It was David, of course.

Gillian turned around and stared at him, blinking. He was standing just inside the doorway, his jacket

slung over one shoulder, the other hand in his pocket. His jaw was tight, his eyes dark. He was looking at


There was a silence.

(How long? How long has he been there, Angel?)

(Uhhh, I'd say since round about... the beginning.)

(Oh, my.) So that's why Gillian had been so low key and noble and let Tanya do all the yelling and

threatening. They must have come off like Dorothy and the Wicked Witch.

A sense of justice stirred inside Gillian. She made a hesitant move toward David.

"David-you don't understand-"

David shook his head. "I understand just fine. Don't try to cover for her. It's better for me to find out."

(Yeah, shut up, minibrain! Now look mildly distressed, slightly awkward. You guess they want to be

alone now.)

"Uh, I guess you guys want to be alone now."

(Anyway, you have to hurry to get your ride.)

"Anyway, I have to hurry to get my ride."

(These aren't the droids you're looking for.)

"These aren't-" (I'm going to kill you, Angel!) Flustered, Gillian made one last gesture of apology and

almost ran for the door.

Outside, she walked blindly. (Angel!)

(Sorry, I couldn't resist. But look at you, kid! Do you know what you've done?)

(I guess ... I got rid of Tanya.) As the adrenaline of battle faded, the truth of this was slowly beginning to

dawn on her. It brought a hint of glorious warmth, a sparkling promise of future happiness.

(Smart kid!)

(And-I did it fairly. It was all true, wasn't it, Angel? She's really been messing around with Bruce?)

(Everybody's been messing around with Bruce. Yes, it was all true.)

(And what about Kim? Is she the one who spreads rumors about people?)

(Like butter on Eggos.)

(I just-she seemed so sweet. When we talked about rumors in the cafeteria she patted my hand.)

(Sure, she's sweet-to your face. Turn left here.)

Gillian found herself emerging from the school building. As she went down the steps she saw three or

four cars parked casually in the roundabout. Macon's BMW convertible was one. He looked up at her

and gave an inviting nod toward the car.

Other people shouted. "Hey, Jill, need a ride?" "We wouldn't want you to get lost in the woods again!"

Gillian stood, feeling like a southern belle. So many people wanting her-it made her giddy. Angel was

grandly indifferent (Pick anybody!) and she could see Amy's Geo a little distance away. Amy and Eugene

were standing by it, looking up at her. But getting in a car with Eugene Elfred would be disastrous to her

new status.

She picked Cory the Party Guy, and the ride home was filled with his nonstop talk about Macon's party

on Saturday. She had trouble getting rid of him at the door. Once she did, she walked up to her bedroom

and fell on her bed, arms out. She stared at the ceiling.


It had been the most incredible day of her life.

She lay and listened to the quiet house and tried to gather her thoughts.

The warmth was still percolating inside her, although it was mixed with a certain amount of

anxiety. She wanted to see David again. She wanted to know how things had turned out with Tanya.

She couldn't let herself feel happy until she was sure...

"Relax, would you?"

Gillian sat up. The voice wasn't in her ear, it was beside the bed. Angel was sitting there.

The sight hit her like a physical blow.

She hadn't seen him since that morning and she'd forgotten how beautiful he was.

His hair was dark golden with paler gold lights shimmering in it. His face was-well-classic perfection.

Absolutely pure, denned like a sculpture in marble. His eyes were a violet so glorious it actually hurt to

look at it. His expression was rapt and uplifted... until he winked. Then it dissolved into mischief.

"Uh, hi," Gillian whispered huskily.

"Hi, kid. Tired?"

"Yeah. I feel... used up."

"Well, take a nap, why don't you? I've got places to go anyway."

Gillian blinked. Places? "Angel... I never asked you. What's heaven like? I mean, with angels like you,

it's got to be different from most people's idea. That meadow I saw-that wasn't it, was it?"

"No, that wasn't it. Heaven-well, it's hard to explain. It's all in the oscillation of the spatial-temporal

harmonics, you know-what you'd call the inherent vibration of the plane. At a higher

vibration everything assumes a much more complicated harmonic theme. ..." "You're making this up,

aren't you?" "Yeah. Actually it's classified. Why don't you get some sleep?" Gillian already had her eyes


She was happy when she woke up to smell dinner. But when she got downstairs, she found only her


"Dad's not home?"

"No. He called, honey, and left a message for you. He'll be out of town on business for a while."

"But he'll be back for Christmas. Won't he?"

"I'm sure he will."

Gillian didn't say anything else. She ate the hamburger casserole her mother served-and noticed that her

mother didn't eat. Afterward, she sat in the kitchen and played with a fork.

(You okay?)

The voice in her ear was a welcome relief. (Angel. Yeah, I'm all right. I was just thinking... about how

everything started with Mom. It wasn't always like this. She was a teacher at the junior college...)

(I know.)

(And then-I think it was about five years ago- things just started happening. She started acting crazy.

And then she was seeing things-what did I know about drinking then? I just thought she

was nuts. It wasn't until Dad started finding empty bottles...)

(I know.)

(I just wish... that things could be different.) A pause. (Angel? Do you think maybe they could be?)

Another pause. Then Angel's voice was quiet. (I'll work on it, kid. But, yeah, I think maybe they could


Gillian shut her eyes.

After a moment she opened them again. (Angel-how can I thank you? The things you're doing for me ...

I can't even start to tell you ...)

(Don't mention it. And don't cry. A cheery face is worth triple A bonds. Besides, you have to answer the


(What phone?)

The phone rang.

(That phone.)

Gillian blew her nose and said a practice "Hello" to make sure her voice wasn't shaky. Then she took a

deep breath and picked up the receiver.


Her fingers clenched on the phone. "Hi, David."

"Look, I just wanted to make , sure you were okay. I didn't even ask you that when-you know, this


"Sure, I'm okay." Gillian didn't need Angel to tell her what to say to this. "I can handle myself, you


"Yeah. But Tanya can be pretty intense sometimes. After you left she was-well, forget that."

He doesn't want to say anything bad about her, Gillian thought. She said, "I'm fine."

"It's just-" She could almost feel the frustration building on the other side of the line. And then David

burst out as if something had snapped, "I didn't know!"


"I didn't know she was-like that! I mean, she runs the teen helpline and she's on the Centralia relief

committee and the Food Cupboard project and .. . Anyway, I thought she was different. A good


Conscience twinged. "David, I think she is some of the things you thought. She's brave. When that


"Quit it, Gillian. You're those things. You're brave and funny and-well, too honorable for your own

good. You tried to give Tanya another chance." He let out a breath. "But, anyway; you might have

guessed, we're finished. I told Tanya that. And now..." His voice changed. Suddenly he laughed,

sounding as if some burden had fallen off him. "Well, would you like me to drive you to the party

Saturday night?"

Gillian laughed, too. "I'd like it. I'd love it." (Oh, Angel-thank you!)

She was very happy.

The rest of the week was wonderful. Every day she wore something daring and flattering scavenged

from the depths of her closet. Every day she seemed to get more popular. People looked up when she

walked into a room, not just meeting her eyes, but trying to catch her eye. They waved to her from a

distance. They said hello up and down the halls. Everyone seemed glad to talk to her, and pleased if she

wanted to talk to them. It was like being on a skyrocket, going higher and higher.

And, always, her guide and protector was with her. Angel had come to seem like a part of her, the most

savvy and ingenious part. He provided quips, smoothed over awkward situations, gave advice about

who to tolerate and who to snub. Gillian was developing an instinct for this, too. She was gaining

confidence in herself, finding new skills every day. She was literally becoming a new person.

She didn't see much of Amy now. But Amy had Eugene, after all. And Gillian was so busy that she never

even got to see David alone.

The day of the party she went to Houghton with Amanda the Cheerleader and Steffi the Singer. They

laughed a lot, got whistled at everywhere, and shopped until they were dizzy. Gillian bought a dress and

ankle boots-both approved by Angel.

When David picked her up that night, he let out a soft whistle himself.

"I look okay?"

"You look..." He shook his head. "Illegal, but also sort of spiritual. How do you do that?"

Gillian smiled.

Macon the Wallet's house was the house of a rich guy. A fleet of artsy reindeer made out of some kind

of white twigs and glowing with tiny lights graced the lawn. Inside, it was all high ceilings and track

lighting, oriental rugs, old china, silver. Gillian was dazzled.

(My first real party! I mean, my first Popular Party. And it's even kind of, sort of for me.)

(Your first real party, and it's all for you. The world is your oyster, kid. Go out and crack it.)

Macon was coming toward her. Other people were looking. Gillian paused in the doorway of the room

for effect, aware that she was making an entrance-and loving it.

Her outfit was designer casual. A black minidress with a pattern of purple flowers so dark it could hardly

be distinguished. The soft, crepey material dung to her like a second skin. Matte black tights. And of

course the ankle boots. Not much makeup; she'd decided on the fresh, soft look for her face. She'd

darkened her lashes just enough to make the violet of her eyes a startling contrast.

She looked stunning... and effortless. And she knew it very well.

Macon's hooded eyes roved over her with something like suppressed hunger. "How's it going? You're

looking good."

"We feel good," Gillian said, squeezing David's arm.

Macon's eyes darkened. He looked at the intersection of Gillian's hand and David's arm as if it offended


David looked back dispassionately, but a sort of wordless menace exuded from him. Macon actually

took a step back. But all he said was, "Well, my parents are gone for the weekend, so make yourself at

home. There should be food somewhere."

There was food everywhere. Every kind of munchy thing. Music blasted from the den, echoing all over

the house. As they walked in, Cory greeted them with, "Hey, guys! Grab a glass, it's going fast."

When he'd said that he would round up a keg last week, Gillian had foolishly misheard it as "a cake."

Now she understood. It was a keg of beer and everybody was drinking.

And not just beer. There were hard liquor bottles around. One guy was lying on a table with his mouth

open while a girl poured something from a rectangular bottle into it.

"Hey, Jill, this is for you." Cory was trying to give her a plastic glass with foam overflowing the top.

Gillian looked at him with open scorn. She didn't need Angel's help for this.

"Thanks, but I happen to like my brain cells, Maybe if you had more respect for yours you wouldn't be

flunking biology."

There was laughter. Even Cory laughed and winced.

"Right on," Daryl the Rich Girl said, raising a can of diet Barq's root beer to Gillian in salute. And David

waved Cory away and reached for a Coke.

Nobody tried to pressure them and the guy on the table even looked a little embarrassed. Gillian had

learned that you could pull anything off if you were cool enough, composed enough, and if you didn't

back down. The feeling of success was much more intoxicating than liquor could have been.

(How about that? Pretty good, huh? Huh? Huh?)

(Oh ... oh, yeah, fine.) Angel seemed to deliberate. (Of course, it does say, "Wine maketh the heart of

man glad...")

(Oh, Angel, you're so silly. You sound like Cory!) Gillian almost laughed out loud.

Everything was exciting. The music, the huge house with its opulent Christmas decorations. The people.

All the girls threw their arms around Gillian and kissed her as if they hadn't seen her in weeks. Some of

the boys tried, but David warned them off with a look.

That was exciting, too. Having everyone know she was together with David Blackburn, that he was

hers. It put her status through the ceiling.

"Want to look around?" David was saying. "I can show you the upstairs; Macon doesn't care."

Gillian looked at him. "Bored?"

He grinned. "No. But I wouldn't mind seeing you alone for a few minutes."

They went up a long carpeted staircase lined with oil paintings. The rooms upstairs were just as beautiful

as downstairs: palatial and almost awe inspiring.

It put Gillian in a quiet mood. The music wasn't as loud up here, and the cool marble gave her the feeling

of being in a museum.

She looked out a window to see velvet darkness punctuated by little twinkling lights.

"You know, I'm glad you didn't want to drink back there." David's voice behind her was quiet.

She turned, trying to read his face. "But... you were surprised?"

"Well-it's just sometimes now you seem so adult. Sort of worldly."

"Me? I mean-I mean you're the one who seems like that." And that's what you like in girls, she thought.

He looked away and laughed. "Oh, yeah. The tough guy. The wild guy. Tanya and I used to party pretty

hard." He shrugged. "I'm not tough. I'm just a small-town guy trying to get through life. I don't look for

trouble. I try to run from it if I can."

Gillian had to laugh herself at that. But there was something serious in David's dark eyes.

"I admit, it sort of had a way of finding me in the past," he said slowly. "And I've done some things that

I'm not proud of. But, you know ... I'd like to change that-if it's possible."

"Sort of like a whole new side of you that wants to come out."

He looked startled. Then he glanced up and down her and grinned. "Yeah. Sort of like that."

Gillian felt suddenly inspired, hopeful. "I think," she said slowly, trying to put her ideas together, "that

sometimes people need to-to express both sides of themselves. And then they can be ... well, whole."

"Yeah. If that's possible." He hesitated. Gillian didn't say anything, because she had the feeling that he

was trying to. That there was some reason he'd brought her up to talk to her alone.

"Well. You know something weird?" he said after a moment. "I don't feel exactly whole. And the truth

is-" He looked around the darkened room. Gillian could only see his profile. He shook his head, then

took a deep breath. "Okay, this is going to sound even dumber than I thought, but I've got to say it. I

can't help it."

He turned back, toward her and said with a mixture of determination and apology, "And since that day

when I found you out there in the snow, I have this feeling that I won't be, without ..." He trailed off and

shrugged. "Well-you," he said finally, helplessly.

The universe was one enormous heartbeat. Gillian could feel her body echoing it. She said slowly, "I ..."

"I know. I know how it sounds. I'm sorry."

"No," Gillian whispered. "That wasn't what I was going to say."

He'd turned sharply away to glare at the window. Now he turned halfway back and she saw the glimmer

of hope in his face.

"I was going to say, I understand."

He looked as if he were afraid to believe. "Yeah, but do you really?"

"I think I do-really."

And then he was moving toward her and Gillian was holding up her arms. Literally as if drawn to do

it-but not just by "physical attraction. It sounded crazy, Gillian thought, but it wasn't physical so much as

... well, spiritual. They seemed to belong together.

David was holding her. It felt incredibly strange and at the same time perfectly natural. He was warm and

solid and Gillian felt her eyes shutting, her head drifting to his shoulder. Such a simple embrace, but it

seemed to mean everything.

The feelings inside Gillian were like a wonderful discovery. And she had the sense that she was on the

verge of some other discovery, that if she just opened her eyes and looked into David's at this moment,

somehow it would mean a change in the world...

(Kid?) The voice in Gillian's ear was quiet. (I really hate to say it, but I have to break this up. You have

to sidle down to the master bedroom.)

Gillian scarcely heard and couldn't pay attention.

(Gillian! I mean it, kid. There's something going on that you have to know about.)


(Tell him you'll be back in a few minutes. This is important!)

There was no way to ignore that tone of urgency. Gillian stirred. "David, I have to go for a sec. Be right


David just nodded. "Sure." It was Gillian who had trouble letting go of his hand, and when she did she

still seemed to feel his grip.

(This had better be good, Angel.) She blinked in the light of the hallway.

(Go down to the end of the hall. That's the master bedroom. Go on in. Don't turn on the light.)

The master bedroom was cavernous and dark and filled with large dim shapes like sleeping elephants.

Gillian walked in and immediately banged into a piece of heavy furniture.

(Be careful! See that light over there?)

Light was showing around the edges of double doors on the other side of the room. The doors were


(And locked. That's the bathroom. Now, here's what I want you to do. Walk carefully over to the right

of the bathroom and you'll find another door. It's the closet. I want you to quietly open that door and get

in it.)


Angel's voice was elaborately patient. (Get in the closet and put your ear against the wall.)

Gillian shut her eyes. Then, feeling exactly like a burglar, she slowly turned the handle of the closet door

and slipped inside.

It was a walk-in closet, very long but stuffy because of the clothes bristling from both sides. Gillian had a

profound feeling of intrusion, of being an invader of privacy. She seemed to walk a long way in before

Angel stopped her.

(Okay. Here. Now put your ear against the left wall.)

Eyes still shut-it seemed to make the absolute darkness more bearable-Gillian burrowed between

something long sheathed in plastic and something heavy and velvety. With the clothes embracing her on

either side, she leaned her head until her bare ear touched wood.

(Angel, I can't believe I'm doing this. I feel really stupid, and I'm scared, and if anybody finds me-)

(Just listen, will you?)

At first Gillian's heart seemed to drown out all other sounds* But then, faint but clear, she heard two

voices she recognized. Copyright 2016 - 2023