Carmel goes on. “You can’t deny that it’s an extreme coincidence.”

“I don’t deny that. But it is a coincidence. She didn’t do it.”

“How do you know?” they ask together, and isn’t that cute.

“Hey, Carmel.”

The conversation stops abruptly as Katie approaches with a gaggle of girls. Some of them I don’t know, but two or three are in classes with me. One of them, a petite brunette with wavy hair and freckles, gives me a smile. They all ignore Thomas completely.

“Hey, Katie,” Carmel replies coolly. “What’s up?”

“Are you still going to help out with the Winter Formal? Or are Sarah, Nat, Casey, and I on our own?”

“What do you mean, ‘help out’? I’m the chair of that committee.” Carmel looks around at the rest of the girls, perplexed.

“Well,” Katie says with a direct glance at me. “That was before you got so busy.”

I think Thomas and I would like to get the hell out of here. This is more uncomfortable than talking about Anna. But Carmel is a force to be reckoned with.

“Aw, Katie, are you trying to stage a coup?”

Katie blinks. “What? What are you talking about? I was just asking.”

“Well relax, then. The formal’s not for three months. We’ll meet on Saturday.” She turns slightly away in an effectively dismissive gesture.

Katie’s wearing this embarrassed smile. She sputters a little bit and actually tells Carmel what a cute sweater she’s wearing before toddling off.

“And be sure to have two ideas for fundraisers each!” Carmel calls out. She looks back at us and shrugs apologetically.

“Wow,” Thomas breathes. “Girls are bitches.”

Carmel’s eyes widen; then she grins. “Of course we are. But don’t let that distract you.” She looks at me. “Tell us what’s going on. How do you know that jogger wasn’t Anna?”

I wish Katie had stuck around longer.

“I know,” I reply. “I’ve been to see her.”

Sly glances are exchanged. They think I’m being gullible. Maybe I am, because it is an extreme coincidence. Still, I’ve been dealing with ghosts for most of my life. I should get the benefit of the doubt.

“How can you be sure?” Thomas asks. “And can we even take the chance? I know that what happened to her was terrible, but she’s done some terrible shit, and maybe we should just send her … wherever it is that you send them. Maybe it would be better for everyone.”

I’m sort of impressed by Thomas speaking this way, even if I don’t agree. But that kind of talk makes him uncomfortable. He starts shifting his weight from foot to foot and pushes his black-rimmed glasses higher up on his nose.

“No,” I reply flatly.

“Cas,” Carmel starts. “You don’t know that she won’t hurt anyone. She’s been killing people for fifty years. It wasn’t her fault. But it’s probably not that easy to go cold turkey.”

They make her sound like a wolf who has tasted chicken’s blood.

“No,” I say again.

“Cas.”

“No. Give me your reasons, and your suspicions. But Anna doesn’t deserve to be dead. And if I put my knife in her belly…” I almost gag just saying it. “I don’t know where I’d be sending her.”

“If we get you proof…”

Now I get defensive. “Stay away from her. It’s my business.”

“Your business?” Carmel snaps. “It wasn’t your business when you needed our help. It wasn’t just you who was in danger that night in that house. You don’t have any right to shut us out now.”

“I know,” I say, and sigh. I don’t know how to explain it. I wish that we were all closer, that they had been my friends longer, so they might know what I was trying to say without me having to say it. Or I wish that Thomas was a better mind reader. Maybe he is, because he puts his hand on Carmel’s arm and whispers that they should give me some time. She looks at him like he’s gone nuts, but backs off a step.

“Are you always this way with your ghosts?” he asks.

I stare at the locker behind him. “What are you talking about?”

Those knowing eyes of his are seeking out my secrets.

“I don’t know,” he says after a second. “Are you always this … protective?”

Finally I look him in the eye. There’s a confession in my throat even in the midst of dozens of students crushing the hallways on their way to third period. I can hear bits and pieces of their conversations as they go by. They sound so normal, and it occurs to me that I’ve never had one of those conversations. Complaining about teachers and wondering about what to do on Friday night. Who’s got the time? I’d like to be talking to Thomas and Carmel about that. I’d like to be planning a party, or deciding which DVD to rent and whose house to watch it at.

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