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Authors: Stacy Juba

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Fantasy & Magic

Dark Before Dawn (5 page)

BOOK: Dark Before Dawn
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Ken glumly watched TV from the couch while Jeff hunched on a folding chair, working on his latest model ship. He had spread newspapers over a card table and covered it with little bottles of paint, turpentine and glue. Dawn’s mother proofed a brochure for a client in the seat beside Jeff. Since leaving her full-time job at a magazine, she’d started her own freelance graphic design business.

Dawn laid her math book on the canoe-shaped coffee table and rested her head against the couch cushion. She had done several unassigned trig problems, but eyestrain prevented her from tackling anymore. Math brought her down to earth, pulling her away from the random thoughts that barraged her senses.

As anxiety descended again, Dawn found herself riveted to Jeff’s actions. He brushed black paint over a section of the hull with slow careful strokes. He’d been working on that same model for weeks and it wasn’t any closer to a ship despite his constant attention.

Jeff caught her observing. "This must seem pretty boring."

Dawn shrugged. "No. It just looks like you need a lot of patience."

"It helps my brain unwind after a long day. My head feels clearer when I’m done. Sometimes a solution to a problem will come to me when I’m painting or gluing pieces together."

"Really?" Anything that might clear her head sounded good to Dawn. Now she understood why he enjoyed the logic, flow and repetitiveness, ultimately leading to creating something out of nothing. It was like math, except more artistic. More fun.

"Sure. Tonight, it’s helped me to get my mind off Scott. I’ve seen that kid grow up. He used to come over the house and play with Ken." Jeff’s Adam’s Apple bobbed in his throat. "Do you want to finish painting this section for me while I start on something else?"

Yes, yes, yes! Dawn itched to hold a paintbrush, but she knew nothing about models. All she’d do was screw it up. Then Jeff would think she was a klutz, although he’d be too nice to say so.

"No thanks," she said. "I’m not really into that kind of thing."

"Too bad. I can’t get Ken into models, either, and was hoping I could find a partner to help with the grunt work."

Dawn glanced over at her stepfather. Was Jeff as disappointed as he sounded? He had lowered his head to paint and she couldn’t see his face.

"I wish we could get another update on Scott," Ken said.

Dawn clasped her wrist in a pincer grip. She wanted, yet didn’t want, the latest news. A few hours ago, they’d heard through the grapevine that Scott was critical in intensive care. By now, he could be dead.

"I know. Me too. Scott's mother must be a wreck." Jeff turned to Dawn’s mother. "I dated Susan in high school, and we see each other around town. Her kids are her life."

Dawn's mother planted her elbows on the card table and rubbed the sides of her neck. Her mouth drooped at the corners. "This is awful. I wish you kids didn’t have to see it happen. What was Scott thinking?"

"I don’t get what he was doing," Jeff said. "I heard he was playing Chicken. I hope that wasn’t the case."

"That's the weird thing, Dad," Ken said. "I don't think he was messing around. He seemed out of it."

"Could he have gotten dizzy?" asked Dawn's mother.

"I guess," Ken said. "I don't know. I just looked up and there he was."

They’d analyzed the accident from every angle, and it still made no sense. This time nothing could distract Dawn from the truth, not mathematics or model ships.

She had tried to warn Scott.

She’d failed.

***

Dawn sensed the gloom the moment she entered the high school. Small groups clustered in the corridors and two girls embraced by a locker.

"I can't believe he's dead," one said in a wooden voice.

Another girl wept in the arms of a female teacher. An invisible punch slammed into Dawn’s gut as she fumbled with her locker combination. Maybe they weren't talking about Scott. He was critical. He had to be critical.

"You!" Renee strode toward her, mascara striping the bags under her dark snapping eyes.

Tim Travers and four other guys closed in around Dawn. Vicky stooped behind them, clutching a damp tissue. Renee had dressed in a black blazer, skirt and nylons, her gold necklace and barrettes accenting the outfit. She would have looked sophisticated except her face had the ruddy puffiness associated with crying.

"You told my boyfriend that he'd get hit by a car, and now he's..." Her high-pitched voice broke off.

"Dead," Tim Travers finished wearily.

Dawn couldn’t hold her head up, her cheeks, lips and jaw all sinking.

Renee pointed a French-manicured fingernail. "You were there when he got hit. You put a curse on him."

Dawn’s insides liquidated. "It was coincidence. I–"

"Witch. That's what you are. A witch."

Dawn shrank back from the mix of fury and fear in Renee’s voice. No one had ever called her a witch. They'd called her snobbish, quiet and strange, but never a witch.

"I think you’ve been reading too much of
The Crucible
. I had an awful feeling, so I warned him. I'm sorry, so terribly sorry, that it came true."

"I'm gonna find out the truth, and if you had anything to do with his death–" Renee stopped and blanched, her lip gloss glowing bright in contrast.

"I'm sorry," Dawn murmured. "I'm so sorry."

"Come on," Tim ordered his friends. "Let's get out of here."

Vicky lingered behind, twisting her crumpled tissue. Tousled wisps sprang from the hairclip at the base of her neck and tears streaked her pale face. "You shouldn't apologize. Renee's been awful to you. She'll milk Scott's death for everything she can. Pretty soon, she'll be telling everyone they were engaged. What a joke."

Dawn bent down and pulled a couple books out of her locker. She didn’t deserve Renee’s abuse, but she wasn’t worthy of Vicky’s sympathy, either. "Thanks for sticking up for me the other day."

"It’s okay. I've … I’ve never known anyone our age who died. It makes me sick every time I think about it." Vicky's voice trembled and she broke down into sobs.

Dawn hugged her instinctively, another rush of tears filming her vision. "He was so … alive."

"I know. Why did it have to happen? Why?"

"I don't know," Dawn whispered. "It's not fair."

Vicky rubbed her cheeks with the tissue. She stepped back, sniffing. "Sorry for falling apart on you."

"Don't be. I feel sick, too."

"You're Jeff Magnuson's stepdaughter, aren't you? I worked for him over the summer. He’s really nice."

"He told me about you."

Vicky drew in a shaky breath. "Can I, like, ask you something? How did you know about the accident?"

Dawn rolled her tongue over her rubbery lips. She wanted to tell Vicky so badly, to share the burden, but of course she couldn't. Vicky would never understand.

"Strange things like that happen to everyone, don’t they?" Dawn asked. "Like when letters or e-mails cross, or you’re thinking about someone and they call."

"This wasn't a letter or an e-mail."

"I know, but…"

Vicky surveyed both ends of the corridor and leaned close. "Keep it to yourself. Believe me. If this stuff happens to you often, there are people who shouldn’t find out."

Dawn drifted through the school day, puzzling over Vicky’s warning. She had a lot of free time to wonder about it as most teachers held study halls instead of regular classes. They comforted students in back of the room and ushered kids down to grief counselors. The distraught faculty could have used counseling themselves.

Dawn wanted to disappear third period when Mr. Murray popped
The Crucible
into the DVD player. Was she imagining it, or were her English classmates looking at her funny? All those stares couldn’t be because of the zit on her chin.

Renee had spread the witch rumor. She knew it.

Between periods, Dawn sought out her stepbrother to see how he was handling the tragedy. She found Ken gazing into the hollow cavity of his locker.

"I guess you heard about Scott," she said tentatively.

Ken turned to her, his eyes red and watery. "It seems so hard to believe, you know? I keep thinking about how we used to play Skee-Ball down the Center. Listen, Dawn, I heard–"

Billy, one of Ken’s hockey friends, paused by the locker. He faltered when he saw Dawn and tugged on his dark hair. "Hey, man, you coming to calculus?" he mumbled, not looking at her.

Ken closed his locker door and tucked his book under his arm. "Yeah, I’m coming. See you, Dawn."

She watched them head down the hall, frowning. Her frown deepened as Ken glanced back at her with pursed lips. That settled it. There must be stories floating around about her premonition.

Tears prickled in Dawn’s eyes. Scott was dead and her classmates thought she was the Wicked Witch of the West. She ducked into the girls' bathroom, not caring that the bell would ring.

She ripped off a paper towel, dabbed her cheeks and stared at her dazed reflection. Dawn couldn’t believe Scott would never again pick teams in gym or banter with Mr. Murray.

Candace Caldwell strode into the bathroom and halted by the sink. Her steady gaze pinned Dawn like a frog under a dissecting knife. Candace shifted, her dangling blue star earrings swinging like pendulums. She touched her matching pendant, the sterling silver chain pressing into her freckled neck.

The silence stretched to thirty seconds. A minute. Dawn squinted back at her, confused. Candace had never shown interest in her before.

"You predicted Scott's death, didn't you?" Candace finally asked.

"I don't know what you've heard, but it's been exaggerated."

"I hope it hasn't. I thought you might be one of us."

"One of who?"

A sly look crossed Candace's doughy face. "I knew Scott would die, too. Meet me on the bleachers after school."

She turned and walked out.

***

Dark clouds marbled the sky as the last bus turned out of the parking lot. Dawn shivered at the top of the metal bleachers. She hoped the rain held off. Down below, the football team warmed up with jumping jacks.

She had left Ken a note on his locker, explaining she was staying after for extra help in chemistry and would catch the late bus. Dawn wanted to feel him out about the rumors, but not enough to miss this meeting.

Candace climbed the steps and a chill licked the hairs on the back of Dawn's neck. Dawn did something she seldom permitted herself to do: she stretched out with her mind, trying to discover what Candace would reveal, but all she picked up was uneasiness.

Dawn straightened. She wasn’t the only one who was nervous.

Candace sat in the row in front of Dawn and extended her legs onto the next bench. Egg-shaped holes severed the knees of her jeans, cut with precision. A black titanium ring glinted on her nose and a smooth green bead shone on her eyebrow.

"Like my piercings?" Candace asked.

Dawn knotted her hands in her lap. At least Renee wasn’t around to see her with Candace. "They’re interesting."

"I’ll bet you're wondering why I picked this spot. I wanted to make sure no one overheard. They wouldn't get it."

"Get what?"

"The sixth sense."

Dawn had never discussed her ability with anyone besides her mother, and had never given it a name. Her mouth dropped open.

"Don't be afraid," Candace said. "It's nothing to be ashamed of. I used to think I was the world's biggest loser. Until I met Serina."

"Serina?"

Candace steepled her stubby fingers. "She's my mentor, and she can be yours too. She's an intuitive consultant I've been studying with since she moved to town last spring."

"Intuitive consultant?"

"You know – psychic. Every day after school, Serina works with me and another girl. Her name’s Jamie. She’s a sophomore."

Dawn shook her head to clear it as Vicky’s warning flooded back. There are people who shouldn’t find out. "There's someone else in school who can do this?"

"It's not as unusual as you think. Serina says everyone can develop their psychic senses, but most people deny it in themselves. The ones who can't, well ... they're treated like us."

Dawn digested that explanation, but something else had been bothering her since their talk in the girls' room. "If you knew Scott was going to die, why didn't you warn him?"

"He wouldn't have listened, and the others would have given me a hard time. Like they did to you. You really ought to meet Serina."

Dawn kicked a patch of dirt on the metal step, spreading it with her shoe. She'd felt alone for so long. But did she really want psychic friends? If Dawn hung around with Candace, her reputation would slide even further down the gutter.

"I called Serina on my cell," Candace said. "She wants me to bring you by this afternoon. Don't worry, she's just like anyone else."

"It's not that. It's–"

BOOK: Dark Before Dawn
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