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Then Ophelia James, the beautiful and daring new girl in town, suggests that they use the power to do good, to save others at risk of death. But with every heroic act, the power grows into the specter of a curse. How to decide who lives and who dies? And why does darkness seem to be chasing them? Jacob only has thirteen days to figure out how to harness this terrifying power… and the answer is chilling: What if he has to kill the one he loves to save her?
In the context of a dark, unconventional superhero story, Patrick Carman has envisioned a high concept tale of intrigue, romance, friendship and adventure that probes deep into what teens face as they enter young adult years: navigating increasingly complex choices with greater consequences, as well as the gray areas blurring the definitions of right and wrong.
Copyright © 2010 by Patrick Carman
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
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First eBook Edition: April 2010
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
MONDAY, OCTOBER 8TH
I arrived in the parking lot full of cars after the morning bell on purpose, just in case I changed my mind and wanted to cut school after all. It felt like all the blood had been drained out of the world while I was away.
The sky was overcast and heavy. Around here, clouds can take in water for weeks on end, then drizzle for twenty-five or thirty days in a row, slowly delivering back what they've stolen. Looking up, I had the feeling we were in for a long month of misty rain.
Ten out of ten cars in the Holy Cross parking lot were crap for a simple reason: Holy Cross was a dying school. Enrollment had been in a freefall for years, and they'd dwindled to 137 souls in four grades by the time I got there as a gangly, foul-mouthed sophomore. I've since cleaned up my language—mainly because it bothered Mr. Fielding so much—but I still remember the gorgeous sound of a well-placed F-word rolling off my tongue.
Two years ago they finished building South Ridge High, a brand new 1,300-student public high school with state-of-the-art everything. Its high-tech and pristine athletic facilities are housed a mere mile down the road. When that place fired up its lights for the first time, most of the best athletes, brainiacs, and teachers took off. What was left were kids with parents who'd gone to Holy Cross before them in the eighties, back when three hundred kids packed the halls between classes.
Just so we're clear from the beginning, me and my friends hate South Ridge High, especially the defectors who used to be Holy Crossers. We're a wad of chewing gum on the heel of mighty South Ridge, and they never let us forget it.
As I stared at the clunkers in the parking lot and felt the oppressively low clouds closing in, school was the last place I felt like spending the day, especially given all that had happened. I was just about to turn around and head for the 7-Eleven when I was spotted by Miss Pines, a mostly pretty, often tired-looking fiction writer who taught second period English and was eternally late for every class.
"Jacob Fielding, nice to have you back," said Miss Pines, flipping shut her cell phone as she kicked her car door shut. Miss Pines, the only black teacher at our school, almost always wore yellow, and today was no exception.
"I was so sorry to hear about Mr. Fielding," she continued. She was one of the strictest teachers at Holy Cross, but she could be nice when the situation called for it. Miss Pines looked at me sort of sideways, a habit she had that always preceded a question. "How you holding up?"
"Better than this place," I said, only half joking. "How about you?"
"I'm fine. Late as usual, but fine. I got that trait from my mom. She was tardy for everything—church, work, dinner on the table. You know I didn't show up on time for school but three times my whole freshman year? I blame her for all my problems."
"Good thing I don't have that difficulty," I said. "The mom thing, I mean."
"Maybe so," said Miss Pines, nodding thoughtfully as if she really might think this was true. She tilted her head again. "Still expecting Father Tim back tomorrow night?"
"As far as I know."
Holy Cross was in need of cash and it was Father Tim's job to get it, which meant driving from Salem to Seattle to meet with the bishop. In a small school it's tough to keep that sort of thing secret, especially when one of the students (that'd be me) is living in the church house now.
"How's the novel?" I asked. As far as I knew, Miss Pines had been working on the same manuscript for about ten years.
"Same as when you asked me last time. Not finished."
Miss Pines moved on, yelling over her shoulder that she was really late, which meant I was late, which meant I'd better get moving.
I lingered in the parking lot a little longer, staring at the countless weeds poking through cracked concrete, thinking about what had kept me away from school for a whole week. Mr. Fielding, my foster parent, was dead. There was no Mrs. Fielding, which complicated matters. And then there was the fact that I loved the guy, and the additional detail about how we were together when it happened—only he died, and I didn't.
I heard two quick taps on a horn, which shook me out of my misery, and knew without looking that Milo was coming up the long driveway in his egg-white Geo Metro. He pulled into an empty spot in front of me and lurched to a stop, got out, slammed the door, and, leaning hard on the rim of the windshield, folded his arms across his chest. He looked me up and down like I was a prowler from South Ridge about to layer the school in graffiti.
"You're not seriously going in there looking like that?"
Glancing down at my school uniform, I saw he had a point. It was pressed to wrinkle-free perfection. Milo slacked on the school dress code wherever legally possible. He'd tried black eyeliner, army boots with missing laces, and a string of ill-advised piercings (ears, nose, eyebrow). In every case, he'd been sent home by Father Tim with the same message: "Not in my school."
"Nice to see you, too, Milo. Glad you missed me."
I dropped my heavy backpack on the wet pavement and began rolling up the white sleeves of my shirt.
"A'right, look—I'll cut you some slack because, you know, because of everything that's going on. But I'm not the one who went dark for a week. That'd be you." Milo picked at the silver duct tape holding the windshield of his car in place. Rust was winning an all-out assault on both front doors, the trunk was held down with a twisted bungee chord, and both bumpers had fallen off. "And don't tell me you dropped your cell phone in the john again. I'm not buying it. What have you been doing with yourself?"
I loosened my tie a few notches and picked up my bag. There were no lockers at Holy Cross, so the bag was stupidly heavy, loaded down with books and homework I'd not been able to touch for days.
"Well? Are you gonna answer me or do I have to beat it out of you?" asked Milo.
"Go ahead, hit a guy while he's down." I had the excuse of a lifetime for going dark, but I still felt bad for flaming out on my closest friend at Holy Cross.
He'd dug up the corner of the tape and began pulling it with his fingers. "You're beating yourself up pretty good without my help," he mumbled.
I'm quite a bit taller than Milo, but I'm also rail-thin. Milo, on the other hand, is short and solid, a ferocious wrestler. He'd have no problem kicking the crap out of me if he ever wanted to. But right now, he was just trying to pull me back into the land of the living. I got that.
"Sorry, okay? I just needed to be alone. I was on lock-down at the church house, getting my head straight. It actually felt pretty good, being off the grid for a week."
"It's cool." Milo lifted his head as he kicked the gravelly parking lot. "I'm sure it ain't easy. But you can't just disappear like that. People ask about you. They expect me to know something."
"Let 'em wonder. I don't care anymore."
"If you weren't in such bad shape already I'd put the Holy Cross on your grieving head." The "Holy Cross" was like a headlock, only you held the guy in reverse and rapped his forehead with your knuckles. Hell of a move if you could pull it off without getting bitten in the process.
"Don't go easy on me. I'm fine."
"Don't tempt me."
I smiled. Things were back to how they'd always been between us. I'd met Milo first, before anyone else at Holy Cross, at his parents' bookstore. "You ready for this place again?" asked Milo, pushing the long strip of duct tape back in place with the heel of his hand.
"Probably not. But the church house is creepy quiet, especially with Father Tim out of town. He's not coming back until tomorrow night and the old guys are downright depressing. Better here than watching dust collect on Bibles."
A dull silence hung between us. How do you talk to your friend about death and loneliness—and guilt?
Milo's phone vibrated, and he reached into his pocket, reading a text that had just arrived.
"Someone new showed up while you were gone," he said, clicking out a message and returning his phone to his pocket.
"You're kidding. Guy or girl?"
"Promising. What's she look like?"
Milo pointed into the backseat of his car, and I leaned closer, spotting a red skullcap and a longboard.
"She left her stuff in your backseat?"
"You guessed it."
"She must be a real dog."
I was damn near positive Milo was lying.
"Hang for the morning, and I promise you won't be sorry," said Milo, sensing I was thinking of ditching school for another day of solitary confinement. "I'll introduce you to the new girl. She has something for you."
"She doesn't even know me."
"She knows enough."
Milo started for the entrance to Holy Cross and I weighed my options: enter the school and find a girl with a gift (odds are she'd be hideous if she existed at all), or I could return to the church house and watch retired priests play dominoes and talk about gardening.
I decided to follow Milo into the school.
We were already late for first period, so the halls were empty when Milo opened the door to Mr. D's science class and left me standing in the gap. There's nothing quite as unnerving as incoherent mumbling and the sound of phone keys texting the moment you walk into a room.
"Well, everyone knows you're back now," said Milo, moving off toward his own first period class. "At least that's over with. Don't cut out at lunch, I told Ophelia to meet us."
I stood in the doorway listening to the sound of thumbs on little keyboards.
"Text at your own peril," shouted Mr. D, picking a wooden box up off his desk. It was widely known that if your phone ended up in Mr. D's box he would hold it for a week and answer all your incoming messages with the same four words: shut your pie hole.
Not bad for an old guy.
Attending a small private school has a certain routine that must be endured. Everyone knows everyone else, and even if we're in different groups or flat-out hate each other, there's a persistent problem that hovers over the school: We're all stuck with one another. I think this is one of the main reasons we lost so many to South Ridge. Over there a guy could pick a new friend every seven minutes and never run out. Not the case at Holy Cross.
And so I tolerated the sympathetic looks of Mr. D and all the guys in the class. I tolerated the half hugs and sweet smiles of Mary, June, Emily, Bethany, Marissa, Madison, and Taylor, who all approached me. And then, mercifully, it was over and Mr. D was telling everyone to settle down and turn to page 215.
I slid into my seat and looked around the room, making sure I hadn't missed a new girl with the face of a cow and long, dark hairs growing out her nose. Whoever Ophelia was, if she was at all, she'd be in the other first period class with Miss Pines. All the faces in Mr. D's class were ones I'd seen before.
Ethan poked me in the back with a pencil.
"Yo, man. Good to have you back. This place sucks without you. Tennis at lunch." It wasn't a question. That's Ethan for you.
"Nah. It started raining."
"Who the hell cares if it's raining?"
Everything is always a competition with Ethan. The only reason he wants to go out in the rain and play tennis is so he can beat me. This is the guy who thinks he's everyone's buddy, thinks he's extremely funny, thinks he's a lot of things everyone just sort of puts up with because he's big, his parents have money, and he's good-looking. Unfortunately, he's also stupid, loud, and ignorant.
"Got plans," I said. "Maybe tomorrow."
"Psss," Ethan scoffed, and I knew without looking he was shaking his head. I set my sights on Mr. D and tried to concentrate.
Probably the thing I like best about Holy Cross is the fact that most of the classes are taught by normal people pretending to be teachers. As long as private schools in Oregon produce students who pass state tests, they can hire whomever they want. Our science teacher, Mr. D, is also a swing-shift manager at Walmart. Mr. Beck, the social studies teacher, is an emergency plumber. At least twice a week his cell phone rings in the middle of class and he goes into panic mode, like he's just answered the Bat phone. Our math teacher is a seasonal fisherman in Alaska, where he claims to make more money in six weeks than he does all year teaching at Holy Cross.
It seems like every teacher at Holy Cross has something going on the side except Father Tim, who runs the place and teaches religion and philosophy. He's never taken a state teaching exam in his life.
"I'll bet you five bucks. Come on, one game," whispered Ethan.
I shrugged off the pencil sticking into my shoulder blade and raised my hand.
"Mr. D? Ethan keeps mumbling and poking me in the back with his pencil. I think he needs a time out."
Ethan laughed his loud, obnoxious, howler of a laugh—the one you can hear a hallway away—and Mr. D moved him to the front row.
I suffered Ethan in the hallway after class. He wouldn't let up about the match, wouldn't come unglued from my side.
There were two other guys I hung out with once in a while, Nick and Phil, who were kind of like Laurel and Hardy, but less funny. When they walked by, Ethan com-mented on my lameness and let out a howler. They looked predictably unimpressed.
"You meet the new girl yet?" asked Nick, an overweight, big-headed guy with insane hair.
I shook my head no.
Nick was the largest guy in school and, thank god for all of us, a peacekeeping force. He hated fights. He was also quicker than he looked, a real killer on the court.
"She's unapproachable," Phil commented. "Totally unapproachable." Phil's shy as hell. He's got this thin head of red hair that screams I will be bald at twenty-five.
"She talks to me plenty," said Ethan.
"Liar," said Nick. He glared at Ethan, who shrugged.
Nick gave Phil's shoulder a shake. "Our man Phil here is saving his A game. Just give him time. Besides, this new girl? She's all into Milo anyway. The two of them are an exclusive club unto themselves."
Phil and Nick drifted down a corridor. Other people hovered like bees, bumped fists, offered condolences. All morning I searched the faces for someone new and came up empty.
When the bell rang right before lunch I bolted for the door before Ethan could catch me and went straight for the spot where Milo and I always ate, out in the courtyard. Holy Cross was built in a square around an open courtyard, which was great in the spring but rotten in the winter. Raindrops snuck in under the covered halls, cold wind whipped across paint-chipped poles holding up the ceiling, and dead leaves were everywhere. There were two stone tables out there with carved benches on either side. It wasn't likely to be popular today, since the rain was a buzz kill.
I saw Milo already waiting for me. Alone.
I started down one of the four pathways into the courtyard, feeling a mist on my cheeks. Shrubs and bushes and small trees lined the pebbled walk. Everything smelled green and damp.
"Not a great place for lunch, Milo, especially since I didn't bring a lunch."
"A little rain never hurt anyone. Stop your complaining."
"Gimme a break! It's cheese zombie day. I've been missing those things. Let's go." Cheese zombies = hoagie rolls smothered in melted cheddar.
"Your cheese fix can wait," said Milo.
My stomach rumbled in response. "How'd you end up on the receiving end of this girl's attention, anyway? Sounds like she doesn't talk to anyone else but you."
Milo glanced up at me like I'd discovered a secret or something.
"Hey, what can I say, the chick latched on to me. I had very little to do with it."
"She's slumming, that it?"
Milo rolled his eyes, then assumed a wrestler's crouched position, his quick feet dancing back and forth on the gravel. I started laughing.
"If you have to know," said Milo, standing upright again, "I met her downtown at Eddies. First place she came when she arrived in town, a few days before she stepped foot on campus. She keeps to herself and I met her first. What do you want me to say? She's comfortable around me."
Eddies was a thrift store that carried nothing but clothes, mostly black. "This girl went into Eddies? What the hell for?"
"Hey, don't be like that. Eddies is cool."
"It's a freakin' mausoleum. She's goth. Has to be. A goth cow."
I stuffed my hands in my pockets and glanced toward the dry, covered hallway. Phil and Nick were standing together, staring across the courtyard, looking sort of perplexed or… I don't know, mesmerized. I followed their gaze, down the opposite pebbled pathway from which I'd come.
And there she was, like a ghost or an apparition gliding out of the safety of the school.
"So she's real after all," I mumbled, feeling a faint sort of light-headedness at the sight of the girl walking toward us.
"Oh, she's real," said Milo with a wispy sort of laugh. "And like I said, she's got something for you."
Those were the first words I ever heard Ophelia James say. I watched her as she approached through the hazy courtyard in what felt like slow motion, dropped her backpack on the stone bench next to mine, and sat on it so her butt wouldn't get wet. She was holding out her arm, a pink cast covering it from her hand to her elbow. There wasn't a single signature on it. I was struck silent.
Let me give you a sense of what I was dealing with here.
This girl was, in a word, stunning. Blond hair, and I don't mean the sandy kind. I mean long, straight, creamy-colored California beach blond. It's not very common in my neck of the woods and it caught me completely off guard. Her perfect skin was, as far as I could tell, completely devoid of makeup. Very cute face with one of those slightly upturned noses I just love. And not to be totally Manwich, but Ophelia James had a body that curved perfectly at every point. The only sane reason a heterosexual fifteen-year-old guy would take his eyes off her boobs? To stare at her butt as she was walking away.
But it was her eyes that did it, I think, a light hazel that popped almost unnaturally. And those piercing eyes, they locked on me from the moment I saw her. She stared, holding out her arm.
"Sign here," she repeated.
"Jacob Fielding, meet Ophelia James," said Milo.
Ophelia rolled her eyes and lightly punched Milo in the shoulder. They already seemed super close. Great.
"Just call me Oh, like everyone else does," Oh replied, still giving me that intense stare.
I paused for a half second, broke our mutual gaze with some serious effort, and looked at the bright pink color of a cast without markings. How could anyone, let alone someone this pretty, go even five minutes without getting mauled by guys wanting to sign her cast?
I said the first thing that came to mind and then immediately wished I were a mute boy sucking on a sock.
"Not too popular, I see. That must be rough."
She looked at Milo, clearly amused, and said, "You didn't tell me he was a comedian."
She turned back and gave me a much more resolved look. It was a look I would come to know well in the thirteen days that followed.
"Milo told me about your foster dad. I figured it must be tough for you right now, so first place on a hot pink cast seemed like the least I could do. But if you want, I can let Phil sign it first."
We all looked toward Phil. He'd have a heart attack if Ophelia James so much as talked to him.
"Let's move this meeting to my car," said Milo, wiping the rain from his forehead.
"Can we stop at the cafeteria?" asked Ophelia. "I'm starting to crave a cheese bomb."
"Since I blew my opening line, I'll get the food," I said, trying not to sound desperate despite feeling like I'd swallowed my tongue. "You guys go ahead, I'll meet you."
Five minutes later we were all sitting in Milo's car—he and Ophelia in the front seat, me in the back. The windows were fogged, hiding us from anyone outside, and our zombies steamed in the sticky air.
"I freakin' love these things," she said between mouthfuls of cheese.
"Close call," said Milo. "You know Jacob here swore off swearing at the start of the school year."
"You're kidding," said Ophelia, eyes darting between me and Milo.
"Nope," said Milo. "Certain four-letter words repel him, so I'm told."
I laughed and felt like I was very close to shooting cheese up my nose.
"I'm not that serious about it," I said.
"Are too," said Milo.
I rolled my eyes and took another bite.
"Say the F-word," said Ophelia. She was drilling down on me with those hazel eyes and this very thin, wry smile that I loved.
"Can't do it," I said. "I've got a streak going. Ninety-six days. If I hit a hundred, maybe I'll reward myself."
"I can respect that."
Milo let fly a string of cheese-laced profanities a mile long and we all laughed until we cried. There were words and phrases in there I couldn't even begin to say in front of a pretty girl.
When we calmed down, I tried to explain.
"It wasn't a big deal," I said. "Until after the, you know, after it happened."
Stupid move. Never bring up the death of someone close to you as a conversation starter. It's worse than talking about your old girlfriend. Ophelia looked at Milo uncomfortably.
"Look, you guys, it's okay," I started again. "I'm just saying, Mr. Fielding asked me to stop cursing all the time and at first it was like, who, me? But then I started listening to myself—this was like four months ago—and he was right. And since he's gone now, I don't know, I figure I can keep it going a little while longer."
"I think it's sweet," said Ophelia, again with those eyes and the upturned corner of her mouth. It was heaven.
Ophelia unzipped her backpack and pulled out a brand-new Sharpie.
"It's now or never," she said, holding the perfect pink cast out to me.
I took the pen and felt a sudden panic about what I would write. All that time walking to the cafeteria and back and for some reason I hadn't thought about what I would do if I got the pen in my hand. I stalled.
"How do you spell your name? O-P-H…"
"Just Oh. O-H."
"How'd you break it?" I asked.
"Oh come on, just sign the damn thing and let's get outta here," said Milo. "The bell's about to go off."
"It's my third break in two years," said Oh, lifting her chin in the direction of her longboard propped up next to me in the backseat. "Concrete surfing, gets me every time."
"I can respect that," I said. Smooth, Jacob. I think Milo actually winced.
All I could think about was what Oh would want me to write. I wanted her to think I was a smart, funny future husband and father of her many children.
And then it came to me, like a lightning bolt out of nowhere, the words were there and I wrote them, big and bold all across the best real estate on Oh's perfect pink cast.
You are indestructible. J
For some reason I felt light-headed when I finished writing and looked up at her, like I'd stood up too fast or the oxygen had left my brain. Oh pulled her arm back, looked thoughtfully at the words, and replied, "It's upside down, but I like it. You done good, Jacob."
I gave Oh back her pen and we got out of Milo's clunker at the sound of the bell. The words I'd written were strangely appropriate for a cast, like a well-timed joke, but also a protective gesture, a nice sentiment for a girl who keeps falling down.
You are indestructible.
- On Sale
- Apr 5, 2011
- Page Count
- 304 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers