Authors: Maureen Lipinski
Tags: #young adult, #teen fiction, #fiction, #teen, #teen fiction, #teenager, #drama, #romance, #magic, #fantasy, #urban fantasy
For Paige: may the road always rise to meet you
Â© 2012 by Maureen Lipinski.
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E-book ISBN: 9780738732725
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A huge thank you to my editor Brian Farrey-Latz for taking my little book under his wing and helping to shape it into something very sparkly. And a big dose of gratitude to Sandy Sullivan, editor extraordinaire and detail queen, for her wonderful comments and hawk-eye.
Of course, mad props to my agent Holly Root for her stamina and unwavering faith in this book. Her perseverance knows no bounds!
Thank you also to my friends and family, especially Kevin, Ryan, and Paige, who show me every day what it truly means to have a life filled with magic.
Don't be nervous. My friends don't bite,” Alex said as he pulled out of the driveway. The morning sun made his blond curls look even more perfect, and his leftover summer tan was just starting to fade into the most delicious caramel brown.
“I'm not nervous,” I said as I smoothed my palms down the front of my yellow sundress. I knew a social judgment would be handed down from the other students within minutes and I hoped my ability to accessorize would grant me some leniency.
At least I had enough sense not to wear the
Hello, My Name is Leah
nametag that the principal suggested. Despite this being my first real foray into normal high school, I knew a nametag would equal social suicide.
“Good. Don't be. Nothing to worry about. Westerville
High is pretty cool.” His eyes crinkled at the corners. I noticed a triangular pattern of freckles on his nose. He flashed me a smile, revealing a mouthful of perfect white teeth that glinted in the sunlight.
“Thanks for giving me a ride,” I said quietly, twisting my hands in my lap.
“No problem. My dad said I'd be a good escort for the first day of school. I can show you the ropes and all that.” Alex tapped at the radio. He stopped and turned toward me, his beautiful eyes locked on mine. “It's not exactly torture.” He winked at me.
My stomach dropped a little. “Well, thanks,” was all I managed to say.
“You're going to love Westerville,” Alex said. He leaned toward me a bit so that his right arm and my left elbow nearly grazed one another.
“I hope so,” I said, more confidently than I felt. Truth was, just being near Alex soothed my New Girl in School nerves a bit. Even though I barely knew him, his sincerity, magnetism, and simplicity tranquilized me in the most wonderful way. And after the â¦
of the last year, simplicity sounded marvelous. It helped that he was nice to look at, too.
As we drove to school, I glanced around, still half-expecting to see one of Them appear next to a garbage can or stop sign.
“So, did I tell you they broke ground on the new football stadium?” Alex asked. “My dad's company is the developer for the project. It's going to be done by next season. I can't wait to play in it. I'll take you over to the construction site sometime. You're going to love it.”
His words drew me in, like I was already a member of a special club just by being in his car, in his presence. Even though I'd only met him recently (our fathers were old high school pals), I clung to his energy. I was so thankful I wouldn't spend my first day wandering around school without a guide. And Alex wasn't just any guideâhe was the quarterback of the Westerville High football team. I knew that arriving with him would give me the best possible entr
e into high school. Through him, I was safe.
This is my chance
I repeated silently as Alex turned the car down a side street with a canopy of trees overhead. I reached up and brushed my fingers against the carvings on the pewter amulet around my neck. I centered the black onyx stone and held it in silent prayer, hoping it would keep me blind to Them.
My chance to be free from the CrÃ©atÃºir.
Yet as we approached a stop sign on the winding road, I saw a shadow move across the red octagon. I watched in horror as the letters melted away, white stripes running down the red sign. Four new letters appeared, burning into the metal.
L â¦ E â¦ A â¦ H
My skin pricked and I blinked hard, but the letters glowed more brightly. My head snapped to Alex, but he was looking at the radio as he tapped at the preset channels. I closed my eyes and grabbed my necklace tightly.
Go away. Leave me alone. I don't care what you want. Just let me have a regular day in a normal school.
I opened my eyes slowly and saw that the stop sign had morphed back. I settled back into my seat and exhaled.
They were gone.
hen I spotted the high school on the next block, I flipped down the car's sun visor to check my lip-gloss. As I brought the wand to my lips, another flash caught the corner of my eye.
I froze, lip-gloss wand in the air, and prayed it wasn't another attempt at contact. I cautiously peered around the sun visor and saw a massive amount of people walking toward the school, like a swarm of bees heading into a hive.
“Here we are!” Alex said.
I remained silent. There were so many people. Of course, I'd seen enough movies and read enough books to sort-of know what public high school was like. But nothing had prepared me for the sight of three thousand
people loitering outside the building, like a swarm of Dark
heading into the Forest of Macabre to make a ritual sacrifice.
Alex pulled his car into a free parking space and pointed to a sticker on the windshield. “
is what you get when you're on the football team,” he said proudly.
“Oh.” I nodded. I gripped my hands tightly in my lap and wondered if I could just hide out in his car for the day.
He sighed. “It's kind of a big deal, okay? C'mon, I'll introduce you to my friends.” He walked around the back of the car, opened my door, and grabbed my hand. His touch surprised me at first; his smooth palm radiated heat up my arm, as though his energy singed my skin. I allowed him to pull me toward the chaotic building, clutching his hand like a security blanket.
I can do this. High school is nothing. I can fit in.
As we walked toward the front door, I saw heads beginning to turn in our direction, no doubt curious about King Alex and The Weird Girl He's Touching.
“Everyone's pretty excited about the first game, huh?” I said in a low tone as I took in the
banner swooping across the front door.
Alex stopped and laughed as he dropped my hand. “Yeah, Leah, everyone's excited. You're funny.” He chuckled again and waved toward the school. “Let's go.”
I nodded, relieved that he seemed charmed by my cluelessness rather than rightfully offended.
, I scolded myself,
what a nice question. You just asked the star quarterback of the Westerville football team if people care about the games. Westerville High School. As in, the high school that makes West Texas high school football mania look like mild interest. Try not to embarrass your new friend as he's trying to help you fit in at school, okay? Stop asking questions. Just nod and take notes.
I followed Alex across the parking lot, past people whispering and pointing at something on an iPod, past a girl screaming and crying as her boyfriend rolled his eyes and feigned boredom, past students with black fingernail polish, long sleeves despite the eighty-degree weather, and dark hair.
Despite the female attention I was attracting, the guys didn't even seem to notice me. I walked two paces behind Alex and watched as nearly every student waved to him and shouted things like, “Good summer, man?” and “Ready to throw about a million yards this season?” before their expressions turned to curiosity and confusion over the girl hovering behind him like his human shadow.
We were about ten feet from the front door when I saw them. Not “them” as in the mystical Them, but the human “them.” The beautiful people. People who seemed to sparkle and glitter. Kind of like the Light CrÃ©atÃºir gorgons, with their hair made of wings plucked from monarch butterflies.
Alex's friends. Beautiful just like him.
And hopefully, their hair wouldn't morph into snakes at the slightest unpleasantness, like a gorgon's.
I felt two pairs of eyes, one belonging to a brunette, one to a blonde, burning straight through me as I tagged along behind Alex like a stray puppy. I pretended not to notice and pasted a fakey smile on my face that I hoped said,
Like me! I'm just like you! Let's be BFF! I'm friends with Alex and you should be my friend, too! I was never a CrÃ©atÃºir Shaman! In fact, CrÃ©atÃºir? What is that, I daresay?
In fact, it probably looked more like
I'm a deranged person who Alex is kindly assisting into the building in the same manner in which he'd help an elderly woman! I am weird! Look at me with great disdain and confusion!
“That's Brooke and Caroline,” Alex said over his shoulder. “They're pretty cool. C'mon, I'll introduce you.”
I nodded, my eyes darting around, painfully aware of all the female eyes now focused on me. It felt like last year, when I first visited the Other Realm and all the CrÃ©atÃºir crowded around me, except this felt way less paparazzi-ish and way more hostile.
“Hey!” Alex waved to the girls with the hostile eyes as we stopped in front of them. I leaned in toward him, hoping his confidence would absorb into my aura.
The blonde and the brunette appeared even more sparkly up close, and I put my sunglasses on to hide my eyes. The blonde had long, flowing hair that crested in perfect waves around her shoulders and a nose so straight I could swear her makeup should slide right off it. She shifted her enormous purse to her left arm and nudged her brunette friend. The brunette sized me up and down, her purple eye shadow glistening, and leaned over and whispered something into her friend's ear. They both dissolved into giggles.
“Hey everyone, this is Leah,” Alex said. The girls stared at me. The guys didn't look up.
“Yo,” Alex said, hitting one of the huge meathead guys on the arm. “Leah,” he repeated, and pointed to me.
“What's up? I'm Troy,” the meathead said in my direction before continuing to watch something on his iPod. A few of the other guys grunted and then quickly dismissed me.
“Hey, I need to go inside and turn in my emergency contact card at the office. Wanna come, or are you okay out here?” Alex asked.
Not wanting to seem like a toddler in need of babysitting, I waved my hand dismissively. “I'm fine! Go ahead!” Yet I really wanted to screech,
Don't leave me! These sparkly people are going to eat me alive!
“Great. I think we have the same lunch. I'll see you then,” Alex said, squinting his eyes in the morning
I nodded and Alex turned and walked into the school building. Halfway there, he turned back and shouted, “Brooke, Caroline! Be nice to her!” before jogging inside.
I turned awkwardly toward the two girls standing to my right.
“Hey!” I tried to say brightly, hoping feigned effervescence would cover my nerves. Of course, instead of saying hello in a bubbly manner and then becoming best buddies with the beautiful girls, my throat caught in the middle of the word, so all that came out was “He!”
The blonde and the brunette flinched and narrowed their eyes at me. The blonde shrugged and gave me a small wave. “Hi,” she said tersely.
“I'm Leah,” I said, just in case they'd forgotten my name already, and hooked my thumb into my purse. I once read that confident people take up space, so I widened my stance a little, but I think I just wound up looking like I was attempting to do the middle splits immediately after a hip replacement.
“I'm Caroline Matteson and she's Brooke Nelson,” the brunette said.
“Hey,” I said again. “I like your shoes.” I pointed at Brooke's patent leather Mary Jane heels. I thought if I started off with a compliment, they'd go easy on me.
“Thanks.” Brooke shrugged. Still unsmiling. Her voice flat.
We stood, silently, for a few of the most painful seconds of my life. Finally Brooke said, “So, where are you from?” She gave me a little head jerk and her lips curled into a small smile.
“You mean, where did I go to school before?”
“Yeah. You just moved here, right?” Caroline said.
Remember your rehearsed answer, Leah. The same answer that you practiced with Mom and Dad. The same answer that you give Alex whenever he asks about your old life.
“Well, I went to a sort of small school an hour away, in my old town, Central Springs.” I adjusted the gold cuff bracelet on my left wrist.
Small school? More like a school with classes like
Meditating on the Third Chakra: An Intermediate Study
. Oracle Prep wasn't exactly an average high school. Our lunch hour consisted of picking vegetables in an organic garden.
“Do they have a football team?” Brooke asked.
I shook my head.
Shock and awe appeared on their faces.
“Yeah, this is a whole different experience,” I said, glancing around nervously.
I noticed I'd now become the star attraction. Kind of like everyone watching a caught fish while it dies on the boat floor before they filet it and eat it.
But this was what I'd come here for. A different
I was born with the ability to be a CrÃ©atÃºir Shamanâa mortal witness to the beings who lurk in the Other Realm, hidden from our world by a thin curtain. I'd loved and accepted my role until â¦ last year. Last year, when I was careless with the oldest canon for Shamans:
never go to the Other Realm unprepared
. Shamans are not supposed to linger if they visit the Other Realm, but I thought I would be safe even without some way of tracking the time â¦ that my gift would protect me, that I wouldn't be affected by how differently time passes there. I thought that Fiona would remind me go to home before too many days had passed.
I also thought that I'd only been gone a week when I returned.
A full year, that's how long I was gone. I missed everythingâThanksgiving, Christmas, Halloween, my sixteenth birthday. A year of my life whisked away in the winds of the Other Realm, unexplainable to anyone who didn't know my secret.
“So, how did you and Alex meet?” Brooke asked with narrowed eyes as she flipped her hair over her shoulder.
“Um â¦ I met him at football practice.” They stared at me. I fidgeted nervously and shifted my weight. “You know, football practice?”
I looked at them, searching for signs of life.
“Yeah, we know what football practice is. We're cheerleaders,” Caroline said with a laugh.
“Oh, right! Anyway, my dad used to play football here like a million years ago, and he dragged me to one of the practices after we moved here. And I guess he used to play with Alex's dad, so they introduced us a few weeks ago. I've only met him a few times, but he seems really nice.” I shrugged as I looked down and kicked at the pavement. “We hung out last week after one of the practices.” I shrugged again and looked up. Neither Caroline nor Brooke looked impressed. “He gave me a ride home later, after we grabbed some ice cream. And then he offered to drive me to school today.”
Stop talking. You sound possessed. Although, according to Morgana, real possession usually involves a lot more writhing on the floor and speaking in tongues. Not to mention theâ
“Introduced by your dads, that's kinda funny.” Caroline's words forced a time-out in my mental wrestling match.
“Yeah, my dad's the one who really encouraged me to start school here,” I said.
After last year, my dad had insisted I attend Westerville High. To go to his alma mater, his old high school, and experience football games, cheerleaders, and prom like a normal teenager. He was convinced that going to a public high school would keep me safe and “on earth,” as he put it.
“Huh,” Brooke said, yet I could read the scroll of
that is so weird and so is this girl
running across her eyes. “So you're not his girlfriend or anything, right?”
“No, we're just friends,” I said quickly. “He was nice enough to give me a ride to school today, that's all.”
Brooke and Caroline let out sighs of relief, and I shifted uncomfortably again.
“So, Leah,” Brooke said, suddenly friendly. “Are you an only child or something?”
I shook my head. “I have three sisters. One older, two younger.” I noticed a kid to my left freaking out because he'd left his wallet at home. I wondered if the CrÃ©atÃºir were silently cackling.
“Are they coming to Westerville too?” Caroline adjusted her sparkly silver earring.
Despite all of my rehearsal and preparation, this was one question I wasn't ready for.
“Uh, I, er, um,” I stammered, trying to will my brain to spit out an acceptable answer.
They're in prison! They've joined the Navy! They're allergic to sunlight!
So I decided just to tell the truth. “They're being homeschooled,” I finally panted.
They stared at me.
“What?” I said, unaware of whatever misstep I'd taken. I fidgeted as I felt my face begin to grow pink.
Brooke and Caroline exchanged a look.
“Like Amish people?” Caroline began to laugh uncontrollably.