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
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