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Abandon, Page 3

Meg Cabot

  Which was what made me do it.

  “Don’t make any stops,” Mom had said. “Stay on your bike,” she’d said. “A storm is coming.”

  And now that I was standing in front of the poinciana tree, I could see that the storm coming our way wasn’t just the one Mom had referred to.

  It was something much, much worse.

  Most of the flowers from the tree had fallen to the ground. Dried and withered, they lay around my feet like a red carpet, whispering to one another as the wind picked them up and scattered them farther down the paved path.

  The crypt beneath the tree didn’t look much different from the way it had the day of my grandfather’s funeral. The plaster was still falling off in places, revealing bricks that were as red as the blossoms beneath my feet.

  The main difference was that now I could see a name carved in block lettering above the entrance to the vault, a scrolled wrought-iron gate.

  No date. Just a name. HAYDEN.

  I hadn’t noticed the name when I was seven. I’d had too many other things on my mind. The same way I’d ridden through this cemetery so many times during the past week and never recognized the tree until tonight.

  “He wasn’t real, Pierce.”

  It hadn’t just been Grandma the other day in her kitchen who’d said it, either, but all those psychiatrists my poor parents dragged me to after my accident, unable to believe the reports they kept receiving from my teachers that their precious daughter wasn’t performing at an above-average or even average level.

  It’s very common for patients who’ve lost electrical activity in their heart or brain for any interval of time to report having seen some sort of hallucination during the period they were flatline.

  But it was vital for my mental health, all those doctors told me, to remember that it had been only a dream.

  Yes, it had been very realistic. But couldn’t I see how there’d been some things I’d read about in books at school, or seen on TV, or maybe seen years earlier — though I never told any of them about what had happened at Grandpa’s funeral — in the vision I had during my near-death experience?

  This was important to keep in mind, too, as was the fact that while it was happening, I’d been able to control my own actions. This was what was known as lucid dreaming. Had what happened to me been real, I would not have been able to escape my captor.

  So I had absolutely nothing to worry about! He wasn’t coming back for me. Because he was a figment of my imagination.

  I’d sat across from those psychiatrists, and I’d nodded. They were right. Of course they were.

  But inside, I’d felt so…

  …sorry for them.

  Because the walls behind those doctors’ desks were filled with so many framed diplomas and degrees — some of them from the very same Ivy League schools my parents now despaired of my ever being able to get into.

  And that was what made me saddest of all. Because my parents couldn’t see that it didn’t matter. All those diplomas, all those degrees.

  And those doctors still didn’t have the slightest idea what they were talking about.

  Because I had proof. I always had. As I stood in front of the crypt beneath the poinciana tree, I undid the first couple buttons of the too-tight dress Mom had suggested I wear to the party, and pressed my fingers against it. I could have pulled it out at any time in any one of those offices and shown it to them and said, “Lucid dreaming? Really? What about this, then, Doctor?”

  But I never did. I just kept it where I always did, tucked inside my top.

  Because — despite the fact that they didn’t believe me — all those doctors had tried so hard to help me. They seemed so nice.

  I didn’t want anything bad to happen to them.

  And I had found out the hard way that bad things happened to people who took too much interest in my necklace.

  So after that, I never showed it to anyone. Not even Grandma when she’d said that thing in her kitchen. Not that it would have made a bit of difference to her.

  It wasn’t until I was standing there in front of the crypt where we’d met that I suddenly realized maybe I was the one who was making the bad things happen.

  Because I’d come back. Not only come back from the dead, but come back to the place where it had all started.

  What was I even doing there? Was I as crazy as everyone back in Connecticut kept saying I was? I was in a cemetery by myself after dark. I needed to get out of there. I needed to run. Every hair on my body was standing up, telling me to run.

  But of course by then it was too late. Because someone was coming, crushing the dried-up flower petals on the path beneath his feet as he got closer.

  Bones. That’s what it sounded like as those flowers got trampled. The breaking of tiny bones.

  Oh, God. Why had Mom told me that story? Why couldn’t I have a normal mother who told normal stories about fairy godmothers and glass slippers, instead of stories about human skeletal remains scattered across beaches?

  I didn’t even have to turn around to see who it was. I knew. Of course I knew.

  The scream I let out when I actually spun around and saw his face was still loud enough to wake the dead.

  He seemed as if against me he were coming

  With head uplifted, and with ravenous hunger,

  So that it seemed the air was afraid of him;

  DANTE ALIGHIERI, Inferno, Canto I

  He looked as shocked as I felt. “What are you doing here?”

  His voice sounded like the thunder I could hear growing closer every time lightning flashed above the tops of the palm trees, where the towering gray storm clouds were crashing into each other.

  I tried to say something, but all that came out was air.

  Well, that shouldn’t have been too surprising, even if a part of me had known from the moment I’d heard Mom say the words Isla Huesos that this moment was coming. I guess I’d even been hoping to get it over with, in a weird way. Why else had my head kept telling my feet to pedal towards the cemetery?

  Not my head. My heart. That four-inch cardiac needle they plunged into my chest? It may have gotten my heart started again.

  But that doesn’t mean it’s not still broken.

  I tried again, after clearing my throat. I hoped he couldn’t see how badly my knees were trembling beneath the skirt of my dress.

  “I…I’m sorry,” I said. “About the screaming. You startled me. I wasn’t…I didn’t…My mom and I just moved here.” This last part came out in an incoherent rush. “To Isla Huesos. She wants to make a new start here, because of…well, you know.”

  My voice trailed off. I didn’t like talking about what had happened back in my old school in Westport.

  And what was the point in telling him? He’d been there.

  He just stared at me. I was pretty sure from his expression that he wasn’t happy to see me. Of course, I’d just screamed in his face. That kind of thing doesn’t tend to endear you to people. Especially guys, I’d imagine.

  “It’s not my fault,” I added. My heart was pounding so hard in my chest, I could barely hear the wind anymore, stirring the palm fronds overhead, or the crickets and cicadas between the crypts that rose from the shadows around us. “She wants to save the birds. What was I supposed to say?”

  My voice sounded completely unlike my own. Well, no wonder. What girl would be able to speak normally with someone who looked like him glaring down at her? He was so tall — six foot four or five, nearly a foot taller than me — and his biceps and shoulders so wide, he’d easily have made tight end on any college football team in the country.…I’d suffered through enough games during “quality time” with my dad to be able to pick out the body type.

  Except there wasn’t a coach alive who’d actually take him, due to his fairly obvious attitude problem. The black jeans, skintight black T-shirt, black tactical boots, and knuckles crisscrossed with scars — not just his knuckles, either — were dead giveaways he wasn’t going to pl
ay nicely with anyone. Even his hair, falling carelessly in thick, long brown waves around his face and his neck, seemed to scream dark.

  Except his eyes. As gray as the clouds overhead, they’d always burned with a bright intensity I’d found difficult to forget…and believe me, I’d tried.

  Not anymore, though. Now they looked dull, blank as twin bullet holes. You could almost say they were…well, dead eyes.

  I wondered what had happened to him to cause the change. I certainly wasn’t to blame. I wasn’t that kind of girl.

  His voice wasn’t dead. It was filled with sarcasm.

  “I meant,” he said, “what are you doing here, now, tonight? In the cemetery. After hours.”

  I swallowed hard.

  Of course. Of course he knew what I was doing on Isla Huesos. He always seemed to know where I was and exactly what I was doing. He’d probably seen my plane touch down. He’d probably watched as I dragged my bags off the luggage carousel, and Mom helped me wheel them to the car. I wondered if he’d been watching when we’d had to struggle so hard to lift them into the back of her hybrid SUV because they were so heavy. Nice of him to come over and offer us some help.

  I could practically feel the anger coming off his body in waves.

  I knew I’d hurt him once (in my defense, he’d hurt me first. False imprisonment is a felony. I’d looked it up).

  But given that he’d shown up twice since then to save my life — or at least I suppose that’s what he thought he was doing — I’d assumed he’d forgiven me.

  Yet his eyes weren’t showing the slightest flicker of warmth, let alone remorse, for what he’d tried to do to me. So I guess I’d been wrong.

  “Look,” I said, my voice a little gruff with some anger of my own. He had no right to be so rude. Sure, he’d surprised me, so I’d screamed.

  But he’d known this whole time I’d been on the island and he’d never once stopped by to say hello? Not that I wanted him to, since every time he showed up, someone seemed to get hurt. But still.

  “I was just in the neighborhood, so I thought I’d come by to make sure everything between us was, you know.” I realized I’d really dug myself into a hole with this one. Why hadn’t I listened to Mom and just stayed on my bike? “That there were no hard feelings.”

  He continued to stare at me. “No hard feelings,” he echoed.

  “Right,” I said. This was going even more horribly than I could have imagined. And clearly, I had a reputation for being able to imagine quite a bit. “I’m over what you did to me. And I just wanted to make sure that you understood that what I did to you…what happened when I…you know. Left. That it wasn’t personal.”

  “Oh, I understand,” he said. His tone was as cool as his gaze. “You were extremely impersonal about it. You made your decision. Then you acted on it.” He shrugged and folded his arms. “Without any regard to the consequences.”

  Stung at his pointed reminder of my behavior that day — You were extremely impersonal about it. You made your decision. Then you acted on it — I felt tears well up.

  Oh, God. Now I was going to cry in front of him? Mom wanted everything to be perfect? Well, this was perfect.

  “I was fifteen,” I said, trying not very effectively to get a grip on myself. I had rehearsed this conversation so many times in my head, I should have had it down cold by now. The problem, of course, was that conversations with him in real life never went the way they did in my head. “Who’s ready for that kind of commitment at fifteen?”

  “Seventeen’s better for you?” he asked pointedly.

  Horrified, I cried, “What? No!”

  “Well,” he said, “for someone who keeps claiming she’s not ready to die, you have an interesting way of showing it.”

  I stared straight into those dead eyes. “What does that mean?”

  “Only that most people who place any kind of value on their lives don’t go wandering around in cemeteries after dark. But then again, it is you we’re talking about.”

  Isla Huesos Cemetery’s nineteen acres were completely without security cameras or guards. The cemetery sexton went home promptly at six o’clock, as he’d testily informed me one night after kicking me out (and scolding me for using “a place of public veneration as a thoroughfare”) while locking the cemetery gate.

  So if he did decide to take me back with him to his world — which I was fairly certain he had the power to do — unless there was some drunk who was sleeping it off behind a tomb somewhere who’d heard me scream and gone to call 911, no one was going to come to my rescue.

  Good evening. Tonight marks the ten-year anniversary of the mysterious disappearance of seventeen-year-old Pierce Oliviera, who vanished without a trace from the tiny Floridian island of Isla Huesos while taking a seemingly innocent bike ride one hot September night.…

  “Are you threatening me?” I demanded, putting my hands on my hips, trying to appear braver than I actually felt. Because what I felt was utter terror.

  I didn’t realize he’d been moving closer as he spoke — I’d forgotten he possessed the ability to step as lightly as a cat when he chose to. This time, the dried-out poinciana blossoms hadn’t made a sound beneath those steel-toed boots — until he was standing six inches away from me.

  The closer he came, the harder my heart began to hammer. Not just because of what I was afraid he might be planning on doing to me, but because I was noticing all those little things about him that were so aggravatingly attractive. Up close, his eyes were as light as mine were dark…only mine, I knew, were a warm brown, with spots of amber and honey in them — as he himself had once informed me, in a tenderer moment between us.

  Which isn’t exactly a compliment if you think about it, since both amber and honey are sticky, gooey substances that bugs get trapped in.

  His eyes were filled with the exact opposite — flecks of steel, one of the hardest metals on earth.

  A fact that was hard not to notice, with his face just inches from mine.

  “Threatening you?” he echoed, looking down. “With what? What could I possibly do to you? You’re not dead. At least, not anymore.”

  I sucked in my breath, willing my pulse not to pound too loudly, since suddenly it was obvious what was about to happen:

  He was going to kiss me…

  …or maybe, I realized, my heart giving a disappointed little flop, not.

  I’d mistaken the focus of his attention. It wasn’t my lips he’d been staring at, but something farther south…the place where my dress had gapped open, thanks to my having undone the buttons in the front. I’d have liked to think he was attracted to my feminine form — and I had reason to believe that he was.

  But tonight it was what lay inside that gap, dangling from that gold chain I hadn’t removed since the day I died, that had him so interested.

  It was supposed to offer its wearer protection from evil. Or at least that’s what he’d said when he gave it to me.

  But it certainly hadn’t done me any good tonight — or any other time, as far as I could tell.

  It wasn’t until I was standing there in front of him in the cemetery, feeling his soft breath on my cheek, that I realized I’d never even asked if it was all right for me to take it back with me into this world. It hadn’t been stealing, exactly, since he’d given it to me.

  But I’m pretty sure it had been a gift that came with conditions, and one of the conditions had been that I stay in his world, and…

  Well, that hadn’t happened.

  Without any regard to the consequences, he’d said.

  My stomach clenched as I quickly folded my arms to hide both the stone and everything else going on beneath the front of my dress.

  “You still have it,” he breathed.

  His voice didn’t sound like thunder anymore. It sounded exactly the way it had the day we first met, when he’d been so kind and reassuring.

  “Of course I still have it,” I said, confused by his surprise.

  What did h
e think, that the minute I’d gotten away from him, I’d thrown it under a steamroller or something?

  Then I bit my lip. I suppose he was justified in thinking I might not have wanted to hang on to any reminders of the day I died…or of him. I probably was a bit of a fool not to have dropped it in the ocean, old-lady-from-Titanic style. Any other girl would have. Actually, most girls probably would have sold it, considering how much I’d been told it was worth.

  What did it mean that I’d done neither?

  Nothing. Certainly not that I had any special feelings for him. I really would have to be crazy for that to be true, considering what he’d done to me. Oh, please don’t let him think that’s why I kept it.

  But then, why did the thought of giving it back make me feel…well, a little queasy? All I should have been feeling was relief.

  Reluctantly, I reached up to pull on the chain. The round, multifaceted diamond — now as gray as the clouds overhead, and about the size of a large grape — fell out from its safe cocoon, managing to find a way to gleam even on a night as stormy as this one. The clouds had yet to overtake the moon.

  When he saw what I was doing, it was like seeing someone throw back the storm shutters on a house that had been closed up for hurricane season. All the careful guardedness drained from his expression. Even the life returned to those formerly dead eyes.

  He was right to be surprised that I still had it: Who goes around wearing a reminder of the day she died? I probably needed to go back to all of those psychiatrists and tell them the whole truth this time.

  But what good would it do? It might help me. But it certainly wouldn’t help them.

  “Um,” I said hesitantly. Do it, my mother’s voice warned me inside my head. Except even my mom didn’t know where the necklace had come from. Telling her would only make her think I was as crazy as everyone else did. “Do you…want it back?”

  It nearly killed me to ask it. But the time had come, I told myself. New start.

  All this time I’d been hiding it beneath my shirts, I’d been trying to protect others.