Authors: Deborah Lynn Jacobs
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To Keith, who has been teaching me about computers since he was eight and I wasÂ â¦ uhÂ â¦ old enough to be his mother.
I'd like to thank my husband, David, for supporting me emotionally and financially as I went through the multiple rewrites of this book.
Thank you, Steven Chudney, my awesome agent, for believing in me.
Thank you, Deborah Brodie, my gentle editor, who made this whole process positive, affirming, and
To my son and daughter, Keith and KathrynâI can't thank you enough for all the times you read my rough drafts, made suggestions, and helped me weed out the dialogue that didn't ring true.
Thanks also to my (then) teen readers: Ashley Stocks, Erica Niemiec, J. Garnet Woodburn, and Lauren Jia, who were most gracious with their time and advice.
This novel went through many revisions, helped immensely by my critique partners in: Writers with Wings, the Newberries, Writers' Ink, and OPUS.
A special thanks to Candace J. Tremps for taking me under her Wings.
Every night, for seven nights, I dreamed of him. Every morning, for seven mornings, I awoke drenched in cold, slippery sweat, whispering to myself: just a dream.
But was it? It felt
more like I'd
it than dreamed it. The staccato rhythm of his boots, echoing down the corridor. His black leather trench coat, swooping behind him like a cape. The way he stood in the doorway of my English classâeyes hidden behind mirrored sunglasses, his posture perfect, physically commanding.
In other words, he was an arrogant jerk. A fake. Outwardly confident; inwardly afraid. A dangerous combination; someone you can't trust.
How did I know? I'm a Watcher, an observer of human behavior. Eighty percent of all communication is nonverbal. It's what you
say that says the mostâa shifting of the eyes, a gesture, a subtle intake of breath. As a Watcher, I can sum a person up in less than ten seconds. And I am never wrong.
The dream repeated each night, alternating with nightmarish images.
Night one: the stranger.
Night two: a house consumed by flames, lighting up the night sky.
Night three: a white skull, floating in inky blackness.
Night four: a child-sized casket, its lid up and waiting.
Night five, six, seven: a kaleidoscopeâthe stranger, the skull, a house on fire, a casket, all tied together.
I tell myself there is no reason to fear this person. His kind and my kind don't mix. He won't notice me. I'm wallpaper. On a bad day, linoleum.
But each morning I awaken, drenched in cold, slippery sweat.
First impressions last two years.
That's what Mrs. Ghee drummed into us, two years ago, back in ninth grade. Make a good first impression. Firm handshake. Good eye contact. Look confident, as if you can do the job. People believe what they see. Remember that.
I stare at the door of my new school. My fingers itch for a smoke. The sudden, intense craving takes me by surprise. I gave up smoking a year ago. Didn't enjoy being a slave to my addiction. I like to be in control.
I go inside, wander the halls, searching for my locker. People flow past me. I'm lost, but I march along as if I know where I'm heading.
My gut twists in a killer of a cramp.
I dry-swallow an antidiarrhea pill. It slips sideways, sticks like a piece of chalk in my throat. I gag. I sound like Cleo, my cat, coughing up a fur ball.
“Need help?” asks a girl. She's tall, nearly my height, red hair, green eyes.
“Bubbler,” I gasp.
She giggles. “What?”
“Water fountain?” She leads me to a bubbler, not ten feet away. I gulp water and wash down the pill. “Thanks.”
She smiles. She's wearing a short top and low jeans. In between is a smooth stretch of tanned skin. She wears a green jewel in her belly button. The same color as her eyes.
“I'm Melissa,” she says.
“Adrian Black.” I stick out my hand as if this is a job interview. Smooth move. But she doesn't seem to notice. She slips her hand into mine, shakes it as though we were doing something completely normal.
She giggles again. “See you around.”
“See ya.” I keep my voice steady, hiding another gut spasm. I need a restroom, fast. And another pill.
By the time I find a restroom and take care of things, the bell rings. No time to find my locker or get rid of my coat.
I walk into my first class: English. Okay. Deep breath, shoulders back. Make it good. People believe what they see.
Monday, January 6.
I wrote the date in a fresh notebook. English 11. Second semester. Miss Bliss.
I rubbed my eyes and stared at the door of the classroom. I told myself Miss Bliss would be the next person through that door. She'd start the lesson and I would relax. The stranger wasn't coming.
Then I heard it. The decisive rhythm of footsteps in the corridor. I strained my ears to detect the faint
of a full-length leather coat. Then, he appeared in the doorway, exactly as I had dreamed him: black hair, high cheekbones, strong jaw, sensual lips.
The stranger pushed aside his coat, shoved his hands into his pockets in a seemingly casual gesture. But I knew there was nothing casual about it. He was drawing attention to himself, to his broad shoulders, narrow waist, lean torso.
People noticed. Most of the girls; some of the guys.
From the tiny movements of his head, I could tell he was surveying the room from behind the cover of his sunglasses. Putting us into two categories: worth his notice, and not worth his notice.
His survey slid past me.
The stranger dropped into the desk behind Melissa. Big surprise, there, eh? He stuck one long leg out into the aisle, claiming his territory. He leaned toward Melissa, claiming her.
“We meet again,” he said in a radio announcer's voice, practically dripping testosterone. Did he work at that? Practice to get the timbre just right?
Melissa flawlessly performed the first step of the human mating ritual. She tilted her chin down, then glanced up through her eyelashes. He responded by flicking off his sunglasses, hanging them on the front of his T-shirt, and leaning closer.
Melissa moved to step two, the invitation to touch, by running her hand down the length of her arm. The stranger didn't hesitate. He reached out, briefly touched her hand with his own, then drew it back.
“We meet again,” Melissa said.
I tried to stifle my laughter, but I let out a small sound despite my efforts.
Snake-quick, the stranger whipped his head around.
Good one, Gwen. Break the cardinal rule. Let him know you're Watching.
His eyes shone an unearthly blue, somewhere between topaz and turquoise. I'd seen that color only once before, when my parents took me to a glacier in the Rockies. The meltwater had run down the cracks in the ice, subzero, clear blue, and totally devoid of life.
There's one in every school. Some person who isn't buying it. She gives me this
like I've somehow broken some rule. She hates Melissa, you can tell. Don't get me wrong. I've no illusions about Melissa. She's probably been with a dozen guys. That doesn't bother me. At least she's honest. Offers the goods right up front.
But this other girl, totally different story. Long brown hair, parted in the middle so it half-hides her face. Big, thick glasses. Sloppy gray sweatshirt, which either hides a fat body or a gorgeous body.
A fat body, I'm guessing. Hates the pretty girls, like Melissa, because she has never felt pretty. Hates me already, for some unknown reason. But, that
she gave me. As if she's almost afraid of me. Well, yeah, makes sense. Fat girls are always afraid of hot guys. That whole rejection scenario.
It bugs me, though. Her judging me. Like she has the right, living out here in the middle of nowhere, to judge anyone.
Of all the moves we've made, this is the worst. Rocky Waters, Ontario, Canada. Ten thousand people hunkered down in the middle of virgin forest and ice-locked lakes. One road in. One road out. Dad calls it God's Country. Sure, I get it. No one else wanted it.
The teacher, what's her name, Blissful or something, is droning on about our syllabus. My mind drifts back to this morning. I'd checked before breakfast to make sure my car, a vintage '69 Mustang, would start. It didn't.
“Mom, where's the charger?” I yelled, stomping back into the house.
“Basement,” she called, from the kitchen.
“Basement,” I mumbled. “Not the garage. Figures.”
While the battery charged, I whipped up my usual breakfastâa yogurt, fruit, and protein-powder shake. Mom was wiping down the cupboards. She does that every time we move. You can't tell by appearances, she says. Yeah, who knows what lurks in those cupboards. Cholera, dysentery, bubonic plague. Could be anything.
I poured my shake into a glass and set the blender down. Hard. It tipped over, spilling the last of my shake onto the counter. Swearing, I wiped it up.
“Why here,” I snapped, suddenly furious with everythingâthe move, Dad, Mom.
“I'm sorry?” Mom asked, poking her head out of the cupboard.
“Why here?” I repeated. “Why did you agree to move? Why couldn't you back me up for once?”
Mom stripped off her rubber gloves, spoke as if she'd memorized the speech. “Your father has always wanted his own privately owned, family-operated business, Adrianâ”
” I interrupted.
She hesitated. “Your father felt compelled to move here. It was as if this place called to him.”
“What do you mean? Called to him?”
“He said it was for you. He said you belonged here.”
“That's a load ofâ” I clamped my jaw shut. I have more control than to swear at my mother.
Mom came over, and put one hand on my face. It smelled like bleach. “It's going to work out, Adrian. It always does.”
It never does, I thought, going back out to the garage. Moving every few years wasn't the great adventure Mom made it out to be. Just when you start making friends, you move. You re-create yourself, over and over. After a while, you forget who you are. You make it up as you go. As long as it works, as long as it gets you what you want, that's all that matters.