Today's Reading

I look past Susannah to Alice, and her black-outlined blue eyes challenge me. Sometimes I wonder if they're made of ice instead of normal eyeball material. I lean toward her. And as I do, the young girl from this morning appears in front of me. My face almost collides with her dress.

"What the...?" I jerk backward, and my reaction is so sudden that I half slide off my seat and have to grab my desk to keep from landing on the floor. She disappears.

I pull myself back into my chair. The entire class, including Mrs. Hoxley, watches me. It doesn't mean anything. Nothing. Nada. It's a fluke.

"Spider," I say, and Mrs. Hoxley's face wrinkles up. "A big hairy one," I add.

Mary looks suspiciously at the ground. "So not a spider fan."

The other students look, too, lifting their feet and backpacks. Everyone except Susannah, who stares pointedly at me. I avoid her eyes.

The bell rings.

"I can't meet today," I say to the Descendants.

Susannah frowns. "Can't or won't?" She pulls on a black Victorian jacket over her floor-length black dress.

"I have to go home after school."

"Then we'll walk you to your house," says Alice, pushing her straight blond hair away from her face like it was intentionally bothering her.

I press my lips together and exhale. "Fine, I'll meet you. But I can't talk for more than ten minutes."

Mary stands up. "Are you mad at us?"

"No. Not at all." I stand up, too. "I'm just, well...I don't want to talk about what happened."

"Well, good, 'cause neither do I," Alice says. "These two won't shut up about it, and I need a break."

"I can't help it that I get nightmares," says Mary, and crosses her arms. Her dark curls bounce lightly with the motion.

"Oh." Maybe this isn't about the woods after all? "What's this about, then?"

"Just...trust us," Susannah says. She looks at the straggler students who haven't made their way out of the classroom. They grab their bags and head for the door.

"How much do you want to bet the history department finagled the dance theme decision?" Mary says to Alice as they exit.

I pick up my black bag and shove my notebook in it. Something shiny inside reflects the overhead light. In the bottom of my bag is a strange metal rod with a hooked end, like some kind of old-fashioned crochet needle. I've never seen it before. I scan the room. Nothing's amiss. Maybe it belongs to Mrs. Meriwether? Could I have accidentally put it in here when I packed my books up this morning?

I slap my bag closed and head into the hallway. I'm still amazed that people aren't recoiling from me. They're not exactly talking to me, either, but it's a definite improvement.

A shoulder collides with mine. I jump.

Jaxon laughs and hooks his callused thumb under his backpack strap. His sandy hair is slightly messy, and his demeanor exudes its usual enviable confidence. His blue eyes dance with mischief. "Daydreaming about me?"

I laugh, too. "You wish."

He opens the door to Mr. Wardwell's AP History class for me. "I do wish."

I look at him for a second. Was he joking or flirting? These past six months Jaxon and I have just been friends—best friends, really. He gave me my space when I asked for it after the woods and after Elijah left. He even accepted my story that Vivian was after my dad's money and that's why she ran off when my dad woke up from his coma.
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