He went on driving. He didn't even pause. "We're almost home."

They were nearing the turn ontoMeadowcroft Road . Gillian tried to grab for one of the brown hands on

the steering wheel, and then looked at her own hand, perplexed. Her fingers felt like blocks of wood.

"You have to stop," she said, settling for volume. "There's a kid lost in those woods. That's why I went

in; I heard this sound like crying. It was coming from somewhere right near the creek. We've got to go

back there. Come on, stop!"

"Hey, hey, calm down," he said. "You know what I bet you heard? A long-eared owl. They roost

around here, and they make this noise like a moan, oo-oo-oo."

Gillian didn't think so. "I was walking home from school. It wasn't dark enough for an owl to be out."

"Okay, a mourning dove. Goes oh-ah, whoo, whoo. Or a cat; they can sound like kids sometimes.

Look," he added almost savagely, as she opened her mouth again, "when we get you home, we can call

the Houghton police, and they can check things out. But I am not letting a lit-a girl freeze just because

she's got more guts than smarts."

For a moment, Gillian had an intense longing to let him continue to believe she had either guts or smarts.

But she said, "It's not that. It's just- I've already been through so much to try to find that kid. I almost

died-I think I did die. I mean- well, I didn't die, but I got pretty cold, and-and things happened, and I

realized how important life is..." She floundered to a shivering stop. What was she saying? Now he

was going to think she was a nut case. And anyway all that stuff must have been a dream. She couldn't

make it seem real while sitting in a Mustang with her head wrapped in a towel.

But David flashed her a glance of startled recognition.

"You almost died?" He looked back at the road, turning the car ontoHazel Street , where they both

lived. "That happened to me once. When I was little, I had to have this operation-"

He broke off as the Mustang skidded on some

ice. In a moment he was in control again and turning into Gillian's driveway.

It happened to you, too?

David parked and was out of the car before Gillian could gather herself to speak.

Then he was opening her door, reaching for her.

"Gotta get all this ridiculous stuff out of the way," he said, pushing her hair back as if it were a curtain of

cobwebs. Something about the way he said it made Gillian think he liked her hair.

She peered up at him through a gap in the curtain. His eyes were dark brown and normally looked

almost hawkish, but just now, as their gazes met, they changed. They looked startled and wondering. As

if he saw something in her eyes that surprised him and struck a chord.

Gillian felt a flutter of wonder herself. I don't think he's really tough at all, she thought, as something like a

spark seemed to flash between them. He's not so different from me; he's-

She was wracked by a sudden bout of shivers.

David blinked and shook his head. "We've got to get you inside," he muttered.

And then, still shivering, she was in the air. Bobbing, being carried up the path to her house.

"You shouldn't be walking to school in the winter," David said. "I'll drive you from now on."

Gillian was struck speechless. On the one hand, she should probably tell him she didn't walk every day.

On the other hand, who was she kidding?

Just the thought of him giving her a ride was enough to make her heart beat wildly.

Between that and the novel feeling of being carried, it wasn't until he was opening the front door that

Gillian remembered her mother.

Then she panicked.

Oh, God, I can't let David see her-but maybe it'll be all right.

If there was a smell of food cooking, that meant it was okay. If not, it was one of Mom's bad days.

There was no smell of food as David stepped into the dim hallway. And no sign of life-all the downstairs

lights were off. The house was cold and echoing and Gillian knew she had to get David out.

But how? He was carrying her farther in, asking, "Your parents aren't home?"

"I guess not. Dad doesn't get home until seven most nights." It wasn't exactly a lie. Gillian just prayed her

mom would stay put in the bedroom until David left.

"I'll be okay now," she said hastily, not even caring if she sounded rude or ungrateful. Anything to make

him go. "I can take care of myself, and- and I'm okay."

"The he ... eck you are," David said. It was the longest drawn out 'heck' Gillian had ever heard.

He doesn't want to swear around me. That's cute.

"You need to get thawed out, fast. Where's a bathtub?"

Gillian automatically lifted a stiff arm to point down the side hall, then dropped it. "Now, wait a minute-"

He was already there. He put her on her feet, then disappeared into the bathroom to turn on the water.

Gillian cast an anguished glance upstairs. Just stay put, Mom. Stay asleep.

"You've got to get in there and stay for at least twenty minutes," David said, reappearing. "Then we can

see if you need to go to the hospital at Houghton."

That made Gillian remember something. "The police-"

"Yeah, right, I'll call them. As soon as you're in the tub." He reached out and plucked at her dripping,

ice-crusted sweater. "Can you get this off okay? Do your fingers work?"

"Urn..." Her fingers didn't work; they were still blocks of wood. Frost-nipped at least, she thought,

peering at them. But there was no way he was going to undress her, and there was also no way she was

going to call her mother. "Urn..."

"Uh, turn around," David said. He pulled at her sweater again. "Okay, I've got my eyes shut. Now-"

"No," Gillian said, holding her elbows firmly against her sides.

They stood, confused and indecisive, until they were saved by an interruption, a voice from the main


"What are you doing to her?" the voice said.

Gillian turned and looked around David. It was Tanya Jun, David's girlfriend.

Tanya was wearing a velveteen cap perched on her glossy dark hair and a Christmas sweater with

metallic threads woven in. She had almond-shaped gray eyes and a mouth with firm lips molded over

white teeth. Gillian always thought of her as a future corporate executive.

"I saw your car out there," the future executive said to David, "and the front door of the house was

open." She looked level-headed, suspicious, and a little bit as if she doubted David's sanity. David

looked back and forth between her and Gillian and fumbled for an explanation.

"There's nothing going on. I picked her up onHillcrest Road . She was-well, look at her. She fell in the

creek and she's frozen."

"I see," Tanya said, still calmly. She gave Gillian a quick assessing glance, then turned back to David.

"She doesn't look too bad. You go to the kitchen and make some hot chocolate. Or hot water with

Jell-O in it, something with sugar. I'll take care of her."

"And the police," Gillian called after David's disappearing back. She didn't exactly want to look Tanya in

the face.

Tanya was a senior like David, in the class ahead of Gillian atRachelCarsonHigh School . Gillian feared

her, admired her, and hated her, in about that order.

"Into the bathroom," Tanya said. Once Gillian was in, she helped her undress, stripping off the clinging,

icy-wet clothes and dropping them in the sink. Everything she did was brisk and efficient, and Gillian

could almost see sparks fly from her fingers.

Gillian was too miserable to protest at being stripped naked by somebody with the bedside manner of a

female prison guard or an extremely strict nanny. She huddled, feeling small and shivering in her bare

skin, and then lunged for the tub as soon as Tanya was done.

The water felt scalding. Gillian could feel her eyes get huge and she clenched her teeth on a yell. It

probably felt so hot because she was so cold. Breathing through her nose, she forced herself to submerge

to the shoulders.

"All right," Tanya said on the other side of the coral-colored shower curtain. "I'll go up and get you some

dry clothes to put on."

"No!" Gillian said, shooting half out of the water. Not upstairs, not where her mom was, not where her

room was.

But the bathroom door was already shutting with a decisive dick. Tanya wasn't the kind of person you

said no to.

Gillian sat, immobilized by panic and horror, until a fountain of burning pain drove everything else out of

her mind.

It started in her fingers and toes and shot upward, a white-hot searing that meant her frozen flesh was

coming back to life. All she could do was

sit rigid, breathe raggedly through her nose, and try to endure it.

And eventually, it did get better. Her white, wrinkled skin turned dark blue, and then mottled, and then

red. The searing subsided to a tingling. Gillian could move and think again.

She could hear, too. There were voices outside the bathroom in the hallway. The door didn't even muffle


Tanya's voice: "Here, I'll hold it. I'll take it to her in a minute." In a mutter: "I'm not sure she can drink

and float at the same time."

David's voice: "Come on, give her a break. She's just a kid."

"Oh, really? Just how old do you think she is?"

"Huh? I don't know. Maybe thirteen?"

An explosive snort from Tanya.

"Fourteen? Twelve?"

"David, she goes to our school. She's a junior."

"Really?" David sounded startled and bewildered. "Nah, I think she goes to P.B."

Pearl S. Buck was the junior high. Gillian sat staring at the bathtub faucet without seeing it.

"She's in our biology class," Tanya's voice said, edging toward open impatience. "She sits at the back

and never opens her mouth." The voice added, "I can see why you thought she was younger, though. Her

bedroom's knee-deep in stuffed animals. And the wallpaper's little flowers. And look at these pajamas.

Little bears."

Gillian's insides felt hotter than her fingers had

been at their most painful. Tanya had seen her room, which was the same as it had been since Gillian

was ten years old, because there wasn't money for new curtains and wallpaper and there wasn't any

more storage space in the garage to put her beloved animals away. Tanya was making fun of her

pajamas. In front of David.

And David... thought she was a little kid. That was why he'd offered to drive her to school. He'd

meant the junior high. He'd been nice because he felt sorry for her.

Two tears squeezed out of Gillian's eyes. She was trembling inside, boiling with anger and hurt and



It was a sound as loud as a rifle report, but high and crystalline-and drawn out. Something between a

crash and a crunch and the sound of glass splintering under boots.

Gillian jumped as if she'd been shot, sat frozen a moment, then pulled the moisture-beaded shower

curtain aside and poked her head out.

At the same instant the bathroom door flew open.

"What was that?" Tanya said sharply.

Gillian shook her head. She wanted to say, "You tell me," but she was too frightened of Tanya.

Tanya looked around the bathroom, spied the steamed-up mirror, and frowned. She reached across the

sink to wipe it with her hand-and yelped.

"Ow!" She cursed, staring at her hand. Gillian could see the brightness of blood.

"What the-?" Tanya picked up a washcloth and swiped the mirror. She did it again. She stepped back

and stared.

From the tub, Gillian was staring, too.

The mirror was broken. Or, not broken, cracked. But it wasn't cracked as if something had hit it. There

was no point of impact, with lines of shattering running out.

Instead, it was cracked evenly from top to bottom, side to side. Every inch was covered with a lattice of

fine lines. It almost looked purposeful, as if it were a frosted-glass design.

"David! Get in here!" Tanya said, ignoring Gillian. After a moment the door stirred and Gillian had a

steamy distorted glimpse of David's face in the mirror.

"Do you see this? How can something like this happen?" Tanya was saying.

David grimaced and shrugged. "Heat? Cold? I don't know." He glanced hesitantly in Gillian's direction,

just long enough to locate her face surrounded by the coral shower curtain.

"You okay?" he said, addressing himself to a white towel rack on the far wall.

Gillian couldn't say anything. Her throat was too tight and tears were welling up again. But when Tanya

looked at her, she nodded.

"All right, forget it. Let's get you changed."

Tanya turned away from the mirror. David melted back out of the bathroom.

"Make sure her fingers and everything are working all right," he said distantly.

"I'm fine," Gillian said when she was alone with Tanya. "Everything's fine." She wiggled her fingers, which

were tender but functioning. All she cared about right now was getting Tanya to go away. "I can dress


Please don't let me cry in front of her.

She retreated behind the shower curtain again and made a splashing noise. "You guys can leave now."

Half a sigh from Tanya, who was undoubtedly thinking Gillian was ungrateful. "All right," she said. "Your

clothes and your chocolate are right here. Is there somebody you want me to call-?"

"No! My parents-my dad will be here any minute. I'm fine." Then she shut her eyes and counted, breath


And, blessedly, there were the sounds of Tanya moving away. Both Tanya and David calling goodbyes.

Then silence.

Stiffly, Gillian pulled herself upright, almost falling down when she tried to step out of the bathtub.

She put on her pajamas and walked slowly out of the bathroom, moving like an old woman. She didn't

even glance at the broken mirror.

She tried to be quiet going up the stairs. But

just as she reached her bedroom, the door at the end of the upstairs hall swung open.

Her mother was standing there, a long coat wrapped around her, fuzzy fleece-lined slippers on her feet.

Her hair, a darker blond than Gillian's, was uncombed.

"What's going on? I heard noise. Where's your father?"

Not "Whass goin' on? Whersh your father?" But dose.

"It's not even seven yet, Mom. I got wet coming home. I'm going to bed." The bare minimum of

sentences to communicate the necessary information.

Her mother frowned. "Honey-"

" 'Night, Mom."

Gillian hurried into her bedroom before her mother could ask any more questions.

She fell on her bed and gathered an armful of stuffed animals in the bend of her elbow. They were solid

and friendly and filled her arm. Gillian curled herself around them and bit down on plush.

And now, at last, she could cry. All the hurts of her mind and body merged and she sobbed out loud,

wet cheek on the velveteen head of her best bear.

She wished she'd never come back. She wanted the bright meadow with the impossibly green grass,

even if it had been a dream. She wanted everyone to be sorry because she was dead.

All her realizations about life being important

were nonsense. Life was a giant hoax. She couldn't change herself and live in a completely new

direction. There was no new start. No hope.

And I don't care, she thought. I just want to die. Oh, why did I get made if it was just for this? There's

got to be someplace I belong, something I'm meant to do that's different. Because I don't fit in this world,

in this life. And if there isn't something more, I'd rather be dead. I want to dream something else.

She cried until she was numb and exhausted and fell into a deadly still sleep without knowing it.

When she woke up hours later, there was a strange light in her room.

readonlinefreebook.com Copyright 2016 - 2023