Page 16

Beth and Kim watched me with concern as I waved them away and walked to class. It was on the top floor, and the decision to take the stairs was regretful by the second flight. My body felt ten years older. Two or three hours of sleep a night had begun to wear on my muscles, my train of thought, and my patience.

My reflection in a trophy case in the hal way caught my eye, and I stood there, amazed. The purplish circles had deepened under my eyes, and my skin was too tired to stay in place. The corners of my mouth hung lazily, and the light in my eyes was gone.

Class was just a few steps away, but my body felt too drained to make the trip. I leaned against the wal . The professor had already begun class, and I listened as intently as I could from the hal way. His words blurred together as he went over the last week’s test, and then lectured for what seemed like an eternity. The reading assignment was discussed in brief before class let out early.

Even as the other students passed, I let the wal support my weight. The walk to campus from the coffee shop, coupled with the energy I’d exerted taking the stairs, had taken everything out of me. Standing upright was the only thing I was capable of.

After watching the last of my classmates leave for other venues, I focused on the elevator. It was half way down the hal , but would take less effort than taking the stairs. I took a deep breath and pushed myself away from the wal . My feet felt like they had been soaking in cement, and towing fifty- pound blocks with each step. My knees began to wobble, and I could feel beads of sweat form on my forehead. Stopping to rest was not an option.

If I paused for even a moment, I would have passed out in the hal way.

Final y reaching the elevator, I pushed the button and took a deep, ragged breath. Even breathing took effort. The door opened, and Jared stood before me.

Knowing better than to pretend everything was normal, I reached for his arm and let him support my weight as I took the few steps to stand next to him.

“Nina,” he said quietly into my ear, “I think it’s time—,”

“I know,” I said. “We have to find someone.”

He walked with me for a while, but once we were in the parking lot, my legs gave way. Jared lifted me into his arms, and carried me the remaining distance to the Escalade. My eyes shut and would not open.

I didn’t wake when Jared carried me inside the loft, nor did I feel the mattress beneath me when he lowered me into it and covered me with blankets. It wasn’t until the sun broke through the blinds that I realized I had been tucked in and slept sixteen hours straight.

“Jared?” I call ed, my voice raspy.

“Nope, it’s just me,” Bex said. He sat on the bed, seeming vexed.

“What wrong? And where’s Jared?”

“He’s been gone since yesterday evening. He caught a break.”

“What’s with the face?”

“You slept.”

“Isn’t that a good thing?” I asked, sitting up against the headboard.

“Not for Jared. This makes the third time you’ve slept solid when he’s been gone al night. Can’t be a coincidence.”

I laughed once. “Are you saying he’s causing the dreams?”

“I’m saying it’s a possibility the dreams go away when he’s not around.”

“That’s ridiculous,” I sneered.

“I’m probably right,” Bex said, his teenage confidence overriding his usual politeness. In that moment, he was more Claire than Jared. “And Jared’s going to take it hard.”

“No he’s not, because you’re not going to tel him,” I said firmly.

“Nina…I have to tel him, you know that.”

“My sleep was interrupted by my annoying, incessant screaming at three-eleven A.M. just like every other morning. That’s the story.”

“You don’t think He’ll know?”

“He’s been distracted. It could work.”

“It won’t.”

“Bex! At least try!”

Bex stood up and crossed his arms. “He’ll know, and then he won’t trust me ever again because I helped you lie to him. Do you know how imperative it is that we trust each other? You real y have gone crazy.”

He walked down the stairs in a huff, and I blew my bangs from my face, aggravated. Even in his disgust, Bex began making breakfast, and after a shower I joined him at the table.

“Something came for you yesterday,” Bex said, tossing an envelope on the table.

It was from Ryan.

I tore it open and scanned it over for signs of sadness or danger, and then I reread his words more slowly. I went over them again in disbelief.

“What?” Bex asked.

“He’s been accepted into the Special Forces.”

Bex laughed. “Are you serious? That little butt nugget?”

“It’s not funny, Bex! This is…did you know? Has Claire call ed?”

“No and no,” Bex said matter-of-factly.

“Did Jared say anything?” I said, grabbing for my cel .

“Nina,” Bex said, holding my wrists gently, “I’m sure it’s a miscommunication. Ryan hasn’t been in the Army long enough to get into the Special Forces. That’s unheard of. I don’t see him cutting it, anyway. If my sister can incapacitate him, I’m guessing he’s a big weenie.”

“Claire is a Hybrid, Bex! That’s an unfair basis for comparison and you know it.”

Bex giggled. The little boy in him was showing. “You’re much more fun when you’ve had some sleep. I can’t pass up a chance to give you a hard time when you’re coherent.”

“Not a good time, Bex,” I said, staring at my plate. The one day I could have eaten, and Ryan’s letter eliminated any appetite I might have had.

“You real y think it’s a mistake?”

“Yeah,” Bex said. “No way could that happen. It would take at least three years for someone like education, no connections.”

Jared opened the door with an apologetic smile. “Hi, Baby.”

“Not even a note?” I asked, wadding up the letter in my hand and tossing it in his general direction.

He playful y ducked, as if it were possible that I could have hit him. “Bex was here. What’s up? I’m three blocks away, and I’m getting al this irritation from you.”