I was awakened in the morning by the harsh, persistent beep of my alarm. After I shut it off, I sat up and brushed my hair away from my face. My dreams were still fogging my mind. And there had been something in them – the same strange longing that called to me every night now. This was the first time I had felt it in my sleep.
I frowned. There was something else that was different.
There had been a presence – a shadow of a figure.
Someone had invaded my dreams. I was sure of it.
I shook my head. That was a crazy way to think. I forced myself to think of school. I still had my quiz in English. And I would see Simon. Just being around him always helped to calm my nerves.
I got out of bed and walked toward the bathroom. I was feeling tired after my too eventful night. My eyes were burning, and they felt puffy, probably because of the crying I'd done last night, and I swayed around dizzily as I reached the bathroom and switched on the light.
I turned on the tap in the sink, letting the water run, and splashed my face several times with cold water. I'd hoped the water would make me feel more awake, but instead it just made me shiver, and the water as it streamed down the drain sounded unnaturally loud.
I placed my hands on either side of the sink and let my head fall forward, my hair swinging down on either side of my face like a curtain. I took a few deep breaths.
After a moment, I felt better, and I swept my hair back with one hand and looked into the mirror.
My face was a little paler than usual, but I really didn't look too bad. I pressed a hand to my forehead and then to my cheek. My skin was cool. I was pretty sure I wasn't sick. That was reassuring at least.
My eyes looked just a little puffy, and as I leaned closer to examine them, I caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of my eye. Some instinct made me turn around quickly, but there was nothing behind me but a towel rack.
I dismissed the flicker as a trick played by my tired eyes. I turned back to the mirror.
As I leaned close to the mirror again, I saw another flicker of movement. This time the flicker grew and coalesced into a dark shadow as tall as a man. I blinked several times and squinted at the shadow in the mirror. It was definitely standing behind me. I felt a brief stab of alarm as I turned and looked over my shoulder.
As before, nothing was there.
I turned back to the mirror. The shadow was still there. I leaned closer. The shadow began to grow thicker and more substantial. Suddenly, there was a man standing behind me. I could see him quite clearly over my shoulder – black hair, blue eyes, a handsome face set into harsh lines. The look in his eyes was dangerous.
A flash of panic ran through me, and I spun around, bracing my hands behind me on the sink.
No one was there.
I hurried out of the bathroom.
I ran down the hall, intending to find GM, but I stopped myself at the top of the stairs. If I told GM that I was seeing things in the mirror, she would say that I was letting my mind play tricks on me after all the strange things the visitors had said last night. Would GM be right about that? I decided I was being silly. I took a deep breath and went back to the bathroom.
Warily, I peered into the mirror. The glass reflected only my own face and the towel rack behind me. I leaned closer to the mirror, keeping my eyes fixed on the area over my shoulder. Several long moments passed. Nothing strange appeared in the mirror – no shadow, no man's face.
I straightened up in relief. I had been imagining things. What was wrong with me lately? I knew I had to hurry or I would be late. I quickly showered and dressed.
As I ran downstairs, I could smell cinnamon and sugar. I wondered what was going on. GM didn't usually approve of sweets.
I saw as I entered the kitchen that all traces of the confrontation from the night before had been swept away. GM was busy buttering two slices of bread on a plate. In the center of the table was a freshly baked loaf of bread. There were golden-brown swirls in the cut section of the bread with little black specks dotting the swirls.
I couldn't help smiling. GM had made cinnamon-raisin bread. I was addicted to it – when I could get it.
GM looked up at me. Sadness and anxiety flickered in her eyes. She clearly felt bad about the scene with the visitors last night and was trying to make up for it. I felt a rush of love for her – I knew she was always trying to do what was best for me.
I was sure now, too, that not mentioning the strange man I'd seen in the mirror was the right thing to do – I didn't want GM to feel any worse.
I walked around the table and gave GM a hug.
"Good morning, Solnyshko," GM said. Solnyshko was her pet name for me – a Russian endearment meaning 'little sun.' "Did you sleep well?"
Pushing all my fears aside, I smiled brightly. "Yes, thanks. How about you?"
GM relaxed visibly. "Of course." She waved the knife she held in a gesture of bravado. "It is hard to disturb a mind like mine."
I leaned closer to the table to inhale the aroma from the bread. "I see you were busy last night after I went to bed. Did you make this for me?"
"Can there be any doubt?" GM asked gruffly, pushing the plate of buttered bread toward me. "I knew it was your favorite."
"Thanks, GM." I sat down at the table.
"I will pour you a glass of milk," GM announced firmly. "I know you usually drink orange juice, but orange juice is no good with cinnamon raisin."
The milk soon appeared by my plate.
For her part, GM sat down and began cutting off two slices for herself. Then she began poking raisins out of the bread with her knife. GM had a strong aversion to raisins. She only kept them in the house for me.
I reached for my glass, and I watched in disbelief as a dark spot formed on the side of the glass. Soon, a man's face appeared in muted outline on the glass. I set it down, alarmed.
GM looked up at me. "Is something wrong?"
"The glass. Do you see that?"
"See what?" GM asked.
I looked again. The face on the side of the glass had disappeared.
"It's nothing," I said. I couldn't tell her what I'd seen – or what I'd imagined I'd seen.
I finished up quickly, putting my dishes in the dishwasher, and gave GM a peck on the cheek. "Thanks again."
I hurried to pull on my coat and backpack. Then I was out the door.
It was early October, just past my 16th birthday, and the weather was a little warmer than usual at this time of year, but it was still cold. I walked down the driveway past GM's bright red sports car. Against my better judgment, I paused and looked into the side mirror. A black spot quickly began to appear behind my shoulder. Soon the spot spread and evened out, revealing a man's face – dark hair, light eyes, sharply defined features.
I cried out and spun around. No one was standing behind me. I looked back at the mirror. The face was gone.
I was definitely cracking up.
I hurried down the driveway and turned onto the sidewalk to begin the walk to school.
I told myself not to panic. Turn back into normal Katie, I told myself. Turn back into normal Katie. What would normal Katie think of?
I thought of the quiz in English – which I hadn't studied for as much as I would have liked, thanks to the distracting night calling. And then there had been my troubled and insufficient sleep – that wasn't going to help my performance on the quiz, either. Of course, Simon would say that I wouldn't need sleeping or studying in order to do well on a quiz. He really was a good friend.
I felt a sudden strange tug on my heart as I thought of Simon. Was there something wrong between the two of us? I had a feeling that there was – but what it was exactly, I couldn't pin down.
I hurried on to school, feeling my spirits sinking steadily.
As I neared the fence that surrounded Elspeth's Grove High School, I spotted an African-American girl sitting on a picnic table, talking to a tall, Caucasian boy with unkempt brown hair.
I smiled when I saw them, and the girl noticed me and waved. I was glad to see my friends, Charisse Graebel and Branden McKenna. The sight of them made me feel normal again. Somehow the two of them and crazy visions in mirrors didn't seem to belong to the same world.
I hurried into the schoolyard and walked up to them.
"Hey, Charisse. Hey, Branden."
"Happy Monday," Branden replied gloomily. "Welcome to the beginning of our prison sentence for the week."
"Ignore him, Katie," Charisse said. "Are you ready for the quiz in English?"
I sighed heavily. "Don't remind me. I'm really not ready for it today."
Charisse smiled. "Don't worry, over-achiever. I'm sure you'll be fine."
A false note in Charisse's voice caught my attention, and I looked at her sharply. Her tone was superficially cheerful, and her smile was as bright was ever, but there was an unusual distance in her eyes. I could tell Charisse's mind was elsewhere.
Branden groaned. "The quiz. I forgot all about it. I'd better get going."
Reluctantly, he picked up his backpack and slung it over his shoulder.
Charisse looked up at him in surprise. "Where are you going?"
Branden was rueful. "Katie may be able to get by on a quiz any time, but I can't. I haven't even read the play, yet. I'm going to get some reading done – someplace where there are fewer distractions. I can't study while you're around, gorgeous."
Charisse stood up to kiss him on the cheek. "Okay. I'll see you in first period."
Branden returned the kiss on her forehead and loped away across the yard toward the school.
"You guys didn't talk about the quiz this weekend?" I asked.
"No," Charisse replied dreamily. "We were talking about other things."
"You know," I said, "sometimes you two are horrifyingly cute together."
"Some people think you and Simon are pretty cute together, too."
I felt a blush rise to my cheeks. "Simon and I are friends. Close friends. But still friends. You know that."
"I know he likes you. And I think you like him, too. You just haven't admitted that to yourself, yet, Katie."
I felt a strong tug on my heart and an even stronger desire to end this line of conversation. I glanced at Charisse's face. The preoccupation was still there.
"Charisse, is something wrong?"
Charisse looked down at her hands. "No. And that's the problem."
I was instantly alert. "What do you mean?"
"It's my parents. They've split up."
"What?" I said. My shock was as great as if Charisse had just thrown a glass of cold water in my face.
She sighed. The sound was more wistful than anything else. "They're getting a divorce."
"Are you serious?"
"Oh, Charisse," I said. "That's terrible. I'm so sorry. Are you okay?"
Charisse gave me an odd little smile. "Yes, I am."
"Well, what happened?" I asked.
Charisse sighed again and shrugged. "In a way, it was nothing out of the ordinary – my parents have always argued. Lawyers, you know. Neither one of them ever backs down. But you know about that already."
I nodded. I did know that her household was pretty contentious. I had witnessed it myself. It was nothing really scary – shouting, slammed doors, passive aggressive comments – but it was contentious nonetheless.
Charisse continued. "So, after yet another argument, my dad left last night. He went to stay at our vacation cottage until he can find an apartment. My mom and I are going to stay at the house."
"I'm sorry, Charisse. You must be devastated."
Charisse looked up at the sky. "That's the weird part. I'm okay with it. My parents have been fighting my whole life. I think they'll be better off apart, actually. But people are supposed to be devastated when their parents break up. And I'm not. I have to wonder if something's wrong with me. I don't even really want to talk about it. But I did want you to be the first to know that it happened – you're my best friend."
I was surprised by her answer, but at the same time, I wanted to be supportive.
I gave her a hug. "You have a right to your feelings – whatever they are," I said.
But all the same I was worried.
I glanced up and caught sight of a familiar blond head pushing determinedly through a crowd that had formed nearby.
It was Simon. His pale brows were drawn together, and his expression was stormy.
Charisse looked up at him as he approached. "Wow. Simon does not look happy. Did you guys have a fight or something?"
"Charisse, of course not. And you know we're just friends." But I had had a feeling earlier that something was wrong with Simon. It seemed as though I had been right.
Simon marched up to us. He glanced at Charisse and gave her a tight-lipped smile. "Hey."
He turned to me and pushed his hands into the pockets of his jeans, hunching his shoulders. "Can we talk? Alone?"
I glanced uncertainly at Charisse. "Will you be okay?"
Charisse smiled. "Of course. Like I said, amazingly, I'm all right with it all. I'll see you in English class."
Simon waited with his head bowed while Charisse walked away.
When she was gone, he raised his face to mine – it was a mask of misery.
Something was really bothering him.
"Simon?" I prompted.
"It's my brother, James," he said abruptly. "He did something wrong last night. Really wrong. This time, he's going to jail."
I was startled. "I know he gets in trouble a lot, but jail?"
Simon nodded grimly. A muscle in his temple worked as he clenched his jaw. "It's bad. It's as bad as it can be. The cops came to the house last night, looking for him. My parents ordered me to go to my room and stay there. I couldn't hear everything, but I heard enough."
Simon stopped and looked over his shoulder to make sure no one was close enough to eavesdrop. He went on in a low voice.
"Somebody robbed a liquor store last night and shot the cashier. The police think it was James."
Cold fear washed over me. "He shot the cashier? He didn't—"
I stopped suddenly. I didn't want to finish my question. I was afraid of what the answer would be."
Simon smiled bitterly. "Did he kill the cashier? No. The cashier is in the hospital in stable condition. They think he'll be okay. Which doesn't change the fact that James shot somebody."
"You said the police think it was James."
"But they don't know for sure?"
"Then we don't know it was James yet. Maybe the police have decided on the wrong person."
Simon looked at me miserably. "Then why didn't he come home last night? We don't know where he is. The police don't know where he is. Katie, if he's innocent, where is he?"
"Just keep an open mind." I tried to sound reassuring. "Maybe he just happened to be near the liquor store at the wrong time and was afraid he'd be accused of being involved the crime when he really wasn't. With a record like his, you can understand why he might be nervous."
Simon nodded again, and I could see the taut lines of his face begin to relax.
I went on in the same soothing tone. "James has been trying hard lately to pull his life together. You and I have both seen how he's changed. Please wait till you hear his side of things before you make up your mind."
Simon took in a deep breath and let it out heavily. His expression relaxed even more until he looked almost like his usual, cheerful self. "You're right. James has been doing better lately. Maybe it is a misunderstanding."
"Simon!" A shrill voice suddenly sounded right in my ear, startling me.
A girl was wedging herself in between Simon and me, forcing both of us to step back to give her room.
I soon found myself facing a dark glossy ponytail.
"Hi, Simon! How are you?" the girl chattered happily. "Are we still on for lunch today?"
I sighed inwardly as I realized that I recognized the voice.
"Irina?" I asked. "Is that you?"
The girl spun around. It was, as I had suspected, Irina Neverov. Her dark eyes glinted maliciously before widening into a convincing approximation of innocent astonishment. A polite mask settled over her flawless features. "Oh, Katie! I didn't see you there. Simon and I have a few things to discuss. Would you mind giving us a minute?" Irina flashed a bewitching smile. "Thanks so much."
I wondered as I had before how things had gotten to this point. Irina and I had been good friends when we were little, but now that we were in high school, we had somehow become enemies – and as far as I could see, the animosity was all on her side. I hadn't changed much over the years, but Irina had.
Simon broke in firmly. "I'll see you at lunch like I said, Irina. Katie, would you walk inside with me?"
"Sure." Clearly, Simon still needed to talk.
Simon took my elbow lightly and steered me across the yard and into the school. He didn't say anything, and I could see that his earlier tension had returned.
The two of us walked in silence until we reached my locker. I glanced up at Simon's face. His expression had gone impassive.
"Simon?" I prompted. "I assumed you still wanted to talk, but you haven't said a word."
"There's nothing going on between Irina and me," Simon blurted out. "You have nothing to worry about. We were assigned as partners for a science project. We're going to be meeting at lunch today and then after school for most of the week. I didn't get to choose. You're all that matters to me. You have to know that by now."
I felt guilt settling on me heavily. Charisse was right. Simon really did like me – a lot more than I had realized. "Simon, you don't owe me an explanation. You have the right to be friends with anyone you want to be friends with."
Simon's face grew pained. "But we're not friends. That's what I'm trying to tell you. We're having lunch together because we're using the time to work on the project. That's all. I should have told you, but I know you and Irina don't get along very well. I don't want you to think there's anything in it. You believe me, don't you?"
The more Simon talked, the worse I felt. "Simon, of course I believe you."
Simon smiled and looked deeply relieved. "I'll make it up to you, I promise."
"Simon, you don't owe me anything. It's okay if you want to have lunch with other people sometimes."
"I insist on making it up to you," Simon said, smiling and backing into the crowd of students that were milling around in the hall. "I'll see you later, Katie."
I watched him go. He'd been afraid I'd be jealous, but even after I'd heard he was going to have lunch with another girl, I'd felt no stab of envy. I liked Simon. I really did. But it was definitely a friendship. I felt another tug on my heart as I thought about Simon. I realized what it meant this time. Deep down, I must have known that his feelings for me were growing – and that I wouldn't be able to return them. I got my books and shut my locker door. The weight of my guilt was crushing me.
Homeroom and first period passed quickly. As I walked into second-period English I saw Irina sitting on my assigned desk, holding court with her two best friends, Bryony and Annamaria.
"We're meeting practically every day after school this week. Simon says it's just for the project, but I think Simon has an ulterior motive. I think he's using the project as an excuse to get to know me better."
Bryony and Annamaria giggled.
Irina was clearly trying to provoke a reaction from me, and I had no desire to play out the scene with her. I walked up to my desk and waited patiently. I knew Irina and her friends would have to move as soon as Mr. Del Gatto came into the classroom. I had seen him in the hall nearby talking to another teacher. I didn't have too long to wait.
Irina darted a furtive glance at me. "You know, when we're together, Simon can't take his eyes off me. I would say he's working up the courage to ask me out."
I resisted an impulse to roll my eyes. I wasn't upset by Irina's little show, but as I glanced around, I realized that she was attracting the attention of the rest of the class. People were whispering and staring, and I got the uncomfortable feeling that everyone was eager to see if an argument would break out. Apparently everyone else thought that Simon and I were a couple too.
I decided it was wiser to end everything now, rather than wait for Mr. Del Gatto.
"Excuse me, Irina," I said in a clear, firm voice. "You're sitting on my desk. I wouldn't mind sitting somewhere else, but you know how Mr. Del Gatto feels about his seating chart."
Irina blinked in surprise. This was clearly not the reaction she'd expected.
Several people in the class giggled.
Irina gave me a bright smile. "Oh, Katie. I didn't see you there. It's funny how you seem to be invisible today."
There were several more snickers.
Irina shot me a triumphant look.
I stood where I was, staring at Irina steadily.
At first, Irina returned my gaze defiantly. I think she still thought she could provoke me into having an outburst. But as our staring contest stretched on, Irina's gaze faltered, and I watched as a flush crept up under her olive coloring.
She slid off my desk and walked away with the eyes of the class upon her. I sat down at my desk. With the spectacle over, the class went back to talking about other things.
A few moments later, Mr. Del Gatto walked into the room. Just as he was turning to close the door, Branden and Charisse scurried into the room.
"Miss Graebel, Mr. McKenna, so good of you to grace us with your presence." Mr. Del Gatto was frequently sarcastic, but I knew that he really liked his students and his subject. He was actually one of my favorite teachers.
Branden and Charisse mumbled their apologies and went to their seats.
"All right, ladies and gentlemen, come to order, please."
The room quieted, and Mr. Del Gatto strode toward his desk at the front of the room. He pulled a key out of his pocket, unlocked a drawer, and pulled out a stack of papers. He set them on the desk with a slap.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I'm going to call roll, and then I'm going to pass out the quiz. None of this should be a surprise to you. The topic is Lydia Grace's play, The Maid and the Moon. We had a lecture on Friday, and of course, you should all have read the material – though I have my doubts about whether or not you all have done so."
There was a collective groan from the room.
"There's no use in your complaining to me," Mr. Del Gatto said. "I gave you plenty of warning. Put away your books. You have a few moments to say your prayers while I take attendance."
While Mr. Del Gatto called roll, I took a quick mental inventory of what I knew about the play. We were doing a unit on local authors. In the 19th Century Lydia Grace had written a play dramatizing the founding of our town, Elspeth's Grove. Elspeth Quick had been born in the early 18th Century in a small community in New England. As a teenager, she had been falsely accused of witchcraft and had fled south to elude an angry mob bent on her destruction. Her true love, Christian Miller, followed her and eventually caught up with her. The two of them married in a small town, but were soon forced to flee into the untamed wilderness to escape detection by a search party. Following a thin thread of silver moonlight, Elspeth guided them through the forest to a fresh spring that ran through a grove of fruit trees. The two of them spent the summer in the grove and waited out their pursuers. Eventually, Elspeth and Christian found their way to a nearby town and established themselves there. They moved back to the forest once they were prosperous and a town sprang up around them.
How romantic, I thought, that they faced all those dangers together, and it was all true…
My reverie was broken when Mr. Del Gatto slapped a quiz down on my desk.
Before long, everyone had a copy of the quiz. Mr. Del Gatto moved back to the front of the room.
"In compensation for your great suffering today, after the quiz, we will watch a filmed version of the play. While watching, the quick amongst you will realize which questions you got wrong. Those less fortunate will watch in blissful ignorance, noticing nothing."
Mr. Del Gatto glanced up at the large round clock above the door. "Turn your quizzes over. You have twenty-five minutes."
I flipped the single sheet over and scanned the questions quickly. I was relieved to see that there were no questions I couldn't handle. I got to work.
Shortly before time was called, I set my pencil down and leaned back in my chair, glad to be finished.
I had a sudden strong urge to put my head down on the desk and go to sleep. Disturbingly, I also felt the strange calling that had heretofore only come to me at night.
"Time's up!" Mr. Del Gatto shouted.
I shook my head, trying to clear it.
Mr. Del Gatto walked around the room, collecting the quiz papers.
"I expect to give my red pen quite a workout tonight."
Mr. Del Gatto moved back to the front of the room and deposited the quizzes on his desk. Then he wheeled a TV and DVD player out of a corner to the front of the room. He switched on the movie.
"Mr. McKenna, would you do me the honor of switching off the lights?"
Branden extinguished the lights, and the room was plunged into semi-gloom.
I propped my chin on my hand and tried to ignore the unnatural feeling that was pulling at me. I forced myself to concentrate on the play.
As the minutes passed, I began to feel better. I watched the actors on the screen, and I felt myself drawn into the drama.
I spotted a dark shadow in one corner of the picture and frowned. I wondered if something was wrong with the TV. The shadow grew and began to move around the screen.
I looked around the room. All eyes were facing forward and appeared to be untroubled. No one else seemed to have noticed that anything was wrong with the picture.
I turned back to the movie. The shadow continued to move around the screen, growing darker and more distinct. I watched it, feeling a chill run through me. Suddenly the shadow coalesced into a clear shape. It was a man – the same man I had seen looking over my shoulder in the mirror that morning.
I bit my lip to stop myself from crying out and jumped to my feet.
I stumbled toward the door. "Mr. Del Gatto, I don't feel very well."
Mr. Del Gatto looked concerned. "Go to the bathroom or to the nurse – wherever you need to go. Just take the hall pass, so no one stops you."
I clutched at the little block of wood that served as the hall pass, and I flung myself out of the room.
I ran till I reached the nearest girls' bathroom. I pushed the door open and hurried inside, sinking to the floor in a corner, out of sight of the mirrors.
I closed my eyes and the man's face rose again in my memory. There was no doubt in my mind that I had just seen him in the TV screen. I had now seen him in four different places.
I opened my eyes and ran my fingers through my hair. What could it possibly mean? I wanted to call GM and tell her everything, but I knew it would really upset her. Suddenly I thought of the mysterious visitors from the previous night, Galina and Aleksandr. I wondered if they would know something about what was happening to me. But I had no idea how to find them.
I leaned my head back against the wall. I would have to figure this out on my own.
Using the wall for support, I climbed to my feet. I eyed the row of mirrors and sinks in front of me warily.
I would have to look.
I took a few tentative steps toward the mirror, and then I forced myself to move. I rushed forward, gripping the edge of a sink for support, my head down.
I raised my head and looked into the mirror. Only my own eyes stared back at me. I was alone in the smooth sheet of glass.
I breathed in and out slowly. I looked down at my hands. I realized I was shaking.
I heard the door to the bathroom creak in protest as it was flung open. I spun around startled.
Irina stalked into the bathroom, her eyes sweeping over the area suspiciously, looking for me. "Katie? Mr. Del Gatto sent me to see if you were in here. He says you're ill." She sounded like she didn't entirely believe it.
She caught sight of me, and I saw her eyes widen in surprise. "You're so pale. Are you okay?"
My head was swimming, but I gave her a reassuring smile. "Yes, I think so."
Irina took a step closer, scrutinizing my face. "Are you sure? It looks like something's really wrong."
I was surprised to see genuine concern in Irina's dark eyes. "I'm not ill. I just had kind of a spell."
Irina frowned. "What do you mean by a 'spell'?"
"I don't know exactly," I admitted. "But it's been happening more often lately."
"Maybe you should see a doctor."
I ran a hand across my forehead unsteadily. "I think you may be right."
"Are you well enough to go back to class?" Irina asked. "Or I can walk you to the nurse if you're not up to it."
"I can go back to class," I replied.
The two of us walked out of the bathroom together.
As we made our way back to class, I felt weak and unsure of my footing. Irina kept a watchful eye on me, as if she feared I would collapse.
When we reached the door to Mr. Del Gatto's class, I stopped. "Thanks, Irina," I said.
Her eyes narrowed warily and her usual mask slipped down over her features again. She opened the door and swept into the classroom without a word. She did not look back at me.
I followed her rigid back into the room.
"How are you feeling, Katie?" Mr. Del Gatto asked.
"I'm okay now, Mr. Del Gatto," I said, though I wasn't entirely sure that was true. I did know that I wouldn't be able to watch any more of the movie. I didn't want to see that strange face again.
The room was dark, and I could hear the actors on the TV speaking their lines. I tripped over someone's backpack as I made my way back to my seat. At least in the dark no one could see the blush that rose to my cheeks.I sank into my chair and covered my eyes with my hands. I had no idea what I was going to do.