Elizabeth Porter met Claire at the baggage claim, holding a giant sign that said BEST FRIENDS 4EVA and waving excitedly, which was good, because otherwise Claire probably wouldn't have recognised her. The chubby, shy Elizabeth from school was gone, replaced by a sleek, tall girl with short platinum-blonde hair. Her fashion sense had changed, too, from geeky to sexy ... she had on a button-down shirt, pleated schoolgirl miniskirt, knee socks, loafers, even the required Smart Librarian glasses. Guys watched as she jumped up and down, squealed, and threw her arms around Claire with the enthusiasm of a cheerleader at a championship game. A winning team cheerleader, at that.

'You're here, oh my God, I'm so excited! Claire!' Elizabeth suddenly pushed her out to arm's length and stared at her. She'd gotten taller, and now topped Claire by at least three inches. 'You look ... different.'

'You don't?' Claire said, and laughed. Elizabeth joined in, and it was like they'd never spent a moment apart ... but only for that second, because then Elizabeth stopped laughing, and something strange flashed over her face. Two years ago, Claire wouldn't have recognised it, but now she knew fear when she saw it. Well, that's weird.

It was only a flash, and Elizabeth pasted on the bright smile again. 'I just wanted a change,' she said. 'You know, leaving Texas, becoming a new person - you want that, too, right?'

'Right,' Claire said. Her heart wasn't in it; she didn't want to change any more, really, but she wanted to be more of what she already had become - more Claire. Elizabeth, on the other hand, seemed to have bent herself to becoming someone completely different, from the outside in. It hadn't stifled that spark Claire had always liked about her, though. It still showed in the bouncy way Elizabeth helped her drag her luggage off the carousel, and chattered all the way out to the parking lot.

'Why do you do that?' Elizabeth suddenly asked, very seriously, as Claire loaded her suitcase into the trunk of Liz's ancient Ford Taurus.

'Do what? Um ... doesn't the luggage go in the trunk?' Surely the world hadn't changed that much.

'Look over your shoulder,' Elizabeth said. 'You've done it every few seconds since you came out of the terminal. Are you worried about someone? Did someone follow you?' She looked very serious again, and earnest, and Claire suddenly realised that her friend was right - she'd been checking routinely, automatically, to be sure nothing was sneaking up on her.

Morganville caution.

'Oh,' she said, and mustered up an apologetic laugh. 'I guess - well, the part of town I've been living in isn't that safe, I guess. I got used to looking out for myself.'

'Well, you're in civilisation now, not Backwardstown,' Elizabeth said, and slammed the trunk lid. 'Banzai, bitch, we are moving!'

Claire climbed in the car, and Elizabeth got in, whooped in excitement, and turned the music up loud and sang along at the top of her lungs as she steered them out of the parking garage and into a weak afternoon sunlight.

The drive was really educational, because Cambridge didn't look anything like Dallas. Dallas had been steel and glass, heat and angles; Cambridge was age-rounded, grassy, still virulently green even though fall chill was thick in the air. The trees were so much taller than she'd expected, and the colours ... Claire gaped like a kid at Christmas, too stunned with the beauty of it to join in the sing-along, even though she liked the song Elizabeth was currently belting out. The houses were small and square and so neat and at the same time so ... old. Everything in Morganville looked old, too, but in a falling-apart way. This looked more like lovingly cared-for history.

'You're going to need a car,' Elizabeth said suddenly, turning the radio way down. 'I know you walked all the time in Hicksville, but we're not going to be living that close. You're going to really love the apartment, it's super cute and yeah, it's kind of small, but cosy, really ... okay, it's a pit, but we'll have fun, right? So. Tell me about this boy.'

The switch of topics was sudden, but that was Liz; she'd always been like that, leapfrogging from one thing to another without much in the way of traffic signals. 'The boy's name is Shane,' Claire said. Just saying it twisted hard inside her, and for a second she could hardly breathe; it felt like a fist closing over her heart and crushing it flat. Tears suddenly gathered in her eyes, and she had to breathe deeply to get herself under control again. 'He's - he's-'

'Super cute?' Elizabeth supplied, when Claire hesitated. 'Adorable like a fluffy bunny? A giant dickhead? What, girl, come on! Spill!'

'Perfect,' Claire said. No, that wasn't right. He was far from perfect, that was the whole point of why she'd come here to put some space between them. Perfect for me, though. 'He's taller than me, and has really broad shoulders, and yes he's super cute - and he makes me happy.' There. She'd said it. 'I love him.'

'Love,' Elizabeth sighed, and shook her head. 'Snap out of it, girlfriend. I don't want you mooning over some Texas loser when you've come to prime dating territory! I thought you said you wanted to get some distance?'

'I did,' Claire said. Right now, she was missing Shane with an intensity that made her shaky. And not just Shane. She missed Eve and Michael, and the easy way they all fit together as friends. She already felt that Elizabeth, as positive and funny and energetic as she was, intended to push her to be something she wasn't, and that Liz wouldn't take no for an answer. Eve would have just made me feel comfortable, she thought. And welcome. We haven't even made it to the apartment and Liz is already trying to make me speed date.

'So forget about your Cowboy Hottie and let's just start out two fun single girls, ready for anything. Right?'


'Right?' Elizabeth took her eyes off the road long enough to give her a commanding stare.

'Right,' she said. 'Just - just drive. You're making me nervous.'

'You've gotten all serious, did you know that? What did they do to you out in the sticks?' Liz pouted a little, but she started humming along with the radio in a few seconds, and the clouds cleared. 'I hope you like blue. I gave you the blue room.'

Elizabeth hadn't been kidding. It was blue, this room. The apartment was in a run-down building that had probably once been a big house, but had been sliced into four narrow sections, each with three stories. Claire's room was at the top of a creaky, flaking staircase, and it was really ... blue.

The walls had been painted an unfortunate, shiny dark colour, that made everything look even more cramped than it really was (which was pretty small). There was room for the battered twin bed, a broken-down dresser painted a distressed pale blue, and a mirror old enough to have dull flecks all over it. Vintage would be one word for it.

Claire tested the mattress. Vintage would be a word for that, too.

'It's great, right?' Elizabeth demanded, having wheeled her larger suitcase in behind her. With the two of them and the two suitcases, there wasn't room to walk. 'Cheap, too. The rent's only two thousand a month, plus utilities.'

That brought Claire bolt upright from the sagging bed. 'Two thousand?'

'Not each,' Elizabeth said. 'I mean, split, so a thousand for you.' She laughed outright at the expression on Claire's face. 'What, you didn't think living here would be cheap, did you? Come on. The reason prices are low in Texas is nobody wants to live there!'

I do, Claire thought, and swallowed hard. She hadn't counted on paying that much in rent, but she could manage it. Eating anything but Ramen noodles and peanut butter was pretty much off the table, though.

Elizabeth was looking worried now. 'It's not a problem, is it?'

'No,' Claire said. 'It's okay. I just-' She swallowed the words, hate this room, and said, 'just didn't expect it to be quite that much. I should have asked.'

'I should have warned you,' Elizabeth said. She sat down on the bed next to Claire and bounced up and down, which strained the old springs to their limits. 'Sorry, I just thought - I guess I was scared you'd say no. And I couldn't stand it if you said no, Claire. I just - it's so nice to have somebody from the old life, you know? Someone who knows me. Really knows the real me.'

'Isn't this the real you now?' Claire gestured at - all of it. The outfit, the hair, everything.

'I guess so. I just - sometimes it feels so strange, and I wish I could go back to being ... a kid, you know? A kid at home, with nothing to worry about.' Elizabeth sighed and stopped bouncing. 'I spent so long wanting to be on my own and now it's - it feels weird. And pretty frightening, to be in charge. Right?'

Claire didn't answer this time. She put her arm around her friend, and they sat together in a suddenly comfortable silence for a few long seconds, before Elizabeth - practically a Ritalin kid, with all her energy to burn - wiggled free and grabbed Claire's hand to haul her to her feet. 'You have to see my room!' Elizabeth said brightly. 'You'll love it, we can fix yours up too, make it really yours ...'

She kept talking as she pulled Claire toward the door, and to be honest Claire wasn't really listening until Elizabeth, midway down the stairs, finished up a sentence with, 'and the ghost.'

'Wait.' Claire pulled her to a full halt. 'What did you just say? Ghost?'

'Sure! The house is haunted; isn't that the coolest ever?'

Claire waited a second. She had always been able to tell, in Morganville, if something paranormally weird was going on around her, but here it just felt like a draughty, creaking old house. 'You're sure?'

'Well, yeah, of course! I've seen her. It's a lady in white, I think, and she drifts around on the stairs sometimes. Cool, right? I think she probably died here. Maybe she was gruesomely murdered!'

Maybe it was a Morganville thing, but Claire was reasonably certain she'd never thought of someone being horribly murdered with quite so much enthusiasm. She'd seen too many examples of it in real life. That, she realised, was the real gap between her and Elizabeth now ... life experience. Elizabeth still lived in a world where the worst that could happen was a stolen wallet or a minor accident. She didn't know how fragile things were, or how hard you had to fight to hold them together when the world spun out of control.

Claire felt ancient, even though she was a full year younger. She said, 'Um, can I see your room now?'

'Creepy talk creeping you out?'

'Little bit, yeah.' Shane would have had a brilliant comeback, or Eve, but Claire couldn't come up with one, suddenly. It didn't matter. Elizabeth pulled her down the rest of the twisting flight of stairs to the second landing, and opened up the door and flicked on the lights.

'Ta da!' she sang, and did an extravagant sweep of her arm. The room was as orange as Claire's was blue. To be fair, only one wall was painted that colour, but it was the far one, and it practically glowed in the dark. So did the bedspread with its profusions of ruffles, and the piles of pillows. It was nice, though, even if it was unsettlingly bright ... Elizabeth had taped up band posters and some kind of fantasy art featuring winged, half-naked male angels. Her dresser was practically covered with make-up and piles of jewellery. It was the girliest room Claire had ever seen, actually, and that included Eve's. At least Eve's was dark.

'It's really ... cheerful,' Claire said. That was true. It also gave her a headache. Maybe that was the incense, which smelt like freshly peeled ... oranges. That seemed a little bit too much theme for sanity. On the plus side, she was suddenly grateful that Liz had chosen blue for her bedroom. 'Well, let me get unpacked, and you can show me the rest of the place, okay?'

'Not much else to see. There's a tiny little living area and a crappy kitchen. No TV; I figured we could stream something if we wanted to watch it, but I'm not really into that stuff anyway.'

'What stuff?'

'You know, TV, books, films, all that kind of stuff.' Liz dismissed it with a wave of her hand. 'I like the real world. Besides, only geeks go all nuts over made-up stories.'

That was a shock, because Claire clearly remembered squealing with Liz over the latest Harry Potter book, and excitedly chattering about what Snape would get up to next. This Elizabeth - this platinum blonde, carefully made-up, fashion-conscious young woman - this one was a stranger. 'I still like it,' Claire said. Not defensively, because she really didn't feel a need to defend it. She was just stating a fact.

But it seemed like Elizabeth took it as a personal attack. Her face turned pink around the cheeks and at the top of her forehead, and she glared and said, 'Well, I don't, so let's get some ground rules straight - you don't bring home any geeky weirdos who want to sit around and play games or talk about movies or that stuff. You'll never find a guy that way, and you'll ruin my chances, too!'

'A ... guy?' Claire felt suddenly at sea, because this conversation was getting weirder and weirder. 'Liz, I'm not looking for-'

'Fine, sit around and sulk about your stupid cowboy all day and night, but I'm finding someone worthwhile.'

'What's worthwhile for you?' It might have been goading, but Claire honestly wanted to know. Sort of an anthropological experiment.

Elizabeth looked puzzled for a second, then ticked off what she wanted. 'Money,' she said. 'A decent job, something medical or finance or something. And a good car. He's got to have a good car. Also, he should have short hair and wear ties most of the time. Nice silk ties, not those crappy Kmart special ones.'

She had remarkably specific rules, Claire thought. 'Found anybody yet?'

'Not yet, but I know what to do. I go to the places that those kind of men show up, like the upscale food stores, and the opera, and I wait for one to notice me and talk to me. I've gotten loads of conversations. Sooner or later one of them will date me.'

That was ... well, Claire didn't have any other word for it. Bizarre. 'Don't you want to, I don't know, meet somebody and fall in love because you're just ... right for each other?'

Liz shrugged. 'Don't really care about that,' she said. 'Romance is for idiots. I'm done with all that stuff.'

'Liz-' Claire didn't know how else to put it. 'What the hell happened to you? Because you're just not ... not the same.'

Elizabeth gave her a long, bitter look. 'You don't want to know,' she said. Claire remembered the flash of fear in Liz's eyes at the airport, and wondered even more. 'I'm just telling you, your boyfriend? He may pretend to be Prince Charming, but he'll show his true colours. They all do.' She stepped into her room and took hold of the door. 'Let me know when you're unpacked, we'll make some dinner.'

Then she shut the door, and Claire was left standing on the stairs, feeling very alone. Elizabeth had changed, all right - far more than Claire herself had, even with all the pressures of Morganville. She was trying so hard to be adult that she was going to break something - probably herself, Claire thought.

But Liz was right ... she did need to unpack. Though when she went back upstairs, and surveyed the depressing blue room again, the first thing she wanted to do was take her suitcases and run, run away, run back to ...

... To Shane.

Claire took out her phone and scrolled the address book. All the familiar, aching names. I can call him, she thought. I can call right now.

Instead, she put down the phone, took a deep, slow breath, and threw the first suitcase open on the low, creaking bed.

Maybe putting things in drawers and in the narrow closet would make her feel less ... lost.

An hour later, though, the suitcases were empty, and the drawers were full of underwear and T-shirts and clothes, what needed to be on hangers successfully on the closet rod, and her battered assortment of shoes neatly arranged ... and she put the small number of personal things she'd brought with her around the room. She hadn't bothered with posters, but she had framed photos of Shane, and an album of photos of Michael and Eve and Myrnin and Amelie and everybody else she knew in Morganville who'd stand still for it, or even those who wouldn't, like Oliver, taken on the stealth. A record of what she'd left behind, the good and the bad. Even Myrnin's pet Bob the Spider had his own close-up. He was surprisingly kind of cute.

And Claire still felt lost and alone. Having the familiar around only made all this seem more alien.

She kept arranging things until she realised it was verging on obsessive, and finally hooked up her computer, logged on to the house Wi-Fi (at least that was decent) and found e-mails had exploded like popcorn in the microwave of her inbox. One was from her dad, telling her to call to confirm she was safe in her new place. Ditto from Michael, and from Eve, and even an awkward, formal note from Myrnin that boiled down to the same thing (she was surprised he'd actually figured out how to manage it on his own). It was all really sweet, but she couldn't stand to talk to them right now; the despair of having made the decision loomed all over her, and she knew she'd break down and cry if she heard a familiar voice. So she sent out e-mails instead.

It was all she could do not to beg them to come get her and take her back home.

No, I won't do that. I didn't quit, she reminded herself. I didn't quit when I got to Morganville, and people were actually trying to kill me. I'm not going to quit now, just because I don't like my room and my housemate's kind of nuts.

It suddenly struck her that there was no message from Shane. Not one.

A lump formed hard in her throat, and she involuntarily looked up at the closest picture she'd placed of him. It was her favourite. She'd caught him relaxed, laughing, and the warmth in his face always made her feel safe and happy.

But what if that light was gone? What if she never saw it in him again - if he'd forget about her while she was gone, or everything changed between them? It'll be your fault, something in her said. Because you walked away.

Claire reached for her phone and ran her finger lightly over the screen. So easy to call him. It only took a couple of motions, and then the phone would ring, and ...

... And what if he didn't pick up?

Claire dropped her phone and rested her burning forehead against her palms, and just as she was ready to crawl into her crappy, sagging bed and cry, her computer let out a little musical tone to tell her a new message had come in.

She grabbed the mouse and frantically clicked, and a video came up. It was murky at first, and then a light clicked on, and she saw Shane's face gilded by it. He was in his room, she saw ... it was just as messy as ever, and the sight of it, and him, made her throat close up with frantic longing.

'Hey,' Shane's image said. It wasn't Skype, not real time, just a recording, so she controlled the almost crazy impulse to talk back to him, blurt out how much she missed him, loved him, needed him. She couldn't stop herself from touching the screen, and tracing the lines of his lips with her fingers. 'So, I guess you're there, at your new place. Hope it's awesome. If it's not, you'll make it awesome, because that's what you do. It's your superpower. Also, this is for Claire, so if I hit somebody else in the list by mistake, stop watching now or I'll have to kill you.'

That made her laugh, and he must have known it would, because he smiled just a little. It made the skin at the corners of his eyes crinkle slightly. 'So anyway,' he said, 'Claire, if you're seeing this, and you're not so pissed at me you just delete the whole thing without watching ... I miss you. I miss you so bad it hurts. I keep walking around the house and wishing you were here, and that I could - that I could figure out how to fix the screwed-up stuff I did. Until I can do that, though, I guess what I'm saying is that I miss you. That's all. So if you're lonely there, not out partying and meeting fancy Boston guys, maybe we can be lonely together.'

He'd been avoiding the camera, but now he made eye contact with it, and she felt like he was staring right into her. And that smile ... it broke her heart.

'Love you,' he said, and logged off, as if he was afraid to be caught at it.

It made her eyes fill up with tears, and she sat for a few more minutes, starting it over, replaying it, watching his lips say the words.

We can be lonely together.

She was reaching for her phone when Elizabeth - without knocking - threw open her bedroom door with such force it knocked over one of her empty suitcases. 'Hey!' she said brightly. The dark mood she'd been in was already gone, and looking at her brilliant smile, Claire wondered if she'd imagined some of it. 'Ready for some delicious home-made dinner?' Liz asked. 'Because I'm totally starved.' She put her hands on her hips and looked around the room, then looked around again. 'Um ... did you unpack?'


'Wow. I really need to show you how to decorate, don't I?'

Not if this paint colour is any clue, Claire thought, but she kept it to herself. She'd quietly get a can of something neutral and redo things to the way she wanted them - no confrontation, no drama, no fuss. 'So, what's for dinner?'

'How about mac and cheese with some chicken? It's leftover KFC, but it's still good, I swear.'

It did sound good. Claire hadn't even realised she was hungry until her stomach started growling, and she slid out of the chair behind her computer and stuck her phone in her pocket on the way out the door.

Dinner wouldn't take that long.

... Except, it did. Elizabeth was hell to cook with; she wanted everything done just right. Claire stuck the macaroni in boiling water, and Liz got upset and took it off the burner because she wanted to check the temperature of the water first. Claire asked why, and that brought on an insane volume of information about cooking pasta at just the right temperatures, and the physics and chemistry of food, and honestly, even as much of a physics junkie as Claire was, she couldn't really apply it to box pasta with reconstituted cheese substance that sold for a buck a box. She just backed off and let Liz conduct all her temperature observations, mix the sauce, and generally obsess about getting the chicken chunks just the right size to go into the pasta once it was done. All this took about an hour, which was about half an hour more than Claire wanted to spend on mac and cheese, even if Liz added something she said were Chinese herbs and white truffle oil. In the end, it tasted pretty much like she expected, but by then Claire was willing to eat the box, too.

Claire took the cleaning up role, which seemed to suit Liz, and when that was done, she headed for the stairs.

'Wait,' Liz said. 'So - you're leaving? Just like that?'

'What do you mean, just like that?'

'It's our first night here! Don't you think we ought to, you know, celebrate? I have a movie we can watch, or we can just catch up and talk-' Liz was practically begging her. 'Please? I know it's been a really long time and maybe - maybe you're just really feeling lost, and I want you to like it here. So let me help.'

I just want to go upstairs, call Shane, and spend all night talking. But if she said that out loud, it would sound like she was some girl who couldn't exist without a boy, and wasn't that what all this coming-to-MIT had been intended to prove? Pretty ridiculous to fail the first test, on the first day she was apart from him.

'Sure,' Claire said, and tried to force some cheer into her voice. She felt horrible, but it wasn't Liz's fault. Her former best friend was trying to fill the void, and the least Claire could do was let her.

Besides ... she could call Shane later.

Elizabeth was, as it turned out, a movie fanatic, and six hours later, Claire finally begged off from the video assault and climbed the stairs, feeling more like a zombie than a survivor of the living-dead attack. Watching gory horror movies on the first night in a creaky old house, with a flaky roommate, was not nearly as much fun as it had been in the Glass House, surrounded by people she loved and trusted. That house had always seemed - and been, on some level - alive, and protective of them.

This one felt cold, alien, and utterly indifferent to her life or death, which made imagining the creaks and bangs to be serial killers intent on murder all too easy.

Claire made it up the steep climb, turned on the lights, and climbed in bed with her phone. She thought about shutting the lights off again, but in her sleep-deprived, overstimulated state, every shadow looked like a monster, and she thought she could see things moving at the corners of her eyes.

Better to leave them on.

She dialled Shane's number and snuggled down in the pillows, warm and safe, finally, beneath the covers even if the mattress felt weirdly hard, and the sheets smelt of unfamiliar detergent.

His cell rang, and rang, and rang, and finally it went to voicemail.

That was like an ice dagger to the heart; she felt numbed and destroyed, all at once. He didn't answer. She'd called, she'd watched the video, and he wasn't there, wasn't answering. She was too tired to think rationally, so the next thing in her mind was that he'd gotten angry, turned his phone off, maybe even blocked her calls. What if he'd gone out? When she'd moved to Morganville, Shane had been dating other girls, though not seriously ... maybe he'd already called one of them, gone out to the movies, or ...

... Or worse. Maybe he was already forgetting her, laughing at some other girl's jokes. Someone older and prettier.

Stop it, she told herself angrily, and shut off the phone. Just stop it.

Claire shut off the ringer, tucked the phone under her pillow, and tried very, very hard not to cry.

She'd never felt so abandoned, or so lonely, in her life.