Or, Isobel thought, her gaze drifting toward the clock that hung above the gymnasium’s open set of double doors, then again, maybe not.

On a normal day, practice ended between four thirty and four forty-five. By this time, they’d been working for well over an hour. And hadn’t Coach just reamed her out about how they had only thirty minutes left?

Why, then, did the time on the gym’s clock read five past three?

“—six, seven, eight!”

Isobel felt her bases dip her. She wobbled just before they popped her into the air. Her body, kicking into autopilot, prepared for the drop, but it was too late to gain full control.

Isobel floundered as she fell, landing slantways in the arms of her squad mates, who stumbled under her lopsided weight.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Coach yelled, abruptly stopping the count as Stevie and Nikki brought Isobel to her feet. “What happened?” she asked. Eyes bugging, she shook her shaggy head. Behind the barrier of her thick blue sweatband, Coach’s frizzy hair shook in spongy clumps.

“I sure hope it wasn’t my flyer that time,” she said when no one in the group spoke up to rat her out. But it would seem no one had to.

Walking over to Isobel, her tennis shoes squeaking, Coach leaned in. “I thought taking topples was so last year, Izzy,” she said.

Muffled snickers erupted from Alyssa and her entourage.

Isobel felt her face redden. She knew Coach hadn’t meant it as a jab, that she was just trying a tougher approach in order to get her focused. Still, her words stung.


“Okay!” Coach shouted. “Let’s try that again!”

“Izzy,” she heard Nikki hiss at her. “C’mon.”

But Isobel had to turn back to glance at the clock one more time.

True, the hands weren’t spinning like they had been on the dashboard clock of Varen’s dreamworld car, but they weren’t moving the way they should either. They weren’t moving at all.

She had to wonder if it could be a sign that she was asleep right now, that all this was a dream. If she was in a dream, then that would explain why she had seen Varen in the courtyard. Maybe he had been trying to connect. Maybe he had to work his way into her awareness.

But the world around her, the people, the gym and the lighting, it all seemed so normal, so real.

The American flag, suspended against the far wall, hung where it always had. Two basketball goals extended down on metal armatures from the walls at opposite ends of the wide room. Glancing up, Isobel could even see a small blue balloon from the last pep rally still lodged between the steel rafters.

Then again, she reminded herself, this was exactly what made dreams so tricky. Because no matter what, if you were in one, a dream always seemed real.

“Hey,” Stevie called to her. “Let’s go. Coach is heading back this way.”

“Coming,” Isobel mumbled, but she stayed put.

This was how all the other dreams began, always with her at cheer practice.

Could she really have dreamed the events of an entire day, though? Or was that how it always went, and she just forgot about all that later, after she woke up?

Isobel watched the double doors, waiting a moment longer for Varen to appear and settle the internal tug-of-war between her reasoning and instinct. But the doorway remained empty. Above it, the clock’s face stayed frozen.

Maybe she wasn’t dreaming. Maybe the clock was just stalled because the battery had run down over winter break. But if she couldn’t be certain by looking at a clock, then how else could she tell?

Coach drew closer, and Isobel swiveled to face her stunt crew.

As Coach passed them, Isobel recalled something else Reynolds had once told her.

That if she could wake up in her dream, if she could realize she was in one, then, to some extent, she could control the things that happened.

How else had she been able to make the door appear in the floor at the Grim Facade just when she’d needed it most?

One thing was certain. If she was asleep right now and dreaming, then that had to mean she would be able to do things she couldn’t in waking life. Or at least, something she’d never tried before.

Isobel pivoted away from her stunt group to face the gym’s wide-open floor. It shone as though greased by a thin layer of oil. In the center of the floor, the embossed head of Henry the Hawk scowled at her with one angry yellow eye, as though warning her not to even think about it.

That was just it, though. If this was a dream, then she shouldn’t have to think about it.

She just had to do it.

“Izzy,” Coach said. “Hello. We’re starting!”

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