There was a slight chill in the air. A fine, salty spray misted her face as the waves crashed on the rocks below. A breeze lifted her hair. She stretched her arms to the sky, enjoying the lithe, supple feel of her limbs and the ease with which she bounded to the edge of the cliff, peering down at the churning sea with gleeful disregard for the breathtaking drop and the lethal landing. She felt lighter, younger, more carefree than she'd felt in ten years.
She knew where she was. She remembered this day.
For a moment, her joy was so intense she felt her chest might burst with it. A giddy laugh bubbled up out of the back of her throat.
Then the laughter died on her lips. There was something wrong.
Profound sadness washed over her. A deep, wrenching ache squeezed her heart, and she doubled over, clutching her chest with a gasp.
She was alone on the cliff. All alone.
No, this wasn't wrong. This was right. This was exactly how she had felt that day, when she had screamed out her agony to the sea and sunk to the ground, weeping. This was how she'd felt in the beginning.
Her younger self didn't know yet.
She heard someone call her name behind her. She spun, and the leap of hope in her chest stole her breath. She'd been so desperate. How could she have forgotten how she'd felt that day? How could she have forgotten peering over the edge of that cliff at the rocks below, thinking of the wind in her hair and the terror of falling before it was all over?
She'd forgotten because he'd come back. Ezra Archer, the only boy she had ever loved, had always loved since she'd been just a girl and hadn't even known what love really was.
There were two Ezras on the cliff, superimposed upon each other, one atop the other: Ezra, young and broad and so handsome, it made her heart ache; Ezra, his lined face still the most beautiful she had ever seen, though his hair had gone to grey and his broadness had spread to his middle.
She loved both Ezras, the man he had been and the man he had become. Her joy at the sight of him warred with mistrust and devastation. Her younger self remembered this so differently, remembered only the way he had hurt her, the way he'd gone to the mainland and left her behind without a second thought.
But he'd come back, and he was smiling at her.
"I've been looking everywhere for you." His voice was a storm at sea. There was something different about him. He looked the same as she remembered him that day. He was windswept and flushed, as though he'd run from one side of the island to the other.
She knew what he would say next. She stepped towards him. She did not even have to think of the words, for her younger self spoke them for her.
"Why? I thought you left. I thought you wanted something different." Her voice was brittle with bitterness. "I thought you wanted to get away and see what life has to offer." She took a hitching breath. "I thought you didn't want me anymore."
Her heart leapt, for she knew what he would say. I was wrong.
Ezra's smile disappeared. His lip curled. "I don't want you. I just wanted to tell you that I have postponed my leaving."
She opened and closed her mouth dumbly. This wasn't how she remembered it. "What?"
"I came back for Sarah."
"Sarah--Sarah Evans?" Her voice faltered. But Sarah was her friend. Sarah knew she loved Ezra. They had never been together, had they?
"I asked her to come to the mainland with me. We are going together." He sounded so heartlessly deliberate. "We are going to be together. Sarah and I."
"But I--" She pushed her hands desperately through her wind-ravaged hair. "This is not right. That's not what you're supposed to say. You were supposed to say you were wrong and you love me and you want to be with me. Only me. Forever."
He didn't laugh. Instead, he lifted a cool, disdainful eyebrow. He spoke with the same quiet, steady precision. "Foolish, delusional girl. Why would I want that? What about you would keep me here on this island? You aren't as pretty as Sarah. You're half-mad from your visions. I don't want you."
"Then why are you here?" She wanted to scream, but her words were so quiet, the wind might have carried them off. He heard them all the same.
"I wanted to be sure you wouldn't come looking for me. I want you to understand this is the end."
She shook her head violently. "No, this isn't right. We're supposed to grow up and get married. After this day, we were never apart again. We're in love--"
He scoffed. "You've been living in a dream world. It's just another vision. It's nothing more than your madness. We're done, Helena. I'm leaving, and I'm never coming back."
Pain lanced through her belly. She clutched her middle, and that horrible sadness returned. This time it was worse because it belonged to her memory self, and it belonged to her. All the hope she'd had, the delight at returning to this moment was gone.
"This is a dream," she whispered. "This is the dream. It's nothing more than a dream. I can wake up."
But she couldn't wake up. She lifted her head to find him staring down at her in disgust. But this couldn't be real. She had been here, and it hadn't happened this way. If she could open her eyes, she could prove it hadn't all been a fantasy her heartbroken mind had constructed to protect her from the truth. If she could just leap from the cliff...wouldn't she awaken before she hit the jagged rocks below?
And if she didn't, if she didn't wake up and instead crashed against them, ending her life, wouldn't that be better than remaining here under his glacial stare, in this awful world without him?
She spun away from him, and if he spoke to her, she did not listen, for he had said enough. She lurched towards the cliff edge. This time her body felt older, heavier and stiffer than before, but she could still move quickly. Saltwater misted her face as she huddled on the rocky edge. If she could just wake up...
It was a terrifying drop, and she screamed out his name as she fell. The waves dashed her mercilessly against the rocks, which pierced her chest and belly and shattered the bones in her arms and legs. The agony was black and blinding. And then there was no pain at all. Her body rocked slower and slower, and she no longer saw him peering down at her over the side of the cliff with cold, cold eyes.
There was a sweet, horrible sense of never feeling pain over him again...
"Helena. Helena?" The man cursed under his breath. "I thought she was coming back for a moment."
Helena's eyes fluttered, but they didn't open.
"Damn, she's gone."
No. No, I hear you. When she opened her mouth to speak, they weren't the words she spoke. "Ezra?" Was this Ezra? He didn't sound like Ezra, but neither had the Ezra she had met on the cliff in those moments before the boundless, lonely darkness had taken her.
"Ezra, I died. I think I died. I thought it would bring me back to you, but you are still going away with Sarah, and my body is still being torn to pieces by the rocks." There was a horrible, childish quality to her voice.
The man swore again. "She's delirious. It's just the same. I don't know what she is talking about."
He wasn't alone. A woman spoke now. "Is there nothing you can do?"
"No! I told you. I have tried. There's nothing. She just comes up long enough to look at me as though she has something to tell me, but then she regresses into this. I can't tell if she's sleeping or awake most of the time."
The woman with him cursed now, too, and Helena knew it wasn't Sarah Evans. Sarah never said a bad word in her whole life. "I thought she could help us. I just don't understand what's going on."
"I'm sorry, Mar. I'm trying."
"I know you are. I just wish you could help. I was sure our combined..." She sighed.
"This is beyond anything we've ever seen. I don't even know if it's a spell at this point. It could be she's just gone mad."
"That would be very unfortunate."
"I know. She was the best seer on the island. It will be a great loss."
"Power can do that." The woman's voice was soft. "Make you crazy. If you lose yourself in it, you can lose everything."
"Go home, Mar. It's late, and I don't think the kids should be alone at a time like this."
Their voices were growing fainter. Helena bobbed gently in the chill sea.
"You're right." The woman's voice faded back in. "I know you're right. I need to protect them. Now more than ever."
"I just wish I knew who would protect you."
She laughed. The sound was so familiar, Helena nearly gasped. "I think Ian can, if I need him to. He's pretty handy with his powers these days when it comes to someone he cares about."
Helena struggled to speak. Though her voice croaked, she managed one word. "Maritza..."
"Helena? Are you back with us?" Yes, it was Maritza. Helena was sure. "Can you hear me?"
Helena's body felt lighter and lighter, and then she was floating up out of the water. The air was warm, and the scent of the sea faded gently away until the heady fragrance of wildflowers filled her senses. She landed with a soft, contented sigh in a bed of lush grass.
Her little sister lay on the grass beside her, dressed in a bright yellow dress. There was a pile of freshly pulled daisies tucked into her hem.
Helena gasped. "Ellie! You said you would wait for me to make daisy chains."
Ellie turned her head to grin at her sister. "There are enough daisies for everyone, Hellie."
"Yes." Helena smiled at she peered around them. The sweetly scented flowers filled her vision. "Yes. There are always enough daisies."
Somewhere, a man and a woman sighed together in deep disappointment.
"Well, that's that, then."
Helena allowed their voices to fade away completely. Why had she been listening to them, anyway? There were much more important things to be doing. Ellie was here. It was a warm, lazy afternoon, and she had so many daisies to chain...
Ian Crane appeared out of nowhere the moment she stepped out of her car, his white-blonde hair glinting in the sunlight. Mia Burke gasped. "Hi, Ian."
He smiled at her, and her heart fluttered. Suddenly, the school parking lot fell away, and she was drowning in his dark eyes. Then she snapped out of it. Just because Ian looked like the sort of guy who belonged on the pages of a magazine or in some fantasy world where animals talk and no one ever dies didn't mean she had to swoon every time he gave her a little smile.
But he leaned down and pressed his lips to her, and that resolve not to swoon was pretty well forgotten. Ian Crane knew how to kiss, and, even if she had been kissing him pretty much every day for the last few weeks, he could still send her heart hammering and her head spinning.
"Hi, Mia." When he pulled away, she let out a little sigh of contentment. He grinned smugly. "Missed me, huh?"
She rolled her eyes. "I just saw you last night."
He took her hand. "Well, I missed you."
Ian's twin sister Aylin fell into step with them. Mia blinked in surprise. She hadn't been there moments before, had she? Mia hadn't been that wrapped up in Ian's little hello kiss. Get a grip, girl. "Hi, Aylin."
Aylin beamed. "Hi, Mia," she sang cheerfully, clutching Mia's other arm. "Are you coming to Cafe Serenity after class tonight?"
Mia lifted an eyebrow. Was it her imagination, or were the twins boxing her in? "No. Mrs. Howell's called a Voice meeting tonight. Aren't you coming?"
Ian cut a sharp glance at his sister. "Of course!" Aylin exclaimed blithely, but her ivory pale cheeks flushed pink. "Right. I forgot."
Mia frowned at her. "Are you planning to quit the paper?"
"What? No! Of course not. I've just been...distracted lately. With cheerleading. You know," she added quickly. "I just forgot all about the meeting. It's been a while since we've had one."
"Actually, no. We've had them. It's just been a while since you've showed up. Mrs. Howell's been posting them the last couple weeks since she took over as temporary adviser."
Aylin looked surprised. "Oh. I really have been distracted, then."
Mia laughed. "I noticed. I assumed you were spending a lot of time with Roman or at cheerleading practice with all the big games coming up."
This time, she was sure the twins exchanged a meaningful glance. "Yes, I have been seeing Roman a lot," Aylin admitted sheepishly, but there was a strange edge to her voice. Mia was pretty sure she knew when the other girl was putting it on by now, and, unless she was mistaken, Aylin was putting it on. "I guess I'm not so good at multitasking as I thought. Sorry, Mia. Am I going to be fired?"
Mia waved her hand. "No, no. It's fine. It's mostly just been the writers and me trying to get the lit magazine together." She clapped her hands together suddenly. Both Ian and Aylin jumped. Boy, they were tightly wound today. "I am so excited we're doing it, and Mrs. Howell is letting me pick all the submissions. Well, mostly. I've been going through them all week. We've pushed back the deadline after--" Mia hesitated, glancing at Ian. "After the...craziness since the start of term, and we're opening back up for more submissions." She nudged Aylin. "Are you going to submit anything? If you aren't too distracted?"
Aylin shrugged. "Maybe." She was probably lying, and at her next words, Mia suspected she was just trying to distract Mia from it. "What about you, Ian? How about a love poem for Mia?"
Mia shook her head emphatically. "Oh, no. None of that. That would be totally embarrassing."
Ian looked affronted. "Why? You don't want people to know how I feel about you?"
She felt her cheeks flush. "I don't think the whole school needs to read sweet nothings about me."
"My sweetness isn't nothing," he said sulkily. "It's way more than nothing. It's something. It's a big something."
"I know," Mia said bracingly. "You're very sweet. That still doesn't mean I want the whole school reading about it."
"Well, I'm not that candid, generally speaking, anyway, but you could have a little more faith in my poetry."
She rolled her eyes and chose to ignore this. "You could submit one of your comics. It's multi-genre. You can do anything you want."
Ian lifted an eyebrow. "Oh, wouldn't that overshadow Micah Hathaway's comics?" The way he said Micah's name was very unkind.
"Come on. You're not still jealous of Micah, are you?"
He scowled. "I'm not jealous. I just wouldn't want to embarrass him with my superior skills."
There really was no talking to Ian about Micah, not sensibly, anyway. She gave him an arch look. "That sounds a bit like a challenge, Ian. Are you sure you're up for it?"
Aylin cut him off before he could reply snidely, which he was sure to do. "Challenges and lingering jealousy aside, Ian, you should submit something. It would be good for you. Don't you want people to see how talented you are?"
"I don't care what people think of me."
"Please," Mia interjected, and he took her hand again, squeezing it a little tighter than he needed to. There really was no sense working him up so early in the day, not after that amazing good morning kiss. She smiled and leaned against his side. "Anyway, Aylin, are you coming to the meeting?"
"Yeah. Sure. I mean, if you need me there." Aylin didn't sound quite certain. Really, what were they up to?
"We do need some new ads for the magazine. We can't just run the same ones we have in the Voice every week. The local businesses are usually pretty interested in running ads in the magazine. It's one of the biggest deals in Davenport. Everyone buys a copy, even if their kid isn't in it. It's usually a lot of pages, too, so we have to start selling space soon. Franco always takes out a couple pages for the Yacht Club, not that he needs to."
Aylin smiled. "He likes to support the school. I'm trying to get Roman more involved. He plays football and all, but he is a really good writer, too, even though he doesn't want anyone to know about it. I'll try to get him to submit something. Maybe Franco will take out three ads if his son's in the magazine."
"That would be great. I love to see the entries. We really try to put everything in, as long as it's appropriate--sometimes even if it wasn't, when Mr. Q was running things."
There was silence after this, but it wasn't as awkward as it usually was at the mention of Mr. Quillen. Perhaps they were all finally moving past what had happened earlier in the year. Or perhaps they were just still shell-shocked from everything that had happened after and, if the twins' weird behavior was anything to go on, was still happening.
Another chill breeze swept through the courtyard, which was quiet this morning for good reason. Mia shivered. Ian wrapped an arm around her shoulders, drawing her against his side. "Cold?"
Mia smiled up at him. "It's December in Connecticut. I'm actually surprised it hasn't snowed yet." She glanced up at the brilliant blue sky.
Aylin sighed wistfully. "There are no storm-bringers here."
"Shh!" Ian snapped, but there wasn't anyone around to hear her on such a cold morning.
She might have imagined the way the twins tensed and moved closer to her as they spun to face Lorien, who was hurrying towards them on the path, hand in hand with her newest boyfriend, Ashton Wolfe. Mia was sure, though, that she hadn't imagined the twins relax when they spotted who'd shouted.
Mia smiled as Lorien and Ashton approached them, their cheeks flushed from the cold. They were an odd pair, not quite matched up. Lorien was beautiful with long, dark hair and a perfect complexion. She was dressed, as always, like the cover of a fashion magazine. Ashton was tall and wiry with shaggy, sandy-blonde hair, and he wore what he wanted, which today included faded jeans and an old sweater vest that might have belonged to someone's grandfather once. He was a senior, and he was nice, but he wasn't Lorien's usual type. He was quiet and more thoughtful than the other boys Lorien had dated--in fact, it was unusual she was dating a guy who thought at all, if her previous boyfriends were any indication.
Ashton was definitely nothing like Lorien's string of football players and bad boys. He'd joined the Voice just as Mrs. Howell had taken over. Mia had never even really noticed him before that, and she was sure Lorien hadn't either. He was in the AP classes and took electives like Government and Justice. He was the sort of guy who read true crime novels and watched criminal documentaries about serial killers, and he wanted to study criminal profiling in school.
Mia liked him. He wrote good articles, and he was good to Lorien. He'd even made friends with their friends, which even Ian hadn't quite managed--not that Ian had tried very hard or even a little. Ashton fit in well, even in his old man clothes and square-framed glasses that somehow made him look smart and cool and confident when he should have looked like a total nerd.
When he'd first appeared in the Voice office one afternoon, Mia had been extremely wary--understandably, since all the mysterious people she'd met in the Voice office so far this year had tried to kill her. Ash probably didn't intend to kill her, but he was very interested in killers. He reported on crime and the justice system in Davenport and spent a lot of time hanging around courtrooms. The Voice had never had a crime reporter before, and his DHS blotter was very popular. People liked to read about other people getting into trouble.
Ashton lifted a lazy hand in greeting. He always looked like that--so laid back, he might have been drifting blithely through a vaguely interesting dream and had no particular investment in how it all turned out. "Hey, guys."
"Hi, Lorien. Hi, Ash," Mia greeted cheerfully.
"Hey, Ash," Ian said, stepping forward to slap the older boy's hand.
The best thing about Ashton, aside from being a good boyfriend and a good writer and an all around cool guy was that even Ian liked him.
The girls shared a smiled between them. The warning bell rang through the courtyard, louder than usual since the five of them were the only ones dumb enough to be out in the cold. "Come on, Mia," Ian said, tucking her under his arm. "We'd better get to homeroom. Nice to see you, Ash."
Lorien didn't seem to mind that he steered Mia away. The girls usually walked to homeroom together, but Ian had been walking her every morning for the past couple weeks--and to nearly every other class in between, even when he wasn't in the same one. If he didn't show up, Aylin would suddenly appear instead as though she had just happened by that way.
Mia looked over Ian's shoulder at Lorien, who lifted up on her tiptoes to kiss Ashton. He grinned down at her. He even looked a little goofy. Most guys did after kissing Lorien, even if they were cool and aloof and as laid-back as a deck chair. "See you at lunch," he told her.
Lorien smiled and flounced away, turning back to blow him one last kiss before she caught up with Mia and the twins. "You've been seeing a lot of Ashton lately," Aylin pointed out, and Mia wondered how she'd noticed, considering she was hardly around these days.
Lorien smiled dreamily. "Yeah."
"He's a cool guy," Ian remarked. The girls looked around at him incredulously. "What? He is. He knows a lot about crime, though. I'm not sure what that is all about."
"He wants to be a criminal profiler," Lorien explained. "He's sure to be accepted into Yale to study criminology. He's already gotten a lot of letters of recommendation from his teachers. He's really smart."
Mia smiled. She'd never seen Lorien so impressed by intelligence before. Maybe this boyfriend would actually last. If it didn't, things on the Voice would get very awkward. As happy as she was for her friend, Mia felt a shiver of jealousy. If it did last, Lorien's boyfriend would be sticking around--at least he would only be a short drive away if he attended Yale or UConn.
Mia's guy--well, that was a different story. Ian would be gone in a year and a half, back on Flicker Island where he'd be a king or a mayor or something.Sure, the island was only a short boat ride away, but it might as well be a different world. If Ian went back there, he might be gone forever.
She breathed a barely audible sigh, and she felt his arms tighten around her. He was here now. She'd better enjoy it while it lasted.
"Ian, you should join the Voice," Lorien said suddenly. "Then we could all hang out after class."
Ian lifted his shoulders. "You already have a cartoonist."
"You could do something else," Aylin told him.
"I'm not interested."
"It would be fun to do it together," Mia said, glancing up at him with what she hoped were big blue puppy dog eyes. He didn't look especially moved, though, so she assumed they weren't very good. She'd have to practice.
"Especially when I can't be there," Aylin said in a strangely quiet voice that nevertheless chilled Mia's bones. Or perhaps that was just the cold breeze that preceded them into the entrance hall.
Lorien glanced at Mia in confusion, and she shrugged, though she thought she was starting to get a pretty good picture of what was happening here.
Ian huffed. "Okay, I'll think about it."
Mia blinked in surprise. "Really?"
"Yeah, sure. Why not? What? How hard can it be? What sort of things would I have to do?" he demanded, suddenly wary.
"Oh, you could do a lot of things. You could make ads and do graphic design stuff."
He perked up at this. "That might actually be fun."
"It is fun. It's really, really fun. You'll see."
"I'll ask Mrs. Howell about it for you, Ian," Aylin told him.
Ian glared at her, but it seemed to Mia to be pretty well settled. "Yeah. Okay. Fine."
Mia was suspicious, but she didn't argue. He'd been mysteriously acquiescent lately, and she wasn't about to spoil it by doing something stupid like pointing it out and asking why.
Aylin stopped outside Mrs. Shea's earth science classroom and waved at them. "See you at lunch!" she called as she flounced away to meet Roman Genovese, who was waiting for her at the end of the hall as though he knew exactly where to find her.
Mia lifted an eyebrow as Aylin took his hand and they disappeared around the corner. Weird. She glanced up at Ian, but he was already leading her into the classroom and into a seat in the back of the room. He looked perfectly innocent. Weird.
Mia leaned toward him as he took the seat beside her and dragged it closer to hers. "Is there something you want to tell me?"
"What? What are you talking about?"
She knew that guarded look on his face all too well. She wasn't getting anything out of him, not right now. "Nothing. Nevermind."
Mrs. Shea was in high spirits today. She clapped her bony hands as she swept into the room, grinning around to take in the whole class and even the creepy aliens watching over them from the light fixtures and shelves. "Good morning, everyone!"
No one was as enthusiastic about Monday mornings as Mrs. Shea. She loved any day she could talk to people about science, especially astronomy.
"Good morning, Mrs. Shea," they all echoed back desultorily.
"Winter break is almost upon us," she continued. "Does anyone have any plans for the holidays?"
Students hated to answer questions like this, yet Mrs. Shea persisted in asking them. She peered around at the reticent class with an expectant expression. Mia glanced at Ian. For the first time, she wondered what he did have planned for the winter break.
Allie Rogers spoke up from the front of the class. "I'm going to Florida. My parents hate winter in Connecticut. They like the sun, not that it isn't winter in Florida, too. We go every year."
"That sounds fun," Mrs. Shea told her cheerfully. "Anyone else?"
Lorien tossed her head and gave Mia a sly look. "Europe, as always," she said, as though this was the most boring thing in the world. "I'm trying to get out of it."
"Why would you want to do that?" Mrs. Shea asked, looking scandalized. "You're very lucky! I would love to go to Europe for the holidays, but I'll just be in Vermont with Mr. Shea and his sister's family." She grimaced slightly, but the expression didn't last.
Mia rolled her eyes. She thought spending Christmas in Europe sounded great, but Lorien always complained. Of course, Mia wasn't sure she'd want to spend the entire two-week break from school with her parents either, not when she could be spending it cuddled under a blanket with her new boyfriend. Perhaps staying around town wouldn't be so bad, unless Ian was planning on going back to the island over the break. She hadn't even asked.
"What about you?" Mia whispered.
Ian looked startled. "What?" He looked around at the class incredulously, as though shocked she expected him to actually speak up.
"Are you going back to the island for the holiday?" she whispered.
He shrugged. "Yeah. I guess." He hunched his shoulders uncomfortably as she stared silently at him with an expectant expression. "What?" Suddenly, his brows furrowed into a frown. "No."
"What do you mean 'no'? I didn't even ask you for anything."
"I know what you're thinking. I am not taking you to the island."
"Not even for one day?"
"What do you want to go there for?"
"You know what I want to go there for."
"I'm not sure I'm ready for you to meet my parents."
"Why?" she demanded, affronted. "You met mine."
"That is not the same. I didn't have a choice. I would have avoided it if I could have."
"Well, as nice as it would be for you to introduce me to your parents, since I am your girlfriend, I want to see where you came from. I want to see what it's like with all the--" Mia cut off, darting a glance around the room. "People like you."
He scowled. "Mia, it isn't safe."
"What do you mean it isn't safe? I'd be with you." She leaned closer. "You think someone will attack me?"
"No, of course not," he hissed. "We don't do that sort of thing--" He cut off, his eyes sliding away for a moment.
She narrowed her eyes. "Is there something you want to tell me?"
He glanced back at her. His cheeks were distinctly pink. "No. Nothing. It's fine."
"So? Does that mean I can go?"
"Come on. You said I could go someday."
"I didn't mean now!"
"Well, it isn't now. It's in a few weeks. You have some time to come to terms with it."
He opened his mouth to speak, but Mrs. Shea's cheerful voice rang through the classroom with startling clarity. "Mia? Ian? Is there something you want to share with the rest of the class?"
"No, Mrs. Shea," Mia sang out, but as soon as the teacher turned her back, Mia leaned back over to hiss at Ian. "Think about it."
He let out a strange noise that sounded half-groan, half-growl. "Fine."
Mia beamed at him. He didn't stand a chance.
The table in the cafeteria wasn't nearly as comfortable as their usual one in the courtyard, but even Davenport High's social elite knew when to come in from the cold. It was, after all, difficult to look cool with chattering teeth and bright red noses. Mia didn't mind eating inside, but the bench which she was sharing with Lorien, Ashton, Aylin and Roman was a bit squished, and Aylin was sitting so close to Mia's side, Mia thought she might have to have a word with the island girl about personal space.
Or she could use it to her advantage. "Ian says you're going home for winter break," she said in a quiet voice.
Aylin spun abruptly away from Roman, who cut off what he'd been saying with a slight frown. "Hm? Oh. Well, yes. I suppose so. I hadn't really thought of it." She turned back to Roman. His irritated expression melted away in an instant under her sweet smile. She squeezed his hand and turned back to Mia as though the whole thing hadn't happened. "Maybe not the whole time." Her expression sharpened. "Why?"
"Well, don't you think it would be the perfect time for me to see it?"
"What?" Aylin's voice was so loud, everyone at the table looked around at her in surprise. She beamed sheepishly.
"What's the problem?" Mia asked with perfect innocence. "You and Ian have been acting really weird, and he got all defensive about it, too."
Aylin glanced around at their friends, but they'd already returned to their conversations. "It's just that...you know, outsiders aren't always welcome on the island."
"Haven't any ever been there?"
"Well, yes, but..."
"Ian says he doesn't want me to meet your parents." She'd only twisted the truth a little, and so she only felt a little bad.
Aylin waved her hand. "That's got nothing to do with it. He loves you, Mia. He wants them to meet you."
Mia's mouth dropped open stupidly.
Aylin didn't seem to notice. "He might act all cool and distant all the time, but he loves our parents, too, and he wants them to see what you're like. They're both really interested to meet you."
Mia narrowed her eyes. "Then why not?"
"It's just... too soon."
"Too soon? What do you mean too soon? Too soon for what?"
Aylin chewed her lip uncertainly, but she didn't reply.
"Aylin, is something going on?"
"What do you mean? No! Of course not." But her cheeks looked pink, just as Ian's had earlier.
"Seriously, you and Ian are acting weird."
"No, we aren't!"
"Of course you are."
"You just...seem to get yourself into trouble a lot more than a normal girl."
Mia laughed wryly. "Actually, that is kind of true."
"We just want to make sure you're doing okay."
"Uh, huh." But Mia couldn't argue with those sweet, honest eyes. It certainly wasn't the whole truth, but it was probably still true. "Okay. I will accept that for now, but I know something's off with you guys. I think you know I won't stop until I figure out what it is."
"Stop being so suspicious," Aylin chided, frowning at her. "We're just looking out for you."
Mia rolled her eyes. "Okay, okay. So what about the island?"
"Mia..." She sighed. "What did Ian say about it when you asked him?"
"He said he would think about it."
"Yes. Mostly to shut me up, I think."
Aylin laughed. "Probably."
Mia tried out her puppy dog eyes again. She'd practiced in the mirror before lunch. "You promised I would get to see it someday. Just one day, Aylin. It wouldn't kill anybody."
Aylin's expression darkened strangely, and Mia felt a chill race down her spine. It was gone as quickly as it came. "It's up to Ian. I can't take you there if he won't let me. And we have to talk to the others. They would not like us springing an outsider on them unexpectedly. Even if you do know about us... the others won't like it. They will want to be prepared."
Mia nodded. "I understand."
Aylin frowned. "I'm not sure you do."
"Hey, what are you two whispering about?" Lorien demanded.
"Just talking about our triple date the other night," Aylin said blithely. "We should do it again sometime." She turned and smiled at Roman, but he looked put out again.
"How about this weekend?" Ashton asked. "There's a music festival at the college campus in New Haven. It's a bunch of bands from all over the area. It's open to everyone. We could make a day of it."
"That sounds really fun," Aylin said. "Roman?"
He shrugged. "Whatever you want, Aylin."
"I'm not sure Ian will go for it," Mia said. "You know how he is. You never know with him."
Lorien waved her hand. "We'll just have to convince him, then. There are five of us and only one of him. I'm pretty sure between Ash and Rom we can get the boy into the car."
Mia grimaced. "Yes, that sounds like an excellent start to a date."
"Well, you'll just have to asked him very nicely then. I'm sure he'll say yes."
Mia snorted. "Please. You don't know him very well, do you?"
Aylin smiled at her. "Oh, he'll probably put up a fight all right, but I'm sure he'll agree in the end."
The warning bell sounded, barely audible over the noise in the cramped cafeteria, and Aylin caught Mia's arm in an unexpectedly firm grip. "Come on, Mia. I'll walk you to class."
"Aylin, wait for me," Roman ordered. "I want to talk to you."
Mia shook her arm free. "Go on. I can walk with Lorien."
Aylin glanced between Mia and Roman uncertainly.
"Oh, come on. Are you worried I'm going to be attacked on the walk to class?"
This remarked startled Aylin, and for a moment, a guilty expression crossed her face. "No! Of course not. That's silly."
"I know. See you in class." Mia grinned at her and threaded an arm through Lorien's. Lorien didn't seem to notice; she and Ashton were sharing a particularly enthusiastic goodbye. Mia tugged her arm. "Come on! We have class."
Lorien looked at her in surprise. "You're walking with me today? You mean I get you away from the twins for a couple minutes? Why, I am so flattered you remembered little old me, your once very best friend in the world whom you seem to have completely forgotten in the last couple weeks."
Mia rolled her eyes. "Oh, don't act like you haven't been especially otherwise occupied lately. In fact, I am surprised I was even able to drag you away."
"Well, you know how it is now that you have a boy of your own. They can be so needy." Lorien snorted. "Speaking of needy. So much for our few moments of blissful best friends gossip time."
Ian burst into the cafeteria, glancing around with an oddly serious expression until he spotted Mia and Lorien. His entire body relaxed and he strode briskly toward them, drawing Mia away from Lorien. "There you are."
"Well, hello to you too, Ian," Lorien said wryly.
"Oh, hey, Lorien. Sorry, I didn't see you."
"That's obvious." Lorien leaned over Mia to glare at him, but he wasn't paying attention. He was already steering Mia away.
Mia gave him an incredulous look. "What are you doing?"
"What do you mean? Aren't we going to class?"
"The bell just rang. Did you run here from Algebra?"
Ian scowled. "No. I don't run anywhere. It's undignified."
Mia rolled her eyes at Lorien, who took pity on her. "We're going to a music festival in New Haven on Saturday."
Ian stared at her as though uncertain why she would think he cared at all about what she did on the weekends. Then wariness crept across his face. "Who's we?"
"Ash, me, Aylin, Rom, Mia and you."
Ian's eyebrows shot up into the white-blonde hair that hung across his forehead. "I don't remember agreeing to that."
"We just did the agreeing for you," Lorien told him blithely. "We knew you would say yes."
Ian turned to Mia, and she shook her head emphatically. "I did no such thing," she protested.
"Do you want to go?"
She lifted her shoulders. "Well, yeah, but...I mean, it's okay if you don't want to. I still have submissions and stuff to go through for the Voice. Mrs. Howell wants them by Monday or Tuesday at the latest."
"No. We should go."
She looked up at him in surprise. "You want to go?"
"I like music," he replied defensively. "Who doesn't like music? And you can't stay cooped up in the house all weekend. There's plenty of time to do the submissions."
"Okay." Mia smiled at him. "We'll go."
Lorien rolled her eyes. "Well, I'm glad we got that sorted out. Everyone's great."
"Come on, you guys!" Aylin called as they rounded the corner towards English class. Roman was leaning against the wall, studying his hands disinterestedly. Aylin ignored him and tugged Mia out from under Ian's arm.
"Aylin," Mia scolded.
"I hope Mrs. Howell doesn't fire me from the Voice. Do you think she's going to fire me?"
Mia laughed. "No. She won't. She's not too worried about someone missing a couple meetings as long as you are doing your job. She's cool."
"Yeah, she's really nice."
"Not like... the last person who was running things," Mia murmured. "And she probably won't even try to kill me, either, if we're really lucky."
"Ian agreed to come on Saturday," Lorien announced through the awkward silence.
"That's--well, that's really great," Aylin said, but she didn't smile, and Mia was unnerved by the grim, unreadable expression she exchanged with her twin.