For one thing, his body was completely relaxed next to mine and this was one of the first times that Dawson was acting…normal. Yeah, talking about zombies probably wasn’t the biggest step known to mankind, but it was something.

On the flat screen, a zombie took a chunk out of some dude’s arm. “What the hell?” Daemon complained. “The guy just stood there. Hello. There’re zombies everywhere. Try looking behind you, douche canoe.”

I giggled.

“This is why zombie movies are unbelievable to me,” he went on. “Okay. Say the world ends in a shit storm of zombies. The last thing anyone with two working brain cells would do is just stand along a building waiting for a zombie to creep up on him.”

Dawson cracked a smile.

“Shut up and watch the movie,” I said.

He ignored that. “So you really think you’d do well in a zombie apocalypse?”

“Yeppers,” I said. “I’d totally save your butt.”

“Oh, really?” He glanced at the screen. Then he faded out and something…something else replaced him.

Shrieking, I jerked into Dawson. “Oh my God…”

Daemon’s skin was ghastly gray and hanging loose from his face. Patches of decaying brown skin covered his cheekbones. One of his eyes was just…a hole. The other was glazed over and milky white. Clumps of hair were missing.

Zombie Daemon gave a rotted, toothy grin. “Save my butt? Yeah, I don’t think so.”

I could only stare.

Dawson actually laughed. Not sure what was more shocking: that or the zombie sitting next to me.

His form faded out and then he was back—beautiful, carved cheekbones and head full of hair. Thank God. “I think you’d suck at the zombie apocalypse,” he said.

“You…you are disturbed,” I murmured, carefully settling down next to him.

With a smug grin, he reached for the bowl and came up empty. Some of it might have been on the floor. Feeling eyes on me, I glanced at Dawson.

He was staring at us, but I wasn’t sure if he was even seeing us. There was a reminiscent expression in his eyes, tainted with sadness and something else. Determination? I didn’t really know, but for a second, the green hue brightened, no longer dull and listless, and he looked so much like Daemon that I drew in a shallow breath.

Then he gave his head a little shake and looked away.

I glanced at Daemon and I knew he’d noticed. He shrugged. “Anyone want more popcorn?” he asked. “We have food coloring. I can make it red for you.”

“More popcorn but minus the food coloring, please.” When he grabbed the bowl and stood, I caught him sneaking a relieved glance at his brother. “Want me to pause the movie?”

His look told me no and I giggled again. Daemon sauntered out of the room, stopping at the door when the zombies crested the water. Then he shook his head again and left. He wasn’t fooling me.

“I think he secretly enjoys zombie movies,” Dawson said, glancing at me.

I smiled at him. “I was just thinking the same thing. He has to, since he’s all into ghost stuff.”

Dawson nodded. “We used to record those shows and spend all day Saturday watching them. Sounds kind of lame, but it was fun.” There was a pause and his gaze flickered back to the TV. “I miss that.”

My heart went out to him and Daemon. I glanced at the screen, chewing on my lower lip. “You know, you still can.”

He didn’t respond.

I wondered if the problem was that Dawson wasn’t comfortable alone with Daemon. There was definitely a lot of baggage between the two. “I’d love to watch some of them this Saturday before we check out the buildings.”

Dawson was silent as he crossed his legs at the ankles. I was pretty sure he wasn’t going to answer, just ignore what I offered, and I was okay with that. Small steps and all.

But then he did speak. “Yeah, that would be kind of cool. I…I can do that.”

Surprised, my head swung toward Dawson. “Really?”

“Yeah.” He smiled. It was weak, but it was a smile.

Happy about this, I nodded and then turned my attention back to the gore. But I saw Daemon standing just outside the living room. My gaze was drawn to his, and I sucked in an unsteady breath.

He’d heard everything.

Relief and gratitude poured from him. He didn’t need to say anything. The thank-you was in his stare, in the way his hands gave a little shake around the fresh bowl of popcorn. He came into the room and sat, placing the bowl in my lap. Then he reached over, took my hand in his, and it stayed that way the rest of the night.

Over the next couple of days, I came to accept that I probably did have a mini freak-out on Monday. There had been no more trucker hat sightings from hell, and then on Thursday, the whole Blake thing became a nonissue.

Dawson had returned to PHS.

“I saw him this morning,” Lesa said in trig, her body practically humming like a tuning fork with excitement. “Or at least I think I did. It really could’ve been Daemon, but this guy was thinner.”

To me, it was easy to tell the two brothers apart. “It was Dawson.”

“That’s the strange thing.” Some of the enthusiasm faded. “Dawson and I were never best buds, but he was always friendly. I went up to him, but he kept on walking like he hadn’t even seen me. And hey, I’m hard to miss. My bubbly personality is like its own screaming person.”

I laughed. “So true.”

Lesa grinned. “But seriously, something…something was off about him.”

“Oh?” My pulse picked up. Was there something about Dawson that humans could sense? “What do you mean?”

“I don’t know.” She looked to the front of the classroom, her eyes traveling over the faded formulas scribbled on the chalkboard. Her curls spilled around her shoulder. “It’s hard to explain.”

There wasn’t much time to dig into what she meant. Carissa arrived to class and then Daemon. He placed a cup of mocha latte on my desk. Cinnamon permeated the air.

“Thanks.” I held the warm cup. “Where’s yours?”

“Not thirsty this morning,” he said, twirling his pen. He glanced over my shoulder. “Hi, Lesa.”

Lesa sighed. “I need a Daemon.”

I turned to her, unable to hide my grin. “You have a Chad.”

She rolled her eyes. “He doesn’t bring me lattes.”

Daemon chuckled. “Not everyone can be as great as I am.”

Now I rolled my eyes. “Ego check, Daemon, ego check.”

From across the aisle, Carissa fiddled with her glasses, her eyes serious and somber as she glanced at Daemon. “I just wanted to say I’m glad Dawson’s back and okay.” Two red spots bloomed on her cheeks. “It must be a huge relief.”

Daemon nodded. “It is.”

Talk of his brother ended right there. Carissa turned around, and though Lesa rarely let awkward topics detour her, she didn’t pick up our conversation. But after class, as Daemon and I navigated the hall, people were almost at a standstill.

Everyone was staring at Daemon and there were a lot of whispers. Some tried to keep it quiet. Others didn’t seem to care.

“Did you see?”

“Two of them again…”

“So weird that he’d come back without Beth…”

“Where is Beth…?”

“Maybe he came back because of Adam…”

Gossip mill at its finest, I realized.

I took a sip of my still-warm mocha and peeked at Daemon. The curve of his jaw was hard. “Uh, maybe this wasn’t a good idea.”

His hand rested on the small of my back as he held open the door to the stairwell. “Now what makes you think that?”

I ignored his sarcasm. “But if he didn’t come back, what was he supposed to do?”

Daemon stayed by my side as we headed to the second floor, taking up most of the cramped space. Kids had to squeeze past him. And I really had no idea where he was going. His class was on the first floor.

He leaned down, keeping his voice low. “It was a bad and good idea. He needs to get back into the world. There’s going to be fallout, but it’s worth it.”

I nodded. What he said was true. At the door to my English class, he took a sip of my mocha and handed it back.

“See you at lunch,” he said, kissing me briefly before pivoting around.

My lips tingled as I watched the back of his dark head disappear, and then I headed into class. So much was going on that concentrating was pretty much out of the question. The teacher called on me at one point, and I didn’t notice. The entire class did, though. Awkward.

Turned out Dawson was in my bio class, and boy did he have a lot of eyes on him. He was seated beside Kimmy when I walked past. He nodded and then returned to flipping through his textbook. His tablemate’s eyes were like two moons.

Did he get any sort of education while he was gone? Not that it mattered. The Luxen developed mentally a lot faster than humans. Missing over a year of school probably meant nothing to him.

“See?” Lesa twisted around as soon as I sat behind her.

“See what?”

“Dawson,” she whispered. “That’s not the Dawson I remember. He was always talking and laughing. Never reading a bio textbook.”

I shrugged. “He’s probably been through some crazy stuff.” Not a lie. “And it’s probably uncomfortable for him to be back here with everyone staring at him.” Also not a lie.

“I don’t know.” She tugged on her backpack as she glanced over at Dawson’s table. “He’s moodier than Daemon used to be.”

“Daemon was moody?” I said a bit dryly.

“Well, just not that friendly, I guess. He kind of stuck to himself before.” She shrugged. “Oh! By the way, what the hell is up with Dee hanging out with the Bitch Squad?”

Bitch Squad was a code name Lesa had given Ash and Andrew when I first started at PHS. Once upon a time, I bet Daemon was a part of that group.

“Ah,” I said, suddenly wanting to read my bio textbook. Whenever I thought of Dee, I wanted to cry. Our friendship had taken a sharp detour to Breakupsville. “I don’t know. She’s been…different since Adam.”

“No. Shit.” Lesa shook her head. “Her grieving process is scary. I tried to talk to her yesterday at her locker, and she looked at me, said nothing, and then walked away.”


“Yeah, it actually hurt my feelings.”

“Pretty much what I’ve—”

The door to the classroom opened as the bell rang and the first thing I noticed was the vintage Nintendo shirt worn over a gray thermal. I loved all those old-school screen T-shirts. Then the messy bronze hair and hazel eyes.

My heart stopped; a buzzing started in my ears and picked up to a roar. The air was sucked right out of the room. I’d expected Will to come back, but not…him.

“Oh. Look who’s here,” Lesa said, smoothing her hands over her notebook. “Blake.”

Chapter 9