The Forbidden Game: The Chase
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The others turned to Jenny. He's your cousin; you deal with him, their looks said.
Jenny took another deep breath. "You know perfectly well it will make a difference," she said tightly. "If we don't get the paper house back-you know what could happen."
"And what are you going to do if we do get it? Burn it? Shred it? With them inside? Isn't that murder, or don't P.C. and Slug count?"
Everyone burst into speech. "They wouldn't care about us-" Audrey began.
"Just cool it," Dee said, standing over Zach like a lioness.
"Maybe they're not inside. Maybe they just took it and skipped town or something," Michael offered.
Jenny gathered all her self-control, then she stood, looking at Zach directly. "If you don't have anything useful to say, then you'd better leave," she said.
She saw the looks of surprise from the others. Zach didn't look surprised. He stood, his thin beaky-nosed face even more intense than usual, staring at Jenny. Then, without a word, he turned around and left.
Jenny sat back down, feeling shaken.
"Good grief," Michael said mildly.
"He deserved it," said Dee.
Jenny knew the point was not whether Zach had deserved it, but that Michael was surprised Jenny would give it to him.
I've changed, Jenny thought. She tried to push the knowledge away with a "So what," but it nagged at her. She had the feeling that, deep down, she might have changed more than anybody knew yet.
"We have to find the paper house," she said.
"Right," Dee said. "Even though I don't think so there's a chance in hell of P.C. and Slug making it all the way to the third floor where Julian is. Not with that snake and that wolf around-"
"The Creeper and the Lurker," Audrey said with precision.
"-but we might as well be safe." A bell rang. "See you in physiology," Dee added to Jenny, grabbed her empty Carbo-Force can, and ran for the art block.
Michael brushed cookie crumbs off his lap, got up, and began the trek to the gym.
Jenny knew she should be hurrying, too. She and Audrey had to get changed for tennis. But at the moment she really didn't care if she was late or not.
"Want to cut?" she said to Audrey.
Audrey stopped dead in the middle of reapplying her lipstick. Then she finished, snapped her compact shut, and put the lipstick away. "What's happened to you?" she said.
"Nothing-" Jenny was beginning, when she realized that somebody was walking up to them.
It was a guy, a senior from Jenny's world lit class. Brian Dettlinger. He looked at Audrey uncertainly, but when it was apparent she wasn't going anywhere he said hi to both of them.
Jenny and Audrey said hi back.
"Just wondering," he said, eyeing a bumblebee hovering over a clump of Mexican lilies, "if you had, you know, a date for the prom."
Prom's over, Jenny thought stupidly. Then she realized that of course he meant senior prom.
Audrey's chestnut eyes had widened. "No, she doesn't," she said instantly, with the slight pursing of lips that brought out her beauty mark.
"But I have a boyfriend," Jenny said, astonished.
Everyone knew that. Just as everyone knew that she and Tom had been together since elementary school, that for years people had talked about them as Tom-and-Jenny, a single unit, as if they were joined at the hip. Everyone knew that.
"Oh, yeah," Brian Dettlinger said, looking vaguely embarrassed. "But I just thought-he isn't around much anymore, and..."
"Thank you," Jenny said. "I can't go." She knew she sounded scandalized, and that Brian didn't deserve it. He was only trying to be nice. But she was put off balance by the whole situation. Obviously she couldn't have been his first choice, since today was Monday and the prom was this Saturday, but to have been asked at all by him was a compliment. Brian Dettlinger wasn't just any scabby senior scrambling for a date at the last minute, he was captain of the football team and went with the head cheerleader. He was a star.
"Ma epazzo?" Audrey said when he'd gone. "Are you nuts? That was Brian Dettlinger."
"What did you expect me to do? Go with him?"
"No-well-" Audrey shook her head, then tilted it backward, to look at Jenny appraisingly through spiky jet-black lashes. "You have changed, you know. It's almost scary. It's like you've blossomed, and everybody's noticed. Like a light went on inside you. Ever since-"
"We have to go to P.E.," Jenny said abruptly.
"I thought you wanted to cut."
"Not anymore." Jenny didn't want anything else to change. She wanted to be safe, the way she was before. She wanted to be a regular junior looking forward to summer vacation in a month or so. She wanted Tom.
"Come on," she said. For a moment, just as they left, dropping iced tea bottles in the metal trash can by the English block, she had the feeling that someone was watching her. She turned her head quickly, but she couldn't see anything there.
Tom watched her go.
He felt bad lurking there in the shadow of the English building, behind the scarred metal pillars that held the porchlike roof up. But he couldn't make himself come out.
He was going to lose her, and it was his own fault.
The thing was, he'd blown it already. He'd screwed up. The most important thing in his life-and he hadn't even realized it was the most important thing until seventeen days ago. April 22. The day of the Game. The day Julian came and took Jenny away.
Of course he'd loved Jenny. Loving was easy. But he'd never thought about what it might feel like without her, because he'd always known she'd be there. You don't sit around and think to yourself, "I wonder what it would feel like if the sun didn't come up tomorrow."
He'd assumed things, taken things for granted. He'd been lazy. That was what came of having everything handed to you on a platter. Of never having to prove yourself, of having people fawn on you because of your good looks and your hot car and your knuckleball. Of, essentially, being Tom Locke. You get to think you don't need anything.
Then you find out how wrong you are.
The problem was that just when he'd started to realize how much he needed Jenny Thornton, she'd discovered she didn't need him.
He'd seen her in that Other Place, inside that paper house that had turned real. She'd been so brave and so beautiful it made his throat hurt. She'd functioned absolutely perfectly without him.
It might still have been all right-except for Julian. The Shadow Man. The guy with eyes the color of glacier pools, the guy that had kidnapped all of them because he wanted Jenny. Which had been an indisputably evil, but in Tom's view, completely understandable thing to do.
Jenny had changed since Julian had gotten to her, Maybe the others hadn't really noticed yet, but Tom had. She was different now, even more beautiful, and just-different. There were times when she sat with a faraway look as if she were listening to things no one else could hear. Listening to Julian's voice in her mind, maybe.
Because Julian had loved her. Julian had said it, had said all the things that Tom had never thought to mention. And Julian had the charm of the devil.
How could Jenny resist that? Especially being as innocent as she was. Jenny might actually think that she could change Julian, or that he wasn't as evil as he seemed. Tom knew differently, but what was the use of telling her? He'd seen them together, seen Julian's eyes when he looked at her. He'd seen the kind of spell Julian could cast. When Julian came for Jenny next time, Tom was going to lose.
So now all he could do was lurk in shadows, watching her. Noticing the way wisps of her hair blew over the rest of it, light as cornsilk and the color of honey in sunlight. Remembering her eyes, a dark green touched with gold. Everything about her was golden, even her skin. Funny he'd never bothered to tell her that. Maybe that was what Dettlinger had been doing just now. Tom wasn't surprised that the football star had come to talk with Jenny; he was just surprised at how fast he'd gone away. He wished he could have heard the conversation.
It didn't matter. It didn't matter how many guys approached Jenny. Tom was only worried about one-and that one had better watch out.
Tom couldn't have her anymore, but he could protect her. When Julian did come back-not if; Tom was virtually certain that he would-when Julian did come back for Jenny, and tried to play on her innocence again, Tom would be there to stop it. He didn't quite know how, but he would stop it.
Even if it killed him.
And if it made Jenny hate him, so be it. She'd thank him someday.
Moving quietly and purposefully, Tom followed the copper head and the golden one, stalking the girls to the gym.
It might have been his imagination, but he had the odd feeling that something else was stalking them, too.
They drove to the Center in two cars; Jenny and Audrey in Audrey's little red Alpha Spider, and Dee and Michael in Michael's VW Bug. Jenny braced herself as they walked inside.
No matter how she braced, the west wall was still a shock. It was covered with pictures of Summer.
Hundreds of them. Not just the flyers and posters.
Summer's parents had brought in dozens of photographs, too, to show Summer from different angles, or maybe just to remind people what all this efficiency and envelope-stuffing was really about. Somebody had gotten one of the pictures blown up into a monstrous billboard-like print, so that Summer's soft blond curls spanned five feet and Summer's wisteria blue eyes stared out at them like God's.
"Where's the Tomcat?" one of the volunteers asked Jenny. She was a college girl, and she always asked about Tom.
"I don't know," Jenny said briefly. The same question had been stabbing at her since lunch.
"If I were you, I'd know. What a hunk. I'd be keeping tabs on him... ." Jenny stopped listening. As usual, she wanted to get away from the Center as soon as possible. It was a warm, earnest, busy place, full of hope and good cheer-and it was a farce.
There was a sick feeling in Jenny's stomach as she turned to the large map on the wall. The map showed which areas had been postered and which hadn't. Jenny pretended to study it, even though she already knew where she had to go. If the Crying Girl had been P.C.'s friend, she might live near him.
She scarcely noticed as the Center door opened and one of the volunteers whispered, "It's that psychic who called. The one from Beverly Hills."
"Will you look at that Mercedes?" Michael said.
Jenny turned and saw a woman with frosted blond hair, who was decorated with ropes of expensive-looking gold chains. At the same moment the psychic turned and saw her-and gasped.
Her eyes got very large. She took several steps toward Jenny, until her Giorgio perfume overpowered Audrey's Chloe Narcisse. She stared into Jenny's face.
"You," she whispered, "have seen them. Those from the Other Side."
Jenny stood frozen. Lightning-struck.
"I have a message for you," the psychic said.