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       Fate, p.1

           Jennifer Lynn Barnes
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  The Squad: Perfect Cover

  The Squad: Killer Spirit


  For Erin and Alisa, who've been my friends since before we could talk. From Bethany School and baby ballet to our college graduations— I can't wait to see what the three of us do next!





  Miss her—want him—-giggle-new-now.




  The pressure of souls skating along the insides of my bones increased rapidly, until every human on the planet was as much a part of me as I was, every aspect of every person an open book for my eyes only. Their hopes and dreams, the things they wished for. The things they dreaded.

  In a state of divine ecstasy, I threw my head back. This was Earth, the mortal realm. These were humans. This was life.

  I was Life.

  Giving in to the unbearable pressure within me, I moved my hands in a silent, expressive dance, and soul light burst from my pores. I watched, mesmerized, as the light condensed into webs before my eyes. Some were so densely woven that they appeared as solid fabric; others were thin or sparse, a tangled mess.

  It was time.

  Like a pianist whose fingers knew a melody better than her mind did, I gave in to the familiarity and undeniable energy of the moment, allowing my hands to carry me through the mind-boggling task. Deftly, instinctively, I crossed this path with that, melded threads together and tore others apart. The fabric was cool to the touch, but white-hot sparks leapt off my body as I wove.




  “Good morning, Oakridge! I'm Craaaaazy Mike, and you're listening to K-K-K-KHITS! It's seven in the a.m., and I a-m in the mood for some lovin', some badda bing, if you know what I mean …”

  I rolled over in bed and slapped at my radio alarm. I really didn't want to know what Crazy Mike meant any more than I already did, and I definitely didn't want to give him the chance to elaborate. I narrowed my eyes at the clock, and the time stared unapologetically back at me.

  Seven a.m. Time to get up for school.

  “Just five more minutes?” I asked. Since I'd turned the alarm off, there was no beeping reply to my question, and I took that silence as permission to snuggle into my covers and close my eyes. This time, there was no weaving, no mystical plane to claim my spirit.

  Peace at last.

  “Bailey Marie, don't tell me you're still sleeping.” My mom cruised by my bedroom door, not even bothering to stop as she made use of my middle name. It was a drive-by scolding, one of her many maternal specialties.

  Mumbling under my breath about stupid Crazy Mike and my stupid alarm and my stupid middle name, I managed to get my body halfway vertical. A minute or so later, I actually made it out of bed and stumbled to the bathroom like some kind of deranged zombie in search of sweet, sweet brains. Once I'd managed to shut the door behind me and was positive that even my mom's superhearing wouldn't allow her to decipher my mumbles, I extended them to include two more subjects.

  “Stupid Mom. Stupid ancient birthright.”

  I really wasn't a morning person.

  I sought refuge from the horrors of things-that-happen-before-noon in the shower. After the water beat against my skin for a few minutes, I started to feel more human, which—given my nightly activities—was a wee bit ironic. I finished showering, and as my mood improved, little by little, I begrudgingly took back most of my “stupids.” If I was being honest, I didn't really have anything against my alarm, my middle name, or what I'd just done in the Nexus between this world and the next.

  Not ready to part ways with the shower but knowing I had to, I reached to turn it off. As I did, the overhead light hit my hand, casting a large, strangely fluid shadow near my feet. For a moment I stood there looking at the image, which wavered as I clenched the knob, shades of silvery purple fading to gray as I turned my hand. The stream of water pelting my face subsided, and I dropped my hand to my side and stepped out of the shower, leaving it—and the très creepy shadow—behind.

  It was times like these that I regretted not dreaming anymore. Without a nighttime outlet, my subconscious and imagination had a tendency to go overboard during my waking hours; hence the funny shadows and the nagging feeling that something in the world (not to mention the shower) wasn't quite right.

  I shook my head, and water flew off my sopping hair to join the steam beaded up on the mirror's surface. The condensation distorted my reflection, but I could still make out my not-brown, not-blond hair and my undeniably average body. For someone who held the fate of the world in her hands—literally—I sure wasn't much to look at. I probably should have been used to it by now, but even after two years of waking up to find that no matter what I did in other realms, I was just plain old me in this one, I still hadn't quite wrapped my mind around it.

  Bailey Morgan, Third Fate. Not to sound too seventies, but that was just objectively trippy. Mythology wasn't supposed to be fact, and I wasn't supposed to be a part of it, but it was, and I was, and no matter how many days I woke up thinking the whole thing was crazy, it didn't change that it was all real.

  I was the Third Fate, the Fate of Life.

  “I'm single-handedly responsible for weaving the lives of the entire world,” I said quietly, watching my lips move in the mirror as I said world, “and yet, I can't even fill out a B cup.”

  When it came to awe-inspiring power, I was good to go, but when it came to cleavage, I was hopeless. Surreal didn't even begin to cover my life.


  This time my mom refrained from telling me that I was going to be late. She just yelled my name. I was pretty sure that in her über-Mom mind this passed for cutting back on the mothering and giving me a taste of the independence college would offer in another year.


  I forced my eyes away from the mirror and my thoughts away from fleeting memories and awe-inspiring power. Forget the lives and destinies of the world as a whole. This was high school, and I wasn't even dressed yet.

  Five minutes later, I was clothed and ready to go. Makeup was a luxury reserved for people who didn't mind getting up when their alarms told them to, and besides, I knew Delia well enough to know that even if my face was makeup free when I left for school, it wouldn't stay that way for long.

  I grabbed my backpack and flew down the stairs, taking them two at a time. My mom was waiting at the bottom, and with pinpoint accuracy, she managed to land a kiss on my cheek as I rushed past.

  “Have a good day, sweetheart. And don't forget to ask Mr. McMann if he thinks you should—”

  I shut the front door behind me before my mom could finish telling me what exactly I should ask the school guidance counselor during our meeting that afternoon. My mom was what most adults referred to as “involved” and most teens referred to as “crazy.” She was perceptive, she asked lots of questions, and she'd taught herself how to use internet search engines. Believe me, it was all downhill from there. Her obsessive Googling came in handy on rare occasions, but still. I was seventeen, and I was not a morning person. Now was clearly not the best time to be imparting life advice, especially the kind of advice that involved what the College Board recommended asking your guidance counselor during the application process.

  “Don't forget to ask Mr. McMann if you should let me give you layers. On the DL, I think he's going to say yes.”

  That voice definitely wasn't my mom's, and even as I rolled my eyes at the unsolicited advice, I smiled at the way Delia had finished my mom's sentence. The idea of asking the school guidance counselor
about hairstyles was patently absurd. Mr. McMann's idea of fashion was an oxford shirt and—if he was feeling particularly daring—suspenders. I was pretty sure he wouldn't have feelings one way or another about whether or not I should get layers.

  “Morning, Delia,” I greeted Delia Cameron: fashion goddess, connoisseur of boys, and one of my best friends for pretty much as long as I could remember. “Your car still broken?”

  Driving wasn't really Delia's strong suit. As a general rule, the rest of us felt that the world was safer without Delia behind the wheel, but because we were friends and it was a somewhat sensitive subject, I used the term “broken” as opposed to “wrapped around a telephone pole somewhere.”

  “I prefer to think that my car is getting a makeover,” Delia hedged. “But since it's not quite ready to reveal its new look to the world, I thought I'd catch a ride with you.” Delia smiled charmingly, and as the two of us climbed into my car, she reached into her purse and pulled out her holy trinity of cosmetic products: lip gloss, powdered base, and mascara. I took the gloss and started the car.

  As I backed down my driveway, Delia dangled the rest of the makeup in front of my face, clearly trying to tempt me.

  “Come on, Bay. You know you want to.”

  “I can't put on makeup while I drive,” I told her.

  “Sure you can. It's easy!”

  And that was why Delia's car was in constant need of a “new look.”

  “So, any news on the guy front?” I changed the subject from makeup to boys. One of the bonuses of being friends with the same people your entire life is that you know their weak points. Delia's were (in order) fashion, boys, and sticky foods. She was a big fan of pudding.

  “I actually had a revelation last night,” Delia said, sounding for all the world like some yogi who'd spent the entire night meditating on the meaning of life.

  “What kind of revelation?”

  Delia was a fount of knowledge when it came to the opposite sex. If she'd had a boy-related revelation, it could very well affect the state of the world's dating circuit as a whole.

  “Geeks.” Delia shared her hard-won wisdom. I waited for her to elaborate, but she just sat there, smiling, thoroughly pleased with herself.

  “Geeks?” I said finally.

  Delia nodded, tucking a strand of chocolate-brown hair behind one ear. “Geeks,” she confirmed.

  I was overcome with the image of Delia meditating and chanting “Ommmmmmm,” and then opening her eyes, having seen the light.

  “Geeks.” I said the word again, and Delia just smiled brightly.

  Still not quite sure about her intended meaning, I pulled into the high school parking lot and drove down to the front, which was reserved for seniors, the exalted status my friends and I had finally achieved the month before. As I parked, Delia elaborated and allowed me another glimpse into enlightenment.

  “Geeks,” she said definitively, “are the new jock.”

  As I digested this piece of information and Delia and I climbed out of my car, an SUV flew past us and into the space next to ours. The driver didn't bother to slow the car until the instant it came to a complete and sudden stop.

  “Zo's here,” I announced needlessly. Delia snorted. Zo Porter had a need for speed that hadn't decreased since the days the three of us had spent riding our bikes around the neighborhood. Nowadays, Zo was a whirlwind on the track and a thing to behold behind the wheel of a car.

  “And you think I'm a bad driver,” Delia said.

  “You are a bad driver.” Zo hopped out of the SUV and delivered the comeback at the same time. “I, on the other hand, am efficient.”

  “I think I can say with a high level of certainty that efficiency has never been so well and truly terrifying.” Annabelle Porter was the fourth of our group, and the one of us subjected to Zo's “efficiency” most often since the two of them were first cousins and actually shared a car. “Nothing like a good brush with death to wake you up in the morning.”

  Zo ignored her cousin's sarcasm. “That's my motto.”

  “I thought your motto was All sweatpants, all the time,” Delia said, tapping her chin thoughtfully and taking in Zo's current outfit with a knowing smile.

  “Actually,” Zo said, mimicking Delia's posture and tone exactly, “my motto is bite me.”

  There was a single-beat pause after that statement, and then I started laughing. Delia and Zo were in a constant state of argument, and they had been ever since the three of us were five years old. The absolute joy and affection with which the two of them exchanged barbs were as familiar to me as the ferocity with which they would demolish anyone outside our group who dared to do the same. Zo was fiercely protective, and Delia wielded more social power than the rest of us combined. Together, they were nearly combustible—and a force to be reckoned with.

  “Speaking of mottos,” I said, playing peacekeeper even though the two of them were as happy arguing as they were not, “Delia had a revelation last night.”

  “A revelation?” Zo was skeptical.

  “Yes,” Delia confirmed, deciding to enlighten them. “Geeks are the new jock.”

  Whatever Zo was expecting, it wasn't that. As for Annabelle, she simply blinked twice, took in the information, and processed it. In the years since the seventh grade, when Annabelle had first moved to town, I'd discovered that it was almost impossible to take her off guard. Of the four of us, A-belle was the sensible one, the reliable one, and the one most capable of going with the flow in her own uniquely Annabelle way.

  Delia grinned at Annabelle's and Zo's reactions and continued lecturing with a solemnity that didn't match up with what she was saying at all. “Geeks are a virtually untapped subset of the male population, but if you think about it, they're really hot.” Without pausing in her impromptu dissertation on geekitude, Delia reparted Annabelle's hair on the side instead of in the center and stepped back to appraise her work. “I mean, think about it, history is littered with hot geeks. Jason Mraz. Seth on The OC back before he got lame and the show got lamer. That one guy on Beauty and the Geek.”

  Delia's idea of “history” didn't exactly match up with the common definition of the word. Since she lived on the cutting edge of all things trendy, last year was “history” and three or more was practically ancient.

  “Sarcastic,” Delia continued decisively. “Soulful eyes. Mussy hair. Geeks are hot.”

  Delia, as befit her position as one of the most sought-after girls in the senior class, was a verifiable expert on hotness, and she had a slight tendency toward choosing boyfriends with the same trendsetter finesse with which she mercilessly designed each of our wardrobes.

  “Let me get this straight.” Zo's voice was absolutely devoid of inflection, but the look on her face was nothing short of incredulous. “You want a geeky boyfriend?”

  “Geek is chic,” Delia said. “And besides, it's different.”

  It was just like Delia to randomly decide to eschew A-list guys in favor of their comic-book-lovin' counterparts. It would be even more like Delia once the rest of the school decided that geek was definitely the way to go. I'd known Delia my entire life, and I still wasn't sure how she managed to put the It in It Girl without even trying.

  It's the boobs. Zo offered a silent response to my question. She knew me well enough to know exactly what I was thinking, just by looking at the expression on my face. At any given moment, I could read her thoughts just as well.

  Of course, the fact that I was actually psychic didn't hurt.

  Delia's breasts have magical powers, Zo thought, knowing I would pick it up and smiling wickedly in my general direction. If Queenie's ta-tas say that geeks are chic, then by next week, they will be. All hail the magic of her mighty C cup.

  I bit back a grin, not wanting to let on that Zo and I were having one of our by now infamous psychic conversations.

  Delia, proving herself remarkably perceptive, was instantaneously suspicious of my grin stifling. “Are you guys having another silent
conversation about my chest?” she demanded, placing her hands on her hips with characteristic dramatic flair.

  “Ummmm … no?” I tried not to sound conspicuous and failed in a major way.

  Zo fared slightly better. “Don't flatter yourself.” She rolled her eyes and punctuated the movement with a poke to Delia's side.

  “Translation,” A-belle said wryly. “Yes. Bailey and Zo are indeed having another psychic boobies convo.”

  After a split second, the four of us started cracking up. Annabelle was the last person in the world anyone would have expected to utter a sentence involving the phrase psychic boobies. But somehow, she'd managed to say it with an absolutely straight face, as if boobies were a scientific term, right up there with empirical and statistically significant.

  A group of freshman boys walked by and gave us some very strange looks. Well, technically, three of them gave us very strange looks, and the other two stared at Delia's cleavage, which just made me laugh harder.

  “Come on,” Annabelle said finally, recovering her composure before the rest of us did. “We're going to be late for class.”

  “You can tell us more about the geek thing at lunch,” I told Delia.

  “Only if the two of you promise to stop mind-talking about my boobs.” Delia crossed her arms protectively over her chest.

  “We promise,” Zo and I chorused.

  Delia's boobs. Delia's boobs. Delia's boobs. Zo sent me the silent message, and it was actually physically painful to bite back the laughter bubbling up in my chest.

  “Oh. My. Gosh. You're doing it again!” Delia smacked Zo, who just kept laughing.

  After a valiant effort at pretending we weren't, I finally let my giggles go, and as the four of us walked into the building and to our first hours, I couldn't help but wish that this moment and, more importantly, this year would last forever.

  I so wasn't ready for high school to end.

  My first class was study hall, which just goes to show you how cruel life can be. The fact that the school required me to get up at 7 a.m. so that I could be there by 7:45 and sit around doing nothing for forty-five minutes was nothing short of sadistic. And the worst part of it was that I couldn't even complain about how unfair and cruel life was, because, well … I was life. Everything that happened in the world, every twist of Fate, that was me. My doing. My work.

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