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Authors: Eden Maguire

Phoenix

Copyright © 2010 Eden Maguire

First published in Great Britain in 2010 by Hodder Children’s Books

This E-book edition published in 2010

The right of Eden Maguire to be identified as the Author of this Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act in 1988.

All rights reserved. Apart from any use permitted under UK copyright law, this publication may only be reproduced, stored or transmitted, in any form, or by any means with prior permission in writing from the publishers or in the case of reprographic production in accordance with the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency and may not be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

A Catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

ISBN 978 1 844 56991 5

Hachette Children’s Books
a division of Hachette Children’s Books
338 Euston Road, London NW1 3BH
An Hachette UK company
www.hachette.co.uk

For my two beautiful daughters

Maybe none of it is true.

Maybe none of it is true.

I reach the end and I wimp out: ‘I woke up and it was all a
dream.’

Imagine that – I made up the Beautiful Dead, the whole
thing. Jonas, Arizona, Summer and Phoenix out at Foxton
Ridge. I did it because I wanted them back in my life so bad.

But there really is no such being as Hunter the overlord, no
zombie-stepping out of limbo back to the far side – nothing
except me and my crazy, grief-fuelled brain.

I play Summer Madison’s song as I drive a winding road,
late-spring aspens rising silver and green to either side.

‘I love you so, But it was time to go. You spoke my name, I never came, Cause it was time for me to go.’

He’s dead, I tell myself. Beautiful Phoenix, every day you
break my heart. Your eyes stare into mine but not really. You
hold my hand and it’s cold as death.

‘You spoke my name, I never came, Cause it was time for
me to go.’

I drive into the mountains. The roof is down, I feel the wind in my hair. Mid-May and the aspen leaves shake and shimmer in the breeze. Hot sun bakes my face and the sandy soil, the dirt track crunches under my tyres. I hit a sudden hollow, the CD jumps and sticks – ‘t-t-time for m-me to go …’ I press the ‘Off’ button. Where am I heading? Who do I hope to see?

Half a mile from Foxton Ridge I brake suddenly. The
engine stalls.

I’m half a mile from Angel Rock and that steep dip into the
hidden valley, where the spring meadow surrounds the empty
barn and the old ranch house. Scarlet poppies sing and zing in
the fresh green grass, a wave of wind rolls through and sighs up
dust in the deserted yard.

In the silence after the engine cuts out I’m unable to act. I
sit trapped by invisible threads of memory and hope.

We never needed to talk, Phoenix and me. I would look into
those grey-blue eyes and know – just know – what he was
thinking. I remember the way he would push his dark hair
clear of his forehead, once, twice, three times, without knowing
he was doing it. And I would lift my hand to do it for him, then
he would smile. That smile – raised higher on the right-hand
side, uneven, quirky. The love light in his eyes.

Inside my silver memory cocoon I sit. Should I reach out
and turn on the engine? I see myself coming to the end of the
track, getting out of the car, walking into the shade of the
rusting water tower and pausing to gaze down at the barn. The
barn will cast a long shadow across the yard. The door
will hang open. Nailed above the door will be the moose
antlers. Beside it, and in the old corral beyond, pure blue
columbines will stand out amongst dark, straggly thorn bushes.
No footsteps will disturb decades of untrodden dirt; no
movement, no sound.

I know – I’ve done this so many times.

Once, twice, three times I walk down to the barn and peer
inside. ‘Be here!’ I breathe.

My heart batters my ribcage.

Four, five, six times I make out spiky farm tools stacked
in a corner, horse halters hanging like nooses, an avalanche
of decaying straw.

Seven, eight times I turn away. Maybe in the ranch house?
‘Be here!’ I cross the yard and step up onto the porch. The old
boards creak, I press my face to the window pane. ‘Be here!’

Nine, ten times the stove is there, the table and rocking-
chair, the plates on the rack. And undisturbed dust. I don’t even
try the door – I know it’s bolted on the inside.

Twenty times I’ve gone through this ritual of hope.

Now the rocking-chair will rock, now the plates will be
taken down from the rack, a fire will heat the stove. Someone
will come down the stairs and into the tiny kitchen – stern,
serious Hunter, who built this place a hundred years ago and
who died here, will throw another log on the fire, he will turn
to speak to someone in the shadows. A tall figure will step out.
I know every inch of this person – the broad shoulders, the
thick dark hair, high forehead and lopsided smile. Now I will
whisper his name. ‘Phoenix.’

I can’t do it, I tell myself this twenty-first time.

I sit in my car for a whole hour. Deer walk out from under
the aspens. They lower their heads and graze. High in the blue
sky a plane gleams silver, small as an insect.

One more disappointment and my heart will stutter
to a halt.

Phoenix is dead and gone for ever, along with Summer
Madison, Jonas Jonson and Arizona Taylor. The Beautiful
Dead are imagined.

I switch on the engine, reverse down the track, turn and
head back to the highway.

Chapter 1

W
ednesday, I drove to school with conjoined Jordan and Lucas. These days they’re the real deal, can’t keep their hands off each other, limbs permanently intertwined – and I’m jealous.

I was sitting in the back seat, recalling how Phoenix and I used to be the same way.

‘Darina, what happened to your car?’ Jordan asked, letting go of Lucas just long enough to turn around and ask the question. ‘Did Brandon take it back?’

‘Yeah, but only for a service.’ Shiny red, creamy leather girl-mobile with a fold-down top – gift of Phoenix’s big brother, Brandon Rohr. ‘It feels like someone amputated a leg.’

‘When do you get it back?’ Lucas wanted to know.

I’m amazed by Lucas. Six months ago, he was the shy guy in the corner. It’s like Clark Kent going into the phone
booth and coming out with a cape and a six-pack. New-look, bulked-up Lucas doesn’t hide – he stares you right in the eye, even through the overhead mirror.

‘Friday,’ I muttered.

‘So I’ll give you a ride home,’ he offered as he pulled into the school car park.

‘Thanks.’

‘Hey, Darina, I’m thinking about cutting my hair.’ Jordan got out of the car and tossed her luscious dark locks back from her face.

‘Don’t,’ I advised. ‘Your hair is your best feature.’

‘Just this much?’

‘Oh yeah, that much – cool.’

‘Are you letting yours grow?’

‘No, I have an appointment with my hairdresser Monday.’

My hair isn’t my best feature. If I have one, it would be my eyes – definitely according to Phoenix. I wear a lot of kohl and mascara so people notice. I think I knew from the age of seven I was never going to be the floaty-hair type.

I spotted Hannah down the corridor and left the love birds to it. ‘Hey,’ I said.

Hannah waited for me to catch up. ‘What happened to you?’

‘When?’

‘Yesterday evening. We were at the pool, remember.’

‘I forgot.’

Not really. I’d looked out at the sun and blue sky and knew I wasn’t in bikini mood. I could’ve driven out to Foxton instead but decided against that too, in case it turned out to be another lonely, wasted journey. (‘It’s a great evening. How come you’re not going out?’ my mom, Laura, had asked. I’d offered no answer, only my sullen stare.)

‘Zoey was there, poolside.’

‘Cool. How’s she doing?’ We turned into the classroom, which was almost empty.

‘Good. She plans to be back in school full time in the fall.’

Talking and paying attention takes a lot of energy when all you want to do is not be there. As a matter of fact, I didn’t think I would make it through the day.

‘She’ll repeat the year. Her physical therapist says that swimming is the best workout for her, better even than horse-riding.’ Hannah didn’t care that I’d slumped down at my desk and was faking concentration on my laptop. ‘It strengthens her leg muscles – the ones she still needs to work on. She’s put on a little weight, which is a good thing, but she stresses about it being too much, and Jordan
and I kept saying she’s still a size zero so no way.’

I glanced up from my computer. For a split-second I saw Phoenix across the room.

 

‘You’re home early.’

Laura has a knack of turning everything into an accusation.

‘Yeah, major criminal offence.’ I wanted to flounce out of the kitchen and slam the door.

‘How did you get here?’

‘I have legs.’

‘You walked?’

‘Yeah, Mom – W-A-L-K-E-D.’ I’d hung in there at school for as long as I could, looking for Phoenix round every corner, down the corridors, out the main entrance, along the street, in the coffee shop in the main shopping mall. He didn’t show up after that nano-glimpse in the classroom, over in less than the blink of an eye.

Enough to fall in love with the beautiful ghost in the corner all over again.

But now Laura was in the mood for talking. T-A-L-King. She had that serious, I-know-how-you-feel expression. She didn’t, of course. How could she? She hadn’t lost a boyfriend in a gang fight and never found out who had
pushed the knife between his shoulder blades. She didn’t commune with the dead.

‘Darina, it’s almost a year.’

Don’t say that! Don’t remind me!

‘The anniversary – it’s gonna be tough.’

My mom thinks I’m totally screwed up. She wants me to be over Phoenix, has even talked about us moving out of Ellerton, away from the memories. My stepdad, Jim, says we can relocate anywhere, he can base his job in any city in the entire country. They called in a realtor to put the house on the market. Luckily no one’s buying.

‘You could see Kim Reiss again,’ Laura suggested.

‘Been there, got the T-shirt.’ My last therapy session had been in early spring – the start of April. I was always surprised that I liked Kim, but still not enough right now to go back.

‘It’ll help you over the twelve-month hurdle.’

I was seconds away from door-slam time. ‘No, Mom, it won’t.’ Seeing a therapist wasn’t on my anniversary list, where there was actually only one item – to find the courage to get back out to Foxton before it was too late.

‘Please, honey – at least think about it.’

If I step into that barn one more time and Phoenix isn’t
there … If I try the door to the ranch house and it’s locked

my heart stops dead
.

‘Darina?’

I shook my head and took the stairs two at a time. I threw myself down on my bed, pulled the pillow over my head.

Love doesn’t end just because I’m not around.

It’s Phoenix’s voice I hear this time, even though I can’t see his face.

Every time you think of me – that’s love. Every sunset.
Every diamond drop of water in Deer Creek. That’s love.

 

The car came back on Friday, valeted outside and in. Brandon showed up a few minutes later.

‘It’s got new front tyres,’ he told me, plus he’d made sure the service guys delivered it personally right to my door.

I was alone in the house. ‘You want a coffee?’

‘Beer.’

I raided Jim’s stash in the garage – the locally brewed stuff he keeps for special occasions. Brandon stayed outside on the porch. Here’s the thing with Brandon – like him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him. It’s a physical aura, not muscle and bone exactly, more a strong, dark presence. His eyes suspect everyone and everything.

‘How’s your mom?’ I asked, for something to say. Crap
– why hadn’t I just taken the car keys from him and said thanks and goodbye?

He shook his head, dismissing the question like a wet dog shaking water from its back.

‘And Zak?’ Dig a hole then dig it deeper. Actually, I knew Zak had recently been excluded from school.

Beer can in hand, Brandon took a deep breath. ‘My family is doing great, Darina. My mom, my brother – thank you for asking.’ He does sarcastic better than most.

‘OK, sorry.’

Back to the Brandon aura – he gives off the impression that he’s invincible, ten times stronger than the next guy, a hundred times tougher, with no chinks in his armour. Then there’s the rumoured links with the Ellerton drugs gangs, the Harley parked by the kerb, and the leather jacket.

‘So your car’s good for another twelve months,’ he told me as he stood the empty can on the rail. ‘Call me if you need anything.’

You have to understand – he didn’t say it because he cared, but because he’d sworn to Phoenix as Phoenix lay dying that he’d take care of me. It’s a sense of family honour so strong that I’m guessing Brandon would rather die himself than break that promise.

‘I don’t – need anything.’

He stared at me. His eyes were nothing like his brother’s so my heart didn’t thump and jump like it did when Brandon smiled, because his mouth
was
the same.

‘Only for Phoenix to still be here,’ I confessed. The quick smile hanging off the end of Brandon’s intense stare dragged the comment out of me.
Weak moment,
black mark, Darina
.

Brandon shut off the smile, raised his eyebrows and shrugged. He rode off on his Harley.

I turned and went into the kitchen. Phoenix sat at the table, watching me. I gasped, closed my eyes, opened them and he was gone.

 

Every time I got behind the wheel of my car, ninety-nine per cent of me longed to turn it towards Foxton.

‘You want to play tennis?’ Hannah asked next day. She’d driven along my street, tennis bag at the ready.

‘Are you crazy?’ I hadn’t picked up a racket in three years – didn’t she know that?

‘Hitting practice would be good – let out some aggression,’ said blonde Hannah, sleek and long-legged in her white tennis skirt.

‘I have no aggression,’ I argued and turned my back.

‘Who drank my special beer?’ Jim was standing in the
porch holding up the empty can that I’d left there on purpose from the day before to annoy him.

 

The weekend passed and I didn’t even make it into school on Monday. I sat in my room ignoring text messages from Hannah and Jordan, checking my calendar as if I didn’t already know that it was eleven days.

MADE APPOINTMENT WITH KIM
. A message came through on my phone from Laura.
WEDNESDAY
4.30
P.M
.

I called her back. ‘What part of “No” don’t you understand?’

Three hundred and fifty-four days since Phoenix was killed. Eleven more and the year was up.

HAIRDRESSER TODAY
, 3.00
P.M
. Laura texted a reminder. That’s almost two decades of running my life for me.

 

I showed up at the hairdresser’s because I was going nuts staying in my room.

‘Hey, Darina.’ A lipstick smile and a waft of scented shampoo/conditioner/hairspray greeted me as I opened the door. Warm air, lilac and silver walls, the drone of driers. ‘Go through. Kristal is ready for you.’

You really have to trust your hairdresser with her pointy scissors. Kristal hadn’t cut my hair before today, so I had to tell her how I like it to look – chin-length, straight,
choppy. I hoped she was giving it her full attention.

She shampooed and towelled, sat me down in front of her mirror, knew from the look on my face not to ask me questions about my day. With my wet hair combed back and sticking to my scalp I looked all of eight years old.

Half an hour later, moussed and sprayed, I was saying thanks and meaning it. I now looked old enough to drive – Kristal could cut my hair whenever she liked.

And soon I was driving out of town through Centennial, following the route Jonas had ridden with Zoey on the day he crashed, thinking only about the Beautiful Dead. Summer was singing on my sound system, her angel voice living on. And Arizona was in my head, not directly telling me that I was letting Phoenix down but the truth was coming through because she couldn’t hide the disappointment she felt. Arizona always told it like it was.

‘I can’t do it!’ I whispered. My hands on the steering wheel were white at the knuckles, the skin stretched tight. ‘I don’t have the courage!’

You were there for me
, Arizona-inside-my-head said.
You saved my immortal soul. And let’s face it, Darina, you
didn’t even like me
.

‘That’s why.’

So now the opposite. You can’t save Phoenix because you
love him too much and always will? You’re telling me that’s
why you haven’t the courage to help him?

‘Yes. Because, what if I fail?’

Don’t think that way. Believe in yourself.

‘Eleven days.’ I don’t know if I even whispered this out loud.

Eleven days then his time is done.

‘I go to Foxton and he’s not there. I look everywhere – he’s never there.’

Look again,
says Arizona-in-my-head.

‘I can’t – I’m too afraid!’

I turned the car down a side street, away from the interstate and the Foxton junction. Across the street, standing in front of a picket fence, under a white blossom tree, I see Phoenix. He’s watching me, waiting for me to come.

 

‘You don’t go out. You don’t see anyone any more.’ Laura was on my case again.

Silence from me. I’d fixed my hair so it didn’t look like I’d just walked out of the salon. Jim wasn’t home from work yet, so Laura had free range. She sat beside me at the kitchen table. ‘I see you have some down time. Why not call Jordan, find out if she wants to watch a movie?’

‘Jordan is welded to Lucas twenty-four/seven.’ It hadn’t
taken her long to move on from Logan to her new man, but like I said, Lucas has recently become a hunk so I didn’t really blame her.

‘Call Hannah.’

No reply. Maybe Laura would hit her head against my wall of silence and admit defeat.

But no – she came at me from the side. ‘You’ll definitely go and see Kim on Wednesday?’

I shrugged. There wasn’t a therapist alive who could drag me out of the pit I was in.

‘Promise me?’

‘OK.’ I threw a little scrap of co-operation into the mix to make her back off. I even tried to smile as I got up and went upstairs in time to avoid Jim as his car drew up outside.

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