Kylie stood on the edge of the path, ignoring Della and Miranda as they argued over who was going into the woods with her and who was staying at the path. Little did they know, neither of them were going.

She couldn't put them in danger. Even if there weren't any danger, if Burnett found out, he'd give them hell. And hell from Burnett felt pretty dangerous. Somehow Kylie was going to have to figure out how to sneak away and do this on her own.

Besides, she wasn't even sure her grandfather and aunt were still there. Maybe moving into the woods would tell her, but not now. Still, she closed her eyes and listened with her heart. When she didn't feel even the slightest yearning to enter, she spoke in her mind.

Are you still out there?

"I'm here."

The words sounded at the same time as Kylie felt the cold. Not recognizing the voice, she snapped her eyes open. Standing in front of her was a blond woman, early twenties, wearing a diner uniform with a tag on it that read CARA M. Kylie's heart thudded faster when she realized this was one of the girls from the vision, the vision of being buried with Holiday's sister.

Letting go of a sigh, Kylie's breath turned to cold vapor.

"Damn!" said Della.

"Damn what?" asked Miranda.

"Kylie's got company," Della said. "White misty shit always snakes up from her lips when she's chatting with the dead."

"Oh!" Miranda took a step back and stared at Kylie. "Man, her aura is doing some crazy stuff again. This is so damn freaky. I'm so glad I'm not her."

Trying to shut out Della and Miranda, Kylie focused on Cara M. Kylie recalled Derek asking her to describe the uniform so she studied it for details. She snapped a picture of it in her mind-the V neckline, the checkered pattern around the bottom of the skirt-so she could describe it to him later. But why not just ask?

"Where did you work?" Kylie asked.

"I worked at my aunt's voodoo shop," Miranda answered. "Crazy crap happened there."

"She's not talking to you," Della snapped.

"Sorry." Miranda shrugged. "This is so freaky."

"Do you know the name of the diner?" Kylie continued to stare at the spirit.

"I ... don't know," Cara M. answered. "But can you please get us out of there?"

Kylie frowned. "I want to, but I need to know where you are."

"But you do know. The other girl took you there. Don't you remember?"

How could she forget? "I saw you guys and you were under a building of some sort, like a wood floor, but I don't know where that is. What town are you in? Is there an address? Is it close to here?"

"Yes, it's close. It didn't take much time at all to get here."

Kylie considered what she said and asked, "But how did you get here? I mean ... did you walk or ... come spiritually?" Kylie hadn't considered how spirits traveled and she realized how little she knew about the whole ghost-whispering thing.

"I don't know," the spirit answered. "But I can take you back there if you'd like."

"No," Kylie blurted out. The thought of being trapped in the grave again was too much. She took a deep breath and remembered to talk mentally. Can you tell Hannah I need to see her?

"Who's Hannah?"

One of the girls with you. The one with red hair. Kylie could feel Miranda and Della staring and she purposefully turned her back so she wouldn't be disturbed.

"So her name is Hannah? How do you know her name? She's not wearing a name tag." The spirit glanced down at the name tag attached to her uniform. "Do you know my name? They call me Cara M., but I don't remember being her. My life is like a vague picture book I once looked at and I can recall flashes of the images on the pages, but they never turn slow enough for me to recognize anything."

That's not uncommon after death, Kylie assured her, remembering Holiday saying that the more dramatic the death, the less the spirit remembered. The thought of what these girls possibly went through sent real pain skipping through Kylie's limbs. Her heart clutched with the need to help them. To do whatever they needed to help them move on.

"Will I ever remember?" Cara M asked.

The spirit's question came with such sadness that the emotion swelled in Kylie's heart. I'm not an expert, but from what I've seen, things usually come to you. Spirits generally hang around for a reason and once that's taken care of, they remember things, and then pass over.

Cara appeared to consider Kylie's words and nodded. "I think the reason is so we can get our own graves. I've never liked roommates. And it's really cramped in that grave."

Unfortunately, Kylie could remember just how cramped it was. She shivered, feeling her shoulders pressing against the dead girls' bodies on each side. Pushing the thought aside, Kylie concentrated on the conversation and not the horror of what had happened.

I'm trying to get you guys out. But something told Kylie that while Cara M.'s only need might be to escape the makeshift grave, Hannah wanted something much more. But hopefully while solving Hannah's problem Kylie would help out all three of them.

Cara M. stood there as if deep in thought. "Is it nice where I'll cross over to?"

Kylie debated what to say, then went with the truth. I've never seen it, but I think so.

The spirit looked around, then slowly floated up a good six or seven feet. She hung in the air, causing a big swirl of fog to appear around her, reminding Kylie of a scary movie. After a few seconds, she glanced down at Kylie with eyes that seemed lost, hurt. "It's nice here, too." She floated back down to the ground.

"I think I recognize this place. Are we close to that place with the dinosaur bones?"

Hope stirred in Kylie's tight chest. So you know about this place? Did you live near here?

"I ... think so. I see an image of swimming in a lake. There was a lot of laughter there. It must have been fun."

Yes, there's a lake. Can you see anything more? Where you worked? What town?

The spirit frowned. "I can't." Darker shadows started appearing beneath her eyes. Shadows that made her look sadder and somehow deader. "Please get us out of there." She started to fade.

Wait. Can you tell Hannah I need to see her?

"I can, but I don't know if she'll come. She's upset."

At what? Was Hannah's memory returning, too? The cold began to ebb away.

The ghost completely vanished and the Texas heat replaced the chill, leaving Kylie with even more questions than before.

"Is the ghost gone?" Miranda asked.

"Yes," Kylie sighed.

"Are we going in?" Miranda asked.

"Where?" Kylie asked, confused.

"The woods. Duh."

"Oh, no," Kylie said.

"Thank Gawd!" Della muttered, and all three of them started walking to the cabin. Kylie looked back one more time and wondered if she'd ever find all the answers she needed. In a way, her life was as much of a mystery as a ghost.

They had one hour before they had to be back at the dining hall for the welcoming reception. While still walking, Della and Miranda jabbered about getting ready for the reception. No doubt Della wanted to spruce up to impress both Chris and Steve. Miranda wanted to wow Perry.

Kylie tried to get into the spruce-up mood with them, but her enthusiasm came up short. Lucas wouldn't even be there, so who would she be trying to impress? A vision of Derek popped into her head and she pushed it back and felt guilty for even thinking it.

Trying not to think about Derek reminded Kylie that she'd told him she'd e-mail him the description of the diner uniform. As Kylie moved to the computer, her mind raced with the details she'd collected about what Cara M. had been wearing.

Kylie opened her web account and saw a whole buttload of e-mails: a few from her mom, a couple from her dad, one from Sara, and some spam, and then a few from accounts she didn't recognize.

Ignoring her incoming mail, she clicked on the button to send a new e-mail, typed in Derek's name, and then started typing the description of the waitress uniform. She recalled all the things she'd learned about Cara M. and found herself wishing she had someone to talk to about them. Then again, she did have someone-the person she was e-mailing. Derek.

Miranda and Della's laughter spilled out of Della's bedroom. Why did hearing them laugh make her feel lonely?

The answer bubbled to the top of her mind. Because they were giddy with the idea of romance, of getting all dolled up to impress guys. Right now, the idea of romance left Kylie feeling befuddled. It felt like Lucas was pulling away and somehow Derek was sneaking closer. And nothing felt right.

But she still felt lonely.

Remembering the e-mail from her mom, Kylie picked up the phone and dialed her number. The phone rang four times before her mom answered.

"Hi, Mom," Kylie said.

"Hey, sweetie," her mom answered, and the sound of her voice had Kylie feeling homesick. "Is everything okay?" her mom asked.

"It's fine. Why do you always assume when I call you that something is wrong?"

"I don't always assume that. Only sometimes. And this is one of those times. I must be psychic. So stop pretending and tell me what's up."

Heck. Maybe her mom was a supernatural.

"Nothing," Kylie said. "I just got an e-mail from you and thought I'd call you. You are always saying I don't call enough."

"True." Her mom paused. "What's the matter, sweetie?"

Giving in because lying sure as hell didn't seem to work, Kylie answered, "Just a bad day."

"You know if you change your mind about staying there for the school year, and want to come home, I could get you enrolled back in school here and-"

"I'm not going to change my mind, Mom. I love it here." I belong here. "I'm allowed to have a bad day, right?"

"Yes, just like I'm allowed to worry about you when you have a bad day."

"Well, don't worry too much." There was a sudden background noise on the line.

"Where are you?" Kylie asked.

"Out to an early dinner."

"Alone?" Kylie asked, hoping her mom wasn't out with Smarmy John, who wanted to drag her mom off to England and get her naked and between the sheets.

As soon as the thought came, Kylie tried to push it away.

"Uh, no." Her mom's answer came out sounding guilty. "Not alone."

"With John?" Kylie attempted to keep her disappointment from her voice, but didn't think she was successful.

The silence lingered a few seconds on the line.

"It's a yes or no answer, Mom. It shouldn't take you that long to reply." Kylie realized she sounded just like her mom, too. But damn, she was certain her mom had used the exact line on her at one time or another.

"Uh ... yes," her mom's reply came out.

Kylie closed her eyes. As if her brain were on automatic pilot, the question slipped out. "You're not having sex with him, are you?" And even before the last word of the inquiry left her lips, she knew she was going to regret it.

Oh, yeah, regret times ten. Kylie felt her face turn red.

Her mom's breath caught and she started coughing. "Uh..." More hacking.

"Hello, Kylie." A male voice came on the line. "I think your mom choked on her wine."

Wine? Her mom was drinking wine at three in the afternoon? Was he planning on getting her drunk and having his way with her?

"Kylie? You there?"

"Yeah." Kylie heard her mom telling John to give her the phone back. Kylie imagined her mom panicking thinking Kylie might ask John if they were having sex. Not that she would. The fact that she asked her mom was probably going on her most embarrassing moments list.

"Kylie?" Her mom must have snagged the phone back. "We ... should talk later." Her voice came out squeaky, like a cartoon.

"Yeah. Later." Kylie disconnected and stared at the phone.

Okay, lesson learned. Her mom not only couldn't say the word sex, she obviously couldn't hear it, either. Did that mean her mom couldn't have sex? Gawd, Kylie hoped so. Lesson number two. Talking about sex with her mom made her queasy. Could she possibly suffer from the same affliction as her mom?

Resting her phone by the computer, pushing thoughts of her mom having sex from her mind, Kylie refocused on the computer and tried not to listen to her roommates giggling about something-probably something to do with sex, too. Moaning, she dropped her head down on the table, feeling the blood rushing to her cheeks, hoping the coolness of the wood would chase away the heat.

Her phone, placed beside the computer, chimed with an incoming text. Sitting up, she picked it up to get the message. Her heart did a little jolt when she saw it was from Derek.

His message read: You ok? What's happening?

Kylie closed her eyes. Could he sense everything she was feeling now? She dropped her head back on the table again, so hard she probably bruised her forehead. She took a few deep breaths and then sat up and started texting him back.

Fine. E-mailing you the description of the diner uniform now. U going to the reception?

She held her breath and waited to see if he'd answer.

I'll be there. U?

Oh goodness, did he think the question was like an invitation to hang out?

Was it an invitation to hang out?

Yes. Bye. Guilt set in. But at least the guilt replaced the embarrassment of asking her mom if she was having sex.

Kylie stared down at her phone. Why did texting Derek feel wrong? She shouldn't feel that way. They were just ... friends. Heck, Fredericka was with Lucas five times more than Kylie was with Lucas. Ten times more than Kylie was with Derek. And Fredericka and Lucas had been lovers.

Trying to shake off the feeling, she finished the e-mail and hit send.

"Kylie?" Miranda called from the doorway of Della's bedroom. "Did you do it?"

Kylie looked over her shoulder and attempted to focus on Miranda's cheery voice. Frankly, she could use some cheer. Lately, it seemed she'd done nothing but chew on her problems. "Do what?" she asked a smiling Miranda.

"Stuff your bra. Did you do it?" the witch asked.

Kylie bit down on her lip and grinned as the memory filled her head. "Sara talked me into doing it in sixth grade, but I chickened out and hid behind a dumpster and got rid of the tissue before we got to school. She was livid when she saw me and she had super boobs and I didn't."

Miranda chuckled and Kylie could hear Della inside the room laughing as well.

Miranda gazed down at her chest. "I admitted that I did it for a while before I got them for real. But Della swears she never did it, but I can tell she's lying."

"I'm not lying," Della countered, popping out of her room. "Truth is, I might have done it if I hadn't seen Tillie McCoy bump into the locker with her size Cs and then walk down the hall with a square boob without realizing she'd smashed her boob stuffing." Della held her hand out in front of her chest. "Seriously, she had one boob out to here and one squared off to here. Crazy thing was, the guys still couldn't take their eyes off them. I don't think they cared one was square."

Kylie chuckled but what she really felt was embarrassment for a girl named Tillie whom she'd never met. "That would be awful."

"It was," Della said. "I think tissue sales dropped in town due to it, too. Seriously, the next day, all the girls in seventh grade had lost a couple of cup sizes and the boys were depressed for a month. That day I decided that being a member of the itty bitty titty committee wasn't the worst thing."

They all laughed again.

"You know boys stuff, too," Miranda said.

"Stuff what?" Kylie asked.

Della pointed to her pelvic area.

"Seriously?" Kylie asked.

"Seriously," Della and Miranda said in unison.

"They use socks," Della added.

"Socks? Why?" Kylie asked. "It's not as if we ... check down there."

"They think we do," Della said. "Face it, guys have sex on the brain. Girls have romance on the brain."

"Sometimes I have sex on the brain," Miranda admitted. "Well, I mean, I think about it. Does that make me a slut?"

They laughed harder, Miranda included. Then Kylie shook her head, still trying not to imagine a guy with a sock in his pants. "We all think about it, but ... that is just so ... crazy!"

Della frowned at Miranda and pressed her hands on her temples as if she'd suddenly gotten a migraine. "Damn! Why did you have to bring up the sock thing? Now I'm going to be tempted to look at all the guys' zippers tonight to check for sock bulges."

"You're right." Miranda giggled. "It's like an accident on the side of the road. You don't want to look, but your eyes go there anyway." She hit the bottom of her chin with the back of her hand and tilted her head back. "We'll just have to keep our chins and eyes above the waist the whole time. Whatever we do, no bulge checks."

They all laughed even harder.

Best of all, the laughter reached down into Kylie's heart and eased her feeling of impending doom. And for that, she was grateful.

The dining hall smelled like cupcakes, which Holiday had the kitchen staff fix for the event. A group of campers hung out over by the appetizers, probably saying hello to the new teachers and a few of the new campers who'd come on board at Shadow Falls. Kylie had spotted one or two new faces the last few days, but hadn't actually met any of them yet. She had to face it; she didn't excel at meeting new people. But considering the first school year at Shadow Falls started next week, she'd have to meet them soon enough.

Standing beside Miranda, Kylie realized the place wasn't as crowded as she'd expected it to be. Probably because the reception wasn't mandatory. Nevertheless, over half the campers were present. Then Kylie noted that none of the weres were here. They'd obviously gone off to do their own thing. Again.

Another sweep of the room told Kylie that Derek hadn't arrived yet, either. She wondered if he was still doing Internet searches to see if he could find a diner in the area that Cara M. might have worked at before she'd been killed. The fact that he was helping her with a ghost issue filled her chest with something warm and scary. Scary because she couldn't exactly define the warmth. They were just friends, she told herself again. And she found it harder to believe each time she said it, too.

Helen waved at Kylie from across the room. She had her arm around Jonathon. Kylie admired the relationship the two of them had found with each other. It was sweet and romantic. Kylie grinned and waved back. In spite of knowing her problems were still here, she felt ... lighter, and the grin felt real, too.

Amazing how a little girlfriend-laughing time could raise your spirits. Though she did have to struggle not to look at guys below the belt to see if she detected any sock wearers. And just thinking about it made Kylie want to giggle. Unfortunately, Miranda spotted Kylie's stifled smile and, as if guessing what had caused it, the witch snorted with laughter. Then meeting Kylie's gaze, she pressed her hand under her chin and mouthed the words chin up.

Della, across the room, let out another laugh.

"What's so funny?" Burnett walked up beside Miranda.

"Nothing," Kylie said, then feared Miranda would tell him the truth. Miranda was good at blurting out the wrong thing at the wrong times.

Meeting Burnett's gaze, Kylie recalled he could detect a lie, so she quickly added, "Nothing I can share without..."

"Blushing?" he asked, looking from her face to Miranda, who glowed an embarrassed pink. The color almost matched her hair.

Afraid Burnett would want more of an explanation, Kylie added, "It's girl talk."

He held up a hand. "You don't have to explain. I really don't speak girl talk and every time I tried to learn it, I regretted it." He almost smiled and his expression softened with what looked like concern when he met Kylie's eyes. "Sorry I didn't make it back in time to go to the falls."

"It's okay," Kylie answered, and then, call her paranoid, but she asked, "The thing you had to do at the FRU, it didn't have anything to do with me, did it?"

"No," he assured her, sounding honest.

She nodded and then she went for a second question, although she was pretty certain she knew the answer. "No word from my grandfather?"

He shook his head. "I'm sorry." He sighed. "With all the things that have happened lately, I'm glad you're keeping your chin up."

Chin up. The words ran around Kylie's head. Miranda snorted another bit of laughter and faced the opposite direction. Kylie had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing. Then Della's chuckle sounded from across the room.

Wrinkling his brow, Burnett looked over at Della, who fell quickly back into vampire mode and wiped all signs of humor from her face. Burnett shook his head and focused on Kylie again. "If you can stop giggling, the new teachers are all eager to meet you."

"Me?" Kylie asked, his comment chasing the grin off her face. She shifted her gaze to the side of the room where the teachers congregated. They were indeed staring at her.

"Why would they want to meet me?" Kylie's I-don't-like-to-be-singled-out phobia reared its ugly head.

"They've heard about you," Burnett said as if it was obvious.

Kylie could only imagine what some of the campers had told them. Then an even worse thought hit. "Heard about me from whom? You mean, since they've been here, right? Right?"

Burnett looked uncomfortable with the questions. He glanced around, almost as if searching for an out, or perhaps searching for Holiday to answer the questions for him. When he didn't spot her, he looked back at Kylie. "I ... Well ... news spreads. People talk."

"People? You mean people outside of the camp? People outside of Shadow Falls are talking about me?"

He looked put on the spot, but he nodded. "Just the supernaturals."

Just the supernaturals? "So, the whole supernatural world knows about me?" The thought made Kylie want to find a hole to climb into. It was bad enough knowing the campers were always on "Kylie alert," waiting to see what her wacky brain pattern was going to do next, but to think she was the subject being discussed everywhere made her supernatural butt extremely uncomfortable.

"Perhaps not the whole supernatural world," he said as if trying to console her, and then hesitated as if reconsidering the wisdom of his answer. "I mean, I couldn't say if everyone-"

"Oh, it probably is everyone," Miranda said. "My mom said they were talking about you at Witch Council last week in Italy. And they didn't even know you were a witch then. You can imagine how they are talking now."

Kylie didn't want to imagine. Her chest suddenly felt hollow. "They were talking about me in Italy? You didn't tell me that." She bit down on her lip. "I'm such a freak that-"

"That's why I didn't tell you," Miranda said. "I knew you'd get all weird about it. And you're not a freak," she added. "You're a protector. And being a protector is huge. Very newsworthy like a natural disaster. Not that you're a disaster. I mean, like good news."

Nothing about this felt good. It felt more like a disaster. Not even a natural one.

"Word of a protector would be something people would talk about. But Miranda's right, it's not a bad thing." Burnett looked at Kylie and obviously read her erratic heartbeat and motioned to the crowd of teachers. "They just want to say hello. Not interrogate you."

Say hello to the camp's natural disaster, aka the freak. Kylie's heart raced.

"It's not a big deal," Burnett said.

Right. Only it felt like a big deal to her. Especially when she looked up and noted all three of the teachers gawking at her. Two were even twitching their brows, checking out her pattern-and their actions had encouraged several of the campers to do the same. She could almost hear the roar of thoughts. Hey, anyone want a good laugh? Check out Kylie's brain pattern again.

She heard someone say something about her still being a witch. Kylie supposed she should feel happy she had a pattern to check out-instead of one of those screwball shifting patterns that really freaked people out. But even knowing that didn't make her anxiety subside. She hated being in the spotlight.

Burnett, looking baffled at Kylie's emotional dilemma, leaned closer and whispered, "If you really don't want to meet them-"

"No, I ... I'll do it." It was crazy not to. And she felt like an idiot for letting her insecurities be known. It wasn't that she completely hated meeting people, she just hated meeting people who already had a preconceived notion about her. And she sure as hell didn't like knowing that people in Italy were talking about her. Probably in Italian, and she couldn't even understand it.

Stiffening her backbone, she plastered a smile on her face, hoping to appear less like a freak than they considered her to be. It was, however, the same fake smile she wore when her mom took her someplace she didn't want to go-like to one of those mother/daughter days at work, or to one of those stuffy volunteer luncheons. What was it that her mom had said about that smile? Oh yeah: You look like you just swallowed a mosquito.

Yup, she was going to look like a freak, all right. Copyright 2016 - 2024