Authors: Jeri Smith-Ready
Tags: #Romance, #Paranormal, #Fantasy, #Young Adult, #urban fantasy
o those who make music.
Many books—many lives—would be impossible without you.
irst, as always, a giant thanks to my eternally patient and supportive family and friends. By now it must feel like I live on Mars, we see each other so seldom. I miss you!
To my “first readers”: Patrice Michelle, Jana Oliver, Cecilia Ready, and Rob Staeger, whose insights helped me find
s story buried in the rubble of a rough draft.
To my “second readers”: Sya Bruce, who helped me groom Zachary into a proper Scotsman (and taught me my new favorite word); and Terri Prizzi, for helping me groom Logan into a proper, um, non-jerk.
To my Street Team, especially Street Team leader Stacey Cross, for spreading the
love. To all the readers who wrote to me about
, especially Karen Alderman, Carrie Clevenger, and Jennzah Cresswell for their music suggestions. Inspiration goes both ways.
To the staggeringly fabulous folks at Simon Pulse—Bethany Buck, Mara Anastas, Jennifer Klonsky, Katherine Devendorf, Anna McKean, Paul Crichton, Lucille Rettino, Carolyn Swerdloff, Cara Petrus, Mary Marotta, Christina Pecorale, Jim Conlin, Victor Iannone,
Teresa Brumm, Mary Faria, Venessa Williams, and Laura Antonacci; plus a shout across the pond to Kathryn McKenna and Lydia Barram in the Pulse UK office. Having this talented and enthusiastic team at my back has made my job a joy.
To my intrepid agent, Ginger Clark, for clearing my brain of the messy business gunk so I can focus on writing. As years go by, I feel prouder and luckier (not to mention smarter) for having her on my side.
To the hardest-working YA editor on the planet, Annette Pollert, for humoring and even embracing my belief that perfectionism is not a disease (because then it would be called “perfectionitis”). Her daily heroics would exhaust Han Solo
Thanks most of all to my husband, Christian, for his love and patience, and for giving me the Big Answer that one day during lunch. You believe in me enough for both of us.
The course of true love never did run smooth; …
The jaws of darkness do devour it up:
So quick bright things come to confusion.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
held my breath as it began, the last verse of the last song. Logan’s last playlist.
He’d left behind four years’ worth of musical messages. Like the ballad mix,
Missing the Shit out of You
, the punk/hip-hop compilation,
Songs for Breaking Stuff
, and the geek-rock study aid,
How to Not Hate Calculus
Some lived in the CDs stacked on my bookshelf, blue plastic jewel cases perfectly aligned. Others lived in the MP3 player crooning softly on my nightstand.
The one Logan created after he died,
Sucks to Be a Ghost (Sometimes)
, was ending now, with a hushed acoustic tune. One voice, one guitar, the way he’d played for me so many times. The song was a bonus track—an afterthought for the artist, but a thread of hope for us.
I’d played all of Logan’s mixes, one each night for the last ten weeks. Waiting here at my open window, I’d listened to every note. Called his name. Watched my breath turn to steam in the bitter winter air.
They said he’d never come back. Once a soul transforms from a bright violet ghost—with all the thoughts and hopes of a living person—into a dark, raging shade, it’s over.
No hanging out with humans, except to make them sick and dizzy.
No settling scores or righting wrongs.
No passing on and finding peace. Ever.
Shading is a one-way trip to hell.
But what “they” didn’t know was this: Logan had already made that round-trip—from ghost to shade and back to ghost—right there in my front yard.
If he’d done it once, he could do it again. I just had to believe. And wait.
It was easy at first, when he’d been gone a day, a week, a month. I held on to the memories of his ghostly light: Logan in the confession booth, telling me how it felt to die. Logan on the witness stand, saying all he’d ever wanted was me. Logan in my bed, his violet glow illuminating my bare skin.
But as the icy winter slouched toward a slushy spring, the nightmarish memories took over. Logan sulking over my friendship with Zachary. Logan raving when I broke up with him. Logan turning shade when he tried to pass on to eternal peace.
My chest ached even now, remembering that night in the Green Derby pub. He’d said good-bye to those he loved—first with words,
and then with music, singing “The Parting Glass” while his brother and sister played guitar and fiddle. The perfect finale before leaving this world forever.
But just as the golden-white light of peace pulsed within him, something went wrong. Darkness devoured Logan’s form, turning him into a shade before our eyes. He fled in shame and sorrow. No one had seen him since.
I tightened my grip on the windowsill as the singer whispered his last plea, striking a final soft chord. The silence was filled by the sounds of Baltimore at midnight—the hiss of a flickering streetlight, the rustle of a breeze in the trees, the wail of a distant siren.
I had no more music to lure him. Only words.
“Logan, where are you?” I ran my thumb over the spot under the sill where he’d carved our initials. It gave me the strength to steady my voice. “I know you don’t want to be like this. I know you want to come back. So please come back.”
Doubt and fear began to choke me. What if he didn’t want to come back, not even for me? I had to know for sure, no matter how much it hurt.
“Are you happy this way? Do you want to stay a shade? If you want me to give up on you, just say so. Show me a sign.” I closed my eyes, ready to wait one last time.
A soul-shredding shriek filled my brain. I wanted to cover my ears, but couldn’t pull my hands off the windowsill. I needed an anchor to keep from falling, keep my body and mind from flying apart in the face of Logan’s desperate wrath.
He surged through my window—surged through
—in a burst
of black energy that stole my strength. I collapsed on the floor, quaking and retching.
“AURA!! I TOLD YOU NOT TO WAIT!!”
“I don’t—listen—to shades.” I forced out the words while I could still remember how to speak.
He screamed again, turning my world into a runaway roller coaster hurtling off its tracks. I clung to the edge of my bedroom rug, fighting to stay conscious.
As Logan keened, my mind seized on an image of him as he was five months ago, performing with his band hours before he died: his bleached-blond hair glowing in the stage lights, his sky blue eyes full of fire. My shooting star.
“You can’t fool me,” I spat through gritted teeth. “You burn too bright for this.”
Silence fell, as if a shroud had been dropped over the entire world.
He was gone.
I squeezed my eyes shut tighter, dreading the sight of my empty room. The whirl of vertigo and the weight of sorrow pinned me to the floor. I wanted to stay there forever.
But then a glow appeared, so bright I could see it through my lids. I gasped and opened my eyes.
Logan’s soft whisper halted my heart. I looked up, past his high-top Vans, gleaming violet in the dark.
Up past his shirt, hanging open like on the night he died.
Up into his astonished face.
“Aura, it worked!” Logan examined his violet arm like he’d never
seen it before, then looked down at me. “Oh my God, are you okay?” He dropped to his knees, then reached for me the way he had a hundred times, in and after life. “Did I hurt you? Did you hit your head? Should I get help?”
I shook my head and sat up, fighting the fading dizziness. My mouth opened, but tears thickened my throat so that I couldn’t say his name.
“Hey, hey, don’t do that.” Logan caressed my cheek with a hand only my heart could feel. “You know I hate to see you cry.”
My eyes raked his ghostly form. He was back the way I remembered him—the voice, the smile, the shimmer that seemed brighter than any other ghost’s.
It was really, really Logan.
My breath burst out, mixing a sob with a laugh. “I thought I’d never see you again.”
“You didn’t think that for a second. You believed in me.” He spoke in a soft, awed whisper. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.” I wiped the tears soaking my face, even as new ones flowed.
“I can’t believe I’m here. Let me look at you.” Logan’s hands shook as they carved out the space around me, as if making sure I was here, too. When his gaze returned to my face, his forehead crinkled in concern. “Aura, have you been sleeping enough?”
I rubbed my eyes, aware of the dark circles underneath. “I’ve been so worried.” I whispered so I wouldn’t wake Aunt Gina in the next room. “What happened to you?”
He let out a groan and dragged his palms over his temples.
“I don’t even know where to start. My head still feels like a hurricane.”
“Take your time.” I patted the floor, for some reason fearing that if he didn’t stay put, he’d disappear again. “Start at the beginning. Why did you turn shade?”
He sat cross-legged in front of me, shoulders sagging as if from exhaustion. “I was going to pass on that night after the trial. That was the whole point of it, right?”
“Supposedly.” My aunt’s law firm specializes in wrongful death cases, on the “peace through justice” theory that winning a lawsuit helps a ghost leave this world, content and satisfied.
“I felt phenomenal after we won.” Logan smoothed the legs of his cargo shorts. “At peace, you know? Like I’d said everything I needed to say.” He clenched the pocket seams. “But by the time we were at the Green Derby for our farewell concert, I wasn’t so sure.”
“Dylan told me you felt tainted.” I cringed at the memory of the guilt on Logan’s younger brother’s face. “He blames himself for letting you try to pass on.”
“No! It was my fault. I
tainted, from that other time I shaded, even though it was just for a few seconds. And from all the crazy shit I was still feeling—about dying, about my family’s court case putting you through all that pain.” He looked away. “About losing you.”
I twisted a lock of my dark, wavy hair around my finger, fighting that familiar guilt. “But you seemed so happy when we said good-bye.”
to be happy. I wanted to let go of you and my whole life here. I guess I wasn’t ready.”
It hurt that he had been able to share his doubts with Dylan and
not with me. Logan must have known how much I wanted to move on myself.
“If you weren’t ready, why not wait?”
“I couldn’t let everyone down. That huge crowd had come out to watch me find peace. And my family—I’d hurt them so bad by dying. Passing on was the only way to make it better.” He put his face in his hands, fingertips creasing his cheeks. “Instead I made it worse.”
I felt sick watching him relive those moments. But I had to know. “What happened?”
Logan dropped his hands and seared me with his mournful gaze. “I was almost there, Aura. I could see heaven. The door was open, the light was on, there was music so gorgeous you’d die just to hear it. And then—
” He punched a soundless fist into his palm. “The door slammed in my face. Having that light ripped away from me was like dying a hundred times in one second.” He ran both hands through his hair, gripping the pale spikes. “I freaked. Ricocheted into shading, I guess. I’m so sorry.”
“You’re a ghost again now, that’s all that matters.” I fidgeted with the bottom button of my purple silk nightshirt, longing to soothe his agony with a touch. But that was still impossible. “What happened after you turned shade? Where were you all this time?”
“All what time?” He jerked his head to look around my room. “What day is it?”
“March twentieth.” I checked the clock on my nightstand, which glowed 12:08 in pale blue digits. “March twenty-first.”
“Holy shit, almost three months.” He took a moment to absorb this. “I couldn’t see day or night. All I knew was I had to stay away
from the living.” He pulled his bare knees to his chest, folding in on himself. “I didn’t want to cause any more pain.”
Logan had shown more restraint than most shades. The mere presence of those bitter spirits can debilitate anyone who sees ghosts, which includes me and everyone younger.
Even though shades were still rare—I’d seen four in my life, including Logan—they were becoming more common. And after three kids died a few years ago from a shade-induced fall from a balcony, the Department of Metaphysical Purity created a special forces unit—the Obsidian Corps. While the rest of the DMP focuses on research and technology (supposedly), the Obsidians have one mission: eradicating shades.