Chapter Seven


Eve woke them up when she clattered downstairs at ten in the morning. Shane groaned, rolled over, and fell off the couch with a thump, tangled in the blanket. Eve stopped on the steps and leaned over the railing. "Wow, Grace, that was impressive. You really stuck the landing. . . . Claire?" She blinked, then practically flew down the rest of the steps. "Claire! You're back! You're okay!" She stepped over Shane, who was still trying to get free of the blanket, and pulled Claire up to hug her like a rag doll. "We were so scared; we didn't know how to get to you--everybody was looking--" She stopped and held Claire at arm's length. "Ew."

"Yeah," Claire said. "I need a shower."

"I don't think a shower's going to cut it. Maybe fire hoses, and those brushes they use on elephants." Eve stepped back and offered Shane a hand up as he finally got untangled.

"Speaking of elephants, you sounded like a herd of something coming down the stairs," he said. "What the hell are your shoes made of? Hooves?"

"And good morning to you, too, grumpy. Nice bedhead." He flipped her off. "No coffee for you." Eve turned back to Claire and hugged her one more time. "You're sure you're okay?"

"I'm fine," Claire said, and yawned again. "I will be once I get clean."

"Yeah, big endorsement of that. I'll have breakfast ready for you!"

Shane grabbed Claire's hand. She smiled at him, oddly shy, because the glow in his eyes meant he was up to something, or thinking about being up to something. But he finally shook his head and said, "Go on, before I do something I probably shouldn't."

That sounded interesting. She wasn't that tired. But yuck, getting clean sounded even better. So she kissed him quickly and ran up the steps toward the bathroom.

"See?" she heard Shane yell at the kitchen. "She doesn't stomp around like a cattle stampede!"

"Bite me, Collins! No bacon for you, either!"

Things were back to normal. Claire breathed a huge sigh of relief, and felt something that had been completely knotted up in her gut start to relax.

The shower felt so good it was hard to actually get out again, but the creaky hot-water heater finally convinced her by spritzing in ice-cold bursts when it was about to give up altogether. The bathroom was wreathed in so much steam it was like a sauna, and Claire enjoyed the feel of it against her skin as she shaved her legs and underarms and applied lotion and generally felt human again.

Someone knocked on the door.

"Yeah, just a minute!" she called. "I'm almost done!"


Claire stopped in the act of finger-fluffing her hair and turned toward the door. All of a sudden, the heat of the bathroom faded away, and the knot in her stomach came back. "What? Michael, is that you?"

Whoever it was, the voice didn't call out again, and when she went to the door and pressed her ear against it, she didn't hear anything at all. Weird. Really weird.

Claire put on her new, clean clothes--jeans, an orange camisole, and a pretty flowered sheer top that she'd scored at the resale shop. She unlocked the door and peeked out into the hallway.


She opened the door all the way and stepped out, accompanied by clouds of escaping steam. All the doors were shut, including Michael's at the end of the hall. She didn't see any sign of life up here, but Eve and Shane were still yelling back and forth downstairs.


Claire left the door open and went to her room for her shoes. As she opened it, she found Michael standing in there with his back to her.

"Michael?" Finding him in her room was more than a little shocking. He was really good about giving her privacy, even if it was technically his house; he always knocked and waited for permission before coming in, which he rarely did anyway. "Something you wanted?"

He turned slowly to face her. She was blindly afraid for a second that something awful had happened to him, some kind of accident, but he looked . . . normal.

Just kind of dazed.

"What's happened here?" he asked her. "It shouldn't be like this. Why is it like this?"

"I--I don't understand. It looks okay to me. I mean, sorry about the bed. I meant to make it up. What are you--"

"Who are you?" Michael interrupted her, and took a step back when she came toward him. "Whoa. Stay right there. Who the hell are you and what are you doing in my house?"

Claire's mouth opened and closed, because she had no idea what to say to that. Was he kidding? No, she didn't think so--there was real confusion in his face, real panic in his blue eyes. "I--I'm Claire," she finally said. "Claire, remember? What's wrong with you?"

"I don't--" He pulled in a deep breath, closed his eyes, and clenched his fists tight. She saw something strange pass over his face, and then he looked at her again, and he was back to being the same Michael she knew. "Claire. Oh, crap, Claire, I'm sorry. That was weird. I think . . . I think I was sleepwalking. I was dreaming it was three years ago, and my parents were still here. This used to be their room. I was thinking how weird it was that their stuff wasn't here." He laughed shakily and wiped at his forehead like he was sweating, although Claire didn't think he was. "Wow. Didn't like that much. It really felt wrong."

She still felt afraid, for some reason. "But . . . you're okay now?"

"Yeah, I'm fine," he said, and gave her that dazzling Michael Glass smile that put girls on the floor from a distance. "Sorry if I scared you. Man, I haven't sleepwalked in ages. So weird."

"You knocked on the bathroom door," Claire said. "You . . . you asked if I was your mom." "I did? Sorry; that is supercreepy. You're much shorter than my mom."

"Brat," she said, surprised into a giggle.

"That's no way to talk to a vampire."

"Bloodsucking brat."

"Better," he said. "I can't believe I just barged in here. I'm really sorry. Won't happen again."

"It's okay; you couldn't help it." But she still watched him all the way down the hall, until they were downstairs. Having a vampire do something that strange, even if it was Michael, gave her a serious case of the chills.

In the kitchen, when they were all together, everything seemed fine. Michael was the same, and Eve and Shane sniped back and forth at each other with the same casual sort of loving cruelty that they always had. Claire found herself doing nothing but watching them, looking for anything odd. Out of place.

"Hey," Eve said as she set a plate of bacon and eggs down in front of Claire on the table. "Space Ghost. You in there anywhere?"

Claire blinked and focused on her. Well, Eve would never freak her out, because Eve was always . . . Eve. Today's eyeliner was dark blue, and heavy, and her rice-powder makeup and navy lipstick probably should have looked weird, but instead, they just looked cute. And normal. "Sorry," Claire said. "Still tired, I guess. That was really, really hard."

"Spill. Tell me everything." Eve was going through a phase where she wanted to eat everything with chopsticks. Claire watched her unwrap a set of cheap bamboo ones, scrape them together a few times, and dig into her eggs. "Did you have to do anything gruesome?"

"Not unless you count sleeping in Myrnin's"--oh, she realized right at the end of that sentence that she really shouldn't have gone there, because Shane and Michael both turned to look at her--"uh, lab. No, not really."

Eve stared. "You were totally going to say 'bed.'"

"Wasn't!" Claire felt her cheeks flaming. "Anyway, all I had to do was repair something. And then they let me sleep. No big deal."

"No big deal? You were gone for almost five days without a word, Claire! You got arrested! Even our resident ex-con was impressed." Meaning Shane, of course, who'd spent his share of time behind Morganville bars. He barely paused in chopping up onions for his eggs to flip her off. "If it hadn't been for Michael and Myrnin . . ."

"Michael," Claire said, and looked at him. He was microwaving his sports bottle, which held his morning O negative. "I thought you might help hold Shane down and keep him from doing anything dangerous."

"Wasn't easy," Michael said.

Eve nodded. "He stayed on Amelie until she told him what happened to you, and then he kept Shane from pretending he was a ninja and going to rescue you."

"Hey, you, too!" Shane protested.

"Yeah, okay, me, too," Eve said. "Myrnin called, too. I guess he thought it would be reassuring or something to tell us you'd been standing up for forty hours, and not falling down. What a whack job. Oooh, was he wearing the bunny slippers? Tell me he was wearing the bunny slippers!"

"Sometimes," Claire said, and dug into her breakfast. It was good, really good. Eve was developing a flair for eggs and bacon and morning-type stuff. "You guys were really going to come get me?" "Let's just say the boys got their fight on about it, and leave it at that," Eve said, and winked. "Tell me that doesn't make you feel all loved."

Claire did feel loved, and it made her blush. She concentrated on her food as Michael, Shane, and Eve got their own and slid into the other chairs. At some point, Eve called Shane a tool. Shane called Eve a skank. Normal morning.

Michael, though, was quiet. He sipped his sports bottle and watched them all without saying much. There was something odd about him still, like he was standing a few feet outside of his body, observing. Claire got that feeling again, that gut-twisting one. Something's wrong.

But he seemed fine when they flipped for the washing-up, and fine when he lost the coin toss. In fact, he was whistling as he scrubbed dishes, tossed them up in the air, and caught them with impossible vampire skill.


"Whoa, whoa, speedy, where you going?" Shane asked as Claire headed for the door. "You just got here!"

"I need to talk to Myrnin," she said.

"Not right now you don't. You need to go back to bed."

"Thanks, Dad." Which made her feel a horrible stab of guilt, because she hadn't even called her mom and dad, or gone to see them yet. "Ah, about--"

"Yeah, I know, you need to see the 'rents. Okay, but I go with."

"Shane, you know how that's going to play out."

He sighed. "I really do," he said. "But I'm not letting you run around Morganville today all by yourself."

She stopped and turned to him. They were alone in the living room, and she took his hands. "You know about the frat guy? Kyle?"

Shane's face went completely still, but his eyes were hot. "Yeah, I know. They've got him in the cage in Founder's Square. Word gets around, even if us mere mortals aren't getting tickets to the barbecue. People are angry. This could go bad, Claire. I don't think Amelie understands how bad."

"You think someone might try to break him out?"

"I'm pretty sure someone will. Hell, I'd have done it myself, except I was more worried about you."

"Shane, I heard what happened. He and his frat buddies pounded on a vampire, and then he killed his own Protector when he came after them."

"Yeah, well, I'd kill any of them if he had his fangs up in my face, too."

"But you wouldn't have let your friends kick some stranger's ass and rob him; I know you wouldn't. And Kyle was the ring-leader. Truth is, I don't think it mattered to him who got hurt or killed. And I'm not sure it wasn't cold-blooded murder, with his Protector."

"If you're not sure it was, then he shouldn't be in the cage," Shane said. "She's going too far. People in this town have a taste of freedom now, and they're not going to give it up that easily."

"The vampires aren't going to give up being in charge, either. People are going to get hurt if both sides keep on pulling."

Shane nodded slowly. His expression didn't change. "Our people get hurt here every day."

There was no talking to him about this, Claire realized; Shane had come to terms with a lot of things, but he was never, ever going to believe that what the vampires did to humans for punishment was right. And she couldn't blame him. She remembered how sick she'd felt, how horrified, when Shane himself had been in that cage, waiting to die. Now Kyle was in there, and his family, the people who loved him, they were feeling the same awful horror. Even if he was a total tool, this was worse than punishment. It was cruelty.

"Maybe we should try to get him out," Claire said. "Does that sound crazy?"

"Only all of it. You know what the penalty is for breaking someone out of that cage?"

"Joining them in it?"

"Bingo. And sorry, but I'm not risking it. You're not exactly escape-artist material."

She was a little relieved, actually. "Maybe I can talk to Amelie. Get her to change her mind."

"See, that's much more you. Reason Girl," Shane said. "Parents?"

She nodded and grabbed her backpack from the corner--force of habit: she didn't have school today, but the weight of the books and all the assorted junk she kept in it made her feel steadier. Shane turned toward the closed kitchen door. "Yo, undead-for-brains, we're heading to the Danvers house!"

"I heard that," Michael yelled back.

"Whole point, bro." Shane offered Claire his arm, and she took it, and they set out for her parents' house.

It was a nice day to walk, especially with Shane next to her. Well, truthfully, if it had been forty below and a blizzard, it still would have seemed like a nice day with Shane, but it really was beautiful--sunny, not too hot, a cloud-free, faded-denim sky that seemed to stretch a million miles from horizon to horizon. Wind, of course, like there always seemed to be in Morganville, but more of a breeze than a gust.

It still tasted of sand, though.

"Want a coffee?" she asked. Shane shook his head and kicked a rusted can out of their way.

"If I see Oliver, I'm going to punch him right in the face," he said. "So no. I'll skip the coffee."

"Right, no caffeine for you at all." There wasn't much else to do in Morganville besides the coffee shop, anyway. Movies weren't playing yet, and they were too young for the bars, which also weren't open yet. She was hoping to delay the inevitable bringing-Shane-to-her-parents tension, but really, there was no getting around it.

She was still working on what she was going to say to her dad when Shane said, "Huh. That's weird."

There was something in his voice that made her look up. She saw nothing out of place for a second, but then she saw someone sitting on the curb a block up, head down, shoulders shaking.


"Should we . . . ?" she asked. Shane shrugged.

"Probably couldn't hurt. Maybe he needs help."

It was a he, after all, a college kid wearing a black knit shirt and scuffed-up jeans. Claire had seen him somewhere before. . . .

It was the boy from the Science Building. The one who'd given her the rave flyer. Alex? She thought his name was Alex.

As they got closer, she felt that stab of anxiety again. Alex was not the kind of guy to be crying in public like some four-year-old, and besides that, he looked really, really upset.

"Alex?" Claire let go of Shane's hand and motioned for him to stay put while she crossed the last few feet to the boy. "Hey, Alex? Are you okay?"

He gulped and swiped at his eyes, blinking furiously. Then he glared at her. "Leave me alone." There was so much ferocity in his voice that Claire instinctively held up both hands and took a step back.

"Okay, sure, I'm sorry. I'm Claire, remember? From the Science Building? I just wanted to help."

He looked confused then, as well as angry. He scrambled to his feet and looked around, then lunged for Claire and grabbed her arm. His eyes were wild. "Who are you?" he said. "Where am I?"

"Hey, man, let go!" Shane stepped in and batted Alex's hand away. "Chill. She was trying to help, okay?"

That seemed to make him angrier. Alex shouted right in their faces, "Where am I? How did you get me here?"

Shane looked at Claire and mimed drinking, then shook his head. "Must have been one hell of a party," he whispered. "Who is this guy?"

"Just somebody from school."

"Hey!" Alex was shouting again, getting red in the face. "You tell me how I got here or I'm calling the cops!"

"Um . . ." Claire pointed behind him. One block away were the gates of Texas Prairie University. "You're not exactly lost. I don't know how you got here, but all you have to do is turn around and go back to the dorm--"

Alex looked over his shoulder, then snapped his head back around to focus on her. "I don't know what kind of sick joke you think you're playing, but you'd better tell me what's going on right now."

"Hey, enough. Back off," Shane said, and pulled Claire out of easy reach. "Go sober up, man. And find some kind of rehab, because, damn."

"I'm not drunk!"

Shane steered Claire away, then across the street to the other sidewalk. Alex just stood there, shouting at them like a crazy man. Shane shook his head. "Man. Frat guys. They really can screw up their lives."

"I don't think he was drunk," Claire said doubtfully. "He didn't really look drunk."

"Yeah, because you'd be the expert on that." Shane sent her an ironic look, and she remembered, with a flash of shame, that he was the expert; his dad had been a drunk, and so had his mom, toward the end. Shane wasn't exactly a saint, either. "Okay, maybe he wasn't drinking, but he was definitely wrecked. What are the fratties taking these days? Maybe it was meth."

Well, Claire really didn't know anything much about drugs. It wasn't that she was a prude; she just had a fear of anything that would screw up the way she thought. "This is your brain on drugs" and all that. "He probably needs help," she decided, and pulled out her phone to dial Chief Moses. She told Hannah about the boy, feeling more than a little like maybe she ought to have minded her own business, but still. That had not been the Alex she'd met at school.

As she put the phone away, Claire remembered hearing that voice--Michael's voice--through the bathroom door this morning. Mom?

She shivered as a cool breeze skittered by.

But really, it was a beautiful day, and she didn't know why she was feeling so weird.

Visiting her folks was every bit as awkward as Claire had imagined. First, her mom opened the door, got a look of delight on her face as she saw Claire, and then immediately dimmed it down to a strained welcome when she spotted Shane standing behind her. "Claire, honey, so glad you're here! And Shane, of course." Somehow, that last part sounded like a total lie. "Come in; I was just cleaning up the kitchen. I'm grilling chicken for lunch; can you stay?"

That was Mom all over, offering food in the second breath. It made Claire feel at home. She traded a quick look with Shane, and then said, "Well, actually, we've already got plans, Mom, but thanks."

"Oh. Of course." Her mother was looking better these days--not as thin and haunted as she had been when they'd first come to Morganville. In fact, she looked like she'd gained a little weight, which was good, and she was dressing a bit less like a character in one of those black-and-white movies where women wore pearls to vacuum--more normal. Claire actually kind of liked her shirt. For Mom clothes.

"How's Dad?" Claire asked, as they followed her down the hall and turned right into the kitchen. It was the exact same layout as the Glass House, since they were both Founder Houses, but the Danvers house had an open entrance to the kitchen, and her mother had painted the room in sunny yellows that cheered it up a lot. Ugh, she still liked the ducks, though. Lots of ceramic ducks. Well, at least it wasn't the cheesy ceramic roosters; that was an awful memory. Claire and Shane took seats at the small kitchen table--a lot nicer than the battered one they had back at the Glass House--and Mom fussed around with cups and saucers (Shane held up a saucer with his eyebrows raised, like he'd never seen one) and got them coffee.

"Mom? How's Dad?"

Her mom poured coffee without meeting her eyes. "He's doing all right, honey. I wish you'd come see us more often."

"I know. I'm sorry. It's been . . . kind of busy these last few days."

Her mom straightened up, frowning. "Is anything wrong?"

"No." Claire slurped coffee, which was too hot, and her mom never made it strong enough. It tasted like coffee-flavored milk. "Not now. There was some trouble in town; that was all."

"Claire killed a vampire," Shane said. "She had to, but it could have gone bad for her with Amelie. As it was, she had to do a job for the vamps that almost killed her."

She could not believe that he'd just blurted that out. Shane raised his eyebrows at her again in a silent, What? Like he couldn't believe she wasn't going to say all of that herself.

Her mother just stood there, mouth open, holding the steaming pot of coffee.

"It's not that bad," Claire said in a rush. "Really. I was just trying to help some people who were in trouble, including Eve. It just turned out . . . well, it turned out okay, in the end."

Worst. Speech. Ever. And it didn't seem to reassure her mother at all.

"Mrs. Danvers," Shane said, and held out his cup for a refill on his coffee, with a smile that, Claire thought, he'd probably learned from Michael; even her mother seemed to warm up to it. "The point is, Claire did something really brave, and probably really important, so you should be proud of her."

"I'm always proud of Claire." And that, Claire thought, was true; her mother was always proud of her. Except maybe when it came to Shane, of course. "But it sounds very dangerous."

"Shane was with me," Claire said, before he could open his mouth again. "We look out for each other."

"I'm sure you do. Oh, let me go see what's keeping your father. I can't believe he hasn't been down for coffee yet; that's a violation of the laws of physics. I know he's awake."

Her mother set the pot back on the coffee machine and left the kitchen, heading for the stairs. Shane leaned over to Claire and said, "Does it give you deja voodoo how alike the houses are?" "That's deja vu, and I hate you right now."

"For narcing on you to your mom? Wait until you hear what I tell your dad." From the sly grin on his face, she knew what he was thinking.

"Don't you even think about it."

"I could tell him about that time we--"

"Hell, no."

They were whispering, and on the verge of giggles, when a scream cut through the house like the sound of shattering glass. Claire dropped her cup and jumped to her feet, running for the stairs; Shane was just a couple of steps behind her, and caught up quickly on the stairs as he jumped them three at a time.

Claire's mom was nowhere in sight, but the door to her dad's office--which was Shane's bedroom in the Glass House--was open. Claire dashed for it and skidded to a halt in the opening.

Her mother was on her knees.

Her dad was lying on the carpet, looking small and weak and fragile, and she felt absolute terror shoot through her like lightning. Her knees went weak, and she felt Shane's hands close around her shoulders.

"Mom?" she asked in a small, shaking voice. Then she swallowed, got it together, and hurried the last few steps to drop down next to her parents.

Her mom had her hand pressed to her dad's neck, feeling for a pulse, but as badly as her hand was shaking, Claire was sure she couldn't tell even if she found one. She looked up miserably at Shane, who nodded and got on one knee next to her mom. "Let me," he said, and gently moved her mother's hand to feel for a pulse with his own, steadier fingers. It seemed to take forever, but he finally nodded. "He's okay. He's breathing, too. I think he just passed out."

Claire's mother was crying, but Claire thought she probably didn't even know she was doing it. She had a frozen, blank expression that Claire thought was scarier than the scream had been. "Th-thank you, Shane. I don't think we should move him."

"We should turn him on his side," Shane said. "Recovery position."

Claire's mother looked at him oddly, as if she wondered how exactly he knew all of this. Claire knew, all too well. He'd come home to find his parents passed out a lot, during that nightmare time when they'd been on the road, running from Morganville and memories. Checking for pulse and breathing and making sure they didn't choke on vomit was just a normal thing to do, for him.

Shane rolled her father onto his side and settled him as comfortably as possible, then sat back and said, "Better call an ambulance. You'll probably want him to go to the hospital, right? Mrs. Danvers?"

She blinked and slowly nodded, then got up and used the desk phone to call 911. While she did, Claire stared down at her dad's still, pale face. He looked awful. Now that the adrenaline shock was fading, tears were threatening to drown her, and she didn't want to cry, couldn't cry, not now. Her mom needed her to be strong.

Her dad opened his eyes. His pupils looked huge, but then they shrank back to normal size. Having his eyes open didn't actually make her feel that much better, because he looked at them like they were strangers.

Even Claire.

When he tried to sit up, Shane put a big hand on his shoulder and said, "Sir, you'd better stay down until the ambulance gets here, okay? Just rest. Do you remember what happened?"

Her dad blinked, very slowly, and focused on Shane's face. "Do I know you?" he asked. He sounded . . . confused. Claire's throat went tight and hot, and she choked back tears again.

"Yes, sir, I'm Shane, Claire's boyfriend. We had a talk last week about your daughter."

Claire looked at Shane then, because that was the first she'd heard of any talk. Not that it was a bad thing, but she couldn't believe he'd gone off and talked to her dad without her. What a . . . medieval thing to do.

"Oh," Dad said, and turned his head to look at Claire. "You're too young to be dating, Claire. You should at least wait a couple of years."

That was . . . random. And odd. She blinked and said, "Okay, Dad, don't--We'll talk about it later, all right?"

The response time of ambulances in Morganville was fast--after all, it wasn't that big a town--so Claire wasn't surprised to hear sirens already in the distance. "You're going to be okay, Daddy," she said, and took his hand in hers. "You're going to be fine."

He tried to smile. "I have to be, don't I? I have to see you go to college."

"But--" But I'm in college. No, she must have misunderstood him. He probably meant he wanted to see her graduate from college.

Because otherwise, what sense did that make? Anyway, it was probably normal for him to be a little confused. He'd passed out, and it was almost certainly his heart; she knew the doctors had been treating him for a while. Maybe this time they could fix it.

"I love you, baby," he said. "I love you and your mom very much; you know that, right?"

He put his hand on her cheek, and finally the tears just spilled over in a hot mess down her face. She put her fingers around his. "I know," she whispered. "Don't leave, Daddy."

The ambulance sirens were loud now, right in front of the house, and Claire's mom dropped down next to Shane again, touched his shoulder, and said, "Would you go let them in, honey?"

He was gone in seconds, pounding down the stairs, racing to the front door. It didn't seem long at all before Claire heard the rattle of metal and heavy footsteps, and then the room was crowded with two big paramedics, one male, one female, who moved her and her mom out of the way so they could lay out all their kits. Claire backed up to the wall and, now that she had nothing to do, started to shake like she might come apart. Her mom put her arm around her, and they waited. Shane stayed out in the hall, looking in. When Claire wiped her eyes and glanced his direction, he mouthed, Hang in there. She smiled weakly.

The paramedics talked to her dad, then talked to each other, and finally the woman got up and came over to Claire and her mom. "Okay, it looks like he's stable right now, but we need to get him into the hospital. I'll need somebody to come along to fill out the paperwork."

"I'll . . . I'll get my purse," Claire's mom murmured. The male paramedic had her dad sitting up now, and was taking his blood pressure. Shane moved out of the way as Mom headed out to get her things, and then came in to stand with Claire. He took her hand and held it tight.

"See, he's okay," Shane said. "Maybe he just passed out. Lucky he didn't hit his head."

"Lucky," Claire whispered. She didn't feel lucky. Not at all. Right now, she felt . . . cursed.

As they helped her dad to the waiting gurney, he looked over, and she was relieved when he said, "Shane. Thanks for being here with my girls."

"No problem," Shane said. "Feel better, sir."

"Keep your hands off my daughter."

The paramedics grinned, and the woman said, "I think he's feeling better. You can meet us at the hospital if you'd like. Your mother may need you."

"I'll go," Claire said. "Shane--"

"I'm not leaving you. You're going to need someone to fetch hamburgers, right? I'm your man."

Yes, he was, she thought. Definitely her man.

The hospital wasn't Claire's favorite place, not ever, but now that it was her dad being wheeled into tests, it definitely was worse than usual. At least when she'd been the patient she didn't have to just . . . sit and wait.

She felt useless. Her mom had filled out all the sheets and sheets of paper, answered questions, made phone calls, done everything useful she could, but now she just sat, looking empty-eyed at a television playing in the corner of the waiting room. Claire kept bringing her magazines, and her mother glanced at them, thanked her, and put them aside.

It was awful.

Michael and Eve showed up a couple of hours later, bearing pizza, which by then was really welcome. Father Joe from the local Catholic church stopped in, too, and spoke to Claire's mother in private. They prayed, too. Claire wasn't in the habit, really, but she got up and joined them. Silently, her friends followed her, and it felt better having them with her. At the end, Michael crossed himself and hugged her, and Eve did, too. Shane just stayed with her, quiet and there.

Oliver showed up an hour later, and exchanged guarded nods with Father Joe; it looked like the two of them had one of those frenemy relationships that were so common in Morganville. Oliver didn't pray, at least not with the rest of them. He walked right over to Claire's mother and said, "Your daughter has rendered the town a great service. There will be no charge for whatever treatments your husband may need. If it goes beyond what the doctors feel they can treat here, I will personally sign the paperwork to allow him to be transferred to another, larger facility out of town. And should one or both of you decide not to return, we will not object."

That was . . . enormous, really. Claire sat, stunned, and just looked at him. He didn't so much as spare her a glance. His luminous eyes were fixed on her mom, and there was a strange kind of gentleness in the way he spoke.

"I don't know what to say," Claire's mom finally said. "I--Thank you."

"My word is also the Founder's word. Should you need anything, get word to me immediately. I'll ensure it's done." He hesitated, then said, "Your daughter is impressive. Difficult, but impressive. I do not know you or your husband well, but I expect that you must be equally impressive to have such a child."

Claire's mom raised her chin, looked him in the eyes, and said, "What about my daughter?"

Oliver didn't hesitate. "The offer doesn't extend to Claire. She must remain in Morganville."

"I'm not leaving her here alone."

"She's not alone," Oliver said. "We can hardly pry her from those who care for her even at gunpoint. And your daughter is no helpless child. You'll have to give her up to her own life, now or a year from now; what difference?"

Claire had never, ever seen her mother look like that--that focused, that fierce, that determined. Her mom put her arms around her, holding her in a tight, protective embrace. "I don't have to give her up to you," she said. "I know Claire's capable of being on her own; I've known that for a long time. But she's our child, now and always, and once my husband is better we'll be back for her. You can't keep her here forever."

Shane took in a small breath, and Claire felt her heart beat a little faster. No, Mom, don't. . . . But Oliver didn't seem to take it badly. He inclined his head just a fraction and said, "Perhaps not. Time will tell. But you must do the right thing for your husband, mistress. We will do the right thing for your daughter. For now."

He took her hand, shook it, and walked out without ever saying a word to Claire, or anyone else.

Michael said, "Anyone else think that's strange?"

"Well, I personally think it's awesome that he's letting them go, but strange? Not so much," Eve said. "Why shouldn't they leave? I mean, they shouldn't have really been here in the first place, right? Bishop moved them here, and then Amelie just didn't let them leave for her own reasons. They're not cut out for this town."

"Nobody's cut out for this town," Shane said. "Nobody sane, anyway."

"Says the kid who came back."

"Yeah, kind of proves my point."

Claire didn't say anything. She couldn't think what to say, actually. Yes, she'd wanted her parents out of this mess; it had been horrible when they'd been dragged into it in the first place, and not a day had gone by that she hadn't wished there were a way to smuggle them out to safety and get them a real life somewhere else.

But on the other hand, her mom and dad could be . . . leaving. And she wasn't going with them; she knew that. Even if she wanted to go, Amelie wouldn't let her go. That had already been made clear enough.

That her family might come back here, for her, when her dad was better--that was overwhelming and wrong. And, at the same time, weirdly comforting.

She and her mom didn't talk about it, not at all.

The rest of the afternoon passed slowly, and without anything in the way of excitement, or even new information. Claire fell asleep lying awkwardly in a chair, and woke up to find Shane draping a blanket around her. "Shh," he said. "Sleep. You still need it. I'll wake you up if anything happens."

She knew she shouldn't, but the past few days were crushing her hard, and she couldn't keep her eyes open, no matter how much she tried.

She woke up with a shock some time later--no idea when--to the sound of shouting voices.

Claire fought her way free of the blanket and stood, looking around for the danger, but there was nothing really visible in front of her. Oh, it was in the hall. She saw people running, including two security guards in full uniform, with guns.

"What the hell?" Michael had gotten up even faster than Claire. Shane and Eve were still trying to wake up from where they'd been dozing in their chairs.

Her mother was nowhere to be seen.

"It's in the hall," Claire said. Michael moved to the doorway and looked out, then shook his head.

"Some crazy dude," he said. "He thinks he's a doctor here, I guess. He's yelling about how they're not following his orders. Security's got him."


"Well, it's a hospital. People aren't generally here because they're all good and normal."

Michael had a point, but it still felt weird, again. That could have just been waking up like she did, of course, and the generally freaky nature of the past few days.

All Claire knew was that she was glad, so glad, that her friends were with her.

"Where's your mom?" Shane asked. Claire shook her head.

"Bathroom, maybe? Which is where I need to go."

"Ooh, me, too," Eve said. The boys rolled their eyes, like they'd planned it. "What? It's what girls do. Get over it."

"I was never on it," Michael said, straight-faced. "Don't take all day."

Eve took Claire's arm as they walked down the hall toward the bathroom. No more shouting, so the crazy guy had been detained and taken off to the padded rooms, Claire guessed. There weren't very many people in the halls right now, and as she looked at the clock, she realized why; they'd been here for hours, waiting. She'd slept through most of it.

Mom wasn't in the bathroom, but Claire was relieved (no pun intended) to get there anyway. She and Eve chatted about nothing, really, during the entire process, and then Claire kept on talking while Eve checked her makeup, which took a lot longer.

Finally, Eve met her eyes in the mirror and said, "You think your dad's going to be okay?" It was a direct question, an honest question, and Claire felt her breath catch in her throat for a second.

"I don't know," she said, just as honestly. "He's . . . he's been weak for a while. I hope this is just . . . something they can fix."

Eve nodded slowly. "Oliver said they could get the hell out of here. They should, Claire. They should go find one of those world-class heart places and never come back, like Michael's parents. Talk to your mom about it. Promise me."

"I will," Claire said, and sighed. "Thanks."

"For what?"

"For not just telling me everything's going to be all right."

Eve paused in the act of fixing her lipstick. "Are you kidding me? It's Morganville. Of course everything isn't going to be all right. We're lucky when something is all right." She finished the lipstick, made kissy lips at the mirror, and said, "Okay, ready."

As they left the bathroom, they saw Michael and Shane in the hallway, and Claire's mother, and a doctor in a white lab coat with his name embroidered over the pocket. Claire hurried to join them, and Eve joined just a few seconds later.

"Dad?" Claire blurted out. Her mother took her hand.

"Your father is alive," the doctor said. "He's got a serious issue with his heart, and I've already spoken with Oliver to tell him we don't feel we can give him the care he needs here. I'd like to transfer him to a facility in Dallas. They've got the best possible specialists and facilities to treat him there."

"But . . . is he going to be--"

The doctor--not one she was familiar with, from her various stays and visits here--was older, tall, with a long, mournful face and graying hair. He wasn't especially warm. "I can't give you a good estimate of his chances, Ms. Danvers. I can only say that they're worse if he stays here."

Claire's mom, who'd been taking it all in silently, said, "When are you transferring him?"

"Early morning. You're welcome to ride with him."

"I will. I have to . . . go home and pack some things. Claire--"

"Mom, if you want me to come with you . . ." Of course, Oliver hadn't said she could leave, but Claire wasn't in any mood to think about that.

"No, honey, it wouldn't be safe for you to try; we both know that. I'll let you know as soon as we arrive, and I'll call every day. As soon as we can, we'll be back here. All right?" Her mother kissed her forehead and smoothed her hair back. "Stay here. Stay safe, with your friends. He's stable right now, and I'll let you know if you need to come up and see him. There's no telling how long all this will take."

"Can I see him? Before you take him?" Claire asked the doctor. He nodded. "He's awake, but ten minutes only. Don't tire him out. He needs rest."

"Want me to . . . ?" Shane asked. Claire hesitated, but shook her head. She didn't think Shane would be especially restful for her dad, much as he meant well.

Her dad's room was quiet and very white, even though they'd tried to make it more cheerful with pictures on the walls. He was lying propped up on the bed, playing with a remote control, and he looked better. Not well, but better. "Hey, sweetheart. Sorry I gave you such a scare."

Claire laughed, but it tasted wrong in her mouth. "You're apologizing? Next thing, you'll be telling Mom you're sorry for messing up the carpet by falling on it."

He acknowledged that with a wry little twist of his mouth. "So, they're taking us to Dallas tomorrow. I hear they've told us we don't have to come back." Her dad always seemed to see too much, Claire thought. Like he could see right through her. "But you're going to stay here, aren't you?"

"I don't think they'll let me leave, Dad."

Her father took her hand. His fingers were warm and strong, and she was so glad to feel that, after holding his limp, cool hand when he was lying on the floor. "I want you out of here, Claire. I want you safe. I want you to get on with your life like you'd planned, go to MIT. It's my fault you came here at all, you know; your mother and I wanted you to stay close, and . . . this is what happened." He took in a deep breath. "You're meant for something better. That's what I was trying to tell you before. It's what I told Shane, too."

"You mean better than him," Claire said.

Her father looked away. "I know you think the world of him, but he's not the kind of boy who's right for you, sweetheart. I know he's got a good heart; I see it every time he looks at you. But he's going to hurt you in the end, because he's not the kind of boy who stays. I don't want to see that happen. And I don't want you to stay here for him and destroy your chances."

Claire raised her chin. "I'm not, Dad. If I stay, it's not about Shane." Well, it was, partly, but she wasn't going to say that now. "I wanted to go to MIT because that was where I was going to find people who could teach me different ways to think, and would understand me, and work with me. I found that here, in Morganville. Myrnin does that. And he's got so much more to teach me. He's brilliant, Dad. He's not like anybody else."


"Dad, you're supposed to rest." She put her head down, her chin on their clasped hands. "Please. I need you to rest, and I need you to get better. I can do this. I know what I'm doing now, and I know it's not what other people might think is right, or popular. But it's right for me. I can make a difference. I can't just run away. I want you and Mom out of here, and safe, and trust me, someday I'll do all that stuff you talked about."

He gazed at her for a long, long moment, and then sighed. "That's my stubborn girl," he said. "Come see me in Dallas. Promise."

"I promise," she said. It felt like good-bye, and she hated it, but she knew she couldn't leave Morganville now. Even if Amelie wigged out and let her go . . . she couldn't just leave.

The time was up sooner than she expected, but a nurse came in and stood there, clearly waiting to hustle her out. Claire stood up and kissed her dad. "I love you, Daddy. Please--"

"I heard you, you know," he said. "When you were talking to me, on the floor. You said, 'Don't leave me.' But I am leaving you, honey."

"No, you'll be one phone call away," she said. "That's not leaving. That's just . . . transposition." She kissed him again, and then the nurse's glare sent the message that her time was definitely, completely up.

She left the room feeling lighter, somehow; he'd looked better, and he'd sounded clear.

He was going to be okay. She could feel it, deep inside.

They were all waiting for her, all her friends. Her mom went in, after a silent hug and kiss, to sit with her dad.

Shane looked at her with those warm eyes that--like her dad's--saw maybe a little too deeply. "You okay?" he asked her quietly, as he took her hand.

"I'm okay," she said, and took a deep, trembling breath. "My parents are going to leave Morganville. That's what I wanted--to keep them safe." The euphoria she'd felt on leaving her dad's room was fading now, and she felt shaky again. "It's funny, but I didn't think . . . I didn't think I'd miss them at all if they left. Is that awful? But I will. As much as I wanted them to go . . . Maybe I should ask Amelie if I can go with them."

"You already know what she'll say. Look, if I thought you could leave, I'd be the first one stuffing you in the car and telling you to have a nice life," Shane said. "But I think we both know it's not that simple anymore."

Nothing was, Claire thought. How had the world gotten so complicated?