Rubbing a kink in my neck, I closed my eyes. My brain was sluggish and I wasn’t sure what I should be doing right now. All I wanted to do was mourn my friend, but how was I supposed to grieve someone who no one in the outside would knew had passed?
Dee cleared her throat. “Daemon and I cleaned up your bedroom. Um, there are a few things that weren’t salvageable. Some clothing that was burned or torn I threw away. I…I hung a picture over the crack in the wall.” She peeked up as if gauging my reaction. “Your laptop… It’s not…in functioning shape.”
My shoulders slumped. The laptop was the least of tonight’s causalities, but I had no idea how I was going to explain that to my mom.
“Thank you,” I said finally, voice thick. “I don’t think I could’ve done that.”
Dee twisted a strand of hair around her finger. Minutes passed in silence and then, “Are you okay, Katy? Like, really okay?”
Shock caused me to take a few seconds to respond. “No, I’m not,” I said truthfully.
“I didn’t think so.” She paused, wiping under her eyes with the palm of her hand. “I really liked Carissa.”
“Me, too,” I whispered, and there was nothing else to be said.
Everything that came before tonight and everything we’d been so focused on seemed almost unimportant, which those issues weren’t, but a friend was dead—another friend. Her death and her life was a mystery. I’d known her for six months, but I hadn’t known her at all.
Playing sick on Tuesday, I stayed home and vegetated on the couch. I couldn’t do the school thing. See Lesa and know her best friend was dead and pretend I didn’t know a thing. I just couldn’t do it yet.
Every so often, I saw Carissa’s face. There were two versions: before last night and afterward. When I saw her and her funky glasses in my memories, my chest ached, and when I saw those vastly empty eyes, I wanted to cry all over again.
And I did.
Mom didn’t push it. For one thing, I rarely skipped school. And secondly, I looked like crap. Being sick didn’t take a leap of faith. She spent the better part of the morning coddling me and I soaked it up, needing my mom more than she could ever know.
Later, after she went upstairs to get some sleep, Daemon showed up unexpectedly. Wearing a black cap pulled down low, he came in and closed the door behind him.
“What are you doing here?” It was only one in the afternoon.
He took my hand, pulling me into the living room. “Nice jammies.”
I ignored that. “Shouldn’t you be in school?”
“You shouldn’t be alone right now.” He twisted his cap around.
“I’m all right.”
Daemon shot me a knowing look. Admittedly, I was happy that he was here, because I did need someone who knew what was really going on. All day I’d been ripped apart, caught by guilt and confusion, tossed around by sorrow I couldn’t really even grasp.
Wordlessly, he led me to the couch and stretched out, tucking me against his side. His heavy arm around my waist had a soothing weight. Keeping our voices low, we talked about normal things—safe things that didn’t slice through him or me.
After a while, I twisted in his arms so that our noses brushed. We didn’t kiss. There wasn’t one shenanigan going on between us. We held each other, though, and that was more intimate than anything else we could’ve done. Daemon’s presence eased me. At some point, we dozed off, our breaths mixing.
My mom had to have come downstairs at some point and seen us together on the couch, just the way we were when I woke: Daemon’s head resting atop mine, my hand balled around his shirt. It was the scent of the coffee that roused me just around five.
Reluctantly, I pulled out of his embrace and smoothed my hands through my hair. Mom stood in the doorway, one leg crossed over her ankle as she leaned against the frame. A steaming cup of coffee was in her hands.
Mom was wearing Lucky Charms pajamas.
Oh, holy Houdini. “Where did you get them?” I asked.
“What?” She took a sip.
“Those…hideous pajamas,” I said.
She shrugged. “I like them.”
“They’re cute,” Daemon said, taking off his hat and running his hand through his messy hair. I elbowed him, and he gave me a cheeky grin. “I’m sorry, Miss Swartz, I didn’t mean to fall asleep with—”
“It’s okay.” She waved him off. “Katy hasn’t been feeling well, and I’m glad you wanted to be here for her, but I hope you don’t get what she has.”
He cast me a sideways look. “I hope you didn’t give me cooties.”
I huffed. If anyone was spreading alien cooties, it was Daemon.
Mom’s cell went off, and she dug it out of her pajama pocket, sloshing coffee onto the floor. Her face lit up, the way it always did when Will called her. My heart dropped as she turned and headed into the kitchen.
“Will,” I whispered, standing before I realized it.
Daemon was right behind me. “You don’t know that for sure.”
“I do. It’s in her eyes—he makes her glow.” I wanted to barf, like, seriously. Suddenly, I saw Mom on the bedroom floor, lifeless, gone like Carissa. Panic blossomed and took root. “I need to tell her why Will got close to her.”
“Tell her what?” He blocked me. “That he was here to get close to you—that he used her? I don’t think that’s going to lessen any blows.”
I opened my mouth, but he had a point.
He placed his hands on my shoulders. “We don’t know if it was him calling or what’s happened to him. Look at Carissa,” he said, keeping his voice low. “Her mutation was unstable. It didn’t take long for it…to do what it did.”
“Then that means it held.” He wasn’t making me feel better about anything right now.
“Or it means it faded off.” He tried again. “We can’t do anything until we know what we’re dealing with.”
I shifted my weight restlessly, watching over his shoulder. Stress built in me like a seven-ton ball that settled on my shoulders. There was so much to deal with.
“One at a time,” Daemon said, as if he read my thoughts. “We’re going to deal with things one at a time. That’s all we can do.”
Nodding, I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. My heart still raced. “I’m going to see if it was him.”
He let go and stepped aside, and I hurried to the door.
“I like your pajamas better,” he said, and I turned. Daemon grinned at me, that lopsided one that hinted at laughter.
My jammies weren’t much better than Mom’s. They had, like, a thousand pink and purple polka dots on them. “Shut up,” I said.
Daemon returned to the couch. “I’ll be waiting.”
I went to the kitchen just as Mom was getting off the phone, her features pinched. The weight on my shoulders increased. “What’s wrong?”
She blinked and forced a smile. “Oh, nothing, honey.”
Grabbing a towel, I wiped up the spilled sugar. “Doesn’t look like nothing.” In fact, it looked like a whole lot of something.
Mom grimaced. “It was Will. He’s still out west. He thinks he came down with something traveling. He’s going to stay out there until he feels better.”
I froze. Liar, I wanted to scream.
She dumped her coffee and rinsed out her cup. “I didn’t tell you this, honey, because I didn’t want to drag up bad memories, but Will…well, he was sick once, like your father.”
My mouth dropped open.
Mistaking my surprise, she said, “I know. It seems cosmically unfair, doesn’t it? But Will has been in remission. His cancer was completely curable.”
I had nothing to say. Nothing. Will had told her he’d been sick.
“But of course, I worry.” She placed the cup in the dishwasher, but she didn’t close the door all the way. I shut it out of habit. “Useless to worry over something like that, I know.” She stopped in front of me, placing her hand on my forehead. “You don’t feel warm. Are you feeling better?”
The change in conversation threw me. “Yeah, I feel fine.”
“Good.” Mom smiled then and it wasn’t forced. “Don’t worry about Will, honey. He’ll be fine and back before we know it. Everything will be okay.”
My heart tripped up. “Mom?”
I came so close to telling her everything, but I froze. Daemon was right. What could I say? I shook my head. “I’m sure…Will’s okay.”
She bent quickly, kissing my cheek. “He’d be happy to know you were concerned.”
A hysterical laugh crept up my throat. I was sure he would be.
Later that day, after Mom had left for work, I stood beside the lake, staring at a pile of glittering onyx.
Matthew and Daemon hadn’t said much since we arrived, and even Blake was abnormally quiet. They all knew what had happened last night with Carissa. Daemon had spoken to Blake earlier in the day; the entire conversation had gone down between the two without fists being thrown and I’d missed it. Apparently Blake had never witnessed an unstable hybrid with his own eyes. He’d only heard about them.
But Dawson had.
He’d seen people who’d been brought to him, had been normal Joes before the mutation and then snapped days later. Violent outbursts were common right before they went into self-destruction mode. All of them had been given the serum I’d been given. Without it, according to Blake, the mutation could hold, but it was rare and in most cases, the mutations faded.
Since I arrived at the lake, Dawson had stayed close to my side while Daemon and Matthew handled the onyx carefully.
“I had to do it once,” Dawson said quietly, focused on the overcast sky.
“Watch a hybrid die like that.” He took a breath, squinting. “The guy just went crazy, and no one could stop him. He took out one of the officers and then there was a flash of light. Sort of like spontaneous combustion, because when the light faded, he was gone. Nothing was left. It happened so fast, he couldn’t have felt a thing.”
I remembered how Carissa was shaking, and I knew she had to feel that. Feeling nauseous, I focused on Daemon. The onyx was in a hole, and he knelt in front of it, talking quietly to Matthew. I was glad the rest of the group wasn’t there.
“Did the people they brought to you know why they were there?” I asked.
“Some did, like they signed up for it. Others were sedated. They didn’t have a clue. I think they were homeless people.”
That was sickening. Unable to stay still, I headed toward the bank of the lake. The water wasn’t frozen over anymore, but it was still and calm. Completely at odds with how I felt inside.
Dawson followed. “Carissa was a good person. She didn’t deserve this. Do we even know why they chose her?”
I shook my head. I’d spent a good part of the day thinking about everything. Even if Carissa had known about the Luxen and had been healed by one, Daedalus was involved. I knew it. But the hows and whys were the mysteries. As was the stone I’d seen around her wrist.