When I’d pried my eyes open, I’d seen Dad first. He’d looked a mess—really dead, and Olivia couldn’t reach him. The paramedics, the doctors—none of them had had problems touching me. I remembered thinking maybe I’d dreamed about dying.
When I’d gotten home, when everything was so jacked up and felt surreal, I’d realized I hadn’t dreamt crap. Sushi had been the first victim. With his smashed-up nose and one eye, the cat happened to be the ugliest thing I’d ever seen, but I loved him. I picked him up, and he died about sixty seconds later. Several dead houseplants later, I realized something was wrong with me—very wrong.
I stopped touching things. Just like that.
Oddly enough, Olivia’s ability to bring back the dead had vastly different outcomes depending on what she used it on. Animals ended up with eyes like mine, but they didn’t carry the death-touch like I did. I wasn’t sure if that would be the same with anybody else she’d bring back, and I really didn’t want to find out.
The shrill sound of the first bell drew me out of my thoughts. I gathered my stuff and followed Adam into the crowded hallway.
“So why were you late this morning?” he asked.
I shrugged. “I overslept. It happens.”
He sent me a doubtful look, and I felt terrible lying to him. My gaze dropped from his face to his shirt. It read: I BELIEVE IN TROPHY WIVES. Nice.
I changed the subject. “Do you think we’ll have a quiz in history?”
He nodded, eyes a bright blue behind the wire frame glasses. “Yeah, did you study?”
I shuffled out of the throng of students, smiling up at Adam. “What were you saying?”
Adam rolled his eyes. “Did you study?”
“Oh. Olivia was being especially needy last—”
“Freak,” said Dustin Smith, varsity football captain and all-around douche bag.
“You dated her,” cut in another boy. “She’s your freak, Dustin.”
The “dated her” part was sad, but true. When I was fifteen, popular, and still could touch people, we’d had a thing. Dustin and I had kissed… a lot. Then I’d turned into the black widow. So the chances that I’d die a virgin remained pretty high.
A freak and a virgin—couldn’t get any better than that.
“Man, I’m trying to forget that part of my life,” said Dustin. “Can you not bring it up?”
My fingers curled around the strap of my bag as I stared at the dirty floor. Keep staring at the floor, I thought. Looking up only makes things worse. But I never listened to the sane, reasonable voice in my head. Almost against my will, I lifted my head and glared at Dustin.
He jumped back, throwing his hands up as if he wished to ward me off. “Jesus! Don’t look at me with your dead eyes, you freak!”
“Hey!” yelled Adam, stepping around me. “Don’t talk like that to her.”
Dustin lurched at Adam like he was going to hit him, but it was fake. I knew it, and Adam knew it, but we both winced. The crowd around Dustin burst into laughter, the word “freak” still being tossed around as they made their way down the hall.
“What an asshole,” muttered Adam. “God, you know what?”
“What?” Hot tears burned my eyes, threatening to spill over, and I hated myself for letting a jerk like Dustin get to me.
“You know he’s gonna be pumping our gas one day. He thinks he’s Big Shit now, but he’ll be working at his father’s gas station until he dies.” Adam slammed his locker shut, his face softening. “Em, don’t let him get to you like that. You’re better than him and all his friends.”
I blinked furiously. “Are my eyes really that creepy?”
Adam swallowed and it took him a few moments to answer. “No… they aren’t creepy, Em. They’re just different, that’s all.”
I sighed. Who was he kidding? My eyes were creepy. The funny thing was they used to be a shade of boring brown, but after the whole dying thing, they’d changed. Now they possessed the palest shade of blue possible—kind of like the color of the sky on an overcast day, when the world appeared dull and diluted. People thought it was the trauma from the accident or something.
“Em?” he said. “Wanna hang out tonight? We can order pizza. Your favorite this time—no pepperoni—just peppers and mushrooms.”
“Sure.” I cleared my throat, forcing a smile. Adam never questioned why I didn’t like to be touched. He just accepted it—accepted me. He made life here tolerable. “I have to pick up Olivia after school and get some groceries, but you can come over.”
Adam smiled, visibly relieved. “Good—”
The second warning bell went off, drawing a groan from Adam. He had biology next. Today he’d be dissecting frogs. I pushed away from the locker, about to send him a sympathetic smile when, out of the blue, that line from Macbeth popped into my head: Something wicked this way comes. I twisted my neck and peered over my shoulder.
My eyes found him at once.
He was tall—even taller than freakishly tall Adam.
Deep brown hair fell over his forehead in wild waves. His face was arresting and intriguing, with broad cheekbones and a determined mouth. Not conventionally handsome, but universally alluring. Even from where I stood, I could see his eyes were so dark they were almost black.
There was something eerily familiar about his face, like I’d caught glimpses of him in a crowd before. He looked up, and our eyes locked. The intensity in his gaze forced me to step back, almost knocking into Adam.
“Em? You okay? What you staring at?”
I whirled around. “You don’t see that guy?”
Adam frowned. “What guy?”
Turning back around, I blinked. The spot where the boy had stood was now empty. The hall was long and narrow. There was no way he could’ve just disappeared. And it was obvious that Adam hadn’t seen the boy in the first place. Was I going crazy now, too? Imagining a sexy new guy standing beside our sparse trophy case?
I guess it could be worse, I admitted. If I was going to hallucinate, then at least it was some hot dude instead of something gross.
I was obsessed with Hot Dude for the rest of the day, which was pathetic. My brain must have felt sorry for me, so it’d created the only type of guy I could touch—a fantasy one. When Sally had knocked my English book off my desk, I’d barely raised a brow. When I was confronted by Dustin and his cronies after lunch, I was too caught up in trying to remember all the elements of Hot Dude’s face to pay them much attention.
Adam reappeared at my locker at the end of the day, minus his glasses. “What happened to your glasses?” I shoved everything except my trig book back into the locker. It never failed—I always had trig homework.
“What do you think? Dustin the douchenozzle took them in gym class.” He switched his bag to his other shoulder.
For a brief second, I entertained the idea of ripping off my gloves, rushing down the hall, and jumping on Dustin’s back like a psychotic monkey. I knocked my locker door shut, sighing. “How many has this been?”
“Fourth pair since school started. Mom’s going to kill me.”
We started toward the back doors. “It’s not your fault.”
“Try telling her that. She acts like every pair of glasses is a child lost.” He held open the door, letting me slide past him. “Alert the police! Another one gone missing!” he cried, clutching his chest. “Someone put my glasses on the back of a milk carton, STAT.”
An image of Mr. Potato Head’s glasses and nose popped in my head, causing me to giggle.
Adam beamed. “So, we still on for tonight?”
“Only if you don’t think your mom is going to freak out that badly.” I stopped beside Adam’s beat-up Ford Taurus. He had a prime parking spot, right in the first row. Since I was always late, I was way back in the section of the parking lot reserved for potheads and students one step from dropping out. I glanced at him, frowning. “You sure you can drive without your glasses?”
He pretended to be offended. “I’m not blind. It’s just signs, cars, and people I can’t see.”
“Anyway,” He opened his back door and threw his book bag on the backseat. “Mom will be cool by the time I sneak out of the house. You sure you don’t want help at the grocery store?”
“Nah, I’m good.” I started off before he could insist, which is what he did every time he knew I had to do the family errand thing. “I’ll text you when I’m done.”
He gave me a quick, two-finger salute before climbing behind the wheel. I winced and hurried out of his way, muttering a prayer under my breath.
My legs burned by the time I tossed my bag in the back and peeled out of the parking lot. Thankfully, Olivia’s school let out an hour after mine, which gave me some free time. Before the accident, I would’ve headed off to the mall or movies. Now I went the one free place no other kids my age would go—the Allentown Public Library.
Three minutes later, I pulled in front of the squat, two-story building and grabbed my bag. Cool, stale air greeted me as I pushed open the glass doors. Mrs. Compton was where she always was, standing behind the circulation desk. A friendly smile pulled her lips up as she saw me. Shoving a pen into her gray bun, she leaned a plump hip against the counter.
“How was school, Ember?”
She laughed, shaking her head. “One day, when you’re my age, you’ll look back at high school and wish you were back there. Trust me.”
Not likely, but I smiled as I headed to my spot by the window. Curling up on the overstuffed chair that had seen better days, I pulled out the worn copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray. I hoped to get a chapter or two done for my essay before I’d have to leave to pick up Olivia.
I thumbed the book open, preparing myself for the bizarreness that was Oscar Wilde. Only ten or fifteen minutes had passed before a shadow blocked the sunlight streaming through the window behind me. I lifted my head and my heart stuttered.
I was hallucinating again, because Hot Dude was standing in front of me.
The sun cast a halo around him, making him appear surreal. His arresting mouth formed a crooked grin and one lock of brown hair, tinted red by the light, fell over his forehead. I blinked, but he didn’t vanish.
“Hi,” he said in a deep, soft voice that sent a pleasant shiver down my spine.
I looked around, checking to see if anyone else had noticed him, but there was no one near us. My gaze returned to him. Up close, he was actually sort of breathtaking, with his tousled hair and olive skin. His sooty eyelashes had to be the envy of every girl he crossed paths with.
He ran a hand through his hair and rocked back on his heels. The awkward silence stretched out, and I suddenly became painfully aware of how different I was from two years ago. I’d always had something witty and flirty to say. Now I just stared up at him like an idiot. A fierce blush stole over my cheeks, spreading down my neck.
“Uh… I’ve seen you around here a couple of times,” he tried again, staring at the book I held. “‘I had come face to face with some one whose mere personality was so fascinating that, if I allowed it to do so, it would absorb my whole nature, my whole soul, my very art itself.’”