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Dark Angel (Chapter 6)

Your hair!" Amy screamed. "Gillian, your hair! What did you do to it?"

Amy's own hair was short, cropped close in back and full in front. She had large, limpid blue eyes that

always looked as if she were about to cry, because she was nearsighted but couldn't wear contacts and

wouldn't wear glasses. Her face was sweet and usually anxious; just now it looked more anxious than

normal.

Gillian put a self-conscious hand to her head. "Don't you like it?"

"I don't know! It's gone!"

"This is true."

"But why?"

"Calm down, Amy." (If this is the way everybody's going to react, I think I'm in trouble.) Gillian had

discovered that she could talk to Angel without moving her lips and that he could answer in her head. It

was convenient.

(Tell her you cut it because it froze. That ought to flip her guilt circuits.) Angel's voice sounded the same

as it did when she could see him. Soft, wry, distinctly his. It seemed to be located just behind her left ear.

"I had to cut it because it was frozen," Gillian said. "It broke off," she added brightly, inspired.

Amy's blue eyes got even wider with horror. She looked stricken. "Oh, my God, Gillian-" Then she

cocked her head and frowned. "Actually, I don't think that's possible," she said. "I think it'd stay pliable

even frozen. Unless, like, you dipped it in liquid nitrogen. …"

"Whatever," Gillian said grimly. "I did it. Listen, I've got it slicked back behind my ears right now, but the

ends are sort of uneven. Can you smooth them out a little?"

"I can try," Amy said doubtfully.

Gillian sat down, pulling together the neck of the rose-colored bathrobe she was wearing over her

clothes. She handed Amy the scissors. "Got a comb?"

"Yes. Oh, Gillian, I was trying to tell you. I'm so sorry about yesterday. I just forgot-but it's all my

fault-and you almost died!" The comb quivered against the back of Gillian's neck.

"Wait a minute. How did you find out about that?"

"Eugeneheard it from Steffi Lockhart's little brother, and I think Steffi heard it from David Blackburn.

Did he really save you? That's so incredibly romantic."

"Yeah, sort of." (Uh, what do I tell people about that? What do I tell them about the whole thing?)

(The truth. Up to a point. Just leave me and the near-death stuff out.)

"I've been thinking all morning," Amy was saying, "and I realized that I've been an absolute pig this last

week. I don't deserve to be called a best friend. And I want you to know that I'm sorry, and that things

are going to be different now. I came to pick you up first, and then we're going to getEugene ."

(Oh, joy.)

(Be nice, dragonfly. She's trying. Say thank you.)

Gillian shrugged. It didn't seem to matter much what Amy did, now that she had Angel. But she said,

"Thanks, Amy," and held still as the cold scissors went snip behind her ear.

"You're so sweet," Amy murmured. "I thought you'd be all mad. But you're such a good person. I felt so

terrible, thinking about you alone out there, freezing, and being so brave, trying to save a little kid-"

"Did they find a kid?" Gillian interrupted.

"Huh? No, I don't think so. Nobody was talking about anything like that last night. And I haven't heard

about any kid being missing, either."

(Told you, dragonfly. Are you satisfied now?)

(Yes, I am. Sorry.)

"But it was still brave," Amy said. "Your mom thinks so, too."

"My mom's up?"

"She went to the store. She said she'd be back in a few minutes." Amy stepped back and looked at

Gillian, scissors held in the air. "You know, I'm not sure I should be doing this…"

Before Gillian could summon up a reply, she heard the sound of the front door opening and the rustling

of paper bags. Then her mother appeared, her cheeks red with cold. She had two grocery bags in her

arms.

"Hi, girls," she began, and broke off. She focused on Gillian's hair. Her mouth fell open.

"Don't drop the bags," Gillian said. She tried to sound careless, but her stomach was clenched like a fist.

Her neck felt stiff and unnatural as she held very still. "Do you like it?"

"I-I-" Gillian's mother put the bags on the counter. "Amy … did you have to cut it all?"

"Amy didn't do it. I did it last night. I just got tired of it long-" (And getting all wet and icy) "-and getting

all wet and icy. So I cut it. So do you like it, or not?"

"I don't know," her mother said slowly. "You look so much older. Like a Parisian model."

Gillian glowed.

"Well." Her mother shook her head slightly. "Now that it's done–here, let me shape it a little.

Just touch up the ends." She took the scissors from Amy.

(I'm going to be bald when this is finished!)

(No, you're not, kid. She knows what she's doing.)

And, strangely, there was something comforting about feeling her mother gently wield the scissors.

About her mother's scent, which was fresh like lavender soap, without any hint of the terrible alcohol

smell. It reminded Gillian of the old days, when her mom taught at the junior college and was up every

morning and never had uncombed hair or bloodshot eyes. Before the fights started, before her mom had

to go to the hospital.

Her mother seemed to feel it, too. She gave Gillian's shoulder a pat as she whisked a bit of cut hair

away. "I got fresh bread. I'll make cinnamon toast and hot chocolate." Another pat, and then she spoke

with careful calm. "Are you sure you're all right? You must have been… pretty cold last night. We can

call Dr. Kaczmarek if you want; it wouldn't take a minute."

"No, I'm fine. Really. But where's Daddy? Did he already go to work?"

There was a pause, then her mother said, still calmly, "Your father left last night."

"Dad left?" (Dad left?)

(It happened last night while you were asleep.)

(A lot seems to have happened last night while I was asleep.)

(The world's kind of that way, dragonfly. It

keeps on going even when you're not paying attention.)

"Anyway, we'll talk about it later," her mother said. A final pat. "There, that's perfect. You're beautiful,

even if you don't look like my little girl anymore. You'd better bundle up, though; it's pretty cold out this

morning."

"I'm already dressed." The moment had come, and Gillian didn't really care if she shocked her mother

now or not. Her father had left again- and if that wasn't unusual, it was still upsetting. The closeness with

her mother had been spoiled, and she didn't want cinnamon toast anymore.

Gillian stepped to the middle of the kitchen and shrugged off the pink bathrobe.

She was wearing black hipsters and a black camisole. Over it was a sheer black shirt, worn loose. She

had on flat black boots and a black watch, and that was all she had on.

"Gillian."

Amy and her mother were staring.

Gillian stood defiantly.

"But you never wear black," her mother said weakly.

Gillian knew. It had taken a long time to cull these things from the forgotten hinterlands of her closet. The

camisole was from Great-grandma Elspeth, two Christmases ago, and had still had the price tag

attached.

"Didn't you sort of forget to put on a sweater on top?" Amy suggested.

(Stand your ground, kid. You look terrific.)

"No, I didn't forget. I'm going to wear a coat outside, of course. How do I look?"

Amy swallowed. "Well-great. Extremely hot. But kind of scary."

Gillian's mother lifted her hands and dropped them. "I don't really know you anymore."

(Hooray!)

(Yup, kid. Perfect.)

Gillian was happy enough to give her mother a flying kiss. "Come on, Amy! We'd better get moving if

we're going to pick upEugene ." She dragged the other girl behind her like the tail of a comet. Her mother

followed, calling worriedly about breakfast.

"Give us something to take with us. Where's that old black coat I never wore? The fancy one you got

me for church. Never mind, I found it."

In three minutes she and Amy were on the porch.

"Wait," Gillian said. She fished through the black canvas bag she was carrying in place of a backpack

and came up with a small compact and a tube of lipstick. "I almost forgot."

She put on the lipstick. It was red, not orange-red or blue-red, but red red, the color of holly berries or

Christmas ribbon. That shiny, too. It made her lips look fuller, somehow, almost pouty. Gillian pursed her

lips, considered her image, then kissed the compact mirror lightly and snapped it shut.

Amy was staring again. "Gillian… what is going on? What's happened to you?"

"Come on, we're going to be late."

'The outfit just makes you look like you're going out to burgle something, but that lipstick makes you

look… bad. Like a girl with a reputation."

"Good."

"Gillian! You're scaring me. There's something-" She caught Gillian's arm and peered into her eyes.

"Something about you-around you- oh, I don't know what I'm talking about! But it's different and it's

dark and it's not good."

She was so genuinely shaken that for a moment Gillian was frightened herself. A quick stab of fear like

the flick of a knife in her stomach. Amy was neurotic, sure, but she wasn't the type to hallucinate. What

if-

(Angel-)

A horn honked.

Startled, Gillian turned. Right at the edge of the driveway, behind Amy's Geo, was a somewhat battered

but still proud tan Mustang. A dark head was sticking out the window.

"Standing me up?" David Blackburn called.

"What-is-that?" Amy breathed.

Gillian waved to David-after a sharp nudge from Angel. "I think it's called a car," she said to Amy. "I

forgot. He said he'd drive me to school. So-I guess I should go with him. See you!"

It only made sense to go with David; after all, he had asked first. Besides, Amy's driving was life

threatening; she sped like a maniac and wove all over the road because she couldn't see without her

glasses.

It should have been satisfying. After all, yesterday Amy had stood her up for a guy-and a guy like

Eugene Elfred. But right this moment Gillian was too scared to be smug.

This was it. David was going to see her new self. And it was all happening too fast.

(Angel, what if I faint? What if I throw up? That's going to make a great first impression, isn't it?)

(Keep breathing, kid. Breathe. Breathe. Not that fast. Now smile.)

Gillian couldn't quite manage a smile as she opened the car door. Suddenly she felt exposed. What if

David thought she was cheap or even freakish? Like a little girl dressed up in her mom's clothes?

And her hair-all at once she remembered how David had touched it yesterday. What if he hated it?

Trying to breathe, she slipped into the car. Her coat came open as she sat down. She could hardly make

herself look toward the driver's seat.

But when she did, her breath stopped completely. David was wearing a look that she'd never seen on

any guy's face before, at least not directed toward her. She'd seen it, occasionally, when guys were

looking at other girls, girls at school like

Steffi Lockhart or J.Z. Oberlin. A stricken gaze, a compulsive movement of the throat, an expression

that almost made you sorry for them. An "I'm lying down and I don't care if you walk on me, babe,"

expression.

David was looking at her that way.

Immediately all her fear, including the little stab induced by Amy, was swept away. Her heart was still

pounding and little waves of adrenaline were still going through her, but now what it felt like was

excitement. Heady, buoyant anticipation. As if she had started on the roller coaster ride of

her life.

David actually had to shake himself before he remembered to put the car in gear. And then he kept

sneaking glances at her out of the side of his eye.

"You did something to your… and your…" He made a vague motion near his own head. Gillian's gaze

was caught by his hand, which was strong, brown, long-fingered, and handsome.

"Yeah, I cut my hair," she said. She meant to sound careless and sophisticated, but it came out shaky,

with a little laugh at the end. She tried again. "I figured I didn't want to look too young."

"Ouch." He made a face. "That's my fault, isn't it? You overheard that stuff yesterday. What Tanya and I

said."

(Tell him you've been thinking of doing it for a while.)

"Yeah, but I've been thinking of doing it for a while now," Gillian said. "It's no big deal."

David glanced at her as if to say he disagreed with that. But it wasn't a disapproving glance. It was more

like electrified awe… and a sort of discovery that seemed to grow every time he looked at her.

"And I never saw you at school?" he muttered. "I must've been blind."

"Sorry?"

"No, nothing. I'm sorry." He drove in silence for a while. Gillian forced herself to stare out the window

and realized they were onHillcrest Road . Strange how different the landscape looked today. Yesterday

it had been lonely and desolate; this morning it seemed harmless, and the snow looked soft and

comfortable, like old cushions.

"Listen," David said abruptly. He broke off and shook his head. And then he did something that

absolutely amazed Gillian. He pulled the car to the side of the road-or at least as far to the side as he

could get it-they were still in the flow of traffic-and parked it.

"There's something I have to say."

Gillian's heart now seemed to be beating everywhere, in her throat and her fingertips and her ears. She

had a dreamlike sensation that her body wasn't solid anymore, that she was just a floating mass of

heartbeat. Her vision shimmered. She was… waiting.

But what David said was unexpected. "Do you remember the first time we met?"

"I-yes." Of course she did. Four years ago; she'd been twelve and tiny for her age. She'd been lying on

the ground beside her house, making snow angels. Kind of childish, sure, but in those days a stretch of

new snow had affected her that way. And while she was lying on her back, arms out, making the imprint

of the angel's wings, a tree branch above her decided to shrug off its load of snow. Suddenly her face

was covered in damp, closely packed coldness and she couldn't breathe. She came up spluttering and

gasping.

And found herself steadied. Something was holding her, wiping her face gently. The first thing she saw

when she got her vision back was a brown hand and a lean brown wrist. Then a face came into focus:

high strong bones and dark, mischievous eyes.

"I'm David Blackburn. I just moved in over there," the boy said. He was wiping her face with his fingers.

"You'd better be careful, snow princess. Next time I might not be around."

Looking up at him, Gillian had felt her heart explode and leak out of her chest.

And she'd walked away on air, even though he'd patted her head after releasing her. She was in love.

"Well, back then, I sort of got the wrong impression," David was saying. "I thought you were a lot

younger and more-well, more fragile than you

are." There was a pause, and then he said wonder-ingly, not quite looking at her, "But, it's like, there's so

much more to you. I started realizing that yesterday."

Gillian understood. David didn't have a reputation for being wild for nothing. He liked girls who were

bold, dashing, out there. If he were a knight, he wouldn't fall in love with the pampered princess back at

the castle. He'd fall in love with a female knight, or maybe a robber, somebody who could share the

Adventure with him, who'd be just as tough as he-was.

Of course he had a strong protective streak. That was why he rescued maidens in distress. But he didn't

go for the maidens who needed rescuing.

"And now," David was saying, "Now, I mean, you're …" He held his hands up in a whoa motion. He

wasn't looking at her at all.

In a moment of perfect bliss, Gillian thought, I'm cool.

"You're kind of incredible," David said. "And I feel really stupid for not noticing that before."

Gillian couldn't breathe. There was something between her and David-a kind of quivering electricity. The

air was so thick with it that she felt pressure all over her. She had never been so awake before, but at the

same time she felt as if most of the world was insubstantial. Only she and David were real.

And the voice in her head seemed very far away. (Uh, dragonfly, we've got company. Incoming.)

Gillian couldn't move. A car drove by, swerving to avoid the Mustang. Gillian couldn't see well through

the Mustang's steamed-up windows, but she thought faces were looking at her.

David didn't seem to notice the car at all. He was still staring at the gearshift, and when he spoke his

voice was very quiet. "So I guess what I'm saying is, I'm sorry if anything I said hurt your feelings. And-I

see you now."

He raised his head. And Gillian suddenly realized he was going to kiss her.

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