“There is an old and very wise Native American saying: Every time you point a finger in scorn—there are three remaining fingers pointing right back at you.”
“I did Google him, you know."
"Oh, so you GOOGLED him Oh, well, that changes everything then, doesn't it? What could I possibly worry about now that I know you've conducted such a thorough Internet search?”
“Are you staring at me because you've seen my doppelganger roaming the halls, playing kind of the cafeteria? Or because you need to borrow a pencil and you're too shy to ask?”
“So it's a yes, then?"
To blue-corn pancakes or being your girlfriend?”
“You hurt my feelings." He shoots me a wounded look.
"I wasn't aware that you had any.”
“Some may say I'm perceptive"
"And what would you say?" I ask, my voice edgy, tired of being toyed with.
"I'd say I agree.”
“For the moment, I’m just Daire—a girl straddling two bloodlines. One I was given—one I must earn.”
“And I know you've spent a lifetime trying to protect me from the staggering pain of grief that comes from losing the things and the people and the places you allowed yourself to care about--but guess what, Jennika--that's no way to live. As much as it hurts to lose something you love, there's much greater joy in getting to experience it for as long as it lasts.”
“You never told me your name," he says, his voice so hauntingly familiar it causes a rush of heat to blanket my skin.
I sigh,staring blankly down the hall when I say, "Psycho Girl-Psycho Horseback Singing Girl..." I shrug. "I've heard it both ways."
He squints.His hand reaching for my shoulder,then falling away the instant he catches the look of reproach on my face.
"Look," I say,knowing I need to stop him before he can go any further.His kindness will only distract me at a time when I need to stay focused. "I've had a really bad day.And if my calculations are right,I have three hundred and eight more,give or take, before I get to graduate and get the heck out of this place. So,why don't you just call me whatever you want. Everyone else does.It's not like it matters..." My cheeks go hot,my eyes start to sting, and I know I'm rambling like a lunatic,but I cant seem to stop,can't seem to care.The world's most socially inept Seeker-that's me in a nutshell.
"Don't let them reduce you to that," he says,his gaze instense, his voice surprising me with its sincerity, its urgency. "Don't let them define how you see yourself,or your place here. And if you ever need someone to talk to,I'm not hard to find.I'm either in class, reading in the library,or eating lunch in the North hallway."
The second he says it,my gaze flies down the length of him.Slipping past a gray V-neck tee and dark denim jeans,not the least bit surprised when I land on the same heavy,black, thick-soled shoes I spied earlier.
Then before he can say anything more, I'm gone. Trying to ignore the comforting stream of kindness and love that swarms all around me.”
“This seat taken?" My eyes grazing over the only other occupant, a guy with long glossy dark hair with his head bent over a book.
"It's all yours," he says. And when he lifts his head and smiles,my heart just about leaps from my chest.
It's the boy from my dreams.
The boy from the Rabbit Hole,the gas station,and the cave-sitting before me with those same amazing,icy-blue eues, those same alluring lips I've kissed multiple times-but only in slumber, never in waking life.
I scold my heart to settle,but it doesn't obey.
I admonish myself to sit,to act normal, casual-and I just barely succeed.
Stealing a series of surreptitious looks as I search through my backpack, taking in his square chin,wide generous lips,strong brow,defined cheekbones, and smooth brown skin-the exact same features as Cade.
"You're the new girl,right?" He abandons his book,tilting his head in a way that causes his hair to stream over his shoulder,so glossy and inviting it takes all of my will not to lean across the table and touch it.
I nod in reply,or at least I think I do.I can't be too sure.I'm too stricken by his gaze-the way it mirrors mine-trying to determine if he knows me, recognizes me,if he's surprised to find me here.Wishing Paloma had better prepared me-focused more on him and less on his brother.
I force my gaze from his.Bang my knee hard against the table as I swivel in my seat.Feeling so odd and unsettled,I wish I'd picked another place to sit, though it's pretty clear no other table would have me.
He buries his smile and returns to the book.Allowing a few minutes to pass,not nearly enough time for me to get a grip on myself,when he looks up and says, "Are you staring at me because you've seen my doppelganer roaming the halls,playing king of the cafeteria? Or because you need to borrow a pencil and you're too shy to ask?"
I clear the lump from my throat, push the words past my lips when I say, "No one's ever accused me of being shy." A statement that,while steeped in truth, stands at direct odds with the way I feel now,sitting so close to him. "So I guess it's your twin-or doppelganer,as you say." I keep my voice light, as though I'm not at all affected by his presence,but the trill note at the end gives me away.Every part of me now vibrating with the most intense surge of energy-like I've been plugged into the wall and switched on-and it's all I can do to keep from grabbing hold of his shirt, demanding to know if he dreamed the dreams too.
He nods,allowing an easy,cool smile to widen his lips. "We're identical," he says. "As I'm sure you've guessed. Though it's easy enough to tell us apart. For one thing,he keeps his hair short.For another-"
"The eyes-" I blurt,regretting the words the instant they're out.From the look on his face,he has no idea what I'm talking about. "Yours are...kinder." My cheeks burn so hot I force myself to look away,as words of reproach stampede my brain.
Why am I acting like such an inept loser? Why do I insist on embarrassing myself-in front of him-of all people?
I have to pull it together.I have to remember who I am-what I am-and what I was born to do.Which is basically to crush him and his kind-or,at the very least,to temper the damage they do.”
“Good luck with that." I turn to face him. "She's predisposed to hate you. Convinced you'll be my downfall. Says you've got heartbreaker written all over you."
Dace grips the wheel tighter,eyebrows quirked, gaze stricken in a way that makes me feel bad for saying it, but it's only a moment later when he laughs and says, "Funny,that's the same thing Chepi said about you." Addressing my confusion when he adds, "That day at the gas station, when I saw you sitting on the curb,talking on the phone-Chepi caught me looking and warned me right then and there to keep my distance,to not get involved.”
“It's only at first sight,when the mind's a blank slate,that you get the purest look.
So I fold the flap back,and write:
“I have no idea what Paloma looks like-what she'll be like.
I have no idea what to expect.
I should've asked more questions.
I should've used the last ten hours to grill Chay until he broke-until he confided every dark and dirty secret Paloma is hiding.
Instead,I chose to eat.And read.And dream about some phantom boy with smooth brown skin,icy-blue eyes, and long glossy black hair-a boy I've never even met in real life.
Lot of good it did me.”
“The two of us warmed by a bold beam of light that wicks the moisture from my dress, my hair, and my skin—returning it to the sky where it promises to find me again in the form of dew, snow, or rain.”
“What happened?" he asks,voice laced with concern.
I merged with a cockroach-caught a ride next to your twin's Calvin Klein underwear label-and after I watched him play with a demon coyote and snack on bloodied bits that could've been either animal or human, he fed glowing, white orbs to the walking dead-then crushed me under the hell of his boot...
"I'm not sure," I say,willing my head to feel better,to stop spinning, and a moment later it does. "I guess I passed out,or something..." I cringe,hating the lie but knowing there's no way I could ever present him the truth.
I start to stand,pretending not to notice when he offers a hand. "I need to call my ride." I fumble for my phone, reluctant to bother Paloma and Chay at this hour,but they're pretty much my only real option.
"Don't be silly.I'll drive you." Dace follows me out of the stall,watching as I call Paloma's number,then Chay's-face scrunching in confusion when they both fail to answer.It doesn't make any sense.
"Daire-why won't you let me help you?" he says.My name on his lips sounding just like ti did in the dream. Our eyes meeting in the mirror,mine astonished, his chagrined,when he adds, "Yeah,I asked around.Uncovered your real name. So shoot me."
And when he smiles,when he smiles and runs a nervous hand through his glossy,dark hair-well,I'm tempted to shake my head and refuse him again.
Maybe he goes by the name of Whitefeather, but technically,he's still a Richter.A good Richter-a kind Richter-still,I need to do what I can to avoid him.To ignore that irresistible stream of kindness and warmth that swarms all around him.
Need to cleanse myself of those dreams once and for all.We are not bound.Nor are we fated.I'm a Seeker-he's the spawn of a Richter-and my only destiny is to stop his brother from...whatever it is that he's doing.
But,more immediately,I need to get home.And there's no denying I could do a lot worse than catching a ride with gorgeous Dace Whitefeather.”
“As far as history and science are concerned, I'm pretty sure I can wing it. Turns out I learned more in Internet school than I realized. Either that or my new school is completely pathetic.”
“As far as creeps go,Cade's reached the pinnacle.”
“Saw you with my brother." His gaze moves over me. "Guess that explains your attraction to me-he looks just like me."
His cocky grin fading when I roll my eyes in reponse.
"Well,you sure spend a lot of time thinking about me-searching for me-don't you,Santos?" he says,determined to make me admit the ridiculous.
"Don't flatter yourself,Coyote. It's an occupational hazard.Purely job related.”
“I remember." I nod. Wanting to say: I remember everything-all of it-the question is: Do you? But instead, I stare down at my feet, smiling stupidly. Everything I do around him is stupid. Some Seeker I've turned out to be. Attempting to redeem myself,say something normal,not let on that I already know he's employed here-thanks to the raven who allowed me to spy on him earlier,I say, "So,I guess you hang out here a lot then?"
He pushes a hand through his hair, as his eyes-the color of aquamarines-glide down the length of me.And damn if I can't feel their trajectory. It's like showering in a stream of warm, molten honey-dripping from the top of my forehead all the way down to my feet. "I guess you could say that," he says,voicelow and deep. "More than most, anyway." He waves a damp towel, tugs on the string of his apron, and I blush in reply. The sight of it reminding me of what I saw in the alleyway-watching him lean against the wall,his face so soft anddreamy I longed to touch him-kiss him-like I did in the dream.
I study him closely,seeking traces of recognition, remembrance-some small token of evidence to assure me that, as odd as it seems,that kiss in the cave was as real as it felt-but coming up empty.
"So,how long have you worked here?" I ask, returning to the topic at hand. My gaze drifting over the black V-necked T-shirt skimming the sinuous line of his body-telling myself it's all part of my reconnaissance,my need to gather as uch information as I can about him and his kin. But knowing that's not really it.The truth is,I like looking at him, being near him.
"I guess you could say somewhere between too long and not long enough-depending on the state of my wallet." His laugh is good-natured and easy-the kid that starts at the belly and trips all the way up. "It's pretty much the only decent game in town." He shrugs. "One way or another,you end up working for the Richters,and believe me, this is one of the better gigs."
I peer at him closely,remembering what Cade said when I was here via the raven. How he referred to him by another name. "You're not a Richter?" I ask,holding my breath in my cheeks.Despite what Paloma told me, I need to hear it from him,confirm that he doesn't identify with their clan.
"I go by Whitefeather," he says,gaze steady and serious. "I was raised by my mom,didn't even know the Richters when I was a kid."
Despite getting the answer I wanted, I frown in return. His being a Richter was a good reason to avoid him-without it,I'm out of excuses.
"Is that okay?" He dips his head toward mine,his mouth tugging at the side. "You seem a little upset by the news."
I shake my head,break free of my reverie, and say, "No-not at all. Believe me,it's more like a relief." I meet his gaze,seeing the way it narrows in question. "Guess I'm not a big fan of your brother," I add,watching as he throws his head back and laughs,the sight of that long,glorious column of neck forcing me to look away,it's too much to take.
"If it makes you feel any better, most of the time I'd have to agree." He returns to me,the warmth of his gaze solely reponsible for the wave of comfort that flows through me.”
“A woman who's given me a home-a purpose.And for the first time in my life,I-"
"A purpose?" Jennika squints, as she cocks her head and steps closer. "And just what exactly might that be? You planning to take over her garden? Apprentice as an herbal healer? I had much higher hopes for you, Daire.”
“You must let the color to set for as long as it is possible.The darker the stain,the more that he loves you," she says,her English halting,broken, but the message is clear. Emphasized by the meaningful look she shoots Vane and me.
"Oh,we're not-" I start to say. We're not in love! But Vane's quick to stop me.
Slipping an arm around my shoulder, he presses his lips to my cheek, bestowing on the old woman the kind of smile that encourages her to smile back in a startling display of grayed and missing teeth. His actions stunning me stupid, leaving me to sit slack faced and dumb-with heated cheeks,muddied hands, and a rising young breakout start draped over my back.
Having never been in love,I admit that I'm definitely no expert on the subject. I have no idea what it feels like.
Though I'm pretty sure it doesn't feel like this.
I'm pretty dang positive Vane's just cast himself in yet another starring role-playing the part of my dashing young love interest,if only to appease this strange,Moroccan woman we'll never see again.
Still,Vane is an actor,and an audience is an audience-no matter how small.”
“Nothing in my life had prepared me for this.Not one single thing.I feel like a lad rat stuck in some horrible experiment meant to measure how I adapt to brutal forms of social segregation and weirdness.And the sad news is,I'm producing way below average results.
I stand to the side of the lunchroom or cafeteria,or whatever they call it.The vegetarian lunch Paloma packed with great love and care tightly clutched in my fist,though I've no clue as to where I'm supposed to go eat it.
Having already committed the most heinous crime of all by sitting at the wrong table, I'm not sure I'm up for trying again.I'm still shaken by the way those girls acted-so self-righteous and territorial,so burdened by my presence at the end of their bench.
It's the seniors' table, I was told. I have no right to sit there. Ever. And that includes holidays and weekends.
"Duly noted," I replied, grabbing my lunch and standing before them. "I'll do my best to steer clear of it on Christmas.Easter as well.Though Valentine's Day is a wild card I just can't commit to." And though it felt good at the time,I've no doubt it was a reckless act that only made things worse.”
“I'm not sure I handled it well," he sais,his face so open,gaze filled with such raw regret,my heart aches on his behalf.
"Considering the circumstances, I think you did fine.Besides,it's not like you stood a chance,her mind was make up the moment she saw you."
Dace jerks back,his expression slighted,voice unsure when he says, "I don't understand..."
I fumble with my lunch sack,wondering why I can never say the right thing around him.Having no way to explain in a way that won't sound completely embarrassing,when Xotichl steps in.
"What's not to get? You're hot-Daire's gorgeous-it's a recipe for parental distress if there ever was one.”
“It's her way of honoring Marilyn, while trying to commune with her spirit, and I can never decide if it's morbid,creepy,pathetic,or all three.”
“This has got to be the most poorly named town I've ever visited. There is absolutely no sign of anything even remotely enchanting about it. It's one of the worst cases of false advertising I've seen.
I've traveled a lot.Done considerable time in my share of dead-end dumps. Or at least that's what I thought until I came here.
I mean,where do people shop for clothing and food?
Where do the teens all hang out-the ones who haven't already hopped the first bus out of this godforsaken place?
And,more important,where do I catch that very same bus-how soon 'til it leaves?”
“And how long did you have to starve in a cave to come to that conclusion?" I ask, sorry about the way my voice sounded much snottier than intended. It's not his fault I find myself here. Still, when Paloma said I'd have to change my diet in order to purify myself, I didn't realize that meant fasting in a dark, abandoned cave until I pass out.”
“It's hard to form a lasting connection when your permanent address is an eight-inch mailbox in the UPS store.
Still,as I inch my way closer, I can't help the way my breath hitches, the way my insides thrum and swirl. And when he turns,flashing me that slow, languorous smile that's about to make him world famous,his eyes meeting mine when he says, "Hey,Daire-Happy Sweet Sixteen," I can't help but think of the millions of girls who would do just about anything to stand in my pointy blue babouches.
I return the smile, flick a little wave of my hand, then bury it in the side pocket of the olive-green army jacket I always wear. Pretending not to notice the way his gaze roams over me, straying from my waist-length brown hair peeking out from my scarf, to the tie-dyed tank top that clings under my jacket,to the skinny dark denim jeans,all the way down to the brand-new slippers I wear on my feet.
"Nice." He places his foot beside mine, providing me with a view of the his-and-hers version of the very same shoe. Laughing when he adds, "Maybe we can start a trend when we head back to the States.What do you think?"
There is no we.
I know it.He knows it.And it bugs me that he tries to pretend otherwise.
The cameras stopped rolling hours ago, and yet here he is,still playing a role. Acting as though our brief, on-location hookup means something more.
Acting like we won't really end long before our passports are stamped RETURN.
And that's all it takes for those annoyingly soft girly feelings to vanish as quickly as a flame in the rain. Allowing the Daire I know,the Daire I've honed myself to be, to stand in her palce.
"Doubtful." I smirk,kicking his shoe with mine.A little harder then necessary, but then again,he deserves it for thinking I'm lame enough to fall for his act. "So,what do you say-food? I'm dying for one of those beef brochettes,maybe even a sausage one too.Oh-and some fries would be good!"
I make for the food stalls,but Vane has another idea. His hand reaches for mine,fingers entwining until they're laced nice and tight. "In a minute," he says,pulling me so close my hip bumps against his. "I thought we might do something special-in honor of your birthday and all.What do you think about matching tattoos?"
I gape.Surely he's joking.
"Yeah,you know,mehndi. Nothing permanent.Still,I thought it could be kinda cool." He arcs his left brow in his trademark Vane Wick wau,and I have to fight not to frown in return.
Nothing permanent. That's my theme song-my mission statement,if you will. Still,mehndi's not quite the same as a press-on. It has its own life span. One that will linger long after Vane's studio-financed, private jet lifts him high into the sky and right out of my life.
Though I don't mention any of that, instead I just say, "You know the director will kill you if you show up on set tomorrow covered in henna."
Vane shrugs. Shrugs in a way I've seen too many times, on too many young actors before him.He's in full-on star-power mode.Think he's indispensable. That he's the only seventeen-year-old guy with a hint of talent,golden skin, wavy blond hair, and piercing blue eyes that can light up a screen and make the girls (and most of their moms) swoon. It's a dangerous way to see yourself-especially when you make your living in Hollywood. It's the kind of thinking that leads straight to multiple rehab stints, trashy reality TV shows, desperate ghostwritten memoirs, and low-budget movies that go straight to DVD.”
“I pause by the door,schedule in hand, taking a moment to confirm I'm in the right place,since I really don't need to make that particular mistake yet again.
Independent study.Right.Last class of the day-praise be,hallelujah, and more.
I make my way inside and introduce myself to the man at the podium bearing a squinty mean gaze, a cruel slash of a mouth, a size-too-small T-shirt forced to stretch over a belly that will always arrive well before the rest of him,and a crew cut so tight it's mostly just scalp.Pausing when he places a red checkmark next to my name and tells me to grab any seat.
If I've learned anything today,it's that it can't be that easy.It may not be obvious at first sight,but somewhere in this deceptively innocuous classroom, territory has been staked, boundaries drawn,and an invisible wall erected,bearing an equally invisible sign that states clueless new girls like me are not welcome here.
"Any seat," he barks, shooting me a look that's already pegged me as just another moron in a succession of many.”
“That was one time,and it was only for three days,as you well know-"
But I barely get to finish before she's shaking her head, practically shouting, "It was four days,Daire. Four."
"That's only because of the time difference and you know it," I mumble, thinking how sad it is that after weeks of not seeing each other,this is the way she chooses to greet me.But now that she's started,I'm not in much of a hugging mood either. "The point is,it was just once,and there were special circumstances involved sine I was"-enduring a vision quest/full-body dismemberment in a remote cave-"not feeling well...due to my injuries from the accident and all.”
“The Bone Keeper presides over the festival. She rules the lowest level of the Lowerworld where she keeps watch over the bones. They say she has a skull for a face,wears a skirt made of serpents,and her mouth is extra wide in order to feed off the stars during the day.And yet,despite my numerous journeys to the Lowerworld,I have yet to run into her.But maybe you will, nieta,who knows?"
"A skull faec,a snake skirt,and a steady diet of stars?" I shake my head and balk. "No thanks.I'd prefer to avoid her if it's okay with you."
"You don't always get the journey you want, nieta. Though you always get the journey you need," she says-yet another sage statement in a collection of many.
"You paraphrasing Mick Jagger now?”
“Denial is a powerful thing. It makes you believe lies.”
“Minutes passed, each pulling my hopes down a little lower from the heights to which they had soared, and then, when tension on my nerves and the weight of the heavy rifle were becoming unbearable, I heard a stick snap at the upper end of the thicket. Here was an example of how a tiger can move through the jungle. From the sound she had made I knew her exact position, had kept my eyes fixed on the spot, and yet she had come, seen me, stayed some time watching me, and then gone away without my having seen a leaf or a blade of grass move.”
“When I look in the mirror, I won’t see the things they will most likely say about me. I’ll see me, Willow Tate, the woman who isn’t perfect, but she is perfect in her imperfections.”
“Adam,' I say, 'had good times and he had bad times.' I pause here and glance at Nana, see that she is crying silently, the way I cried at the duck pond in the park. I was going to say something more about the bad times- how Adam's bad times were different from most people's, and that I'll never really understand them. But now that I see Nana's tears, see her start to reach for Papa's hand, then pull back and fold her hands in her lap again- now that I see Nana, I change my mind.
I think we should remember that Adam was one of those people who could lift the corners of our universe,' I say. I clear my throat. 'Thank you.'
As I slide into our pew I realize I feel older. I think of Janet and Nancy and find that nonw I can brush them away. And I understand that Adam and I are not as alike as I had thought. I remembered the tortured look on Adam's face the night of the Ferris wheel and the look of happiness, happiness, and realize that Adam's decision to take his life was not made easily. It took a certain kind of courage. Just not the kind of courage I chose.
I settle between Mom and Dad, and they take my hands and smmile at me. No tears. I squeeze their hands.
~pgs 177-178; Hattie on life”
“They say you should never hide anything from your doctors and lawyers. Hiding from a doctor could lead your way to heaven (or hell). Hiding from a lawyer could land you behind bars. Doctors give you the right direction to your present and lawyers give a picture to your future. They need to know more than what you could share with your best of friends.”
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