Isobel raised her arms to shield her face from the spray of grit. Through the settling dust, she saw that the cliffs had vanished, leaving only the surrounding walls of ruby blossoms.

In the midst of what appeared to be an enormous rose garden, a familiar structure became discernible through the screen of the settling powder.

Isobel recognized the structure as the fountain from Varen’s neighborhood. It now stood in the center of a circular dome-shaped room enclosed by scarlet blooms.

Without the curtain of crystal water pouring from the ledge of its rounded green basin, the fountain was a silent and eerie monument.

Isobel pulled herself to her feet, her practice sneakers caked with ash, chalk white against a carpet of ruby petals.

Her eyes locked on the statue of the woman that stood at the top of the fountain, her stiff stone veil clutched in her hands, the fabric arcing out behind her nearly nude figure in a backward C.

Isobel turned in a circle. All around her, buds and blossoms in various states of unfurling dotted the trellised walls. High over the statue’s head, thick vines met at a circular opening at the top of the domed ceiling. Through the porthole, she could see a tangled webwork of black tree limbs.

What was this place?

And where was—?




Isobel started, nearly yelping as she found him standing right in front of her.

She peered up into eyes no longer shielded by sunglasses. Their centers were black, swept clean of color and light.

She searched through their darkness, desperate to find some irrefutable evidence in their depths that could prove it was really him.

“Is—is any of this real?” she asked. “Are you real?”

He lifted a hand to her cheek, his fingers brushing her jaw.

“Even if this is a dream,” he whispered, “I’m not.”

Isobel’s eyes widened, recognizing those words as her own, the same ones she had once uttered to him. She reached for him, her arms twining around his neck, drawing him to her so that his scent poured over her, that combination of incense, citrus, and dried leaves overriding the funeral smell of the crowding flowers.

He lowered his forehead to hers, his hair draping around their faces, the smooth strands tickling her skin.

“Don’t leave,” she breathed.

“I’m here,” he whispered. “Right here. Waiting.”

He leaned in.

Isobel tilted her chin up, ready for the press of his lips.

She wanted to let her eyes fall shut, but something, a sensation of being watched, stopped her. Her glance slid past his shoulder, her focus drawn to the statue atop the fountain.

Between the inky strands of Varen’s hair, Isobel watched its eyes slide open. She stared, transfixed, as the statue turned its head toward them, aiming those two empty pits of blackness straight at her.


Sorrow for the Lost

Isobel awoke with a start. She sucked in a sharp gasp of air, and her gaze met with the blank surface of her bedroom ceiling.

She blinked as a swirl of images shuttered through her brain like snapshots in a broken reel of film. Closing her eyes, she tried to find one frame to latch on to, one fleeting symbol or shadow that would trigger the memory of what it was she’d been dreaming about.

But the pictures slid by too quickly, growing dimmer and more uncertain the faster her consciousness swam toward the surface of reality.

Isobel groaned. She didn’t want to wake up. She wanted to slip under again. She wanted to go back.

Rolling onto her side, she peered groggily through the narrow slice of window visible between her twin white-lace curtains.

It was still dark outside, still early.

If she threw the covers over her head and tried to sleep again, Isobel wondered if she would be able to return to whatever dream she’d been having. Even if she couldn’t recall where she had been or what had been happening, she knew that the dream had not had a chance to end where it should have. There had been something left unsaid. No, she thought, there had been something left undone. What was it?

Isobel sighed. It was no use straining. The thread was broken.

She turned to glance at her digital clock.

6:30, it read in cool blue numbers.

She froze.

Oh my God. Six freaking thirty?

An ice bomb exploded somewhere in the pit of her stomach, set off by the sudden realization that she was supposed to be on a bus right that very moment, a bus that had probably reached the county line by now, filled with every member of Trenton High’s varsity cheerleading squad. Every member except her.

“Daaaad!” Her voice scraped raw from the back of her throat. Isobel tossed off her covers, her legs prickling with gooseflesh as she staggered out of bed, hurtling toward her bedroom door. She threw it open and rushed out and onto the landing that overlooked the foyer and downstairs hallway.

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