And you will, sooner or later-probably sooner, because the old man isn't stupid and Frost will pick things up. You'll betray yourself."
There was a blue flame of defiance in her eyes now. "I'm telling you, I am not a spy," she said.
"Oh, right. You're perfectly sincere. I believe you completely." Quick as a striking snake, he bent over her, thrusting his face close to hers. "That's fine, as long as you remember one thing. Keep out of my way. If you mess with my plans, angel-no mercy."
Then he left, stalking out of the room to be alone with his dark bitterness.
Kaitlyn cried herself to sleep.
The shouting voice in the hall woke Kaitlyn. She felt languid and stupid, with a stuffed-up nose and a bad headache.
The door banged open. "Lydia-school! Kaitlyn, you're going to school, too. I arranged it yesterday, and I'm coming in with you today."
Thanks for telling me, Kaitlyn thought, but she got Up-painfully, because every muscle seemed to be aching. She stumbled to the bathroom and began to go through the routine of dressing like a programmed robot. Shower, first.
The warm water felt good on her upturned face, but her mind kept leaping back to what had happened with Gabriel last night. At first everything had been so wonderful-and then ... it had hurt her to see his eyes like holes in his face and his mouth tight to keep it from working.
You ought to be glad it all turned awful, a voice inside her whispered. Because if it had stayed good-well, what would you do? What would you do about Rob?
She didn't know what she would have done. Her entire middle was a tight ball of anguish and she was so confused.
It didn't matter. Gabriel hated her now, anyway. And that was good, because she was going to be true to Rob. It was good-except for the minor fact that Gabriel might denounce her to Mr. Z and get her killed.
Tears mingled with the shower spray on her face. Kaitlyn turned her head aside to take a deep, shuddering breath, and that was why she didn't see the shower curtain being pulled open.
The first thing she knew was a rough hand closing around her wet arm.
"What do you think you're doing? Get out of there!" Bri shouted, adding a string of expletives. Kaitlyn had to step over the side of the tub or fall over it-she was being dragged out. Naked and stunned, she shook her hair back and stared at the other girl.
"You think you can use all the hot water again? Like you did last night?" That was the gist of what Bri was yelling, although actually every other word was a
curse. Kaitlyn stood dripping on the tile floor, dumbfounded.
"You think you're better than us, don't you?" Bri shouted. "You're Little Miss Responsible, teacher's pet.
You can use all the water you want to. You've never had it hard."
The sentences were disjointed, and again Kaitlyn had that sense of something being off, as if Bri couldn't actually get a fix on what was making her angry. But her anger and resentment were clear enough.
"Everybody's darling," she mocked, cocking her head back and forth, with a finger to her chin-a bizarre Shirley Temple impersonation. "Looks so sweet- "
Something snapped. Kaitlyn's temper had always been combustible, and now it ignited like rocket accelerant touched with a match. Naked as she was, she seized Bri and slammed her against a wall. Then she pulled her away and slammed her back again. Bri's mouth fell open and her eyes showed white. She fought, but fury gave Kaitlyn inhuman strength.
"You think I've always had things easy?" she yelled into Bri's face. "You don't know how it was back in Ohio. I was from the wrong side of the tracks anyway, but to top it off, I was a witch. You think I don't know what it's like to have people cross themselves when you look at them? When I was five the bus driver wouldn't take me to school-she said my mom ought to get me blessed. And then my mom died-"
Tears were sliding down Kaitlyn's cheeks, and she was losing her anger. She slammed Bri again and got it back.
"Kids at school would run up and touch me for a dare. And adults would get so nervous when I talked to them-Mr. Rukelhaus used to get a twitch in his eye. I grew up feeling like something that ought to be put in the zoo. Don't tell me I don't know what it's like. Don't tell me!"
She was winding down, her breath slowly calming. So was Bri's.
"You dye your hair blue and do stuff to look weird-but you're doing it yourself, and you can change it. I can't change my eyes. And I can't change what I am."
Suddenly embarrassed, Kaitlyn let go of Bri's arms and looked around for a towel.
"You're okay," Bri said in a voice Kaitlyn hadn't heard her use before. Not a sneering tough-girl voice.
Kait looked around, startled.
"Yeah, you're okay. I thought you were a goody-goody wimp, but you're not. And I think your eyes are cool."
She looked more sane than she had since Kait had met her.
"I-well, thanks. Thank you." Kait didn't know whether to apologize or not; she settled for saying, "You can use the shower now."
Bri gave a friendly nod.
It's strange, Kait thought as Joyce drove her to school. Bri, Lydia, and Renny had gone in Lydia's car.
It's strange, but for a while there she sounded just like Marisol. What was it Marisol said that first night?
You kids think you're so smart-so superior to everyone else.
But we didn't think that; it was just Marisol's paranoia-a very particular kind of paranoia. Kaitlyn shot a look at Joyce under her eyelashes. And Joyce has that kind, too-thinking she isn't getting what she's due.
They all think the world is out to get them-that they're special and superior but everybody is persecuting them. Can the crystal do that?
If it can, it's no wonder they're out to get the world first.
Joyce checked her in to school, and Kaitlyn found herself going to the same classes she had when she'd come to the Institute. The teachers put her absence down as a vacation, which was mildly amusing. It was surrealistic, like being in a dream, to sit in British literature again, with all these kids whose lives were quiet and boring and completely safe. Who hadn't had anything happen to them in the last few weeks; who hadn't changed at all. Kaitlyn felt out of step with the whole world.
Watch it, kid. Don't you get paranoid.
At lunch several people asked her to sit with them. Not just one group, but two, called to her in the cafeteria. It was the sort of thing Kaitlyn had always dreamed about, but now it seemed trivial. She was looking for Lydia-she wanted to talk to that girl.
Lydia wasn't in evidence. Bri and Renny were off in a corner, bullying people and probably extorting lunch money. Kaitlyn wondered how their teachers dealt with them.
I'll look around by the tennis courts, she thought. Maybe Lydia's eating her lunch out there.
She was crossing in front of the PE building when she saw three people crowded in the doorway of the boy's locker room. They were looking out from behind the little wall that kept people from seeing in the open doors, and they seemed ready to duck back at any moment. The weird thing was that one of them was a girl. A girl with long dark braids . . .
And the tallest boy had hair that shone in the sun like old gold. Kaitlyn's heart leaped into her mouth and choked her. She ran.
"Rob-you shouldn't be here," she gasped as she got behind the wall. And then she was hugging him hard, overcome by how dear and familiar and honest and loyal and safe he was. His emotions wide open- not icy and shielded. She could feel how much he cared for her, how glad he was that she was alive and unhurt.
"I'm fine," she said, pulling back. "Really. And I'm sorry for running away without telling you-and I don't know why you're not mad."
Lewis and Anna were crowding around her, smiling, patting her as if to make sure she was real. They were all so dear and good and forgiving. . . .
"We were worried about you," Anna said.
"We camped out yesterday near the Institute Hoping you'd come out," Lewis said. "But you never did."
"No-and you can't do that ever again," Kait said shakily. "Gabriel saw you. I don't think anybody else did, thank God, but he's bad enough."
"We won't have to do it again," Rob said, smiling. "Because we've got you now. We'll take you with us-even though we don't exactly have a place to go yet. Tony's working on that."
Kait thought he had never looked so handsome. His eyes were amber-gold, clear and full of light like the summer sky. His face was full of trust and happiness. She could feel the radiant energy of his love.
"Rob... I can't." The change in his expression made her feel as if she'd hit an innocent child in the face.
"You can." Then, as she kept shaking her head: "Why not?"
"For one thing, if I disappear, they'll think I've
betrayed them and they'll do something to my father. I know they will; I feel it in Joyce. And for another thing-Rob, it's working. I've got them snowed. They believe I've come back to join them and I've already had a chance to look around the house." She didn't dare tell him what had come of that; she had the feeling that if Rob knew, she'd be slung over his shoulders caveman style, being carried out of San Carlos.
"But what are you looking for? Kait, why did you come back here?" Anna said.
"Couldn't you figure that out? I'm looking for the crystal."
Rob nodded. "I thought it was something like that. But you don't need to live there, Kait. We'll break in sometime; we'll find a way."
"No, you won't. Rob, there are five psychics there, besides Lydia and Joyce, and they're all crazy-paranoid. Literally. We need somebody on the inside, who can move around the house freely, and who can figure out what's going on. Because I don't just want to find the crystal, I want to find the way to destroy it. I need to know everybody's schedule, figure out a time when we can get to it with the shard.
We can't just go running in some afternoon waving it over our heads. They'll slaughter us."
"We'll fight back," Rob said grimly, his jaw at its most stubborn.
"They'll still slaughter us. They're loonies. You haven't seen what they've done to the house-" Kaitlyn caught herself. Too much description of the danger-she was about to get slung over Rob's shoulder. She changed tracks fast. "But they trust me. This morning one of the girls said I was okay. And Joyce wants me around because the rest of them are so far into the twilight zone. So I think everything will work out-if you'll just please let me get on with it."
Rob took a long, deep breath. "Kaitlyn, I can't. It's just too dangerous. I'd rather walk in and fight it out with Gabriel myself-"
"I know you would." And that's just what you're not going to do, Kait thought. "But it's not just Gabriel-you haven't seen the others. There's a guy called Jackal Mac who's about eight feet tall and has a shaved head and muscles like a gorilla. And I don't even know what his psychic power is, but I know that they're all hopped up on the crystal. It makes them stronger, and it makes them crazier."
"Then I don't want you with them."
"I have to be. Someone has to be. Don't you see that?" Kaitlyn felt her eyes filling-they seemed to do that a lot these days-and then she decided to do something dishonorable. To use those tears. She let them come, and she asked Rob, "Don't you trust me?"
She could see how it hurt him. His own eyes had a suspicious shine, but he answered steadily, "You know I do."
"Then why won't you let me do this? Don't you think I'm capable enough?"
It was completely unfair, as well as being unkind. And it worked. Rob had to admit that he thought she was very capable. The only one of them who could pull such a thing off. He even had to admit, finally, that it was a thing that probably needed to be done."Then why won't you let me?"Rob gave in."But we'll come back and check on you next Monday.""It's too dangerous, even at school-""Don't push it, Kait," Rob said. "Either you let us check on you regularly or you don't stay at all. We'll be here on Monday at lunch. If you don't show up, we're coming in after you."Kaitlyn sighed, knowing Rob wasn't going to budge. "Okay. And I'll call when I find the crystal and I know a time we can get to it. Oh, Lewis-I should have thought of this before. How do you make the secret panel slide back?"Lewis's almond-shaped eyes widened in dismay. "Huh? Kait-I don't know!""Yes, you do. Something inside you knows, because you do it.""But I can't say it in words-and besides, you don't have PK.""Neither does Joyce or Mr. Z, and the panel was made for them. And if you can't say it in words, just think it to me. Just think about it and let me listen."Lewis was reluctant and doubtful, but he screwed up his face and began to think. "I just sort of feel around with my fingers-I mean with my mind-behind the wood. Like this. And I feel something metallic here. And then when I get to about here ...""It opens! So the springs or whatever have to be in those places. You're a good visual thinker; I can see just what parts of the panel you mean." Kait made a note of the images, freezing them in her memory as she hugged him. "Thanks, Lewis."And I'll mention you to Lydia, she added soundlessly, because a picture of Lydia was running underneath all Lewis's other thoughts.She felt his shy embarrassment, like a mental blush, Thanks, Kait.Then she hugged Rob again. I'm glad you came.Be careful, he sent back to her, and she wished she could just go on hugging him, standing here and feeling safe. He was so good and she cared about him so much.When she hugged Anna she projected a private message. Take care of him for me-please?Anna nodded, biting her lip to keep the tears back.Kait left without looking behind her.The rest of the school day was uneventful, but Kait felt exhausted. She was fumbling in her locker after the last bell rang, when Bri came running interference through the crowd."Hurry up," she said in her boyish voice. "Come on; Joyce is waiting for you. She sent me to get you.""What's the rush?" Kait asked nervously. Bri's dark eyes were snapping; her cheeks were flushed with excitement."Black Lightning strikes! Mr. Zetes has a job for us."Kait hurried toward Joyce's car with a knot in her stomach. She didn't know what kind of jobs Mr. Zhad the kids do, but she knew she wasn't going to like it.As it turned out, though, Joyce wasn't rushing them to the job. She was taking four of them shopping.Gabriel, Renny, Frost, and Kaitlyn. They dropped Bri at the Institute where she stood on the sidewalk screaming with rage."It's not her fault, but she just doesn't look the part," Joyce said rather calmly as she headed for the freeway. "I told her not to put that blue in her hair."Kaitlyn, squashed between Frost and Renny in the tiny backseat, felt as if she had lost her only friend.Not that she would rely on Bri, actually, or trust her as far as she could throw her. But the other three were openly hostile; Gabriel wasn't speaking to her, Renny kept whispering obscene suggestions in her ear, and Frost gave her a spiteful pinch whenever she thought Joyce wouldn't notice."What part doesn't she look?" Kait asked faintly."You'll see." Joyce drove them to a mall and pulled up in front of Macy's. There she ensconced Gabriel and Renny in the men's department and hustled Kait and Frost to the women's. She pushed Kait past Liz Claiborne and into Anne Klein."Now we're going to find you each a suit. Tweed, I think. Brown, anyway. Very conservative, only a little slit in the skirt."Kaitlyn didn't know whether to laugh or groan. She'd never had a suit before, so this should have been exciting-but tweed?It wasn't so bad when she got it on. Joyce pulled her hair back and Kait eyed herself in the mirror thoughtfully. She looked very trim and serious, like the librarian in a movie who starts out with her hair in a bun and horn-rim glasses and then blossoms by the end of the picture.Frost's transformation was even more amazing. Her normal attire was a style Kait had privately dubbed"slunge"-a cross between sleaze and grunge. But in a double-breasted brown wool suit, she looked like another librarian-from the neck down."When we get home, you'll lose the lipstick-all of it-and half the mascara," Joyce told her. "And you'll put that rat's nest into a French twist. Also lose the gum."The boys were equally transmogrified by three-piece Mani suits and leather shoes. Joyce paid for everything and hustled them out of the store."When do you tell us what we're doing?" Gabriel asked in the car."You'll hear the details at home. But basically it's a burglary." Kaitlyn's stomach knotted again."So what now?" Anna asked. They were sitting in a Taco Bell in Daly City. Tony had promised to find them a place to stay with one of his friends-an apartment in San Francisco. But he hadn't found the place yet, and Rob was worried about staying any longer at Tony's house. So they spent as much time as possible outdoors, where they might be hard to find.For the first time since Kaitlyn had disappeared Rob had an appetite.But he would never in a hundred years have imagined he'd have left her at the Institute. The little witch-he still wasn't quite sure how she'd persuaded him. Of course, she was capable, but even a capable person could easily get killed there.She'd asked him to trust her, that was it. All right, then, by God, he'd trust her. It was hard to let her go-he didn't think anyone realized how hard. He would very much have preferred to go himself. But...I believe in you, Kaitlyn Fairchild, he thought. Just please God keep yourself safe.He was so deep in his own thoughts that Anna had to poke him and ask silently, I said, what now, Rob?"Huh? Oh, sorry." He stopped sucking on his Coke, considered. "Well, we've been too busy watching Kait to take care of Marisol. I guess we'd better do that now. Tony said his parents wouldn't be at the hospital till tonight, so it's a good time.""Should we get Tony to go with us?" Lewis asked.Rob thought. "No, I guess not. If it doesn't work, it'll be pretty hard on him to watch. We'll find some way to make them let us in." Tony had warned them that Marisol wasn't allowed visitors, except family.They drove to St. Luke's Hospital in San Francisco, and Rob took the crystal shard out of the glove compartment. It was a crazy place to keep it, but they had to take it with them wherever they went. He slipped it into the sleeve of his sweater-it was just about as long as his forearm-and they strolled into the hospital.On the third floor Rob beckoned a nurse- "Ma'am? Could I ask you a question?"-and sweet-talked her while Lewis and Anna snuck in Marisol's room. Then when all the nurse's phones began to ring at once, he snuck in himself. The ringing was provided by Lewis's PK, a neat trick, in Rob's opinion.Inside the room, he felt Anna's shock. She was trying bravely to conceal it, but it showed through. He squeezed her shoulder and she smiled at him gratefully, then she stopped smiling and moved away so abruptly that he was startled.Upset, probably. Marisol looked bad. Rob remembered her as a vivid, handsome girl, all tumbled red-brown hair and full pouting lips. But now . . .She was painfully thin. There were all sorts of tubes and wires and monitors attached to her. Her right arm was on top of the blanket, with the wrist cocked at an impossible angle, turned in against the forearm. And she moved-her head twisted constantly, writhing on her neck, her brown eyes partway open but unseeing. Her breathing was frightening to hear: She seemed to be sucking air in through clenched teeth as she grimaced.I thought people in comas were quiet, Lewis thought shakily.Rob knew better. He'd been in a coma himself, after meeting a mountain at fifty miles an hour. He'd been hang gliding at Raven's Roost off the Blue Ridge Parkway, and he'd hit wind shear and stalled out. He'd broken both arms, both legs, his jaw, enough ribs to puncture a lung. . . and his neck. A hangman's fracture-so called because it's the same place your neck breaks when they hang you. Nobody expected him to live, but a long while later he'd woken to find himself in a Stryker frame and his granddaddy crying.He'd spent months in bed and during those months he'd discovered his powers. Maybe they'd been there all along, and he'd just never sat still long enough to notice them, or maybe they were a gift because God was sorry about smashing a li'l ol' farm boy into that mountain. Either way, it had changed his life, made him see what a dumb sucker he'd always been, how selfish and shortsighted. Before, he'd aspired to being a guard for the Blue Devils at Duke. After, he aspired to help some.Now, he felt shame flood up to drown him. How could he have left Marisol like this a day longer than she needed to be? He shouldn't have waited, not even to watch out for Kait. There was no excuse for it-he was still a dumb sucker and a selfish jerk. Fat lot of help he'd given Marisol.This time Anna squeezed his shoulder. None of us realized, she said. And we don't even know if we can help her, now. But let's try.He nodded, strengthened by her gentle practicality. Then, with one glance up at a picture of the Madonna and Child above the bed, he pulled the crystal out of his sleeve. It was cold and heavy in his hand. He wasn't sure where to apply it-LeShan hadn't said anything about that. After some thought he gently touched it to her forehead, the site of the third eye. A powerful energy center.And nothing happened.Rob waited, and waited some more. The tip of the shard rested between lank strands of red-brown hair.Marisol's head kept twisting. There was no change in her energy level."It's not working," Lewis whispered.Fear pricked at Rob like tiny hornet stings. Was it his fault? Had he left it too long?Then he thought, maybe the crystal needs a little help.He took a deep breath, shut his eyes, and concentrated.He never could explain exactly how he did his healing-how he knew what to do. But somehow he could feel what was wrong with a person. He could see different kinds of energy running through them like bright-colored rivers-and sometimes not flowing, but dark and stagnant, stuck. Marisol was almost all stuck. There was some sort of blockage between brain and body, and nothing was flowing either way.How to fix that? Well, maybe start with the third eye, send energy through the crystal until it pushed hard enough against the plugs to blow them free.Gold energy, flooding down the crystal. The crystal swirled it in a spiral and amplified it, heightening it with every turn. So that was how this thing worked!More energy. More. Keep it flowing. He could see it flowing into Marisol, now, or at least trying to. Her third eye was stopped up as if somebody had wedged a cork in there. The energy built up behind it, roiling and gold and getting hotter by the minute. Rob felt sweat break out on his forehead. It dripped into his eyes and burned.Ignore it. Send more energy. More, more.