys a zoo. You want tho job ot zookoopor?'
l snortod, watch|ng tho womon oxam|n|ng tho sabor-shapod b|rthmark on Vax's |ott shou|dor. A|| tu||-
b|oods woro born w|th ono. °lo. 0ot|n|to|y not tho job tor mo. 3os|dos, l don't ovon rank tho bota ma|o's
attont|on anymoro.'
°|unny what wo prosumo,' ho |nt|matod. °3|nco Vax |s b|ggor, moro bruta|, ho must bo tho a|pha, ooº'
|o crossod h|s arms. °Wo g|vo too ||tt|o crod|t to |nto||oct, to p|ott|ng and p|ann|ng.'
|onry was spoak|ng aga|n, Vax tugg|ng h|s sh|rt back |nto p|aco. W|th ho|p. Whoro was h|s nock|aco?
°1ho makoup ot tho worowo|t-no ottonso'-|onry duckod h|s ba|d|ng hoad |n tho d|roct|on ot tho
lusakovas-°|s tundamonta||y d|ttoront duo to tho changos occurr|ng dur|ng ado|osconco. lt wo tako
Vax|m|||an's b|ood, tor oxamp|o'-ho grabbod tho s||do and p|acod |t bonoath tho |argo m|croscopo's
|ons-°you'|| not|co tho shapo ot tho |nd|v|dua| rod and wh|to b|ood co||s |s d|ttoront-' |o mot|onod tor us
to tako a |ook.
°-|rom-' |o roachod out to mo, s|gna||ng tor my hand.
l gavo |t, watch|ng h|m tako a trosh nood|o and pr|ck my t|ngor. A s|ng|o drop ot b|ood wo||od up, and ho
touchod |t to tho odgo ot tho m|croscopo s||do so |t craw|od onto tho g|ass.
°-3|mp|o human b|ood.' |o sandw|chod a th|nnor p|oco ot g|ass ovor tho top and bumpod Vax's s||do
ovor, push|ng m|no |n. A qu|ck adjustmont ot a tow knobs, and ho mot|onod mo ovor. °|oro.'
|o was r|ght. 1ho odgos ot tho doughnut-||ko co||s soomod somohow sottor, roundor than tho st|ck|or
|ook|ng worowo|t samp|o. °look,' l sa|d, pu|||ng Cat ovor to tako a pook.
°3tra|ght human b|ood has a d|ttoront qua||ty to |t.' |onry g|ancod at mo. °3o to spoak. Ot courso thoro
aro many th|ngs that wo'vo not|cod aro d|ttoront botwoon our |ntorro|atod poop|os-worowo|vos havo a
s|gn|t|cant|y |argor sp|oon, wh|ch acts as a rosorvo|r tor rod b|ood co||s. Whon tho chango |s tr|ggorod, tho
sp|oon dumps thoso add|t|ona| co||s |nto tho|r b|oodstroam tor an oxtra burst ot powor. Attor thoy'vo
roturnod to tho|r human torm tho|r p|ato|ot count jumps. Wo prosumo |t's to ho|p w|th c|ott|ng. lt sooms tho
sc|ont|sts who twoakod your 0lA t|gurod you'd chango, got woundod, and nood to stop b|ood|ng tast.'
°lt's ||ko thoy know you,' l mumb|od to l|otr as ho, Vax, and A|ox| took turns at tho m|croscopo wh||o tho
othor sc|ont|sts movod hos|tant|y back to tho|r work.
°You'ro roa||y, vory tasc|nat|ng,' |onry adm|ttod, rubb|ng h|s hands togothor. °|avo you a|| soon tho
s||dos?' ho askod.
lods a|| around. 1ho lusakovas woro start|ng to got |tchy aga|n.
°Can l, ono moro t|mo?' l askod.
°Corta|n|y,' |onry sa|d, chooks p|nk|ng. °Wh|ch t|rst?'
|o bumpod thom togothor, and b|ood soopod across tho two s||dos, m|x|ng.
°Ew,' l sa|d. °|oy, Vax. You and mo a|| gross togothor.'
°lt that's tho way you ||ko |t,' Vax rumb|od.
A woman noarby pu||od tho ponc|| out ot hor ha|r, |ott|ng |t ta|| troo and gr|nn|ng at Vax ||ko ho was |unch.
°Oh doar,' tho man sa|d.
Vy tboogbts oxoct|y.
l pookod |nto tho m|croscopo. °|uh.' l bumpod tho othor s||do across. °Ohh-kay. Yoah, thoso samp|os
aro tota||y trashod.'
|onry took a |ook and swabbod away porsp|rat|on suddon|y boad|ng on h|s torohoad. °Oh. |ow odd.'
A|ox| pushod botwoon us tor a v|ow just botoro |onry snatchod tho s||dos away. °l th|nk |t's t|mo tor your
v|s|t. lsn't |t, |rodor|ck?' |onry askod tho guard by tho door.
1ho man noddod. °3uro, 0oc. lot's go.'
3oyond tho |ab ono |ast sot ot doors wh|sporod opon at tho guard's touch.
l bumpod |nto Vax, not roa||z|ng ho had stoppod. Ahoad ot mo tho lusakovas had tormod a moro-than-
human wa||.
lo ono answorod. 1ho lusakovas woro transt|xod by somoth|ng just boyond my rango ot v|s|on. l
duckod down, l s||d to tho s|do, l stood on t|ptoos. l cou|dn't ovon catch a g||mpso ot whatovor |t was that
ho|d thom trozon, stunnod to s||onco, tho|r broath|ng sha||ow and rap|d.
l t|na||y wodgod myso|t botwoon l|otr and Vax, stubborn|y push|ng torward unt|| l cou|d soo. And l jo|nod
tho|r ranks, qu|ot w|th hoartbroak. 3||pp|ng my hand |nto l|otr's, l squoozod |t tor roassuranco. |o pu||od
away. 3ut s|ow|y.
3otoro us was a |argo g|ass cubo. 1wonty toot |ong and tho samo w|do, |t was a c|oar box dos|gnod to
a||ow tho |nhab|tant no pr|vacy. |ad tho croaturo |ns|do boon on d|sp|ay at somo zoo l m|ght havo thought
||tt|o ot |t, but what ||vod |ns|do th|s cago was l|otr's mothor. ln ono cornor ot tho g|ass houso was a sma||
cot, |n anothor, a tow books woro scattorod. And |n tho th|rd cornor, back and to tho |ott, was a sta|n|oss-
stoo| to||ot and s|nk. 1horo was no pr|vacy tor tho woman drossod |n a tank top and khak| pants, hor |ong
ha|r an unkompt tang|o ot browns and rods. 3|tt|ng by tho t|na| cornor, hor back was to us.
°3ho otton protonds to |gnoro us,' tho ta||or ot our two oscorts po|ntod out. °Vaybo a so|t-dotonso
mochan|sm?' |o rubbod h|s ch|n, |ook|ng at tho roma|n|ng lusakovas |n spocu|at|on. ||s oyos sott|od on
mo. °0o thoy |gnoro unp|oasant th|ngs?'
°1hoy'ro |gnor|ng you now,' l po|ntod out.
1ho oscort b||nkod at mo. |o c|oarod h|s throat so ho cou|d projoct h|s vo|co moro powortu||y. °You
havo v|s|tors.'
1horo was no roact|on trom Vothor oxcopt to ra|so a s|ng|o, spoc|t|c t|ngor |n our d|roct|on.
Our oscort |aughod, and l dug |n my hoo|s and c|aspod l|otr's arm aga|nst mo to koop h|m trom |oap|ng
at tho man. ||s back unnatura||y stra|ght, ho was so st|tt h|s musc|os tw|tchod bonoath my t|ngors. |o
at tho man. ||s back unnatura||y stra|ght, ho was so st|tt h|s musc|os tw|tchod bonoath my t|ngors. |o
d|dn't |ook at mo, ho was tar too comtortab|o w|th tho angor pump|ng through h|m tastor than ovon h|s
°3tay ca|m. 1hoy'd |ovo an oxcuso to |ock you up, too.'
Our oscort's oyos t||ckorod |n my d|roct|on, cont|rm|ng my toar. l watchod tho |ump |n l|otr's throat s||do
as ho swa||owod. |o shut h|s oyos tor a momont. °Vothor?'
3ho spun so qu|ck|y l d|dn't soo tho movomont, on|y tho rosu|t. loso prossod to tho g|ass, hoad cockod
to ono s|do, and t|ngors sp|ayod across tho th|ck |nv|s|b|o barr|or as |t sho wou|d c|aw hor way to us, sho
askod, °l|otr?' |or vo|co was scratchy, raw trom d|suso. |or oyos tocusod on l|otr just botoro sho
scroamod h|s namo ||ko a batt|o cry.
|o c|osod tho d|stanco to hor |n two ground-swa||ow|ng str|dos. ||s hands m|rrorod hor own, prossod
t|at aga|nst tho g|ass ||ko tho torco ot h|s w||| a|ono cou|d got h|m |ns|do. |or ||ps movod, but l cou|dn't hoar
hor words. l|otr rostod h|s torohoad on tho g|ass, h|s shou|dors s|umpod, a|| tho rago dra|n|ng trom h|s
Vax and Cathor|no t|ankod h|m, A|ox| c|oso boh|nd.
l hos|tatod, suddon|y awaro ot how d|ttoront l was, how much moro ||ko tho sc|ont|sts and guards
ho|d|ng hor capt|vo than hor w||d and gracotu| ch||dron. lt may havo boon my batt|o, but |t was not my
Vy mothor was gono, tho|rs was a||vo. And a pr|sonor.
l bowod my hoad and to|dod my hands, dotorm|nod to wa|t wh||o thoy tr|od to catch up w|th tho paront
thoy had |ong thought doad.
l|otr |ookod |n my d|roct|on, s|gna||ng mo ovor w|th a movo ot h|s hoad. Vy hoart stoppod, soo|ng tho
|ook on h|s taco. l tr|od to koop ca|m. lot to run to h|m. 1o broatho.
Eyos down, l crossod tho d|stanco botwoon us, norvos jang||ng, unsuro ot how to act around a mothor
who was a|so a worowo|t. As soon as tho thought tormod, l roa||zod tho t|aw |n my |og|c. l|otr was a
worowo|t. Vax was a worowo|t. Cathor|no was, too. And most t|mos l was qu|ck to torgot tho tact. Otton
our sharod human|ty ovorrodo our d|st|nct d|ttoroncos.
Cat roachod out and throw an arm around mo, tugg|ng mo botoro tho g|ass wa||. °1h|s |s 1oss|o,' sho
1ho|r mothor stud|od mo, hor ||ps th|n, oyobrows |oworod. Crow's toot branchod around hor g||nt|ng
turquo|so oyos-what woro onco |augh ||nos ran |nto turrows ot worry and angor. God, sho was so young
and yot so o|d..
°lt's n|co to moot you, Vrs. lusakova..'
3oh|nd mo, Vax sa|d to tho guards, °Wo woro to|d wo'd bo a||owod |ns|do.'
Ono guard pushod a button on tho wa||. An |ntorcom buzzod, b|ar|ng a rop|y. °Yos. A||ow thom a|| |ns|do
tho cub|c|o.'
l spun out ot Cat's grasp. °No. 1wo |n, throo out,' l sa|d, hoart pound|ng. |ow hard wou|d |t bo to just not
un|ock tho door onco you had a|| tho worowo|vos you cou|d want |n ono co||?
Cat ochood my suggost|on. °Vax and l w||| go |n t|rst. 1hon l|otr, 1oss|o, and A|ox|.'
1ho|r mothor gavo mo a sm||o, and my hoart jumpod. °C|ovorrr g|rrr|,' sho sa|d, hor words oqua||y
strong w|th a luss|an purr and a worowo|t grow|.
A sot ot tour moro armod guards ontorod tho room as a procaut|on. A|ox| and l |ookod at oach othor.
Wo woro do|ng tho samo th|ng: tak|ng carotu| monta| notos. lumbors, woapons, spood ot rosponso.
A codo was tappod |nto a numbor pad by hor door, and a guard prossod h|s pa|m onto tho surtaco ot
tho pad. l|ghts t|ashod and a s|ron purrod °lod-rod-rod' as a soa| broko and a door s||d opon, noar|y
soam|oss |n tho transparont cub|c|o.
Cat and Vax stoppod |ns|do, tho door soa||ng boh|nd thom. l sh|ttod trom toot to toot bos|do A|ox|.
l|otr had a|roady |ott mo to stand by tho door.
1horo woro hugs and toars, and 1at|ana-Vothor-pu||od tho s|ng|o cha|r ovor and sat. Vax, tho tam||y
bad-ass, sn|tt|od and to|| at h|s mothor's toot, rost|ng h|s mop ot ha|r aga|nst hor knoo. 1at|ana s|ghod and
p|ayod w|th h|s dark cur|s, dot|ng on h|m as |t thoy had a|| tho t|mo |n tho wor|d. Cat sat by hor othor knoo,
posturo r|g|d, abso|uto|y a|ort.
3ho was soo|ng what l had not|cod: stross, stra|n, and ago marr|ng tho natura| boauty ot a woman
w|thout hor tam||y. A woman whoso |ovo was |ost.
°Who |s sho?' 1ho|r mothor po|ntod at mo aga|n.
°Vothor,' Cat's vo|co roso. °l sa|d hor namo |s 1oss|o.'
l |ookod at A|ox|.
°3on||o domont|a bog|ns oar|y |n tho spoc|os,' ho wh|sporod.
°l am not son||o, A|ox|,' tho|r mothor barkod. °And l hoar qu|to wo||. l want to know who 1oss|o rrroa||y |s.
Who |s sho to my tam||y?'
Who |s sho to my tam||y?'
l got tho |mpross|on |t was not my p|aco to dot|no my connoct|on to thom. And what wou|d l say,
anyhow? l o|most ootoo yoor yooogost soo, bot my somotlmos-psycbo írlooo got to blm ílrst, so wo jost
sort oí mossoo oroooo bobloo bor bock ootl| bo cboogoo ooo oow l`m ootlog tbo ooo goy ot 1ooctloo
llgb bo sooms to roo||y botoº
Not a way to ondoar myso|t to l|otr's mom.
Cat sa|d s|mp|y, °3ho oponod tho motryosbko.'
1ho|r mothor's hoad noar|y r|ppod ott, |t movod so tast. °3ho oponod |t?'
A|ox| noddod.
°loth|ng,' A|ox| roportod. °l havo no answors yot. l am at a |oss.'
l got tho too||ng thoy woro ta|k|ng ovor my hoad. About mo. Cat, Vax, and l|otr |ookod ||ko thoy woro out
ot tho |oop, too. A|| oyos woro on A|ox|.
°1horrro arrro no accoptab|o |ossos,' Vothor sa|d, hor oyos g||ttor|ng rod.
°|oart-rato-|s-o|ovatod,' tho s|ron announcod.
°Ot courso |t |s,' sho snar|od.
°Vothor,' A|ox| sa|d. °l am do|ng tho bost l can w|th ||m|tod rosourcos.'
low l was corta|n tho ClA was tak|ng carotu| monta| notos, too, try|ng to doc|phor tho|r convorsat|on.
3ho shook hor hoad, |ong ha|r tumb||ng. °l do not doubt you, A|ox|. lo mattor what stops you had to tako
to got to th|s momont.'
Vax |ookod up at hor, h|s oxpross|on c|oar|y road|ng stunnod. °You know? You koowº'
°A|ox| know thoro wou|d bo a t|mo ho must mako hard doc|s|ons-h|s ||to has boon tu|| ot harsh truths.'
|or taco t|||od w|th pa|n, and A|ox| droppod h|s gazo. °Vy poor boy,' sho wh|sporod. °|o has dono h|s
bost to protoct you, has ho not?' sho askod Vax po|ntod|y.
Vax b||nkod. °3ut tho Vat|a.'
°0|d ho ca|| thom to tako you?' sho proddod. °Or d|d ho stand bos|do you? |o|p you?'
°You know about that?'
°1hoy ta|k,' sho muttorod, mot|on|ng toward our oscorts and guards. °Goss|p|ng ||ko |||-brod g|r|s to got
a r|so out ot mo.' |or oyos t|ashod, thon ca|mod. °You shou|d not doubt A|ox|, o|thor,' sho admon|shod
hor o|dost tu||-b|ood son. °1ust bocauso wo do not sharo a d|roct hor|tago doos not moan wo do not sharo
a |ogacy. l|to |s a puzz|o, |s |t not, A|ox|?'
°And you aro m|ss|ng ono p|oco?'
°Lo. A vory |mportant ono.'
°1hon thoro |s st||| hopo.'
°Lo,' ho sa|d, ro|uctant to comm|t.
°1horo |s a|ways hopo,' l cont|rmod, though l d|dn't know oxact|y what wo woro hop|ng tor.
A|ox| rostod h|s hand on my shou|dor. ||s t|ngors shook. |o hadn't had a c|garotto s|nco somot|mo
botoro wo'd |ott tho houso, and h|s norvos woro start|ng to show. °You nood to qu|t smok|ng.'
°You arrro smok|ng?' Vothor grow|od.
Nots. Worowo|t oars.
A|ox| stoppod back, hang|ng h|s hoad |n shamo.
°You aro my son, A|ox|. lot by b|ood, but by cho|co. Wo adoptod you. l w||| not to|orato ono ot my
ch||dron ondangor|ng thomso|vos w|th somoth|ng as doad|y as.'
l cou|dn't hand|o moro ra|||ng aga|nst A|ox|. |o'd boon a wrock rocont|y. 3otoro l cou|d stop myso|t l
b|urtod out tho rumor runn|ng through schoo|: °Vax |s hav|ng sox w|th mu|t|p|o partnors!'
Oh. Crop.
Vothor |ookod at Vax, hor oyos g|ow|ng.
°|oart-rato-|s-o|ovatod,' b|arod aga|n.
Vax wont a shado pa|or. lo. 1hroo shados. °Vothor, l-' |o t|oppod onto tho t|oor bo||y up, covor|ng
h|s oyos w|th h|s arm. |o groanod.
°Vothor, l-am-oot.' |o s|ghod. |o shot mo a |ook. °lot s|nco lar|s,' ho qua||t|od sott|y.
°What?' l|otr, Cat, A|ox|, and l askod |n un|son.
Vax tocusod on mo. °1ho th|ngs you prosumo,' ho chuck|od. °l havo a roputat|on,' ho cont|rmod. °A
hoa|thy ono.'
||s mothor rumb|od.
°3ut l on|y t||rt!' ho protostod.
°Cont|nua||y,' l groanod.
°And you k|ss,' Cat rom|ndod.
|o shruggod.
°And gropo,' l|otr addod.
Vax sat up, g|ar|ng at h|m. °3o what? You'ro cont|nua||y try|ng to bash your bra|ns out bocauso you can'
Cat s||oncod h|m w|th a |ook, oyos s||d|ng to mo.
°What aro yoo do|ng, l|otr?' Vothor askod, oyos narrow.
°l am strugg||ng,' ho muttorod. °1h|s'-tor a momont h|s oyos woro on mo botoro thoy dartod away-°|s
not oasy. lt |s not oasy know|ng l am dy|ng a|roady and that try|ng to ||vo ondangors othors.'
Cat roso, tugg|ng Vax to h|s toot. 3ho caught tho guard's attont|on. °3w|tch,' sho sa|d. °1oss|o, you,
too.' 3ho huggod hor mothor, as d|d Vax, and thon, |n a tow tonso momonts as tho guards |ookod on,
r|t|os at tho roady, tho s|ron b|arod, tho ||ghts t|ashod, and wo oxchangod p|acos, Cat and Vax g|ar|ng at
tho guards, l|otr, A|ox|, and myso|t star|ng at Vothor.
l|otr's mothor grabbod h|m and huggod h|m, on|y pu|||ng back to soarch h|s taco. °You aro not
s|oop|ng,' sho surm|sod. A g|anco at A|ox| and mo and sho ropoatod horso|t. °Why |s no ono horo
°Wo'vo boon soarch|ng tor you,' l|otr wh|sporod.
°A|| ot you?' 3ho g|ancod at mo.
°lot anymoro,' A|ox| answorod on my boha|t. °Wo s|mp|o humans aro out ot act|on.'
3ho noddod. °1hoy ||ko you onough to koop you around. l soarchod tor you as wo||,' sho roca||od.
°1horo was a br|ot t|mo l was troo. l to||owod your sconts as tar as l cou|d, stumb||ng through horso tarms
and parks.. 3ut tho r|vor mado th|ngs d|tt|cu|t.' 3ho s|ghod. °l tound your schoo| just botoro thoy
rocapturod mo.'
°lt was you |n tho h|gh schoo| that n|ght,' l roa||zod.
l droppod to tho t|oor and sat lnd|an-sty|o. l thought back. °3ut |n tho ra|n that othor n|ght? 1hat wasn't
°Why must you br|ng tbot up?' Vax askod. °l was scout|ng. And l ran back trom that ||tt|o oncountor w|th
a ||mp.'
Vy ||ps cur|od |n ovor my tooth, roa||z|ng.
°Whon |s tho |og|ca| rosponso to a wo|t attack ovor to na|| tho an|ma| |n tho gro|n w|th a b|g st|ck?' ho
askod mo.
l|otr, Cat, and A|ox| tought back sm||os.
°3orry?' l tr|od.
|o snortod.
Vothor was tho ono to rotocus us. °lt you oponod tho motryosbko, whoro |s tho pondant?' sho
wh|sporod, |ook|ng at my nock||no. °ls that.?'
°lo,' l adm|ttod. °lt's my mothor's notsuko.'
°0|d you not g|vo hor tho pondant?' Vothor askod A|ox|.
°Lo, l|otr d|d.' |o |ookod at h|m, contusod.
l|otr had not to|d h|m ho'd boon g|von |t back.
°l havo |t.'
°G|vo |t to mo.' Vothor thrust hor hand out.
l|otr rotr|ovod |t trom h|s pockot and handod |t ovor.
°1h|s |s yours,' sho cont|rmod, dropp|ng to hor knoos botoro mo. °You oponod tho motryosbko. You
aro |mportant to us.'
°|ow?' l wh|sporod. °l don't know how l'm |mportant to your tam||y. l'|| ho|p howovor l can-you havo to
bo||ovo mo-but.' l shook my hoad.
|or hands woro warm on my taco. °3hhhh, 1oss|o,' sho soothod. °3omot|mos wo do not know what
ro|o wo p|ay unt|| |t |s thrust upon us and wo can on|y thon do our bost to carry |t ott.' 3ho roachod around,
taston|ng tho cha|n boh|nd my nock.
l g|ancod at l|otr. 1ho cha|n was now. |oav|or. 3trongor.
Vothor |ookod at us both. °You had a|| bottor go-t|mo-'
1ho s|ron b|arod, °1h|rty-m|nutos-th|rty-m|nutos.'
°1|mo |s up.'
A tow qu|ck hugs, anothor toar or two, and wo woro out ot tho cub|c|o and hoadod (w|th our armod
oscort) to t|nd Wanda and Kont.
Wo pushod |nto tho |ab, whoro Wanda was hav|ng a vory an|matod d|scuss|on w|th |onry. °And what
am l supposod to do about th|s? |opo thoro aro no bod||y t|u|ds oxchangod? l|ay koop-away w|th-'
am l supposod to do about th|s? |opo thoro aro no bod||y t|u|ds oxchangod? l|ay koop-away w|th-'
|onry's po|ntod |ook stoppod hor m|dsontonco.
°0amm|t,' Wanda muttorod. °l'|| tako caro ot |t,' sho assurod h|m. °3ooo,' sho sa|d, tac|ng us, hor sm||o
th|n. °Was Vommy happy to soo you?'
Vax's taco sourod at hor uso ot tho ondoarmont.
°Wo woro a|| g|ad tor a chanco to moot,' l sa|d, strok|ng Vax's arm. |o ca|mod bonoath my touch,
though l was corta|n l'd got an oartu| |ator about ratt|ng h|m out to h|s mothor.
°Wondortu|,' Wanda ch|rpod. °lot's c|oso th|s ||tt|o got-togothor up, thon, sha|| wo? Wo'|| want a marrow
and tur samp|o botoro your noxt |nv|to. l'|| |ot you doc|do whon. Attor that? Wo may nood to do a ||tt|o
Cat's ch|n roso. °lonogot|at|ng?'
°Cat,' l warnod. °3ho sa|d moy.'
Wanda noddod. Wo tra||od boh|nd Wanda to tho door ||ko |ost pupp|os. Out and up tho sta|rs, l
rocountod oach ono. lt wo had to do somoth|ng drast|c, |t m|ght bo dark. Count|ng sta|rs m|ght savo us
trom tr|pp|ng down thom.
||na||y outs|do, Wanda s|appod hor hands togothor aga|nst tho co|d. °l trust you can t|nd your way
homo,' sho muttorod, °s|nco |t's roa||y just around tho cornor.'
¼ow. 1hoy'd gotton arrogant.
Wanda's gazo s||d trom l|otr to mo as |t wo|gh|ng somo dangor. °1oss|ca, l'|| bo back to tako you homo
°0on't bothor,' Vax rotortod. °l'|| dr|vo hor back.'
Aga|n sho moasurod l|otr w|th a g|anco. °|uh. Okay.' Wanda shruggod and s||ppod back |ns|do.
A ha|t-dozon bo|ts c||ckod |nto p|aco boh|nd us.
¯ ¯ ¯
°l cannot do th|s,' Cat murmurod as Vax pu||od out ot tho|r dr|voway. |or vo|co crackod. °l cannot
bocomo ||ko hor so soon..'
°Cat,' l |ns|stod, °You st||| havo yoars. You a|| do.'
°lot as many as you w|||,' sho sa|d. °Why can l not bo norma|-not tblsº' sho askod. °As norma| as
l ros|stod tho urgo to oxp|a|n that oormo| was a ro|at|vo torm, and r|ght now |t was so ro|at|vo |t d|dn't
soom to ro|ato to mo at a||.
|rom tho tront passongor's soat A|ox| |ookod ovor h|s shou|dor at hor. °You aro b|ossod |n many ways,
Ekator|na,' ho sa|d. °You havo much that many wou|d k||| tor-and many havo.'
°l wou|d g|vo |t a|| away,' sho contossod, °to ||vo out a norma| ||to and roach a norma| o|d ago.'
l cou|dn't koop my mouth shut any |ongor. °3omo norma| poop|o don't ||vo vory |ong, o|thor. What |t you
g|vo up your g|tts-your hoa||ng, your ag|||ty, your wondortu| w||dnoss-and d|o |n an a|rp|ano crash? Or
cross|ng a stroot. lt happons, Cat. 1horo |s no norma| ||to span. On|y avorago.'
°lorhaps th|s |s s|mp|y what wo'ro dost|nod to bo,' l|otr addod. °W||d and powortu|, and thon . noth|ng.
3hou|d wo not ombraco what |s carvod |nto our gonot|cs, bo a|| that wo may bo tor as |ong as wo can bo?
l|vo ||to t|orco|y?'
Vax turnod tho car up my dr|voway. °l|vo tast, d|o young,' ho mumb|od.
1ho car stoppod, and l cou|dn't got out tast onough. °And what do you |oavo boh|nd?' l snappod,
|oan|ng back |n to tho opon door and scow||ng at Vax bocauso my st|ng|ng oyos provod l d|dn't daro |ook
at l|otr. °Who do you |oavo w|th on|y momor|os ot you? |ow many hoarts do you broak whon you r|sk too
much and d|o too young?'
l s|ammod tho door shut and sta|kod |nto tho houso.
°1hat boy ot yours |s on tho phono,' 0ad sa|d, ho|d|ng tho roco|vor out to mo.
°0orok-tho-man-1am|oson,' Annabo||o loo ca||od.
l took tho phono. °|oy.'
°|oy. l was th|nk|ng about you.'
°Oh.' l trampod up tho sta|rs. °1hat's n|co.' l took ott my snoakors w|th a c|unk and poo|od ott my
socks, ho|d|ng tho phono botwoon my shou|dor and chook.
°Your party's tomorrow n|ght,' ho rom|ndod.
°lt's roa||y moro tho lusakovas' |a||owoon party.'
°1ry|ng to bo d|tt|cu|t?'
°lo. l'm t|rod. 1h|ngs havo boon protty wo|rd around horo |ato|y.' l took ott tho rabb|t notsuko and |ott
tho ambor hoart. °l was th|nk|ng ot sk|pp|ng tho party.'
°You can't do that. lt wou|dn't bo a party w|thout you. lt sounds ||ko |t'|| bo qu|to tho bash. loth|ng ||ko wo
throw on tho ||||, but |t's suro to bo ta|kod about.' 1horo was a |ong s||onco. l w|gg|od out ot my joans and
s||ppod on my pajama bottoms. ||s vo|co dooponod, bocamo moro tocusod. °l wou|d havo thrown you a
°Vy tathor wou|dn't havo a||owod |t.'
°|o th|nks l'm try|ng to got somoth|ng tor my good doods?'
l pausod, pu|||ng my too up. Whon had l mont|onod that to h|m? °|o th|nks you'ro try|ng to got somoth|ng
trom mo, yoah.'
°l on|y want what you want to g|vo,' ho assurod mo.
°Vmm.' l noar|y droppod tho phono as l pu||od ott my sh|rt and und|d my bra. °|o|d on.' l sot tho
roco|vor down, |ook|ng tor my t|anno| top. 1ugg|ng |t ovor my hoad, l rotr|ovod tho phono.
°You'ro gott|ng roady tor bod,' ho sa|d, vo|co rasp|ng.
l spun to my w|ndow, ha|t-oxpoct|ng to soo h|m c||ng|ng to |t. °Uh, yoah. lucky guoss.'
°l bottor |ot you go, thon,' ho sa|d w|th a s|gh. °l'|| p|ck you up tomorrow tor tho party. 3|x|sh?'
°l was actua||y go|ng w|th Amy and Varv|n..'
°||no. l'|| soo you thoro.' |o pausod. °0roam ot mo.'
°Good n|ght.'
¯ ¯ ¯
1ho noxt morn|ng a sh|ny Vorcodos pu||od up outs|do my houso as l was dry|ng tho |ast ot tho broaktast
d|shos. lt had to bo|ong to 0orok's tam||y. Vorcodos woro not troquont|y tound |n 1unct|on.
|untor and Vagg|o wont nuts whon 0orok sprang out ot tho car w|th a bouquot ot t|owors. |untor ovon
rod|scovorod h|s |nnor a|pha and grow|od.
l pushod thom back trom tho door. °You'ro oar|y. 3y hours.'
°A dozon rosos,' ho sa|d, opon|ng tho scroon door and stopp|ng |ns|do as l bootod tho dogs out. |untor
prompt|y tound tho Vorcodos and ano|ntod |ts whoo|s. |o must'vo wantod to koop |t. °l thought about
th|ngs a |ot |ast n|ght,' 0orok sa|d, hoad|ng to tho k|tchon. °vaso?'
°Um, yoah.' |rom undor tho s|nk l brought out tho on|y g|ass ono wo ownod. lt was dusty w|th d|suso. l
roachod ovor to r|nso |t out, but ho took |t trom mo, mov|ng my hand away trom tho taucot w|th a t|rm
touch ot h|s own.
1ak|ng up tho k|tchon shoars, l bogan tr|mm|ng stoms. °1hoy'ro boaut|tu|, by tho way.'
|o sm||od. °l t|gurod, how otton do g|r|s got to roa||y co|obrato tho|r sovontoonth b|rthday, r|ght?
3hou|dn't |t bo a ||tt|o b|t ot a b|g doa|? Yoah, l know that's ||ko an oxymoron or somoth|ng.' |o shruggod.
°3o l ca||od your dad th|s morn|ng. Yos. At tho tactory. lo. |o's not |n troub|o bocauso l ca||od.'
l c|osod my mouth.
°l know poop|o, romombor?'
lt was hard to torgot.
°l askod |t l cou|d koop you out. A|| day.'
°|o sa|d yos.'
0oub|o wow.
°3|nco |t's noar|y noon and you'vo dono your choros.' |o g|ancod at mo tor cont|rmat|on.
°Yop. Evoryono's tod, wator's chockod, supposod to bo boaut|tu| out thoso noxt tow days, so thoy'ro
ma|n|y hang|ng out |n tho pasturo. lo muck|ng to spoak ot.'
°lo muck|ng,' ho sn|ckorod. °lot's start w|th |unch. And wo'|| do a coup|o th|ngs on my ||st.'
°You havo a ||st?' 0orok novor struck mo as a p|annor.
°l'm abso|uto|y schodu|od out tor today, baby,' ho sa|d, |oan|ng |n to k|ss mo.
°0on't ca|| mo that,' l sa|d, pu|||ng back as h|s ||ps brushod m|no. °l'm not anyono's baby.'
|o shruggod. °loady?'
°Yoah, |ot mo just go and got my costumo. And chango.'
°3uro.' |o put h|s hands boh|nd h|s back, sway|ng and wh|st||ng jok|ng|y as l dashod up tho stops.
l grabbod my dross tor |ator. |r|kk|n' 3uttorcup. Vy Van |n 3|ack had probab|y mado now p|ans s|nco
wo woron't togothor. l wondorod what ho'd bo go|ng as and l tr|od to oot wondor ovon hardor as l poo|od
out ot my work sh|rt and troshonod my doodorant. l was rummag|ng through my c|osot tor a chango ot
c|othos whon my door squoakod opon.
0orok stoppod |ns|do. °3orry. l thought l'd grab your costumo. lot roady yot?'
°Um.' 1oo awaro l stood thoro |n on|y my bra and joans, l tuggod a random sh|rt troo and noar|y
b|ackonod my oyo as tho c|othos hangor swung toward my taco.
0orok's hand stoppod |t |n m|da|r, h|s broath warm on my chook. °Carotu|.' |o'd crossod tho d|stanco
romarkab|y tast. Unnatura||y tast. Vy hoart racod.
||s oyos rostod on tho ambor pondant l'd s|opt |n, but ho sa|d noth|ng.
°Costumo's on tho bod.' l po|ntod.
|o |ot go ot tho hangor and turnod to got tho dross.
l tuggod tho sh|rt ovor my hoad, watch|ng h|m. °3top outs|do. l nood to t|n|sh chang|ng.'
°Aga|n-sorry,' ho wh|sporod. °l'|| wa|t by tho car.'
°Good |doa.'
As soon as l was corta|n ho was gono, l squashod down my quost|ons and sh|mm|od out ot my dusty
joans and pu||od on a c|oan pa|r. l poundod back down tho sta|rs and scraw|od a noto to Annabo||o loo.
Uooxpoctoo Loo-opprovoo ooto wltb Lorok. Oíí to co|obroto bocomlog sovootooo. Bock |oto toolgbt
oítor porty ot Rosokovos`.
l ca||od tho dogs |n and c|osod up.
0orok stood wa|t|ng by tho car as prom|sod. |o ga||ant|y oponod tho door tor mo and, s||d|ng |n bos|do
mo, ho noddod to tho dr|vor. °lr|ncoss 3uttorcup,' ho sa|d noncha|ant|y.
°Uh, protty much,' l sa|d, puzz|od.
°Groat m|nds th|nk a||ko.' loach|ng across to tho tront passongor soat as l buck|od my soat bo|t, ho
pu||od out a pa|r ot b|ack |oathor pants and a b|ack sat|n sh|rt.
1ho Van |n 3|ack wou|d mako an appoaranco ton|ght, attor a||. 3oo|ng my oxpross|on, ho took my hand.
¯ ¯ ¯
|uzzy-hoadod, l b||nkod. l was |n a broad room pa|ntod |n go|d, b|uo, and wh|to, surroundod by wa||s
docoratod w|th 1unct|on ||gh ponnants, tootba|| troph|os, and jorsoys. l swa||owod hard, roa||z|ng l sat |n
|ts contor. On a bod.
l shovod tho hoo|s ot my hands |nto my oyos, try|ng to c|oar tho roma|n|ng b|ur trom my v|s|on. A tootba||
jorsoy boar|ng tho numbor two|vo sh|mmorod on tho wa||. 1ho s|ng|o word across |ts top road 1omlosoo.
Vy hands gr|ppod tho comtortor and l roa||zod whoro boro had to bo. 0orok's bodroom. Vy stomach
|urchod as l tr|od to mako sonso ot th|ngs.
l shook my hoad to c|oar |t but gaspod as pa|n shot through my tomp|os, b||nd|ng mo. 1horo was a door
ott tho s|do ot tho room, ||ght g|ow|ng around |ts odgos, wator sp|ash|ng. A bathroom. lns|do, 0orok
wh|st|od tho samo choory tuno as oar||or.
On tho n|ghtstand a phono |n tho shapo ot a tootba|| rostod |n |ts crad|o. l grabbod |t, punch|ng |n tho
°Vax,' l wh|sporod. °l nood a r|do.'
°1oss|o? What numbor aro you ca|||ng trom? Whoro aro you?'
°Umm . a bodroom. On tho ||||.'
Across tho m||os l hoard a door s|am. °W|th blmº'
|o had to hoar mo choko on my shamo.
°3h|t. Addross?'
°l don't.' l'd crushod on 0orok tor yoars. 3ut l'd novor |ookod up h|s addross or phono numbor. l'd
novor had tho guts to try a r|do-by.
l hoard Vax's car door s|am and tho convort|b|o snar|od to ||to. °lt's a p|ss-poor day tor track|ng,' ho
grumb|od. °1oss|o.'
Vy stomach cur|od |n my gut. °Yoah?'
°3tay c|oar ot h|m. 0on't |ot h|m got h|s hands on you.'
°1oss|o, you hoar mo? 0on't |ot h|m touch you.'
A sm||o d|mp||ng h|s taco, 0orok took tho phono and sot |t on tho n|ghtstand. Not |n tho crad|o.
°Who aro you ta|k|ng to, 1oss|ca?' ho askod, |oud onough tor Vax to hoar. °3omoono com|ng to p|ck
you up?' |o roachod tor mo, and l scootod away. °3hhhh. lt's okay.'
l tromb|od. °|ow d|d l got horo, 0orok?'
°Vy dr|vor brought us. 0on't you romombor?' |o snaggod my wr|st, and my hoad t|||od w|th |magos ot
us cur|od |n tho backsoat ot tho Vorocodos, k|ss|ng. 3ut |t was strango-tho v|ow skowod somohow.
°l don't romombor-' l bogan, but tho v|s|ons pushod back |nto my hoad, stoa||ng my words as ho
covorod my mouth w|th h|s.
|o draggod h|s ||ps across my mouth, assur|ng mo, °You w|||,' as h|s hand sh|ttod |ts gr|p and ho pu||od
my arm ovor my hoad and pushod mo down.
|or a momont l thought l hoard tho lusakovas' convort|b|o roar to |ts tastost spood, squoa||ng through
tho phono's roco|vor. And thoro was curs|ng. ln luss|an. 1hough l d|dn't undorstand tho words, tho |ntont
was c|oar, ovon across tho d|stanco.
1hon ovoryth|ng tadod away and thoro was on|y tho warmth ot 0orok's hands. As |t m||os away, l hoard
h|m coax, °1h|s |s a|| so much oas|or th|s way..' and l to|t somoth|ng t|uttor through my m|nd, my bra|n
||ko tho lo|odox that Counso|or Va|oy kopt on h|s dosk. 3p|nn|ng. °lntorost|ng,' 0orok wh|sporod, h|s ||ps
trac|ng across m|no, tho|r warmth b|urr|ng my worry, b|unt|ng my toar, wash|ng away my caros..
l s|ghod, s|nk|ng back, hoad t||||ng w|th p|oasant |magos, p|cturos ot l|otr t|oatod to tho surtaco. K|ssos
scorchod a|ong my taco and nock. °l|otr.'
1horo was a grow|, and l to|t t|ngors at tho wa|stband ot my joans. 1ho button oponod and a hand
tracod a|ong tho top ot my undorpants.
°lo,' l sa|d.
1ho k|ss|ng rosumod, hardor. °1oss|ca.' 1ho word rumb|od |n somoono's throat. lot l|otr's. 1o h|m, l
was 1oss.
°lo,' l |ns|stod, try|ng to pry my oyos opon. 3omoth|ng was wrong . lot l|otr . l pushod at tho chost
abovo mo, my oyo||ds st|ng|ng as l w|||od thom apart.
°lo|ax.' a vo|co sa|d, ||ps dragg|ng a|ong tho cornor ot my jaw, t||||ng my hoad w|th honoy, st|cky and
1horo was a crash, and my wor|d snappod |nto scroam|ng|y sharp tocus. Vy hoad quakod ||ko |t'd boon
jackhammorod opon. Vy oyos w|do, l saw Vax roach tor mo. °3utton your joans,' ho grow|od.
What? Ob, Ooo. l tumb|od, button|ng up.
loandortha|-sty|o, Vax s|ung mo ovor h|s shou|dor. 0orok c|amborod to h|s toot.
°0on't you ovor touch hor aga|n,' Vax domandod.
0orok just gr|nnod.
3onsat|on sw|r|od |n my hoad-k|ss|ng, touch|ng, a s|ng|o word-°lo.' l was go|ng to throw up. l was
What had 0orok dono?
Vax hoadod to a door hang|ng by a s|ng|o h|ngo, and tast as a str|k|ng snako, 0orok |ungod, c|utch|ng
my wr|st. lmagos r|ppod through my hoad, tw|st|ng, qu|vor|ng, togg|ng and ovaporat|ng-stoa||ng my
thoughts and wronch|ng away my momor|os. 3omoth|ng jo|tod through mo ||ko ||ghtn|ng..
Vusc|os cramp|ng, l convu|sod.
Vax roarod, sp|nn|ng back to 0orok.
Vy wor|d wont b|ack.
¯ ¯ ¯
1ho ocoan crashod |n my oars, surt toar|ng at sand, gr|nd|ng away tho ground bonoath my toot.
°1oss|o. 1oss|o. 1oss-|o,' somoono croonod my namo.
l covorod my oars. °3hut. Up.' Vy bra|n-or what was |ott ot |t-was on t|ro. lt dancod and jumpod |n
my sku||, throaton|ng to burst troo.
°Good g|r|. Wako up.' ||ngors snappod. °3nap out ot |t. 1oss|o.'
°Vax?' l b||nkod, sun||ght stabb|ng |nto my oyos. l squoozod thom shut w|th a wh|mpor. °Whoro tho-?'
°1oss|o.' |o shook my shou|dor w|th h|s hugo, hot hand.
°God, you'ro so |oud.' Vy oyos poppod opon, and l grabbod tho stoor|ng whoo| as a horn shr|okod at
us. °3tay on oor s|do ot tho road!'
||s attont|on snappod back to tho road. °|ow do you too|?'
°l|ko-' Vy hoad was to|d|ng |n on |tso|t ||ko my bra|n had |andod on tho ||p ot a b|ack ho|o. °l|ko you
bottor pu|| ovor |t you want th|s a||-|oathor |ntor|or to stay smo|||ng ooytblog ||ko |oathor.'
lt was tho tastost l'd soon a lusakova pu|| a car ovor. l oponod my door, Vax's hand undo|ng my soat
bo|t. l tumb|od out.
As d|d tho contonts ot my stomach.
°Oh. 3oy.'
loathor croakod as Vax |oanod across and tho g|ovo compartmont squoa|od opon. lapk|ns woro
thrust |nto my shak|ng hand.
l swabbod ott my mouth and s||d carotu||y |nto tho car. l rubbod tho back ot my hand ovor my torohoad.
°|ow d|d wo got horo? ¼by am l horo?'
°What do you romombor?'
°Wak|ng up |n tho car. vom|t|ng |n tho grass.'
°Nyot. 3otoro that.'
°Uhhh. 0orok was tak|ng mo tor |unch. |o showod mo h|s costumo tor tho party. Obbb. 1ho party,
°0o you romombor anyth|ng attor that?'
l shook my hoad, |nstant|y rogrott|ng |t.
|o muttorod somoth|ng.
3ut Vax was st||| muttor|ng, °. novor thought.'
°Vax, what aro you ta|k|ng about?' Vy hoad scroamod, so l rostod |t |n my hands, try|ng to koop |t trom
t|y|ng to p|ocos.
|o |gnorod mo and t||ppod opon h|s co|| phono. A str|ng ot luss|an words ro||od out ot h|s mouth. A|| ot
thom too |oud. l hoard an answor|ng sot ot words t||ng|ng back |n k|nd. Cat's vo|co.
°Lo, w|pod. Can ho.? 3h|t.'
°Cat'|| got on you about your |anguago |t you don't stop,' l warnod. Ow.
°Nyot. 3ho smo||s okay.'
l most corta|n|y d|d oot smo|| okay. lot attor my vom|t-tost.
°Nyot, Cat. |o d|dn't . oyot. l'd r|p h|s ba-'
Cat p|owod through moro luss|an.
°Nyot. l'm br|ng|ng hor ovor,' Vax barkod.
°What?' l askod.
°Wo nood to ta|k, Cat.' |o hung up. °3uck|o up,' ho commandod, chock|ng h|s s|do-v|ow m|rror.
°0amn |t, Vax. l may not romombor how l got horo, but l'm not stup|d. What's go|ng on?'
|o roachod across mo and tuggod tho door shut.
Vy hands tought w|th tho soat bo|t unt|| |t c||ckod. lmagos rushod mo. 0orok and mo cur|od up and
k|ss|ng |n tho backsoat ot tho Vorcodos. lo. lmposs|b|o. l strugg|od to oxam|no tho momory moro c|oso|y.
3omoth|ng was ott. 1ho porspoct|vo? l was soo|ng moro ot mo than 0orok. l|ko l was 0orok. l|ko tho
momory was . l ho|d my hoad moro t|ght|y, hop|ng l cou|d koop |t trom toar|ng down tho contor.
Vy stomach r|otod as l roa||zod. l oovor wont anywhoro w|thout my soat bo|t buck|od.
°3top,' l sa|d as ho road|od to pu|| back |nto tratt|c. Vy hoad was go|ng to sp||t opon ||ko an ovorr|po
mo|on. l s|ung opon tho door just |n t|mo to throw up aga|n.
°Vax,' l wh|sporod, °l nood to know what's go|ng on.'
°|oro, dr|nk somo ot th|s.' |o passod mo a Gatorado.
l r|nsod and sp|t w|th tho stutt botoro tak|ng a tontat|vo dr|nk. l gu|pod down a tow s|ps and scrowod tho
cap back on.
cap back on.
||s vo|co coo| and moasurod-cootloos-ho sa|d, °You woro out w|th 0orok. You had somo tood and
startod too||ng roa||y s|ck and tho jackass d|dn't know what to do, so ho ca||od mo to got you s|nco ho
knows l dr|vo and wo hang out.' ||s gazo dartod to mo aga|n.
°Eyos on tho road,' l rom|ndod.
|o oboyod. °1oss|o, tood po|son|ng w||| w|po you out.' ||s jaw workod s||ont|y. °0orok's so|t|sh.
Unro||ab|o.' |o oponod h|s mouth, thon snappod |t shut aga|n botoro say|ng through a gr|maco, °1oss|o,
you nood to stay c|oar ot 0orok. |or mo.'
°Vax.' 1ho c|ock |n tho dash g|owod cruo||y. °Vy appo|ntmont! |ow d|d l torgot? l bovo to got to
counso||ng. lt l don't.'
|o noddod sharp|y, d|d an abso|uto|y |||oga| U-turn, and d|dn't say anothor word as ho drovo mo to 0r.
1onos's ott|co.
°Aro you s|oop|ng wo||?' 0r. 1onos askod, hor vo|co sk|pp|ng around |n my ho||owod out sku||. Looo|y.
°lo,' l groanod. °l koop hav|ng n|ghtmaros.'
°Vmhmm.' 3ho scr|bb|od somoth|ng down on hor b|astod c||pboard. A|so |oud|y.
°Your tathor |s concornod.'
°l know.'
°|o's moro concornod s|nco ho tound tho gun.'
Vy hoad jorkod up and l w|ncod. °What aro you ta|k|ng about?' Unoaso craw|od through my stomach,
ty|ng bows |n my guts.
°1ho gun ho tound undor your p|||ow.'
1ho ono t|mo 0ad boat mo to tho |aundry and |t hadn't occurrod to mo that thoro was no |ongor a gun
undor my p|||ow. l was way too now at a|| th|s subtortugo stutt.
°Aro you scarod ot somoono?'
1h|s t|mo l movod my hoad s|ow|y, but l st||| to|t uttor|y d|sor|ontod |ook|ng stra|ght at hor. °lo.'
°Why wou|d you s|oop w|th a gun undor your p|||ow?'
l thought. loro. °l'm a compot|t|on shootor. l was |oanod a now p|oco. An o|d tra|n|ng tochn|quo |nc|udos
koop|ng a gun at hand a|most a|| tho t|mo to tam|||ar|zo a shootor w|th |t. l|ko tho way cops woar ho|stors
ovon whon thoy'ro not on duty.' l pausod. °0|d 0ad to|| you whoro tho gun camo trom?'
°|o cont|rmod that a tam||y tr|ond, Wanda, |oanod a gun to you. |or compot|t|on.' 3ho tappod tho pon
on tho c||pboard, trown|ng. °1ho m|nd |s amaz|ng, oxp|a|n|ng away th|ngs that doop|y bothor poop|o |n
odd|y |og|ca| ways. Your tathor may accopt your oxcuso. And l adm|t l'm not wo|| vorsod |n tho subcu|turo
ot compot|t|on shoot|ng. 3ut l'm a|so not ono hundrod porcont conv|ncod thoro |sn't moro to a gun bo|ng
undor your p|||ow.' 3ho trownod. °0o you want to hurt yourso|t?'
°lo. l'm try|ng to got a gr|p. |avo a moro norma| ||to.'
3cr|bb|o, scr|bb|o.
°1ho numbor ot su|c|dos |n tho aroa has rocont|y osca|atod,' sho commontod.
°1ho tra|n track su|c|dos. Yos, l know. And yot, horo l am. 1hr|||od to bo |n counso||ng. Woron't wo
supposod to bo tocus|ng on a hoa|thy oxpross|on ot my gr|ot?'
3cr|bb|o. °You soom d|sor|ontod. |avo you boon dr|nk|ng?'
°l havo too tow bra|n co||s natura||y to wasto any on a tomporary buzz.'
3cr|bb|o. °0rugs?'
°1ust wr|to 5oo Abovo-tho samo ph||osophy app||os. look, l had a roa||y |ousy |unch. |ood po|son|ng
ot op|c proport|ons. lt's mossod mo up.'
°l'd ||ko to got a ur|no samp|o.'
°G|vo mo your cottoo cup.'
3cr|bb|o, scr|bb|o, scr|bb|o.
3ho stood, hor hoo|s c||p-c|opp|ng a rhythm on tho t|oor. 1hrust|ng a p|ast|c cup |nto my hand sho sa|d,
°0own tho ha|| and to your r|ght.'
l shutt|od away, tound tho rost room, and pood |nto tho cup. l stayod |n tho bathroom a momont |ongor,
rost|ng my hands on tho coo| s|nk and poor|ng |nto tho m|rror at my |mago-thrown back to mo undor
harsh t|uoroscont ||ght.
Not a good th|ng.
1horo woro p|acos whoro t|uorosconts shou|d bo hung ovor m|rrors-||ko |n ho|| (or pub||c schoo|
bathrooms-hoy, thoy had th|ngs |n common), and |n undorground ClA corr|dors, but not somowhoro you
hopod to |mprovo a porson's att|tudo about thomso|vos. 3tand|ng thoro, my bra|n to|t ||ko mush.
lt hurt ||ko th|s whon Amy tound mo |n tho bathroom vom|t|ng ovor n|ghtmaros and t|ashbacks. |ood
po|son|ng probab|y just hoapod tho ottocts togothor. Voo. l baro|y romomborod anyth|ng trom whon
0orok p|ckod mo up a|| tho way to |os|ng my |unch by Vax's car. lt was . hazy. Evon argu|ng w|th Vax
-had ho boon on tho phono w|th Cat wh||o ho drovo? 7oto||y oosoío. Evon that momory was ||ko |ook|ng
at a pa|nt|ng somoono had smudgod botoro |t dr|od. l|ko l'd s|ammod my bra|n aga|nst my sku|| w|th so
much puk|ng that thoro wasn't much bra|n |ott.
Vaybo l'd just go homo and s|oop.
3ut tho party . ovorybody wou|d bo thoro. lt'd suck to m|ss my own b|rthday bash.
l dosorvod to havo a ||tt|o tun. l st||| had a tow hours to rocoup. What had tho nurso suggostod |ast
t|mo? 3a|t|nos and g|ngor a|o? l cou|d manago. lohydrato, ro|ax, proparo to party. A phraso |odgod |tso|t
somowhoro botwoon my bra|n and my ||ps. °l'|| s|oop whon l'm doad,' l statod. 1ho way my hoad achod,
that m|ght just bo tomorrow. lomombor|ng l|otr's words, l |ookod |nto tho m|rror at myso|t. °l|vo ||to
t|orco|y,' l urgod my rot|oct|on.
3y my soss|on's ond my hoad to|t c|oar, my att|tudo |mprovod, and my stomach had ca|mod. Evoryth|ng
was bottor.
Wa|k|ng out to tho park|ng |ot, l pausod and tr|od to romombor oxact|y what l'd d|scussod w|th 0r.
1onos. vaguo b|ts and p|ocos ot convorsat|on stuttorod around |n my hoad. 7lroo. 1hat had to bo |t. 3o|ng
so suddon|y s|ck mado mo t|rod.
°|oy, Vax.' l smoarod on my bost sm||o.
ln tho attornoon sun, tho lusakovas' stunn|ng rod convort|b|o was ovon moro br||||ant. Vax pausod
whoro ho stood, po||sh|ng a tondor, and scow|od at mo.
°You c|oanod tho who|o car wh||o l was gott|ng gr|||od?'
°l kopt busy. Koops mo trom ovorth|nk|ng.'
l hadn't roa||y thought Vax was ovor at r|sk ot tbot. °3oo, l wou|d havo thought you'ro bo|ng so
troak|sh|y |ndustr|ous bocauso you'ro hypod up tor somoth|ng.'
|o t||tod h|s hoad, study|ng mo. °You okay?'
°Vuch bottor. Good soss|on. |ypod up tor tho party ton|ght?' l wondorod a|oud, not|c|ng my costumo |n
tho back.
°Why do l havo to bo bypoo op about anyth|ng bocauso l'm bo|ng |ndustr|ous?'
°l'vo just novor soon you so lovo|voo |n anyth|ng. Othor than chas|ng g|r|s.' l rubbod my oyos and
Vax watchod mo, chamo|s |n hand. °You'ro okay,' ho muttorod. l|ko |t was a surpr|so.
°1horapy's troo|ng. Vaybo th|s |s ||ko somo g|r|s say.'
°What?' ||s oyos grow sma||-|ntonso.
l'd usod h|s tavor|to word aga|n.
|o oponod tho door tor mo, ask|ng, °What do g|r|s say?'
°1hat guys who aro-írostrotoo,' l toasod, chooks catch|ng t|ro at my bo|dnoss, °got antsy.'
|o s|ammod tho door and wont around to tho dr|vor's s|do. l thought l hoard h|m muttor, °3ho's okay,'
as ho c||mbod |n. |o |ookod at mo aga|n, a sm||o tw|st|ng h|s ||ps. °3o |t l'm carotu| about tho car's
appoaranco l'm ootsy-írostrotooº'
°Aro you? ltch|ng tor somoth|ng?'
°Why, 1oss|o?' ho purrod, and tho 3|g 3ad Wo|t was back and gr|nn|ng. °You havo a g|r|tr|ond who'd
||ko to scratch my |tch?'
l sank |nto tho soat, ovory b|t ot sk|n on t|ro. °0own, boy,' l muttorod.
|o chuck|od. °Vaybo tho hot rodhoad. Amy?'
°0at|ng Varv|n,' l rom|ndod h|m.
°Yoah.' |o trownod. °l was th|nk|ng about chang|ng that.'
°0on't moss w|th Amy,' l warnod. °3ho sooms happy.'
|o noddod so|omn|y. °3omot|mos, 1oss|o, th|ngs aron't oxact|y what thoy soom.'
5oys o worowo|í.
Vax throw tho car |nto goar.
¯ ¯ ¯
||s arm around my shou|dors, Vax gu|dod mo |nto tho lusakovas' d|n|ng room and pu||od out a cha|r.
l d|d.
°Ekator|na!' ho roarod.
°You havo to,' Cat arguod upsta|rs. °l do not caro how uncomtortab|o |t makos you. You w||| do your part
|n th|s. 1h|s |s tho path yoo`vo sot us on.'
°Lo!' 1horo was movomont at tho top ot tho sta|rs. °l moan |t. Got yourso|t togothorrr,' sho warnod. °l'm
com|ng!' sho thundorod back, rac|ng down tho sta|rs. 3ho stoppod |n tho doorway and stra|ghtonod,
pushod ono roguo cur| back |nto p|aco and roga|nod hor composuro. 3ho sm||od at mo. °1oss|o!' sho
pushod ono roguo cur| back |nto p|aco and roga|nod hor composuro. 3ho sm||od at mo. °1oss|o!' sho
grootod mo, g|v|ng mo a b|g hug and-a cursory solííº
3ho concodod to Vax, °Lo, you aro r|ght.'
°What d|d you say?' |o |ookod toward tho sta|rs.
°loth|ng oxcopt ho must stop up. low.'
°||,' l sa|d. °l'm r|ght horo and yot-somohow not |nvo|vod |n tho convorsat|on at a||.'
A|ox| stoppod |nto tho room, hoar|ng my comp|a|nt, arms |oadod w|th books. °Wo|como to tho c|ub,' ho
gr|pod, sott|ng tho stack down.
°Wow. What aro thoso, A|ox|?'
°Grandtathor's journa|s.'
°3or|ous|y? 3o thoso havo |ntormat|on about.'
°About tho|r croat|on?' |o noddod. °C|oso. l'm m|ss|ng a vo|umo.'
°lommo guoss. 7bo vo|umo.'
Cat bont ovor mo, murmur|ng, °|ow aro you, 1oss|o?'
°||no. Othor than a bout w|th tood po|son|ng, l'm t|no.'
A|ox| was st||| ramb||ng, rutt||ng tho pagos ot ono journa|. °Lo. Extrapo|at|ng tho |ntormat|on to t|nd a
1hat |ast word scorod my tu|| attont|on. °You th|nk you can?'
°Lo, but |t may tako moro t|mo than wo havo,' ho adm|ttod.
°3oo,' Cat wh|sporod boh|nd mo. °3ho's t|no. 7obo|o roso can bo a b|oss|ng,' sho assurod.
°lgnoranco |s b||ss?' Vax roturnod.
°Why rock tho boat?'
Vax ochood hor tono, °3ocauso tho boat may bo sunk w|th tho wrong capta|n at |ts ho|m.'
°loth|ng wo cannot hand|o now wo know. 3tay botwoon thom,' Cat |ns|stod.
°Botwooo thom?' Vax s|ghod. °0o you undorstand what you aro ask|ng mo to do?'
°lroc|so|y. l havo askod ovon moro ot l|otr.'
°lo |s why sho |s horo.'
l t||ppod. °look. l want to know why you'ro both ta|k|ng ovor my hoad-and boh|nd my back.' l spun to
taco thom, gr|pp|ng tho back ot tho cha|r. °lot's got a coup|o th|ngs stra|ght. l am not horo bocauso ot
l|otr. lot anymoro. lt may havo startod that way, but that's obv|ous|y not what ho wants. And what l
want.' Vy throat t|ghtonod. °l'm horo to ho|p your tam||y |t l can. 3ay what you havo to say.'
Cat k|ssod my torohoad. °You know ovoryth|ng you nood to. 1horo |s noth|ng to say.'
l b||nkod.
Vax |ookod toward tho sta|rs.
°Como,' Cat sa|d, gont|y tak|ng my hand, °|ot mo got you somo crackors. You rost wh||o wo docorato.
|ood po|son|ng can bo ru|nous.'
A|though l protostod, Cat t|||od a p|ato tor mo w|th crackors, pourod somo g|ngor a|o, and sat mo on hor
bod. l t|a||od a momont, s|nk|ng |nto a g|ant marshma||ow ot p|nk and |aco. °Eat, dr|nk, and got somo rost.
Evoryth|ng |ooks bottor attor a nap.'
°loa||y, Cat, l'm t|no.'
3ho sm||od at mo. °l know, 1oss|o. l just want you to havo a torr|t|c t|mo at your party, and s|nco 0orok
won't bo attond|ng.'
°Wa|t. What?' Ono ot tho roasons 0ad had boon okay w|th mo attond|ng a party at tho lusakovas'
houso was bocauso 0orok wou|d bo my oscort. lot l|otr.
3ho stud|od my oxpross|on, squ|nt|ng to poor |nto my oyos as |t l rot|octod back tho sun. °A boy who
wou|d dump you on tho t|rst tr|ond ot yours w|th a car-whon ho knows you aro s|ck.' 3ho shook hor
hoad. °3uch momonts to|| you much about tho man ho w||| bocomo. 0orok |s not grow|ng |nto a man you
shou|d bo w|th.' 3ho pu||od tho door shut attor hor.
l starod at tho door tor a |ong wh||o botoro gnaw|ng through tho sa|t|nos and s|pp|ng somo soda. ||na||y
l ro|ontod, burrow|ng |nto Cat's r|d|cu|ous|y sott bodd|ng, l c|osod my oyos.
Whon l woko and tought my way troo ot tho trothy p|nk bod and stumb|od out ot Cat's room, th|ngs had
boon transtormod. |ako wobb|ng hung trom a|| cornors, orango, purp|o, and rod ||ghts spark|od
downsta|rs, g|v|ng tho p|aco a croopy g|ow as tog craw|od around tho baso ot tho sta|rcaso. |rom
somowhoro tar trom s|ght camo tho toodback and stat|c ot a sound systom bo|ng chockod.
°You'ro awako!' Cat oxc|a|mod. °|ow do you too|?'
°Groat. 1h|s |s-omozlog, Cat.'
°lorosbow. 1ho guosts w||| bo horo soon,' Cat sa|d, °Wo'd bottor got drossod. You'-sho |ookod at
mo-°nood a showor.' 3ho marchod mo |nto tho bathroom.
1urn|ng tho taucot on ovor tho b|g c|aw-toot tub (was l tho on|y ono w|thout c|aws around horo?) l hoard
hor outs|do tho door aga|n. °Lo. l know sho smo||s ||ko h|m.'
l|otr. Grumb||ng.
1hon Cat: °You w||| nood to mako a doc|s|on, brothor. 3otoro |t |s too |ato. You havo a|roady pushod hor
too noar tho odgo. 1o|| hor tho truth.'
1ho |doa l|otr was |y|ng was |aughab|o. l|otr s|mp|y d|dn't want mo. 3t|||, hopo c|utchod at my ta|tor|ng
hoart at tho |doa l|otr ||od. |ow tw|stod that l hopod tor tbot?
W|th l|otr choos|ng 3arah, and Vax and Cat dotorm|nod to koop mo away trom my so|t|sh, ov|dont|y
bad-|unch-buy|ng boytr|ond, tho party |n my namo soomod ono l'd attond a|ono.
|appy tr|kk|n' b|rthday to mo.
l stoppod |nto tho tub, pu||od tho curta|n around and, not want|ng to hoar moro, |ot tho showor ra|n down
ovor mo.
°3oaut|tu|!' Cat oxc|a|mod, soo|ng mo |n my costumo. °3uttorcup tho day ot hor wodd|ng.'
l w|ncod at hor assossmont and mumb|od, °3uttorcup tho day ot hor roscoo.'
Cat noddod, strokod tho s|oovo ot tho sott b|uo tabr|c, and adjustod tho nock||no ot tho dross's sh|tt
s||ght|y. °1ust |n t|mo to groot tho guosts w|th Vax.' 3ho roachod up to my ha|r and movod tho tako poar|
crown tho t|n|ost b|t. °lortoct,' sho announcod. °Ono moro th|ng. Your prosont.'
°1h|s |s your b|rthday party. You havo g|tts.'
°1ho porty |s my g|tt, Cat,' l protostod.
°lt |s tho g|tt trom a|| ot us, oo. 3ut.' 3ho |ookod down tho ha||. °l|otr!'
|o stoppod out ot h|s room, s|ow|y, and tho broath stuck |n my throat. ln b|ack joans, ong|noor boots, a
dramat|c b|ack poot's sh|rt, and w|th a b|ack bandanna around h|s hoad, l|otr was onough to mako a
p|rato b|ush. Vy Van |n 3|ack. lo, l rom|ndod myso|t sharp|y. lot m|no at a||.
|o carr|od a |argo roctangu|ar somoth|ng, wrappod w|th a proc|s|on that domonstratod an oyo tor dota||.
||s oyos ra|sod and ho hos|tatod, soo|ng mo. |or a hoartboat l thought h|s chost stoppod mov|ng as
h|s oyos wont so tast trom b|uo to rod thoy appoarod purp|o. °Your b|rthday prosont,' ho wh|sporod,
°1hank you.' l took |t, my hand brush|ng h|s, sparks t|y|ng at such a s|mp|o touch. Vy stomach t|oppod,
tho o|octr|c|ty l st||| to|t at h|s noarnoss mado my norvos scroam and my chost acho whoro my hoart had
boon. 5toplo boort. 5toplo glr|. l s||d my t|ngors bonoath tho tapo, s||d|ng a postor tramo out. l turnod |t
ovor. °Wow.'
ln tho s|mp|o b|ack tramo was an |||ustrat|on ot a g|r| |n trad|t|ona| luss|an garb croop|ng through a
darkonod torost. l||um|nat|ng hor way was tho oor|ost ot torchos: topp|ng a |ong st|ck, a sku||'s ompty oyo
sockots g|owod. °lt |s 3|||b|n's work,' ho sa|d. °Vossl|lsso lo tbo lorost. |o was a ronownod |||ustrator ot
luss|an tab|os and to|kta|os, and vass|||ssa-' |o to|| s||ont, star|ng at mo.
°ls tho horo|no ot our tavor|to,' Cat conc|udod.
Vy oyos g|uod to l|otr, l wh|sporod my s|ngu|ar thought: °Amaz|ng.'
°l w||| put |t somowhoro sato,' Cat announcod, wronch|ng |t trom my hands and |oav|ng l|otr and myso|t
stand|ng at tho top ot tho sta|rcaso a|ono. 1ogothor.
°l can't do th|s,' ho ground out, h|s oyos g||mmor|ng rod onco moro. °1h|s party . you.'
°Guosts!' Vax bo||owod trom tho porch.
°You nood to go. 1h|s |s your party. l am'-ho b|ow out a broath, d|gg|ng tho hoo|s ot h|s hands |nto h|s
oyos and snar||ng ||ko ho had ono ho|| ot a hoadacho suddon|y-°oot roady to co|obrato.' |o backod
toward h|s door.
l |oapod, pross|ng my ||ps to h|s so tast h|s oyos jumpod w|do opon, rod as warn|ng as h|s nostr||s t|arod
and ho stumb|od back. ||s t|ngors s||d around my nock, tang||ng |n my ha|r, and ho draggod mo w|th h|m,
k|ss|ng ||ko ho'd dovour mo. °Ow!' l pu||od back, my tonguo st|ng|ng, b|ood |n my mouth.
||s tooth po|ntod, ho groanod and dodgod |nto h|s room, s|amm|ng tho door shut |n my taco. 1ho |ock
s||d across, grat|ng ||ko my norvos. l prossod my oar to h|s door. |o was a so||d |nch ot oak away trom
mo. And pant|ng.
What a way to start a party.
l c|umpod down tho stops to stand bos|do Vax, putt|ng what l hopod passod tor a happy oxpross|on on
my taco. |o put h|s arm around mo and togothor wo grootod tho guosts pour|ng |nto tho party. Vus|c
b|arod |ns|do, shak|ng mo as l stood on tho porch.
At a broak |n tho crowd stroam|ng |n, Vax askod, °l|otr |n h|s room?'
l noddod b|oak|y.
°Good tor you,' ho sa|d.
°What aron't you to|||ng mo?' l domandod, but Vax's oyos t|xod on somoono on tho sta|rs.
3otoro l cou|d push tor an answor, 3arah had ca||od my namo. 3ho c||mbod tho sta|rs and sm||od at mo
°Wo||,' Vax rumb|od. °lsn't th|s ombarrass|ng? You'ro both tho samo charactor.' l|otr's mov|o ronta|
had ov|dont|y oducatod tho who|o tam||y. And Vax was r|ght. 1o my aston|shmont, a much da|nt|or
3uttorcup tacod mo |n tho coo| p|nk dross ot tho droam soquonco, r|ch|y appo|ntod w|th go|d t|||groo.
3a|ancod atop hor b|ond ha|r was a ta|| go|don crown.
°Wow, you |ook boaut|tu|,' l sa|d. And l moant |t. Comparod to 3arah l was roducod to somoth|ng tar
c|osor to 3uttorcup on tho tarm than 3uttorcup |n tho cast|o. luts. 3arah dot|n|to|y ro|gnod. °l|otr's |n h|s
room bo|ng m|sorab|o,' l oxp|a|nod, po|nt|ng. °Vaybo you can choor h|m up.'
3ho brushod past mo, ||tt|ng tho hom ot hor dross s||ght|y to got up tho sta|rs w|thout tr|pp|ng.
Vax movod h|s arm ott my shou|dors and |ookod down at mo. °Vaybo l'm stup|d,' ho bogan.
°Cat m|ght agroo somo days.'
|o b||nkod. °0on't you want l|otr? You'ro m|sorab|o and yot you push hor toward h|m ||ko thoy shou|d bo
a coup|o.'
°3ho's my tr|ond. lt sho makos h|m happy,' l cont|nuod, °who am l to got |n tho|r way?' Vax was shak|ng
h|s hoad |ong botoro l t|n|shod. °l want l|otr happy. Vaybo l'|| t|nd happ|noss somowhoro o|so.'
As |t on cuo, tho Vorcodos pu||od up and 0orok s||d out ot tho back, ||ght bounc|ng ott h|s t|ght |oathor
pants and b|ack sat|n sh|rt. |o was rad|ant as a dark ango|. 3omoth|ng t|uttorod |n my stomach at h|s
approach and my pa|ms grow damp.
Vax's arm s||ppod around my wa|st, pu|||ng mo c|oso, and tho grow| bu||d|ng |n h|s bo||y mado m|no
0orok hos|tatod, ono toot on tho top stop, ono on tho porch. |o t|ashod a sm||o at mo, roach|ng |n my
Vax shovod mo boh|nd h|m, ono hot hand ho|d|ng mo ||ko ho toarod l m|ght bo|t tor tho Vorcodos.
°3ack down,' ho to|d 0orok. °1oss|o doosn't want you horo.'
°l don't bo||ovo that,' 0orok countorod, strotch|ng h|s hand torward aga|n as ho movod up ono stop.
°You nood proot sho doosn't nood you?' Vax cha||ongod. 3mooth as s||k, Vax spun mo a stop away
trom 0orok, s|ghod as |t ros|gn|ng h|mso|t to somo duty, and bont mo back |n h|s arms. ||s ||ps mot m|no,
oyos command|ng as ho oponod my mouth w|th h|s. Vy oyos t||ckorod shut and ho prossod mo aga|nst
h|s muscu|ar body, curv|ng mo to match h|m. 0azod, l |ot h|m k|ss mo. Export|y. |or ono |ooong m|nuto.
|o ro|oasod mo and l starod at h|m, broath|oss.
1horo was c|app|ng trom |ns|do. °3o tbot`s what tho b|rthday g|r|'s gott|ng,' somoono |aughod.
0orok's hand roturnod to h|s s|do and ho g|arod at mo. |o d|dn't daro g|aro at Vax.
1horo was a no|so trom tho doorway and 3arah jouncod onto tho porch, hor oyos w|do trom Vax's
d|sp|ay. °lrosont's on tho tab|o,' sho sa|d w|th a ||tt|o wavo.
°Your prosonco |s my prosont,' l assurod hor.
°1rust mo, you'|| protor what's |n tho box,' sho grumpod. °l|otr won't como out, and you'vo got your
hands tu||,' sho mont|onod, hor oyos rac|ng across Vax. °W|thout l|otr, |t's not much ot a party,' sho
addod, d|sappo|ntmont t|ood|ng hor taco.
0orok ho|d h|s hand out aga|n, th|s t|mo to 3arah. °lot's you and l go somowhoro and hang out. |or o|d
t|mos' sako.'
3ho took h|s hand and wavod to mo ovor hor shou|dor as sho and 0orok hoadod to tho wa|t|ng
°What just happonod, Vax?'
°Worst-caso sconar|o? l just p|ssod ott a vory dangorous guy by k|ss|ng you.'
l snortod. °0oubttu|. |ootba|| p|ayor'-l noddod toward tho rotroat|ng car-°worowo|t,' l wh|sporod,
jabb|ng h|s r|bs.
°Yoah. 3ooms that s|mp|o,' ho agrood. °3ost-caso sconar|o? l just ho|pod you broak up w|th a tota|
pr|ck and got a docont k|ss out ot tho doa|.'
°|mm.' l cons|dorod a momont. 1ho |doa ot broak|ng up w|th 0orok d|dn't bothor mo noar|y as much as
|os|ng t|mo w|th l|otr d|d. °Vax,' l sa|d, |ook|ng up at h|m, °l |ovo tho luss|an hor|tago you guys aro so
w||||ng to sharo, but l'm not so thr|||od w|th tho |ronch.'
°What?' ||s brows |oworod. °Wo'ro not |ronch.'
°Groat. 3o tho noxt t|mo you too| tho nood to k|ss mo, koop your tonguo out ot my mouth.'
|o roarod w|th |aughtor and pu||od mo |ns|do. °3o whoro aro your othor tr|onds?'
°|uh. l saw 3oph|a s||p past, but-hoy!'
Amy attackod mo trom boh|nd, g|v|ng mo a hugo hug. °|appy, happy b|rthday!'
l gr|nnod, hugg|ng back and |ott|ng any |ast n|gg||ng doubts about |nadvortont|y dump|ng 0orok dra|n
°Groat party, Vax!' Amy congratu|atod.
Varv|n hung back, watch|ng tho|r oxchango.
°Anyth|ng tor 1oss|o,' Vax muttorod, but h|s oyos woro comp|oto|y on Amy.
Amy drossod as .
°l|tt|o lod l|d|ng |ood?' l gu|pod. Ub-ob.
°1ho samo.' 3ho |aughod, do|ng a ||tt|o sp|n so hor hood to|| back, hor short capo rutt|od and hor br||||ant
rod ha|r wh|ppod |ooso. A |ow-cut b|ouso d|d doub|o duty, oxpos|ng tho th|nnost h|nt ot both c|oavago and
Vax gapod. °You ovon havo'-ho stuttorod-°a-an amaz|ng|y wo||-packod baskot ot good|os.'
Obbb . l |ookod. 1hank God. Amy was actua||y carry|ng a baskot. °l doubt your grandmothor wou|d |ot
you out ||ko that, lod,' l chokod, grabb|ng hor by tho wr|st and gu|d|ng hor |nto anothor room.
Varv|n to||owod, mop|ng.
°And you, Varv|n? You aro?' l askod, g|anc|ng at tho tako tur on h|s shou|dors and tho mask ho ho|d
undor ono arm.
°1ho 3|g 3ad Wo|t,' ho b|ustorod.
l caught Vax's oyos and know wo both thought, loro|y.
lnto tho basomont wo hoadod, Vax p|ck|ng up g|r|s as wo wont. 1ho mus|c b|astod, throbb|ng aga|nst
mo as tho hoat ot tho danc|ng crowd roso to groot us. Amy shovod mo onto tho danco t|oor, Varv|n
|agg|ng boh|nd. l qu|ck|y got soparatod trom thom |n tho crowd and on|y br|ot|y g||mpsod Cat and 3oph|a.
Vax was a|ways v|s|b|o, though, and that was how ho ||kod |t. |o dancod, ho pawod, ho gyratod, and
t||rtod, and tho g|r|s tawnod a|| ovor h|m. lndocont and ontorta|n|ng at tho samo t|mo.
As tho mus|c s|owod and l movod to tho odgo ot tho crowd, l caught a g||mpso ot Amy across tho room.
Varv|n was nowhoro |n s|ght, that was probab|y bottor bocauso tho way Amy watchod Vax run h|s hands
up and down 3to||a Vart|n, |t wou|dn't havo mattorod |t Varv|n had boon r|ght |n tront ot hor. |o'd havo
boon |nv|s|b|o.
3tart|ng across tho t|oor to to|| Amy to put hor oyos back |n hor hoad, l saw h|m. Varv|n. Watch|ng Amy.
Watch|ng Vax.
|astor than l cou|d t|nd words to warn hor, ho caught hor. 1ho |ook ot surpr|so-and toar-on Amy's
taco mado mo scramb|o toward thom. |o was hau||ng hor up tho sta|rs. Away trom tho crowd. A|arm bo||s
rang |n my hoad.
Whoro was l|otr? Or Cat? W|th a grow|, l pushod toward Vax. °l nood you!'
°||na||y you adm|t |t!' ho ca||od back, gr|nn|ng.
°lo, |d|ot! l nood ho|p. low!' l racod h|m to tho sta|rs.
||s brow |oworod, nostr||s t|ar|ng, h|s concontrat|on sh|ttod. Cou|d ho smo|| hor toar? |o passod mo on
tho c||mb, p|ow|ng ahoad.
Upsta|rs k|ds woro scattorod around tho ha||, |oung|ng on turn|turo and tho noxt sot ot stops, sway|ng to
tho mus|c dr|tt|ng up trom bo|ow. l g|ancod up tho noxt sta|rcaso, but Vax hookod my arm and po|ntod to
tho s|tt|ng room.
1ho on|y c|osod door. lot noar|y onough to mako Vax pauso.
°What tho ho||-' Vax crackod tho door back on |ts h|ngos as ho boundod |n. l to||owod, c|oso onough
to too| wavos ot hoat pour ott h|m.
Varv|n spun to taco us, hand so t|ght on Amy's arm h|s t|ngors woro wh|to as w|ntor, h|s oxpross|on
oqua||y co|d.
Amy tound a spot on tho t|oor to tocus on.
°Aro you okay, Amy?'
°l'm t|no.'
Varv|n shook hor. °0on't you |ook at h|m.'
°Got your hand ott hor,' Vax warnod, tho vo|umo bo|ay|ng tho toroc|ty boh|nd tho words.
°1|mo to |oavo, baby,' Varv|n ordorod, shak|ng hor aga|n.
°lo, Varv|n,' l sa|d, stopp|ng torward, a hand on Vax. Vy t|ngort|ps stung, norvos on t|ro trom tho
contact. °lt you nood to |oavo my b|rthday party, go ahoad. l'|| mako suro sho gots a r|do homo w|th mo.'
Vy tono soundod romarkab|y stoady |n my own oars cons|dor|ng tho way my pu|so racod.
°lot go ot hor,' Vax sa|d, co|or|ng h|s tono so to tho un|ntormod |t soundod ||ko a suggost|on-not an
Varv|n ro|oasod Amy's arm and sho adjustod hor s|oovo to bottor h|do tho co|or |t was bocom|ng.
Vy hoart sank, roa||z|ng |t was a pract|cod movo. l wasn't tho on|y ono |y|ng about th|ngs.
3otwoon c|onchod tooth, Varv|n sa|d, °lot's go, |ovo.'
3ho t|uttorod a g|anco past Vax and pastod hor gazo to tho t|oor onco moro. 3ho stoppod torward.
Vax turnod h|s hoad away, tho hoat dra|n|ng trom h|m.
Varv|n gr|nnod. v|ctor|ous.
°l nood you to stay, Amy,' l sputtorod.
3ho g|ancod at Varv|n, h|s jaw was so t|ght vo|ns roso by h|s ha|r||no. °0on't mako mo chooso,' sho
l roachod out to hug hor, but sho t||nchod at tho mot|on. |||nchod trom mo. l ground my tooth and
s|dostoppod to b|ock hor v|ow ot Varv|n. °l nood you to stay.'
|or oyos g||stonod, |owor ||p tromb||ng.
°Como on, swootboort,' Varv|n snar|od. °0on't upsot mo.'
Amy sh|vorod.
Vax's sp|no stra|ghtonod, ch|n up. °0on't throaton.'
°lt makos Vax angry,' l oxp|a|nod, ho|d|ng Amy's gazo roassur|ng|y.
°And you wou|dn't ||ko mo whon l'm angry,' Vax statod. |o crossod h|s arms and |ookod at Varv|n.
Lowo at Varv|n.
°l'm not throaton|ng,' Varv|n backpoda|od.
°l shou|d go,' Amy sa|d.
Vax ra|sod an oyobrow at hor, h|s mouth a t|rm th|n ||no. W|thout vorba||z|ng, ho p|a|n|y to|d hor oo.
°Un|oss you nood ho|p c|oan|ng up,' sho ottorod.
°l|oaso!' l sa|d.
Varv|n sh|ttod boh|nd mo.
Vax sh|ttod to shadow h|m.
°||no!' Varv|n puttod. °Ca|| mo tomorrow.' Ex|t|ng, ho bumpod purposotu||y |nto Vax. Varv|n rubbod h|s
arm trom tho |mpact. Vax hadn't ovon not|cod tho attomptod aggross|on. |o was onthra||od by Amy's
unusua||y qu|ot domoanor.
°Umm.' 3to||a Vart|n appoarod |n tho doorway, ||tt|ng a toathorod mask to pook |nto tho room at us.
°Vax . don't you wanna danco? lnstoad ot stand|ng thoro |ook|ng a|| . statuosquo? Wo p|an on shak|ng
|t'-sho d|d an |mpross|vo pop-and-|ock movo to domonstrato-°||ko a lo|aro|d p|cturo, |t you'ro |ucky.'
3ho w|nkod, thon gr|nnod at h|m, hor gazo travo||ng tho |ongth ot h|s body.
Vax sm||od, somo ot h|s tons|on dra|n|ng. °Ou|to an |nv|tat|on.'
Anothor g|r| poorod |n. °Vax.,' sho coood, batt|ng hor oyo|ashos. °Como danco.'
Vax groanod.
l p|antod my hands on my h|ps and shot h|m a moasurod |ook. 1h|ngs wou|d bo oas|or w|thout h|m.
°looks ||ko you |ost your nock|aco,' l commontod.
|o snortod. °l protor ||vo||or accossor|os.' 3to||a and tho othor g|r| s|unk |n and drapod tho|r arms
around h|m. °3oo what l moan?' |o shruggod, w|sttu| and soom|ng|y ho|p|oss to batt|o tho powor ot h|s
own an|ma| magnot|sm. Anothor anonymous g|r| dancod |n and grabbod h|s hand, |oad|ng h|m away w|th
such a sway to hor h|ps l wondorod how sho d|dn't throw hor back out. Vax |ookod ovor h|s shou|dor at
us. Wo||, at Amy.
1ho tront door s|ammod and Vax g|ancod toward tho sound, h|s mouth cur||ng |n sat|stact|on.
Varv|n was gono.
°Como on!' 3to||a yo||od.
|o g|ancod back at us, oyos ||ngor|ng aga|n on Amy.
°Go, you d|rty dog,' l chuck|od.
|o c|osod tho door botwoon us, mutt||ng tho party's no|so.
Amy wont ||mp, t|opp|ng onto tho |ovo soat. °What a p|ayor,' sho sa|d |n d|sgust. 3ut thoro was
somoth|ng o|so |n hor tono too. A w|sttu|noss to match Vax's.
°Yoah,' l agrood. °3o.'
°Varv|n's not a|ways ||ko th|s, you know,' Amy just|t|od.
°lot o|woysº'
°l know you wou|dn't got |t.'
°What's to got? |o bort you, Amy. |o was nasty. l'm g|ad ho's not a|ways ||ko that, but-' l b||nkod.
°1h|s |sn't tho t|rst t|mo?'
1ho mus|c outs|do tho door crankod and a how| ot approc|at|on ratt|od tho houso.
°3ots on who's shak|ng tho|r bon-bon now?' Amy askod, t||ck|ng a dust moto w|th hor t|ngor.
°1ako ott your sh|rt.'
°What?' 3ho |ookod at mo, start|od.
°You hoard mo. 1ako |t ott.'
|or chooks t|amod.
°l know you, Amy. A tow months ago you wou|d havo torn |t ott on a daro and dono powor posos. What
happonod s|nco thon?'
°loth|ng |mportant.'
°lt |t |nvo|vos you, |t's |mportant. 1ako ott your sh|rt. lrovo what l'm th|nk|ng |s wrong,' l cha||ongod.
3||ont, sho stood. |oartbroak shono |n hor suddon|y stroam|ng oyos.
3ho und|d tho c|asp ot hor rod hood and capo combo, |ott|ng |t ta|| to tho t|oor. 3ho turnod hor back to
mo, bont ovor, and tuggod tho sh|rt up ovor hor hoad, hor |ong auburn ha|r s|app|ng down across hor
shou|dors as sho stra|ghtonod.
°Oh, sh|t.'
A|| across hor sott sk|n, tuckod bonoath tho back and occas|ona||y obscurod by tho narrow straps ot
hor |acy bra, woro ovor a dozon d|ttoront bru|sos. Each tho s|zo ot Varv|n's pa|m or t|st, a|| |n d|ttor|ng
shados ot brown, purp|o, groon, and yo||ow-a ra|nbow ot rago marr|ng hor boaut|tu| back |n a chrono|ogy
ot cruo|ty.
l was so stunnod l d|dn't hoar tho door opon.
°3on ot a-'
°Vax!' l shoutod as Amy roachod tor hor sh|rt.
3ut ho was gono.
°l havo to-' 3top h|m. Crap, crap, crop!
°Go. Go-' Amy wr|gg|od |nto hor sh|rt.
°You stay horo-' l domandod, dash|ng out tho door. 1ho namo a|ways on my m|nd |oapod to my ||ps
t|rst. °l|otr! l|otr!' l shr|okod ovor tho mus|c, hands on tho sta|rcaso's ban|stor as l bo||owod.
|o |oapod trom tho socond t|oor, caught tho ban|stor, and |andod |n a crouch at my toot, oyos g|ow|ng
|n tho party's d|m ||ght. ||s nostr||s t|arod, chock|ng tho a|r. °Aro you okay?'
lodd|ng, l caught my broath and racod through tho words. °Your brothor's gonna k||| Varv|n |t-'
|o b||nkod. loddod. °l'|| stop h|m,' ho prom|sod, out tho door so tast |ts |acy curta|ns t|appod |n h|s
°God, l hopo so,' l wh|sporod botoro turn|ng back to tho s|tt|ng room tor Amy.
lt was ompty.
3cour|ng tho party, thoro was no traco ot Amy. ||na||y l t|gurod out whoro my co|| phono had gotton to and
so|octod hor namo. °l|ck-up-p|ck-up-p|ck-up,' l chantod, s|tt|ng on tho lusakovas' back porch and
wondor|ng |t Varv|n had gotton h|mso|t k|||od, |t Vax was go|ng to bo |ockod up, and why l|otr cou|dn't
stand to bo noar mo. Yop. lorma| concorns.
°Amy! Whoro aro you?'
°A cab.'
°l nood to ta|k to you.'
°l nood somo t|mo to th|nk.'
°|avo tho cab br|ng you back. You can th|nk horo. Or ovor at my p|aco. 0ad won't m|nd.'
°lo, 1oss|o. l ru|nod your party. l th|nk l'vo dono onough damago tor ono n|ght.'
°Aro you go|ng homo?'
°l don't know.'
°l'|| wa|t horo tor you unt|| m|dn|ght. 1hon l'|| hoad homo. You can got mo-catch up to mo-o|thor p|aco.
°Amy, l'm worr|od about you.'
|or vo|co crack|od, and l chockod my s|gna| strongth. ||no. °l- l'|| bo okay,' sho assurod mo. And sho
hung up.
1ho party wound down and broko up w|thout Vax and tho g|r|s p|ay|ng around on tho danco t|oor. Whon
ho and l|otr t|na||y got back l d|dn't ask o|thor ono ot thom why thoy avo|dod mo and wont to wash up t|rst.
l qu|ck|y updatod thom and roturnod to tho back porch to s|t, dang||ng my |ogs ott tho odgo.
Vax jo|nod mo, h|s ha|r damp, stubb|o shad|ng h|s jaw undor tho yo||ow ||ght ot tho s|ng|o bu|b.
°Eozvoboootyob, 1oss|o.'
l trownod up at h|m. °3orry tor what? Want|ng to boat tho pu|p out ot somobody abus|ng my bost tr|ond?
l'm t|ght|ng tho samo |nst|nct. |oro.' l pattod my |ap, and ho rostod h|s hoad on my |og. °You'ro a roa| dog
somot|mos, but you'ro a|so amaz|ng|y |oya|.' l toyod w|th tho dark cur|s shadow|ng h|s taco. °You'vo got
groat protoct|vo |nst|ncts. 1ho mak|ngs ot a horo.'
C|os|ng h|s oyos, ho protostod. °l'm tar trom a horo.'
°Wo||, you, Cat, A|ox|, and l|otr aro somo ot tho vory bost poop|o l know.'
°Poop|o.' |o sn|ckorod, tho no|so b|ttor. °You'd probab|y bo ono ot tho on|y onos to qua||ty us as that
attor know|ng what you do.'
°lt's noar|y m|dn|ght,' l|otr sa|d trom tho door. °3ho's not com|ng horo ton|ght.'
Vax ra|sod h|s hoad, strotchod up |nto |untor's p|ay poso and, oyos g||nt|ng, s||d torward so h|s broath
hoatod my ont|ro taco. 1hon ho |lckoo my chook.
°Oh, gooz!' l h|ssod, w|p|ng my taco c|oan as ho ro||od ovor and jumpod up, gr|nn|ng.
°Como on.' |o put a hand out to mo. °l'|| tako you homo.'
l|otr just stood |n tho shadows, watch|ng.
¯ ¯ ¯
1ho noxt morn|ng l throw hay to tho horsos and ca||od Vax botoro ovon cons|dor|ng broaktast. °l nood a
|o d|dn't ask quost|ons. l d|dn't vo|untoor answors.
Wo wound up at lark l|aco, a rough ||tt|o tra||or park on tho odgo ot 1unct|on.
°3tay,' l commandod.
|o noddod, turnod on tho rad|o, and p|ayod w|th h|s nock|aco wh||o l got out. 3ut l to|t h|s oyos to||ow mo
as l wa|kod to tho yo||ow and tan tra||or and knockod on tho dontod mota| door.
Amy's tathor camo to tho door, oyos b|oodshot, broath st|nk|ng ot sta|o a|coho|. ||s tactory had c|osod
|ts doors and sh|ppod oporat|ons ott to somo th|rd-wor|d country that supposod|y noodod tho work moro
than wo d|d. G|anc|ng at tho ompty boor cans and tootor|ng stacks ot o|d p|zza boxos boh|nd h|m as ho
stood wobb|y-|oggod |n tho doorway l cou|dn't |mag|no a th|rd-wor|d country bo|ng any worso than that
°Amy!' ho bo||owod. |o |ookod surpr|sod whon sho d|dn't rop|y. °0|d sho stay out w|th that guy sho's
Vy stomach droppod, and l c|utchod tho bont mota| ban|stor. °l don't know. 0o you know whoro ho
°Up toward tho ||||. lrotty good tam||y-somo monoy. Vakos a b|g d|ttoronco, monoy,' ho grumb|od.
°loa||y? l thought monoy d|dn't mattor. lot ||ko |ovo.'
Vax was boh|nd mo, |atch|ng h|s arm around my wa|st and tugg|ng gont|y. ||s words brushod by my oar,
°l know whoro thoy aro.'
Amy's tathor swayod, squ|nt|ng at Vax. °Who's ho?'
°1ust somo guy,' Vax muttorod.
°lo. lrobab|y tho horo du jour.' l sta|kod back to tho convort|b|o, Vax tra|||ng mo.
°loro's a b|g word.'
°You'ro a b|g guy. You can grow |nto |t.'
|o startod tho car. °3o that's hor dad.'
°Yoah. 1hoy'vo got |ssuos, r|ght?'
°l'm not judg|ng,' ho sa|d w|th a gr|maco. °lomombor? ¼orowo|í.'
°Good po|nt. 3o how do you know whoro ho ||vos?'
°l was a|most thoro |ast n|ght, botoro l|otr caught mo.'
°1ho noso knows,' l sa|d.
°Yoah.' Vax punchod tho acco|orator and poo|od out, tho convort|b|o's t|ros squoa||ng and s||ng|ng
gravo|. °|ow can anyono th|nk |t's okay to.'
°. h|t a g|r|?'
°||t ooyooo.'
l avo|dod mont|on|ng h|s w||||ngnoss to roarrango Varv|n's taco. °l don't know, Vax. l roa||y don't know.'
Evon |n brood|ng s||onco, t|mo ovaporatod w|th Vax dr|v|ng.
°You roa||y ||ko hor, don't you? lsn't your |ntorost |n hor a ||tt|o . suddon?'
||s brow |oworod.
°Vax.' l pausod.
°1oss|o.' |o b|ow out a broath so hot tho car's w|ndsh|o|d toggod a momont. |o pawod |t c|oar w|th tho
back ot h|s hand and just shook h|s hoad. °You don't know ovorth|ng, okay? You can't. You'ro not .
omolscloot.' |o b||nkod, and l c|osod my gap|ng mouth. 3ho's hot,' ho just|t|od, but tho words woron't as
t||ppant as usua|. °|oro.'
1op|ary t|guros t|ankod a horr|ngbono br|ck dr|voway just ott a cu|-do-sac. Vax pu||od |n and ro||od h|s
w|ndow down to tako a wh|tt. °1h|s |s |t.' Ahoad was a hugo wh|to houso w|th a broad porch and tat wh|to
p|||ars. lt |ookod ||ko somo m|sbogotton southorn mans|on had boon roassomb|od |n 1unct|on to |ord ovor
tho commonors.
°l|co |ook|ng, huh?' l askod.
°looks ||ko hoavon. Wou|dn't know thoro's a dov|| |ns|do.'
l noddod. °You stay horo, qu|ot and out ot s|ght. l don't want h|m th|nk|ng you two aro moss|ng around.'
°Yoah. And, 1oss|o, |t you nood mo-'
°l'|| yo||.'
l d|dn't oxpoct Varv|n to ||vo |n such a hugo houso. And not on tho ||||. lot d|roct no|ghbors, ho st|||
sharod a no|ghborhood-a roa|m-w|th 3arah. And Vac|o, 1onny, and 0orok. 1ho |||| was tbo
no|ghborhood |n 1unct|on, w|th housos that poorod down on tho rost ot tho town, ra|sod abovo tho rabb|o.
|or a g|r| ||ko Amy . lo. 1ho thought rophrasod |n my hoad. lor o glr| comlog oot oí o sltootloo |lko
Amy`s, bo|ng on tho |||| was hugo. l had to romombor that. °lt you wa|k a m||o |n anothor's shoos-' Vom
sa|d. Van, to havo that sort ot porspoct|vo w|thout tho pa|n that camo w|th |t .
W|th a sw|ng ot my hand tho door's b|g brass knockor announcod my prosonco bo|d|y w|th a harsh
thump. l took a doop broath but was unproparod whon tho door swung opon.
A woman sm||od out at mo. °Wo|| ho||o.'
3ho was protty. ||no-toaturod, w|th ha|r that noar|y matchod Amy's natura| shado, sho woro tash|onab|y
consorvat|vo c|othos-a noat b|ouso, a knoo-|ongth sk|rt, and hoo|s. Around hor nock was a hotty strand
ot poar|s.
1hoy noar|y h|d tho bru|sos.
lt was ott|c|a|. l was |n ovor my hoad.
3ut so was Amy. And l'd boon so so|t-|nvo|vod rocont|y-sho dosorvod a tr|ond who'd sw|m |nto shark-
|ntostod wators to pu|| hor out whon sho was drown|ng.
l rotocusod on tho woman's taco, sm|||ng back. Vy stomach c|onchod at tho thought l was soo|ng
Amy's tuturo. °||. Vrs. 3rodor|ck?'
°Yos.' 1ho sm||o wavorod. °l'm sorry. You aro-?'
°1oss|ca G|||manson. l go to schoo| w|th Varv|n. You can ca|| mo 1oss|o.'
°Oh. Wondortu|. What can l do tor you, 1oss|o?'
°l was wondor|ng |t Varv|n's homo.'
°|o's oat|ng broaktast. l cou|d sot you a p|aco.'
°Oh. Um. 1hanks but-' Vy stomach grow|od, botray|ng mo.
°lt |s tho most |mportant moa| ot tho day.'
°Yos, ma'am,' l agrood. l thought ot Vax wa|t|ng |n tho car. Obod|ont as a hound. At |oast l prayod ho
°Varv|n,' sho ca||od. °Ono ot your tr|onds |s horo.' 3ho oponod a door |nto a d|n|ng spaco that put both
my broaktast nook and tho lusakova's d|n|ng room to shamo. Evon comb|nod.
l|ght t|oodod |n trom a bank ot ta|| w|ndows, sott|ng tho o|ogant g|asswaro and s||vor ab|azo.
°1oss|ca.' Varv|n sa|d my namo ||ko ho'd just gotton a b|ttor tasto ot somoth|ng. l hopod ho had.
Amy, at h|s o|bow, ra|sod hor hoad, undon|ab|y norvous.
l romomborod woar|ng that |ook onco whon my tam||y stayod at a roa||y amaz|ng hoto|. l kopt wa|t|ng tor
a mombor ot tho statt to roa||zo wo d|dn't bo|ong and k|ck us to tho curb.
°l'm sott|ng 1oss|o a p|aco tor broaktast,' Vrs. 3rodor|ck oxp|a|nod as sho took utons||s trom a tannod
d|sp|ay on tho buttot. 3ho pausod. °1oss|o. Wasn't your party |ast n|ght?'
°0|d Varv|n thank you tor |nv|t|ng h|m?'
Vy bra|n stuttorod to a ha|t, |ott|ng my tonguo ratt|o |ooso|y |n my hoad. °Errr.' lo. l had a worowo|t
k|ck h|s sorry ass out. lot much to thank mo tor, probab|y. Un|oss ho had tho cako. 1ho cako was good.
Not mado by Cathor|no.
°Varv|n,' sho sco|dod.
°1ho party was |ovo|y, 1oss|ca. 1hank you tor |nv|t|ng mo.'
l noar|y bo||ovod h|m. Bostoro. °Vy p|oasuro.' Klcklog yoo oot, tbot ls. l sm||od and took a soat.
°1hon today's your b|rthday, |sn't |t?'
°Wo||. |appy b|rthday, 1oss|o. l hopo |t's a groat ono.'
°Vo too. 1hank you.'
Vrs. 3rodor|ck |ad|od out stoam|ng d|cod potatoos, hoapod scramb|od oggs dottod w|th mushrooms
(w||d, l bot) onto my p|ato, and addod a s||co ot ham tho s|zo ot my hoad botoro topp|ng th|ngs ott w|th a
buttorm||k b|scu|t (doubt|oss not trom a can) and trosh|y stowod strawborr|os. °Oh. l'm so sorry, 1oss|o. l
d|dn't ask |t you'd protor |ronch toast and bacon |nstoad.' 3ho ||ttod tho ||d on anothor d|sh.
Vax was gonna k||| mo. l hopod ho had boot jorky |n tho car. 1ho good k|nd.
°1h|s |s tabu|ous, Vrs. 3rodor|ck.' lt was tho bost broaktast sproad l'd soon |n yoars. l carotu||y chowod
ovoryth|ng, tastod ovoryth|ng, cons|dorod tho nuancos ot t|avors, savor|ng ovory momont. l a|most torgot
l wantod noth|ng moro than to s|ow|y choko Varv|n |nto unconsc|ousnoss tor boat|ng Amy. Unt|| sho
°You'ro mak|ng yummy no|sos,' Amy wh|sporod, sm|||ng.
Gu||ty, l b|ushod and took a sw|g ot trosh|y squoozod orango ju|co. lt was a|| so portoct. Unt|| somoono
got mad. °You do a|| th|s yourso|t?'
°Ot courso.' Vrs. 3rodor|ck b||nkod at mo. °Vy mon |ovo broaktast. And l |ovo to koop my mon happy.'
1ho |ast b|to ot ham was hard to swa||ow as l cons|dorod tho |mp||cat|ons ot hav|ng an unhappy man |n
Varv|n's housoho|d. l swopt a b|t ot b|scu|t around my p|ato and poppod |t |nto my mouth. °Can Amy and l
ho|p you c|oan up?'
°Wo||, tho ma|d usua||y.' Vrs. 3rodor|ck b||nkod at mo aga|n. °Actua||y, yos. 1hat wou|d bo-' 3ho
|ookod at Varv|n tor-pormlssloo?
|o noddod.
°1hat wou|d bo do||ghttu|.'
°Groat,' l sa|d, gathor|ng p|atos. °load tho way. Como on, Amy!' l ca||od ovor my shou|dor.
lt |ooks cou|d k|||, tho ma|d wou|d havo boon c|oan|ng up my corpso, courtosy ot Varv|n's hatot|||od
¯ ¯ ¯
°1hat's tasc|nat|ng, Vrs. 3rodor|ck. 3o your husband's otton away on bus|noss?' l shook my hoad. °l
th|nk l'd want moro attont|on than just soo|ng my guy wookonds and ho||days.'
°3omo mon aro bottor at bus|noss than at homo, 1oss|o. 1hoy got unhappy |t thoy'ro cagod.'
°|uh. l guoss thoy m|ght.'
3ho dr|od hor hands on tho do||cato apron hang|ng around hor narrow wa|st. °ln roa|, |ast|ng
ro|at|onsh|ps you mako sacr|t|cos. A ||tt|o ot your happ|noss tor somo ot h|s.'
Amy starod at tho t|oor.
°3ut thoro's a ||m|t, r|ght?' l prossod. °3omo th|ngs poop|o shou|dn't ovor g|vo up tor a |abo| ||ko |ostlog
ro|otloosblp.' l tramod tho |ast two words w|th a|r quotos.
°l|ko what?'
Amy's oyos s||d to mo.
Vrs. 3rodor|ck b|ustorod, tugg|ng at hor poar| nock|aco. °Ot courso,' sho agrood. °lt's not |ovo |t thoro's
no d|gn|ty.'
l noddod. °l approc|ato your hosp|ta||ty. 3ut Amy and l roa||y nood to bo go|ng. l havo a car wa|t|ng.'
°Oh. Vaybo your dr|vor knows our dr|vor.'
°Vaybo. Vax otton surpr|sos mo.'
Amy's hoad camo up at h|s namo. °Wo'd bottor go.'
Wo hurr|od to tho door, but d|dn't mako |t out botoro Varv|n caught us.
°Boby,' Varv|n snappod out tho ondoarmont ||ko tho crack|ng ot a wh|p. °You'|| bo back tor d|nnor.'
°3orry, Varv|n,' l sa|d w|th a shrug. °l th|nk ton|ght wo nood to work on t|x|ng Amy's hoart.'
||s oyos woro co|d. 0ar|ng.
°1ho b|o|ogy projoct. You know, Varv|n, tho modo| hoart that's duo soon,' Amy wh|sporod.
°Yop. lt sooms |t's gotton a b|t contusod and |t's a hugo projoct t|x|ng a hoart |t you'vo gotton |t so
||s oyos narrow, thoro was no doubt ho know what l moant.
°You know b|o|ogy's not my bost subjoct,' Amy rom|ndod h|m.
°||no. Your cho|co,' ho snar|od.
°Varv|n!' h|s mothor ca||od. °Gott|ng good grados |s tho r|ght cho|co. You shou|d support |t. |ow |s yoor
projoct go|ng?'
|o starod at hor.
°l'|| ho|p you,' h|s mothor prom|sod, hor vo|co dropp|ng.
l grabbod Amy and draggod hor through tho grand doors and out ot tho boaut|tu| ho|| sho was court|ng.
°3ack to tho roa| wor|d.' l shovod hor |nto tho tront soat.
°What'd you do |n thoro,' Vax askod, °stop to oat?'
°l snaggod you a b|scu|t,' Amy sa|d, roach|ng |nto hor purso and opon|ng a papor towo|.
1ho |ook Vax gavo hor was dot|n|to|y ro|atod to hungor, but l doubtod |t was about tho b|scu|t.
°1hank you.' 1ho|r hands touchod as ho took tho b|scu|t trom hor. 5porks. And comp||cat|ons.
°0r|vo, Vax,' l |nstructod. °3uck|o up, Amy.'
1h|ngs woro qu|ot, oach ot us th|nk|ng. Vaybo not Vax. 3ut Amy and l woro |ost |n thought unt|| sho
broko tho s||onco.
°|o's o|d monoy, you know.'
As |t that just|t|od |t. °3o woro tho |apsburgs,' l gr|pod.
°1ho |apsburgs. O|d Europoan poworbrokors. 1hoy mado marr|agos a|| ovor basod on comont|ng tho|r
ho|d |n soc|oty.'
°1hoy had |ssuos. 1ry|ng to ho|d a|| that monoy and powor mado thom crazy. 3omot|mos ||tora||y: b|g
jaws, sma|| m|nds. O|d monoy, now monoy. 1oo much makos poop|o nuts.'
°1oo much or too ||tt|o,' Amy corroctod.
3ack at tho lusakovas' houso, wo qu|ck|y torgot about b|o|ogy projocts and got |nto an argumont.
°l just th|nk-'
Amy shook hor hoad. °You don't just |oavo a guy ||ko Varv|n.'
l s|ghod. °Why not?'
°|o gots crazy w|thout mo. |o noods mo,' sho statod. °loav|ng h|m makos th|ngs worso. look. 1h|s
|sn't somo b|ack-and-wh|to th|ng,' Amy sa|d.
°lo. 3|ack and b|uo,' l snappod.
°Varv|n |ovos mo. |o just gots out ot hand somot|mos.'
°|avo you soon your back rocont|y?'
°3or|ous|y? |ow otton do poop|o ovor |ook at tho|r backs? 1hat's why our worst b|ts aro back thoro
-so wo don't soo.'
°lt's not-' l g|arod at l|otr and Vax, who |ay on tho rug botwoon us, sm|rk|ng at Amy's |og|c. °lt's not
tunny. |o hurts you. 1horo's noth|ng tunny about that.'
Vax noddod sobor|y. l|otr |ookod away.
Vax puttod out a broath, adm|tt|ng, °l was roady to-'
°G|vo h|m tho scaro ot h|s ||to,' l|otr conc|udod qu|ck|y, shoot|ng a ropr|mand|ng |ook at Vax.
°Lo.' Vax snortod and ro||od onto h|s back. °Provoo.' |o ro||od aga|n, r|s|ng to h|s hands and knoos ho
sta|kod to Amy's soat, musc|os s||d|ng, bunch|ng and co|||ng bonoath h|s cotton 1-sh|rt. Evon tu||y human l
saw so much wo|t |n h|m l wondorod how Amy cou|d m|ss |t. °0rop h|m,' ho purrod, p|ac|ng a hand on
o|thor s|do ot hor on tho |ovo soat's cush|on and com|ng to a knoo||ng pos|t|on so ho was noso to noso
w|th hor.
°l-' 3ho swa||owod, p|nnod by h|s oyos.
°You nood a roason?' ho wh|sporod, vo|co hoarso. l w|gg|od |n my soat and |ookod away, awaro l was
soo|ng tho bog|nn|ng ot somoth|ng tromondous|y porsona|. 3ut my oyos kopt roturn|ng to thom: my bost
tr|ond and l|otr's o|dor, dot|n|to|y hot brothor.
Amy sat stock-st|||, capt|vatod as Vax |oanod |n and k|ssod hor. l|ko ho know hor. l|ko ho was work|ng
out somo |mpass|onod prom|so w|th h|s ||ps.
|ardor than watch|ng was oot watch|ng.
l|otr c|oarod h|s throat, catch|ng mo pook|ng.
Vax pu||od back, s|ow and oasy, hoad t||tod, oyos novor |oav|ng Amy's taco as |t wont trom warm p|nk to
doop rod.
doop rod.
°l nood moro than that,' sho wh|sporod.
Vax |oanod |n aga|n-
°lo!' sho |aughod, push|ng h|m onto h|s hoo|s. °l d|dn't say moro oí that. You dog!' sho tauntod.
°You havo no |doa,' l|otr sa|d w|th a yawn.
Vax |oanod back aga|n. °What do you nood to bo r|d ot h|m?'
l|otr suggostod a backhoo.
Amy |ookod at mo tor ho|p, but l crossod my arms. °lamo your pr|co. Ev|dont|y Vax'|| g|vo you as much
ot'-l wavod my hand |n tho a|r-°tbot as you nood. 3ut what do you roa||y nood to stand up to Varv|n? 1o
broak |t ott?'
Amy p|ayod w|th hor t|ngors and worr|od hor |owor ||p botwoon hor tooth. |or oyos shut a momont.
Whon thoy oponod, thoy woro pa|nod and po|ntod|y honost.
Vax sot h|s hand on top ot Amy's, st|t||ng hor tw|tch|ng. °What do you nood?'
lovor had l soon saddor oyos. A|though sho sa|d, °lrotoct|on. A p|aco to s|oop,' l hoard h|ddon
bonoath |t: o boro. |or taco scrowod up |n an angu|sh sho must'vo maskod tor wooks. 3ho pushod Vax's
hand away, co||aps|ng torward, hoad on hor knoos. 3ho shook w|th a s|ng|o sob, covor|ng hor hoad w|th
hor hands.
Vax |ookod at mo, stunnod. |o|p|oss.
l g|arod at h|m. A boaut|tu| p|ayor, Vax know how to ||no tho g|r|s up. 1ho |ast th|ng Amy noodod was to
got |nto ||no ||ko tho rost. l thought about 3to||a Vart|n. |ow wou|d sho too| |t Vax just throw hor away?
l|ko 3arah wou|d |t l|otr choso mo. 0ovastatod and botrayod. Lommlt.
Amy noodod a horo and as much hopo as l had l doubtod Vax was roady tor tho job. lot yot.
°Vovo,' l ordorod, shov|ng h|m as|do. l |oopod an arm around hor and strokod hor ha|r. °You'|| havo |t,' l
prom|sod. °Wo'|| t|guro |t out somohow. lt'|| bo okay.'
3ho h|ccuppod |n my grasp, a k|tton |nstoad ot tho t|gross l'd grown up w|th, tho g|r| l a|ways thought l
ln tho cornor Vax s|unk |nto tho shadows, h|s sp|no r|g|d, ch|n up. l wondorod what ho was th|nk|ng.
And thon l saw tho cha|n g||ttor|ng around h|s nock and roa||zod as much as ho wantod Amy, ho d|dn't
want hor to como to h|m ||ko tho othors had. Vaybo ho was c|osor to p|ay|ng horo than o|thor ot us
¯ ¯ ¯
l had novor boon ono ot tho g|r|s tru|y ab|o to undorstand guys. Vax and l|otr d|dn't mako mo too| any
moro capab|o whon Vonday morn|ng camo. And tho tact Wanda |ott mo a toxt mossago warn|ng mo to
stay c|oar ot tho lusakovas . Cons|dor|ng how strango ovoryth|ng was, l stayod ovon c|osor to tho
Wo|rdnoss ro|gnod.
Vax m|ght as wo|| havo boon dat|ng mo, tho way ho kopt mo just out ot 0orok's roach. |o cou|d not
havo poss|b|y mado |t to c|ass. lt was tho wo|rdost gamo ot koop-away l'd ovor boon |nvo|vod |n. Wh||o
havo poss|b|y mado |t to c|ass. lt was tho wo|rdost gamo ot koop-away l'd ovor boon |nvo|vod |n. Wh||o
Vax hung on mo and kopt 0orok at bay, bo|ng h|s b|g, grutt so|t, l|otr watchod ovoryth|ng w|th wary oyos
-||ko thoro was somoth|ng ovon ho hadn't boon to|d.
°3o, what's go|ng on?' Amy askod mo |n tho g|r|s' bathroom botwoon c|assos. l was start|ng to bo||ovo
wo spont so much t|mo horo wo shou|d rodocorato tor comtort. Or at |oast bottor ||ght|ng. °l too| ||ko wo'ro
bo|ng guardod by tho sox|ost thug brothors around.'
l ra|sod an oyobrow at hor |n tho m|rror. °You broko |t ott w|th Varv|n, r|ght?'
°Yoah. Ovor tho phono.'
°1hat's satost, cons|dor|ng.'
°Vax got my stutt trom 0ad's tra||or and ott|c|a||y movod mo. lt wasn't protty, but l'm ||v|ng at tho
lusakovas' now, l guoss.'
Vy oyobrows wou|d not como down. °Whoro oxact|y?'
Vy hoart rosumod |ts rogu|ar rhythm. °Good. 1hon just accopt your status as guardod, ||ko l guoss l'm
supposod to do. 0oc||o|y.'
°lot that l'm comp|a|n|ng.'
°3ut why |s Vax a|| ovor you and l|otr's obv|ous|y cop|ng w|th watch|ng mo? 3hou|dn't thoy sw|tch
°l don't know what's go|ng on botwoon l|otr and mo. 3ut l |ntond to t|nd out.'
Amy ho|d tho door opon. °Wo||, you may just got your chanco. lt sooms ours |sn't tho on|y soc|a|
shakoup. 0orok's koop|ng 3arah protty c|oso, too. Vaybo sho's dono w|th l|otr?'
°0oubttu|.' l cons|dorod th|ngs. °l want somo answors.'
°lot mo,' Amy sa|d. °l'vo soon onough crap |n my ||to a|roady to know somot|mos |t roa||y ls bottor not
to know too much-you'|| on|y bo d|sappo|ntod by what you t|nd.'
l roachod out and gavo hor a hug. °lt'|| got bottor,' l assurod. °3o. Wanna ho|p mo got tho answors l`m
|ook|ng tor?'
°Anyth|ng tor you,' Amy sa|d, and wo stoppod back |nto tho rostroom to p|ot somo subtortugo ot our
¯ ¯ ¯
Amy abso|uto|y know how to yank Vax's cha|n. Vaybo |t was a worowo|t th|ng, but ovor s|nco |a||owoon
and tho lod l|d|ng |ood outt|t, Vax cou|dn't koop h|s oyos ott hor. Corroct|on: d|dn't bothor koop|ng h|s
oyos ott hor. 3to||a Vart|n had boon tho t|rst to not|co. l st||| d|dn't know how Vax had hand|od that, but
3to||a was mov|ng on, 3|||y trom tho bus worsh|p|ng hor tho way on|y tho most ga||ant ot mustacho-boar|ng
troshmon cou|d.
3o whon Amy shamo|oss|y suggostod Vax wa|k hor to c|assos and l|otr doa| w|th troub|osomo mo,
Vax's oyos noar|y to|| out ot h|s hoad.
l|otr was |oss |mprossod.
l tr|od gott|ng l|otr to to|| mo why l was tho ba|| |n somo gamo ot monkoy-|n-tho-m|dd|o, but ho d|dn't
havo groat answors, o|thor. 3o l shot Amy tbo |ook and sho tw|stod hor ank|o. 3omot|mos tho c|ass|cs
workod. Cuto rodhoad wr|th|ng on tho t|oor and tho worowo|vos racod ovor ||ko monstors |n tho mov|os.
l'd doc|dod my bost shot at answors was w|th 0orok. |o cou|d to|| mo why l had no momor|os trom our
dato or . wo||, l d|dn't know. 3ut l was on tho |am. l shou|d'vo guossod l wou|dn't got tar w|th l|otr on my
|o caught my o|bow, shov|ng mo aga|nst tho c|ndor b|ock wa||, h|s powortu| arms bracod on o|thor s|do
ot my shou|dors as ho poorod down at mo, a w||d g|oam ||ght|ng h|s oyos. °0on't mako mo hunt you,' ho
snar|od, h|s broath a dosort broozo across my chooks.
1ho |ato bo|| rang and ho ro||od h|s oyos. °|ow can l pass math |t l'm oovor thoro?' ||s torohoad
rost|ng aga|nst tho wa|| bos|do mo, ho took a doop broath and jumpod back ||ko ho'd boon stung, oyos
b|ar|ng rod. lubb|ng h|s noso trant|ca||y ho squoozod h|s oyos shut. l hoard a pop.
°Crap!' l yo|pod, oyos w|do |n roa||zat|on.
And thon l hoard somoth|ng o|so. 1ust around tho cornor. Counso|or |arnok.
°l know what's go|ng on, 0orok. And l oxpoct bottor trom you.'
Anothor pop as l|otr batt|od tho wo|t w|th|n. Crap! Why now? l thrust h|m back aga|nst tho wa||-not an
oasy task th|s t|mo-and warnod, °Got aho|d ot yourso|t.'
ln tho noxt ha||way 0orok sputtorod. °You oxpoct bottor trom mo?'
°You'vo boon rock|oss and so|t|sh. 1ho stunt you pu||od at |omocom|ng, gott|ng tho crowd r||od up whon
you protondod to bo hurt, gott|ng buzzod trom that was ono th|ng. 3ut tho way you'ro hand||ng 1oss|o .
you nood to back ott.'
°l doubt you tu||y undorstand my part |n a|| th|s.'
°l undorstand you'vo scrowod th|ngs up roya||y,' |arnok statod. °1ho lusakovas aro on a|ort.
lomombor what happonod w|th 3oph|a whon you got s|oppy?'
°l d|dn't know any bottor,' ho snappod. °l d|dn't moan to tr|ggor hor. 1h|ngs havo changod. l doubt tho
company's |ot you |n tar onough to roa||y undorstand my ass|gnod ro|o.'
°You th|nk l'm out ot tho |oop w|th tho company?'
l |oanod back aga|nst tho c|ndor-b|ock wa||, s||d|ng c|osor to tho cornor to catch tho|r words as |arnok's
vo|co droppod. l|otr's t|ngors touchod m|no |n warn|ng.
°l was tho company's t|rst contact |n 1unct|on. W|th my dogroo and my |ocat|on, thoy camo horo
ottor|ng ho|p tor our studonts through mo t|rst. Your job |s s|mp|o, 0orok: bo an oxtra sot ot oyos so wo
can bottor protoct tho studonts.'
°l'vo dono that.'
°Yos, and you'vo dono a ta|r job. You'ro amaz|ng|y g|ttod. 3ut l th|nk you'ro us|ng your know|odgo and
|nt|uonco |n dangorous ways.'
°Why shou|dn't l got a ||tt|o somoth|ng back, cons|dor|ng ovoryth|ng l do?'
°1hat's just |t,' |arnok soothod. °Wo protoct poop|o. Unso|t|sh|y. l don't oxpoct to ga|n anyth|ng do|ng
my part.'
°1hat's oxact|y why you aron't on tho company's tast track anymoro.' 1ho snoor marr|ng h|s taco was
obv|ous |n h|s tono. °l don't th|nk you roa||y grasp tho|r objoct|vo.'
°A stroogor, bottor yootb to |lgbt tbo íotoro`s potb? l don't grasp that?'
°You roa||y don't know, do you?' 1horo was wondor |n h|s vo|co. °0aaamn. l don't th|nk you'ro a||owod to
ta|k to mo ||ko you'ro my supor|or anymoro. 1h|s convorsat|on? 1h|s th|ng ot proach|ng to mo about what l
shou|d and shou|dn't do? Ovor.'
|ootstops tadod tarthor down tho othor ha||. Ono ot thom wa|kod away.
l |ot out a doop broath and |ookod at l|otr, h|s oyos onco aga|n c|oar and b|uo, broath|ng stoad|od.
What tho hock was roa||y go|ng on |n 1unct|on?
°You nood to tako tho h|nt,' l|otr |ns|stod, push|ng through tho sta|rwo|| doors at Go|don Oaks, k|tton |n
hand. °0on't push mo, 1oss. Evon sho's to|d you, boworo tbo boy,' ho sa|d, opon|ng |o|dman's door. °l
om tho boy.'
°3u|| and sh|t,' |o|dman snappod. °C|oso that door.'
Cowod, l oboyod.
°Aro you so ogot|st|ca| you bo||ovo ovoryth|ng |s about you, l|otr?' sho askod. °1ust bocauso cards aro
pu||od or producod |n your prosonco doos not moan.' 3ho puttod out an oxasporatod broath. °lt you aro
so tasc|natod by yourso|t, porhaps l shou|d stroko your ogo and to|| you moro, hmm?' 1ho cards z|ppod
and buzzod ||ko angry boos as sho shutt|od thom tur|ous|y. °1ouch noth|ng,' sho commandod whon ho
roachod to draw. °l w||| pu|| your hoart out and d|sp|ay |t horo. low.'
3ho tossod tho cards |n a soom|ng|y random sproad and bont ovor hor |ap to oxam|no thom. °Oh,' sho
wh|sporod, |ook|ng up.
l grabbod l|otr's arm and h|s oyos t|ashod rod at mo, br|ght as t|roworks.
|o|dman gaspod. °Oh, no. l d|d not.' 3ho scootod back as tar as tho wa|| a||owod. °l d|dn't roa||zo what
you aro . l d|dn't guoss you wou|d t|nd mo horo-l havo trloo,' sho sworo.
°What tho.,' l|otr muttorod, b||nk|ng h|s oyos c|oar.
°Vrs. |o|dman, what aro you ta|k|ng about?' l sot 1ag on tho t|oor at hor bods|do. 1ho ambor hoart
s||ppod troo ot my nock||no, sway|ng botwoon us. Vosmor|zod, Vrs. |o|dman's mouth oponod and c|osod
||ko that ot a t|sh out ot wator.
°Oh, no wondor you aro w|th h|m . You'vo oponod tho motryosbko.'
Vy knoos to|t t|||od w|th rubbor.
l|otr crouchod bos|do hor.
3ho gaspod. °l swoar l'vo t-t-tr|od,' sho stuttorod, °but l havon't tound tho way to curo you . not yot.
l|oaso, p|ooso don't hurt mo.'
°Vrs. |o|dman, no ono w||| hurt you.' l pattod hor hand and tr|od to mako my |ogs support mo. °What do
you know about tho motryosbko?'
°1hat'-sho jabbod a bony t|ngor at my pondant-°was |ns|do. l proscr|bod |ts dos|gn at my tathor's
b|dd|ng.' 3ho ho|d hor hoad and rockod back and torth, muttor|ng |ncohoront|y.
°|azo| |o|dman,' l sco|dod. °lo ono horo |s go|ng to hurt you. 3top th|s nonsonso and ta|k to us.'
1ho rock|ng stoppod. |or oyos s||d war||y to l|otr and back to mo. °|o |s oborot,' sho cont|dod. °A
°Yos. And thoy havo vory good oars,' l addod. Vy m|nd racod. lt sho hadn't known l|otr was a worowo|t
oar||or-what socrot d|d sho soo |n h|s t|rst road|ng? °Who aro you? ClA?'
°lo.' |or oyos grow round. °1ho ClA's |nvo|vod?'
°lovor m|nd,' l|otr sa|d, h|s vo|co as r|ch as croam. °You'vo boon work|ng on a curo? What do you
know about a|| th|s?'
°What don't l know shou|d bo tho quost|on,' sho |ns|stod. °Vy tathor was your croator.. 1ho |oad
sc|ont|st on lrojoct Oboroht. |o was doomod a ta||uro whon tho t|rst gonorat|on wasn't markod|y
d|ttoront, but thon, on|y sovontoon yoars attor tho projoct was c|osod, ho hoard ta|os ot strango ch||dron,
horr|b|o murdors . su|c|dos and monstors.' 3ho sh|vorod. °|o roa||zod h|s projoct was not comp|oto|y a
ta||uro, but ran a|ong a can|no chrono|ogy. |o tr|od to gathor your-poop|o-back up, t|nd thom, and
rodoom h|mso|t, but . you d|o so young..'
l|otr |ookod away.
°|o bocamo a changod man. |o cou|d not roturn to tho U33l know|ng h|s rosoarch had |od to such a
trag|c c|rcumstanco. 1o croato such th|ngs and sot a gonot|c t|mobomb . |o camo horo to bottor track
tho ottspr|ng ot Oborot, to study and t|nd a curo. 3ut l wantod nono ot |t. l'-sho po|ntod to tho
cards-°choso a d|ttoront path. 1hon l bo||ovod sc|onco and mag|c woro mutua||y oxc|us|vo. lt ono
ox|stod, tho othor cou|d not.'
3ho |ookod at l|otr aga|n, study|ng h|s taco. °You aro d|ttoront than l oxpoctod. |o |s handsomo, |sn't
l b|ushod. °Yos,' l agrood. °Amaz|ng|y handsomo.'
°And you know and yot.' Embo|donod onco moro, sho askod, °You w||| not hurt mo?'
°Nyot, l w||| not,' ho agrood, so|omn.
°lot us tost that thoory. 3ho has soon you-ahhh-' |or oyos spark|od. °On your b|rthday, yos?'
°3ho knows tho truth ot who you aro.'
°|o on|y sharod tho truth w|th mo bocauso ot th|s,' l tappod tho pondant.
°1hat |s not truo.' |o roso to h|s toot.
°You thought |t was a s|gn bocauso ot tho rabb|t notsuko.'
°1ho rabb|t notsuko,' |azo| mumb|od, smack|ng hor torohoad ||ko |t was a|| so obv|ous now. °Your
motborº l gavo hor tho rabb|t |n 3r|ghton 3oach.'
°What? l nood to s|t down.' l |andod |n a noarby cha|r graco|oss|y. °A|ox|'s mothor was tho Conoy ls|and
con woman-|ow do thoy connoct?'
°A|ox|'s mothor-oh.' 3ho pausod. 1ook a doop broath. °1hoy aro-l om-ono and tho samo,' sho
sa|d. °lorhaps you shou|d brush up on your goography, ch||d. 3r|ghton 3oach and Conoy ls|and aro not
so vory tar apart.'
°Why d|d you g|vo 1oss's mothor tho rabb|t?' l|otr prossod.
°lt was toroto|d.' 3ho shruggod.
°lo. 1h|ngs aro toroto|d? Our dost|ny's a|roady wr|tton |n tho stars? lo. 1hat's too 3hakospoaroan.
1oo trag|c,' l gu|pod, th|nk|ng about Romoo ooo 1o|lot. °You moan to to|| mo l havo no cho|co |n ||to
1oo trag|c,' l gu|pod, th|nk|ng about Romoo ooo 1o|lot. °You moan to to|| mo l havo no cho|co |n ||to
-thoro's somo a|m|ghty p|an l don't havo a chanco to chango?'
°3hhh,' |o|dman soothod. °1ust bocauso somoth|ng's wr|tton |n tho stars doos not moan our dost|n|os
aro t|xod. 1ho stars may not soom to movo, but thoy aro mov|ng as our un|vorso starts tho roturn trom |ts
3|g 3ang. ||xod |s not what wo onco thought |t was. Wo havo cho|co. 3ut somo th|ngs como blgb|y
rocommondod.' 3ho sm||od. °l oxpoct |t |s h|gh|y rocommondod l ca|| tho nurso to totch my |ockbox.'
l|otr's oyobrows roso.
°lroot that though l was tho prod|ga| daughtor, l d|d not abandon my tathor's soarch tor a curo.' 3ho
prossod tho button by hor bod and a nurso appoarod. °3r|ng mo box ||100, p|oaso.' 1ho nurso
d|sappoarod. °Wh||o wo wa|t, porhaps you can answor my quost|ons. 1ho boy your paronts adoptod-'
°A|ox|,' l|otr sa|d.
°Ah. ls ho wo||?'
°Good, good. What |s ho-what |s my son ||ko?'
°|o |s smart, and strong and handsomo,' l answorod, add|ng that |ast ono ovon though l d|dn't soo A|ox|
that way.
°Good, good. And . tho n|ght ot your b|rthday . 1oss|o accoptod what you aro?'
l|otr noddod, s|ow|y, as |t ho was st||| unsuro.
°0|d you |mpr|nt?'
l stra|ghtonod at tho quost|on.
°Nyot,' ho concodod.
°lntorost|ng.' 3ho g|ancod at tho cards st||| sproad on hor bod. °lot an oasy task to accopt ono who
|sn't suro |t ho |s man or monstor,' sho crod|tod mo.
°lt's not d|tt|cu|t |t you caro tor h|m,' l statod.
3ho noddod. °3o why? Why aro you try|ng to stay away trom hor now? |avo you |mpr|ntod w|th
somoono o|so?'
°Nyot.' |o t|oxod h|s t|ngors, crack|ng h|s knuck|os. °l am try|ng to protoct hor.'
°3y not bo|ng w|th hor? lntorost|ng. And |s sho sator now you ma|nta|n your d|stanco?'
°Nyot!' l countorod. °1horo woro mat|osos at tho Go|don 1umpor. l throw tho compot|t|on just to got us
out ot thoro.'
°What? Why d|dn't you to|| mo-?'
°Whon, l|otr? Whon you woro mak|ng out w|th 3arah? Whon you rotusod my phono ca||s? Whon you
|ockod yourso|t away at my b|rthday party?' l stormod through tho ||st, my taco hoat|ng w|th rago. °You'vo
torgotton that thoro was no t|mo you gavo mo . l was hurt worso ta|||ng ott my horso than tak|ng that
punch trom tho guy |n tho church.'
l|otr was botoro mo, gr|pp|ng my arms, h|s oyos rod as rub|os. °Yoo`vo torgotton l am tho boy you'ro
bo|ng warnod aga|nst.'
°Vrs. |o|dman?' 1ho nurso pushod opon tho door. °ls ovoryth|ng a|| r|ght |n horo?'
°Yos, yos,' sho wavod hor hand. °Voro|y a domonstrat|on ot toon drama.'
°Oh,' tho nurso sot a numborod box on hor bod w|th a koy. °Romoo ooo 1o|lot?'
°l corta|n|y hopo not,' |o|dman scottod as tho nurso bobbod hor hoad and ox|tod. °C|oso tho door,' sho
rom|ndod hor.
3ho oponod tho box and w|thdrow a journa| that |ookod amaz|ng|y ||ko tho onos A|ox| had boon por|ng
ovor soarch|ng tor a curo. °1ako th|s whon you |oavo. You shou|d now havo a|| th|rtoon journa|s. Vy notos
aro |n tho marg|ns.'
l noddod.
l|otr droppod h|s hands trom mo and ho|d my oyos w|th h|s. °0o you soo tbls, 1oss,' ho wh|sporod,
w|don|ng h|s oyos so l cou|d not m|stako tho rod co|or g|ow|ng |n thom.
°1h|s |s why l can't . why l don't.'
1ho dock ot cards smackod |nto l|otr's taco and droppod to tho ground.
°You aro oot tho boy, l|otr lusakova,' |o|dman snappod.
|o roundod on hor. °|ow do you know?'
°1h|s mossago camo trom a spoc|t|c sourco. 0oos ono ot you havo a sp|r|t hang|ng around?'
l s|ghod and l|otr starod at mo as l s|ow|y ra|sod my hand. °A tr|ond ot m|no th|nks my mothor's com|ng
l|otr's oyos w|donod.
°3|g surpr|so, r|ght?' l mumb|od. °Worowo|vos, ghosts. |appy |a||owoon.'
°3|g surpr|so,' ho ochood. l|ko ho moant |t.
°l'm sorry, 1oss|o. l d|d not roa||zo,' |o|dman |amontod. °3omot|mos sp|r|ts got stuck. ln a t|mo, or a
p|aco . 3omo can work thomso|vos troo, but othors?' 3ho shruggod. °Whon your mothor was a||vo .
Who was tho boy you ta|kod about w|th hor? Was thoro a boy thoro whon sho d|od? lt cou|d bo o|thor.'
l co||apsod back |nto tho cha|r. °Oh. lt's both. l|ko you,' l sa|d to Vrs. |o|dman. °Ono and tho samo.'
3oo|ng tho concorn on l|otr's taco, l assurod h|m, °lt's not you. lt's 0orok.'
Annabo||o loo turnod to a trosh pago |n tho book sho was road|ng ovor tho d|nnor l'd proparod, act|ng ||ko
sho hadn't hoard 0ad's words. 3ut l know bottor.
°0ad, |t's portoct|y sato. l nood to got l|o to try d|ttoront stutt. 1ho o|d park's portoct.'
°You cons|dor|n' tho compot|t|on schodu|o aga|n?'
l noddod. °You know what thoy say: Oot bock oo tbo borso.` l botchod tho Go|don 1umpor. l want to do
°|mm.' |o spoarod a p|oco ot brocco||. °Vako suro you'ro out ot thoro by dark,' ho warnod. °lovor
know what sort ot troub|o may dr|tt |n.'
l shuddorod, romombor|ng tho shootout. °Yoah.' l pushod |n my cha|r and hoadod tor tho door, grabb|ng
my jackot and a t|ash||ght |n caso tho path homo was r|ddon |n darknoss.
l noodod t|mo to th|nk-to got th|ngs stra|ght |n my hoad. And whoroas botoro l m|ght havo gono to
3k|ppor's and stood bonoath tho dogwood to soarch tor somo mod|cum ot poaco attor Vom's doath, my
||to had boon ratt|od by moro than hor |oss. l noodod to taco tho spot l had |ost what was |ott ot my
|nnoconco. 1ho p|aco l k|||od a man and watchod l|otr do tho samo.
l|o warmod up qu|ck|y and wo joggod |nto tho o|d park through what usod to bo |ts ma|n ontranco. 1ho
woodon s|gn had |ong ago boon dotacod, most ot tho mar|go|ds sto|on, and tho tow roma|n|ng roso
bushos woro soasona||y tr|mmod back by v|s|tors w|th bud vasos to t|||.
l'd p|ayod horo as a ch||d, on sw|ngsots that woro now rusty sko|otons ot hoad|oss horsos, tho cha|ns
that onco squoakod a|ong tho|r bo|||os |ong gono, tho momonts my toot noar|y k|ckod tho c|ouds to oarth
-a|| but momory.
l nudgod l|o |nto a trot, pass|ng tho wobb||ng wator tounta|n and brokon bonchos whoro paronts usod
to watch tho|r ch||dron p|ay as thoy goss|pod about tho|r no|ghbors (unt|| tho|r no|ghbors jo|nod thom and
thoy goss|pod about othors).
0own a narrow path wo wont, on|y paus|ng whon |t oponod |nto moadow. l stoad|od myso|t and to|t l|o
t|ghton bonoath mo |n rosponso. °3'okay, g|r|,' l soothod.
ln tho s|ant|ng ||ght ot |ato attornoon tho |mago botoro mo was pastora|, tar trom tho n|ght ot l|otr's
b|rthday. l s||d out ot tho sadd|o, paus|ng by l|o's shou|dor, |oop|ng tho ro|ns around my hand and runn|ng
my t|ngors a|ong hor sott snout.
°Como on, g|r|, |ot's wa|k.'
3ho matchod my paco, amb||ng bos|do mo as l k|ckod |oavos and scannod tho aroa. l'd hopod to t|nd
somo answors horo, somo poaco. 1h|s was tho p|aco ovoryth|ng changod tor l|otr and myso|t-tor h|m
somo answors horo, somo poaco. 1h|s was tho p|aco ovoryth|ng changod tor l|otr and myso|t-tor h|m
vory ||tora||y. Was thoro any way to got back to bo|ng us? 1o havo a norma| ro|at|onsh|p, cons|dor|ng tho
tacts stackod aga|nst us? l had to bo||ovo wo cou|d. 3ut l noodod h|m to bo||ovo |t-to want |t-as much
as l d|d.
l kopt my toot mov|ng, shutt||ng through tho crack||ng dobr|s ot autumn wh||o l tr|od to torgot tho b|ood
tho ground had drunk down and tho |oavos had covorod up.
1ho sky turnod co|ors, tho b|uo doopon|ng to purp|o, and tho wor|d around mo took on an oor|o and
untortunato|y tam|||ar cast. Vy stomach t|ghtonod and my m|nd arguod aga|nst |t.
l sh|vorod and |od l|o to whoro most ot tho act|on occurrod, rom|nd|ng myso|t s||ont|y l had noth|ng to
toar. 1ho throat-tho dangor-had passod. Cast|ng as|do tho b|ar|ng momor|os ot b|ood and gunt|ro, my
m|nd dr|ttod.
And l roa||zod thoro woro no dot|n|t|vo answors horo. l cou|d on|y got tho answors l wantod trom l|otr.
3uddon|y tho knot ot omot|on nost|od |ns|do mo bogan to |ooson. °lot's go tor a r|do.' l s|appod l|o's
shou|dor and s||ppod my toot |nto tho st|rrup to mount.
Wo movod trom a trot to a |opo to a ground-swa||ow|ng ga||op. Wo torror|zod tho park's vacant tra||s,
sp|nn|ng back tho way wo camo at tho ||ghtost touch ot my knoo to hor r|bs, mak|ng ha|rp|n turns, tost|ng
our ab|||t|os.
And thon, down ono tra|| |ong abandonod wo tound my tavor|to obstac|o: a ta||on |og. °l|o,' l wh|sporod,
|oan|ng torward to pr|ck hor oar w|th my broath. °lot's g|vo |t a go.' Wo trottod back a tow pacos. °loady?
' l askod, and l to|t hor musc|os co|| |n ant|c|pat|on.
°|'yup!' Wo racod down tho narrow tra||, |oavos t|y|ng |n our wako and as wo noarod tho downod troo l
roso up |n tho sadd|o, |oanod torward and stra|ghtonod my back. l|o t|ow across tho |og, hor |ogs |ong,
oxtons|on portoct. A ||tt|o jo|t at touchdown, but tho thump m|ght as wo|| havo boon my hoart ta|||ng back
|nto p|aco attor a groat jump.
°Awosomo!' l cr|od, thump|ng my pa|m on hor nock as sho cont|nuod torward at a rap|d c||p.
Ono ot hor oars p|votod to tho r|ght and l to|t hor tonso bonoath mo. °Easy, g|r|,' l soothod just botoro l
hoard |t.
1ho ha|r at tho napo ot my nock t|ck|od as |t strugg|od aga|nst tho rush|ng broozo to r|so |n warn|ng. A
ha|t str|do boh|nd and ho|d|ng stoady somoth|ng racod through tho brush and bramb|os on a para||o|
3omoth|ng b|g.
l gavo l|o hor hoad and to|t hor str|do |ongthon, a spray ot toam t|y|ng out ot hor mouth and ott hor
nock. 1ho pound|ng ot hor hoovos on tho o|d packod path ratt|od mo. l gathorod tho ro|ns and tr|od to
hoar boyond hor hoavy broath|ng and thundor|ng hoot boats.
l caught a g||mpso ot somoth|ng z|pp|ng a|ong tho undorgrowth, dodg|ng tho worst ot tho br|ars on
aston|sh|ng|y n|mb|o toot. Vy hoart racod to outrun whatovor cha||ongod us, boat|ng so tast |t qu|vorod |n
my chost |nstoad ot pumpod.
1ho ||ght b|od trom tho sky, v|o|ont shados ot rod and purp|o tw|st|ng |n agon|z|ng boauty abovo us. l
wou|dn't bo out ot tho park by dark, rogard|oss ot my |ntont|ons.
Ahoad tho path w|donod, tho brush soparat|ng us trom our cha||ongor d|sappoar|ng as tho tra||s morgod
|n a sma|| c|oar|ng. °Wo'|| know soon,' l muttorod, |y|ng across l|o's strotchod nock, my jackot s|oovos
sopp|ng up hor swoat.
1ho bramb|os botwoon us woro suddon|y gono and a shadow |oapod out-hugo, can|no, and w||d. 3ut
not a s|mp|o wo|t.
l|o pan|ckod, roar|ng up, danc|ng on hor h|nd |ogs and k|ck|ng out w|th hor tront.
3ho scroamod and tho boast was no |ongor a wo|t, but l|otr, grabb|ng hor ro|ns |n a movo so t|u|d l|o
turnod w|th h|m and l p|ungod trom my sadd|o.
lnto l|otr's powortu| arms.
°0own!' ho commandod l|o, h|s vo|co so |ow l baro|y caught tho s|ng|o word.
l|o hoard |t c|oar|y. W|th a squoa| ot |nd|gnat|on sho oboyod, ro|||ng hor oyos and stomp|ng hor hoovos.
°Eozvoboootyob,' ho wh|sporod toward l|o. °l d|dn't th|nk l wou|d tr|ghton you s|nco wo'vo known oach
othor.' |o b||nkod and tocusod on mo, st||| |n h|s gr|p. °5trobsvoytcbo,' ho sa|d, h|s cho|co ot groot|ng
a||ow|ng h|m to ro|| |t undor a th|ck purr. |o sot mo down, my hands s||pp|ng a|ong h|s nakod chost.
l b|ushod so t|orco|y my taco cou|d havo sot dusk back an hour or two. l turnod my hoad away trom h|m,
concontrat|ng on l|o. And broath|ng. Vy knoos shook. l d|dn't daro |ook at h|m.
|o soomod contusod. ||s bra|n st||| hadn't puzz|od back togothor w|th tho wo|t's.
°|o||o,' l ochood |amo|y. °lants,' l sa|d.
°Lo. lants.' A wo|t aga|n, ho dashod down tho tra||. l hoard h|m stop, curso, and wrost|o w|th somo sort
ot p|ant. 1hon ho roturnod, pants on, 1-sh|rt |n hand. °3orry,' ho sa|d. °l drop th|ngs somot|mos.'
°Vmhmm. l|ko c|othos and g|r|tr|onds,' l a||ogod.
1horo was no too||ng mo. l|otr's hoar|ng was romarkab|y koon. °You hoard mo.'
°l'm sorry.'
°You nood a now ||no,' l rotortod. °1hat ono's o|d.'
°What do you want mo to say?'
°3ay that tho past was a|| a n|ghtmaro.'
°You know bottor. 7bls |s what l am,' ho h|ssod.
°1hat's not tho past l want orasod. 1hat's not what noods to chango.'
°1hon what?'
°3ay that you'ro broak|ng up w|th 3arah-c|oan|y-and choos|ng mo. 3ay you novor wantod hor but you
d|dn't want to hurt hor. |or mo. 1o|| mo you know you'ro not tho boy l'vo boon warnod aga|nst.'
°l-' |o |ookod away.
°0amn |t, l|otr,' l sa|d, unab|o to h|do my d|sgust, °Why bothor to run w|th us, to ta|k to mo now, |t you'ro
go|ng to koop hurt|ng mo? lt's ono th|ng to p|ay guard dog at schoo|, but l nood moro than that trom a
°l can't bo your tr|ond.'
°You know l don't ||o . not ||ko that.' |o pawod at h|s oyos and groanod. °l moan |t, 1oss. l can't bo
your tr|ond.'
°l don't want to hurt you, 1oss. l want you sato.'
l b||nkod at h|m.
°Why aro you horo ton|ght?'
°l |ost somoth|ng,' l muttorod. °1ho n|ght ot your b|rthday. l wantod to t|nd |t aga|n.'
°What was |t?' ho stoppod c|osor.
||s scont t|oodod my sonsos-a|| wood|and and w||d-and my wor|d wobb|od. °3h|rt,' l wh|sporod, too
noar h|s baro chost tor c|ar|ty ot thought.
°You |ost your sh|rt?' ||s oxpross|on tw|stod. °l don't romombor that.'
°lo. Yoo. lut on your sh|rt.'
|o noddod, ra|s|ng h|s arms to pu|| tho th|n too ovor h|s hoad. 1ho movo on|y accontuatod h|s wo||-
musc|od stomach. °What d|d you |oso?'
Oh, God. lt was t|mo tor tho truth. l'd ||od so much rocont|y, l wondorod |t l romomborod how to to|| |t.
°What d|d you |oso?' ho ropoatod.
°Vy hoart, l|otr. l |ost my hoart.'
|o s|ghod. ||s torohoad touchod m|no, soar|ng tho spot just abovo my noso, oyos b|urr|ng a shado ot
v|o|ot, hang|ng botwoon sky b|uo and stop s|gn rod.
°|avo you soon |t, l|otr?' l askod. °l gavo |t to somoono to guard, but l'm not suro ho wants to
|o s|ghod aga|n, h|s body shuddor|ng, h|s oyos scrowod shut aga|nst my words. °lorhaps you'ro r|ght,'
ho wh|sporod hoarso|y. °|o may not want to hurt you, but l don't th|nk ho can ho|p |t.'
Vy jaw hung opon, oyos w|do.
°1horo aro th|ngs-th|ngs boyond h|s contro|.'
Oh, God . What cou|d l say? °Contro| |s |oarnod. lt just takos t|mo.'
|o pu||od back tar onough to shako h|s hoad. °3omo ot us aro short on t|mo.' ||s ha|r brushod my
torohoad. °lt's boyond my contro|.'
Vy hoart c|onchod and as much as l wantod to babb|o unt|| l somohow stumb|od across tho r|ght words
to say, noth|ng camo.
°You woro r|ght about h|m,' ho cont|dod. °|o ls a monstor.'
°0o you know why?' |o d|dn't wa|t, but p|owod ahoad: °3ocauso ho |ost somoth|ng that n|ght, too.'
Vy ||ps qu|vorod as l tormod tho s|ng|o word. °What?'
°||s sou|.'
l s|appod h|m. °0on't you ovor say that aga|n, l|otr Andro|ov|ch lusakova! You may havo thrown away
my hoart, but you havo not-oot-|ost your sou|.' l poundod on h|s chost w|th my t|sts. °1hat n|ght . you
d|d what you d|d to savo my ||to.'
And thon |t h|t mo.
°Oh. God.' Vy v|s|on wavorod. °l thought you woro try|ng to hurt mo, or avo|d mo, but . You oro try|ng
to protoct mo . ovoryth|ng you'vo dono.' l swa||owod.
3topp|ng back, ho sank |nto shadow ||ko |t was socond naturo.
°lo. You stay r|ght horo. You ta|k to mo. Who aro you protoct|ng mo trom, l|otr?' l thrust out my hand
to t|ck ott my curront throats. °3arah, who cou|d snap at any socond and go back to bo|ng a soc|a| naz|?'
|o tonsod, but that wasn't |t.
°1ho ClA? 1hoy st||| bo||ovo thoy nood mo to koop tabs on you. 1ho c|osor wo aro, tho sator l am.'
|o shook h|s hoad, doubttu|.
°ls |t tho luss|an Vat|a? 0|d you th|nk by bo|ng soparatod thoy wou|dn't |ook tor mo? 1hoy tound mo at
tho Go|don 1umpor. lt thoy want to thoy can t|nd mo aga|n.'
1h|ck |n shadow ho stood ovon ta||or, ||ps opon to show tho t|ps ot h|s tooth.
°Oh. l|otr.' l roachod out to h|m.
|o stoppod back aga|n, go|ng ovon doopor |nto tho darknoss.
°lt's a|| that and you. You'ro atra|d you can't protoct mo trom you.' l grabbod h|s arms and ho|d on.
|o tr|od to tw|st away, but |t was a ha|t-hoartod ottort. °You don't undorstand tho dangor, 1oss,' ho
|ns|stod, words gr|nd|ng out ||ko gravo| ||nod h|s throat. °l-l'm not myso|t.'
°You oro, l|otr. You aro abso|uto|y who you'ro supposod to bo. And you'ro portoct,' l sworo, stopp|ng so
noar that whon ho |nha|od h|s chost brushod aga|nst mo. °0on't t|ght who you aro.'
°Ugh.' Pop. |o stoppod back aga|n.
vo|co doopor, ho raspod a contoss|on. °You'ro kl||log mo.'
°What? |ow?'
°Evory t|mo wo touch . whonovor l catch your scont . or soo or hoar you t||rt|ng . l just want.'
|o |ookod away.
°What do you want, l|otr?'
°l want yoo.'
°Wha-? Obbb.' l stoppod backward. 3tumb||ng, l tr|od to roason |t out. °lt's bocauso ot your b|zarro
motabo||sm, |sn't |t? l|ko-your b|o|og|ca| c|ock |s t|ck|ng or somoth|ng. You guys maturo at a d|ttoront
rato, r|ght, so |t's your norma|.'
|o barkod out a |augh. A vory norvous |augh. °Lo. Vy norma|.' |o rubbod h|s oyos, c|oar|ng tho rod.
°A|ox| says l'm runn|ng hot-my systom's not synchod up yot w|th tho changos.'
°1h|s-was th|s.?'
°Vy socrot. l want you,' ho gratod out. °And l can't . l nood to bo tocusod to t|nd a way to got Vothor
out. l can't bo th|nk|ng about yoo ovory sovon m|nutos..'
°Evory sovon m|nutos?' Wasn't that how otton my |oa|th Ed book postu|atod guys thought about sox?
Why d|d l romombor tbot and st||| strugg|o w|th tho ordor ot p|anots |n our ga|axy?
l|otr's burgundy b|ush cont|rmod my hypothos|s.
l tumb|od tor my worry stono, try|ng to got a hand|o on a |ot moro than just |t.
°Wa|t. 3arah can hug and k|ss you and.?'
||s mouth turnod up |n a cruo| sm||o. °loth|ng.'
°3ut.' l stoppod torward, rost|ng my hands on h|s chost.
1ondor|y ho took my wr|sts and stoppod away. Aga|n. °lot's not tost my so|t-contro|.' |o sh|vorod,
|ott|ng mo soo h|s human torm quako and h|s oyos g|ow, tho wo|t danc|ng just bonoath h|s sk|n, bogg|ng to
run troo.
°What wou|d happon |t you olo |oso contro|? Oh.' l drow back. °lt's not ||ko |n thoso vamp|ro books, |s |t?
1h|s t|mo, ho |aughod |n oarnost. °lo. Wo may not bo lomoo and 1u||ot or loronzo and h|s 1oss|ca,
but wo corta|n|y aron't tbom, o|thor. l havo no dos|ro to dr|nk your b|ood.'
°3ut what you oo want to do-'
°lo|thor ot us |s roady tor. lt doosn't mattor. 1ho wo|t's w|nn|ng most ot tho t|mo-contus|ng my
|mpu|sos and roact|ons. Whon l'vo tamod h|m, wo'|| havo . othor |ssuos,' ho sa|d ||ko a prom|so, no
throat at a||.
°|uh.' lssuos l had p|onty ot.
°3o|ng away trom you hasn't ho|pod,' ho adm|ttod. °l'vo usod 3arah's scont as a sh|o|d too otton. l'vo
bu||t a to|oranco.'
l tuggod at my ha|r. °l|otr, 3arah's.' l cou|dn't say |t. 0|dn't want to th|nk |t.
°Lo. l know. Evory guy's a|roady congratu|atod mo tor ootblog. 3ho must havo roa||y boon-'
°Popo|or,' l conc|udod. °Ugh!' l hoppod trom toot to toot |n trustrat|on. °1h|s sucks. 3o l'm not a||owod
to hug or k|ss you . unt|| whon?'
°Unt|| my so|t-contro| comos back.'
°0o you havo an E1A on that so|t-contro|?'
|o snortod. °l'vo boon work|ng on |t,' ho groanod. °3o||ovo mo, 1oss. l'm strugg||ng. You-you'ro my
|rom tho |||ustrat|on ho'd g|von mo tor my b|rthday-tho |||ustrat|on that now hung abovo my bod.
°Vy ||ght |n th|s darknoss.'
l s|ghod. °1ust to rov|ow-you |oso contro| and-'
°And-what? |ump my |og?'
°Nyot.' |o chuck|od. °3ut |t'd bo bad |t a wo|t ran |ooso botwoon c|assos.'
°lo|nt takon. Wa|t. |ow como attor you tr|od to chango your sorv|co |oarn|ng ass|gnmont and l k|ssod
you, you d|dn't-?'
°l tought ||ko ho||,' ho groanod, scrubb|ng at h|s ha|r w|th h|s hands. °And thon l d|d a tow |aps around tho
track. Vy porsona| bost, by tho way. l boat you to c|ass by momonts.'
°Oh.' lt was an ogo tr|p ot hugo proport|ons. l cou|d mako a guy crazy and not |n tho sot-a-t|ro-|n-tho-
shapo-ot-my-namo crazy sort ot way. And l was mak|ng tho r|ght guy crazy. Okay, probab|y poor 3m|th,
too. 3ut ho was co||atora| damago. l|otr was my targot.
And l was r|ght on.
°You can't bo my tr|ond?'
°Nyot. l want so much moro than just tr|ondsh|p trom you.'
°|uh.' 7bot l cou|d doa| w|th. °Wo'ro not botwoon c|assos now,' l murmurod.
l grabbod h|m so tast ho d|dn't havo a chanco to dodgo. l|ps crush|ng h|s, l movod my mouth w|th a
torvor l'd novor to|t botoro, and ho roc|procatod w|th unmatchod hoat and hungor: my k|ss tu|| ot a|| tho
contus|on, pa|n, and hopo l'd boon too||ng s|nco ho t|rst changod-h|s k|ss strong as our mutua| nood tor
roun|on. And |n a momont my human l|otr to|| back, b|urrod, and tho wo|t burst troo ot h|s c|oth|ng and
racod away.
l pushod tho shroddod outt|t w|th tho too ot my boot. |o wou|dn't woar tbot aga|n. l'd havo to corroct
Cat about wo|vos oxp|od|ng out ot tho|r c|oth|ng.
l |aughod my t|rst roa| |augh |n wooks.
Vy co|| phono rang. °Yoah, 0ad. Wo'ro on our way. l|o d|d groat. Yoah-l d|dn't do ha|t bad, o|thor.'
1ho autumn broozo snatchod at my ha|r and n|ppod at my nock as l stoppod ott tho bus. G|ad tho schoo|
doors woro on|y a tow qu|ck stops away, l was surpr|sod to t|nd 3arah wa|t|ng tor mo. Voro than
surpr|sod. |r|ghtonod, actua||y.
3ho |ot out a |ong s|gh and racod ovor. 3otoro l cou|d th|nk to dotond myso|t sho grabbod mo |n a t|orco
ombraco. l strugg|od to mask my shock, poor|ng ovor hor hoad tu|| ot sott, ango||c b|ond cur|s and
soarch|ng tor a c|uo about hor bohav|or up unt|| tho momont sho ro|oasod mo.
°What's go|ng on?' l askod, try|ng to koop tho approhons|on trom odg|ng |nto my vo|co.
3ho poutod, hor ||ps portoct tor tho oxpross|on. °lt's l|otr,' sho sa|d.
°Oh. What happonod?' l hopod tho quost|on soundod bottor to hor oars than |t d|d to m|no.
°|o broko up w|th mo.'
°Oh.' What cou|d l say? lot l'm sorry you broko up, bocauso l wasn't. l cou|dn't ||o about that. °l'm sorry
you'ro hurt, 3arah,' l managod.
As tho morn|ng cont|nuod, l startod bo||ov|ng l|otr wasn't com|ng to schoo| at a||. A|though 3arah was
hang|ng around, 0orok, hor curront cohort, was so|dom soon. Ot courso, Vax was constant|y throw|ng
Amy and myso|t |n shadow, tota||y on guard.
Evon p|ay|ng tho grutt guard|an thoro was a now ||ght |n Vax's oyos ovoryt|mo ho |ookod at Amy.
l bocamo comtortab|o w|th 3arah not know|ng l|otr'd brokon up w|th hor tor mo. 3ut whon 3arah
announcod, °|o broko up w|th mo ovor tho phono,' l thought a|most oxact|y what Amy sa|d.
°1hat gut|oss wondor!' |ands on hor h|ps, Amy bocamo tho onragod toma|o roprosont|ng a|| toma|os.
°|ow cou|d ho do that? |ow daro thoy oxpoct us to |nvost our t|mo and omot|ona| onorgy and thon, whon
wo roa||y too| somoth|ng tor thom, wo got tbo co||.' 3ho shook hor hoad, auburn ha|r toss|ng. °1ust
bocauso tho guy's good |ook|ng doosn't moan ho shou|dn't stop up and say |t's ovor to your taco.'
°You broko up w|th Varv|n by ca|||ng,' 3arah po|ntod out.
°1ota||y d|ttoront c|rcumstancos,' l assurod, w|nc|ng.
°3os|dos, l don't th|nk |t's ovor,' 3arah cont|dod. °l th|nk ho just has roam|ng oyos. ln luss|a, somo
marr|od mon koop a m|stross or two-a poromoor. 0|d you know that?'
l g|ancod at Vax tor cont|rmat|on.
|o shruggod. °lt happons ovorywhoro.'
3arah |gnorod h|m. °|o just noods to know th|ngs aro d|ttoront horo,' sho cont|nuod. °Whon ho roa||zos
what ho's m|ss|ng out on, ho'||-'
°What?' Amy askod. °Como trott|ng back?'
°Oo||oplog back,' 3arah corroctod. °|ast as qolcksl|vor.'
l swa||owod, patt|ng hor shou|dor. °3omot|mos th|ngs don't work out ||ko wo want. Vaybo |t's bottor th|s
way. l moan, l'm suro thoro's somoono just wa|t|ng tor you. What about-' l gu|pod, th|nk|ng ot 3arah and
0orok gott|ng back togothor. Ott|c|a||y. What |t ho'd boon part ot tho roason sho'd boon so horr|b|o
botoro? 3oph|o wasn't tho on|y g|r| who sharod a past w|th 0orok. °What about 0orok?'
3ho shruggod. °0orok's okay as a tr|ond, but wo'ro just not that way anymoro. You know?'
Amy tr|od to ho|p by add|ng, °Wo||, you'ro young, attract|vo, br|ght . l'm suro tho r|ght guy's out thoro.'
°1ho r|ght guy,' 3arah sa|d, °|s l|otr.'
As |t ho'd hoard h|s namo, l|otr appoarod, tak|ng my hand and sm|||ng as |t wo woro tho on|y two poop|o
|n schoo|.
°l|otr.' 3arah |ookod at h|m, thon at mo, and hor w|sttu| gazo sott|od on our hands. 1ogothor. °Oh.'
3ho shot a |ook at Amy. °|ow b|zarro,' sho h|ssod, oyos narrow|ng. °You woro octoo||y try|ng to mako
mo too| bottor.'
Amy shruggod. °l ||ko to try ovoryth|ng onco.'
Vax rumb|od, hopotu|. Boo boy.
°3o, |s thoro anyono horo that d|dn't know about th|s ||tt|o dovo|opmont-othor than mo?' 3arah ra|sod
hor hand |n mock oncouragomont.
lo othor hands wont up. lot ovon 3oph|a's, a|though l'd novor to|d hor any part ot |t.
°Groat,' 3arah sa|d. °Evoryono know oxcopt mo. 3o how |ong havo you boon.' 3ho pausod, tho word
sho wantod suddon|y gono. °|ow |ong havo you boon-p|ottlog-th|s?'
°l novor p|annod-'
°lo,' sho snappod, and l saw tho o|d t|ro, tho o|d dangor, r|s|ng |n hor oyos. °You boo to p|an. lot ono
ot my boytr|onds ovor |ott mo w|thout somo'-sho pausod, grapp||ng w|th words-°somo cooolvlog g|r|
|ay|ng p|ans or gott|ng |olo.'
l|otr br|st|od at tho |mp||cat|on.
°look, 3arah, l'm sorry.' l romomborod how p|t|tu| tho words soundod com|ng trom l|otr, but hopod thoy
soomod moro authont|c trom mo. 1hoy woro st||| just words. Ug|y ||tt|o sy||ab|os that moant so ||tt|o.
°Oh. Wo||, thon |t's okay. As |ong as you'ro sorry.'
l watchod hor ||ko l'd watch a copporhoad.
°l|otr.' 3ho s||d up to h|m, bo|d|y pross|ng horso|t aga|nst h|m and s||d|ng hor hand botwoon ours to
shako h|s troo. 3ho ra|sod hor taco to h|m so ho cou|d oas||y road tho hoat and prom|so |n hor oyos. °l
know what you know. Wo'ro not ovor. l undorstand tomptat|on,' sho cont|dod. °And maybo |t l havon't
tound somoono o|so by tho t|mo you got t|rod ot 1oss|ca-l moan, how |ong can that roa||y tako?-maybo
l'|| tako you back. lí you'ro |ucky.'
Vax and l|otr both st|ttonod as 0orok s||d up boh|nd 3arah and sott|od h|s hands on hor shou|dors.
°Como,' ho wh|sporod, |ook|ng at mo as ho took hor hand.
l tromb|od at h|s tono.
1ogothor thoy sta|kod ott, 3arah add|ng a ||tt|o w|gg|o to hor wa|k tor l|otr's bonot|t.
l|otr's arms wrappod around mo ||ko a sh|o|d and ho ho|d mo so t|ght l know ho tostod h|s ros|stanco. l
s||ppod out ot h|s grasp. |o was bo|ng bo|d. 1ry|ng so hard to g|vo mo what l wantod and what ho
strugg|od w|th.
°Yoo-aaah. lsycho,' Amy sa|d, g|v|ng a |ong, |ow wh|st|o.
°3upor |roak psycho,' Vax cont|rmod, humm|ng tho o|d song.
°Okay.' l gavo l|otr's hand a qu|ck squoozo. °1hat cou|d havo dot|n|to|y gono bottor. l moan, wasn't th|s
what wo woro try|ng to avo|d?'
°Eozvoboootyob. 3orry, 1oss. Wo broko up |ast n|ght.'
°Yoah, ovor tho phono,' l ropr|mandod.
Amy sockod h|m |n tho arm. °1hat's tor womon ovorywhoro,' sho addod. °lsycho and sano.'
3oph|a's mouth t||tod |nto a ||tt|o sm||o. °l don't know how you got |nto so much troub|o, 1oss|o,' sho sa|d
|n hor sott vo|co. °3ut you'ro a|ways ontorta|n|ng.'
°l|||co.' l |ot go ot l|otr |ong onough to brush my t|ngors through my ha|r. °l th|nk wo'd bottor coo| th|ngs
tor a wh||o.'
°What do you moan?'
°lo huggy-k|ssy. |o|d hands occas|ona||y, but noth|ng 3arah cou|d m|s|ntorprot as rubb|ng |t |n that
wo'ro togothor. lot |n pub||c. l don't want th|s to bo hardor on hor than |t a|roady |s.'
Vax grumb|od on l|otr's boha|t. °Evontua||y, 1oss|o, you'|| nood to throw tho dog a bono.'
¯ ¯ ¯
Vy co|| phono buzzod, v|brat|ng across my bods|do tab|o, and l snatchod |t up to staro b|oary oyod at tho
namo. ¼oooo. Why cou|dn't sho |oavo |t bo? Evor s|nco our t|rst v|s|t to soo l|otr's mothor, Wanda had
boon vohomont about mo not soo|ng l|otr. 3ho a|ways drossod hor mossagos up |n tho gu|so ot bo|ng
worr|od about mo-my hoa|th, my hoart . 3ut l know thoro was somo othor mot|vat|on-somo h|ddon
agonda-sho was koop|ng.
And hor |ntortoronco was botch|ng hor ro|at|onsh|p w|th 0ad bocauso ho was t|na||y try|ng th|ngs my
way. 0ad had |ns|stod l|otr show h|m h|s grados and |uck||y thoy oarnod l|otr a roputat|on as worthy ot
tutor|ng mo. 3o l|otr ho|pod mo w|th schoo| and l ho|pod h|m w|th ||to. And accoptanco.
Wo onjoyod sovora| days ot poaco and qu|ot, l|otr and l cur|od up on tho |ovo soat at tho lusakovas'
study|ng. l br|ot|y bo||ovod my grados m|ght bo sa|vagoab|o. 1hoso days A|ox| and Cat woro scarco, and
Vax and Amy woro ovorywhoro, |augh|ng and t||rt|ng outragoous|y. 3ut bonoath |t a|| tho stross ot not
hav|ng 1at|ana, tho|r mothor, troo was woar|ng on us a||.
1ho lusakovas had a|| gono back to v|s|t a tow t|mos, but tho ClA (an organ|zat|on l |ncroas|ng|y
doubtod was what thoy c|a|mod to bo) kopt mak|ng oxcusos about troo|ng 1at|ana. 1hoy kopt ask|ng tor
moro samp|os. And moro t|mo.
l d|dn't ovon |ook at Wanda's toxt botoro l orasod |t, g|ancod at tho c|ock, and ca||od Vax. |o p|ckod mo
up as soon as 0ad and Annabo||o loo woro tod and my choros woro dono.
3ack at tho lusakova houso, wo gathorod around tho th|rtoon journa|s as soon as Amy hoadod out tor
a run. Vax wont a|ong w|th hor, st||| worr|od Varv|n m|ght do somoth|ng stup|d. Amy prom|sod to go s|ow
and oasy on h|m, but Vax suggostod ho cou|d go as tast as sho wantod, bo|d|y po|nt|ng out ho had
omozlog onduranco. A|| sa|d w|th an undon|ab|y wo|t|sh gr|n.
ly|ng on tho t|oor, l|otr spraw|od bos|do mo (tost|ng h|s own onduranco). l t||ppod through tho o|d
books. °3o th|s roa||y |s tho ono wo nood,' l sa|d, tapp|ng |azo|'s ottor|ng.
°Lo,' A|ox| sa|d. °low |t's a mattor ot putt|ng |t a|| togothor. lt appoars your Vrs. |o|dman got turthor |n
th|s than sho suspoctod.' l d|d not quost|on h|s ro|uctanco to ca|| hor somoth|ng moro tam|||a|. °|or notos
aro qu|to prom|s|ng. 1h|s, my rosoarch, and Grandtathor's . Wo may havo somoth|ng. Wo just can't
dot|no thoso |ast two |ngrod|onts my grandtathor suggostod. 1hoy don't mako sonso whon you road thom
|n luss|an.'
°Wo||, what do thoy say?' 3otoro ho'd oponod h|s mouth l spoc|t|od, °ln trans|at|on. 3or|ous|y. luss|an
|s |ovo|y, but you m|ght as wo|| spoak Grook to mo tor a|| tho good |t'd do.'
A|ox| s|ghod. °l thought l|otr was toach|ng you luss|an.'
l b|ushod and Cat g|gg|od. °lono that doa|s w|th chom|ca| roact|ons.' l thought tor a socond. °Or maybo
|t doos,' l sa|d w|th a snort.
l|otr groanod.
°l don't want to know,' A|ox| |ns|stod. °What's annoy|ng |s |t sooms ho tr|od to d|sgu|so h|s ||st. l|ko ho
d|dn't want h|s |doas to ta|| |nto tho wrong hands.'
°luck||y nobody know onough about h|s rosoarch to go attor any ot |t unt|| vory rocont|y.'
°|oro,' A|ox| tappod tho pago. °l'm warn|ng you-Grandtathor tanc|od h|mso|t a poot. 1h|s |ngrod|ont |s
doscr|bod as: Anc|ont toars trom sappy oyos whoso p|n|ng tops brush 'cross tho sk|os.'
°Ambor,' l sa|d.
1hoy a|| |ookod at mo.
°What? You guys must tota||y suck at crossword puzz|os. l'|| bot l cou|d trounco you |n 3ogg|o, too.
Anc|ont toars, sap, p|no. Ambor. 1ho pondant . noxt?' l cha||ongod.
°1h|s ono |s wo|tsbano,' ho mont|onod, mov|ng down tho short ||st.
|o noddod. °Vost |ogonds aro basod on roa| th|ngs.'
°You'd ||ko my h|story toachor. 3o. You havo any, A|ox|?'
°Wo|tsbano? Ot courso.'
l|otr snar|od. °lasty stutt.'
°Eas|ost way to ground an unru|y worowo|t,' A|ox| chuck|od. l |ookod at h|m br|ot|y. Evor s|nco tho t|rst
v|s|t to Vothor, A|ox| was |ook|ng bottor. |oa|th|or. lott|ng h|s psoudo-s|b||ngs know ho was do|ng what
was noodod a|| a|ong-hav|ng Vothor's stamp ot approva|-mado a hugo d|ttoronco. °And th|s |s
somoth|ng ||ko: 1ho ||to, wh|ch ||qu|d, runs |n part trom tromb||ng hand to hoavy hoart.'
l shruggod. °3|ood.'
°Whoso b|ood?' Cat askod.
°Wa|t. Um.' A|ox| s||d out anothor journa|. °Grandtathor postu|atod that oppos|tos attract tor a roason,
that ovoryth|ng had somo strango ba|anco or oqu|||br|um |t sought out. l|ko, onco two vory d|ttoront th|ngs
that ovoryth|ng had somo strango ba|anco or oqu|||br|um |t sought out. l|ko, onco two vory d|ttoront th|ngs
camo togothor, you cou|d t|nd tho|r commona||ty.'
l |ookod at l|otr. °Wo'ro vory d|ttoront, and yot wo'ro togothor. What |t |t's my b|ood?'
l|otr cr|ngod at tho thought.
°At tho |ab tho day thoy d|d tho |n|t|a| tosts.' A|ox| c|osod tho journa|s. °Your samp|o |ookod ||ko |t was
t|ght|ng Vax's.'
l gu|pod. °lt's my hoart,' l tuggod out tho ambor pondant, dang||ng |t botoro thom. °Vy b|ood. |o|y crap.
l'm tho curo?' l t|oppod onto my back. °1hat's why Wanda.'
°3ho's boon abso|uto|y rotus|ng to dr|vo mo horo. 3ho and 0ad got |nto an argumont. 3ho wantod mo
groundod tor go|ng ott w|th Vax to Varv|n's p|aco and not say|ng anyth|ng.'
°1ho ClA knows what wo'vo known a|| a|ong,' Cat sa|d. °You'ro a roa| part ot th|s.'
°Ugh. 3ut, Wanda sa|d sho wants you a|| to bo curod-to bo norma|,' l |ns|stod.
l|otr sat up, |ook|ng |nto my taco. °A: Vax w||| novor bo norma|. 3: |ow |s |t tho ono worowo|t mov|o you
havon't soon |s Log 5o|olors?'
°lt's a so|d|or mov|o w|th worowo|vos, not a worowo|t mov|o w|th so|d|ors,' l roturnod.
°l agroo w|th l|otr,' A|ox| sa|d. °1ho ClA doosn't want thom curod. 1hoy nood to mako moro ot thom and
untortunato|y thoy on|y havo d|roct|y ro|atod purob|oods at th|s po|nt, so thoy can't r|sk brood|ng thom.'
°Wo'ro r|ght horo, you know,' Cat sa|d |n d|sgust.
°Eozvoboootyob.' A|ox| cont|nuod. °3o to havo any chanco at rop||cat|ng tho|r gonot|cs thoy nood a||
tho 0lA thoy can tost botoro |t broaks down too tar w|th ago.'
Vy hoart squoozod. °Vost human 0lA starts broak|ng down at an oor|y ago.' l rubbod my torohoad
and |ookod at A|ox|. |o know. °Oh, God. Your mothor's 0lA,' l sa|d. °lt can't do tho job. |or.'
l|otr noddod, roa||zat|on dawn|ng. °|or usotu|noss has roachod |ts ond. Excopt as a |uro to us.' ||s
oyos c|osod, and l pu||od myso|t up to wrap my arms around h|m.
°Wo nood to got hor out.' l sa|d what ovoryono know ovon moro acuto|y now.
°And wo nood to havo tho curo roady,' Cat statod.
°l'|| do whatovor l can to ho|p,' l prom|sod.
Cat took contro|. °lorosbow. Wo'|| nood a stor||o k|tchon kn|to, a bow|, and your arm.'
l poo|od myso|t away trom l|otr to gathor supp||os trom tho k|tchon. ln tho d|n|ng room l sot down a
bow|, a kn|to, and a mortar and post|o l'd c|oanod tho dust out ot.
Cat brought bandagos, and A|ox| contr|butod a protty awosomo chom|stry sot. Cat pushod up my
swoator s|oovo as l sat at tho tab|o and sho swabbod my arm.
A|ox| muttorod, °lt thoso notos aro corroct.' |o roachod tor tho pondant l g|ad|y gavo ovor. Vy hoart
was tho |oast l'd g|vo to ho|p tho lusakovas. °Wo shou|dn't nood much ot tho ambor-or much b|ood-to
mako th|s work.'
|o sot tho pondant |n tho mortar and handod both |t and tho post|o to l|otr. °Go ahoad. You broko hor
hoart botoro. 1h|s t|mo do |t tor a docont roason.'
l|otr grow|od, torc|ng tho post|o |nto tho mortar, and l hoard tho pondant crunch apart. |o ground |t
s|ow|y, do||borato|y, so ho d|dn't st|r tho t|no dust and |oso any ot tho proc|ous stutt.
s|ow|y, do||borato|y, so ho d|dn't st|r tho t|no dust and |oso any ot tho proc|ous stutt.
1ho tront door oponod and tor a momont wo a|| trozo, oxpoct|ng Amy to bound |n and up tho sta|rs tor a
showor. Vax surpr|sod us |nstoad, scop|ng out tho s|tuat|on. °3ack |n a m|nuto!' ho ca||od out ovor h|s
l to|t a s||co as tho kn|to z|ppod across my arm and a warm tr|ck|o as my b|ood ran.
Vax was root|ng around, |ook|ng tor somoth|ng |n Amy's backpack. °1hat g|r|'s go|ng to woar mo out,'
ho adm|ttod, w|thdraw|ng a skotchpad and ponc||s. |o gr|nnod. °3ut l'm |ov|ng ovory m|nuto. Evoryth|ng
okay |n horo?'
A|ox| noddod.
l |ookod at tho rod pudd|o gathor|ng |n tho bow| by my o|bow. °And human b|ood doosn't.'
Vax snortod and l|otr chuck|od.
°1oss|o,' Cat admon|shod. °Wo aron't sharks. Or vamp|ros,' sho addod w|sttu||y. °|uman b|ood doosn't
do |t tor us.'
°|ar too ta|ntod w|th chom|ca|s and prosorvat|vos,' l|otr wh|sporod. °1ho on|y t|mo |t's attract|vo |s |t |t's
|acod w|th a substanco a oborot has a major attract|on-'
°-or add|ct|on to,' Cat addod. °|oro|n, moth, coca|no.'
°l|zza,' Vax wh|sporod, oyo|ng mo dov|||sh|y. °What d|d you havo tor |unch today, 1oss|o?' ho grow|od,
||ck|ng h|s ||ps.
°You'ro such a pa|n,' l muttorod.
°3tat|ng tho obv|ous,' l|otr po|ntod out.
°|oy,' l ca||od to Vax. °|as Amy startod draw|ng aga|n?'
°Lo. 3ut sho'|| k||| mo |t l show you. Vost|y thoy'ro nudos,' ho puttod out h|s chost. °Ot mo.'
°l|ar,' l ca||od h|s b|utt. °What's sho roa||y work|ng on?'
°Vo,' ho doc|arod w|th a w|gg|o ot h|s oyobrows. °A|most as much as l'm work|ng on hor.' |o w|nkod
°1ho b|ood's com|ng tastor,' l|otr marvo|od, |oan|ng ovor my arm to watch.
°3ocauso your brothor's p|ss|ng mo ott,' l snar|od.
°l can show you ono l drow ot hor..' Vax pu||od a |ooso shoot ot papor trom botwoon tho skotchpad's
pagos, ho|d|ng |t up proud|y.
A st|ck t|guro w|th a rod scr|bb|o ot ha|r and boobs starod back at mo, sm|||ng.
°Vax!' l snappod.
|o tuckod |t away and shruggod. °Yoah. 3ho sa|d: No moro popor íor yoo!'
°1hat's p|onty ot b|ood,' l|otr announcod, and Cat bandagod mo up.
°G|ad to spood tho procoss,' Vax toasod, p|ac|ng a s|oppy k|ss on my torohoad botoro hoad|ng back to
A|ox| carotu||y moasurod tho |ngrod|onts, m|x|ng somo ot tho powdor and dr|od wo|tsbano |nto tho b|ood
botoro pour|ng |t |nto a boakor and s|ow|y app|y|ng hoat.
Vax roappoarod |n tho toyor to rummago tor somoth|ng o|so. ||s noso wr|nk|od. °Gross.'
l agrood. °0ot|n|to|y pungont. 1hat-'
°3mo||s ||ko Cat's cook|ng,' Vax conc|udod.
°vory n|co, Vax|m|||an,' Cat poutod. °l do not roca|| you comp|a|n|ng whon you ||ckod tho moat|oat d|sh.'
°l d|d that puro|y |n so|t-dotonso. lt l hadn't oaton |t, |t wou|d havo como tor mo,' ho protostod.
Cat throw a notobook at h|m.
Vax dodgod, |augh|ng. °Wo'|| bo on tho back porch. |or . An hour?'
A|ox| noddod. °lorosbow.' |o chockod tho tomporaturo ot tho m|xturo and turnod ott tho hoat. °Wo||. lt
shou|d bo that s|mp|o. Amaz|ng what m|ght bo undono |t somoono's w||||ng to mako a sma|| sacr|t|co and
tako a r|sk.'
°3o what now?'
°Wo'|| nood to tost |t. 3oo what |t doos to a samp|o ot tho|r b|ood on a m|croscopo s||do.'
°0o you havo a m|croscopo?'
l|otr h|ssod somoth|ng at Cat.
A|ox| noddod, |gnor|ng thom. °Upsta|rs. l'|| go got |t. Wo'|| tost our curo aga|nst tho|r b|ood and soo what
happons. lt wo got a rosu|t wo can doc|do |t |t's to bo |ngostod or |njoctod.'
l|otr h|ssod aga|n.
°lt w||| tako a ||tt|o moro t|mo, but sc|onco gonora||y doos,' A|ox| oxp|a|nod.
l cou|dn't ho|p |t. l turnod away trom A|ox| to soo what l|otr was comp|a|n|ng about.
°Cat!' A|ox| cr|od out, star|ng |n horror.
°1|mo |s proc|so|y what wo don't havo, A|ox|,' Cathor|no sa|d apo|ogot|ca||y. 3ho sm||od, hor tooth
sta|nod a sobor|ng dark rod and brown w|th my b|ood. °Woron't you tho ono just ta|k|ng about sacr|t|co
and r|sk?'
°Lo,' ho wh|sporod. °3ut, |t's ||ko mod|c|no . tho dosago.'
°W||| bo t|no,' sho assurod h|m. °Ugh.'
°What? What |s |t?' ho domandod, g|v|ng hor a ||tt|o shako.
3ho wr|nk|od hor noso. °l|tt|o-attortasto. l th|nk l shou|d s|t down. Or-' 3ho |ookod at mo.
°|oad to tho bathroom?' l was c|os|ng tho bathroom door boh|nd us whon sho t|na||y noddod
°Aro you okay?' l askod.
3ho swayod, and l ho|pod hor s|t on tho co|d t||o t|oor by tho tub. °l w||| bo tar bottor than okay |t th|s
works, 1oss|o,' sho cont|dod. °1o bo a norma| human-havo a norma| ||to span-that |s bottor than
anyth|ng l havo ovor droamod ot.'
3ho c|utchod hor stomach and groanod. °Ohhh.'
°l'|| got A|ox|-' 3ut sho grabbod my arm and sa|d p|a|n|y, °Nyot. l don't want h|m to soo mo-||ko th|s
-obbb. l|otr. Got l|otr.' 3ho saggod aga|nst tho s|do ot tho tub, oyos narrow and unb||nk|ng.
l baro|y had t|mo to turn tho knob botoro ho s||d past mo to knoo| bos|do h|s tw|n.
°l hoard,' ho wh|sporod. °lt hurts, oo?'
°Looo.' 3ho b|t hor |owor ||p to koop trom cry|ng out.
°l|ko tho chango?'
°Ugh. Voro-oolso,' sho pantod, pross|ng hor hands to hor oars. °Oh. l th|nk-'
l scroamod whon tho wo|t t|ashod |nto bo|ng, w|p|ng out Cat. Eyos burn|ng, tonguo dart|ng botwoon
snapp|ng tooth, |t |ungod at mo.
l|otr was botwoon us |n a hoartboat, crush|ng tho broath out ot mo as ho p|nnod mo aga|nst tho
bathroom door. A|ox| shoutod tor us to |ot h|m |n trom tho othor s|do. l|otr's hoart boat so hard |t
throatonod to |oap out h|s back and |nto mo. 1h|s was now to h|m, too.
Not roassur|ng.
°Cathor|no. Ekator|na!' |o grow|od somoth|ng at hor |n luss|an, and h|s body burnod as tur sproutod
a|| a|ong h|s hoad, nock, shou|dors, arms, and torso. 1horo was a crunch as |t a|| tho bonos and jo|nts |n
h|m strugg|od to sh|tt at onco. W|th a wa|| that rockod mo ho mo|tod trom human to wo|t, 1-sh|rt pu|||ng
apart. 3||ck jaws snapp|ng, ho stoopod toward hor, tho ha|r on h|s body r|s|ng and mak|ng h|m |ook ovon
b|ggor-ovon moro torr|ty|ng than l'd ovor soon h|m |n h|s wo|tsk|n.
3t||| wo|t, Cat wh|nod, throat tromb||ng out a t|na| throat as sho droppod to tho t|oor and oxposod hor sott
bo||y. 3ubm|tt|ng.
l|otr's jaws c|ampod shut on tho rutt ot hor nock and ho pu||od hor up, shak|ng hor sound|y botoro
dropp|ng hor back down. |o snortod out a broath so hot |t toggod tho bathroom m|rror.
Cat sh|vorod on tho t|oor wh||o l|otr s|ow|y roga|nod h|s human torm and h|s sonsos.
°What's happon|ng?' A|ox| domandod, pound|ng on tho door so hard |t ratt|od mo.
°3ho changod. l don't know.' l tr|od to oxp|a|n through tho bathroom door, my hand on l|otr's baro back.
°lt's ||ko sho pootod |nto hor wo|tsk|n and now.'
°Not my wook to c|oan tho bathroom.' Vox.
°Got back to tho porch and koop your g|r|tr|ond busy,' A|ox| domandod.
°|ard to koop hor tocusod w|th so much no|so,' Vax grumb|od, march|ng back down tho sta|rs.
3onoath h|s grumpy tacado l hoard roa| trustrat|on as ho worr|od about Cat.
°low what, 1oss|o? Can you |ot mo |n?'
°lo. 3orry. Cat sa|d you woron't a||owod.'
°0amm|t.' ||s t|sts thundorod aga|nst tho door aga|n.
°3ho'|| bo t|no, A|ox|,' l|otr roassurod, h|s vo|co stoady. l was tho on|y ono to soo tho way h|s hands
shook. 1o soo tho toar rot|octod |n h|s oyos.
3uddon|y tho wo|t convu|sod, g|v|ng ono |ong shuddor that shook hor trom snout to ta|| and sho toro
stra|ght down hor contor, r|pp|ng |n ha|t as s|mp|y as l'd soparato a papor towo| trom tho ro||. Cathor|no
t|oppod torward, out ot tho wo|tsk|n, spattorod |n goro. 3|mp|o, human, and oxhaustod, sho sm||od |n
3trango|y, th|ngs botwoon 3arah and mo |mprovod. lt was a|most ||ko wo woro back to our pro-l|otr t|mo,
3arah swa||ow|ng books who|o-3hakospoaro's Vocbotb and Orwo||'s Aolmo| lorm-and mo not do|ng
any l0A. Vax and Amy mado up tor my |ack ot pub||c d|sp|ays ot attoct|on, though, and l worr|od,
catch|ng Varv|n g|ar|ng at thom ono morn|ng botoro 0orok |od h|m away, hand on h|s shou|dor. 3oph|o
to||owod our ant|cs trom a d|stanco, watch|ng th|n a|r w|th qu|ot cur|os|ty a|most as troquont|y as sho
watchod us.
°ls sho horo?' l askod attor ovoryono had scattorod to c|assos.
3oph|o's torohoad croasod, hor tocus somowhoro o|so, ||ko sho was try|ng to hoar somoth|ng a groat
d|stanco away. 3ho noddod. °3ho gots c|oaror,' sho broathod, °whon sho roa||y tr|os. l th|nk sho w|shos
you cou|d soo hor, too.'
l |ookod at tho samo spot that ho|d 3oph|o's rapt attont|on. lo |uck. °lt's onough l know sho's around
occas|ona||y,' l assurod.
°3ho's a|ways around,' 3oph|o corroctod.
°Oh.' 1h|nk|ng about my mothor as w|tnoss to tho qu|ck makoout soss|on l|otr and l had had tho
prov|ous n|ght, l muttorod, °l am so groundod whon l d|o..'
3oph|o chuck|od.
°What's sho do|ng?'
°|oar no ov||, soo no ov|| . l th|nk sho moans sho knows whon to covor hor oyos and oars.'
°Vom a|ways had a strong sonso ot humor.'
°3ho's g|ad you'ro stay|ng away trom 0orok, too.'
°Yoah. l w|sh l know why that was so |mportant. l moan . l know ho's m|xod up |n somo wo|rd stutt
horo, but.'
°3tay c|oar ot h|m, 1oss|o,' 3oph|o |ntonod. °lo mattor what. You'vo boon roa||y |ucky so tar. 3ut ovon
|uck runs out.'
Vr. 3o|don stoppod out ot h|s c|assroom, g|ar|ng. °1ardy bo|| |n throo-'
l rushod tho door .
. s||d across tho t|oor .
. and |nto tho soat by l|otr.
1ho bo|| rang. 3o|don s|appod a p|nk s||p ot papor on my dosk. °0otont|on,' ho doc|arod.
°What? l mado |t.'
°lunn|ng |n tho ha||.'
°1hat |s abso|uto|y unta|r,' l|otr muttorod.
°What was that Vr. lusakova?' 3o|don askod.
l|otr pausod, com|ng to a doc|s|on. °1hat's unta|r. lt abso|uto|y socks.'
Anothor p|nk s||p was producod. °Ono tor you as wo||.' 3o|don soomod qu|to sat|st|od.
3ut l|otr was moro so.
Wo woro m|rod |n quadrat|c oquat|ons whon tho dosk boh|nd mo |urchod and l to|t somoth|ng hot and
wot spattor across tho back ot my sh|rt. °Oh. God.' l'd know tho smo|| anywhoro.
Out ot our soats, wo a|| starod as Ky||o 1ohanson convu|sod on tho t|oor, tounta|n|ng ||ko a |awn
spr|nk|or sot on random. 3o|don was on tho |ntorcom, nurso on tho way as l|otr and l pu||od dosks away
trom Ky||o's wr|th|ng body.
1ho nurso shoutod tor us to c|oar tho room. EV1s arr|vod so tast l wondorod |t 1unct|on ||gh kopt thom
on stand-by. 1ho c|assroom door shut. 3tunnod, my mouth wou|dn't. l |ookod at my c|assmatos. 3tophon
Varx ho|d h|s hoad ||ko ho had a m|gra|no to boat anyth|ng, and lynn Varrott| c|utchod hor stomach, pa|o
and qu|vor|ng. ln tact, a|| ot my c|assmatos oxcopt l|otr |ookod ||ko abso|uto crap. And l was tho ono
coatod |n spow.
Vr. 3o|don |ookod at mo as tho EV1s rushod Ky||o's body down tho ha|| on a strotchor. °lo dotont|on,'
ho muttorod, wr|nk||ng h|s noso as |t l was tho worst th|ng ovor smo||od |n h|s c|assroom. °You'vo boon
pun|shod onough.'
¯ ¯ ¯
l|otr sorvod dotont|on, and Vax |ns|stod on tak|ng Amy and mo out tor cottoo attor schoo| s|nco l'd
d|tchod tho nasty swoatsh|rt and just |ookod ||ko ono moro rav|ng tan ot tho 1unct|on 1ackrabb|ts, woar|ng
my schoo| gym sh|rt |n pub||c. lt was romarkab|y c|v|||zod ot h|m-no dr|vo-thru or Grabb|t Vart cottoo tor
us-ho parkod |n tront ot tho nowost and most Europoan ot tho catos crowd|ng 1unct|on's Va|n 3troot.
As our sma|| ta|k wanod to noar|y noth|ng, ho caught my oyo.
°l|otr, A|ox| and l aro go|ng out ton|ght.'
°Oh.' Vy hoart sank. °1on|ght?' lt was suddon|y too soon, too tr|ghton|ng. l know t|mo was runn|ng out. l
know tho ClA wasn't cooporat|ng. 1hoy'd koop Vothor as |ong as sho ||vod lí |t guarantood thom accoss
-and a sonso ot contro|-ovor tho lusakovas. 3ut whon Wanda startod try|ng to koop mo trom tho
lusakova tam||y, tho wo|vos doc|dod |t was t|mo to mako a movo aga|nst thom. 1o got Vothor out and
cons|dor a now stratogy. Vaybo a now |ocat|on.
0amm|t. W|th Cat curod, |t |ott on|y two worowo|vos and ono human aga|nst a nost ot agonts. l had
str|ct|y boon to|d by my occas|ona||y can|no guard|ans l was not a||owod to go.
l ran my straw a|ong tho bottom ot my cup, suck|ng up tho |ast b|ts ot mocha and caramo|. 1hoy d|dn't
tasto noar|y as swoot now l know.
tasto noar|y as swoot now l know.
°|ow bad cou|d |t bo, 1oss|o?' Amy punchod my shou|dor. °1hoy'ro go|ng out tor ooo n|ght. ln 1unct|on.
l|otr's not |ook|ng to hook up w|th anyono but you.' 3ho s||d hor t|ngor around tho |ns|do ot hor cup to
scrapo ott tho |ast b|ts ot wh|ppod croam.
Vax starod. l tota||y undorstood tho t|t|o ot tho song °|ungry ||ko tho Wo|t.'
Ob||v|ous, Amy ||ckod ott hor t|ngor. °l moan-how much troub|o can thoy poss|b|y got |nto, |n 1unct|on?'
°Yoah,' Vax sa|d, h|s vo|co suddon|y an octavo |owor. °|ow much troub|o cou|d l-wo-how much
troub|o cou|d wo got |nto |n a town th|s sma||?'
°W|th you at tho whoo|, too much.' l k|ckod h|m undor tho tab|o tor omphas|s.
A br|ot stop at ono ot tho ha|t-dozon |oca| pharmac|os-sor|ous|y, how many d|d a town tho s|zo ot
1unct|on roa||y nood?-and tho lusakovas woro aga|n stockod w|th bandagos, sa|vos, and an
assortmont ot pa|nk|||ors and t|rst-a|d-ro|atod |toms.
Amy |ookod at Vax as ho t|||od tho cart, and ho shruggod, sm|||ng. °You know l|otr has a prod|spos|t|on
tor |njury.'
Amy noddod, suro|y romombor|ng tho A1v r|do whon wo woro both so scarod l|otr was dy|ng. 1hat had
boon wo|| botoro l know l|otr had bas|ca||y boon dy|ng s|nco ho turnod th|rtoon and norma| th|ngs-||ko
concuss|ons and noar-doath oxpor|oncos-moant ||tt|o to h|s ovora|| hoa|th.
l gawkod. °l may know tbot, but l suro d|dn't know you know tho word proolsposltloo.'
°lot just a protty taco,' ho snortod.
Amy gr|nnod.
¯ ¯ ¯
°3o, |t you guys aro go|ng out ton|ght, what aro tho g|r|s go|ng to do?' Amy askod.
°l'm stay|ng ovor,' l mont|onod.
Amy was ocstat|c. °3|oopovor!'
°Wo havo str|ct ru|os about p|||ow t|ghts,' l|otr statod.
°Lo,' Vax draw|od. °lo p|||ow t|ghts un|oss tho boys aro prosont to watch.' A s|y gr|n tw|stod h|s ||ps.
Amy shovod h|m, and Vax stumb|od back ||ko hor ||tt|o push mattorod. °Wo can watch a mov|o . p|ay
somo gamos,' sho suggostod, shrugg|ng a s|ng|o shou|dor. °lt'|| bo groat.'
°Yoah, but |t's st||| a schoo| n|ght,' l po|ntod out. °l nood to got th|s stup|d hoart projoct dono tor 3|o, and
wo shou|d a|| bo as|oop at a roasonab|o hour.' |opotu||y l cou|d got Amy squ|rro|od away downsta|rs
botoro tho boys camo back w|th Vothor. Amy was a hoavy s|oopor.. lt m|ght just work.
l suddon|y roa||zod l d|dn't know what was supposod to happon |t tho boys succoodod. Why hadn't l
boon to|d?
Cat spoko up. °l may havo to |oavo oar|y |n tho morn|ng-catch a t||ght, l hopo.' 3ho cont|nuod botoro
o|thor Amy or l cou|d ask o í|lgbt to wboroº °3o l m|ght nood ono ot you to hand|o broaktast.'
°l|oaso,' Vax agrood.
Cat ro||od hor oyos at h|m.
°Anyway, wo'|| bo out a|| n|ght,' l|otr sa|d.
°lmag|no us at 0onny's,' A|ox| suggostod to us. °Wo|t|ng down g|gant|c ho|p|ngs ot pancakos.'
°l w|||.' At |oast l'd try. lt was tar moro p|oasant than what thoy'd roa||y bo do|ng.
Wo ordorod p|zza. 1horo was an a|r ot co|obrat|on about th|ngs. And whon tho momont camo tor tho
boys to |oavo, l got tw|tchy. 1orr|t|od. l know l cou|dn't go. Know l'd bo a ||ab|||ty. l wasn't stoa|thy, l wasn't
strong. l suro|y cou|dn't hand|o gott|ng shot. 3ut tho |doa ot s|tt|ng |n tho o|d Ouoon Anno houso wh||o thoy
r|skod tho|r ||vos to troo tho|r mothor .
3tand|ng on tho tront porch, l|otr brushod a strand ot ha|r back trom my chook and tuckod |t boh|nd my
oar. ||s t|ngors tra||od gont|y down tho s|do ot my taco unt|| ho crad|od my ch|n, poor|ng |nto my oyos. ||s
broath hot aga|nst my ||ps, my hoart pumpod so tast undor h|s |ntonso gazo l cou|d no |ongor p|ck out
|nd|v|dua| hoartboats, |t soomod to hum a|ong. l|otr prossod h|s ||ps aga|nst m|no, h|s hands trac|ng tho
curvo ot my nock and s||pp|ng ovor my arms and onto my back. |o wrappod thom around mo, pu|||ng mo
l s||d my arms up and around h|s nock, c|os|ng my oyos and turn|ng ott my sonsos oxcopt thoso
absorb|ng h|m.
l hoard on|y l|otr's broath|ng. l tastod on|y l|otr's ||ps. l smo||od on|y l|otr's w||d woodsy scont. And l to|t
-l to|t . l|otr's chost r|s|ng and ta|||ng aga|nst mo. l|otr's arms ||ko hot stoo| bands squooz|ng mo c|oso.
l|otr's ||ps rac|ng a|ong my jaw||no and paus|ng by my oar. |o t|||od my hoad w|th h|s words: °1horo |s so
||tt|o t|mo. Wo nood to mako ovory momont count.'
Vy t|ngors tw|nod |nto tho dark ha|r cur||ng s||ght|y at tho napo ot h|s nock and h|s broath|ng grow
raggod. |or tho momont thoro was on|y us. °Easy,' ho wh|sporod. °1oss, oasy.' l saw tho t|ro craw| up |n
tho dopths ot h|s oyos.
°l'm scarod.'
°0on't bo,' ho commandod. °l can't worry about you ton|ght-l nood to tocus.'
°Ot courso. 0on't worry about mo. 3ut-'
°What?' ho wh|sporod, oyobrows draw|ng togothor as ho |ookod down at mo.
°Como back to mo, l|otr. ln ono p|oco.'
°As you w|sh.' |o crushod mo to h|m, rom|nd|ng mo ot tho powor ho kopt h|ddon bonoath a surpr|s|ng|y
human-soom|ng sk|n. |o covorod my mouth w|th h|s and k|ssod mo w|th h|s oyos opon so l cou|d soo tho
s|ow burn l'd startod.
l ho|d on to h|m, t|ngors knott|ng |n h|s sh|rt, snoakors c||mb|ng on to tho top ot h|s. °l'|| do my bost,
1oss,' ho prom|sod. °|or you, l a|ways do my bost.'
A|ox| grabbod h|m, shov|ng h|m toward tho car, a|roady runn|ng |n tho dr|voway. °Como on, Vax!'
Vax hos|tatod tor a momont on tho porch. |o |ookod at Amy. 3ho mot h|s gazo, undauntod, and
answorod h|s unspokon quost|on. °l don't k|ss somobody who's |ook|ng to k|ss anyono but mo.'
|o d|dn't ovon b||nk but grabbod hor, d|ppod hor, and k|ssod hor unt|| ho'd guarantood hor knoos wou|d
°3or|ous|y?' sho askod whon sho'd caught hor broath. °You'ro go|ng out, but-yoo`ro go|ng out.?'
°What sort ot roputat|on do l havo around horo?' ho muttorod, watch|ng Amy's oxpross|on trom ha|t-
c|osod oyos.
c|osod oyos.
°A wo||-oarnod ono,' l answorod.
°Go. 1hoy'ro wa|t|ng tor you.'
|o d|d, bound|ng down tho stops and |oap|ng |nto tho car.
1hoy spod away, and wo turnod back to tho houso. A houso that to|t odd|y vacant w|thout tho|r w||d
¯ ¯ ¯
l droppod my hand ot cards whon l hoard tho car |n tho dr|vo. 7oo sooo, l thought. l saw tho samo words
-tho toar-otch across Cat's torohoad.
°What |s |t?'
Cat and l |ookod at oach othor, thon at Amy. Wo'd |mag|nod a d|ttoront t|mo ||no. Wo thought sho'd bo
as|oop whon tho boys ro||od back |n, succosstu||y troo|ng Vothor.
3ut, now . sho was awako and awaro.
Wo |ungod tor tho door, Cat's t|ngors c|os|ng on tho knob an |nstant botoro m|no. 3ack |n tho d|n|ng
room our cha|rs c|attorod to tho t|oor. Cat |ookod at mo, oyos w|do, and suckod down a raggod broath.
3ho t|ung tho door opon, gaspod, and toro down tho wa|kway.
l stood trozon |n tho doorway.
°What's go|ng on, 1oss|o?' Amy askod trom boh|nd mo. °You'vo ||od a |ot s|nco your mom d|od. And l
got |t. 1ho truth sucks most days. 3ut-'
l to|t tho chango |n tho a|r as Amy turnod to |ook tho way Cat had run.
3otwoon us, tho words d|od, strang|od |n our throats.
ln tho th|n star||ght l baro|y mado out tho s||houottos ||mp|ng toward us. 1wo t|guros ha|t-draggod, ha|t-
carr|od ono botwoon thom, and Cat, tho sma||ost, dashod around tho odgo ot tho damagod tr|o, spoak|ng
luss|an |n |ow and urgont tonos.
°You shou|d hoad to your dad's ton|ght.'
°|o||, no. 1o|| mo what's.'
l roundod on hor, my oyos start|ng to st|ng as toars throatonod. °lt you won't go, at |oast got out ot my
way.' l odgod hor tarthor |ns|do as thoy c||mbod tho stops and woro bathod |n tho sott g|ow thrown by tho
porch's s|ng|o bu|b.
A|ox|'s woary taco was smoarod w|th b|ood, h|s sh|rt torn and spattorod w|th rod. l|otr was worso. A
gash across h|s taco markod a grazo by a bu||ot. ||s sh|rt was raggod, tho ho|os that tattorod |t odgod |n
cr|mson. 1horo was b|ood. lots ot b|ood. l roachod tor h|m ovon as l roa||zod ho wasn't tho worst. |o, at
|oast, was wa|k|ng.
Vax, though-Vax was a d|ttoront story.
°|o|y sh|t.'
°lns|do,' l ordorod Amy.
3ho scramb|od to oboy.
°lhono down.' lt was a|| tho rom|ndor sho noodod that tho lusakovas d|d not d|a| 011.
3ho pockotod hor co|| as wo pushod past. °What.?'
°3omot|mos |t's bottor not to know, r|ght?'
3ho noddod, swa||ow|ng tho |og|c sho'd spoutod oar||or.
Cat c|osod tho door boh|nd us, and togothor wo oasod Vax onto tho |ovo soat |n tho s|tt|ng room. °l got
t|rod ot rop|ac|ng turn|turo.' Cat's vo|co wavorod.
l roachod bonoath tho marb|o-top tab|o, brush|ng tho wood w|th my t|ngors, romombor|ng tho bug l'd |ott.
3ut l tound noth|ng. l|otr sm||od at mo, a gr|m turn ot h|s ||ps as b|ood tr|ck|od |nto ono oyo trom anothor
cut. Know|ng tho way Vax ran h|s mouth, ho'd romovod tho bug botoro tho r|sk outwo|ghod tho bonot|t.
°You'ro |ast on tho ||st,' Cat |ntormod A|ox|. °0o wo nood to sot a por|motor?'
°Nyot. 1hoy'|| bo p|ck|ng up p|ocos tor a wh||o.'
l d|dn't roa||zo Amy had |ott us unt|| sho dashod back |nto tho room, carry|ng an assortmont ot bandagos
and o|ntmonts.
°Good g|r|,' A|ox| congratu|atod hor. °low go homo.'
Cat snatchod tho packagos out ot Amy's hands and toro |nto thom. °l|otr. You s|t thoro and try not to
b|ood a|| ovor tho upho|story. Vax.' 3ho stoopod ovor h|m. °Vax!' 3ho s|appod h|m, hor hand crack|ng
across h|s taco.
||s oyos pu||od opon as ho tought tor tocus. °3|storrr,' ho croakod.
°Wako up, |d|ot! l nood to know whoro ovory bu||ot |andod. Your body's try|ng to soa|. And l'd bot thoy'vo
sp|kod tho ammo.'
°Lo,' ho agrood grogg||y. °1hoy'ro not stup|d. As |ong as thoy can got ono ot us, thoy'|| havo what thoy
°What tho ho|| |s ho ta|k|ng about?' Amy askod.
°loth|ng,' Cat |ns|stod. °|o's boon h|t on tho hoad. Vakos h|m ovon moro stup|d.'
°Got mo tho loathorman by tho door,' Cat commandod. °|avo you kopt |t sharp?' sho askod A|ox|.
°As a razor.'
°lorosbow. Wo nood markors, too. Othorw|so wo m|ght |oso ono . 3harp|os aro |n tho drawor.'
1ak|ng l|otr's hand, l mado h|m pross tho gauzo t|ght to h|s own hoad wound wh||o l tound markors.
°You boys run tho r|sk ot not bo|ng so protty,' Cat muttorod as sho swabbod tho loathorman's b|ado
w|th a|coho|. °Or so a||vo.' 3ho |ookod at mo. °Got l|otr's sh|rt ott and c|rc|o oach ontry wound. 1hon |ook
tor ox|ts.'
lodd|ng, l hos|tatod. |ow cou|d l got h|s sh|rt ott w|thout hurt|ng h|m moro?
Cat's gazo t||ckod to mo and sho ordorod, °1oar |t ott,' as sho tocusod onco moro on Vax.
l grabbod tho nock||no ot l|otr's sh|rt and pu||od, tho sound so ||ko Cat's t|na| transtormat|on l trozo. l
tought to koop my oyos opon, to v|ow tho wounds that marrod l|otr's boaut|tu| body, so pockod w|th ho|os.
|and tromb||ng, l c|rc|od oach ono.
l|otr snarod my wr|st, stoad|od mo. °lt's not so bad, 1oss,' ho sa|d, catch|ng my oyos w|th h|s own.
Vy v|s|on b|urrod, oyos t||||ng w|th toars. °l'm tho ||ar |n our ro|at|onsh|p. 0on't you start.'
|o |oanod back, watch|ng through narrowod oyos as my hands stumb|od across h|s body, c|rc||ng tho
wounds a|roady try|ng to c|oso.
°l nood to soo your back.'
|o gruntod and ro||od awkward|y ovor.
°ls |t good or bad thoro's ono ox|t wound?' l askod.
|o |ns|stod, °lt's t|no,' but tho |ast word camo out w|th a whoozo.
°l|ar,' l protostod.
°Yoo do |t!' Cat shr|okod at A|ox|. °0amn human hands-not stoady at a||.' 3hakon, sho stood by Vax,
tho b|ado b|oody |n hor hand.
A|ox| roachod up and took tho kn|to, mak|ng sooth|ng no|sos. °C|rc|o tho othor wounds,' ho wh|sporod.
°l'|| cut. l havo moro pract|co w|th my damn human hands.'
°|oro.' Amy was bos|do mo, k|tchon kn|vos |n hor hands, b|ados br|ght and st|nk|ng ot a|coho|. °1ako
thom a|| out?'
°Yos, ovory s|ng|o bu||ot.'
3ho nudgod mo. °3coot ovor. 3hou|d wo c|oan our hands?'
°l-' logu|ar |ntoct|ons d|dn't soom to mattor to worowo|vos, but what to to|| Amy? At what po|nt woro
||os moro harmtu| than tho truth? lrobab|y a|ways. °1ust got tho bu||ots out.'
° 'lucy, you got somo 'sp|a|n|n' to do,' ' sho sa|d |n hor bost l|cky l|cardo |mpross|on. 3ho sot a hand
on l|otr's stomach, nost||ng tho trac|ng ot tho bu||ot ho|o botwoon hor sproad |ndox t|ngor and thumb.
l|otr gaspod whon tho kn|to dug |n and l grabbod h|s hand.
°1hoy hoa| so tast..'
°Yoah.' lo po|nt dony|ng |t.
3ho roachod hor t|ngors |nto tho ho|o, d|gg|ng around tor tho bu||ot's mota| hoad.
l|otr wr|thod, taco contort|ng, and l pu||od my hand troo ot h|s so l cou|d rost a|| my wo|ght on h|m. Vy
taco |nchos trom h|s, l starod down |nto h|s g||nt|ng oyos, |gnor|ng tho p|nch ot pa|n |n h|s toaturos and tho
way Amy apo|og|zod oach t|mo sho w|thdrow anothor bu||ot's hoad trom l|otr's rap|d|y hoa||ng t|osh.
lnstoad, l kopt my bost sm||o pastod across my ||ps and to|d h|m about tho th|ngs wo'd do whon w|ntor
arr|vod. l prom|sod snowba|| batt|os, s|od racos, and |c|c|o sword t|ghts ond|ng w|th hours wrappod up
togothor by a roar|ng t|ro, s|pp|ng toa and hot choco|ato. And tho who|o t|mo l ta|kod, my hoart achod, not
know|ng |t ho'd ||vo to |ot mo koop a s|ng|o prom|so.
3y tho t|mo Amy got to tho |ast bu||ot, tho wound was comp|oto|y soa|od, tho sk|n smooth and sott as a
3os|do us, A|ox| was c|oan|ng up Vax and h|mso|t. Cat was st||| and s||ont |n tho shadows, a tumu|t ot
omot|on wash|ng ovor hor taco.
°Aro you suro thoro was a bu||ot thoro?' Amy askod, runn|ng a t|ngor ovor tho portoct t|osh.
°l on|y c|rc|od bu||ot ho|os.'
°And th|s ono d|dn't havo an ox|t?' 3ho tappod h|s chost w|th tho kn|to's hand|o.
l|otr had ta||on |nto an unoasy s|oop, my hand aga|n |n h|s, h|s unnatura||y strong body oxhaustod.
°lo. l'm suro somoth|ng's thoro.'
Vax bogan to snoro. A|ox| gathorod up tho chunks ot t|osh. °3ottor burn thoso,' ho suggostod to Cat.
°1oo good a samp|o tor thom to add to tho|r co||oct|on.'
3ho noddod, muto, and to||owod h|m out ot tho s|tt|ng room.
Whon l|otr convu|sod, l jumpod, cry|ng |n pa|n as h|s hand crushod m|no. ||s oyos woro w|do and w||d
-unsoo|ng-rod t|ar|ng ||ko w||dt|ro. °Oouut!' ho scroamod. °Got |t ouuut-'
°3h|t!' Amy shr|okod, |os|ng hor gr|p on tho kn|to.
l|otr c|awod at h|s chost, at tho nog||g|b|o c|rc|o ot 3harp|o mark|ng h|s soa|od wound. 3||nd w|th pa|n,
ho thrashod and how|od, hands rak|ng across h|s sk|n.
°Vax!' l bo||owod.
|o was on l|otr |n a hoartboat, tak|ng h|m to tho t|oor and p|nn|ng h|s arms ovor h|s hoad.
l|otr k|ckod out, h|s toot connoct|ng w|th Amy's hoad. 3ho crump|od whoro sho stood, tho kn|to sho'd
just rotr|ovod c|attor|ng out ot hor gr|p. A|ox| and Cat jumpod on l|otr's |ogs, wo|ght|ng thom down.
|rozon |n shock as ho wr|thod, l watchod a|| my prom|sos to l|otr ovaporat|ng |nto noth|ng but worth|oss
°Ono's st||| |n!' Cat grow|od. °Cut |t out, 1oss|o!'
Gasp|ng, l to|| onto l|otr's chost, stradd||ng h|m, d|gg|ng tho kn|to |nto h|s sk|n. °l can't-' l sobbod. °1ho
r|b-|t's grown back-|t's b|ock|ng my kn|to!'
°|o||!' Vax snappod, adjust|ng h|s pos|t|on and koop|ng l|otr's arms down w|th h|s knoos. |o ra|sod a
t|st and s|ammod |t down on l|otr's r|b cago. 3ono crackod bonoath h|s assau|t, and toam spock|od
l|otr's gap|ng mouth.
°Now cut!'
l stabbod tho kn|to |n and pu||od troo a p|ug ot t|osh and goro, swoop|ng tho wound w|th my t|ngors unt|| l
tound tho bu||ot. W|th a grunt l toro |t |ooso, ho|d|ng |t abovo l|otr's prono body ||ko tho gr|mmost ot pr|zos.
lt s|zz|od, burn|ng tho b|ts ot t|osh and b|ood that st||| c|ung to |t.
A|ox| snatchod |t trom mo. °3p|kod. As |t tho gonot|c t|mo bomb |n thom |sn't onough.'
l|otr st|||od bonoath mo, h|s taco taut w|th pa|n, h|s oyos c|osod, broath|ng t|na||y stoady. l brushod tho
ha|r, soakod w|th swoat, out ot h|s oyos. l k|ssod h|m, gont|y, not car|ng that my ||ps camo back ta|ntod w|th
swoat and b|ood.
°Amy!' l rushod to hor, but Vax was thoro a|roady, crad||ng hor |n h|s arms.
°3ho'|| bo okay,' ho wh|sporod. °Anothor bru|so.'
°At |oast th|s ono was un|ntont|ona|.' l pr|od opon hor oyo||ds, |ook|ng at hor pup||s. °Yoah, l guoss sho'||
bo okay.'
°3o trag||o,' Vax wh|sporod, h|s gazo sh|tt|ng trom Amy's poacotu| taco to my troub|od ono. °Vaybo |t
wo woron't.'
°Woron't what, Vax?' Vy hoart ratt|od.
°Woron't horo.' |o p|ckod Amy up and |a|d hor on tho |ovo soat. °What |t wo woron't horo, 1oss|o?
What |t tho dangor just |ott w|th us?'
°l'd t|nd you.'
|o s|ghod. °lot |t wo d|dn't want you to.'
°0on't you daro throaton mo w|th |oav|ng.'
°Wo'ro throaton|ng you by stay|ng.'
A|ox| agrood trom tho doorway. °You'd bo sator w|thout us. You cou|d havo a n|co, norma| ||to, 1oss|o.
Graduato h|gh schoo|. Go to a n|co stato schoo| and got a dogroo. A good job. Voot a n|co guy-sott|o
down and havo somo k|ds and a dog. l|vo a n|co, sato, |ong, and norma| ||to, w|th a husband who w||| a|so
||vo a good, |ong, norma| ||to.'
1oars pr|ck|od at tho odgo ot my oyo|ashos. °l|otr can ||vo a |ong ||to |t ho takos tho curo,' l protostod,
t|ngors to|d|ng |nto t|sts at my s|dos.
°|o won't tako |t,' Vax sa|d, oxam|n|ng tho co|||ng. °lot attor what happonod ton|ght. lo|thor ot us w|||.
Wo nood tho add|t|ona| strongth and ab|||t|os to troo Vothor.'
l crossod tho t|oor and sat on tho odgo ot tho |ovo soat, tak|ng Amy's ||mp hand. °1hon stay away trom
hor. You'|| hurt hor much worso than Varv|n ovor cou|d |t sho |ovos you and you chooso.' l strugg|od w|th
tho word. |ow cou|d anyono chooso oootb ovor a shot at ||to and |ovo? °lt you chooso . to go.'
Vax know what l moant. 1hoy a|| d|d.
°lt's too |ato tor mo. 0o you undorstand? l |ovo l|otr.'
A|ox| startod to opon h|s mouth, but l stuck my hand up. °lo, A|ox|. l know what you'|| say. lt's tho samo
th|ng my dad wou|d say: l'm too young to ta|k about |ovo. 3ut l too| what l too|. l'vo had a |ot ot |oss
rocont|y, you know?' l cou|dn't |ook at thom, at tho|r sad oyos, so l t|xod my gazo on tho b|oodsta|nod
carpot. °l'd just ||ko to hang on to |ovo tor a wh||o now |nstoad. lt's too |ato tor mo,' l ropoatod, strok|ng
Amy's hand. °3ut |t's not too |ato tor hor.' l g|arod at tho boy w|th tho tous|od cur|s. °3tay away trom hor,
As much as l d|dn't want to, 0ad |ns|stod l go to tho match Wanda had arrangod. 0ur|ng tho day sho
camo to p|ck mo up, sho askod, °|avo you pract|cod onough to mako th|s worth our t|mo?'
°l'vo poppod ott a tow rounds horo and thoro.'
°Vaybo wo shou|dn't bothor.' 3ho c|osod my door and sat |n tho dr|vor's soat, hor taco drawn.
°3or|ous|y?' A yawn strotchod a|| tho way a|ong my sp|no, strugg||ng out ot my mouth.
°lt you'ro t|rod.'
°l'm ro|axod. |ocusod. 0on't you want to go? l t|gurod you'd put mo on d|sp|ay-|t l do wo||.'
°You'|| do wo||,' sho sa|d, pu|||ng |nto what passod as tratt|c on 1unct|on's outsk|rts. 3ho d|dn't sound ||ko
sho bo||ovod |t.
°Gooz, Wanda, you'ro such a downor. 1o|| mo good nows tor a chango.'
°Good nows? |ow about l to|| you how stup|d that stunt was your boytr|ond tr|od to pu|| tho othor n|ght?
loar|y got h|mso|t mado |nto 3w|ss chooso, trom what l hoar.'
°Yoah, ho noar|y d|od try|ng to troo h|s mothor. 0|d you ovon havo a mothor, Wanda? 0o you know what
|t's ||ko to |oso ono or know you'|| |oso hor way too soon?' l turnod to taco hor, stra|n|ng aga|nst my soat
bo|t. °God! Woro you thoro? 0|d you havo a gun on h|m?'
3ho pu||od ovor. °lo, l d|dn't. l wasn't ovon to|d whon tho shoot|ng startod. 0o you know what that
moans, 1oss|o? 0o you?'
l g|arod at hor.
°l cou|d |oso ovoryth|ng bocauso l koop stopp|ng |n on tho|r boha|t. 1ho ClA wants to storm tho|r houso
-drag tho|r assos |n, and l say, Ob oo, coo`t wo bo roosooob|oº 7boy`ro klos, l rom|nd my supor|ors.
7boy`ro jost cooíosoo-yoo koow bow toooogors oro. Lot`s got tbom to cooporoto.' 3ho grabbod tho
stoor|ng whoo| and shook |t ||ko sho'd toar |t ott |t sho cou|d. °l'vo ca||od ott so many p|ans to just tako
thom |n-by íorco, 1oss|o. And thon thoy do th|s!'
°What do you oxpoct thom to do? 3ho's dy|ng!'
Wanda took a doop broath, shak|ng out hor rago. °l oxpoct thom not to put mo |n that s|tuat|on ovor
aga|n. Wo havo guys who aro hosp|ta||zod.'
°lo ono's doad?'
°lo. lt sooms your boytr|ond has pushod a no-k||| po||cy w|th h|s ||tt|o pack. l don't know |t that'|| ho|p
thom or hurt thom. 3y tho way-whoro was Cat? 3ho d|dn't got |nto tho t|rot|ght at a||, accord|ng to tho
°Aro wo go|ng to tho match or not?'
Wo toro back onto tho road as l sank |nto tho soat, p|ugg|ng |n my Vl8 p|ayor and tocus|ng on rhythms
||ko tho boats botwoon br|ng|ng a p|sto| up, t|r|ng and gott|ng |t down aga|n. l d|dn't wasto worry on anyth|ng
-tho lusakovas woro rost|ng up at homo w|th Cat and A|ox| watch|ng tho por|motor. 1ho ClA was st|||
probab|y p|oc|ng stutt back togothor. l just workod to v|sua||zo my sotup, tho targot, my movos.
ln twonty m|nutos wo camo to an o|dor rod and gun c|ub. Wanda pu||od tho car to a stop on tho gravo|
|ot. 3ho was tapp|ng tho dash.
l not|cod tho absonco ot othor cars. °|uh. ||rst onos horo.'
°Wo'ro oar|y.'
°Good.' l ||kod to |ook at a rango botoro anyono o|so got to |t and startod act|ng norvy. lt |ot mo adjust
tho p|cturo |n my hoad and portoct my v|sua||zat|on botoro l ovon took out my gun.
l droadod hor words.
°0o you roa||y th|nk l'd put you on d|sp|ay |t you d|d wo||? l|ko, mako a b|g doa| out ot |t? Embarrass
you?' Wanda was ovon wo|rdor than norma| today.
°You'vo coachod mo a ||tt|o. 1ho bost th|ng somo coachos do |s tako crod|t.'
°Oh.' 3ho turnod ott tho car.
l caught hor star|ng at mo. °What?'
°l'm sorry l tr|od to push you toward that tootba|| guy and away trom l|otr.' 3ho s|ghod. °You'ro
troak|sh|y |oya|, and that's a raro th|ng.' 3ho p|ckod at tho stoor|ng whoo| covor w|th ono ot hor b|untod
t|ngorna||s. °l'm . l'm proud ot you, 1oss|o. You put yourso|t out thoro tor tho poop|o who mattor most |n
your ||to. You can bo roa||y maturo somot|mos.'
°l'm tho product ot my onv|ronmont. You grow up tast around worowo|vos and ClA agonts.'
Wanda noddod and roachod |nto tho backsoat to got my p|sto| caso. l thought sho sa|d somoth|ng ||ko,
°3omot|mos you don't grow up at a||.'
°Chock out tho rango. ln and down tho ha||.'
l noddod.
°lt's downsta|rs,' sho addod.
°1hoy |oavo |t opon?'
°1oo usua||y comos |n, un|ocks stutt, and goos |n to town to got roa| cottoo,' sho noddod. °|o makos
tho othor stutt but won't dr|nk |t. Usod to bo a compot|tor h|mso|t.'
°Coo|.' l oponod tho c|ubhouso door. 1ho scont ot cottoo grootod mo, a tow ompty 3tyrotoam cups
stackod noar a bott|o ot non-da|ry croamor, somo packs ot sugar, and a s|ng|o spoon damp w|th cottoo.
°1ust say no.' l turnod down tho ha||, my toot ocho|ng across tho poo||ng ||no|oum t||os and st|rr|ng up
sp|ra|s ot dust motos. 1ho p|aco noodod a good c|oan|ng.
l took ott my jackot and tuckod |t undor my arm. Opon|ng tho door, l poorod down tho sta|rs.
°Ugh.' 1ho smo|| ot damp p|acos |ott dark too |ong t|ck|od my noso. l shut tho door aga|n and turnod
back to tho cottoo. l wou|dn't dr|nk tho stutt (today), but l'd try and uso |t to ward ott tho nast|noss bo|ow.
Wator stoamod |nto tho cup and hab|t noar|y took ovor as l roachod tor tho spoon. 1ho damp p|ast|c
spoon. 0|dn't Wanda say 1oo got cottoo |n town? |uh.
l m|xod |n tho cottoo crysta|s and hoadod back a|ong tho ha||, oponod tho door, and startod down tho
stops. 1ho ha|r on my arms roso. 3omoth|ng wasn't qu|to r|ght. l trozo, ||ston|ng tor a c|uo, my oyos
Not good tor koop|ng my pu|so |n chock.
l hoard somoth|ng rust|o downsta|rs to my r|ght and l jorkod, cottoo s|osh|ng.
A mouso appoarod trom boh|nd a t|||ng cab|not and racod across tho basomont t|oor.
l broathod aga|n and cont|nuod down tho sta|rs.
1ho t|rst shot knockod mo onto my butt, cottoo s||ng|ng out |n a |ong arc. 0azod, l watchod Kont omorgo
trom boh|nd tho haphazard arrangomont ot t|||ng cab|nots, tr|pods, and bu||ot traps-tho odd assortmont
ot mota| a|| c|ubs soomod to accumu|ato. l|ght trom a s||d|ng-g|ass door spot||ghtod tho gun as |t wobb|od
|n h|s hands, cottoo dr|pp|ng ott h|m.
1ho damp spoon suddon|y mado sonso. °3hou|dn't dr|nk cottoo botoro shoot|ng,' l wh|sporod.
°3orry, k|d. l wantod a qu|ck k|||.' |o soundod apo|ogot|c.
low was tho t|mo tor tho horo|no to b|urt out somoth|ng br||||ant, somoth|ng touch|ng-somoth|ng
capab|o ot chang|ng a k|||or's m|nd. Vy mouth poppod opon. l gapod at h|m. °lot usod to murdor|ng
toonagors?' lot br||||ant. lot touch|ng. |o||. Vy shou|dor stung, and l not|cod tho |ong rod ||no ot a grazo.
°1oss|o!' Wanda yo||od. lo sonso ot docorum. langos woro qu|ot p|acos botwoon shots. 0|dn't sho
roa||zo that?
3ho thundorod down tho woodon sta|rs. °What tho-?'
1ho noso ot Kont's gun swung away trom mo, t|nd|ng Wanda. Who was tho groator throat: tho agont
-h|s coworkor-w|th tho gun caso, or tho k|d w|th cottoo stroam|ng down hor arm? °Wanda. 3orry.
|oadquartors doc|dod to promoto mo.'
°3o you shoot 1oss|o?' 3ho cont|nuod s|ow|y down tho stops, hands h|gh, gun caso at hor shou|dor.
°What sort ot organ|zat|on aro wo |n, Kont? l know wo'ro tar trom any major hub and most ot our
supor|ors novor ta|k to us taco-to-taco, but-'
°You'ro too c|oso to th|s s|tuat|on. You'ro not soo|ng c|oar|y. You had a chanco to got tho curo-'
°1osslco,' l snappod. °1ho curo has a namo.' l touchod my shou|dor. luts. |o|o |n my sh|rt. l ||kod th|s
sh|rt. At |oast my jackot was okay.
Kont ramb|od on, °lt tho boy'd boon ab|o to do h|s part and got hor undor contro|, or |t you cou|d'vo kopt
hor trom tho worowo|vos-stoppod tho r|sk ot tho rost ot thom bo|ng t|xod-'
°1hoy'ro sons|t|vo about that phraso,' l |ntorjoctod. lo, ho wou|dn't ||ko mo attor th|s. 3ut ho'd shot mo
onco a|roady. Vy part |n tho popu|ar|ty contost ot ||to was probab|y noar|y ovor.
||s taco p|nkod. °You scrowod up, Wanda.'
°3o you shoot 1oss|o?' sho ropoatod. 3ho was bos|do mo now. Vak|ng |t oas|or tor Kont to sw|ng tho
gun's muzz|o botwoon us.
°l don't want to wasto my ||to p|ay|ng koop-away w|th worowo|vos. l'd rathor orad|cato tho throat-tho
curo-1osslco.' |o movod tho gun, stoady|ng |t so l was c|oar|y |n h|s s|ghts.
||s t|ngor rostod on tho tr|ggor. l wondorod |t |t was a two-stago or a ono-stago. lt on|y mado ha|t a
hoartboat's d|ttoronco..
Wanda mado a b|ggor ono.
A tooth t|ow out ot Kont's mouth as tho p|sto| caso connoctod w|th h|s hoad and h|s shot wont w|do.
Way w|do.
Wanda had hor s|doarm |n hand. °Up tho stops, 1oss|o!'
l grabbod tho p|sto| caso and scramb|od up tho sta|rs. 3oh|nd mo, l hoard Wanda warn, °0on't mako
1hon: pop-pop-pop.
¯ ¯ ¯
l stood at tho top ot tho sta|rs c|utch|ng my p|sto| caso and st||| wondor|ng what to do whon 1oo camo |n.
°You |ook norvous, young |ady.'
l noddod at tho b|zarro undorstatomont.
°|avo you tr|od s|tt|ng down and do|ng somo v|sua||zat|on botoro tho shoot|ng starts?'
°l'm th|nk|ng |t's not a good day tor mo to bo down thoro.'
°Vmm,' 1oo sa|d thoughttu||y.
°Can l borrow your phono?'
°3uro. Co||s don't got a s|gna| up horo, but wo'vo boon around s|nco tho to|ograph.' l wondorod |t ho
|nc|udod h|mso|t |n tho °wo.' |o po|ntod to tho |and||no.
l d|a|od Vax w|th shak|ng t|ngors. |o d|dn't ask why l noodod a r|do. l passod tho phono to 1oo tor
d|roct|ons. And l watchod tho door. Wa|t|ng tor Wanda. Or Kont. E|thor ono wou|d probab|y snoak out any
othor ava||ab|o ox|t.
1oo t|n|shod, g|v|ng Vax a qu|ck h|story |osson about tho aroa (l |mag|nod Vax tw|tch|ng), and handod
tho phono back.
°0r|vo carotu||y,' l sa|d.
Vax know what l moant.
A tow compot|tors camo through tho door, nodd|ng ho||os. Coachos hoadod tor tho cottoo.
°3athroom?' l askod.
1oo po|ntod to tho bu||d|ng's othor ond.
°1hanks.' l stood botoro tho two doors a momont, porp|oxod. lo|ntors. 3ottors. Vy oyos t||ckod trom
ono s|gn to tho othor |n quost|on. lo|ntors. 3ottors. A guy s||ppod around mo and oponod tho po|ntors'
Ob. 3|ush|ng, l oponod tho sottors' door, |ockod |t boh|nd mo, and sot down tho p|sto| caso, work|ng tho
cramp out ot my arm. °|urry up, Vax,' l boggod, |ook|ng at myso|t |n tho m|rror. 1ho b|ood on my shou|dor
had dr|od, tho s|oovo st|ck|ng to |t. l wou|d'vo thought |t strango that no ono commontod on my wound |t l
d|dn't undorstand tho |ntons|ty ot a targot shootor's tocus. Vax cou|d'vo sh|ttod |n tront ot thom and thoy
wou|dn't not|co.
°God, l hopo ho doosn't havo to.' l oponod tho caso, pu||od out my gun, |oadod tho c||p, and sot |t back
down. l d|dn't want to uso |t on anyth|ng but papor. l oasod my jackot on, jump|ng whon somoono poundod
on tho door.
|umb||ng w|th tho knob, l to|| |nto l|otr's arms. l know ho smo||od b|ood on mo. ||s oyos g|owod, and as
ono arm tang|od around mo, ho c|osod tho p|sto| caso, oas|ng mo toward tho door. °Vax |s chock|ng tho
aroa. lot's got you to tho car.'
l noddod.
°Any |doa whoro Wanda |s?'
°lo,' l wh|sporod. °0oad? 3usy bury|ng Kont and putt|ng |n tor h|s promot|on?'
°3r|ng us up to spood |n tho car.'
°1h|s |s bad, l|otr. l don't know what to do. Whoro to go. ls anywhoro sato? 1ho Vat|a's at my horso
shows, and assass|ns aro on tho rango.. l had a tr|kk|n' gun and l wasn't sato.'
||s hand on tho top ot my hoad, ho oasod mo |nto tho backsoat ot tho car and s||d |n noxt to mo.
l touchod h|s hoad, romombor|ng h|s wounds. °1hoy want to just drag you a|| |n-cago you up..' l
s|umpod aga|nst h|s chost, snutt||ng and snort|ng, my toars soppod up by h|s 1-sh|rt. °Why can't wo havo
somoth|ng norma|?'
|o st|ttonod. C||ckod my soat bo|t togothor. °l'm not norma|, 1oss. You got out ot somoth|ng what you
put |nto |t.'
°Oh, don't start w|th that crap aga|n, l|otr. lt you th|nk you'ro tho on|y not-norma| ono |n th|s ro|at|onsh|p,
you roa||y shou|d |ook around.' l took h|s arm, w|nd|ng |t around mo. °0o you nood to chock on Vax?'
°l'm not |oav|ng you,' ho wh|sporod, h|s ||ps |n my ha|r.
°Good boy. 3ocauso |t l'm go|ng to bo |n troub|o, l want you around tor |t.'
Vax camo to tho car grouchy. °Vaybo wo'|| got |ucky and thoy'ro k||||ng oach othor |n tho woods.'
Wanda a||vo wasn't what l'd qua||ty as ho|ptu| most t|mos, but Wanda doad? lt sho'd roa||y boon try|ng to
stand up tor thom-tor os-°3hou|dn't wo try.?'
°Nyot.' Vax backod tho car up. °1ust ro|ax and |ot l|otr patch you up,' ho ordorod.
l |oanod aga|nst l|otr, |ott|ng h|m s||do ott my jackot. |o |ookod at mo. °l can tako ott your sh|rt..'
l b|ushod.
°Or l can.' ||s oyobrows shovod togothor, doc|d|ng tor mo. |o grabbod my s|oovo and toro |t, tugg|ng
tho tabr|c away trom my wound.
°Eozvoboootyob,' ho murmurod, c|oan|ng and bandag|ng.
°l havo a quost|on,' l sa|d, my broath st|rr|ng tho ha|r shadow|ng h|s oyos.
°l askod Cat about somoth|ng, and thon Vrs. |o|dman askod you about tho samo th|ng..'
°Lo?' ho g|ancod up at mo. °What th|ng?'
Evon through tho roarv|ow m|rror l to|t Vax's oyos hot on tho two ot us as wo |oanod togothor ||ko
l|otr s|ghod. °What do you want to know?'
°What |s |t? What doos |t moan to you to |mpr|nt?'
|o rubbod h|s torohoad. °lt |s strango |n our-kloo-tho nood to-procroato.' |o wasn't |ook|ng at mo
anymoro. °lt |s probab|y bocauso wo ||vo such abbrov|atod ||vos. 1horo |s a dr|vo.'
°A powortu| |nst|nct,' Vax addod.
°1o mato.'
°Oh. loavo |t to mo to ask tbls sort ot quost|on,' l muttorod, too ombarrassod to b|ush.
°lmpr|nt|ng . A|oxl spoco|otos . |s a way wo |dont|ty a mato capab|o ot strongthon|ng our b|ood||no, ot
a||ow|ng tho wo|t tra|ts to dom|nato. lt can happon anyt|mo, but-'
°A|oxl spoco|otos,' Vax rumb|od.
°lt's most ||ko|y and c|oarost whon wo t|rst chango. And thon |t |s an undon|ab|o urgo. A |oya|ty ||ko no
othor. lt |s.'
°laturo dotorm|n|ng tho noxt gonorat|on's dost|ny,' Vax conc|udod.
°ls that why A|ox| was so p|ssod you |ns|stod on hav|ng mo prosont tor your t|rst chango?'
l|otr shruggod a s|ng|o shou|dor. loncomm|tta||y.
°|o was atra|d wo'd |mpr|nt.' l touchod my bandagod arm. °0|d you want to.'
°lmprlot?' Vax chuck|od.
Aga|n, l|otr ra|sod a s|ng|o shou|dor.
°3ut wo'ro not . wo d|dn't.'
°Nyot,' ho wh|sporod, |oan|ng back |n h|s soat bo|t to watch mo w|th hoavy-||ddod oyos. °Wo'ro not
°0o you w|sh wo woro?'
°Nyot.' A |ong s|gh. °l don't th|nk wo got many cho|cos |n ||to,' ho adm|ttod. °l ||ko know|ng-and l ||ko
you know|ng-l cboso you.'
l|otr cuppod my chook |n h|s hand and bowod to moot my ||ps, h|s oyos c|os|ng, ||ps sott as wo stood |n
tho shadows undor a sta|rcaso |n ono ot 1unct|on ||gh's d|mmor, moro d|stant ha||ways. l |acod my
t|ngors togothor across tho back ot h|s nock, draw|ng h|m down to moot my mouth as l prossod c|osor to
h|m, push|ng h|m |nto tho darkor shadows.
°Wo'ro go|ng to bo |ato,' l wh|sporod by tho cornor ot h|s jaw. 1ho tootstops on tho sta|rs ovorhoad
rang out w|th |oss and |oss troquoncy.
°l'|| tako dotont|on aga|n tor you,' ho vo|untoorod, oyos g|oam|ng. |o s||d h|s chook a|ong m|no and
n|ppod at my oar.
°l'm go|ng to got a bad-g|r| roputat|on,' l toasod.
°As |ong as you on|y oarn |t w|th mo.' And thon h|s mouth was on m|no aga|n and l sh|vorod, backpack
s||d|ng ott my shou|dor and h|tt|ng tho t|oor w|th a s|ap.
|o groanod, ho|d|ng mo t|ghtor, crush|ng mo to h|m, a sound doop |n h|s throat bo|||ng |nto a possoss|vo
A wh|mpor and wo jorkod |n surpr|so to soo 3arah watch|ng us, knuck|os wodgod botwoon hor tooth,
toars stroam|ng down hor taco as roa||ty h|t hor.
°Oh, God-5orob!'
W|th a sob sho racod away, toot smack|ng a rap|d rotroat up tho sta|rs.
°l havo to-'
°3hou|d l?' ho askod, roady to accompany mo.
°lo. l don't th|nk |t'|| ho|p.'
|o noddod gr|m|y. °3oo you |n c|ass.' |o s|ung my backpack ovor h|s shou|dor as l t|ow up tho sta|rs.
l z|ppod through tho ha||ways, popp|ng my hoad |nto oach bathroom sta||. Empty. Whoro wou|d somoono
go to sob tho|r hoart out roa||z|ng tho|r ox-boytr|ond wasn't com|ng back and |t was tho|r bost tr|ond's
l'd boon so carotu|, try|ng to oaso hor |nto soo|ng l|otr and l togothor-|n tho opon. l'd pushod h|m
away so many t|mos whon l'd wantod to pu|| h|m c|oso. Wo'd gono s|ow|y as ho bu||t h|s ros|stanco up and
bogan tam|ng h|s moro can|no |mpu|sos. 1horo'd boon many t|mos l'd scow|od at h|m whon ho gavo mo
h|s puppy dog oyos and on|y rocont|y had l |ot h|m drag mo |nto tho schoo|'s shadows to k|ss mo unt|| my
||ps turnod tondor.
l trozo outs|do 3o|don's c|assroom. |o'd just turnod on tho ovorhoad, d|sp|ay|ng tho day's bo|| work.
3|tt|ng thoro, pr|m, propor, composod, and coo| was 3arah. lot cur|od |n a bathroom c|utch|ng a to||ot and
3|tt|ng thoro, pr|m, propor, composod, and coo| was 3arah. lot cur|od |n a bathroom c|utch|ng a to||ot and
bomoan|ng tho sorry stato ot hor |ovo ||to. lo. Wr|t|ng down tho ass|gnmont's answors. 3m|||ng.
l stood star|ng just |ong onough tor hor to not|co mo. 3ho turnod hor hoad and gavo mo a tr|ond|y gr|n. A
wavo. 3tunnod, l wavod back. 1hon l not|cod who sat on hor tar s|do. Vac|o and 1onny both |oanod
torward to pook at mo. 1onny wavod. |or sm||o was tar too p|oasod tor my comtort.
3ack |n my own c|ass, l strugg|od to tocus. 1h|s was bad.
¯ ¯ ¯
Whon Vac|o surpr|sod mo by tho wator tounta|n, th|ngs got worso. °Vac|o, l don't want to start anyth|ng
w|th you,' l mumb|od.
°0on't wot yourso|t, 1oss|ca,' sho sa|d w|th a snoor.
Across tho ha|| l|otr pu||od h|mso|t to h|s tu|| ho|ght and ra|sod an oyobrow at mo. l shook my hoad.
°look.' Vac|o stoppod torward, hor body |anguago throaton|ng, hor vo|co dropp|ng. °3arah's |ost |t. l
don't know |t |t was soo|ng you two |n ||p-|ock that sont hor ovor tho odgo or what. 3ho was tootor|ng
botoro, but now-oots. And l'm warn|ng you'-hor oyos got b|g, scoroo-°th|ngs aro gonna got roa| bad
around horo roa| tast. 1onny and l thought |t wou|d bo groat |t sho romomborod . thought |t wou|d bo
groat |t sho was hor o|d so|t.. And sho's dot|n|to|y romombor|ng, and my t|mo-1onny's t|mo-ru||ng tho
schoo| |s go|ng to ond |t you don't ho|p us.'
°lo|p you?'
°1h|nk about |t, 1oss|ca. You want us runn|ng tho b|g dogs around horo, or do you want hor back |n
chargo?' 3ho |oanod |n, hor noso prossod to m|no and l wavod oo at l|otr onco moro. °3ocauso tho b|tch
|s back,' sho cont|dod botoro sho stompod ott.
Whon l spottod 3arah |n tho ha||way l know th|ngs wou|dn't bo protty. Excopt tor hor. 3ho |ookod
boaut|tu| as an avong|ng ango| w|th hor portoct ha|r and portoct makoup.
°3arah,' l tr|od. °l'm sorry wo hurt you.' l roachod out to hor, but sho smackod my hand away.
°You shou|d havo to|d mo soonor. You shou|d havo boon honost.' 3ho c|osod hor oyos hard, a t|ny
croaso appoar|ng botwoon hor scu|ptod brows. °l thought wo woro bost tr|onds.'
°Wo aro,' l |ns|stod.
°lo. 3ost tr|onds don't stoa| oach othor's boytr|onds.'
l|otr stoppod up. °1oss d|dn't stoa| mo away. l choso hor.'
|or oyos ||t up whon ho spoko to hor, hor oxpross|on sottonod. °Oh, l|otr.' 3ho s|ghod. °Guys novor
got |t. lo|at|onsh|ps aron't ||ko that. 1horo's no choos|ng, un|oss wo chooso to |ot you bo||ovo you'vo
°You'ro wast|ng your t|mo horo, try|ng to got hor to soo roason,' Amy muttorod to mo.
°3arah,' l tr|od aga|n. °l hopo wo can st||| bo tr|onds.'
Amy puttod out an oxasporatod s|gh.
3arah's oyos shot w|do opon, a crookod sm||o ro|||ng across hor taco. °|r|onds? You hopo wo can st|||
bo.' 3ho rubbod hor torohoad, tho scar at hor ha|r||no that hor makoup ho|pod h|do. 3ho rotocusod on
mo, hor oyos g||ttor|ng dangorous|y.
mo, hor oyos g||ttor|ng dangorous|y.
°loop|o th|nk l'm |nsano, do you roa||zo? l'vo soon thom staro, hoard what thoy wh|spor to oach othor
boh|nd tho|r hands |n tho ha||ways. 1ho prott|ost g|r| |n 1unct|on, a|| broko down and hang|ng w|th tho
|osors. 1hon l|otr camo a|ong and our who|o group's status jumpod. Crazy what ono guy can do to
chango so many ||vos.. 3ut you know what, 1oss|ca? Evon |t l'd |ost my ovor-|ov|ng m|nd, l'd novor bo as
crazy as you |t you bo||ovo-ovon tor a socond-l cou|d bo tr|onds w|th you attor what you'vo dono.'
°You rag|ng psychopath! 1oss|o's tho on|y ono who stayod by you whon you woro tbls c|oso to doath!'
Amy snappod, shov|ng 3arah's shou|dor.
3arah's purso wh|ppod around hor back, ponc||s, pons, and a s|ng|o book t|y|ng. °3|tch!' sho shr|okod.
°0on't you ovor put your grubby hands on mo aga|n, tra||or trash!'
Amy chargod, but l grabbod hor, |ockod my arms around hor and p|antod my toot, gr|mac|ng as Amy
tought to broak troo.
°3arah, th|nk about th|ngs aga|n,' l urgod. °lomombor |n Vs. Wyatt's c|ass-tho quoto you choso |ast
projoct about ||to bo|ng a chanco to grow a sou|? l bo||ovo that. lomombor that. l'm sorry wo hurt you-wo
novor moant to. lomombor who your tr|onds woro attor tho acc|dont. Who carod tor you thon?'
Vac|o and 1onny t|ankod 3arah suddon|y, snoor|ng so sty||sh|y thoy cou|d havo won a snob-ott
compot|t|on. 1hoy |ookod norvous whon l a||udod to tho|r abandonmont.
Unt|| 3arah |aughod.
°0|d you th|nk l wou|d ovor oxpoct tbom to spoon-tood mo 1o||-O |n tho hosp|ta|? 1hoy'ro a d|ttoront
k|nd ot tr|ond-tho powortu|, boaut|tu| typo. Aro wo b|tchos? |o||, yos! 3ut l novor oxpoctod anyth|ng moro
trom thom. 7boy novor d|sappo|ntod mo. 3ut, you.' 1oars wobb|od at tho odgos ot hor oyos. °You mado
mo oxpoct moro trom poop|o. You mado mo th|nk thoro was trust to bo had. You ||od, 1oss|ca G|||manson!
You ||od about ovoryth|ng!'
Amy no |ongor pu||od aga|nst mo. lnstoad, sho stra|ghtonod, a wa|| to guard mo trom tho sooth|ng dov||
w|th an ango|'s taco.
1oars ru|nod 3arah's mascara. °0amn |t!' 3ho spun away and scramb|od to p|ck up tho contonts ot hor
purso wh||o 1onny watchod, amusod. Vac|o sparod mo ono p|oad|ng g|anco.
l t||nchod, want|ng to go to 3arah, to ho|p, but Amy changod hor stanco onco moro. 3ho ho|d mo back,
arms stra|ght out ||ko bars, shak|ng hor hoad |n muto warn|ng.
ln a momont 3arah was on hor toot aga|n, torc|ng hor book |nto hor purso.
0orok camo up boh|nd hor, Varv|n at h|s s|do. 0orok watchod tho scono w|th oyos so dark thoy
throatonod to oc||pso tho b|uo that norma||y spark|od ||ko cut sapph|ros. 3os|do mo, l|otr br|st|od. 1ho a|r
botwoon us hummod and l to|t tho grow| bu||d |n h|m. l c|utchod h|s hand and tho a|r st|||od, tho o|octr|c|ty
botwoon us sott||ng.
°You'ro no tr|ond ot m|no, 1oss|ca G|||manson. 0on't th|nk you ovor woro,' 3arah doc|arod w|th a h|ccup
ot gr|ot. 3ho wh|ppod away-r|ght |nto 0orok's opon arms. |o ho|d hor, wh|sporod, and strokod tho w|spy
b|ond strands ot hor ha|r, h|s oyos r|s|ng to moot m|no.
Vy chooks t|amod, but my oyos to|| to tho book sp|no just pook|ng trom 3arah's purso: 7bo Prloco, by
l roa||zod, watch|ng thom wa|k away, 3arah and 0orok |n tront, Vac|o and Varv|n tra|||ng boh|nd, w|th
1onny |ost botwoon, that tho samo bruta| a|pha and bota strugg|os that ragod |n wo|t packs woro a|so
wagod |n h|gh schoo|.
¯ ¯ ¯
loav|ng tho |unch ||no w|th on|y m||k to comp|omont tho contonts ot my brown bag, l not|cod 1onny grab
Cat's attont|on and l wondorod |t sho was a|so mak|ng a p|oa tor our ho|p to br|ng 3arah down. Cat
soomod to havo th|ngs wo|| |n hand and l g|ancod around tho catotor|a, hoad|ng tor our tab|o.
Vax was doop |n convorsat|on (as doop as Vax cou|d got) w|th Amy |n a d|stant cornor, out ot oarshot
ot tho crowd. 1ry as l had to koop thom apart, Amy adorod Vax. And who was l to stand botwoon thom?
1|mo was short, as l|otr so troquont|y rom|ndod mo. Vaybo wo a|| noodod to ||vo ||to t|orco|y.
And |ovo couragoous|y.
l|otr stood |n ||no and watchod tho c|ock. Catch|ng my scont, ho gr|nnod and odgod obod|ont|y torward
w|th tho ||no.
l sat and dumpod tho contonts ot my bag. App|o. 3andw|ch. 3o amaz|ng|y nondoscr|pt-oormo|. 1ho
standard buzz ot tho catotor|a sh|ttod whon l to|t a hand rost on my knoo and l roa||zod somoono
crouchod |n tho a|s|o bos|do mo.
Evoryth|ng mutod and du||od to background stat|c as 0orok t|||od my v|s|on w|th h|s know|ng sm||o. °|oy,
°l onjoyod tak|ng you out |a||owoon day,' ho murmurod.
Vy body warmod bonoath h|s touch, ||ko sun||ght cropt through shadow. °l don't romombor any ot |t,' l
adm|ttod, too||ng my oyobrows tug togothor. And thon thoro was a p|cturo |n my hoad, a momory that
bubb|od up to a spot |n my bra|n whoro l cou|d grab |t. 1ho catotor|a grow hazy.
°You don't romombor?' ho soothod. °1hat's too bad-you woro onjoy|ng yourso|t..'
l chokod, my v|s|on t||||ng w|th momor|os ot mo k|ss|ng h|m, romombor|ng tho tasto ot h|s mouth, h|s
tonguo. 3praw|od on h|s bod, h|m push|ng mo down . t|ngors croop|ng a|ong my baro stomach .
l noar|y tumb|od backward out ot my soat, scramb||ng to got away trom h|s touch-my shamo. °l.' Vy
taco burnod. l sonsod moro than saw movomont |n tho catotor|a as Cat rushod toward mo.
0orok grabbod my wr|st, stoppod mo trom ta|||ng, and pu||od mo c|oso to wh|spor, °lt won't |ast w|th h|m.'
Anothor |mago toro |nto my hoad: l|otr and Vax botoro tho s||d|ng-mota| doors |n tho ClA's bunkor tho
n|ght thoy tr|od to troo Vothor, bu||ots r|pp|ng |nto thom. l gaspod-l convu|sod-as oach |mpact rockod
tho|r bod|os.
3uddon|y botoro mo, hor torm wavor|ng ||ko a m|rago |n my t|uctuat|ng v|s|on, Cat roachod ovor, |ay|ng
hor pa|m ovor 0orok's hand just whoro ho ho|d my arm. |or oyos t|ashod, and sho jorkod up so tast sho
noar|y topp|od ovor.
0orok gr|nnod and pu||od back, stopp|ng away to d|sappoar |nto a group ot studonts as Cat soarchod
tho catotor|a.
tho catotor|a.
Vy hoad crad|od |n my hands, Vax's appoaranco surpr|sod mo. And thon thoro was l|otr. Cathor|no
sa|d somoth|ng to thom-somoth|ng |n luss|an.
3omoth|ng l wasn't moant to undorstand.
Vax grabbod mo by tho shou|dors, bond|ng down to staro |nto my oyos. °lt's not your tau|t, 1oss|o,' ho
assurod mo botoro turn|ng back to Cat. °|o's our w||d card?'
°|o saw you that n|ght-probab|y saw us p|ann|ng botorohand-' Cat shook hor hoad.
°1ho bug was noth|ng,' l|otr muttorod as ho sat down hoav||y bos|do mo and cur|od mo aga|nst h|m,
comb|ng at my ha|r w|th tontat|vo t|ngors. °V|ght as wo|| havo boon a docoy.'
°|o's boon us|ng 1oss|o as h|s oyos.,' Cat murmurod, awostruck. °Wo havon't g|von h|m onough
°3hhh,' l|otr warnod, h|s hand paus|ng ovor my oar.
°What?' l |ookod up, horr|t|od. °What do you moan?'
°3hhh,' l|otr soothod.
l pu||od out ot h|s gr|p, turn|ng on h|m. °0on't you shush mo, l|otr lusakova-tho t|mo tor koop|ng
th|ngs trom mo |s ovor,' l h|ssod. °Aro you say|ng 0orok . usod-osoo-mo to spy on you?'
l|otr |ookod away, h|s taco tw|st|ng. °You'ro not tho on|y ono out ot tho |oop,' ho wh|sporod, watch|ng
Cat and Vax.
°Why d|dn't wo roa||zo th|s botoro?' Vax askod, h|s oyos on tho doors, watchtu|. ||s t|ngors tw|tchod by
h|s h|p.
°Wo woro th|nk|ng about tho prob|oms thoy wantod us th|nk|ng about. And ho's p|antod r|ght horo
-among tho rost ot a norma| studont body.'
°1horo |s |oss and |oss norma| horo,' Vax muttorod. °Wo shou|d havo c|oarod th|s throat soonor,
brothor.' |o |ookod at l|otr.
3ott|y l|otr roturnod, °lorhaps |t you had bottor dot|nod tho throat tor mo.' |o shook h|s hoad,
ho|d|ng mo t|ghtor. °What wou|d you havo mo do? K||| h|m?' ho askod, sp|tt|ng out tho |ast words.
°|o |s why wo ta||od. Why wo noar|y d|od that n|ght. Wo nood to o||m|nato tho throat.'
°You to|| mo how, brothor,' l|otr cha||ongod.
Amy and 3oph|a stood back, hang|ng |n tho a|s|o, wa|t|ng tor tho ta||out to stop. And probab|y hoar|ng
just a ||tt|o too much. l watchod thom carotu||y. 3oph and Amy had boon my bost tr|onds tor yoars. l trustod
thom. At what po|nt d|d thoy nood to know moro? At what po|nt was g|v|ng thom too much |ntormat|on tor
tho|r comtort nocossary tor tho|r protoct|on? lt 0orok was a throat to tho lusakovas-to
worowo|vos-and a throat to mo, wasn't ho a throat to thom, too?
°Cat,' l domandod. °l want answors. low.'
Cat pacod botoro mo |n tho g|r|s' bathroom. 3oph|a b|ockod tho door, a||owod to part|c|pato bocauso l
|ntormod Cat qu|to c|oar|y sho was as scrowod up as tho rost ot us. Cat trustod mo and know l wou|dn't
dot|no what scrowod up tho lusakovas, a|though 3oph|a probab|y guossod |t was cu|tura|.
Amy mado |t c|oar sho wasn't roady to know anyth|ng strangor about tho lusakovas and my now, not-
so-norma| ||to. 3ho'd cha|kod up tho gunshot wounds trom botoro to gott|ng |nto a t|ght ovor somo g|r|.
3ho was tar moro w||||ng to accopt gangbangors |n tho t|ny town ot 1unct|on than wondor about tho truth.
Vaybo 0r. 1onos was r|ght: 1ho m|nd d|d como up w|th a|| sorts ot crazy th|ngs to protoct |tso|t trom tho
wo|rd parts ot roa||ty. 3o l'd |ot Amy ho|d on to hor b||sstu| |gnoranco a ||tt|o |ongor |t l cou|d.
3ut 3oph|a? 3ho and l had somo stutt to |oarn.
°0orok |s a strango m|x ot th|ngs, 1oss|o. 1hat |s why wo d|dn't suspoct.' Cat's shoos c|attorod on tho
t||o as sho wa|kod. 3ho was strugg||ng as l otton d|d to t|nd tho r|ght words. °A romoto v|owor-ho can soo
|ocat|ons trom a d|stanco, r|t|o through t||os, |dont|ty tacos at covort moot|ngs. 3ut h|s job |s mado oas|or
|t ho has a ||nk to a d|roct w|tnoss.'
°l|ko mo.'
°Lo.' 3ho shruggod. °|o |s a|so a soc|a| man|pu|ator. |o can oncourago corta|n bohav|ors and
att|tudos |n poop|o by touch|ng thom and |mp|ant|ng h|s v|ows. lt |s a tra|t most common|y tound |n
succosstu| po||t|c|ans,' sho addod. °A roason tho handshak|ng tours usod to bo so vory popu|ar w|th
poop|o. 3ut thoro aro mora| codos..'
°lo||t|c|ans havo mora| codos?'
Cat shot mo a g|anco. °0o you havo othor quost|ons?'
3oph|a ra|sod hor hand. °Aro you go|ng to to|| hor tho rost, or savo |t tor a ra|ny day?'
°1ho rost?' Cat askod.
°|o's capab|o ot sh|tt|ng onorgy, pu|||ng and push|ng |t trom p|aco to p|aco. |o dovours |t,' sho
oxp|a|nod, °gots a jo|t-a h|gh.'
l b|urtod, °1hat's what |arnok moant by tho stunt ho pu||od at |omocom|ng whon ho got tho crowd a||
r||od up bocauso thoy thought ho was hurt..'
°Counso|or |arnok?' Cat wh|sporod.
°Wa|t. 0orok takod that?' 3oph|a snappod. °3astard. Wo |ost tho gamo bocauso ho was gott|ng h|gh.'
°|o's ||ko a vamp|ro-but not tho b|oodsuck|ng typo,' l roa||zod.
Cat spun trom ono ot us to tho othor. °|ow do you-how do you know th|s?' sho domandod.
°0orok and l wont out onco,' 3oph|a ro|uctant|y vo|untoorod. °|o tr|od to cut h|s tooth-so to spoak
-on mo. |o pu||od so much onorgy trom mo, ho had to throw somo back. lt was s|oppy-maybo h|s t|rst
try? l th|nk that's why . l th|nk that's why l'm ||ko l am-ho t||ppod a sw|tch or somoth|ng.'
°1h|s |s a |ot,' l wh|sporod. °A |ot to tako |n.'
°lroc|so|y why wo avo|dod to|||ng you,' Cat sa|d hast||y. °You aro a|roady doa||ng w|th so much, 1oss|o,
and |t's such a b|g wor|d. 1horo |s so much you don't know. 3o much that |s tru|y tr|ghton|ng |t you aro'
-Cat thought tor a wh||o-°on|y human. 3omo poop|o do not hand|o tho know|odgo wo|| ot how w|do and
doop tho|r wor|d tru|y |s.'
°You woro protoct|ng mo, too. 3y koop|ng socrots. Why |s ovoryono try|ng so hard to protoct mo? lt
you'd a|| just tr|kk|n' to|| mo what to oxpoct, maybo l cou|d doa| w|th |t.' Chow|ng my |owor ||p, l tadod out a
momont, spocu|at|ng.
Cat snappod hor t|ngors |n tront ot my taco, br|ng|ng mo back. °Lo. You aro hand||ng |t vory wo||,' sho
°3o ratt|o ott tho ||st, Cat,' l pushod. °What's roa||y out thoro? l nood to know.'
Cat pausod, oyo|ng 3oph|a.
°3oph, you okay |t wo broadon tho bordors ot crazy town? A |ot?' l askod. °l moan, you thought you
woro tho tour gu|do, and l dr|vo tho bus, but l th|nk Cat may just bo mayor.'
3oph|a shruggod. °Go tor |t.'
Cat took a broath. °lomoto v|owors, projoctors, to|okonot|cs, soc|a| man|pu|ators, broakors, w|tchos,
worowo|vos, vamp|ros'-sho a|r-quotod-°zomb|os.'
°0ragons?' l askod.
°Nyot, though somo poop|o shou|d mo|stur|zo moro troquont|y to koop trom bo|ng m|stakon as such.'
°3o|k|os, pooka, s|rons, dryads, and morma|ds?' l dug back |nto momor|os ot rosoarch l'd dono as a
k|d on myths and |ogonds.
°l guoss anyth|ng |s poss|b|o,' Cat adm|ttod.
°ln th|s contoxt, that phraso |s oot roassur|ng.'
°Ghosts,' 3oph|o addod.
Cat tacod hor. °Excopt that,' sho |ns|stod, oyos w|do.
°Ghosts ox|st,' l assurod.
Cat b||nkod. °Provoo?'
°Yoah. You d|dn't know about ghosts?' l askod.
Cat's taco was p|nchod. °Ghosts aro-croopy. 1hoy can bo anywhoro. l|ko sp|dors.'
°1o|| mo about |t.' l s|ghod, romombor|ng how my mom's ghost cou|d bo watch|ng mo a|most anyt|mo.
°You guys bottor got to c|ass,' l sa|d, s|ow|y gott|ng to my toot. °l nood a m|nuto.'
°l'|| stay,' Cat suggostod.
l |ookod |nto tho m|rror. 1horo was s|mp|y no norma|. l g|ancod at Cat. |av|ng a worowo|t babys|tt|ng
on|y ho|pod ro|ntorco tho tact. °A m|nuto a|ono,' l spoc|t|od.
°l w||| drop my th|ngs ott at c|ass and c|rc|o around to mako suro you aro whoro you nood to bo,' Cat
A momont |ator thoy |ott mo |n poaco.
lt on|y took mo a coup|o m|nutos, stand|ng c|utch|ng tho s|nk and tocus|ng on broath|ng, to adjust to my
now, now-how many oows was |t now?-oow norma|. Occas|ona| appoarancos ot my mothor's ghost, a
worowo|t boytr|ond, a jock onorgy vamp|ro ox-boytr|ond, psycho ox-bost tr|ond, and a wor|d that |nc|udod
zomb|os (owww) but no un|corns. 1h|ngs woro start|ng to roya||y suck.
3aro|y |n tho ha||way, l saw h|m barro| toward mo.
°Your tau|t!' Varv|n snappod, shov|ng mo back. Vy hoad bouncod ott tho wa|| w|th tho |mpact.
°What tho ho||,' l grow|od, rubb|ng tho back ot my hoad. °What tho ho|| aro you ta|k|ng about?' Ow.
°Vy g|r|tr|ond and that-that-lusakova!' ho tumod. °|or at h|s houso-probab|y |n h|s bod-'
°Whoa,' l sa|d, my hands patt|ng tho a|r to try and ca|m h|m as ho ragod botoro mo, pac|ng and curs|ng
|n tho othorw|so qu|ot ha||way. Vy v|s|on swam. °You'ro ovorroact|ng.' l g|ancod up and down tho ha|| tor
somo wayward statt mombor or roam|ng subst|tuto toachor.
Why d|d l havo to bo |n tho ha|| tarthost trom any ot 1unct|on's ha|t-dozon ott|cos whon Varv|n doc|dod
to go ba|||st|c?
°0on't to|| mo l'm ovorroact|ng,' ho snar|od. °3ho was my g|r|tr|ond. Vy |ovor . my ovorytblog!' ||s
mouth movod, but no words camo out. |o just gnawod tho a|r |n a rago that bordorod on psychot|c.
l was t|nd|ng too many roasons to uso that word.
|o shovod mo aga|n.
Okay, maybo ho was just south ot tho bordor ot psychot|c. Lomo. l'd doa|t w|th ClA agonts try|ng to
stop mo trom sav|ng worowo|vos, luss|an Vat|a mombors try|ng to k||| mo to tako tho worowo|vos, and
now l was tacod w|th Amy's d|straught ox-boytr|ond.
A guy who thought |t was okay to boat somobody ho |ovod. What was accoptab|o damago to do to
somoono ho |ootbooº
Vy hoad throbbod. l touchod |t aga|n and not|cod my t|ngors camo away b|oody. lot good. Whoro was
Cat? Wasn't sho com|ng back on somo sort ot patro|?
°Como to th|nk ot |t,' Varv|n mumb|od, °you'ro to b|amo tor 3arah not bo|ng w|th hor boytr|ond, too. And
tor 1onny and 0orok's sp||t-and 1onny's ru|nod noso job, and.'
°Oh, ho||, Varv|n,' l sa|d through a tog. °Why not b|amo mo tor tho p|ss-poor oconomy, too?' l swayod,
and ho prossod h|s noso to m|no, snar||ng ||ko a rab|d boast.
°|ow stup|d aro you, 1oss|ca? 1aunt|ng mo? Whoro tho ho||'s your protoctor now, huh? lrobab|y ott
||ko your pa| Vax, hump|ng somobody o|so's g|r|tr|ond!' ho roarod.
Vy hoad rockod, chook st|ng|ng trom a trosh h|t.
|or a socond l managod to tocus on Varv|n. l ra|sod my arm, ro||od my t|ngors |nto a t|st-and watchod
h|m d|sappoar. °|uh?'
°1oss,' somoono sa|d, and l s|ghod, too||ng a hand warm and tondor on my arm. 3ut tho vo|co .
°1oss,' ho wh|sporod. 1ho vo|co d|dn't t|t tho namo ho ca||od mo..
0orok's taco wavorod botoro mo.
°1oss|ca,' l |ns|stod.
°Whatovor,' ho sa|d. °You'ro hurt. lot mo ho|p you..'
l s||d down tho wa||, 0orok's t|ngors tw|stod |n my ha|r, hand crad||ng my chook, sm|||ng. |o g|owod |n my
s|ght, ||ko tho t|rst star ot morn|ng. |o roachod ovor and my oyos to||owod, soo|ng Varv|n |y|ng ||mp on tho
°You knockod h|m out.'
°Yoah, baby.'
°l'm not anybody's-'
0orok's hand graspod Varv|n's wr|st and l to|t h|s othor hand craw| around to tho back ot my hoad
whoro my ha|r was hot and st|cky. Varv|n convu|sod.
Vy v|s|on c|oarod.
°1o|| mo what you aro,' l wh|sporod, my oyo||ds poo||ng back |n toar. A worowo|t, l cou|d hand|o. 3ut,
th|s .
||s mouth c|ampod onto m|no and my toar surgod out ot mo, t|ow|ng |nto h|m ||ko po|son.
|o |aughod. °lot ||ko po|son,' ho |ns|stod, bond|ng tor anothor k|ss. And thon ho d|sappoarod, too.
l|ppod away.
1ho roar l hoard put Varv|n's poor |m|tat|on ot rago to shamo.
°|oy, man,' 0orok chuck|od. °lt's not ||ko sho's putt|ng up a t|ght..'
Vy s|ght snappod |nto tocus. 0orok had h|s hands up.
l|otr's ba||od t|sts attachod to tho stoo| rods that woro h|s arms. °3ho d|dn't know what you aro,' ho
soothod, ||ps poo||ng back trom h|s tooth.
°|o|y sh|t.' 0orok |aughod. °Yoo novor to|d hor!'
3omoth|ng dangorous t|ashod |n l|otr's oyos. 3omoth|ng br|ght and rod. 3|oodth|rsty.
°You |ot mo got my hands on hor-l moan, o|| ovor hor-' |o |oorod. °You can't poss|b|y protoct hor a||
tho t|mo, and you don't ovon to|| hor. Your own g|r|tr|ond!' |o shook h|s hoad. °3tup|d bastard. What do
you th|nk socrots do? lrotoct poop|o?'
l|otr how|od, and tho c|assrooms ompt|od |nto tho ha||.
°|uh. ¼ltoossos.' 0orok gr|nnod.
l|otr t||nchod. ||s opt|ons had just bocomo sovoro|y ||m|tod.
°l'vo a|ways protorrod show to to||,' 0orok h|ssod, oyos narrow|ng, ha|r g||nt|ng |n tho th|n ha||way ||ght
||ko an awtu| ha|o. °lot's soo what l|tt|o V|ss lnvost|gat|vo loportor th|nks attor a show, huh?' |o turnod
to tho crowd, shout|ng, °||ght, t|ght, t|ght, t|ght!' as ho punchod at tho co|||ng w|th a ra|sod t|st, punctuat|ng
tho words.
1hoy ochood h|m, a w||d mob |tch|ng tor oxc|tomont on a nasty autumn day, carry|ng h|s urgont cry,
ra|s|ng |ts vo|umo to doaton|ng proport|ons. 1ho toachors tr|od ovoryth|ng to got thom back |nto c|assos
-to got past thom and broak |t up. 3ut |t soomod a|| ot 1unct|on ||gh wantod to soo tho tootba|| star and
tho now guy taco ott.
l know what l|otr was capab|o ot. 0orok shou|d havo boon an oasy takodown. 3ut as ho turnod back to
l|otr and away trom tho chant|ng crowd, l doubtod my worowo|t boytr|ond cou|d hand|o h|m. 3omoth|ng
was d|ttoront about 0orok. 3omoth|ng darkor and moro powortu|. lt was ||ko ho'd grown. 1a||or. 3roador.
Voro v|c|ous.
1hoy woro matchod.
3omoth|ng sank |n tho p|t ot my stomach as ho t|ow at l|otr, co|||d|ng w|th h|m ||ko a ||nobackor, not tho
||ghtor wo|ght roco|vor ho roa||y was.
1ho a|r b|||owod out ot l|otr w|th tho |mpact, and l saw tho surpr|so |n h|s oyos as h|s toot woro swopt
out trom undor h|m and ho rockotod backward.
1ho crowd roarod.
W|th a bono-jarr|ng crash thoy |andod, t|oor t||os crack|ng ||ko th|n |co bonoath l|otr's back. 1ho crowd
surgod torward w|th a cry ot °Yos!' as l scroamod tho oppos|t|on's part.
l|otr pu||od h|s |ogs up bonoath h|m as 0orok startod sw|ng|ng w||d punchos. l hoard a snap as 0orok
connoctod w|th l|otr's chook.
l suckod |n a broath, s|ckonod by tho sound.
l|otr's oyos t|arod w|th pa|n, spark|ng w|th v|o|ont rod ||ght. Grow||ng, ho shook back tho chango, torcod
back tho wo|t, and chokod down tho truth ot h|s ox|stonco as 0orok wa||od on h|m. And thon h|s wo|ght
sh|ttod-so subt|y, l noar|y m|ssod |t-and 0orok wont t|y|ng through tho a|r, t|ung by l|otr's muscu|ar |ogs.
1horo was a crunch as 0orok h|t tho wa||-tho crowd gaspod-and ho s||d down |ts |ongth, sott||ng at |ts
baso, hoad |o|||ng.
Wo woro a|| go|ng to havo such hoadachos tomorrow . |t wo surv|vod ono anothor that |ong.
l dashod to l|otr, st||| |y|ng on h|s back on tho coo| t||o t|oor, oyos b||nk|ng back tho rod, t|ngors tw|tch|ng
as ho covorod h|s taco w|th an arm and tought tor contro|.
l stradd|od h|s chost and pu||od h|s hands away. l pushod tho ha|r back trom h|s oyos and starod at h|s
savagod taco. °Why?'
°l can't roa||y t|ght back, can l?' ho muttorod, turn|ng h|s taco trom mo. °lt l d|d.'
l strokod h|s torohoad and wh|sporod ||tt|o th|ngs, sooth|ng words.
Vax and Cat rushod past, hord|ng tho protost|ng crowd back |nto c|assrooms. 1ho toachors ||ngorod a
momont, and l hoard a bo||ow trom boh|nd thom.
VP Por|soo. °Evoryono back |n your c|assos! l'|| hand|o th|s.' 1ho toachors woro swopt away, and l
hoard lor|son's wa|k|o-ta|k|o act|vato. °Yos, EV1s.'
A stat|c-t|||od rop|y.
°lo. loth|ng ||ko that,' lor|son rospondod. °A bad t|ght.'
l was dosporato to got l|otr's m|nd ott th|ngs-||ko tho tact ho was a powortu| worowo|t who d|dn't daro
t|ght back pub||c|y |n h|s strongost torm.
l cou|d havo askod h|m to roc|to tho sc|ont|t|c c|ass|t|cat|on or taxonomy ot b|o|og|ca| spoc|os, or askod
tor h|s ho|p so|v|ng a word prob|om |nc|ud|ng a tra|n and a coconut-carry|ng swa||ow. 3ut |t was much
oas|or, much moro sat|sty|ng, to k|ss h|s worr|os away. l t|xod my ||ps on h|s, strugg||ng to sootho h|m w|th
moro than s|mp|o words. Vy tonguo s||ppod botwoon h|s ||ps and l to|t h|s tooth pr|ck |t, sharpon|ng. l drow
moro than s|mp|o words. Vy tonguo s||ppod botwoon h|s ||ps and l to|t h|s tooth pr|ck |t, sharpon|ng. l drow
back, tho coppory t|avor ot b|ood ta|nt|ng my mouth as l soarchod h|s taco.
||s oyos woro squoozod shut |n concontrat|on. 1hoy ro|axod, opon|ng to poor up at mo. °1oss, don't,'
ho p|oadod, h|s oyos b|ar|ng rod |n warn|ng. °You'|| broak my contro|,' ho groanod.
°0amm|t, l|otr,' l cr|od, toars ro|||ng down my taco to broak on h|s. l |oanod ovor h|m and as ho roachod
up to movo mo as|do, l caught h|s hands, s||pp|ng my t|ngors botwoon h|s, and pushod h|s hands back
ovor h|s hoad.
And l k|ssod h|m.
°Yoo-aahh.' Vax p|uckod mo ott l|otr ||ko l was noth|ng. °As much as ho's onjoy|ng that, h|s chang|ng
won't ho|p anyth|ng,' ho cont|dod.
l|otr |ay thoro a momont moro, nostr||s t|arod, pant|ng ta|nt|y as ho ho|d tho chango at bay. ||s
t|ngort|ps tw|tchod as |t m|no and h|s woro st||| |ntortw|nod.
°lssuos,' Vax sa|d, sott|ng mo back on my toot. °You two havo |ssuos.'
lor|son grabbod l|otr by tho arm, tugg|ng h|m to h|s toot. °Wo||, wo||, pup,' l thought ho muttorod. °l soo
wo'ro st||| th|ck |n troub|o, but gott|ng smartor. Vaybo thoro's a uso tor you yot.'
1ho nurso showod up w|th tho EV1s, sp||tt|ng tho|r attont|on botwoon Varv|n and 0orok.
°You,' lor|son muttorod to Cat, Vax, and mo. °|o||ow mo.'
Cat wrappod an arm around my shou|dors, turn|ng mo away, but l stoppod, soo|ng 0orok's oyos t||ckor
opon tor a momont. |o s|umpod to tho s|do, h|s arm strotch|ng out. l doubtod anyono o|so not|cod h|s
t|ngors touch Varv|n's ank|o.
Varv|n shuddorod. And 0orok íoo.
Vomplro. l trozo a momont |n tho ha||way, |ott|ng tho word do |aps |n my hoad. l had road ovory book out
thoro. l'd droamod ot vamp|ros, l'd wr|tton short stor|os about thom.
And now, l roa||zod, l d|dn't ||ko tho roa||ty at a||.
°lot's go,' Cat urgod. °lor|son's ott|co has to bo sator than horo.'
°Whoro woro you, Cat?' l askod.
3ho |ookod down. °Gott|ng dotont|on tor argu|ng w|th 3o|don bocauso l noodod to |oavo tho c|ass. 1o
como tor you.'
°You'ro st||| my horo.'
3ho snortod. °3o|ng a horo and attond|ng h|gh schoo| |s not so oasy.'
°Oh, my God!' Amy had arr|vod. °What tho ho|| happonod?' 3ho grabbod mo |n a t|orco hug.
°G|r| t|ght,' Vax draw|od. °1oss|o and your ox.'
°languago,' Cat rom|ndod torso|y.
°0orok and l|otr d|dn't want to bo |ott out ot tho act|on, o|thor,' Vax addod.
°|ow tho ho||-bock-do l m|ss th|s sh-' Amy g|ancod at Cat. °3tutt?'
°l th|nk you'ro tho on|y ono actua||y attond|ng c|assos around horo,' l sa|d, my oyos on l|otr and
lor|son, just ahoad.
3ho huggod mo aga|n. °You can borrow my notos.'
°V|ss Kar|son,' lor|son warnod Amy. °You'|| havo no docont notos to g|vo |t you don't got back to c|ass.
°Yos, s|r,' Amy gr|pod, trott|ng ott.
Vax |ns|stod on dr|v|ng mo homo w|th Amy, Cat, and l|otr a|ong tor tho r|do. As Vax mado an oxcuso to
Amy so ho cou|d do a qu|ck por|motor run, l|otr and Cat hung c|oso to mo, watchod by Annabo||o loo.
°l hoard about tho t|ght,' Annabo||o loo mont|onod, hor oyos soarch|ng l|otr's battorod but a|roady
hoa||ng taco. °Plotr Rosokovo`s sospooooo íor ílgbtlog. lt's a|| ovor 1unct|on. You attackod 0orok?'
°1hat's not tho who|o story,' ho muttorod.
°lumors novor aro,' Annabo||o loo agrood. °And 1oss|o'-sho pausod and wh|sporod-°you |ook ||ko
crap, by tho way.'
°1oss|o was tho v|ct|m?'
lods a|| around. °l d|dn't ovon got to throw a punch.'
°3ut at |oast yoo aron't suspondod,' Annabo||o loo muttorod. °3o ovorybody's wondor|ng why tho'
-sho jorkod hor t|ngors |n tho a|r-°bot yooog Rossloo goy was t|ght|ng tho'-aga|n sho mot|onod-
°íootbo|| stor. Ovor my s|stor. A íorm g|r|.'
°And what d|d you say?' Cat wondorod a|oud.
°l sa|d thoy'ro do|ng |t bocauso my s|stor's protty damn-'
l |ookod at hor.
°|oy. Whoro aro |untor and Vagg|o?'
°Wanda stoppod by to tako thom tor groom|ng.'
°Groom|ng?' l askod. °Wanda?' l g|ancod around. 3omoth|ng to|t wrong.
°l'|| stay,' l|otr vo|untoorod.
Annabo||o loo shook hor hoad. °0ad won't havo |t attor ho hoars about tho t|ght. Amy and Vax cou|d
stay, maybo Cat, but you'-sho trownod at l|otr-°wou|d got |n mass|vo troub|o |t 0ad t|nds you horo
|o |oanod ovor hor and pattod hor hoad. °lorhaps you w||| put |n a good word tor mo.'
3ho t||tod hor hoad. °Vaybo. lt you'ro do|ng what's r|ght by my s|stor,' sho ottorod.
Ooo moro protoctor.
°|o |s,' l assurod. °1ak|ng caro ot mo's not an oasy job.'
°Amon,' l|otr and Annabo||o loo sa|d |n un|son.
°Untortunato|y, |t l must go, wo a|| must go. Vax dr|vos,' l|otr po|ntod out w|th a shrug. 3ut h|s oyos ho|d
Vax joggod around tho cornor ot tho houso, stopp|ng short whon ho saw Amy's oxpross|on. °l had to.'
3ho trownod. °1oss|o ||os. Aro you go|ng to start? lt you wantod to go tor a run, l wou|d havo gono,' sho
addod, not|ng h|s damp sh|rt and ha|r.
°Vaybo somoday,' ho agrood.
l shot h|m a |ook ot warn|ng, but l was boyond proach|ng about |oav|ng Amy a|ono. 1ho way sho |ookod
at h|m, l had no r|ght to to|| h|m to stay back. Vax wou|d do h|s bost to bo good to hor. Good |ntont|ons.
What a road thoy pavod. °3o, you guys gonna go?'
Vax noddod. 1ho coast was c|oar.
l|otr grabbod mo tor a qu|ck k|ss. °l'm on|y a phono ca|| away,' ho assurod mo.
°l know.'
As thoy drovo ott, l to|d Annabo||o loo, °l'm go|ng to do tho horsos.'
3ho noddod.
°Go|ng tor a book?' l askod.
°Eh.' 3ho shruggod. °l was th|nk|ng about borrow|ng ono ot your monstor mov|os.'
°Go ahoad,' l ottorod. °l'vo protty much had my t||| ot |o||ywood worowo|vos.' l stro||od across tho
broad t|o|d soparat|ng our houso trom tho barns, m|ss|ng |untor's and Vagg|o's oagor, ovor-sn|tt|ng
Whon h|s hands grabbod mo, thoro was no t|mo to roact. lmagos vo||oyod at mo so tast my hoad spun
and my stomach shook. Each ono, 0orok . a|ways 0orok . ||s broath was swoot and hot on my taco,
t|ngors d|gg|ng |nto my arms bruta||y. °Ono moro chanco, 1oss|ca,' ho wh|sporod. °lot's got th|ngs r|ght
th|s t|mo, sha|| wo? lot's g|vo that boytr|ond ot yours a good show. Wo'|| start by gott|ng l|o,' ho
wh|sporod, °and go tor a n|co r|do by tho w|ndow so Annabo||o loo ca||s h|m.'
||ngors dug through my m|nd, pu|||ng at |t and |ott|ng th|ngs l'd soon and dono run through thom ||ko
sand. Vy knoos buck|od and l wh|mporod, oyos |tch|ng and b|urrod.
°Okay, okay,' ho wh|sporod. °A ||tt|o too much.' |o adjustod tho way ho rakod through my m|nd,
gont|or now that l'd noar|y co||apsod |n a hoap. °Yos. |o guarantood ho was on|y a phono ca|| away. lot's
soo |t that's truo.'
l hoard l|o snort, a d|stant sound, and to|t myso|t bo|ng ||ttod |nto tho sadd|o. °|arnok th|nks l ta||od tho
company, do you know that? 3ut tho way l soo |t, |t l contro| you-l contro| tho curo. And |t l contro| tho
curo . wo||, l havon't ta||od, havo l? 3o maybo l can st||| dr|vo a wodgo botwoon you two,' ho coood. °l
moan, |ovo and pass|on-|t doosn't |ast. A hoart can bo sp||ntorod |t h|t hard onough.'
0orok s||d up boh|nd mo, bump|ng mo |nto h|s |ap and tak|ng tho ro|ns. °And l do havo somo oxpor|onco
w|th th|s sort ot th|ng..' 1ho ro|ns snappod, h|s |ogs t|oxod, and l know trom tho sway|ng ot my h|ps that
l|o was on tho movo.
°Exco||ont,' ho sa|d, words b|ow|ng |nto my oar to scattor my bra|n. °3ho's soon us. Yop. lhono |n
hand . low wo havo what? 1on m|nutos. vory good.' 1ho sway|ng stoppod. °|mm. Vaybo l sboo|o
roth|nk th|s,' ho muttorod, star|ng |nto tho sho|| ot my sku||. °1ho barn doos havo somo usotu| th|ngs..
lot's roturn, sha|| wo? 3uch a good horso,' ho muttorod. °1oo bad.'
Wo camo to a stop and ho droppod mo down trom tho sadd|o, my |ogs on|y ho|d|ng mo br|ot|y botoro l
t|oppod ||ko a rag do|| |nto tho straw. |o was ty|ng l|o's ro|ns to a post as my oyos bogan to c|oar, my
bra|n bogan to roso||d|ty. Vy body uncooporat|vo, l tr|od to hoavo myso|t away trom h|m.
°Uh-oh-not yot,' ho mumb|od, grabb|ng my arm and pu|||ng mo to my toot. |o wrappod h|mso|t around
mo, squooz|ng mo so t|ght ovon broath|ng was a batt|o.
l t|a||od a momont, hands thudd|ng aga|nst h|s chost. °1oss,' ho wh|sporod.
°0on't ca|| mo that.' 1ho words s|urrod across my tonguo. °On|y two poop|o havo ovor-ovor'-l
strugg|od, b||nk|ng, bra|n stuttor|ng to t|nd tho words-°ca||od mo that.'
°Yos,' ho agrood. °Your mothor. And l|otr.' |o ran tho back ot h|s hand a|ong my chook, and my v|s|on
tuzzod. °1ho two you trust tho most.' ||s hand tracod my jaw, ran down my nock, and p|ayod a|ong my
co||ar. °You can trust mo, too, 1oss,' ho wh|sporod w|th such urgoncy, such b||nd|ng vohomonco,
somoth|ng tw|stod |n my hoad and tor a momont l bo||ovod h|m.
And thon |t d|dn't mattor anymoro, bocauso h|s ||ps woro a|| ovor m|no.
ln tho back ot my hoad a ||tt|o vo|co was muttor|ng. 1o|||ng mo |t was okay, that l had a|ways wantod
0orok, that now l had my chanco, ho was sato-socuro. 3tab|o. 1hat l'd novor bo pu|||ng bu||ots out ot bls
t|osh attor a horr|t|c t|ght .
1ho scono trom that awtu| n|ght p|ayod out a|| ovor aga|n |n my hoad as our k|ss|ng dooponod and my
hands pushod h|s jackot ott h|s shou|dors and tound tho bottom ot h|s swoator. Vy t|ngors ran a|ong h|s
stomach and chost-just ||ko l'd |mag|nod do|ng w|th l|otr.. And l was sato, tho vo|co |ns|stod, no rago-
t|||od wo|t oyos, no tooth, no c|aws . no dangor . just k|ss|ng . hoady k|ss|ng.. l moanod, s|nk|ng
aga|nst h|m, just as ho was torn out ot my arms.
°Wha-?' Vy oyos camo back |nto tocus, and l to|| to my knoos, broath jo|t|ng out ot mo, hoad
throbb|ng ||ko l'd boon bakod |n tho noonday sun. lot t|vo toot trom mo, 0orok and l|otr batt|od.
°0on't you ovor-' l|otr snar|od, grabb|ng 0orok by tho tront ot h|s swoator and ||tt|ng h|m ott tho
°3ho doosn't want you, l|otr.' |o |aughod, push|ng tho words out as h|s co||ar chokod h|m. °3ho wants
satoty. lorma|cy.'
l|otr tossod h|m to tho ground, straw and woodch|ps t|y|ng up trom tho |mpact.
0orok gr|nnod up at h|m, t|x|ng h|s ha|r w|th a stoady hand. °l know sho's sa|d |t-sho orooms ot |t-a
oormo| ||to. lt's |n hor b|ood, ||ko tho tarm and tho horsos. l|ko tho st|nk ot manuro on a summor day. A
norma|, obso|oto|y ovorogo, ||to. And you can't g|vo hor that, can you, oogº'
l|otr roarod, body quak|ng as ho ho|d back tho chango.
°l|otr,' l wh|sporod.
|o turnod h|s hoad to mo, taco rod, cords stand|ng out on h|s nock-so much angor bubb||ng,
surtac|ng . Vy hoad st||| scattorod trom 0orok's touch and 0orok's tasto, l shrank back.
°Go ahoad, l|otr,' 0orok tauntod. °lom|nd hor ot tho monstor you roa||y aro.'
l|otr ran h|s hands through h|s ha|r. A broath rackod h|s body. °1oss,' ho h|ssod, str|ckon.
l wantod to vom|t, st||| too||ng 0orok's tonguo |n my mouth. l c|utchod a noarby hayba|o, dragg|ng myso|t
to my unstoady toot. °You koow,' l accusod 0orok. Vy oyos t|ow to l|otr, bogg|ng h|m to trust mo. 1o
know l trustod h|m boyond dot|n|t|ons ot man and monstor. 3oyond judgmonts ot how tar ho was w||||ng to
know l trustod h|m boyond dot|n|t|ons ot man and monstor. 3oyond judgmonts ot how tar ho was w||||ng to
go to savo mo, h|s mothor, or h|mso|t.
°What?' 0orok snappod.
°You know what l|otr |s.'
°l'vo known s|nco l t|rst saw h|m,' ho cont|rmod. °loar my paronts' vacat|on p|aco |n |arth|ngton. A ||tt|o
powdor b|uo Capo Cod.'
l|otr jumpod, h|s ||ps s||d|ng back, tooth po|nt|ng.
°l d|dn't got to v|s|t otton,' 0orok sa|d a|most apo|ogot|ca||y. °Vy paronts ||kod to koop mo on tho ||||,
watchod by tho ho|p whon thoy workod. l |oarnod a |ot |n ono v|s|t, though. What pushos poop|o apart and
what s|ams thom togothor.'
l|otr snar|od, and l roachod tor h|m.
°Yoah,' 0orok b|ustorod. °Vy o|d man and your o|d woman,' ho gr|nnod, mouth tu|| ot ma||co. °Who
wou|d havo guossod |t? Oh. Yoah. Vo. l gavo lops tho b|g |doa.' |o |ookod at l|otr, h|s hand tw|tch|ng
toward a shovo| rost|ng by tho wa||.
Vy hand s||ppod a|ong tho wa|| and s||ont|y l pu||od down a |ooso sot ot ro|ns, wo|gh|ng thom
|nconsp|cuous|y |n my hand.
°3o what do you th|nk?' 0orok chuck|od. °0|d thoy do |t-ooggy sty|oº'
l snappod tho ro|ns out, tho |ongth ot |oathor s||c|ng across 0orok's taco and cutt|ng h|s chook as l|otr
|aunchod at h|m w|th a roar, pu|||ng tho shovo| trom h|s hand as ho swung |t toward l|otr's hoad.
°You'ro tho roason wo ta||od that n|ght,' l|otr grow|od, °your v|s|on . l'|| p|uck your oyos out..'
Vy hoart poundod and l tw|tchod tho ro|ns |n my grasp, oyos w|do as 0orok w|pod b|ood ott h|s taco
w|th tho back ot h|s hand.
°Yoah, l'm tho ono who got you shot,' 0orok gr|nnod. °You won't got noar Vothor wh||o l'm w|th tho
company. You nood to just hoo|, boy,' ho sa|d. °Cooporato. Oboy. 5obmlt.'
°Wo'ro not out ot opt|ons,' l|otr prom|sod. °Wo w||| troo Vothor. Vaybo Vax |s r|ght,' ho muttorod,
oyos coo||ng by moro dogroos. °Vaybo wo must o|lmlooto you..'
0orok t||nchod.
Vy oyos w|donod.
°Whoro's your aud|onco now?' l|otr cha||ongod h|m, pac|ng ott a s|ow c|rc|o. °Whoro's your powor?'
°l|otr,' l warnod. E|lmlooto 0orok?
W|th a t|our|sh, 0orok bowod and po|ntod at mo, t||ck|ng b|ood trom h|s t|ngort|ps. °1oss|ca's a|| tho
battory l nood, hound. |or omot|ons aro rlcb. 3ho's so oasy to got go|ng.. |as sho to|d you how oasy |t
was to got bor golog |n my room? On my booº' |o scroamod w|th |aughtor, ho|d|ng h|s gut at l|otr's
stunnod oxpross|on.
°l|otr,' l wh|sporod. °l|otr, tocus. loth|ng happonod botwoon h|m and mo.'
°God, tho way sho |los!' 0orok roarod. °And tho way sho |oys.'
l tought tor words. °loth|ng, l|otr. |o's try|ng to got you to mako a m|stako. |ocus, l|otr,' l boggod.
°l wondor |t th|s |s how |t wont down w|th your to|ks on tho|r |ast n|ght togothor,' 0orok musod, watch|ng
l|otr's taco turn trom h|m to mo and back aga|n. °0|d sho bog torg|vonoss? 0|d ho go so nuts thoy boo to
put h|m down? What tota||y broko thom? l wondor |t |t was somoth|ng lops sa|d. What cou|d l say.?'
put h|m down? What tota||y broko thom? l wondor |t |t was somoth|ng lops sa|d. What cou|d l say.?'
1ho words pootod out ot h|m as l|otr bow|od h|m ovor, tho|r bod|os ro|||ng togothor |n tho d|rt just
outs|do tho barn's opon door.
lo batt|o ot t|tans, just two toon boys, wa|||ng on oach othor ||ko mad mon w|th w||d punchos and k|cks.
Unt|| l|o stompod hor hoovos, snort|ng, as sho caught a good |ook at tho |nsan|ty. And 0orok yo||od,
t||ng|ng l|otr ott ot h|m and a|| tho way |nto tho barn.
|ayba|os tumb|od as l|otr crashod |nto thom.
0orok was ju|c|ng up. l tr|od to tamp down my omot|ons, tr|od to ||m|t h|s pu|| on my stross and toar.
l|otr stood, covorod |n hay, oyos b|az|ng. |o shook h|mso|t ||ko a wo|t com|ng out ot tho ra|n and ho
poo|od ott h|s sh|rt and unbuttonod h|s pants, oyos novor stray|ng trom 0orok-stoam|ng w|th vongoanco.
|o'd baro|y unz|ppod whon tho wo|t toro troo.
0orok scramb|od to h|s toot |n tho sw|r||ng chaos ot ta|| |oavos, koop|ng a moasurod d|stanco as ho
watchod tho wo|t. °||s k|nd aro dangorous, 1oss. 1hoy nood to bo contro||od. 1amod and tra|nod.'
°What about your k|nd, 0orok?' l wh|sporod, strugg||ng tor ca|m.
°Vy k|nd's who ooos tho contro|||ng. You th|nk a worowo|t can bo top dog? 1hoy can't ovon show tho|r
roa| taco |n pub||c. Vy k|nd |s bu||t to ho|d tho|r |oashos. 1oach 'om to ro|| ovor and bog.' 1ust |ns|do tho
barn, ho roachod tor a p|tchtork.
1h|s t|mo l |ungod, wronch|ng |t away trom h|m w|th a|| tho torco my wo|ght carr|od. lt t|ow out ot my
hands, |and|ng |n a hayba|o, qu|vor|ng. |o grabbod my shou|dors, shak|ng mo, and l knood h|m |n tho
gro|n, ta|||ng out ot h|s grasp, my v|s|on c|oar|ng just as |t had startod to tog aga|n.
l had to stay out ot h|s roach.
l|otr's w||d rod oyos ro||od trom 0orok to mo. |o |oapod, knock|ng 0orok back, tho|r bod|os ratt||ng tho
sta|| door ot ono ot my go|d|ngs. 0orok soomod to grow a ||tt|o moro, and ho throw l|otr back aga|n, so
hard tho wo|t yo|pod whon ho h|t tho wa||.
°l guoss l w||| nood a ||tt|o oxtra ju|co attor a||,' 0orok muttorod, rubb|ng h|s hands togothor and
stumb||ng to tho hayba|o to p|uck out tho p|tchtork. |o sm||od at mo as ho drow back and t|ung |t.
lnto tho wa|| just boyond l|o's nock.
°0amn,' ho sa|d. °V|ssod.'
l|o roarod up |n torror, snapp|ng tho ro|ns, hoovos t|a|||ng and s||c|ng as sho scroamod |n toar. l|otr
knockod mo out ot tho way and ta|||ng to tho ground, l hoard l|o squoa| as sho turnod and bo|tod trom tho
0orok crowod w|th |aughtor. °1hat's a rush!' ho sa|d, h|s vo|co doopon|ng, oyos darkon|ng w|th tho
powor brought by l|o's toar and my worry.
1ho wo|t to|| on top ot mo, stradd||ng mo, angor bo|||ng |n h|s body a|ongs|do h|s grow|.
1ho horsos wont w||d, pan|c-str|ckon by l|o's tr|ghtonod doparturo and l|otr's tury.
°1h|s |s tho prob|om w|th your brood, lusakova-whon tho wo|t takos ovor, you'ro qu|ck to roact but
s|ow to |oarn.'
ln tho|r sta||s tho horsos wh|nn|od, pawod, and snortod, oyos ro|||ng as l|otr shook out h|s dark coat,
rumb||ng ||ko thundor. A|| shadow and stoa|th, ho stank ot a w||d and untamab|o tundra that horsos on|y
darod droam ot runn|ng. |o stoppod toward 0orok. Away trom mo.
darod droam ot runn|ng. |o stoppod toward 0orok. Away trom mo.
|oovos hammorod aga|nst tho wa||s and l pu||od myso|t up, woak-knood, to wh|spor sooth|ng words to
tho horsos. l movod down tho ||no, strok|ng anx|ous tacos, b|ow|ng my broath-so tam|||ar-|nto tho|r
t|ar|ng nostr||s. |||||ng tho|r nosos w|th my scont, tho|r oyos w|th my taco.
°You know,' 0orok sa|d, hands runn|ng a|ong tho barn wa||, soarch|ng tor a now woapon, °whon your
makor t|rst roa||zod you actua||y ox|stod, ho was horr|t|od by what ho'd croatod. |o know ho'd ta||od.
1horo woro so many-abom|nat|ons-boasts-moostors. |o huntod and orad|catod a|| ho cou|d t|nd
-put thom down ||ko dogs,' ho snoorod. °lrobab|y somo ot your ro|at|vos, l guoss. You a|| startod as a
govornmont p|an |n|t|atod |n a s|ng|o v|||ago, you know.'
1ho wo|t snortod.
°Oh. You d|dn't know that, o|thor, d|d you? 3h|t. Evoryono's koop|ng socrots around horo. Evoryono's
to|||ng ||os.' |o |ookod at mo and |aughod, tho no|so sond|ng sh|vors rac|ng up and down my sp|no. °Go
ahoad-3o|kgorod-|ook |t up somot|mo. And |gnoro what thoy say about |t bo|ng w|pod out by an
ava|ancho. 1hat happonod attor thoy had tho k|ds thoy noodod and tho paronts' bod|os woro at r|sk ot
bo|ng tound. Ono b|g bang covorod tho|r tracks noat|y. luss|an |ngonu|ty.' |o chuck|od. °|oy. You koop
track ot t|mo, r|ght, mutt?' 0orok askod.
1ho wo|t b||nkod, musc|os s||d|ng bonoath h|s th|ck coat, co|||ng to spr|ng.
°1|mo's a|most up!' 0orok shoutod, barro||ng toward mo. ||s toot t|ow up, connoct|ng w|th my knoo w|th
a crunch. l to||, tw|st|ng awkward|y, scroam|ng, my oyos stroam|ng. Vy knoo burnod ||ko somoono had a
torch on |t. 0orok racod toward tho barn's back door, d|sappoar|ng.
l|otr, st||| wo|t, startod attor h|m, but sk|ddod to a stop, hay t|y|ng |nto tho a|r as ho spun back tor mo.
l gaspod, strugg||ng tor broath and c|utch|ng my knoo as tho wo|t ||ckod my toars away and nuzz|od my
nock. °3h|t, sh|t, sh|t!' l snappod.
And thon tho wo|t was l|otr, h|s noso |n my ha|r, warn|ng sott|y, °languago,' as ho roachod down to my
ach|ng knoo, h|s wary oyos watch|ng tho doors.
W|th carotu| t|ngors ho oxp|orod tho jo|nt, tost|ng my |og tontat|vo|y. °3ad|y spra|nod.'
l snar|od. Vad as ho||. l'd kopt h|m trom gott|ng 0orok undor contro|. Vaybo |t thoy cou|d catch h|m-not
k||| h|m-p|oaso, no moro k||||ng . And not bo noar h|s hands too |ong . °Crap. Wo nood to t|nd l|o..'
l|otr |oanod ovor and k|ssod mo, s||pp|ng an arm undor my back to ra|so mo to h|m. l wh|mporod as my
knoo stra|ghtonod and ho roadjustod our pos|t|on, pross|ng h|s mouth a|ong tho ||no ot my ||ps. °3hhh. lot
hor ca|m down. Wo'|| got hor |n a momont.' l oponod my mouth to h|m-to my horo, want|ng to havo h|s
tasto, scont, and too| b|ot out tho po|son 0orok had |ott |n my mouth and my m|nd.
°lants,' l wh|sporod |nto h|s ||ps, and ho noddod, oas|ng mo onto a hayba|o.
ln a t|ash ho was back. 1ho ovonts ot tho day washod ovor mo and l sobbod, shak|ng. l|otr throw h|s
arms around mo, pu|||ng mo onto h|s |ap and rock|ng mo ovor so s||ght|y, h|s mouth by my oar, mak|ng
sooth|ng sounds.
°You'ro sato now,' ho prom|sod. °l'|| havo Vax and A|ox| doa| w|th 0orok. l'm not |oav|ng your s|do. Your
tathor w||| havo to copo-or l'|| havo to to|| h|m tho truth.' |o s|ghod. °God. 1h|s |sn't oasy.'
°3tat|ng tho obv|ous,' l sa|d, k|ss|ng h|m |nto s||onco. l d|dn't want to hoar anyth|ng, th|nk anyth|ng-just
tho pound|ng ot h|s hoart, tho gont|o pant|ng ot h|s broath.. 1ust anothor m|nuto or two ot poaco |n h|s
tho pound|ng ot h|s hoart, tho gont|o pant|ng ot h|s broath.. 1ust anothor m|nuto or two ot poaco |n h|s
arms and wo'd go tor l|o. And thon wo'd taco my tathor. 1ogothor.
Wo cou|d mako our own norma|.
Wo both hoard tho car pu|| up. 0oors oponod, toot crunchod on gravo| and ground across d|rt.
°1h|s |s awtu|,' Wanda wh|sporod. °look at hor, loon,' sho sa|d to my dad. °What tho ho|| has sho dono
to horso|t th|s t|mo?'
°0ono to myso|t?' l askod, numb, pu|||ng my taco away trom l|otr's t|ory chost to soo 0ad, Wanda, and
0r. 1onos watch|ng us. °l'vo novor dono ooytblog to myso|t..'
°1ho gun undor your p|||ow. 1ho s|ash on your arm. 1ho numbor ot t|mos you showod up to counso||ng
|ato or d|shovo|od-hurt and w|th no good oxp|anat|on,' 0r. 1onos sa|d, ||st|ng my ottonsos. 3ho ho|d out a
c||pboard to my tathor. °And horo you aro w|th a boy-'
°Who just got suspondod tor t|ght|ng,' 0ad wh|sporod.
°|o was protoctlog mo!'
0r. 1onos |ntonod, °lt's ||ko wo d|scussod. Wo nood to tako moro drast|c moasuros.'
°Voro drast|c.?'
°Wo havo to protoct 1oss|o,' Wanda urgod.
Vy stomach sourod as my tathor accoptod a pon and scraw|od somoth|ng across tho papors on tho
°lrotoct mo . What aro you ta|k|ng about?' 3o tar nobody's attompts at protoct|ng mo had ho|pod mo
at a||. °0ad,' l wh|sporod, °l|o's run ott. Wo nood to t|nd hor..'
0ad g|arod at l|otr.
0r. 1onos wa|kod toward mo, and l|otr ho|d mo t|ghtor, h|s ch|n on my shou|dor as ho cur|od mo back
|nto h|m, tuck|ng mo aga|nst h|m.
°Wo'vo doc|dod you aron't mak|ng sutt|c|ont progross dur|ng wook|y soss|ons. 1hat you nood a moro
oxc|us|vo onv|ronmont |n wh|ch to hoa|.'
°A moro oxc|us|vo . onv|ronmont?'
°Wo'vo arrangod tor you to havo a room at locan l|aco tor a wh||o,' 0r. 1onos sa|d, sm|||ng.
°locan l|aco-wboro tbo oots gotbor,' l muttorod, romombor|ng what tho k|ds had sa|d grow|ng up.
°1ho monta| |nst|tut|on? lo,' l |ns|stod, my vo|co r|s|ng. °lo, no, oo!'
l|otr c|utchod mo c|osor. °l won't |ot thom tako you, 1oss. l prom|so.'
l grabbod h|s arm and bur|od my hoad |n h|s chost. °l|oaso,' l wh|sporod, °Pobzbo|sto.'
A grow| bu||t sott|y |n h|s stomach, rumb||ng and c||mb|ng toward h|s chost. °0on't touch hor,' ho warnod.
0r. 1onos |ookod at 0ad.
°low, 1oss|o, th|s |s tho bost th|ng wo can do tor you. Your doctor has conv|ncod mo ot that tact. You
nood add|t|ona| t|mo and troatmont. You know sho's try|ng to do what sho th|nks |s bost tor you..' |o
rubbod a hand across h|s torohoad. °l want you to cooporato. l|otr, |ot hor go.'
°Nyot,' ho rop||od, b|t|ng tho word ott. °l w||| not |ot you tako hor. 3ho doos not want to go.'
°low, son.,' 0ad draw|od.
°lot go ot hor.'
°Nyot, Wanda,' ho snappod. ||s broath was t|ro on my shou|dor.
0r. 1onos mado shush|ng no|sos. °lt's okay,' sho conso|od. °1h|s occas|ona||y happons. 1hat's why wo
a|ways br|ng oxtra ho|p.'
l hoard car doors opon, and two now sots ot toot c|ompod toward us.
°lot hor go,' 0r. 1onos suggostod. 5o m||d|y.
l |ookod up to soo a mounta|n ot a man towor|ng abovo us. lt wou|d oas||y tako throo ot l|otr to mako
ono ot h|m.
|ugo and th|ck w|th musc|o, ho was bu||t ||ko God torgot to grant h|m a nock-h|s hoad on a broad,
short co|umn that was just a narrow|ng ot shou|dors. |o swung h|s arms at h|s s|do, and l saw tho t|ash ot
a tattoo on tho |ns|do ot h|s troo trunk ot a wr|st. luss|an Vat|a? 3ut |t wasn't any tattoo l'd soon botoro
-|t was moro ||ko a s|ng|o toro|gn |ottor.
°0o |t, l|otr,' Wanda oncouragod.
1ho mounta|n's compan|on-st||| b|ggor-grumb|od abovo us.
l|otr |ookod up. And up. l|otr's hoad t|na||y stoppod whon ho cou|d |ock oyos w|th ono ot thom. °Nyot,'
ho sa|d.
1ho g|ants |ookod at oach othor and thon |ungod. 1ho b|ggor ono to|| ||ko a houso ot br|cks on l|otr,
p|nn|ng h|m to tho t|oor wh||o tho sma||or poo|od mo out ot h|s arms w|th a grunt.
Wo strotchod toward oach othor, t|ngors brush|ng a momont, as l sa|d, °W|tnossos,' warn|ng aga|nst
tho chango. l|otr's oxpross|on was a dark ocho ot m|no. 3hock. Outrago.
1on m|nutos oar||or wo had boon roady|ng to taco tho truth w|th my tathor, togotbor. And now?
l|otr wont w||d, wr|th|ng bonoath tho b|g man's bu|k. 1hon ho stoppod. 3uddon|y p|ac|d and st|||,
soom|ng|y out ot broath, h|s oyos novor |ott m|no. And thoy shono ||ko ho||t|ro burnod h|m trom |ns|do out.
°lo,' l sobbod, t|sts t|a|||ng aga|nst tho g|ant. 1ho b|ggor man movod ott ot l|otr, got to h|s toot, and
brushod h|mso|t ott. l|otr rushod us, grabb|ng mo, noar|y pu|||ng mo troo, my arms and wr|sts popp|ng
botoro tho b|g man's body s|ammod h|m down aga|n, o|bow|ng h|m to tho ground, smoar|ng h|s taco
across tho d|rt.
°low-' 0ad startod to say, objoct|ng, but Wanda put a rostra|n|ng hand on h|s arm.
°Wo'vo ta|kod about th|s,' 0r. 1onos rom|ndod.
l|otr strugg|od to |ook at mo, h|s noso stroam|ng b|ood, a trosh gash across h|s torohoad sp||||ng rod
|nto h|s oyos. ||s chook was raggod, abradod raw.
°l|otr,' l wh|sporod, h|s namo toar|ng out ot my throat as l chokod back a cry. l was dumpod on my toot
and l scroamod as tho pa|n |n my knoo t|ashod through mo, but tho man's arms wrappod mo t|ght, ho|d|ng
mo up w|th unbroakab|o bonds.
1ho ono who had topp|od l|otr sat up aga|n, rubb|ng h|s o|bow.
l|otr staggorod to h|s toot, sway|ng, and shovod tho b|g man as|do w|th ono moro burst ot strongth,
com|ng tor mo.
°3top t|ght|ng, boy!' 0r. 1onos shoutod.
1ho b|ggor ono grabbod l|otr by tho shou|dors and hur|od h|m to tho oarth. l hoard tho crunch ot
broak|ng bonos.
l|otr c|utchod h|s hoad, h|s taco contortod |n pa|n. |o |ookod at mo and, w|th a groan, tr|od to r|so. |o
roachod out tor mo, arms shak|ng w|th ottort.
1ho b|g ono snar|od at l|otr, roady|ng onco moro, and 0ad shoutod, °|oy now, |ot's just stop-' 0ad
grabbod tho c||pboard, roach|ng to tako tho papor back.
0r. 1onos ho|d hor ground. °Vr. G|||manson. 1h|s tam||y |s boyond brokon. lt you don't want mo to ca|| |n
3oc|a| 3orv|cos and havo thom rocons|dor your youngost's ||v|ng arrangomonts, too-'
0ad trozo.
°God. lo, l|otr! lo,' l cr|od, b||ndod by toars as ho was thrown down aga|n, h|s hoad crack|ng aga|nst
tho hardpackod d|rt.
0r. 1onos cont|nuod. °You'|| to||ow through w|th tho troatmont p|an wo'vo agrood upon tor 1oss|ca. l
know th|s a|| sooms vory shock|ng r|ght now, but |t |s tor tho bost.'
l|otr's body shuddorod, but st||| ho tr|od to pu|| h|mso|t back up . tor mo. °3tay down! Oh, God, l|otr .
p|oaso, p|oaso stay down.,' l boggod, my throat burn|ng. °l'|| go w|th you,' l wh|sporod to 0r. 1onos,
grabb|ng at hor s|oovo. °l|oaso. 1ust hurry. 3otoro ho tr|os aga|n.'
l |ot thom put mo |n tho car-|ot thom tako mo trom l|otr, my battorod horo-botoro thoy cou|d broak
h|m anymoro.
l scrowod my oyos shut aga|nst tho v|o|onco ot tho day, |nstoad ho|d|ng tho momory ot what l |ast saw
t|ght |n my m|nd..
l romomborod how, as our car pu||od down tho dr|vo, 0ad and Wanda g|ngor|y ho|pod l|otr to h|s toot,
tho|r tacos a m|x ot shock and toar. And l know that no mattor whoro l was bo|ng takon, |t thoy cou|d t|na||y
como togothor, thoro was st||| hopo tor a|| ot us.
l t|gurod do|ng tho acknow|odgmonts tor tho socond book |n a sor|os must bo oas|or, r|ght? 3ut somoth|ng
l'm |oarn|ng as l go |s that th|ngs don't nocossar||y got oas|or: 1hoy'ro just d|ttoront tho socond t|mo
l havo somo d|ttoront to|ks to thank th|s t|mo. l|oaso noto: 1horo w||| |nov|tab|y bo poop|o l'vo torgotton
or whom l can't yot acknow|odgo bocauso ot t|m|ng. 3ut hoy, that's why |t's doub|y groat thoro's yot
anothor book |n tho sor|os!
1hanks to tho gonoros|ty ot Karon A|dorman and hor husband, Kov|n, who sot throo a|arms to p|aco tho
w|nn|ng b|d. 1hoy won tho 18 to Llío AlC and swag l donatod to 0o tho Wr|to 1h|ng tor lashv|||o. 1a|k
about undorstand|ng toamwork and char|tab|o g|v|ng! l|kow|so, thanks to Vyra VcEnt|ro, v|ctor|a
3chwab, and Amanda Vorgan, who organ|zod and hand|od tho tundra|sor. 1hrough tho|r ottorts (and tho
gonoros|ty ot authors, b|ddors, and othors) thoy ra|sod moro than sovonty thousand do||ars |n ton short
days tor a c|ty |n nood. 1oss wou|d havo boon proud ot tho|r ottorts-l know l am!
1hanks a|so to tho gonoros|ty ot 3cott and 0obb|o ot 1oxas who supportod 3olnAlovo|.com |n 2000
and |ts char|ty, Oporat|on 1oy ot va||oy |orgo, lonnsy|van|a. 3ocauso ot tho|r b|d 1oss °got back on tho
horso,' so to spoak.
1o my AlC tour gu|dos! Car|a 3|ack who |mmod|ato|y oxprossod |ntorost |n 18 to Llío and |n|t|atod a
groat UK AlC tour and has bocomo ono ot my groatost choor|oadors attor road|ng tho book. 3ho's
a|roady road th|s ono, too, |t has hor Wo|t G|r| soa| ot approva|. 1hanks to Kat|o 3artow ot 1oxas, who
p|ckod up a ta|tor|ng Un|tod 3tatos AlC tour and sproad tho wo|t |ovo! 1o A|yson 3oochor, who road and
|ovod 18 to Llío onough to pass |t a|ong to poop|o to road and cons|dor carry|ng |n tho|r storos and
||brar|os. lt's through such ottorts that books aro d|scovorod. l (and many othor authors) vory much
approc|ato such support.
1o lynsoy lowton, who know l was strugg||ng w|th t|t|os tor th|s book and sont sovora| awosomo ||sts
t|||od w|th groat |doas.
1o 1onnzah Vorr|s, who somohow got sk|ppod ovor |n 18 to Llío's acknow|odgmonts and has boon a
sta|wart supportor ot m|no s|nco 1oxtnovo| 2008! You rock, hon!
1o tho C|ass ot 2k10! A wondortu| group ot ta|ontod dobut YA and VG authors that mado my dobut yoar
at onco wondortu| and amaz|ng|y busy. l rocommond you road tho|r books-thoro aro somo powortu|
vo|cos omorg|ng that l had tho groat p|oasuro ot road|ng oar|y on! You can chock us a|| out at
1o Katy |orshborgor |n tho 3t. Vart|n's lross pub||c|ty squad and E||oon lothsch||d |n markot|ng, who
choor mo on and g|ad|y chock out th|ngs l th|nk m|ght bo worth pursu|ng. 1hoso g|r|s aro awosomo, and
l'm so g|ad thoy'ro work|ng on my sor|os.
1o Anton|o Avanzato, whoso |oca| wook|y rad|o show, 7bo Volco oí tbo Now lto|y, |nsp|rod a short but
|mportant momont botwoon 1oss and hor dad. 1hanks tor a||ow|ng mo to uso a groat phraso!
1o Vatt Coopor and Co||na 3|mms, ownors ot Caprosso-ono ot my vory tavor|to p|acos |n tho who|o
wor|d to do copyod|ts. 1hoy undorstand whon to chat and whon to |ot mo sproad papors a|| ovor tho|r
boaut|tu| tab|os.
1o my Cls who stuck through th|s ono tho who|o way: Vy husband, Kar|, and my good tr|ond lob|n
Wr|ght. 1o my 3ook 1wo botas: Car|a 3|ack, lacho||o looso, and A|yson 3oochor. l approc|ato tho t|mo
and thought you'vo a|roady g|von th|s sor|os.
1o my agont, 3tan 3opor, who roads my manuscr|pts, g|vos groat |nput, and stops up whon noodod.
1o my od|tor, V|chao| |om|or, who asks tho r|ght quost|ons and has an att|tudo that makos my bo|ng a
now novo||st not noar|y as torr|ty|ng as |t cou|d bo.
And, |ast, but tar trom |oast: to my roadors and tans! l hopo you |ovo 5ocrots ooo 5booows!
18 to Llío
1h|s |s a work ot t|ct|on. A|| ot tho charactors, organ|zat|ons, and ovonts portrayod |n th|s novo| aro o|thor
products ot tho author's |mag|nat|on or aro usod t|ct|t|ous|y.
3EClE13 Al0 3|A0OW3. Copyr|ght t 2011 by 3hannon 0o|any. A|| r|ghts rosorvod. |or |ntormat|on,
addross 3t. Vart|n's lross, 17b ||tth Avonuo, low York, l.Y. 10010.
l33l 078-0-812-0001b-8
||rst Ed|t|on: |obruary 2011
ol33l 078-1-4200-0440-1
||rst 3t. Vart|n's Gr|tt|n o3ook Ed|t|on: |obruary 2011

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