CONTENT

  1. Cover
  2. About the Book
  3. About the Author
  4. Titlepage
  5. Copyright
  6. 1. Emily Bishop Is a Liar
  7. 2. Don’t Let The It Girls Get To You
  8. 3. It’s Complicated
  9. 4. Marked
  10. 5. Promise You Won’t Go to the Asylum
  11. 6. Made in Chine
  12. 7. First Kiss
  13. 8. Founded 1848
  14. 9. 99 Red Balloons
  15. 10. You’re Scaring Me
  16. 11. What did Noah Do to Sarah?
  17. 12. We All Fall
  18. 13. Oxygen
  19. 14. The Salem Witch Trials
  20. 15. Hunger of the Pine
  21. 16. It’s Not a Birthmark
  22. 17. A Charitable Event
  23. 18. The Death of a Witch
  24. 19. Spellbound for Life
  25. 20. Dad’s Secret
  26. 21. Ghost Girl
  27. 22. Life and Death
  28. 23. Voodoo Isn’t Politically Correct
  29. 24. I Put a Spell on You
  30. 25. A Deal is a Deal
  31. 26. We All Lie
ABOUT THE BOOK

A teen girl with the ability to predict deaths through her drawings shouldn't need to lie constantly to make her life sound interesting. But that doesn’t stop Emily from spinning stories faster than she can keep up.

After transferring to a new school, Emily’s ‘dull’ life is shaken by the appearance of a boy who seems unfazed by her far-fetched stories. A too-handsome-for-his-own-good senior, Noah has some secrets of his own. He needs Emily’s special gift to save him from Sarah, queen bee of the school’s It Girls, whose own supernatural abilities have forced him into a life of silence and solitude.

But when Emily tries to free him from Sarah's voodoo curse, things go belly up, landing Emily on Sarah’s hit list. Soon, Emily and Noah are on a collision course with the It Girls, leading to a shocking revelation that ties them together in unimaginable ways. If their powers remain unchecked, this teenage popularity contest could spell the death of them all ...

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

New York Times bestselling author Rebecca Hamilton lives in Georgia with her husband and four kids, all of whom inspire her writing. Somewhere in between using magic to disappear booboos and sorcery to heal emotional wounds, she takes to her fictional worlds to see what perilous situations her characters will find themselves in next. She has been published internationally, in three languages.

Learn more at www.rebeccahamiltonbooks.com

SOMETHING LIKE VOODOO

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REBECCA HAMILTON

1

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EMILY BISHOP IS A LIAR

It wasn’t as though my family had ties to the mafia or anything. But I’d witnessed a crime committed by a raging psychotic with a ruthless lawyer, and that’s all it took for the U.S. Witness Security Program to move us to New Jersey. That’s right, the armpit of America. Thanks a lot, Department of Justice.

Meanwhile, the real villain continued on with life as usual, while we were sequestered to the small town prison of Hackensack. Exit 64B, if you must know.

You would think we were the ones who had committed a crime. Like maybe they learned about all the people who died after I drew their picture. But the psychologist hadn’t believed me, so I was off the hook on that one. To be fair, the sketch-killings had never been intentional; I never would’ve killed my own mom.

Dad put his hand on my knee. “Ever show you what my dad used to do to me?”

His favorite joke. If I said no, he would tickle my knee. If I said yes, he would tickle my knee.

I nudged his hand away and stared out the window, slumping against the passenger door with my chin in my palm. “Not now, Dad.”

“Come on, Squirrel, we’ve been through worse.”

Like losing Mom. Not sure how he thought that would make me feel better. I took down the air freshener and gave it a whiff. Ew. Corn. Not cherry vanilla like the tag said.

“Dad, this is stale. You never replace them. It doesn’t do anything.”

“You’re avoiding again.” An ironic statement given I could say the same about him.

“I’m not. And I’m not ‘Squirrel’ anymore. I’m seventeen. Why bother giving me a name you weren’t ever going to use?”

He returned his hand to the tan leather steering wheel. Immediately, I regretted my harsh tone. The past was all he had left. All either of us had left.

“Emily, I need you to at least try.”

I’d looked up my birth name once, wondering what was so great about it that made everyone else in my class have it, too. Apparently, Emily had been at the top of the “most popular names” list the year I was born. In other words, “Emily” was a condition of lazy parenting.

“This isn’t easy for either of us,” Dad said.

I lowered my hand and turned, the back of my head still resting against the cool glass window. “I know, Dad,” I said. “I’m sorry. I’m just…tired.”

He pressed his lips together and nodded. “Take a rest. I’ll wake you when we get there.”

I couldn’t sleep, though. Instead, I killed off a bag of pretzels while I studied him from the corner of my eye, trying to reconstruct the memory of my mom by subtracting his looks from my own.

My mousy brown hair and large mud-brown eyes came from him. I had his ears, too. Weird thing to notice, but my mom always said how lucky I was – her family had big floppy ones. The rest of me was all Mom – small sloping nose, pale lips, and paler skin. She’d been a model. Had the whole tall, waif-like figure thing going on. We’d matched in size but not stature. Still wasn’t sure how that worked out, since my Dad aced the height charts, too.

When I grew bored, I closed my eyes. I must have fallen asleep because next thing I knew, I woke to the car rolling to stop. We were off the interstate, idling at a light. I pushed my sweaty hair out of my face and snapped off the heater. When the light turned green, Dad turned onto the next street, tipping his chin toward the corner lot. “Should be right up this way.”

Here’s the thing: I lied about the witness protection part of this story. That’s why my dad was driving and not some U.S. Marshall or whatever. In reality, I simply had an over-protective father who thought changing cities was the solution to a bullying problem at my old school. He was under the impression I would somehow be more likable in Hackensack.

“I have a surprise for you,” Dad said when I didn’t respond.

He slowed as we approached a pale yellow, Dutch colonial home with a dead lawn and pathetic tree in the middle of a small yard. Our new house. He’d hired a company to relocate and unpack all our things so we could feel more at home when we arrived. Because moving into a house that was already unpacked is somehow less weird.

“Look,” he said, pulling into the driveway. “I got you something.”

A Toyota Corolla sat parked in front of us with a big, ugly green bow on top. Bet it came recommended on some website’s list of “Best Cars for Motherless Seventeen-Year-Old Girls.”

Not that I was complaining, but I bet he only bought it to try to cheer me up for making me move here. And it worked, a little, though guilt knocked in my chest knowing that was all it took.

“Are you sure you can afford it?” I asked.

Dad grinned and handed me the keys. “Cost of living is cheaper here,” he said, which I was sure was true. Anywhere would be cheaper than Greenwich, Connecticut. “Hackensack has its perks.”

I leaned over and hugged him tight. “Thanks, Dad.”

We hopped out of his old Buick so I could check out the Corolla. Silver, only a year used. Better condition than Dad’s set of wheels, which made me feel worse for giving him such a hard time.

“Do you like it?” he asked.

I peeked in the windows – clean inside, that wouldn’t last long – then peered up at him. “It’s perfect.”

About a hundred times better than my last car – the Pinto – which he told me we needed to sell before moving to pay off some debts. I should’ve known. My penchant for making things up hadn’t come from thin air.

“Good.” He tilted his head toward the purple night sky. “We should head inside. Tomorrow’s the big day.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Right.” Kill-joy. “School.”

“That’s why we moved here, Emily.”

I put my hand up to stop him. “I’m not complaining!” Heaven forbid! The last thing I needed was a lecture. “Thanks again for the car, Dad. I really do love it. I should probably check in to my room now.”

“It’s not a hotel, Em. We live here now.”

Right. So we did.

And he was never going to let me forget it.

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I love my Dad. I just don’t always love how good he is at being a dad. For example, I was sure he meant well with the pink bedroom walls and peace-symbol quilt and little matching lamp with tassels. I would have loved this decor when I was five. And the walls did match my pink diamond Essie nail color. But the same color painted on four walls of plaster sort of gave off a “no boy zone” vibe, which was undoubtedly what he was going for.

I dropped my messenger bag by the door and took a few more steps into my new room. Makeovers would keep until after school tomorrow. This box did have its benefits – like the window overlooking my backyard – and the cemetery behind it. No, I wasn’t some morbid teenage freak, but I did think cemeteries were beautiful.

Mom’s old vintage desk was set up in the room with my laptop plugged into a nearby charger, and someone had already unpacked all my clothes into my old dresser. Indeed, nothing but the car was new. Including me. So why did Dad think Hackensack was going to be any better? Did he honestly think entering senior year at a new school, mid-year, would lead to some epically amazing social phenomenon?

I guess we would find out soon enough.

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The local high school was aptly named Hackensack High School. Dad said it was one of the top thirteen schools in America, according to Newsweek.

I didn’t go in right away – the protection my car offered would disappear the moment I set foot on the school parking lot. Time to scope the place out – observe the faces of my future tormenters. See which girls would brave a few inches of snow in high heels. Wonder why we couldn’t have moved somewhere that at least had better weather.

Truth was, people were going to be the same, no matter where we went. Myself included.

I glanced at my clothes. My style was “whatever doesn’t draw attention,” which in this case accounted for my skinny jeans, brown boots, and a paisley tunic hidden under my coat.

Now all I had to do was avoid looking lost. I studied the school map I’d printed out the night before. The guidance office would be a few steps inside the main entrance, to my right. The halls would probably be crowded with everyone returning from winter break. They would be too busy catching up with friends to notice me. Or so I hoped.

I sighed heavily. This was it. The beginning of my next rotten school experience. Senior year, half done, and only a few more months left to survive. I would take Dad’s advice and let this be a fresh start. Mainly, I wouldn’t try to make friends this time. That never worked out well. Go to class, don’t talk to anyone, then go home. The key was avoiding eye contact. I could do that. I just needed to get out of the car.

So I did. Boots crunching the snow, I slung my backpack over my shoulder. When I shut my car door with a little too much force, I cringed, but a slow breath resettled my nerves. Kind of. Then I focused only on the school’s main entrance. Get from here to there. That was all I had to do. Tell some lady or some man at some desk who I was and pick up my class schedule.

Halfway there now.

Someone shouted, “Hey,” as I walked into a solid mass.

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Ow.” I grabbed my shoulder and checked for what caused the damage.

Apparently that mass was a person.

“Watch where you’re going,” the person said.

I looked up. Goosebumps prickled up my arms and neck. Staring back at me was a boy with the most intense cerulean eyes, framed by the darkest lashes. So much for avoiding eye contact.

“I’m, uh, wow. Sorry.” I scurried past him but he gripped my arm, spinning me back again. “Whoa!” I cried out. “Listen, I said –”

“No.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry. You’re new here?”

Being new was the worst thing to be in high school. “Um, no,” I lied. “I just skip classes a lot.”

He laughed, the anger lines that creased his forehead dissipating. “You’re that Bishop girl,” he said with a little too much fascination. Guess my reputation preceded me. “Come on, brat. I’ll show you to the office.”

Brat? I shook it off. I heard him wrong. I mean, that would be pretty rude, right? He seemed like he wanted to help me, even though I’d totally crashed into him.

As we walked, I made an extra effort not to look at him. Not in the eyes, anyway. It was impossible not to see some of him from the corner of my vision. He wore a short-sleeved shirt and shorts, but I bit back the urge to ask if he was cold. If he were, he would’ve worn something warmer. So I kept my mouth shut and stared at his calf muscles as he led me through the front doors into the large open hall.

With such an athletic build, I bet he had some cheerleader girlfriend who would flip out if she saw him talking to me. I’d been here all of ten minutes and already I was making enemies.

This school year was going to be awesome.

Placing both hands on my shoulders, he steered me toward the main office. When he reached over my shoulder to open the door, his chest pressed against my neck, and my heart stuttered to a near stop. How often did this guy work out? For Christ’s sake, we were only in high school. What were they feeding these Hackensack boys?

“Ask for Mrs. Clemens,” he said low in my ear. “Trust me.”

I stepped into the office, turning around to say thanks. But he had already disappeared into the sea of students in the hall. I whirled around to face the front desk. A big bouquet of dragon lilies filled an orange vase sitting on the pea green Formica counter. The room smelled like butterscotch candies. Behind me, a wooden bench backed up against a wall of window looking out onto the hall.

“I’m here to see Mrs. Clemens,” I said to a sour-looking lady behind the counter. Her name tag read Miss Lemont.

The boy had given me some good advice, as this first lady didn’t seem too friendly. She stared at me, frowning. Another woman stepped away from the copy machine, her hand outstretched. “I’m Mrs. Clemens.”

I returned her handshake with a hesitant smile. “Emily Bishop.”

“Ah, yes. We were expecting you. Right this way.”

She turned and headed down a small hall, and I followed until she stopped at a room. She went inside, but I stayed in the doorway.

“You can come in.” She waved me in as she shuffled through some papers. “Have a seat.”

As I did, she seated herself, scooting her chair forward with her legs tucked under a large mahogany desk. An open file sat in front of her.

“Let’s see…Emily Bishop…” She leaned away from the paperwork then pulled her glasses up from the chain around her neck. Her eyes went wide – really wide – but she didn’t comment on what must have shocked her: my school transcript. She thumbed through the pages until a loose sheet of paper tumbled out. “Ah, there we are! Yes. They have you in all the AP classes. I hear it doesn’t make much difference. If you want, I can get you out of them.” She winked. “Finish your senior year on an easy note so you can focus on other things, like making new friends?”

My lips twitched into what I hoped resembled a smile. Awk-ward. “Whatever you have down for me is fine.”

Her shoulders lifted in a slight shrug as she held the schedule out to me. “Here you are, then.” Reaching over the paper, she pointed with her pen at my first class. “Your homeroom is A172. Simple set up we have here,” she continued, flipping to the next page – a map – and indicating everything I needed to know with her wand of blue ink. “This is the A hall. If you go around, clockwise, you have B hall, C hall, and D hall. Anything in the hundreds is first floor, anything in the two hundreds is upstairs.”

I swallowed and nodded. “I think I got it. Do I have a locker?”

She flipped back to the first page and indicated the sticky note attached with locker number and combination. “A-172. Hmm, look at that! We always keep lockers in the same hall as homerooms, but yours even has the same number! That will be easy to remember.”

“Thanks,” I mumbled, her enthusiasm a little overbearing. “I guess I should go now, before I’m late.”

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Istopped at my locker only long enough to drop off my coat. Doing so made me realize why this particular locker was available. I had to put the combination in half a dozen times before it worked. Somehow I managed to make it to homeroom before the bell rang.

The first thing I saw when I stepped into the classroom was the boy with the sky-blue eyes. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to turn away before he swiveled his gaze in my direction. Great.

“Excuse me,” came a voice from behind me. “Miss? Hello?”

I turned around. “Huh?”

A short, older man with round, wire-frame glasses smiled at me. He must be my homeroom teacher. I glanced at my schedule. His name was Mr. Dougherty, and I would also have him for my AP social sciences class.

“Are you always this aloof, Miss…Miss…?”

“I – uh – I’m Emily Bishop.” I thrust my schedule forward. “I think this is my homeroom.”

He reviewed the page. “I’m Mr. Dougherty,” he said, in case I couldn’t read. “You’ll want to get your wits about you by next period,” he said, smiling as though amused by my predicament. “Take a seat.”

This was the crappy part of being new: having to find an empty chair, so you end up looking at everyone and everyone ends up looking at you. I started at the opposite side of the room from where he was sitting. For once, luck was on my side. An empty seat – not as far from him as possible, but far enough that I wouldn’t have to make small talk. Two rows over and a row behind.

I slumped into my chair and took out a sketchpad. Drawing was the one activity I could get lost in. In fact, I would often go into a trance while sketching, though lately the result was always a picture of my mom.

At least I could draw her without worrying death would follow. But sometimes I wondered if I was really cured of drawing people at risk of dying, or if somehow my mom was still in danger.

Before Mom’s death, my drawings all resulted in the same outcome: every person I drew wound up dead. Some of them I knew, some I didn’t. Sometimes they appeared on the news a few nights after I drew them, part of some tragedy – the stuff people like to ignore in favor of celebrity gossip. Things changed only slightly after Mom died all too young of a “heart attack.”

Following her “accident,” my therapist encouraged me to take up drawing again. He said not to think. To let go. Thing was, this thing he called “Hypno-Drawing” wasn’t new to me – I just hadn’t known the name for it. And I certainly hadn’t been doing it all these years on purpose.

When I told the doctor about this, he proposed a new theory: if I did the Hypno-Drawing activity intentionally, the trance drawings would stop happening on accident. And those were the scary ones – the ones that meant someone was going to die.

So I took his suggestion, and it seemed to work. Now Mom was the only one I sketched. It was also the only way I could ever see her.

When the bell signaled the next change of classes, I snapped out of my trance. I stared down at my paper, and my heart jumped to my throat.

Him.

I slammed a notebook on top of the sketchpad, my face burning. I checked over at where he’d been sitting, but he wasn’t there anymore.

“I thought it looked good,” came a voice from behind me.

No.

I didn’t have to turn around to know it was him. My terrible luck had dictated that.

I pulled my notebook and sketchpad to my chest, stood, and walked out of the room without looking back.

For a long time, I thought Hypno-Drawing had fixed me. But now…now I worried all I had done was learn how to control it. That I hadn’t ever made the curse go away, that maybe I just hadn’t been around anyone else at risk.

Until now.

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Second period went as expected.

A girl three rows behind me threw a rolled up piece of paper at my head. Then she and a friend giggled. The more I ignored them, the more they tried to get my attention. That was what adults didn’t understand. The whole “ignore them and they’ll stop” thing was a fallacy. I thought if I ignored them hard enough, I could pretend they had stopped, but that didn’t work, either.

By the end of class, I had no idea what the teacher wanted me to know, but the girls sitting behind me were ready to tell me their version. As I stood, they blocked the aisles on both sides of my chair.

“Emily, is it?” asked the one with long, silky blonde hair. She was one of those unfairly beautiful types. She cocked her head to one side and clicked her tongue, then slid to sit half-on, half-off the edge of my desk, supporting her weight on one hand and leaning her face close to mine. “You have some serious nerve talking to Noah. I doubt you could keep his interest for more than a week.”

“If that,” her friend chimed in, cherry red curls shivering. “I don’t know how things work where you’re from, but here, girls don’t throw themselves at the first man who walks by.”

So that was his name. Well, they had it all wrong. “I’m not interested in him. I bumped into him. He showed me how to get to the office. That’s all.”

“Uh-huh,” said Blondie, giving an exaggerated nod and a frightening smile. “Back off, chica. No more ‘bumping into him,’ or I’ll make your life in Hackensack a living hell.”

“It already is,” I said, and I shouldered past her.

Fantastic idea, Dad. Hackensack is awesome.

Turned out Noah shared more than half of my courses, and I found myself rushing to every class to be sure I could get a seat at the front of the room – a row he seemed to avoid – in the event we had yet another course in common. I also kept my sketchpad tucked away where it couldn’t get me into any more trouble.

The day couldn’t end fast enough. As soon as the final bell rang, I hurried outside, fishing through my backpack for my keys. That’s when it hit me. Or I hit it. Or rather, him…again.

“Damn it!” I said.

Noah raised both his hands. “Funny running into you again.” He smiled widely. For the first time, I took in all the details of his face. His golden-brown hair curled at the ends, gracing his temples. His nose was perfectly chiseled, his face handsomely symmetrical, save for the dimple on his left cheek. I could see why Blondie was so protective over him, and it was all the more reason to keep my distance.

“Sorry,” I mumbled, though I hardly meant it. I just wanted to get home. I brushed past him on my way to my car, but he followed. I spun around, my back to the driver’s side door. “It’s better if you stay away from me.”

His brow furrowed. “You’re probably right,” he said. “But I was hoping you caught the homework assignment for Trig.”

Of course. Not like he would engage me for any reason outside of academic necessity. I laughed inwardly. I wouldn’t get the guy, but I would still get harassed for talking to him.

I dug out my Trig notebook, opened to my assignments page, and waited while he jotted everything down.

“Thanks a mil,” he said, handing the notebook back to me. I tried not to stare at how good his backside looked in his shorts as he jogged off. When I reviewed my notes, there was a message scribbled at the bottom.

I’M IN TROUBLE, AND YOURE THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN HELP. CALL ME.

My heart sank. Please don’t tell me whatever trouble he was in was why I’d drawn his picture. Not when all I wanted was for it to be the subconscious product of a crush.

I looked up again, but he was already gone, so I read the note again.

His number scrawled beneath his words, and right then, I knew two things: I was going to call him, and Blondie would make me pay for it.

2

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DON’T LET THE IT GIRLS GET TO YOU

When I got home from my school, Dad was waiting in the kitchen. He wouldn’t start his new job until the following week, but he was already sporting one of his work shirts – the one with “Joe” embroidered where the pocket should have been.

“What do you think your other name would have been?” I asked as I set my backpack on the linoleum-tiled floor by the kitchen table.

“Not that again!” He turned from the counter with two steaming mugs in his hands. “Hot chocolate?”

“For sure.” I plopped into one of the cushioned chairs and eased the steaming beverage from his hands. He sat across from me, and I sipped the cocoa. “Come on, Pops, play along.”

He quirked his eyebrow over his own mug, then set the drink down. “Pops? Okay, Squirrel, I’ll play. Hank…or Fred.”

He hated when I called him Pops. Probably more than I hated him calling me Squirrel, which truthfully, was not at all. “Why?” I asked. “Are those good plumber names or something?”

He shrugged. “Would I still be a plumber?”

“Touché.” I gave him an approving nod. “Would I still have to go to school?”

He leaned back, crossed his arms, and pushed out his bottom lip. “What’s this about, Squirrel?”

“Don’t call me that,” I deflected.

“Come on, Em. It was your first day. Things couldn’t have gotten that bad in one day.”

“Dun, dun, dun! Or could they?”

“Tell me what happened.”

We had always been close, so I told him everything.

“Sounds like that boy is into you,” he said when I finished.

“Better polish Old Faithful,” I mumbled. Leave it to Dad to be more concerned over a guy giving me his number than over some girls harassing me.

He rested both elbows on the table, clasping his hands together and posting his chin there. “Do you want me to talk to the principal?”

“God, no. Please, don’t do that, Dad. Promise me you won’t do that.”

He lifted his palms. “Say no more. But what do you want me to do?”

“You already did it,” I said, finishing my cocoa and taking the dishes to rinse in the sink. I flipped on the faucet. “Just listen. That’s all.” I cleaned out the mug and put it in the rack. “And next time, don’t worry about the boy, okay? That’s so lame. Seriously, no one’s dad worries about boys these days.”

Before he could say another word, I kissed him on the cheek, grabbed my backpack, and thundered up the stairs.

I wanted to call Noah – assuming that was his name and the girls didn’t share my penchant for lying – but Dad would be expecting that. And bless his heart, he would eavesdrop same as any good father would. Besides, I needed to do something with this room of mine first.

I tapped my lip with a coral-painted fingernail, debating if the same color would be overkill on the walls. I settled for light blue. Couldn’t go wrong with sky blue.

I shook my head, trying to clear Noah’s eyes from my mind.

Don’t go there, Emily.

I snatched up my keys and messenger bag and headed out the door, waving something like a quick farewell to my dad. Of course he asked where I was going.

“The paint store.”

Who would be there?

“Me, other customers, and whoever else works there…how should I know?”

And when I would be home?

“In however long it takes me to drive there, buy paint, and make my way back.”

Maybe some kids were annoyed by their parents asking such questions, but I appreciated him pretending I had a social life worth stressing over.

Turns out, the final answers to my father’s questions were: a tattooed man with a goatee and home within an hour, thanks to a phone app that located a paint store ten minutes from the house. Which, coincidentally, happened to be right next to a Target, resulting in the purchase of a new quilt for the bed as well.

After my mini shopping spree, I checked my bank account from my phone. Depressing, but looking for a job willing to hire a seventeen-year-old in this economy didn’t rank at the top of my to-do list. I would have to be more careful with my funds. Or hit up Dad for some cash.

Once home, I scrubbed up, blasted some Florence and the Machine, and got to painting. Dad wouldn’t mind. We’d always been a thick-skinned family, and he wasn’t about to get upset his teen daughter didn’t like his decorating sense.

After I finished, I flopped back on my new, plain white comforter and stared at the ceiling. There. A light blue room officially too bland for anyone to have an opinion about – just the way I liked it.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the stack of papers waiting next to my laptop on my mother’s vintage desk. Ugh. There was homework…and there was calling Noah.

No way. I couldn’t call him. Me calling a boy for any reason made homework seem like the preferable idea. Eleven at night probably wasn’t the best time to call anyway.

I pulled out my trig notebook and got to work. I completed the assignment faster than expected and decided to do a little drawing to unwind. After the day I’d had, I needed a break.

When I opened the notebook, the drawing of Noah stared back at me, his careful curls tumbling over his forehead. Thick, dark eyelashes, chiseled nose, dimple on one cheek. I traced a finger along the contour of his strong, squared jaw, my heart skipping a beat. Those eyes…so intense that they were beautiful and terrifying all at once.

It wasn’t the first time I’d drawn something I couldn’t know about yet, but I refused to believe that was starting again. It couldn’t. Not if it meant what it had all those times before Mom died. Not if this boy was in danger.

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The next day, Noah’s absence from homeroom left me equal parts relieved and disappointed. Maybe I’d gotten lucky and witness protection had relocated him, too. But then he showed up in third period English.

There went that idea.

Also in third period was the first new friend I’d made since grade school. Her name was Heather, and yesterday she’d complimented my coral nail polish. Her brown hair fell in thick, brown, unkempt waves past her shoulders, and she had a cute smattering of freckles across her nose and cheeks. But the most remarkable thing about her was her ’50s-style red glasses with tiny rhinestones on the wings.

Making a more memorable impression, however, was Noah, with his broad chest filling out an Abercrombie T-shirt the same color as his eyes.

About midway through class, Heather handed me a folded up piece of paper. I opened it.

NOAH KEEPS CHECKING YOU OUT.

He was probably wondering why I hadn’t called. It was better I ignore him. High school romances never worked out – if that’s what this was even about. But where romances didn’t last, grudges did. And I was already on Blondie’s radar. At the same time, what if there was more to that note he wrote? He said he was in trouble, and maybe I could help. Did he mean trouble with his schoolwork, or something else?

A warning dinged in my head. If he needed help, no way was I the one to give it to him. Even if the picture I drew meant something – even if he somehow knew about my weird talent – my “help” was useless. Knowing my mom was in danger hadn’t helped me save her, had it?

I wrote Heather back, blowing off the comment about Noah.

WHAT PERIOD DO YOU HAVE LUNCH?

I added my phone number at the bottom of the note so she could text me instead of passing around a scrap of paper that might as well have said, “Hey, teacher, look at us not paying any attention to your class.”

Turned out we both had lunch sixth period, as did Noah, according to Heather’s messages – which reverted back to boy talk every chance she got. I would need to stay busy talking to someone else if I wanted to put off him approaching me; so far, that seemed to be all it took to keep him away. Heather would do.

We made plans to meet up, and she held to her promise, waiting for me when I arrived at the cafeteria doors.

“Want to skip out?” I asked.

She grinned. “No way. I want to see if Noah Caldwell eats his chicken sandwich or spends all of lunch staring at you.”

“Well, I don’t.” Truth was, I despised school cafeterias. Mainly because of social reasons – they were a hierarchy of the highest order – but also because, no matter what was on the menu, they always smelled like rotten onions.

“Come on.” She took my hand. “This is the perfect opportunity to teach you everything you need to know about this place.” She tugged me into the cafeteria and over to an empty table. From her bag, she pulled out something resembling a sandwich, though it seemed kind of floppy. “You gonna eat?”

I shrugged. “At my old school, you could trade lunch for another class,” I lied. “I don’t eat until I get home.”

She smiled around a bite of what appeared to be turkey smushed between bread. “Hmmm. Okay. Don’t do that here. I finally don’t have to eat alone.” She nodded toward a table in the far right corner. “You see that girl with glasses like mine?”

The girl she was referring to wore black-and-white plaid pants, a light pink dress skirt, and a gray sweater-vest over top. Her blonde hair was pulled back in some kind of ponytail that made parts of her hair stick up. Her glasses were in fact like Heather’s, only black, not red.

Before I confirmed the sighting, Heather continued: “Her name’s Cassie. She lost her dad to cancer. That’s why she wears gray. Not just today, either. Every day, and she always has this gray ribbon pinned to her bag.”

“Oh,” I said, a bit stunned. The subject matter was a little heavy for a lunch conversation.

“I’m sorry,” Heather said. “I thought you’d want to know someone else who lost a parent. Ya know, because of your mom…”

My eyebrows shot up. “My mom?”

Heather frowned. “She…she died…right?”

“I didn’t realize anyone knew that,” I said flatly.

I couldn’t blame Heather. People liked to gossip. At least she was trying to make me feel less alone. I didn’t want her to feel bad or uncomfortable, so I indicated someone else at random.

“What’s his story?” I said, pointing to a guy with blond hair who was cute in a retro kind of way.

Her eyes lit up behind those big frames of hers. “Davie Rochester. He’s got the biggest crush on Sarah. All the guys in school do, but not like him. She can be kind of cruel to him, but it’s like he doesn’t even notice!”

“You’re…really excited about that,” I said. “He doesn’t seem so bad. I don’t understand why this Sarah person wouldn’t be interested in him.”

Heather bit into her sandwich again and chewed in a way that I would call thoughtful. After she swallowed, she nodded. “I think it’s a strategy. Like chess. You know, ’cause he’s the QB on our varsity football team, so if she’s too good for him, she’s the best thing ever.”

“She sounds like a piece of work.”

“They all are.” Heather tipped her chin to another table in the middle of the cafeteria. All the other tables had a foot of space between them, but this table seemed to be surrounded by ten feet on each side. “The It Girls. I think you met two of them yesterday.”

Yep. The two who threatened me to stay away from Noah. “The blonde and the redhead.”

Heather nodded, putting her sandwich on her plastic bag and tucking her hair behind her ears. She leaned forward. “The blonde girl is Sarah Williams, the curly redhead is Kate Walcott, and the twins are Jessica and Abigail Booth. You can tell them apart because Jessica keeps her hair short. I guess you could say Sarah is their leader.”

So Blondie’s name was Sarah, and Sarah was the absolute worst person at this school to piss off. Great.

I assessed the queen bee and her clique a moment longer. Heather didn’t mention how they all styled their makeup the same way – black eyeliner drawn on cat-eye style with red-rouged lips. They also all wore the same black lace choker. It kind of creeped me out, though I couldn’t pinpoint why. At least they weren’t all dressed the same.

They laughed at whatever the guys over at their table were saying. Sarah did that pseudo shoulder shove move popular girls do, pushing one of the guys with a toss of her long hair over her shoulder.

“So what’s their deal?” I asked, breaking my stare.

Heather grinned mischievously. “Everyone says they have all the boys bewitched. Noah especially! He won’t even talk to anyone else. That’s where you come in. I saw you two yesterday after school, and it’s obvious he’s been trying to get your attention all day today. That’s got to make Sarah’s blood boil.”

“He needed the assignment for trig,” I lied. “I think he wanted some help with it.”

“You do realize he’s leading for class valedictorian? He could do trigonometry in his sleep. I doubt he’s ever needed help with an assignment. Like, ever in his life. If he forgot what it was, he could have downloaded it from the school website. Teachers update their pages at the end of the day so students who are out sick or lose their homework folder don’t miss anything.”

My gaze drifted over to where Noah sat. He was staring back. Crap. I looked away, but what I saw there was even worse: Sarah was giving me the evil eye.

“Well,” I said, “I think I’m gonna grab some food after all. I better head out. I’m not a fan of cafeteria food.”

“Geez,” Heather said, touching my arm, her voice more gentle than excited now. “Don’t let them get to you.”

I pulled away. “I’m not. I’m just hungry.”

For someone who lied all the time, I was awful at it.

“Okay.” She slid her hand away from me. “Did you want to meet up after school? I could catch you up on the rest of the cliques.”

I pushed out a smile. “That sounds nice. Catch you later.”

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Ididn’t just walk out of lunch. I walked out of the building altogether. I’d had enough “learning” for one day. Sitting in my car, I turned the key to the ignition, but it didn’t start. I rested my head against the steering wheel.

This couldn’t be happening.

I spent the next thirty seconds watching my breath greet the frigid air in little white puffs. The noon sun took off the bite of winter, but it was still too cold to sit in a car without heat. I could go back inside, but I didn’t want to deal with Sarah and her posse today. Not while my brain tumbled like a mental washing machine through everything Heather had said.

Noah’s trouble wasn’t with school. If he didn’t need my help with homework, then what was it? Why did Dad have to move us to this miserable place?

A knock on my windshield jolted me from my wallowing.

Noah.

I’d offered more fake smiles today than I could count, but I tried again for one more. It didn’t work. Noah wasn’t smiling, either.

I rolled down my window. “Hi, listen, about yesterday –”

“Forget it. You need a ride.”

It wasn’t a question. “My car won’t start.”

“I know. I’ll take you wherever you want to go in my truck.”

He opened my car door, pulled me out by the hand, and shut the door behind me. His hand was so warm I had the urge turn my whole body into his, but his actions were so cold I wanted to pull away at the same time. It didn’t matter – I was too stunned to react.

He glanced over his shoulder, back toward the school. Sarah glowered from behind the front doors.

“Please don’t fight me on this,” he said, leading me over to his blue Chevy truck. It looked old – probably a few decades older than me. He opened the passenger door and practically pushed me in. “I’ll explain.”

A moment later, he was in the driver’s seat, and we were turning onto the main road. The inside of the car smelled of warm coconut. Or he did, and I hadn’t noticed before.

Butterflies whipped around in my stomach. It wasn’t that I was scared of Noah – though maybe I should have been – but I was definitely frightened by his odd behavior. Sarah unnerved me more, though, and Noah was getting me farther away from her, so I kept my mouth shut.

He blew a slow breath between his lips. “I feel like I ought to apologize. For being so short-tempered.”

“You mean rude?” I asked, thinking of the way he demanded I get into his truck.

He gritted his teeth. “Yes. Or that.” Now he wasn’t looking at me. “But one day I hope you’ll understand why and forgive me.”

“I already forgive you.” Why not? He was rude, and I was a liar. Nobody’s perfect, right? “But why not tell me the reason today? Get it over with.”

His mouth pressed into a tight line as he shook his head. “Not today.”

“I thought you said you’d explain?”

“I will,” he said. “But not today.”

I turned toward him, crossing my arms. “You know, I can be short-tempered, too. Just saying.”

This broke his frown into a smirk. Outside the car window behind him, the world blurred past. “Is that so?”

Not really, but whatever. “You didn’t order me into your car to apologize, right?”

“Right,” he said, and just like that, the moment was broken. “I shouldn’t have said anything yesterday,” he mumbled. “I caused a lot of drama for you.”

I bit my lip. “I’ve dealt with worse.”

His gaze met mine. The intensity I’d seen in his eyes the moment we met was back. “No, Emily, you haven’t. Look, I can take you home, but then Sarah will find out where you live, and believe me, that’s a bad idea. You should give her some time to cool off and return to your car when she’s not watching. Do you want me to drop you off up the road from your house?”

Did he think she would follow us? She was still inside when we’d left. I doubted she could get in her car and catch up that fast. She sounded a bit psychotic if she was that mad at me for nothing.

“At this point, I kind of just want some answers.” My stomach growled. “And a sandwich.”

He tapped his fingers against the steering wheel. The truck accelerated. “You could have called.”

“But I didn’t,” I countered.

“I can take you to a place nearby if you want to talk. Do you trust me?”

“Not really,” I said. After so many lies told to so many people, it felt strangely refreshing to be this honest with someone. Especially when that someone was Noah. “I don’t know you. But we can go wherever. If you wanted to hurt me, you could have done so already.”

“Your logic frightens me,” he said in a serious tone despite one side of his mouth curling up playfully. “All right, brat, but you have to close your eyes.”

I lifted one of my eyebrows. “Top secret?”

“I could blindfold you,” he offered, slowing to make a turn, “or I could take you back to your car.”

There was something about him. Something unknown and disarming. Something that made my palms sweat and started an uneasy tingle in my gut. It made me want to know more. So I shut my eyes and kept them closed until he told me I could open them again.

We had arrived, and one thought replaced all others.

What was this place?