Authors: Laurie Faria Stolarz
Laurie Faria Stolarz
In loving memory of my grandmother
Anne M. Anderson
A great big thank-you to Lara Zeises, my friend and critique partner, who's been a constant source of encouragement. These books would not be nearly as rewarding to write-- or read-- if it were not for her cheering me on, chapter by chapter.
A special thank-you goes to my husband Ed, who's read every word of all my books, who's always there to offer encouragement, support, and a sense of humor whenever I need it.
A huge thank-you goes to Megan Atwood who, four books later, is more than a fabulous editor to me-- she's more like a fabulous friend.
Thanks to my brother Mark for checking bookstores for copies of my books and for leaving reader copies in the lunchroom where he works.
Thanks to fabulous Llewellyn editors Rebecca Zins and Rhiannon Ross for their patience, critical suggestions, and careful attention to detail-- this book would not have been the same without every bit of it.
Thanks to all the friends and family members who continue to cheer me on-- you know who you are.
Huge, huge thanks to all the fans who continue to support me by buying and recommending my books, by emailing me, sending me letters of support and gratitude, and coming to my events. It means more than you know.
Lastly, a great big thank-you goes to my biggest fan, my mother, who, as we grow older and get better, has become even more of an invaluable friend and source of support.
Jacob may have drowned that night, but I'm the dead man floating.
-- SB (from a transcript with her therapist)
I want to go home.
While Amber and I unpack our stuff, Janie, our new roommate, prattles on about how
pinks will clash with
reds, and how Amber's rainbow of colors really belong in a room all their own.
What am I doing here?
"Do you love it?" Janie asks me. She's talking about her bedspread. It's cotton-candy pink with swirls of white going
2 through it. She's got the matching bed linens, too, as well as a cloud-covered poster of a bubbly pink heart with big butterfly wings.
"Love it," I say flatly, turning away. "Don't mind Stacey," Amber tells our cheery friend. "She's had a rough couple of months."
"You too?" Janie asks, clutching her pink teddy bear. "Well, if it was anything like
last semester, then
deserve a sticker." She pulls a sheet of smiling fruit stickers from her backpack and smacks a happy watermelon on my hand. She does the same to her own hand, only she chooses a laughing kiwi for herself.
"Um, are you okay?" Amber asks her. "Somebody's jealous," Janie sings. "O-kay, you can have one too." She goes to stick a cheery bunch of grapes to Amber's cheek, but Amber intercepts.
"Unless it's laced with whatever
obviously taking, I'm all set," Amber says.
Janie's freckly face bunches up. She goes to tuck her nut-brown curls behind her ears, out of nervousness maybe, but the length of her hair is way too short. Instead, she readjusts the skinny peach-colored headband that peeks out across her crown.
"She's kidding," I say to Janie, in an effort to play nice. "Not really," Amber mumbles.
Amber's one to talk. She's a freshman in college, but she still carries around a Hello Kitty lunchbox for a purse, she still wears her hair in a bunch of mini-pigtails, and she still sports Wonder Woman garb on occasion.
3 At the moment, she's tucking her life-size Spider-Man blow-up doll into bed. She kisses his cheek and then nestles in beside him.
"What's that all about?" Janie asks.
"Getting in a little cuddle time before dinner," Amber explains. "Nothing like a little PDA before PB & J."
"I used to sleep with Superman," Amber continues, "but I ended up being too much woman for him. He exploded last summer. Don't you hate it when that happens?"
Janie's face drops and Amber feeds into her appall, whispering in Spider-Man's ear and licking down the length of his cheek. "Who's jealous now?" Amber growls.
makes me laugh. Amber's been trying to get me to laugh for the past four-and-a-half months, but I'm not even sure I remember how. Sometimes I stretch my mouth open to try, but I only want to scream-- to wail at the top of my lungs. Nothing seems funny anymore. Nothing even seems remotely interesting. So why did I even come here? How can I even think about studying topics like philosophy and humanity when those things don't even seem real anymore?
"Do you guys have
boyfriends?" Janie asks.
"Just Spidey here," Amber says. "My last serious non-inflatable relationship was with this guy named PJ, and it was beyond fizzle city-- no challenge, you know The guy would call me all the time, write me cute little love poems, want to be with me constantly, want to walk me to class . . ."
"Sounds pretty nice."
4 "It was hell," Amber clarifies. "I mean, at least blow me off a couple times."
"How about you?" Janie asks, turning toward me.
"Ix-nay on the boyfriend-bay questions," Amber whispers to her. "Sort of a sore spot."
"Oh, sorry," Janie says.
I shrug again and unzip the side compartment of my suitcase. I look down at the bottle of pills I've been prescribed, the ones my doctor said would "help take the edge off."
Are you okay?" Amber asks me. "Do you want to go down to the cafeteria and get some overcooked pasta? Maybe some lamp-heated mac and cheese?"
I shake my head and palm the bottle of pills. "You guys go. I'm just gonna stay here and lie down. I'm not really that hungry."
"You sure?" Amber narrows her eyes on me.
"Come on, Stacey," Janie pipes up. "It wouldn't be the same if you didn't eat with us our first night as roommates. It's like some unwritten freshman rule or something-- roommates eat together the first night."
"She does have a point," Amber says.
"Plus," Janie continues, "I can tell you all about my first semester and how they made me room with this psycho Goth chick."
rooming with a Goth chick." Amber says. "Now
I have to hear."
5 I wipe the moisture from my eyes and do my best to look interested, hoping Janie's cheerfulness will be enough to take Amber's attention off me.
"Be-ware," Janie says. "Her name is Sage and she still lives on this floor. She's basically this psycho Goth girl who does all kinds of witch stuff. Like, last semester, just after midterms, she got arrested for breaking into a cemetery at night and trying to rob one of the graves."
"Rob it of what?" Amber asks.
Janie shrugs and makes a grimace. "Death stuff . . . you know."
"That obviously isn't true," I say, pausing a moment from my bottle of pills.
"Is so. Rumor has it she was trying to collect some decayed fragments for one of her spells. She also stole the plot flowers."
I roll my eyes at how ridiculous the story sounds, at how I feel like I'm in high school all over again.
couple weeks after that happened," Janie continues, "some freshman was making fun of her by wearing a string of garlic around his neck to ward her off. Word is she put a hex on him that messed up his brain. He ended up getting all spacey and flunking out because of it."
"Maybe his brain was messed up on something stronger than garlic," Amber suggests.
"I doubt it. He was a really nice kid."
"Sounds like it," I say, somewhat under my breath.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means that none of what you're saying has anything to do with
Wicca-- more like the hocus-pocus stuff they
6 save for storybooks and cheesy movies. And stupid rumors like this."
know about it? You weren't even here."
"I obviously know a lot more than you about Wicca."
Janie says, rolling her eyes. "I don't want to know about it. That's why I asked the R.A. for a new roommate, like, the
day of classes. Unfortunately, they made me wait it out all semester. I'm hoping this semester goes a whole lot better."
"Boy, are you in for a treat," Amber says, rubbing her palms together.
"What do you mean?" Janie follows Amber's glance and looks toward my night table-- toward the crystal cluster rock sitting atop it, as well as the white candle stump and my bowlful of lavender pellets.
"Do you want to break it to her, or should I?" Amber arches her eyebrows up and down.
"What?" Janie asks. "Do you guys know Sage?"
"I'm going to lie down for a while," I tell them again, ignoring the conversation.
Amber mumbles something back to me, but I'm really not listening. "You guys go," I say.
"Don't make me go alone." Amber evil-eyes me, gesturing to our cheerleader of a roommate.
"You won't be alone, silly!" Janie says, eternally perky. "I'll be there."
"Exactly," Amber says. She looks at me. "Please? You really shouldn't be alone."
"I'm fine-- really."
Or at least, I will be.
7 "We'll bring you back something yummy," Janie tells me.
"We're going to the
Amber squawks, "where the word
More smiling. More nodding. Until they finally leave.
I sift a couple of the green and black capsules onto my palm-- Librium, according to the label on the bottle. I swallow them down, despite a dry mouth, and lay back on my bed, hoping the effects don't take too long.
Shell shines his flashlight over the back porch and makes his way up the creaking wooden stairs.
It's freezing out here. A dog howls somewhere off in the distance, but the sound is too far away for him to fear that he's the cause. He lifts an edge of the welcome mat and finds the key-- just where Clay told him it would be.
Shell takes it and presses it into his glove, wondering what Lily would say if he didn't go through with it or if
9 Clay would think him a failure. He swallows hard, his breath smoking out his mouth in a long, visible puff. His fingers shake as he pushes the key toward the lock. Maybe he should have taken the knife that Clay offered him. "It's only for protection," Clay had assured him. "You won't even need it." But he could barely even hold it in his hand, let alone carry it in his pocket.
The lock clicks and he turns the knob, the warmth of the house smothering his chill. He takes a deep breath and moves farther into the room, running his flashlight beam over a stove, a refrigerator with fruit magnets, and a toaster oven. He remembers how Clay told him to look in the dining room for sterling silver dinnerware, in the family room for DVD players or VCRs, and in the medicine cabinet for any prescription medicine that might be worth double on the street.
He heads for what he thinks might be the dining room and shines his light over a photo on the wall. It's a picture of an old couple. They're facing one another, gazing into each other's eyes like getting ripped off is the last thing on their minds.
He shifts his focus toward the mahogany box sitting atop the dining room hutch, wondering if that's where they keep the silver. He takes steps toward it, the wooden floor making a cracking sound beneath his feet. He stops, his heart pumping hard. The clock on the mantel sounds, startling him even further. He presses his eyes closed, counting off the twelve bell-bongs that indicate the hour, reminding himself that he has to hurry up-- Clay and Lily must be wondering what's keeping him.
Shell works his gloved fingers at the latch on the box, finally managing to open it. Lying to the side of what must be at least ten place settings' worth of silver is a pocket watch. He picks it up, noticing the ample weight, wondering why it's here-- why it isn't inside a safe or jewelry box instead.
It's circular in shape and fits inside his glove. He opens it. The face of the clock has yellowed a bit. On the opposite side, there's an engraving:
To Candace, forever, with love.
His jaw trembles at the sight of it. He clenches the watch in his palm, noticing that his heart is pounding even harder than before, that he's going to be sick.
He throws the watch back inside the box, shuts everything up, and retreats toward the door he entered. The floorboards creak under his weight. The noise startles him. He stumbles and bumps into a chair; the legs make a scraping sound on the floor.
There's a stir in the other room. He knows they must have heard him. This is a Cape-style house; their bedroom is only a few yards away. He aims his flashlight at the exit door. At the same moment, someone's footsteps begin down the hallway toward him. He ducks under the kitchen table, hoping the floor-length tablecloth will cover him. He knows his choice of hiding spots is ridiculous, but he doesn't have time to think of another viable option.