Cold spell, p.1
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       Cold Spell, p.1

           Jackson Pearce
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Cold Spell


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  DEDICATION TK

  PROLOGUE

  (1947)

  There were plenty of reasons to love winter.

  Warm fireplaces. Stews. Christmastime. In her head she listed everything pleasant about the season, yet she still pulled a handmade quilt closer around her body, like a shield that could protect her.

  It rarely snowed here—Atlanta usually settled for a motionless, quiet winter, with the sort of cold that crept into her bones and was hard to shake. Before Christmas the cold seemed a necessary price for the holiday, the presents, the celebration. Now in January, still months to go till spring, the weather was hateful. It felt like an enemy bearing down on her, something not to be trusted. Something she should fight.

  There were plenty of reasons to love winter, but Dalia did not.

  She shivered, let one hand slink out from under the quilt to the end table—it was beaten and dented, one leg steadied with the X volume of an otherwise-missing encyclopedia set. Her fingers fumbled to pick up a penny, which she held over the candle for a moment, till it got just hot enough to burn her fingers. She leaned toward the frostbit window and pressed the penny against it for a moment, then pulled it away. It left a perfect, watery circle, like a ship’s porthole. She peered out. Was he there?

  Wait.

  Wait.

  There he is—at the window on the other side of their apartment building’s courtyard, only a dozen or so feet away but separated by air and cold. A penny pressed to the glass, and then an eye with long lashes looking out. Green, bright, warm, the sort of color that made her think of grass and the sweet-scented Southern heat of August. She smiled, and through the frost she could see his face break into the same expression. He pulled back from the glass for a moment, and then the penny returned. He dragged it along the frost, creating a shape—an arrow, pointing up, an unspoken question: Can I come over?

  She traced a y for yes with her penny, then leaned away from the window, buried her arms back underneath her quilt. It wouldn’t take him long to arrive—the building was shaped like a squared-off U, the bottom of the letter composed of overflowing storage lockers for each floor. It was difficult to cut through those and no fun to walk downstairs, through the courtyard, and back up six flights of stairs, so they usually took a shortcut across the roof, through the garden their parents had planted together ages ago.

  He didn’t understand why, exactly, she was so reluctant to go outside this time of year, but it didn’t matter. He was willing to come to her. They played board games and he made up stories by the fire until her parents began to look between him and the clock sternly. Then he’d go home, and she’d hold her breath until she saw his face in the window, confirming he’d made it through the cold.

  Or at least, that’s how it used to be.

  Now they sat by the fire, a largely untouched board game between them, watching each other, smiling at each other, and recently—very recently—leaning in to kiss each other when Dalia’s mother wasn’t looking. It was terrifying and wonderful, kissing your best friend. Dalia cast a wary eye at her mother folding laundry in the kitchen. They’d have a moment, a few moments, maybe, when her mother went to put the clothes away….

  Dalia smiled and shivered, and this time it wasn’t from the cold. She dropped the penny back in its place on the end table and stared at the fire, waiting for him to knock.

  A moment passed.

  Another.

  Another.

  She frowned and leaned back toward the window to see if there was another message, if he was trying to get her attention—maybe his mother wouldn’t let him come, or maybe he couldn’t find his coat… though those things rarely held him up for long. But no, he wasn’t there, and the arrow was slowly being devoured by new frost.

  Another moment.

  Dalia rose, pulled the quilt closer to her body, walked to the door anxiously, and looked out the peephole. The hallway was freshly painted, with shiny new gold knobs on all the doors. No movement, no sign of him…

  “What’re you doing?” her mother asked, raising her voice to be heard over her favorite radio show.

  “He said he was coming over…” Dalia started, trying to sound bored, like it was nothing.

  “Of course,” her mother sighed. She liked him well enough, but he made her nervous—all boys around Dalia made her nervous, especially poor boys like him. Dalia walked into the kitchen and slumped down at the table, watching her mother’s hands grab and fold sweaters, quick and precise. Take away the fabric and her hands would be whirling about, as if she were dancing or casting spells.

  The radio sputtered, and static filled the air. Dalia’s mother groaned and walked to it, popping it on the side a few times. It behaved itself for a moment, but then the static continued, growing louder, till it sounded like wind through the speaker.

  It wasn’t until her mother looked up and gasped that Dalia realized the wind sound wasn’t coming from the radio—it was coming from outside. Wind streaked through the building’s courtyard, throwing trash and dead leaves into the air. The windowpanes rattled as if they might shatter, and fingers of cold inched their way across the apartment and into the kitchen, wrapping themselves around Dalia’s cheeks, neck, and ears.

  “Look at that,” her mother said, walking to the window.

  Snow. It was snowing.

  Not the thick, fat flakes that were perhaps the only friendly-looking thing winter had to offer. Tiny flakes that whirled around like bits of ash. More and more of them until Dalia could barely see his window across the courtyard. It felt as if they were being buried, even on the sixth floor.

  “Your poor father. I hope it lets up before he has to walk home,” her mother said absently, then returned to the kitchen as if this were nothing. Dalia, however, was certain her heart was stopping.

  He could be on the roof, trapped in the storm. There was nowhere to hide up there, nothing but rosebushes and a rickety trellis. It’s just snow, it’s just snow, there’s no reason to be scared. Just snow, frozen rain, nothing more.

  But even as she tried to calm herself, she grabbed her shoes and yanked them on. She ran for the door, tangling herself in her coat and pulling the quilt around her shoulders. Her mother called at her to stop, but Dalia was already in the hall, feet pounding up the steps. Two floors till the roof, and he’d be up there, he’d be right by the door. He’d laugh at her for her worry and step inside, and then they’d let their fingers link together as they walked back downstairs. The wind howled; was it growing stronger? It sounded like an animal, like a wild thing that would dash inside and devour her as soon as she opened the roof access door.

  She grabbed the knob, winced in preparation, then forced the door open. Snow poured in, knocking her a few steps backward. Dalia gritted her teeth and found her footing, leaning into the wind to step onto the roof. She looked up, ignoring the stinging pain of the air whipping her hair into her eyes. There was the trellis, bits of it breaking free and flying off the building’s edge into the street below. All the empty pots were tipped over, leaving only the rosebushes; the gusts tugged at their empty vines and thorns but couldn’t sweep them away. Where was he? She yelled his name, but it was lost in the snow.

  He must have turne
d around and gone back home. She took a few more steps, all the way to the trellis. Yes. He’s gone back home; he’s fine. If I can walk through this, however slowly, so can he. He turned around and went home and—

  A shape, a figure. It’s him, wearing a tattered coat, standing close to the edge of the building. The wind tossed his bright red hair around, and though she could see only the back of his head, she could tell he was staring at something. She shuffled toward him, but the wind changed direction and pushed her back—the harder she tried, the more ground she lost until, slipping and sliding on the ever-increasing ice, she found herself back at the door. Dalia looked down, baffled, then back to his shadowy form.

  He turned, but she couldn’t see his eyes for the snow and shadow. She stared back anyway, hoping he could see hers, that he would understand the plea, the desperation, the want for him to come to her, how hard she was trying to get to him. Please, please, come inside, come out of the cold, come out before something terrible happens.

  Her eyes watered; the tears were raw and sharp on her cheeks. The wind pressed against her, like hands pushing her back down the stairs, back inside, away from him. She fought against it, but it was strong, so much stronger than she was.

  He turned his back to her. Reached a hand out to his side. Dalia’s eyes narrowed against the wind and stinging snow, trying to see what he was reaching for. No, not what—who. A woman all in white with hair so blonde it almost matched the snow. Was she real? She looked too perfect to be real. The snow increased; the world was becoming whiter and whiter as it piled up. Dalia grabbed the door frame to keep from being blown down the stairs. She gasped in the icy air, tried to call for him again, to scream. The woman—no, the girl, as she wasn’t much older than Dalia—glanced back toward the door, her eyes the same blue-gray as the snow-filled sky. Her lips curved ever so slightly into a gentle, elegant smile.

  The girl reached out and wrapped her fingers around his hand. He jolted, as if she had shocked him, but then he stood up straight and stiff.

  Dalia stopped screaming. She stopped everything, frozen by temperature, fear, and confusion. She opened her mouth to call the boy’s name once more—but just as her lips formed the word, the door slammed shut.

  She never saw him again.

  CHAPTER ONE

  (Present Day)

  The best thing about going to public school is the testing.

  It’s also the worst thing, sometimes, but testing means that every week or so, we have a strange schedule. More often than not, it’s last period that gets affected—it gets extended, making it twice as long, three times as long, once four times as long as normal. I have Intro to Theater last period, which basically means I paint sets for the Advanced Theater class’s productions. That, and I watch the teacher struggle to keep an eye on the plethora of “bad” kids who got signed up for the class because they hate school too much to choose their own electives.

  Which, incidentally, is the second-best thing about public school: If you’re not a genius or a future crackhead, teachers pretty much don’t notice you. That’s why it’s so easy for me to skip the end of the school day every round of standardized testing. I’m not really sure how Kai manages it, since he is a genius, but he figures it out. We don’t even have to plan it anymore—if sixth period is extended, we duck out right after the fifth period bell rings. Today is one such day. I slink around the back of the school, where he’s already waiting for me, anxious to hurry off into the early afternoon as if the city is ours.

  “What takes you so long?” Kai mutters, leaning against a trailer classroom’s wall. The annoyance in his voice is betrayed by the way his eyes shine at me.

  “I had to go to my locker,” I answer. “Otherwise I have to walk all the way home with my chem book.”

  “Excuses, Ginny, excuses,” he says, knocking the back of my legs with his violin case, grinning as he does so. That’s where Kai’s supposed to be in last period—orchestra—but he and the orchestra teacher are more friends than student and teacher, largely due to the fact that the teacher could probably learn more from Kai than vice versa.

  It’s cold, especially for October. Usually Georgia is in between summer and fall this time of year. The chill makes my nose run and my eyes water, but it also makes me feel more alive than the lazy summer heat from last month. Kai and I trudge across a bridge that’s been painted with our school colors and leads from the school’s property to a public park. The park is largely empty, save a few overweight cops on Segways and some sketchy-looking guys hanging out by the entrance. They’re the reason that Kai’s expensive violin is in a crappy-looking case: to keep anyone from knowing just how much it’s worth. Even I’m not supposed to know, really, but of course he told me.

  We ignore the sidewalks and cut straight through the park, heading up a few blocks toward our building. It’s one of the few brick structures in a cityscape of steel, neon, and concrete. I turn to say something to Kai, but he suddenly grabs my hand and tugs me around a corner. He puts his arms on either side at me, palms against the concrete I’m pressed up against, as he peers past the building’s granite edge. I raise my eyebrows at him, fighting the blush that’s creeping onto my cheeks over how close we are.

  “Is there a problem?” I ask.

  Kai turns back to me and smiles. “Sorry,” he says. “Grandma was at the window.” He’s whispering, as if she might be able to hear us from a half a block away.

  “I’d be willing to place a bet that if she catches us, it’ll somehow be my fault,” I say, and Kai laughs, his chest rising and falling against mine as he does so.

  “It’s always your fault with Grandma,” he agrees. As far as Grandma Dalia is concerned, I’m the ultimate distraction in her Kai-is-a-prodigy plan. Kai says she’s always been like this—she keeps her things close, and Kai is her most valuable thing. Our apartment building itself is probably a close second—she persuaded her husband to buy it ages ago, then got it in the divorce. It can’t be torn down since it houses Atlanta’s oldest (if broken) elevator, but I don’t think she’d let a wrecking ball touch it anyhow. She loves it—though I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why. If I had the money Grandma Dalia has, I’d live somewhere—anywhere—else.

  Kai hesitates, then drops his arms so I’m freed—though he doesn’t take a step back. I keep my back firmly planted against the stone wall, unwilling to disrupt the feeling rippling between us, the pull to be closer still. We watch each other, waiting for it….

  The first time I kissed Kai was when we were in the vacant lot by our building. He was holding an acceptance letter to a music intensive in New York, and I was holding nothing but his hand, and then his arms, and then his cheek as we pulled in to each other and kissed for what was only moments but felt like hours. We were high on the idea of living in New York together, of the tiny coffee shops we would visit and the museums we would sneak into. We dreamed of late-night stops at street-food vendors and a handful of artistic, clever friends, the philosophical sort we’d never find in our school. It was his acceptance letter, of course, but it was our dream, our shared fantasy, and it boiled over in our minds until the only thing left to do was to kiss, to kiss as if we’d done it a million times before.

  But we hadn’t—and we hadn’t even done it very often since, though every day pulls us closer together, closer to another moment when our lips will touch.

  This is one of those moments. I wait, not letting my eyes waver from Kai’s, and watch the rhythm of his breath. His skin is olive, his hair dark, and it’s falling across his forehead the way it always does. I reach up to brush it aside, but Kai leans in before I can do so, letting his breath dance across my skin for a moment. I let him pull me up onto my tiptoes and press in until our lips touch. His hand is on my back, my fingers drifting down the front of his chest, and in my head a thousand fires spring up all at once.

  It’s several quickened heartbeats before we release each other; Kai’s hand immediately trails along my forearm before he lac
es his fingers with mine. I lean close to him; he grins at me, looks around the corner…

  “Coast is clear,” he says, and we come out of hiding. For a moment, I wonder if we shouldn’t hold hands, just in case his grandmother sees us—cutting class plus holding my hand? Grandma Dalia would be furious. Kai seems less concerned, though, which quietly pleases me—his desire to touch me is stronger than his loyalty to Grandma Dalia, which I know is no small thing itself. Kai drums his fingertips on my knuckles and moves so that our lower arms are curved around each other as we get closer to our building.

  It was a pretty place at one time—I’ve seen photos of it when it was brand-new, back when Kai’s grandmother lived here as a little girl and this was still a decent neighborhood. The stonework above the door is still kind of pretty, actually—marble carved into a lion’s face with a cloth banner around it. But the lion aside, 333 Andern is mostly a pile of bricks with an ever-changing sea of graffiti on the outside walls.

  Kai hands me his key chain and I select a small silver key, then use it to open the door leading into the basement. We creep past the washing machines, all of which have OUT OF ORDER signs on them, and around bottles of cleaner so old that the logos look all wrong. Up the back stairs, one flight, two flights, three—eight altogether, each with its own litter and grime and collection of rattraps, until we reach the rooftop access door. I select another key from Kai’s key chain, a key he isn’t supposed to have, and insert it in the lock. Slowly, carefully, I open the door—it usually squeaks, but over the years I’ve perfected opening it silently. I slip through, Kai close behind me, then turn back to shut it.

  I exhale when I turn around. This is the only thing about the building that’s not only still pretty, but beautiful. Kai and I found it when we were little, prompting his grandmother to declare the rooftop strictly off limits and install a new lock. It was only a matter of time before he stole the key and I had it copied before she missed it. His grandmother would kill us—well, me, anyway—if she found us here. But how could we stay away? I think, gazing across the rooftop.

 
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