Authors: Anastasia Hopcus
I nodded silently. I was afraid if I spoke, I would start crying. I felt like a raw nerve. I wanted Zach to stay with me now more than ever. I wanted to fall asleep next to him, curled in the shelter of his arms. He squeezed my hand one last time before I went over to stand with Ms. Moore’s group. Adriana was at my side the moment we stepped out of the SAC, and she walked right next to me, silent as a ghost, all the way back to the dorm. Even when we reached our rooms, she only gave me a little sad wave before going in.
I closed my door behind me and locked it. As soon as I was alone, my shaky legs gave out on me, and I sank to the floor. I let a tear roll down my cheek.
The teachers had said his death was natural, but I had seen Mr. Carr’s body. The red handprints seared into his head. That was anything but natural. I opened my purse, shaking its contents onto the floor. The silver ID bracelet was still there. Why did Mr. Carr have it? Had he found it in the Athletics Center? Maybe he’d just come across it recently. That made sense.
But what didn’t make any sense was the way he had spoken to me, his voice rushed and shaky.
. What could have
been so important about my lost bracelet? And why would he have felt that he needed to talk to me about it outside and alone?
I ran my thumb along the engraved infinity symbol, like it was a genie’s lamp that could provide me with answers. What was Mr. Carr going to tell me? Had someone killed him to keep it secret?
Everything had finally felt right in my life, and now it had been ripped apart again. In a surge of anger I threw the bracelet across the room. It bounced off the bedside table and fell harmlessly to the floor. I took my heels off and threw them, too, not caring that they were my favorites.
The loud thump the shoes made as they hit the wood table was satisfying. But it didn’t get rid of the fright that permeated me, like a deep, cold ache in my bones. It wasn’t just the red handprints on Mr. Carr’s body that scared me. It was death. I had felt it when Athena died, too.
I stood up and pulled off my dress, catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I looked exactly how I felt: small, vulnerable, tortured. It was like I had curled into myself. Then I noticed something else in the mirror.
Had my Hekate’s Wheel protected me tonight? If I had gotten there a few minutes sooner, would I be dead, too?
This idea sent a sickening shiver through my body. I turned away from my reflection and put my pajamas on. But even with the mark covered up, it still weighed on me. I could pretend it wasn’t there, but I knew it was.
The night Athena died, it had been unbearable in our house. When the police showed up at our door, my mom broke down immediately, sobbing and wailing in my dad’s arms. But I didn’t scream or cry. I was mute. I just sat in my room for hours, staring blankly at the walls my sister had helped me paint dark teal.
I could hardly sleep that first week, so I started pretending that Athena was over at her friend’s house and she’d be home in the morning. After a while, I’d pretend she was on a backpacking trip. The one she was supposed to take after graduation.
I spent months pretending, trying to fool myself. But when the letter from Devenish came, I had no one to give it to, no forwarding address. I finally had to admit Athena was really gone. Gone forever. And I couldn’t do anything to change it. There wasn’t anyone to blame, not really. It was an accident, a horrible, stupid accident that could never be made right.
But Mr. Carr … that hadn’t been an accident, and no matter what the teachers said, his death wasn’t natural. There was someone to blame. I just didn’t know who yet. Mr. Carr’s death couldn’t be undone; it could never be made right. But maybe he could have justice. Somehow.
After a fitful night’s sleep I spent most of Sunday in bed, drifting in and out of consciousness. I awoke to the sound of my cell phone ringing late in the afternoon.
“Hello?” I rubbed my eyes, forgetting to look at the caller ID before answering.
“Persephone?” It was Zach. “Is this a bad time? You sound tired.”
“No, it’s fine. I was just getting up from a nap.” I tried to shake the fog from my head. “What’s going on?”
“I came over to campus to talk to Brody. See how he’s handling everything, but it’s like trying to have a conversation with a brick wall. Anyway, I thought if you wanted, I could come by. Corinne gave me her car for the day.”
“That sounds good.” A massive understatement considering that the only thing I wanted to do today was see Zach.
“Okay. How’s five minutes from now?”
My room looked like a tornado had hit it, thanks to my pre-dance rummagings, and I looked even worse.
“Can we make it thirty?” Mascara was smeared under
my eyes, my breath was gross, and my long hair was tangled. I needed to do some major freshening up.
Exactly thirty minutes later I heard a knock at my door. I was dressed, but I had just started cleaning up my room. I let out a little grunt of frustration and shoved the remainder of my stuff into the closet. Zach was far too prompt. Not that I was actually going to complain about his being here.
“Hey.” I held the door open, and as Zach came in he glanced over at my bed. My mind immediately went back to my dream—our dream—when we had been lying there together.
It hit me that this was the first time he’d been in my room. In real life, at least. I didn’t think the dream visit quite counted. I looked at the plain white walls, my bare dresser, and suddenly wished I had made my dorm room more personal—put up some pictures or something. It was like no one lived in here.
“How are you doing?” Zach tucked a damp tendril of hair behind my ear. The surge of energy I always felt at his touch flooded my nervous system, spreading throughout my body.
“I’m better now that you’re here.”
Zach pulled me into a tight hug that smelled of Ivory soap, pine trees, and freshly cut grass. All things warm and comforting. I pressed my head against his chest and breathed in his scent.
“I’m so sorry about last night.” His deep, faintly rough voice reverberated through his chest and into mine.
“I’m glad you were there. That you’re here now. I’ve been
so scared I could hardly sleep,” I admitted, my voice muffled by Zach’s soft black T-shirt.
“You don’t need to be scared.” He stroked my hair. “I won’t let anything hurt you.”
I knew without a doubt that Zach believed what he was saying, but the pit of my stomach was icy. Something was telling me that my dreams, my mark, meant even more than I had once thought. I had a destiny. And I wasn’t sure I would ever truly be safe again.
Zach placed a sweet, comforting kiss on the top of my head, and the deep freeze in my stomach melted away. I leaned back to look up into his face. Zach’s hands on the small of my back were getting warmer, scorching me right through my clothes. I slid my arms around his neck, my eyes closing naturally as our lips met.
When Zach kissed me, I could hear the roaring of the ocean in my ears; I could feel the blood coursing through my veins; I could taste the metallic energy our bodies created when they were pressed together. We kissed more and more deeply, urgently. I caught his bottom lip between my own lips, taking in the softness of it. I had never had this feeling before. It was stronger than a want; it was a burning need. It was hunger.
“You’re amazing,” Zach whispered hoarsely. “Thank you … for telling me how you feel.” He ran a hot fingertip down the side of my face. “Everyone’s always covering up the messy parts.” He sighed, then released me and took a step back. I felt coldness creep into my chest, where his body had been touching mine.
“Especially Brody. I doubt he’ll ever say how he really feels about what happened to Mr. Carr.”
“It’s got to be hard for him,” I offered. “First his parents die, then his guardian.”
“How did you know about that?” Zach squinted.
“Graham told me,” I answered.
“Oh.” An emotion flitted across Zach’s face so quickly that I wasn’t sure if it had even been there. Maybe I had imagined it. How could Zach possibly be jealous of a guy like Graham?
“Sometimes I forget you have this whole life after school lets out.” Zach ran a hand through his hair, making it more gorgeously rumpled than it had been before. “Brody said something about some of the boarders having a party last weekend, but I guess I don’t really think of you as one of them. Stupid, right?” He laughed.
“It’s not stupid.” I
my life could be nothing but Zach. When he wasn’t around, it felt like a little piece of me was missing, too. But I couldn’t say that. I wasn’t willing to take that risk yet. “I know it’s got to be weird for the day students. I mean, we all live together, eat breakfast and dinner in our little groups. There’s no way the townies wouldn’t feel kind of different—especially since …”
“Since most of us townies are different,” Zach finished for me. I thought of the BVs electrical complexities, the way they could melt things with their bare hands. The image of Mr. Carr’s body filled my mind. The marks burned into his flesh.
“Zach … what if Mr. Carr didn’t die of a heart attack or a brain aneurysm?”
“What?” He looked at me, puzzled.
“Did you see him? When you got to me, did you look at Mr. Carr’s face? Did you see those handprints?”
His frown deepened. “Yeah.”
“Doesn’t that seem weird to you?” I pressed. “An aneurysm wouldn’t put red handprints on either side of your head. But somebody with a great deal of electricity in his body, with the ability to—”
“You think he was murdered by a BV?” Zach shook his head in disbelief.
“What else can I think? Who else could have made those marks on his temples? And there’s another thing—I wasn’t there by accident. Mr. Carr called me on my cell phone right before he died.”
“While you were talking to Corinne, I got a call from Mr. Carr. He
me to meet him there. He sounded odd … scared, maybe.”
“But why did he want you to meet him?”
“He wanted to tell me something. I don’t know what.”
“What did he say?” Zach crossed his arms over his chest.
“I don’t remember exactly.” My voice tightened in frustration. “He said it was urgent or important or something like that.”
“That’s weird.” A harsh line was etched between Zach’s eyebrows.
“It was. I mean, I hardly knew him. But what’s even stranger is that when I found him, he had my bracelet in his hand.”
“Your bracelet? The one you asked me about last week?”
“Yeah. I thought I might have left it in the gym, but Mr. Carr couldn’t find it.”
“Well, he must have. And that’s why he called you—he wanted to give it back.”
“No, there must have been something more. Why arrange a secret meeting to give me back my bracelet? He could have just handed it to me at the dance.”
“I don’t know.” Zach shrugged. “Maybe people do strange things before they have an aneurysm.”
I looked at him skeptically.
“They do with brain tumors,” he pointed out. “Sometimes their personalities change or they imagine things. Maybe it’s the same way with aneurysms. Some of the teachers said Mr. Carr had complained about headaches.”
“That still doesn’t explain the handprints.”
“Look, let’s say he had a really bad headache. So he put his hands up to his head.” Zach demonstrated, placing his hands on his temples.
I nodded. I’d done the same thing lots of times, as though I could somehow squeeze my headache into submission.
“Only, because he’s a BV he’s got this extra electricity, and what if, with this excruciating pain, he couldn’t control the surge of heat, and he accidentally burned himself?”
“I guess it’s possible,” I conceded. Having seen the plastic Zach melted when I was harassing him in the bookstore, I was aware of the tremendous heat a BV could produce unintentionally.
“I know you’re upset about Mr. Carr, but I really don’t think you should worry about all this. BVs know how to control themselves. They don’t just fly off the handle and kill people.”
Zach stayed until he got a phone call from his mom asking him to run by the grocery store before dinner.
Now, hours later, my mind returned to what Zach had said. Did Mr. Carr really make those scorching handprints himself? I knew it was better than the alternative, but it still left me feeling deflated. If Mr. Carr hadn’t been killed, there was no mystery to solve, nothing I could do to help. It just was what it was. Like it had been with Athena.
Later that night I could hear the voices around me: not actual words, but the murmur of hushed discussion. My head felt heavy, and my arms were like lead. I strained inwardly, trying to shift one of my legs or wiggle a toe. Anything that would force my body to pull out of this half-asleep, half-awake state. I might as well have been attempting to break free of a full body cast. Panic rose in my chest. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t open my eyes. I felt like a coma victim in some horror movie. One of those scenes where you can hear them screaming inside their head because they can’t escape the prison their body has become. Then, suddenly, a wave of calm swept over me. A hand was stroking my face.
I knew who it was, even through the confusion swirling in my mind. I would know that touch even if I
in a coma. The prickling energy from his fingers was awakening every nerve in
my body. Finally, I was able to kick my foot then, a few seconds later, open my eyes. Zach was sitting on the couch in the SAC, cradling my head in his lap.
“Welcome back,” he whispered in his deep, throaty tone.
“What happened?” My voice was raw and hoarse.
“Mr. Carr is dead,” Zach said grimly.
A cold hand gripped my lungs. I could hardly draw a breath in around it.
Zach’s irises darkened quickly. His voice rumbled out of his throat, harsh and unforgiving.
“All because of you.”
I jerked awake in my bed. My heart was pounding so hard I could see it through the thin camisole I was sleeping in. It was trying to escape from my chest. I put a hand to it and concentrated on slowing down my frenetic breathing.
It was just a dream