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"Maybe it has to do with the weird black shadows I saw the night Todd died?" she said, hoping to shock him. But as soon as she'd said the words, she knew her intent was not to freak Daniel out even more ... it was to finally tell someone. It wasn't like she had much more to lose.

"What did you say?" he asked slowly.

"Oh, you know," she said, shrugging now, trying to downplay what she'd just said. "Once a day or so, I get these visits from these dark things I call the shadows."

"Don't be cute," Daniel said curtly. And even though his tone stung, she knew he was right. She hated how falsely nonchalant she sounded, when really she was all wound up. But should she tell him? Could she? He was nodding for her to go on. His eyes seemed to reach out and pull the words from inside her.

"It's gone on for the last twelve years," she admitted finally, with a deep shudder. "It used to just be at night, when I was near water or trees, but now ..." Her hands were shaking. "It's practically nonstop."

"What do they do?"

She would have thought he was just humoring her, or trying to get her to go on so he could crack a joke at her expense, except his voice had gone hoarse and his face was drained of color.

"Usually, they start out by hovering right about here." She reached around to the back of Daniel's neck and tickled him to demonstrate. For once, she wasn't just trying to get physically close to him - this really was the only way she knew how to explain. Especially since the shadows had begun to infringe on her body in such a palpable, physical way.

Daniel didn't flinch, so she continued. "Then sometimes they get really bold," she said, moving to her knees and placing her hands on his chest. "And they shove right up against me." Now she was right in his face. Her lip quivered and she couldn't believe she was actually opening up to anyone - let alone Daniel - about the horrible things she saw. Her voice dropped to a whisper and she said, "Recently, they don't seem satisfied until they've" - she swallowed - "taken someone's life and knocked me flat on my back."

She gave his shoulders the tiniest push, not intending to affect him at all, but the lightest touch of her fingertips was enough to knock Daniel over.

His fall took her so much by surprise, she accidentally lost her own balance and landed in a tangled heap on top of him. Daniel was flat on his back, looking at her with wide eyes.

She should not have told him that. Here she was, on top of him, and she'd just pulged her deepest secret, the thing that really defined her as a lunatic.

How could she still want to kiss him so badly at a time like this?

Her heart was pounding impossibly fast. Then she realized: She was feeling both of their hearts, racing each other. A kind of desperate conversation, one they couldn't have with words.

"You really see them?" he whispered.

"Yes," she whispered, wanting to pick herself up and take it all back. And yet she was unable to move off Daniel's chest. She tried to read his thoughts - what any normal person would think about an admission like hers. "Let me guess," she said glumly. "Now you're certain I need a transfer. To a psychiatric ward."

He pushed himself out from under her, leaving her lying practically face-first on the rock. Her eyes moved up his feet, to his legs, to his torso, to his face. He was staring up at the forest.

"That's never happened before," he said.

Luce got to her feet. It was humiliating, lying there alone. Plus, it was like he hadn't even heard what she said.

"What's never happened? Before what?"

He turned to her and cupped her cheeks in his hands. She held her breath. He was so close. His lips were so close to hers. Luce gave her thigh a pinch to make sure this time she wasn't dreaming. She was wide awake.

Then he almost forcibly pulled himself away. He stood before her, breathing quickly, his arms stiff at his sides.

"Tell me again what you saw."

Luce turned away to face the lake. The clear blue water lapped softly at the bank, and she considered ping in. That was what Daniel had done the last time things had gotten too intense for him. Why couldn't she do it, too?

"It may surprise you to know this," she said. "But it's no thrill for me to sit here and talk about how thoroughly insane I am." Especially to you.

Daniel didn't answer, but she could feel his eyes on her. When she finally got the courage to glance at him, he was giving her a strange, disturbing, mournful look - one in which his eyes turned down at the corners and their particular gray was the saddest thing Luce had ever seen.

She felt as if she'd let him down somehow. But this was her awful confession. Why should Daniel be the one to look so shattered?

He stepped toward her and leaned down until his eyes were gazing directly into hers. Luce almost couldn't take it. But she couldn't make herself budge, either. Whatever happened to break this trance would have to be up to Daniel - who was moving closer still, tilting his head toward hers and closing his eyes. His lips parted. Luce's breath caught in her throat.

She closed her eyes, too. She tilted her head toward his, too. She parted her lips, too.

And waited.

The kiss she had been dying for didn't come. She opened her eyes because nothing had happened, except for the rustling sound of a tree branch. Daniel was gone. She sighed, crestfallen but not surprised.

What was strange was that she could almost see the path he'd taken back through the forest. As if she were some kind of hunter who could pinpoint the rotation of a leaf and let it lead her back to Daniel. Except she was nothing of the sort, and the kind of trail that Daniel left in his wake was somehow bigger, clearer, and at the same time, even more elusive. It was as if a violet glow illuminated his path back through the forest.

Like the violet glow she'd seen during the library fire. She was seeing things. She steadied herself on the rock and looked away for a moment, rubbing her eyes. But when she looked back, it was just the same: In just one plane of her vision - as if she were looking through bi focals with a wild prescription - the live oaks, and the mulch beneath them, and even the songs of the birds in the branches - all of it seemed to wobble out of focus. And it didn't just wobble, bathed in that faintest purple light, but seemed to emit a barely audible low-pitched hum.

She spun back around, terrified to face it, terrified of what it meant. Something was happening to her, and she could tell no one about it. She tried to focus on the lake, but even it was growing darker and difficult to see.

Chapter Thirteen

TOUCH ED AT THE ROOTS

Luce could hear her Converse sneakers beating hard against the pavement. She could feel the humid wind tugging on her black T-shirt. She could practically taste the hot tar from a freshly paved portion of the parking lot. But when she flung her arms around the two huddled creatures near the entrance to Sword & Cross on Saturday morning, all of that was forgotten.

She had never been so glad to hug her parents in her life.

For days, she'd been regretting how cold and distant things had been at the hospital, and she wasn't going to make the same mistake again.

They both stumbled as she plowed into them. Her mother started giggling and her dad thwacked her back in his tough-guy way with his palm. He had his enormous camera strapped around his neck. They straightened up and held their daughter at arm's length. They seemed to want a good look at her face, but as soon as they got it, their own faces fell. Luce was crying.

"Sweetheart, what's the matter?" her father asked, resting his hand on her head.

Her mom fished through her giant blue pocketbook for her stash of tissues. Eyes wide, she dangled one in front of Luce's nose and asked, "We're here now. Everything's fine, isn't it?"

No, everything was not fine.

"Why didn't you take me home the other day?" Luce asked, feeling angry and hurt all over again. "Why did you let them bring me back here?"

Her father blanched. "Every time we spoke to the headmaster, he said you were doing great, back in classes, like the trouper we raised. A sore throat from the smoke and a little bump on the head. We thought that was all." He licked his lips.

"Was there more?" her mom asked.

One look between her parents told that they'd had this fight already. Mom would have begged to visit again sooner. Luce's tough-love dad would have put his foot down.

There was no way to explain to them what had happened that night or what she'd been going through since then, She had gone straight back to classes, though not by her own choice. And physically, she was fine. It was just that in every other way - emotionally, psychologically, romantically - she couldn't have felt more broken.

"We're just trying to follow the rules," Luce's father explained, moving his big hand to squeeze her neck.

The weight of it shifted her whole posture and made it uncomfortable to stand still, but it had been so long since she'd been this close to people she loved, she didn't dare move away. "Because we only want what's best for you," her dad added. "We have to take it on faith that these people" - he gestured at the formidable buildings around campus, as if they represented Randy and Headmaster Udell and the rest of them - "that they know what they're talking about."

"They don't," Luce said, glancing at the shoddy buildings and the empty commons. So far, nothing at this school made any sense to her.

Case in point, what they called Parents' Day. They'd made such a big deal about how lucky the students were to get the privilege of seeing their own flesh and blood. And yet it was ten minutes until lunchtime and Luce's parents' car was the only one in the parking lot.

"This place is an absolute joke," she said, sounding cynical enough that her parents shared a troubled look.

"Luce, honey," her mom said, stroking her hair. Luce could tell she wasn't used to its short length. Her fingers had a maternal instinct to follow the ghost of Luce's former hair all the way down her back. "We just want one nice day with you. Your father brought all your favorite foods."

Sheepishly, her father held up a colorful patchwork quilt and a large briefcase-style contraption made of wicker that Luce had never seen before. Usually when they picnicked, it was a much more casual affair, with paper grocery bags and an old ripped sheet thrown down on the grass by the canoe trail outside their house.

"Pickled okra?" Luce asked in a voice that sounded very much like little-kid Lucy. No one could say her parents weren't trying.

Her dad nodded. "And sweet tea, and biscuits with white gravy. Cheddar grits with extra jalapeсos, just the way you like 'em. Oh," he said, "and one more thing."

Luce's mom reached into her purse for a fat, sealed red envelope and held it out to Luce. For the briefest moment, a pain gnawed at Luce's stomach when she thought back to the mail she was accustomed to receiving. Psycho Killer. Death Girl.

But when Luce looked at the handwriting on the envelope, her face broke into an enormous grin.

Callie.

She tore into the envelope and pulled out a card with a black-and-white photograph on the front of two old ladies getting their hair done. Inside, every square inch of the card was filled with Callie's large, bubbly handwriting. And there were several pieces of scrawled-on loose-leaf paper because she'd run out of room on the card.

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