The Abandon Trilogy
Books by Meg Cabot
Pierce keeps having the most terrible nightmares.” My mom used to say this to all the doctors we saw right after the accident. “She talks in her sleep — sorry, sweetheart, but you do — about a boy following her. Sometimes she even wakes up crying. It doesn’t seem normal. I’ve never had dreams that vivid.”
That’s because the worst thing that’s ever happened to you, Mom, I’d wanted to tell her, is your divorce from Dad. You never died, got resuscitated, then had a boy follow you back from the realm of the dead.
Only I couldn’t say this to my mother. Nothing good ever seemed to happen to anyone who found out about my problems, which had more or less caused my parents’ divorce, even if Mom didn’t know it.
“Often while we’re sleeping, our mind is busy working out solutions to problems about which we’ve felt stressed while we were awake, though our dreams might seem completely unrelated to what’s really bothering us,” the doctors explained, one by one. “In Pierce’s case, of course she isn’t actually being followed by anyone in real life.” This showed how much the doctors knew. “That’s just how whatever is causing her anxiety manifests itself in her subconscious … the way some of us will dream that we’re late for a class, for instance. It’s perfectly healthy, and a sign that Pierce’s subconscious is functioning normally.”
You know what I’d like? To dream that I’m late for a class.
Instead, I’m always dreaming that someone is trying to kill me, or someone I care about. That’s because people are trying to kill me, as well as the people I care about, in real life … so often, as a matter of fact, that there are times I can’t tell when it’s really happening, and when I’m only dreaming about it.
Like now, for instance. For a dream, this one felt pretty realistic.
I was clinging to the wooden railing of an old-fashioned sailing ship. High winds whipped my dark hair, causing loose tendrils to stick wetly to my face and neck. They tugged at the long white skirt of the silk ball gown in which I’d somehow become dressed, tangling it around my legs, making it hard for me to keep my footing on the rain and salt spray-slickened surface of the deck.
The sky above me was black as night … except when lightning sliced through the thick dark clouds, revealing the frighteningly whitecapped ocean waves crashing against the ship’s hull below me, churned by a violent storm.
My heart pounded as I held the railing, but not with fear for my own safety. I knew I could turn around and go below, where it was warm and dry. Only I didn’t want to. Because every time another bolt of lightning illuminated the sky, I saw him in the water, being cast about like a piece of driftwood. With every surge of the rough waves, he was pulled farther and farther out to sea, away from the boat.
Away from me.
“John,” I cried. My voice was hoarse with emotion, and from overuse. It seemed as if I’d been screaming his name for hours, but no one would come to our aid. It was just us, and the storm, and the seething sea.
“Swim,” I begged him. “Just swim to me.”
For a moment it seemed as if he was going to make it. He was close enough to the side of the ship that I could see the single-minded determination in those gray eyes, mingled with the fear each of us was trying not to show the other. His strong, muscular arms rose from the ink-black water as he tried desperately to make his way back to the side of the ship.
For every stroke he took forward, however, the angry waves pushed him another two strokes back.
I looked around frantically for a rope, something, anything, to throw to him, but there was none. So instead I leaned out as far as I could, reaching down to him with one hand while gripping the railing with the other.
“I can pull you up,” I assured him. “Just take my hand.”
He shook his head, his dark hair slick with rain and seawater.
“I don’t want to take you with me.” His voice was as deep and rough as the ocean. “I’d rather die than let you die.”
I’d rather die than let you die.
This made no sense. John Hayden was Death. He couldn’t die. And every single one of his previous actions had indicated that he most certainly did want to take me with him, to the Underworld, over which he ruled. Why else had I spent so much time running from him?
Persephone, the girl in the myth the ancient Greeks used to explain the seasons, hadn’t run fast enough from Hades, the Greek god of death, so he was able to chase her down in his chariot when he came across her hanging out with some nymphs in a field one day, and take her to the Underworld to be his queen.
Persephone was lucky. Her mother happened to be Demeter, the goddess of the harvest. Demeter went on strike, refusing to allow anything on earth to grow until her daughter was released. What fun is it being a god or goddess if all the humans are too busy starving to death to worship you? Hades was forced to let Persephone go, and after the longest winter imaginable, springtime finally blossomed across the land.
In reality, spring doesn’t come because of some girl being released from the Underworld. It comes because of the earth moving into the astronomical vernal equinox.
But I get it. People have always been desperate for stories that explain why bad things happen to good people, myths with happy endings to give them hope. They don’t want to know that when we die, what lies beyond may not be all harps and halos. No one wants to listen to someone like me, who comes back from the dead and says, “Hey, guess what? All that stuff they’ve been telling us is a load of bull.” It’s more comforting to trust the storytellers, to believe that fairy tales really do come true.
Still, when John said that thing in my dream about how he’d rather die than let me die, even though I knew that could never be, I realized something: I wanted to believe in the fairy tales, too. My subconscious — just like all the doctors had tried to reassure my mother — had worked out the resolution to a problem that had been bothering me for a long time. What I really wanted was to run towards John, not away from him.
Only now that I’d finally realized it, he was about to drown.
No wonder my heart gave a lurch like it was my own life I was watching disappear right in front of me.
“Take my hand,” I begged him.
I sounded like someone possessed. I was possessed, with the fear of watching the sea swallow him up before my eyes. It figured that the minute I’d finally admitted to myself how much I loved him, I was about to lose him. Maybe this was my karmic punishment for having taken so long to figure it out.
A wave lifted him, as if in answer to my prayers, and suddenly, miraculously, he was so close, our fingers touched.
The look in his eyes turned into something like hope. I leaned out even farther to grasp his wrist, feeling his hand lock around mine. I smiled, overwhelmed with love and joy, daring to believe he was safe,
and the ending to my own story might be a happy one after all.
Then from out of nowhere came another one of those powerful swells …
… and I saw the hope in his eyes die.
“Don’t let go!” I shouted, knowing in my heart that this was exactly what he would do. Even as I said the words, I felt his fingers loosen from around my wrist. He was releasing me on purpose, not wanting to pull me down into the cold waves with him….
A second later he was ripped away from me by a wave so big, it tossed him like a toy. I screamed his name, clinging to the wooden rail, my tears indistinguishable from the rain pelting my face, a hole as big as the sea seeming to split open inside me. Only when lightning streaked the sky did I see him again, a tiny, shadowy figure crested atop a swell a dozen yards away. He raised an arm as if to say good-bye.
Then the water closed over him. I was alone in the storm, and he was gone forever.
My pulse still pounding from the dream, I opened my eyes. My hair was stuck damply to my face and neck, my fingers so tightly clenched into fists that it hurt when I tried to straighten them.
Wait. It had been a dream, right?
If so, then why, when I licked my lips, did I taste salt water? And why did that slant of light filtering through my bedroom curtains look so unfamiliar?
Because they weren’t my bedroom curtains, I realized. The curtains in my bedroom weren’t long and white and ghostly. They didn’t hang from ornately carved stone arches. There wasn’t a stone arch to be found in the house my mom had bought in a gated community in Isla Huesos, where we’d just moved from Connecticut, thanks to my parents’ divorce being finalized and my expulsion from the Westport Academy for Girls for decidedly unladylike behavior.
Nor would Mom’s decorator have chosen medieval-looking tapestries picturing satyrs chasing half-clad nymphs around as a design motif.
That’s what lined the wall opposite the stone arches, though, as well as sconces lit by actual flames….
No way would Mom have okayed those (total fire hazard), or the enormous four-poster canopy bed in which I lay.
It wasn’t until a deep, masculine voice said my name — in a voice so loud, I startled — that I realized I wasn’t in the bed alone.
The boy from my dream wasn’t dead at the bottom of the ocean. He was in the bed next to me. Not only was he in the bed next to me, but he was holding me in his arms. The reason my name had sounded so loud was because my head was resting against his chest.
Which was shirtless.
Mom would definitely not have okayed this.
Suddenly, it all came rushing back. Underworld. I was in the Underworld.
And this time, I wasn’t dead.
I gasped and sat up. Instantly, his strong arms released me.
“It’s all right,” John said, sitting up as well. His tone was gentle. So were his hands, going to my shoulders to soothe me. As gentle as if I were the bird I’d once watched him bring back to life.
Except that I knew the enormous power behind those callused fingers. I’d seen them stop hearts as easily as they’d started one.
“Pierce, you were having a nightmare,” he said.
Nightmare? It took me a second to make the connection — the nightmare from which I’d just woken, about him drowning. He didn’t mean the one that was unfolding right now before my disbelieving eyes as I looked down at our legs, entwined on top of the exquisitely embroidered white comforter.
Because while I wasn’t wearing anything I’d have chosen for myself — I was dressed in the same kind of long flowing white gown as the nymphs in the tapestries — at least I was fully clothed.
I couldn’t say the same for him. He had on jeans — though they were so formfitting, he might as well have been naked. The black denim molded itself to him like a second skin.
Nightmare … or quite excellent dream? I guess it depends on how you looked at it. His shirt was many feet away, tossed carelessly across the low white divan by the fireplace.
His bare chest and shoulders were surprisingly tan for someone who’d spent most of the past two hundred years trapped below the surface of the earth, allowed out only for short periods of time in order to commit felonies, such as kidnapping girls (admittedly, he’d done this to protect me from being murdered, but it was still illegal). His skin was the same gold as a lion’s coat, just as warm and smooth …
… a fact to which I could attest only too well, as I’d apparently slept with my face pressed against it all night long.
I’d also been weeping against it, if there was any truth to his next statement.
“You were crying,” he said, smoothing some of my dark hair from my forehead. “Do you want to tell me about it?”
“Not really,” I said, feeling mortified as I remembered all those times my mother had mentioned my crying in my sleep. I lifted a wrist to wipe my cheeks. He was right. They were wet.
Crying in my sleep in front of him. About him. Great.
I knew I had bigger things to worry about — so big, I didn’t know how I was ever even going to begin to deal with them — but I had never spent the night with a boy before. Then again, I’d never been in love with any boy but him.
I’d been wrong about his skin. When I looked more closely, I realized it wasn’t entirely gold. There were fine, pale lines crisscrossing it here and there. What were those lines? A closer inspection was going to be necessary.
“You know you don’t have to worry about her anymore, don’t you, Pierce?” he asked, his dark brows lowered with concern. “I know it will take awhile to sink in, but you really are safe here with me. It was just a dream.”
I wished I could share his confidence. I knew from experience that though dreams don’t leave scars — at least not ones that anyone can see — they sometimes leave an ache that can prove every bit as painful.
And now that I’d gotten a better look at them, I could see that’s what the pale white lines were that occasionally crisscrossed the otherwise golden skin of his body: scars from long-healed wounds.
I bit my lip. I knew who’d inflicted those wounds, and why. It was one of those worries that felt too big for me to deal with right then. Remembering the monster from which he’d saved me — more frightening than any ocean swell — by sweeping me from the cafeteria of my new school in Isla Huesos and bringing me to his world, I realized I was probably going to have post-traumatic stress for life. How does someone deal with finding out that her own grandmother hates her so much that she’s tried to kill her … twice?
Apparently, she dreams about her boyfriend drowning right in front of her, then gets a little distracted from that dream when she wakes to find him tantalizingly shirtless on top of the bed beside her.
“But other people got hurt besides me,” I said, as much to remind myself of this fact as him. “Do you really think bringing me here is going to make them just … stop?”
Because the rest of my worries were about precisely this.
“I don’t know,” he admitted, dipping his head to press his mouth to the back of my neck. I felt an immediate zing all along my veins, like his lips were carbonated or something. “This is the first time I’ve ever been in love with a girl who the Furies were trying to kill. But I do know there’s nothing you can do to stop them. This is exactly where you belong. Where you’ve always belonged. And where I hope you’ll consider staying … this time.”
This time. Right.
“Well,” I said. Love. He loved me. Hearing that word fall so casually from his lips might help a little with the post-traumatic stress. “This is certainly better than world history, which is where I’d be sitting if I were back in Isla Huesos right now.” If school hadn’t been canceled due to the giant hurricane bearing down on the island, anyway.
“History was a subject in which I was particularly good in school,” he assured me, his mouth sliding down my throat, towards the gold links of the necklace he’d given me.
��t doubt it,” I said.
“I can tutor you,” he said, continuing to press kisses to my throat, “so you don’t fall behind.”
“Wow, thanks,” I said. “That’s such a relief.”
He laughed. I wasn’t sure, but it might have been the first time I’d ever heard him do so. It was a good laugh, throaty and rich.
The only problem — well, not the only problem, because there were many problems, I was quickly realizing, with our situation — was that he was wrong. Not about world history, obviously. I was certain he’d be good at anything he tried. I meant about the Furies.
I was never going to believe there wasn’t a way to stop the evil spirits — angered by where they’d been sent after passing through the Underworld, and who’d managed to return there — determined to seek vengeance on John … as if where they’d ended up was his fault, and not their own.
But when John’s merest touch sent my blood fizzing as if I’d just downed a six-pack of soda, it was hard to concentrate, particularly on forming an argument with him about the Furies, or whether or not it was true the Underworld was “exactly” where I belonged.
If that were true, that meant other things had to be true, as well … like that my grandmother was possessed by one of those Furies, and that she really had wanted to kill me for the sole purpose of causing John pain.