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Dark Angel (Chapter 13)

I he next day, Gillian tried to concentrate on normal things.

She hurried to school, feeling unrested-had she had nightmares?-and desperately in need of distraction.

All day at school, she threw herself into activities, chattering and laughing and keeping people around her,

talking about Christmas and parties and finals.

It worked. Angel was very gentle, keeping quietly in the background. All the other students were

hyperactive with the thought of only two more days of school. And by the afternoon Gillian had become

caught up in her own frantic good spirits.

"We don't even have a tree," she said to David. "And it's five days to Christmas Eve. I have to drag my

mom out and buy one."

"Don't buy one," David said, smiling at her with his dark eyes. "I'll take you out tonight to a place I

know. It's beautiful, and the trees are free." He winked.

"I'll bring the station wagon," Gillian said. "Lots of room. I like big trees."

At home, she stayed busy, prodding her mother to wrap packages and dust off the plastic Christmas

flower arrangements. There was no talk with Angel about how to tell her mother about witches.

She was still happy when she picked David up after dinner. He seemed a little subdued, but she wasn't

in the mood to ask questions. Instead, she talked about the party Steffi Lockhart was giving on Friday

night.

It was a long drive, and she was running out of speculations about Steffi's party when David finally said,

"Somewhere along here, I think."

"Okay. I'll take one of those." Gillian pointed at the sixty-look-alike fern trees that lined the road.

David smiled. "There are some smaller ones farther in."

There were so many that Gillian had a hard time choosing. At last, she settled on a balsam fir with a

perfect silhouette, like a plump lady holding out her skirts. It was wonderfully aromatic as she and David

chopped it down and half dragged, half carried it to the car.

"I just love that smell," she said. "And I don't even care that my gloves are ruined."

David didn't answer. He was quiet as he tied the back of the station wagon closed around the tree. He

was quiet as they got in the car and Gillian began to drive.

And Gillian couldn't stand it anymore. Little waves of acid were lapping in her stomach. "What's wrong?

You haven't been talking all night."

"I'm sorry." He let out his breath, looking out the window. "I guess … I was just thinking about Tanya."

Gillian blinked. "Tanya? Should I be jealous?" He glanced at her. "No, I mean-her arm." A strange sort

of prickling cascaded over Gillian, and in that moment everything changed forever. She seemed to ask

the next question in a huge, quivering stillness. "What about her arm?"

"You didn't hear? I thought somebody would've called you. They took her to the hospital this afternoon."

"Oh, my God."

"Yeah, but it's worse. That thing they thought was a rash was necrotizing something-or-other … you

know, that flesh-eating bacteria."

Gillian opened her mouth, but no sound came out. The road in front of her seemed very dim.

"Cory said she can't have any visitors-her arm swelled up to three times its normal size. They had to cut

it open all the way from her shoulder to her finger to drain it. They think she might lose her finger-"

"Stop it!" A suppressed scream.

David looked at her quickly. "I'm sorry-"

"No! Just don't talk!" Gillian's automatic reflexes had taken over driving the car. She was hardly aware

of anything outside her own body. All her concentration was fixed on the drama inside her own mind.

(Angel! Did you hear that? What is going on?)

(Of course I heard it.) The voice was slow and thoughtful.

(Well, is it true? Is it?)

(Look, let's talk about this later, all right, kid? Let's wait-)

(No! Everything with you is "Wait" or "We'll talk about it later." I want to know right now: is it true?)

(Is what true?)

(Is Tanya that sick? Is she about to lose her finger?)

(It's just an infection, Gillian. Streptococcus pyogenes. You were the one who put it there.)

(You're saying it is true. It's true. I did it with my spell. I gave her flesh-eating bacteria.) Gillian threw the

thoughts out wildly, disjointedly. She couldn't really grasp what it all meant yet.

(Gillian, we had to stop her from destroying David. It was necessary.)

(No! No! You knew I didn't really want to hurt her. What are you talking about? How can you even say

that?) Gillian was in hysteria again, a strange hysteria of the mind. She was vaguely

aware that she was still driving, that fences and trees were flying by. Her body was sitting in the car,

breathing quickly, speeding, but her real self seemed to be in another place.

(You lied to me. You told me she was all right. Why did you do that?)

(Calm down, dragonfly-)

(Don't call me that! How can you just-just sit there… and not care? What kind of person are you?)

And then-Angel's voice changed. He didn't get hysterical or agitated; it was much worse. His voice

became calmer. More melodious. Pleasant.

(I'm just dispensing justice. It's what angels do, you know.)

Icy horror swept over Gillian.

He sounded insane.

"Oh, God," she said, and she said it out loud. David looked at her.

"Hey-are you okay?"

She scarcely heard him. She was thinking with fevered intensity: (I don't know what you are, but you are

not an angel.)

(Gillian, listen to me. We don't have to fight. I love you-)

(Then tell me how to fix Tanya!)

Silence.

(I'll find out myself. I'll go back to Melusine-)

(No!)

(Then tell me! Or heal Tanya yourself if you're a real angel!)

A pause. Then: (Gillian, I've got an idea. A way to make David love you more.)

(What are you talking about?)

(We need to give him a near-death experience. Then he'll be able to truly understand you. We need to

make him die.)

Everything blurred. Gillian knew they were nearing Somerset, they were on familiar streets. But for a

moment her vision went completely gray and sparkling.

"Gillian!" A hand was on hers, a real hand, steadying the wheel. "Are you all right? Do you want me to

drive?"

"I'm okay." Her vision had cleared. She just wanted to get home. She had to get to that shoe box and fix

the spell on Tanya somehow. She had to get home … to safety…

But nowhere was safe.

(Don't you understand?) The voice was soft and insidious in her ear. (David can never really be like you

until he's died the way you have. We have to make him die-)

"No!" She realized she was speaking aloud again. "Stop talking to me! Go away!"

David was staring at her. "Gillian-"

(I don't want to hurt you, Gillian. Only him. And he'll come back, I promise. He might be a little different.

But he'll still love you.)

Different… David's body. Angel wanted David's body. As David left, Angel would take possession….

They were almost home. But she couldn't get

away from the voice. How do you get away from something that's in your own mind? She couldn't shut it

out. …

(Just let go, Gillian. Let me take over. I'll drive for you. I love you, Gillian.)

"No!" She was panting, her hands gripping the steering wheel so hard it hurt. The word came out jerkily.

"David! You have to drive. I can't-"

(Relax, Gillian. You won't be harmed. I promise.)

And she couldn't let go of the steering wheel. The voice seemed to be inside her body, diffusing through

her muscles. She couldn't take her foot off the accelerator.

"Gillian, slow down!" David was yelling now. "Look out!"

(It will only take a second…)

Gillian's world had been switched into an old-time movie. The flickering black-and-white kind. With

each frame, the telephone pole in front of her got bigger and bigger. It was happening very slowly, but at

the same time with utter inevitability. They were rushing oh-so-slowly toward that pole, and they were

going to hit. On the right side of the car, where David was sitting.

(No! I'll hate you forever…)

She screamed it in her mind and the last word seemed to echo endlessly. There was time for that.

And then there was a loud sound and darkness.

"Can I see him?"

"Not yet, honey." Her mother scooted the plastic chair closer to the emergency room bed. "Probably not

tonight."

"But I have to."

"Gillian, he's unconscious. He wouldn't even know you were there."

"But I have to see him." Gillian felt the hysteria swelling again, and she damped her mouth shut. She

didn't want a shot, which is what the nurses had said they were going to give her when she started

screaming earlier.

She had been here for hours. Ever since the cars with the flashing lights came and pried the station

wagon door open and pulled her out. They'd pulled David out, too. But while she had been completely

unhurt-"A mirade! Not even a scratch!" the paramedic had said to her mother-David had been

unconscious. And had stayed that way ever since.

The emergency room was cold and it didn't seem to matter how many heated blankets they wrapped

around her. Gillian kept shivering. Her hands were blue-white and pinched looking.

"Daddy's coming home," her mother said, stroking her arm. "He's taking the first plane he could get.

You'll see him tomorrow morning."

Gillian shivered. "Is this the same hospital- where Tanya Jun is? No, don't ask. I don't really want to

know." She stuck her hands under her armpits. "I'm so cold…"

And alone. There was no soft voice hi her head. And that was good, because, God, the last thing

she wanted was Angel-or rather that thing, whatever it was, that monster that had called itself an angel.

But it was strange after so long. To be all alone… and not know where he might be lurking. He could

be listening to her thoughts right now…

"I'll get another blanket." The nurse had shown her mother the heated closet. "If you could just lie down,

honey, maybe you'd feel like sleeping a little."

"I can't sleep! I have to go see David."

"Hon, I already told you. You're not going to see him tonight."

"You said I might not get to see him. You didn't say I wouldn't! You only said probably!" Gillian's voice

was rising, getting more shrill, and there was nothing she could do about it. The tears were coming, too,

flooding down uncontrollably. She was choking on them.

A nurse came hurrying in, the white curtains around the bed swirling. "It's all right; it's natural," she said

softly to Gillian's mother. And to Gillian: "Now, just lean over a little-hold still. A little pinch. This is

something to help you relax."

Gillian felt a sting at her hip. A short time later everything got blurry and the tears stopped.

She woke up in her own bed. It was morning. Pale sunlight was shining full in the window. Last night…

oh, yes. She could vaguely remember

her mom and Mrs. Beeler, their next-door neighbor, leading her from the hospital to Mrs.

Beeler's car. She remembered them taking her upstairs and undressing her and putting her to bed. After

that she'd had hours of wonderful not-thinking.

And now she was awake and rested and her head was clear. She knew exactly what she had to do even

before she swung her legs out from under the covers.

She glanced at the ancient Snoopy clock on her nightstand and got a shock. Twelve thirty-five. No

wonder she was rested.

Efficiently, without making a sound, she put on Levis and a gray sweatshirt. No makeup. She ran a

comb once through her hair.

She paused, then, to listen. Not just to the house, but to herself. To the world inside her own brain.

Dead quiet. Not a creature stirring. Not that that meant a thing, of course.

Gillian knelt and pulled the shoe box out from under her bed. The wax dolls were garish, red and green,

like a hideous parody of Christmas. Her first impulse at the sight of that poisonous green was to get rid of

it. Snap off one doll's hand and the other's head.

But what that would do to Tanya and Kim, she didn't want to think. Instead, she forced herself to get a

Q-tip from the bathroom, soak it in water, and dab the iridescent green powder away.

She cried as she did it. She tried to concentrate as she had when she'd done the spell, seeing the real

Tanya's hand, seeing it heal and become whole.

"Now may I be given the power of the words of Hecate," she whispered. "It is not I who utter them, it is

not I who repeat them; it is Hecate who utters them, it is she who repeats them."

When the powder was off, she put the dolls back in the box. Then she blew her nose and rummaged

through the pile on her desk until she found a small pink-flowered address book.

She sat on the floor crosslegged, dragged the phone close, and thumbed through the book.

There.

Daryl Novak's cellular phone number.

She dialed quickly and shut her eyes. Answer. Answer.

"Hello," a languid voice said.

Her eyes flew open. "Daryl, this is Gillian. I need you to do me an enormous favor, and I need you to do

it now. And I can't even explain why-"

"Gillian, are you okay? Everybody's been worried about you."

"I'm fine, but I can't talk. I need you to go find Amy Nowick; she's got"-Gillian thought frantically-"uh,

honors chemistry this period. I need you to tell her to drive to the corner of Hazel and Applebutter Street

and wait for me there."

"You want her to leave school?"

"Right now. Tell her I know it's a lot to ask, but I need this. It's really important."

She expected questions. But instead, all Daryl said was, "Leave it to me. I'll find her."

"Thanks, Daryl. You're a lifesaver."

Gillian hung up and found her ski jacket. Tucking the shoe box under her arm, she walked very quietly

downstairs.

She could hear voices from the kitchen. A low voice-her dad's. Part of her wanted to run to him.

But what would her parents do if they saw her? Keep her safe and bundled up, keep her here. They

wouldn't understand what she had to do.

There was no question of telling them the truth, of course. That would just get her another shot. And,

eventually, maybe a visit to the mental hospital where her mother had stayed. Everyone would think

delusions ran in the family.

She moved stealthily to the front door, quietly opened it, slipped out.

Sometime during the night it had rained and then frozen. Ice hung like dewdrops from the twigs of the

hickory tree in the yard.

Gillian ducked her head and hurried down the street. She hoped no one was watching, but she had the

feeling of eyes staring from between bare branches and out of shadows.

At the comer of Hazel and Applebutter she stood with her arms wrapped around the box, hopping a

little to keep warm.

It's a lot to ask…

It was a lot to ask, especially considering the way she'd treated Amy recently. And it was funny,

considering all the new friends she'd made, that it was Amy she turned to instinctively when she was in

trouble.

But… there was something solid and genuine and good in Amy. And Gillian knew that she would show

up.

The Geo swung around the corner and skidded to a stop. Typical Amy-without-glasses driving. Then

Amy was jumping out, her face turned anxiously toward Gillian's. Her blue eyes were huge and seemed

luminous with tears.

And then they were hugging and crying. Both of them.

"I'm so sorry. I've been so rotten this last week-"

"But I was rotten to you before that-"

"I feel awful. You have every right to be mad at me-"

"Ever since I heard about the accident, I've been so worried."

Gillian pulled back. "I can't stay. I don't have time. And I know how this sounds coming from somebody

who hit a pole last night… but I need your car. For one thing, I've got to go see David."

Amy nodded, blotting her eyes. "Say no more."

"I can drop you off at home-"

"It's the wrong way. It won't hurt me to walk. I want to walk."

Gillian almost laughed. The sight of Amy dabbing her face with her muffler and stamping her foot on the

icy sidewalk, determined to walk, warmed her heart.

She hugged her again, fast. "Thank you. I'll never forget it. And I'll never be the terrible person I've been

to you again, at least-"

She broke off and got in the car. She'd been about to finish the sentence "-at least, if I live through this."

Because she wasn't at all sure that she would.

But the first thing was to get to David.

She had to see him with her own eyes. To make sure he was all right… and that he was himself.

She gunned the motor and set out for Houghton.

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