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       Light, p.2

           Adrienne Woods
slower 1  faster

  You didn’t see her this afternoon.

  He stopped licking himself and looked down at me with his scrunched-up little face.

  I heard. Congratulations. I told you Lover Boy was going to be fine.

  I smiled. Yes, you did. How on earth does Leigh know what you and I have been talking about? I squinted.

  I have no idea what you are talking about. He jumped from the windowsill onto my bed.

  He said “the cat is always right.”

  Oh, that. Mr. Grey’s voice sounded bored.

  Spill, I ordered him.

  It’s how things work in Revera, Chas. Everything is so linked. It’s hard to explain. I’m not entirely sure myself what Leigh truly is, but I do know that for some reason he really likes you, which is how I know it was really him whenever you dreamed about him.

  My face lit up with a smile for a fraction of a second before Margot entered my mind.

  Stop it, Mr. Grey chastised, interrupting my train of thought. “Margot isn’t that type of Light Caster. She made a promise to Max, Chas, and she would rather die than betray her twin.

  How can you be so sure?

  I know a bit about bonds, especially twin bonds. It’s different with Reverians. If one twin promises something, the other one has to oblige.

  You didn’t see her face.

  Again with her face. Chastity, your secret is safe. No one is going to tell Selene. Calm down and go to sleep. I’m extremely tired.

  After walking around and around on one spot to make his place comfortable, Mr. Grey curled up on my bed.

  His thoughts were getting quieter and quieter. I envied him for being able to just close his eyes and fall asleep. I wished I could do that.

  My thoughts drifted to Leigh and the last time we were together, sitting underneath the big oak tree our initials were carved on.

  It was corny, but sweet.

  Sleep! Mr. Grey shouted inside my head and I bit my lip so as not to burst out laughing.

  I covered my head and cleared my mind, thinking of nothing but the color black.

  When I opened my eyes, I was standing on top of a mountain. The acre stretching behind me was covered with tall trees, and a few steps behind me, with a stone path leading to it, was a big oak tree. The oak tree.

  Carved in the bark were Leigh’s and my initials and right below that the number four and the word ‘ever.’

  To me, it was one of the most romantic things in the world. Carving initials onto a tree was the only romantic gesture that had been carried on for centuries.

  It was twilight.

  It was always twilight when we met.

  The sun was going down, and the sky was painted with yellow, orange and blue. I missed seeing colors. It was the first thing that always gave away that I was dreaming. Color.

  I knew this place so well; it was our spot. The place where Leigh and I met as often as we could.

  It was hard not knowing when I would see him again. We’d never managed to figure out this conundrum of getting our timing right for this to work. And I was still struggling to accept that all this was real, never mind how it all worked.

  I looked to the horizon.

  Mountaintops stretched out in front of me as far as the eye could see. Behind me, right in front of my tree, was a small meadow,. Yellow wildflowers flourished among the tall grasses.

  It was summertime, and the air was redolent of the season. The floral scent of nectar filled my nostrils.

  A twig snapped behind me and I twisted around.

  It didn’t matter how many times I saw his long, lean figure; my stomach always fluttered. His glasses were resting atop his head and he was wearing a Van Halen shirt with baggy shorts and a pair of Converse All Stars.

  I ran toward him and jumped into his arms. He was so much taller than me, I dangled well above the ground.

  “That excited to see me?” he mumbled into the nape of my neck, which made my skin break out in goosebumps.

  “That excited,” I replied simply.

  He pushed me away to look at me before gently placing me back on my feet.

  “What’s going on?” He looked around, squinting. “Something is different.”

  I laughed, not wanting to give away how foolish I had been the past few months thinking that all of this had been my doing. I sighed. “Nothing. I’m just ecstatic they found you,” I said. It wasn’t the complete truth, but I wasn’t about to reveal my insecurities about us.

  He stared at me and I could tell by the way he was biting his lip that he wasn’t buying this for one second.

  “What?”

  He shrugged.

  “Can I ask you a question?”

  He nodded.

  “How did you know the cat was right?”

  He laughed. “Because you told me.”

  I narrowed my eyes, trying to remember. “When?”

  “That first time we shared our dreams, Chas.”

  I could remember that day so clearly and I wanted to kick myself for almost blowing what was really going on here. I had mentioned the cat said that Leigh would be fine.

  I laughed. “I did.”

  He grabbed my hand, the warmth from his hand enveloping mine, and led me down the path to our regular spot under the tree.

  He was right about one thing, though. Today was different. This was real. He was really here.

  He sat down first and I took the spot right in front of him, leaning with my back against his chest.

  Our fingers entwined. I couldn’t help but think how we were so different from one another. My pale complexion looked sickly against his tanned one as the last daylight seeped from the sky.

  It was like we were never really going to fit together.

  “What is going on in that mind of yours? You’re not usually this quiet, Chas,” Leigh whispered against my ear.

  His breath tickled against my skin and I blew out a laugh. “I know. It’s just that I’m happy, so happy that they finally found you. They were going to shut down the Virtual Realm today if they didn’t find any sign of you.”

  “I got that feeling.”

  “Yeah? How?”

  Leigh chuckled, his breath tickling my skin. “But let’s just say that I rely on my gut a lot.”

  We fell silent. Leigh was right. We’d never been this quiet before. Knowing that it truly was him and not my imagination was changing things for us.

  He shifted out from behind me and moved toward my side, and I hugged my legs and rested my head on my knees.

  “What is it?” He tucked a strand of my hair behind my ear.

  I shook my head.

  “C’mon, just tell me.”

  I sighed, contemplating whether I should tell him. And then, I just said it. “It’s Margot. When your voice came through those speakers today… I couldn’t help it. I—” I sighed. “It was the best day in a row of really crappy days.”

  He smiled.

  “But the look Margot gave me... She knows about us, Leigh. And she’s not happy about it.”

  “So?” he said nonchalantly.

  “She likes you, and she knows what I’m desperately trying to hide. She is dangerous.”

  “Chas, she would never tell a soul.”

  “Why does everyone keep saying that? She can break her promise, Leigh.”

  “She gave it to her twin.”

  Everyone kept saying that, too. “So, what you’re saying is unless Max dies, Margot can’t run and tell Selene what I am?”

  He nodded.

  “Ugh, it sounds so stupid. People aren’t like that. Just because she made a promise to her twin…” I wanted to pull my hair out.

  “Calm down.”

  “How? Nothing is stopping her. When Selene knows, she’ll chuck my ass into the Oblivion and I’d never see anyone ever again.”

  Leigh frowned. “That’s your main concern? Not seeing anyone ever again?”

  “I know it’s shallow.”

  “It’s not; it’s quite the opposite, in
fact.” He huffed softly, and for a moment I thought he wouldn’t elaborate. “The Oblivion is not a healthy place, Chas. People change for the worse there. I’ve only experienced it through the Virtual Realm, but it’s just as dark and real. If your only concern is not being able to see the people you care about…” He gave a slight shake of his head. “It’s big.”

  I looked away. I hated when he gave compliments that didn’t even feel like they described me at all. I wasn’t like that. That big. It was a lot of pressure.

  “And,” he carried on, “I can promise you, you won’t get rid of me that fast.”

  “Leigh, it’s the Oblivion. You said it yourself. It’s dark and unhealthy. People change for the worse. Have you forgotten what happened the first time we met?”

  He frowned. “What about it?”

  “Shadow Hounds were chasing us around every corner. What sort of time would we spend together if we were always running?”

  He stroked my back. “Relax, Chastity. You’re jumping the gun here. Selene doesn’t know what you are, and Margot won’t tell her either, okay? I know Margot. When she gives her word, she means it.”

  I wished I could trust people the way he did, but my experience with people and trust was shaky to begin with.

  “Okay, let’s just change the subject, please.”

  “With pleasure,” he said. “But first, I think you’re missing something.”

  My eyes widened as he came closer. He grinned as he grabbed my shirt and pulled me against him until our lips crashed into each other.

  Everything around me disappeared.

  Margot’s glares, my own insecurities, my doubts, even what lay beneath my golden sand. Everything washed away with a simple kiss.

  We broke apart, resting our foreheads against each other. I stroked the sun-kissed skin of his cheek.

  “You were saying.”

  I had to shake my thoughts into place. For a second, I couldn’t remember what we had been talking about.

  “Changing the subject…” I cleared my throat and pulled away.

  “Then shoot,” he said with a huge grin.

  Heat shot into my cheeks. I felt kind of flushed and I couldn’t blame the sun for the rise in my temperature; now only a deep blue and purple faded into a black sky with a rising moon and a gazillion stars.

  A lantern shone above us, hanging from a branch in the tree. I didn’t know how it lit up, but every time the moon came to play, the lantern appeared, shining down on us.

  “Where have you been all this time?” I needed to know.

  He frowned as if he didn’t understand the question.

  “Not the dreams, Leigh. You, the real you. What is going on in the Virtual Realm?”

  He lowered his head, staring at the ground for a second as a smile danced on his mouth. “We’ve been sharing dreams for four months now, and you’re only asking me this now?”

  Oh…crap. I closed my eyes and sighed. It was one of those audible sighs. The kind that told the other person you were hiding a secret. A secret that could cost you any kind of relationship you had with the other person.

  I opened my eyes again; Leigh was still staring at me. He wanted an answer, and he waited patiently.

  I bit my lower lip. Answering him would mean owning up to my insecurities and I knew I was going to feel like an idiot. Nevertheless, I had to say something, and I wasn’t a good liar at all.

  “I didn’t know if this was real, or if it was all my doing.”

  “If what was your doing?”

  “Us meeting here, Leigh. The dreams. I thought it was my dreams alone.”

  As soon as the words were out of my mouth, shame crept over me. When I worked up the courage to look at him, he chuckled, the tip of his tongue resting in the corner of his lip.

  It made him look extra hot, and it was a look Leigh managed to pull off without looking like a moron.

  “So you wanted to dream about me?”

  There it was, the embarrassing question that made me feel even more idiotic.

  “I guess that’s what I’m saying. Asking you that question up front would’ve given me my answer and I wasn’t ready to find out the truth, so I kept it to myself. But now that I do know what the truth is, it’s safe to ask you.” I tried to not let my voice falter, and for once I sounded super confident.

  “Why did you think this was your doing?”

  “I don’t know. It’s just how my mind works.” I wasn’t going to own up to anything else yet. “I still don’t know how any of this is working.”

  “Any of what is working?”

  “The dreams, Leigh. How is it possible for us to dream the same thing at the same time, ending up here on the same spot, seeing the same thing?” I added the last part when he turned his sheepish, I-don’t-understand gaze on me.

  “It’s Revera, and I’m extremely powerful.”

  Laughter rolled out of my belly.

  “What?” Leigh asked. “You don’t believe I’m that powerful?” A huge grin plastered itself to his face. “No confidence whatsoever.”

  My laughter died down to a smile. “I don’t know what to do with you.”

  He chuckled. “Well, I can’t help it. I have an amazing girl who believes I can do whatever the hell I want.”

  My cheeks flushed.

  “So,” I changed the subject hastily. “Where are you?”

  “I’m…” His words were drowned out by a horrible wailing sound, like that of a fire station alarm.

  I covered my ears. He was still speaking, like he couldn’t hear the terrible sound. I shut my eyes and instantly regretted it.

  It the one mistake I always made. Closing my eyes too long.

  I woke up.

  Chas, Mr. Grey’s voice was immediately in my head. I was back inside my room.

  The siren clanged louder than ever. It wasn’t part of the dream. Danger was near.

  CHAPTER THREE

  DIRTY LITTLE LIES

  The alarm screeched into the night. Mr. Grey was on full alert. His hearing was ten times stronger than mine, and the siren reverberated through my head from his thoughts. Even though I had covered my ears, there was no escaping the sound. Hearing things through his mind could cause killer headaches.

  I’m going to see what this is about, Mr. Grey said.

  Are you sure that’s wise? I was annoyed at him for always running off to do who knew what.

  I’ll be fine, Chas” he said, sensing my underlying concern.

  He jumped up on the windowsill and disappeared into the night.

  The further he got away from me, the softer the ringing of the siren became, until I was left with what it truly sounded like. It was still loud, but not remotely as loud as it had been. It originated from somewhere in the distance, on campus.

  I got up, pulled on my bathrobe and slippers, and opened my door.

  Whenever the alarm sounded, we were supposed to go to the basement. We’d had a lot of drills over the past four months.

  I doubted it was a drill this time. They’d never let it ring in the middle of the night.

  Faint, panicked voices drifted up from the bottom of the stairs and I could see the back of Margot’s head as she rushed down the steps.

  I rushed down the steps after Margot but couldn’t catch up with her.

  I needed to find out if she was really pissed off about me and Leigh. Was my secret really safe with her?

  “Is it the Shadow Casters again?” Natalie asked.

  “We should leave,” another concerned voice interjected. I wasn’t sure whether it was Lisa or Jessica.

  “No,” Mrs. Irwin said. “To the basement, now!”

  I missed Mrs. Pottermore. I missed her cooking, her motherly arms. After the night the Shadow Casters had plundered everything, Mrs. Pottermore had quit. She’d told Mark that she couldn’t do this anymore, hadn’t signed up for this, then packed her bags and was gone.

  Mrs. Irwin had taken her place.

  She reminded me of a crow. Her
raven hair was always piled up in a high bun, and her extra-long face and crooked nose were sharp and birdlike. She even sometimes sounded like one.

  “We need to follow the rules and go to the basement, like always.”

  “But it never went off at night,” Lisa argued.

  Mrs. Irwin touched her temple as if Lisa was giving her a headache.

  “Just get to the basement, Lisa. We will be safe there.” She sounded calm but stern at the same time.

  We reached the bottom of the stairs. Jessica took Lisa’s arm and led her down another staircase behind a trapdoor.

  Mrs. Irwin’s eyes landed on me and she squinted down at the ground around my feet. “Where is Mr. Grey?”

  I shrugged. “He always leaves when something unexpected happens. He likes to investigate and find out if it’s another drill or the real deal.”

  “Is that wise?” she asked the same question I had asked Mr. Grey.

  “Exactly my concern, but he can take care of himself. Besides, he never listens to me.” My tone was tinged with frustration.

  Why was I so annoyed at him? Because he had the freedom I really wanted for myself? Or was it because he was a cat and he didn’t have to worry about stupid dark sand that could flow out of his palm at any moment, revealing to everyone what he truly was?

  “Just get down there,” Mrs. Irwin said, nudging me toward the trapdoor.

  Her voice softened as she ordered someone else to get into the basement. Their voices were drowned out as I descended into the dimly lit chamber.

  The narrow hallway always creeped me out.

  A chilly draft blew past me. And the place wasn’t nearly bright enough for my liking.

  I found Natalie sitting with Charlie on the L-shaped couch. The room resembled a living room with the couch and coffee table. It contained a stuffed bookcase, which I assumed was placed here as a last resort for escape. Books were not books in Revera. They were doors to the stories they held. If push came to shove, all of us could go into a book, except Mrs. Irwin, since there needed to be a person to close the book and hide it among the others so the assailants wouldn’t be able to follow. Hopefully, we’d be sent into a nice and relaxing story, and not one of the paranormal or epic fantasy novels. I was so tired of running.

 
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