We had never been there before.
Neither the victorious assailant nor the failed defender knew what came next.
I was certain that there was nowhere to go.
Like my innards had been poured out of me, I felt empty. No drive, no heart, no soul. My reason for being had been ripped away.
The scythe curled around Crow's hand pressed up to Tzee's icy throat, not hard enough to split skin but hard enough to freeze him with fear.
Crow remained still, silent, just like the air around us. Suffocating.
The Medite dagger that had been thrust into the Grim's chest glinted in Crow's wide eyes but remained firmly in Tzee's tight fist.
"What have you done?" Crow whispered.
Tzee glared at me and a smirk darkened his expression. "That which needed to be done."
Crow's fingers tightened around the scythe and pressed harder to Tzee's throat, forcing him to raise his chin and sink further back into Crow's chest.
The Grim's cloak lay on the floor, without purpose. Her body, gone. Her soul, trapped in the glinting blue dagger in Tzee's hand.
Crow searched my face for answers, for our next move, but just like the rest of the Midian Guard helplessly surrounding Tzee, I didn't have an answer, there were no more moves to make.
Crow eased the scythe from Tzee's throat and his arm dropped listlessly to his side.
Tzee's brow lowered, he held the dagger up in front of his face. The electric blue energy of the Grim's soul trapped within the blade lit up his sallow skin. "Now we have the power."
Crow turned his back on Tzee. "We were created to guard Midian and you have ripped out its very heart. The Grim created us, the Grim gave us life, and without her, Midian will surely die."
Tzee held the dagger out in front of him and traced a perfect outline of a humanoid being in the air, then thrust the dagger into the space where a human heart would have been. The shape exploded with light, scattering sparks over our heads. When the light cooled, she stood there, eyes closed, tall and dark - a brand new Reaper.
A Reaper Guard flanked Tzee. "Of course, the new Soul Reapers will have only the power that they need to collect souls and return them to the source. Any more than that is a waste..."
Crow didn't turn back. His head tilted to the side. "I would hate to think that you had a hand in this, Ford?"
The new Soul Reaper took this opportunity to open her eyes. Before she was given the option to disappear away on her pre-programmed duties or panic and make the situation much worse, I grabbed her by the arm and pulled her behind me. Two of my comrades, Zell and Raul, held her still.
"All I need to know now...are you with me? Can the Great Reaper Crow, Captain of the Guard, and his remaining loyal comrades learn to follow orders from another?"
Crow walked toward Tzee and stopped only when their noses were almost touching. "And if I refuse?"
"Dissolve or exile to Earth awaits."
"Generous, very generous," Crow mocked. "For the rest of eternity, there will not be a single impulse left in me that would persuade me to stand with you. You are no Reaper. You are greed. You are loathing." Crow took a step away and looked into the star-strewn sky. "I choose exile...but I won't go alone."
A slow, wicked smile smoothed across Tzee's face. "No, of course, take as many of your precious underlings as you like. I'm sure your right-hand will go with you. Bron?"
Crow locked eyes with me. He gestured to the ten remaining Reaper Guards standing with us. "Bron, you have always been faithful, but your fate is yours alone to decide, as is theirs."
Without a moment's hesitation Crow swung his arm out, his scythe slicing the Medite dagger perfectly in half. He caught the sheared half, slashed a long gaping gash in the air and threw the half-dagger through it, toward Earth. Tzee's eleven new disciples flew at Crow from every direction, blue bolts of energy bursting from their hands, aiming and missing. I wove between them, knocking them down to the ground. Only moments before, I would have trusted each and every one of them with my life.
Crow glanced in my direction once more before placing his fist over his chest in gratitude and disappearing through the tear before it healed.
Tzee's enraged screams rent the Midian sky in two.
1. The Shadow
Two hundred Earth-years later...
Dragging myself into Math, Mr. Newbold glowered in my direction through bottle-bottom lenses. He noted my presence with angry scrawling as I scraped my chair across the floor and slumped down into my seat, arms folded. I scowled back at him. He knew I'd be late, but it didn't stop him being hostile about it. Asshole.
A person-shaped shadow settled in the corner of the classroom, holding perfectly still. As usual, I tried to ignore it and got out my books.
"So, what's the verdict?" Sam, whispered so close to my head that the warmth of his breath tickled my ear.
I tried not to look bothered by the strong smell of new aftershave. My jaw clenched. His lips curled up at the edges, his cautious smile gently coaxing an answer from me.
"I'm still crazy," I whispered back.
His smile broadened. "I know, but how did the appointment go?"
I linked my arm around his and pulled him close up by my side, "It's not healthy to torment a crazy person, Sam. It might just be the last thing you do."
He nudged my leg with his knee so I knocked his arm, causing his pen to scrape across the page, leaving a long blue mark on his crisp new notebook. He dropped his pen on the desk and shook his head. "That I owe you for."
"Oooo, I'm scared."
"Miss Fairford!" Mr. Newbold snapped, making me jump. "If you are going to arrive to my lessons late, I would prefer you to cause as little disruption as possible."
The whole class stared at me. Sam put both hands over his mouth.
A grin fought really hard to get me thrown out. "Sorry, sir."
Mr. Newbold made a noise like a disgruntled pig and returned to scribbling formulas on the board.
"Trouble causer," Sam whispered.
"Hey! Will you two shut up!" A small voice grumbled from the other side of Sam.
I leaned forward over the desk to meet Darlaine's annoyed scowl.
"Who shoved a poker up your backside?" I whispered.
Sam and I had known Darlaine since the start of high school and since then we had always messed around in class. She would usually join in mocking me or at the very least grin and ignore.
Darlaine's eyes closed down into thin hard lines and she set her mouth into a tiny heart-shaped pout. Straightening her back, she faffed with her hair in a proper huff. A snicker squeaked out of my tight lips. Newbold glared at me, exasperated.
Sam and I barely made it to the end of the lesson without getting chucked out of class, though we all got held back at the end for a telling off. Darlaine looked mortified. I picked at my nails, trying to avoid her eyes. After Newbold let us go, Darlaine didn't wait for us. She dragged her bag off the table, swinging it onto her shoulder so hard that it smacked Sam in the stomach. She even went as far as calling her dad for a lift home to avoid sitting with us on the bus.
Chaperoned by the shadow from the classroom, Sam and I made a dash to the bus stop. Running down the school driveway I got knocked over by David Killick and Tom Welsh – aka the detention twins.
"Watch it, cutter!" David spat as he stamped his massive feet down on my bag.
I was more bothered by the name than the fact that he had just mashed my leftover sandwiches into my notebooks.
‘Cutter’ - the kids think that I self-harm. They never bothered to ask the truth. They called me Cutter because I have a long septic looking scar that runs from the inside of my wrist up toward my elbow. It isn't septic, nor did I actually cut myself. I never have. The scar was an accident, though I don't remember it properly. I was playing on the beach when I was a little kid and was cut by some glass, Mum says. To be honest, all I remember of it was the tetanus jab that was allegedly necessary.
"Killick is such a dickhead," Sam grumbled, helping me up. "You ok?"
"It's not like it's the first time, Sam, is it?"
"No, but it's still harsh. Why don't you just tell them the truth?"
"Why should I? Better people have called me worse things. Why should I waste time on people like Dickhead Dave and his band of oxygen thieves? It's not like I want or need their approval. Anyway, it doesn't matter," I shrugged. It did matter and it hurt every damn time, but I didn't want it to, and I wouldn't let it beat me. "So, what's with her?"
Sam glanced around him, confused. "Who?"
"Have you only just noticed? She's been like that for the past two weeks."
I pulled my jacket sleeve over my hand and nibbled at the hem. "Obviously not. A good friend would have noticed before now.” I shook my head, cringing. “I can’t believe I didn’t notice!"
Sam smiled, eyeballing the floor.
"Crap! It’s not something bad, is it? Sam, tell me!"
"She'll be alright. She's got...boy troubles."
"And she told you?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You're not really any kind of authority in relationships, are you?"
"Yes. What about Alice Rickman."
"You mean the girl who you claim to have felt up at Coulby's party but you were actually accidentally pushed on top of her by a couple of year fours while they were kicking the crap out of each other."
"I had a whole boob in my hand," Sam whined and gestured.
"Almost touching someone's breast isn't a relationship, Sam."
"Whatever. It counts! You're just bothered that Darlaine came to me first. I can't help it if I'm more approachable than you! And anyway, you've got your own stuff to deal with. She knows that. Probably didn't want to bother you with her teeny tiny problems." He threw the 'teeny tiny' part in air quotes.
I huffed. "Whatever."
We got off the bus a few stops early and walked home together. Probably a bad idea considering the recent flurry of snow, but you take your chances – either risk slipping on the ice and breaking an ankle walking home, or stay on the bus while it squeezed past the cliffs, hoping that it didn't slide into the sea.
As Sam and I walked home the air was fairly still and the snow floated about aimlessly like ash. I raised my face to the bloaty sky. "Even the weather has no drive"
"Well it matches the peeps around here then, doesn't it," Sam said.
I felt a sharp pang when I noticed the relief in his face. His words didn’t match his expression. That expression that told me that he knew he wouldn’t have to put up with Kingsley much longer. "Bet you can't wait to get out of here...right?"
Sam snatched a glance over at me. “What?”
"You know, when you become that arrogant fighter-pilot!"
"Don’t know, it's not so bad here."
"Such a liar! You know I can read you like a book? And everything you’re telling me, but not telling me, is that you’re out of here."
He didn’t argue, he just stared at me.
“I’ll miss you.” I couldn’t smile but I nudged him in the ribs, which meant the same thing.
Sam grinned and slowed our pace to an easy plod. His breath curled up into the damp air in a big plume of steam. “I’ll miss you, too.” He pulled me in for a hug. I squeezed tightly, trying to dismiss the thought of not hugging him again after he left town. He pulled away from me, his hands still on my shoulders.
"And now, are you going to tell me why you've had a face like a wet weekend since you got back to school?"
"That is the real reason."
"It's true! I don't want you to leave."
"B, I haven't even applied to get in the military yet. So, tell me another one..."
He could read me like a book, too. I stared him out. "Ok, so it’s not the ONLY reason. They want me to carry on with the therapy for a while."
Sam looked over at me with a non-judgmental cool expression. "So?" he shrugged, like it was something that shouldn't be allowed to rent space in my head.
"So? Is that all you've got to say?
"Would it be so bad? It might only be for a bit longer and maybe they will...get rid of your demons or whatever."
"Don't do that!"
"You know what. You're just like my mother. I don't need protecting. Just tell it like it is, Sam!"
"And how exactly is it?"
I threw my hands in the air. "It's screwed up is what it is! It's a frickin tragedy. They can't fix me. I'm actually clinically insane. You don't have to pretend. You don't have to be nice about it."
Sam rolled his eyes, laughed and shoved me sideways into a snow-clogged hedge. I flapped about like a bird stuck in a net for a bit but eventually recovered with ice and twigs in my hair. He grabbed me by the arms and shook me slightly.
"Do the words 'blowing' and 'proportion' in the same sentence mean anything to you?"
My gaze dropped to my feet, my teeth grinding. Sam knocked up my chin with his finger and pulled a dead leaf from my hair.
"It's fixable, Blythe. Just because you see a couple of odd-shaped shadows here and there, that doesn't make you Emperor bloody Caligula!"
My eyes shifted to the side of Sam's head where the shadow lingered, hanging just behind him.
I sighed, dragging my chin away from his hand. "Yeah…right."
He pulled my head back around by the chin again and held it until I looked at him. "Hey, come on. I know you thought that today was the day they'd let you go and all that, but would you really have been happy if they did?"
Sam raised an eyebrow.
"Okay, no... but I want to be."
"Then give them a chance! You always do this. Stop rushing. Do. It. Right."
"I don't rush things."
"You mean like choking yourself on a cookie when we were at kindergarten so you could be the first on the trike, or almost getting run over by that guy on the bike when we were nine, because you were BORED of waiting to cross the road...?
"That's nothing like...I mean those are rubbish examples...I have patience!"
Sam tapped his toe against my calf, smearing dirty snow on my jeans. "Come around after dinner, weirdo. I've still got to give you your birthday present. K?" He smiled.
He left me standing outside of my house, his warmth drained away with every step that he took.
Friday meant fish and chips for dinner; I could smell the warm chip-shop paper as soon as I opened the door. It was normal for my mother to see me swallowing without chewing and drinking so fast that I always ended up with drips down my shirt.
Mum’s hair was curled up in bendy rollers like little golden sausage rolls, and she had barely started eating when I clattered my empty plate in the sink.
"Back to Sam's?" she asked. It wasn't really a question, more like stating the obvious. I probably should have stayed in or at least made an effort to eat dinner with her. She worked almost every hour of the waking day, and I didn’t see her that often, but I’d been with her at the therapists that day so surely, she’d had enough of me, too?
My eyes skipped to the shadow sat in the chair next to her, then back again.
"You know I am," I replied.
She had that look on her face that everyone else had when they considered the closeness of Sam and me. They thought that we were together. Honestly, everyone willing us to be a couple did that thing to my face where I pulled back my top lip and scowled. It wasn't because Sam was repulsive or anything though. He was just...well...Sam.
“Back by ten,” she warned.
I nodded and wrapped my scarf around my neck, as I knew she would demand that I did, before I left the house. She watched me do it then got on with her dinner.
I got to Sam's house within about thirty seconds of leaving mine and carefully picked my way down the icy driveway, shimmying alongside his dad's massive van. Sam's dad answered the door. He was quite short and thin with smooth skin for a man in his late forties.
"Blythe! Haven't seen you in ages, girl!" he winked. "It has to be what…at least six hours? You know where he is."
Sam's Mum was in the kitchen feeding Sam's baby brother, Jody, in a highchair. She had bright orange baby food all down her front and Jody was wearing some on his head, squealing like a piglet whilst reaching out to the dish his mother held.
"Hi Carol!" I sang, as I headed for the stairs.
She tried to wrestle the spoon from Jody. "Hi love!"
The classic-rock blared out at the top of the stairs. I strode past the shadow floating around on the landing and pushed open Sam's door. Yep, there he was, in the front of the mirror with a rolled-up magazine in his hand, crowing away to Motorhead, whilst swinging underwear around in the air like a lasso. He had his crusty cowboy-hat on that his dad had bought at a concert years ago. When he was growing up, Sam said that he wanted to be like the rock singers on the front of his dad’s record albums. His dad always told him that he was about a foot too short, much too scrawny, and had way too little chest hair to qualify as a proper rock singer. I shook my head as I glanced around the familiar surroundings. It was like someone had broken into a Forbidden Planet store and just chucked stuff around. I slipped on a stack of comic books just inside the door and did the splits, almost ripping my jeans. Sam didn't bat an eyelid.
"All packed and ready to go then?" I shouted over the music, glaring at the empty weekend bag on his bed.
Sam threw the boxers at me then got down on one knee, clung to my leg and carried on crowing like some inebriated rock icon. I lunged for the remote on his bed and hammered the stop button until the noise stopped, then wedged the boxers over his head.
"Thank the gods they're clean!" Sam mumbled from inside the shorts.
He dragged open his wardrobe, pulling out and launching clothes at me. As usual, I folded and packed them into his bag because he was a hundred and ten per cent incapable of packing anything, not even a sock.
After I finished packing him up we were squashed up together under the duvet, watching The Avengers, with commentary, while we waited for his parents to finish packing all of Jodie's stuff. Seriously, it would have been easier just to put wheels on the house!
As much as I tried to tell myself that Sam and I were alone in the bedroom, we weren't. A shadow was bunched up on the window ledge as though it was a person sitting on a bench. I glared at it.
Sam focus switched between the window and me. "Are you really okay about what happened this morning?" he asked gently.
"Yeah, think so. Nothing new, right?" I shrugged, trying to play it down.
Sam called my bluff. "You're really not okay then. Well you had to start losing your mind sooner or later. After all you are officially old tomorrow!" he grinned.
"Still a month younger than you!"
Sam held up his hands in surrender. "So, seventeen, huh?"
I bobbed my head. "Yep."
Sam reached under his pillow and pulled out a small gift-wrapped cube. "For tomorrow," he said, handing me the cube. "And before you lay into me, Mum picked the wrapping," he frowned, eyeing the box.
I held the glittery gold package gently as if it would break if my grip tightened. "Can't believe you're not going to be here. You've always been here on my birthday!"
Sam bit his bottom lip. "My Aunt will go mad but I can stay if you want?"
"No. You have to go. I've got Darlaine and Jas, and Mum's making me invite Gina to diner."
"Gina? As in Gina Woodley? But...why?"
I shrugged. "Pretty sure that Mum thinks that we're still friends!"
"She doesn't know that Gina turned into a complete bitch?"
"Well...have fun!" Sam grinned. "Mortified that I can't be there, honest."
I rolled my eyes. "Can't I open this now?" I asked, eyeing the gift. "I want to say thank you before you go."
Sam raised an eyebrow. "How do you know you'll like it? I might not want to be here when you open it!"
Based on that very statement I ripped off the paper. Sam didn't budge an inch, his smiling eyes stayed on me. Inside there was a small green velvet box. The hinged lid creaked on opening.
My jaw dropped. "Oh...Sam, this is amazing!"
I slipped the rose-gold chain from the case and held it up in the light. The initials 'SB' were etched on the front of the locket in a scrolling, delicate font.
"Open it up," Sam urged.
I slid my nail into the little gap in the locket and clicked it open. Inside was a miniature picture of Sam and me from when we were little kids, pulling stupid faces.
"It used to belong to my Gran," Sam said, looking fondly down at the locket. "Used to have a picture of my Granddad in it, too, but I definitely think that we look better in there."
“Oh, I remember this picture! This was after…”
“Ha ha! Yeah, you peed yourself then sat in the dirt so it looked like something MUCH worse!”
“I didn’t pee myself! It was water from the rain puddles!”
“And you know that I will never ever believe that,” I laughed. “Seriously though, thank-you for this. I’ll keep it safe.” I closed the locket and rubbed the initials on front of the locket gently with my thumb. "Your Gran had the same initials as you?"
"Yeah, her name was Sandrine... died when I was about nine."
My eyes swept over Sam's face as he glared fondly at the locket. "This must mean so much to you. Are you sure that you want me to have it?"
He sighed and rested his hands on my shoulders. "I can't actually afford to get you a new present, I'm officially skint since buying the hands," he grinned, pointing to a huge pair of green Hulk fists mounted on the wall.
"And here I was thinking that you were about to say something nice to me!"
Sam grinned and took the locket from me. He held it up beside my cheek, comparing the then and now. He frowned. "Did you know that your splat has got bigger?"
I took the locket from him and stood in front of the mirror, comparing my right eye in the picture to my right eye now. My eyes are dark brown but I've had this moon shaped streak of bright blue at the bottom of my iris since I was very young.
"Weird," I muttered. "It was much smaller back then."
He took the locket from me and hung the chain around my neck. I threw my arms around him, knocking him off balance. He collapsed back down in a heap on the bed.
"This is amazing! Thank you so much."
"Ready, Saaaam!" his Mum yelled up the stairs.
Sam sat up straight and made me face him. "Seriously, Scotland is a right arse-numbing trip, I'll stay if you want me to?" he offered again, grabbing my hands and wiggling my arms.
"No, don't be daft. I'll be fine. Go. I'll see you in a couple of days."
Sam sighed as if I was the one making him go, or not letting him stay, but he reluctantly grabbed his bag and lumped it down the stairs.
Carol wrestled Jodie into his car seat then took the seat next to him. Andy threw the bags in the back of the van before getting in the front and willing the engine to life.
"I'll call you when I get there, okay? Could be weeks though," Sam said, patting the bonnet of the rusty van.
I shook my head. "You don't have to call me, I’m not your Mother."
"I know...but I want to. Just don't be hanging around the Drop alone, ok? You don't know what's hanging around that place"
He hugged me before jumping up into the van beside his dad.
After waving them off I went for a walk. I had homework to do, but I'd rather not. I walked away from Sam's, back past my house and up the hill toward the woods. The top of the street was a dead-end, surrounded by a double ring of wire fencing. I dipped my head and ducked between the two strands of wire and marched into the woods, climbing further up the hill. There was a well-trodden dirt path that led through the thickest clump of trees, to the bit of a clearing at the top of the hill where Sam and I usually sat together, looking down at the town, the bay and out to sea. I perched on the edge of the bench, trying to avoid a wet backside. I had to think of something to say to Darlaine. She obviously hadn’t wanted to tell me about the mystery guy for some reason, but I didn’t want to force her into sharing either. Maybe it was like Sam said. Maybe I had become unapproachable. If I started the conversation she might open up to me.
I went further into the woods, on a path less travelled, crunching new footprints into the gleaming, untouched snow and pushed my way through the scrub with branches slapping me in the face. Despite Sam's warning's, I didn't stop until I came to a place that we called 'the Drop'. Both of us knew the place like the back of our hands but neither of us knew who named it. The Drop was a fair distance down, high enough to break your legs if you dared to jump, not quite high enough to give you palpitations if you were afraid of heights. It was kind of an L-shaped hollow and on one side of the L it looked like the surface of an alien planet - dry and cracked limestone, well, it was in the sporadic nice weather. On the other side of the L there was a mineral-blue lake. At that time of year, the lake was usually glazed over by a couple of inches of ice and that year was no different. I walked until I reached the narrow track that led to the bottom.
By the lake, the air smelled metallic, strong enough to taste, but I didn't mind it so much compared to some of the other risky hangouts in Kingsley. Standing with my toes at the edge of the frozen lake, I raised my face to the pale clouds and closed my eyes. Letting my breath gently come and go I tried to push the chatter out of my head, the voices of the therapist, my mother, Sam, anyone that had spoken to me in the last couple of days that had tried to 'fix' my problems. I managed to muffle the voices at best but there was no hope in getting rid of them completely.
My eyes fluttered open. I fixed on the lighter patch of rock directly across the lake where a dried-up waterfall had made its mark. A shadow hovered over the ice. Even after years of therapy they remained. I glared at it, thinking about the day that I figured out that nobody else could see them, the time I shut myself away for weeks, and how many friends I had lost because of them.
Sam had been the only one to get through to me. He was the only one that made me feel normal. He just accepted that I could see them, as if it didn't matter at all. But according to the therapist it did matter. According to her, I'd put the shadow there, and I could get rid of it. But I didn't know how. It wasn't like I willed them to appear. They just existed like everything else. They were part of my world.
The human-shaped shadow moved across the lake and closed in on me. I could see straight through it, though it made everything sort of hazy and grey. I turned away and it settled by my side as if it was a person standing next to me. Turning quickly toward it I reached out and tried to touch it. But as always, as if it could anticipate my move, it shot away, back over the lake.
I skulked off home and straight to bed, forcing the weekend to go faster, knowing it would feel empty without Sam.
2. Birthday Wish
I had a restless night. The dream was the same as it had been for the past year – pain, loss, anger and an overwhelming feeling that I needed to be somewhere, but I didn't know where. I woke, bedraggled and sweaty with the covers twisted into a sausage around my body. I wrestled them off and sat on the edge of my bed, breathless, clutching Sam's locket that hung around my neck.
It took a while for me to get out of bed. I showered then stared out of my bedroom window at the people that had stuff to do. I really should have had something better planned on my birthday but I really couldn't be bothered.
My Mother had left for work at the crack of dawn but promised that she would be back for dinner that evening. I did random chores all morning with the TV on full blast to keep my mind occupied. That didn't actually get rid of the shadow though. They seemed to be everywhere I turned that day. They were still there, loitering in random corners of my bedroom when Darlaine and Jas came around in the afternoon. They came around to force me to be girly, which involved facemasks in colours not found anywhere in nature, lotions, nail files and polish.
Darlaine tied her hair up into a loose bun on the top of her head. Whoever this boy was that she liked, I really didn’t understand why he wasn’t already with her. The girl was a pint-size summer goddess for crying out loud! They say that looks aren’t everything, and I’d be inclined to agree, but if offered Darlaine’s liquid-sunlight hair and jade eyes, I wouldn’t say no. She made me sit at my desk and began putting my hair up in curlers while Jas paced the room, moaning about the suit that her boyfriend, Alex, had bought to wear for Gina's upmarket birthday party later in the month.
"Why couldn't he just buy what I picked out for him? He's gonna look like a right mutant. I mean, come on, who the hell wears a bright blue suit?" Looking in the mirror, she smoothed the wrinkles of her very tight, chocolate satin dress, teased the ends of her long black hair and slicked on even more berry lipstick. Her face was so overloaded with makeup that it could have been peeled off in its entirety and used as a mask.
I'd been invited to the party, too, along with Sam and Darlaine, but unlike Jas I didn't give a flying unicorn's shit about what I, or anyone else, wore. I grinned, poking a finger through one of my holey socks. "So, dump him."
Jas admired at her newly painted nails. "Are you kidding? We can't do that! It's too late!"
"Too late for what?"
"Well, the universe wouldn't be right. We're one of those couples. Y'know, the ones that have been together forever and one doesn't go anywhere without the other. That includes mention of our names too. It's never Jasmine Renner or Alex Fort, it's ALWAYS Jasmine Renner and Alex Fort - Jas and Alex. It's kind of unwritten rule or something."
I glared through the mirror at Darlaine, trying not to laugh. Darlaine smiled briefly but then went back to winding strands of my hair into curlers, creases coming and going on her forehead. It was then or never… "You gonna tell me?"
She glanced at my reflection then back to the hair. "Tell you what?"
"Tell me what's wrong."
One corner of her mouth turned up into a little smile. "I'm fine. Just…math exam stuff."
I nodded, squeezing my lips together. "You'll pass – no problem. But that's a pile of crap."
She frowned at me with a hairpin between her front teeth. "Don't know what you mean."