She peered up at him, and as she did, his gaze at last turned to meet hers. His eyes, red rimmed and sunken, bore into her.

She would have given anything for the blackness within them to slip away. But it was a stranger who stood before her now, one who seemed to regard her as a stranger too.

She wanted to touch him, to throw her arms around him—but something held her back. Maybe it was the fear that her arms would pass right through him, that she would have come all this way only to find a ghost after all.

As though he’d been able to read her thoughts, he slowly angled toward her. He raised his hands and held his palms out to her.

Isobel lifted her own hands to mirror his.

He pressed their palms together, his fingers folding down to lace through hers.

She felt a rush of warmth course through her, a relief as pure and sweet as spring rain.

He was real. This was real. She had found him. She could touch him. She could feel him. Finally they were together. Finally, finally, they could forget this wasted world and go home.

“I knew it wasn’t true,” she whispered. “I knew you wouldn’t stop believing.”

He drew her close.

Leaning into him, she felt him press his lips to her forehead in a kiss. As he spoke, the cool metal of his lip ring grazed her skin, causing a shudder to ripple through her.


“You . . .”

His voice, low and breathy, reverberated through her, down to the thin soles of her slippers.

“You think you’re different,” he said.

She felt his hands tighten around hers, gripping hard, too hard.

A streak of violet lightning split the sky, striking close behind them.

The house, Isobel thought. It had been struck. She could hear it cracking apart. She looked for only a brief moment, long enough to watch it split open.

“But you’re not,” Varen said, calling her attention back to him.

Isobel winced, her own hands surrendering under the suddenly crushing pressure of his hold.

A face she did not recognize stared down at her, one twisted with anger—with hate.

“You,” he scarcely more than breathed, “are just like every. Body. Else.”

He moved so fast. Before she could register his words or the fact that she had once spoken them to him herself, he jerked her to one side.

Isobel felt her feet part from the rocks.

Weightlessness took hold of her as she swung out and over the ledge of the cliff.

As he let her go.

The wind whistled its high and lonely song in her ears.

She fell away into the oblivion of the storm until she could no longer see the cliff—could no longer see him.

Only the slip of the pink ribbon as it unraveled from her wrist, floating up and away from her and out of sight forever.


The Sleeper

She saw him sitting alone in the far corner of the small and darkened room.

Slumped in one of the many greenish-blue upholstered chairs, dressed in sweatpants and one of his rumpled school uniform shirts, her little brother sat with his head propped against the wall. He clutched the skull headphones she had given him for Christmas between limp hands, and the tiny LCD screen of his iPod glowed in one slack fist. His shaggy and slightly greasy hair hung like a lampshade over his closed eyelids.

At first sight of him, an inexplicable gush of relief flooded through her.

Isobel started toward him but stopped the instant she realized she didn’t know where she was. Or how she’d gotten here. Wherever here happened to be.

The room itself was nondescript, with plain industrial carpeting. Generic landscape paintings hung on smooth turquoise walls. A soda machine hummed in one corner. Next to it, a refrigerator stood beside a long countertop, its surface clear and clean except for a large coffeemaker, a bowl of assorted sugar packets, and two stacks of Styrofoam cups.

Isobel frowned, still unable to piece together enough clues to name her surroundings.

Hearing the sound of approaching footsteps, she glanced behind her. Through a narrow doorway, she saw a simple hall bathed in the glow of bright fluorescent lights, the white linoleum floors shining. The swishing sound of movement grew louder, and a man in blue scrubs passed by at a brisk walk, a clipboard tucked under one arm.

His uniform made her realize that this must be a hospital.

But why would she and her brother be in a hospital waiting room?

Confused and suddenly afraid, Isobel crossed to where Danny sat.


He did not stir.

With the way he was sitting, his neck crooked awkwardly to one side, she didn’t think he could really be asleep. But as she drew closer, she saw that his breathing came in slow and even intervals, his chest expanding and falling in a steady rhythm. Standing this close, she could also see the faint purple half-moons underlining his eyes—tired eyes that darted back and forth beneath their lids.

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