Authors: Stacey Kade
Tags: #Fiction - Young Adult
Copyright © 2012 by Stacey Kade
All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Hyperion, 114 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10011-5690.
To my editor, Christian Trimmer:
Thank you for giving me the chance to tell these stories and for helping me make them better than I ever dreamed they could be. I am so grateful to be one of your authors.
alachi the Magnificent, Consultant to the Stars, had a storefront in a dingy, rundown strip mall between a sketchy-looking Laundromat and a closed-up nail salon with a big, bright orange health department sticker plastered on its door. It couldn’t have been less magnificent if he’d tried.
My heart sank. This was the guy we were going to for help on life-and-death matters?
I looked over at Will in the driver’s seat. “You’re kidding, right?”
“What’s wrong?” he asked, making the turn into the crumbling and pothole-filled lot, which was—surprise, surprise—basically empty, even on a warm and sunny Friday afternoon.
“Look at this place! It’s about six seconds from being raided by the police…or Health and Sanitation.” I shuddered.
At least Madame Selena had had her own building…about sixteen inches from the edge of the highway, but still. And she had a turban. Say what you will, but it certainly added an air of mystery to her, like what, exactly, she was hiding under it.
“Appearances can be deceiving.” Will looked over at me pointedly.
I shoved her…
fine brown hair away from my eyes and glared at him. “Oh, ha-ha. Very funny.”
I’d been stuck inside Lily Turner’s body for almost a month now. My well-intentioned attempt as a spirit to simply borrow her body for the purposes of communicating with the living had backfired in a huge way. And now I had to pretend to be Lily. Or try to, anyway.
I’m an expert at pretending. I spent a lot of years and even more effort convincing people that the perfectly put together and trouble-free Alona Dare they knew and seemingly loved was the real deal instead of a carefully crafted and maintained cover.
But being a whole other person—someone I’d never met—that was a stretch, even with my skills.
I’d read Lily’s diary (revoltingly full of naive gushing about Ben Rogers—barf ), reviewed the contents of her pathetic closet, and dug into the depths of her medicine cabinet (cheap makeup in the wrong color palette and one bottle of expired antibiotics—boring).
But none of that told me how to
her, especially around her family. And I was failing…miserably. I didn’t know Lily’s favorite color, that she was allergic to strawberries (found that one out the hard way), or that she hated that old Backstreet Boys song “Everybody,” which her younger brother, Tyler, played over and over again just to bug her. I’d just tuned it out and chalked it up as another example of Tyler’s bad taste, in music this time instead of fashion.
Trauma and brain injury could explain away a lot, but not enough. The Turners had given me space in the beginning to “adjust,” but now, unsurprisingly, Mrs. Turner was pressing for more time, more interaction…just more from me. And I couldn’t do it; I couldn’t be their Lily even if I wanted to…and in a funny-odd kind of way, I really did.
I didn’t blame the Turners, and I didn’t want to hurt them—they’d been so patient and nice to me—but I felt like I couldn’t breathe with all this pressure. Pressure not only to be Lily Turner but to be the correct Lily Turner, the one they all remembered.
And Will was no help. His experiences with Lily had been mostly at school. He didn’t know much of anything about her home life, at least not in enough detail to be useful.
Their friend Joonie might have had more info, given her former crush on Lily, and she’d even called from Boston a couple of times to check on “me” after hearing “I” had woken from the coma. But I’d kept the conversations short and as generically polite as possible, feigning memory loss. She sounded like she was actually doing all right living with her sister, and the last thing I wanted was to say or do anything that might cause her to worry and come rushing back here.
a good idea, for a lot of reasons.
So, in short, this being-Lily thing was a mess. One I needed out of as soon as possible, but definitely before school started back up in a couple of weeks. That was the one thing that could make this situation worse—going back to school as Lily Turner. Or as a freaking junior.
But that was easier said than done. What I’d accomplished was rare—possessing a body for any length of time was virtually unheard-of. Getting me out would be one hell of a trick. Keeping Lily alive without me would be another. Her body was now, in theory, dependent on the energy my spirit provided. So, in short, even if we could find a way to get me out, I couldn’t leave unless we could find a way to save Lily, too—a way to bring her spirit back from the light or some kind of energy substitute or something.
Essentially, we were looking for a two-for-one miracle. But after only a few weeks, we’d exhausted most of our semibrilliant ideas and reached desperate-measures level. We’d take anything now, any clue to point us in the correct direction.
Hence, Malachi the allegedly Magnificent.
“What’s so special about this one again?” I asked as Will pulled into a parking space. “Aside from raising our chances of catching hepatitis, I mean.” I looked at the nail salon and shuddered again.
Malachi would be the third “psychic medium” (a.k.a. “big faker”) we’d seen in the last couple of weeks. And frankly, he didn’t seem any more promising than the others.
“He has a star by his name…I think,” Will said, cutting the engine.
?” I demanded.
He shifted uneasily in his seat. “It’s not exactly clear, okay? I’m pretty sure it’s a star.”
“So, just to clarify, we’re here in janky-land because of a possible doodle?”
He looked at me, stung. “Hey, we’ve been over this. If you have any better ideas—”
“Just…let me see it again.” I waved my hand impatiently at him in a “gimme” gesture.
He glared at me but twisted to the side to reach into his back pocket, and I tried hard not to notice that doing so made his shirt pull tighter against his chest and brought him so much closer to me. Like, touching close.
Heat crawled up my neck into my face, and I looked away, hoping he wouldn’t notice. God. This body thing—technically, in this case, I suppose it was
body and my reaction to it—was killing me. Could I please be non-corporeal again? Now? I did not like this…flesh and blood intensity. It was all out-of-control feeling, and I did not DO out-of-control.
“Here.” He bumped my arm with the back of his hand, holding out a carefully folded rectangle of yellow paper.
I snapped it from his fingers, and he sucked a breath through his teeth. “Careful!”
Will treated the page like an artifact from a previous age, and I suppose, for him, it was. After our other resources (pretty much just the Internet) had failed to produce any new information on my predicament—or really, any information at all, other than calling for a priest—Will had dug into some boxes of his dad’s stuff in the basement. Most of it was random useless junk his mother couldn’t bring herself to throw away—a half-finished pack of gum, old birthday cards from Will’s grandma, an almost empty bottle of cologne, an old answering-machine tape, grocery lists with Will’s dad’s illegible scrawl.
I suspect Will had been hoping for a secret journal—something detailing his father’s struggle with being a ghost-talker over the years—that his mother had somehow overlooked or written off at the time as an attempt at fiction. I know he wanted to get a better handle on who his dad was, the kind of person he’d been, since his dad had lied to him for most of his life. But there was nothing like that in the boxes. And for the record, my hopes had been dashed as well, since he didn’t conveniently find a vial of mysterious liquid labeled
EMERGENCY ONLY: FOR WHEN YOUR SPIRIT GUIDE BECOMES TRAPPED IN A BODY
So…no diary of confessions, no bottle of secret formula, but tucked into a city map of Decatur was this folded-up page torn from the
section in the yellow pages. The Psychic section, specifically. But what Will was interested in was the strange marks and undecipherable notes in his dad’s handwriting near several of the names/ads, even though we had no idea what any of the nonsensical scrawls meant.
Will’s dad was a bit of a mystery to him, so no matter how cryptic the messages on the page, it was more than Will had had before. From what Will had told me, his dad was never particularly chatty about the gift they both shared. Daniel Killian preferred to pretend that everything was normal, no matter what kind of toll that took on him and his son. I personally thought that was kind of crappy of him, especially given that he then bailed on Will and Will’s mom by offing himself a few years ago.
But whatever. I guess maybe I wasn’t the best judge of parental behavior at times, either.
I let out a breath and made a deliberate effort to unfold the page more carefully, and Will relaxed a little. He did have a point—the lines where it had been folded were already softening from the wear and tear we’d given it in the last few weeks. If it had been an actual historical document, it might have been faring better—parchment or whatever they used to write on back in the old days might have actually held up better than this cheap-ass paper.
The psychics shared a page with listings for property managers and prosthetic-device manufacturers. Malachi the Magnificent’s ad (God, could he sound any more like a little kid’s party magician?) was circled several times, hard enough to dent the page, and had what might have been a star by it.
Or an ink blot.
I sighed. Will’s theory was that his dad must have been checking into these people for a reason, maybe as part of his work for the Order. The publishing date, printed in tiny letters at the bottom, indicated the page was from five years ago, right about the time Will’s dad had finally quit working for them. The Order of the Guardians was essentially a group of ghost-talkers who’d taken it upon themselves to save living humankind from all of us big bad spirits. Never mind that ghosts were once living people, too. Lily and I had both almost succumbed to their relentless “protective” services. Will and I weren’t exactly their biggest fans these days, and that feeling was probably pretty mutual. Will had heard from them only once after everything that happened. As far as I knew, most of the leaders thought Lily had recovered on her own, and Will was simply no longer interested in joining their organization, much to their disappointment. The one who knew better, who had witnessed what went down in the janitorial closet at the hospital—my guess was, he was staying quiet to avoid losing control over his division. He’d been abusing his authority…and his daughter.
Still, the Order had some serious power players, and if they’d been interested in these “psychics,” maybe one of them might actually be valuable in some way. Maybe someone knew stuff we didn’t. Wouldn’t be hard; most days it felt like we knew nothing.
Folding up the page to hand it back to Will, though, I noticed something I’d missed before. “The other side of this is—”
He focused his attention on the steering wheel, running his thumb over a cut in the plastic. “I know.”
The section right before Psychics? Psychiatrists. His father hadn’t been crazy, as Will’s mom and others had probably suspected at the time, but depressed? Uh, yeah. People don’t generally take their lives via train because they’re feeling hunky-dory.
“Are you sure he saved this because of the psychics or…”
He just looked at me.
“Okay, then. Never mind.” Will had few sore spots. This was one of them.
I finished folding the page and held it out to him.
He took it and put it back in his pocket. “He didn’t make any marks on the psychiatrist page. Not that one or the one still in the phone book. I checked.”
“I wasn’t implying that he—”
“Let’s just go, okay?” He opened the car door and got out without waiting for an answer.
Hey, look at that. I could upset people even when I was trying to be
. Too bad I hadn’t realized this talent sooner. I could have saved myself the effort of coming up with all those perfectly pointed insults.
I followed him, climbing out of the car with way more effort than should have been necessary. My left leg was stiff from sitting for just the twenty minutes or so it had taken us to get here.
I gritted my teeth, forcing myself to stand up on it anyway. I
this. So broken and clumsy and…not me.
I’d spent years training, working out, and not eating to get
body, the one I’d had before. I was varsity cheerleader captain, people; that’s more than good genetics. It’s work.
But Lily…she was shorter, softer, curvier. Not fat, exactly, but not the athlete I’d been, either. Not even close. And don’t even get me started on the clumsiness. If there was something to trip over in a ten-foot radius, she found it…the hard way. Some of that was because this body had been in a coma for the better part of a year, and some because of the accident that had put her there. I had weekly physical therapy appointments to address those issues and hopefully get this body back to the point where I could exercise on my own. But a good portion of it would never be “fixed.” It was just her. And now, me.
I stepped back, shoved the door shut…and slipped on the loose gravel on the asphalt. I clawed for the door handle to catch myself, but it was too far away. I braced myself for the bone-crunching impact with the ground, but hands caught at me at the last second, pulling me up and against a solid, warm body.