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Dark Angel (Chapter 8)

Gillian stood perfectly still and watched David disappear around a corner.

(It's not time for the plan yet, kid. Now buck up. A cheery face is worth diamonds.)

Gillian tried to put on a cheery face.

The strange day continued. In each class, Gillian appealed to the teacher for a new book. In each class,

she was bombarded with offers of notes and other help. And through it all Angel whispered in her ear,

always suggesting just the right thing to say to each person. He was witty, irreverent, occasionally

cutting-and so was Gillian.

She had an advantage, she realized. Since nobody had ever noticed her before, it was almost like being

a new girl. She could be anything she wanted to be, present herself as anyone, and be believed.

(Like Cinderella at the ball. The mystery princess.) Angel's voice was amused but tender.

In journalism class, Gillian found herself beside Daryl Novak, a languid girl with sloe eyes and drooping

contemptuous lashes. Daryl the Rich Girl, Daryl the World-weary World Traveler. She talked to Gillian

as if Gillian knew all about Paris and Rome and California.

At lunch, Gillian hesitated as she walked into the cafeteria. Usually she sat with Amy in an obscure

corner at the back. But recently Eugene had been sitting with Amy, and up front she could see a group

that included Amanda the Cheerleader, Kim the Gymnast, and others from The Clique. David and Tanya

were at the edge. (Do I sit with them? Nobody asked me.) (Not with them, my little rutabaga. But near

them. Sit at the end of that table just beside them. Don't look at them as you walk by. Look at your

lunch. Start eating it.)

Gillian had never eaten her lunch alone before-or at least not in a public place. On days Amy was

absent, if she couldn't find one of the few other juniors she felt comfortable with, she snuck into the

library and ate there.

In the old days she would have felt horribly exposed, but now she wasn't really alone; she had Angel

cracking jokes in her ear. And she had a new confidence. She could almost see herself eating, calm and

indifferent to stares, thoughtful to the point of being dreamy. She tried to make her movements a little

languid, like Daryl the Rich Girl's.

(And I hope Amy doesn't think I'm snubbing her. I mean, it's not as if she's back there alone. She's got

Eugene.)

(Yeah. We're gonna have to talk about Amy sometime, kid. But right now you're being paged. Smile

and be gracious.)

"Jill! Earth to Jill!"

"Hey, Jill, c'mon over."

They wanted her. She was moving her lunch over to their table, and she wasn't spilling anything and she

wasn't falling as she slid in. She was little and graceful, thistledown light in her movements, and they were

surging around her to form a warm and friendly bulwark.

And she wasn't afraid of them. That was the most wonderful thing of all. These kids who'd seemed to

her like stars in some TV show about teenagers, were real people who got crumbs on themselves and

made jokes she could understand.

Gillian had always wondered what they found so funny when they were laughing together. But now she

knew it was just the heady atmosphere, the knowledge that they were special. It made it easy to laugh at

everything. She knew David, sitting quietly there with Tanya, could see her laughing.

She could hear other voices occasionally, from people on the fringes of her group, people on the outside

looking in. Mostly bright chatter and murmurs of admiration. She thought she heard her name mentioned.

… And then she focused on the words. "I heard her mom's a drunk." They sounded horribly loud and

dear to Gillian, standing out against the background noise. She could feel her whole skin tingling with

shock and she lost track of the story Kim the Gymnast was telling.

(Angel-who said that? Was it about me-my mom?) She didn't dare look behind her.

"-started drinking a few years ago and having these hallucinations-"

This time the voice was so loud that it cut through the banter of Gillian's group. Kim stopped in

mid-sentence. Bruce the Athlete's smile faltered. An awkward silence fell.

Gillian felt a wave of anger that made her dizzy. (Who said that? I'll kill them-)

(Calm down! Calm down. That's not the way to handle it at all.) (But-)

(I said, calm down. Look at your lunch. No, at your lunch. Now say-and make your voice absolutely

cool-"I really hate rumors, don't you? I don't know what kind of people start them.")

Gillian breathed twice and obeyed, although her

voice wasn't absolutely cool. It had a little tremor.

"I don't know either," a new voice said. Gillian

glanced up to see that David was on his feet, his

face hard as he surveyed the table behind her as

if looking for the person who'd spoken. "But I think they're pretty sick and they should get a life."

There was the cold glint in his eyes that had given him his reputation as a tough guy. Gillian felt as if a

hand had steadied her. Gratitude rushed through her-and a longing that made her bite down on her lip.

"I hate rumors, too," J.Z. Oberlin said in her absent voice. J. Z. the Model was the one who looked like

a Calvin Klein ad, breathlessly sexy and rather blank, but right now she seemed oddly focused.

"Somebody was putting around the rumor last year that I tried to kill myself. I never did find out who

started it." Her hazy blue-green eyes were narrowed.

And then everyone was talking about rumors, and people who spread rumors, and what scum they

were. The group was rallying around Gillian.

But it was David who stood up for me first, she thought.

She had just looked over at him, trying to catch his eye, when she heard the tinkling noise.

It was almost musical, but the kind of sound that draws attention immediately in a cafeteria. Somebody

had broken a glass. Gillian, along with everyone else, glanced around to see who'd done it.

She couldn't see anybody. No one had the right expression of dismay, no one was focused on anything

definite. Everybody was looking around in search mode.

Then she heard it again, and two people standing near the cafeteria doors looked down and then up.

Above the doors, far above, was a semi-circular window in the red brick. As Gillian stared at the

window she realized that light was reflecting off it oddly, almost prismatically. There seemed to be crazy

rainbows in the glass…

And something was sparkling down, falling like a few specks of snow. It hit the ground and tinkled, and

the people by the door stared at it on the cafeteria floor. They looked puzzled.

Realization flashed on Gillian. She was on her feet, but the only words that she could find were, "Oh, my

God!"

"Get out! It's all going to go! Get out of there!" It was David, waving at the people under the window.

He was running toward them, which was stupid, Gillian thought numbly, her heart seeming to stop.

Other people were shouting. Cory and Amanda and Bruce-and Tanya. Kim the Gymnast was shrieking.

And then the window was going, chunks of it falling almost poetically, raining and crumbling, shining and

crashing. It fell and fell and fell. Gillian felt as if she were watching an avalanche in slow motion.

At last it was over, and the window was just an arch-shaped hole with jagged teeth clinging to the

edges. Glass had flown and bounced and skittered all over the cafeteria, where it lay like hailstones. And

people from tables amazingly distant were examining cuts from ricocheting bits.

But nobody had been directly underneath, and nobody seemed seriously hurt.

(Thanks to David.) Gillian was still numb, but now with relief. (He got them all out of the way in time.

Oh, God, he isn't hurt, is he?)

(He's fine. And what makes you think he did it all alone? Maybe I had some part. I can do that, you

know-put it into people's heads to do things. And they never even know I'm doing it.) Angel's voice

sounded almost-well-piqued.

(Huh? You did that? Well, that was really nice of you.) Gillian was watching David across the room,

watching Tanya examine his arm, nod, shrug, look around.

He's not hurt. Thank heaven. Gillian felt so relieved it was almost painful.

It was then that it occurred to her to wonder what had happened.

That window-before the glass fell it had looked just like the mirror in her bathroom. Evenly shattered

from side to side, spidery cracks over every inch of the surface.

The bathroom mirror had cracked while Tanya was being catty about Gillian's room. Now Gillian

remembered the last thing she'd wanted to ask Angel last night. It had been about how the mirror came

to do that.

This window … it had started falling a few minutes after someone insulted Gillian's mother. Nobody had

heard it actually break, but it couldn't have happened too long ago.

The small hairs on the back of Gillian's neck stirred and she felt a fluttering inside.

It couldn't be. Angel hadn't even appeared to her yet…

But he'd said he was always with her… An angel wouldn't destroy things… But Angel was a

different kind of angel. (Ah, excuse me. Hello? Do you want to share some thoughts with me?)

(Angel!) For the first time since his soft voice had sounded in her ear, Gillian felt a sense ofover-

crowdedness. Of her own lack of privacy. The uneasy fluttering inside her increased. (Angel, I was

just-just wondering…) And then the silent words burst out. (Angel, you wouldn't-would you? You

didn't do those things for my sake- "break the mirror and that window-?)

A pause. And then, in her head, riotous laughter. Genuine laughter. Angel was whooping. Finally, the

sounds died to mental hiccups. (Me?) Gillian was embarrassed. (I shouldn't have asked. It was just so

weird…)

(Yeah, wasn't it.) This time Angel sounded grimly amused. (Well, never mind; you're already late for

class. The bell rang five minutes ago.) Gillian coasted through her last two classes in a

daze. So much had happened today-she felt as if she'd led a full life between waking up and now.

But the day wasn't over yet.

In her last class, studio art, she once again found herself talking to Daryl the Rich Girl. Daryl was the

only one of that crowd that took art or journalism. And in the last minutes before school ended, she

regarded Gillian from under drooping eyelashes.

"You know, there are other rumors going around about you. That you and Davey-boy have something

going behind Tanya's back. That you meet secretly in the mornings and…" Daryl shrugged, pushing

back frosted hair with a hand dripping with rings.

Gillian felt jolted awake. "So?"

"So you really should do something about it. Rumors spread fast, and they grow. I know. You want to

either deny them, or"-Daryl's lips .quirked in a smile-"disarm them."

(Oh, yeah? And just how do I do that?)

(Shut up and listen to her, kid. This is one smart cookie.)

"If there're parts that are true, it's usually best to admit those in public. That takes some of the punch out.

And it's always helpful to track down the person starting the rumors-if you can."

(Tell her you know that. And that you're going to see Tanya after school.)

(Tanya? You mean-?)

(Just tell her.)

Somehow Gillian gathered herself enough to repeat Angel's words.

Daryl the Rich Girl looked at her with a new expression of respect. "You're sharper than I thought.

Maybe you didn't need my help after all."

"No," Gillian said without Angel's prompting. "I'm always glad for help. It's-it's a rough world."

"Isn't it, though?" Daryl said and raised already arched eyebrows.

(So it was Tanya who spread that stuff about my mom.) Gillian almost stumbled as she trudged out of art

class. She was tired and bewildered. Somehow, she'd have thought Tanya was above that.

(She had help. It takes a really efficient system to get a rumor to peak circulation that fast. But she was

the instigator. Turn left here.)

(Where am I going?)

(You're gonna catch her coming out of marketing education. She's alone in there right now. The teacher

asked to see her after class, then unexpectedly had to run to the bathroom.)

Gillian felt distantly amused. She sensed Angel's hand in these arrangements.

And when she poked her head inside the marketing ed room, she saw that Tanya was indeed alone. The

tall girl was standing by a cloudy green blackboard.

"Tanya, we need to talk."

Tanya's shoulders stiffened. Then she ran a hand across her already perfect dark hair and turned. She

looked more like a future executive than ever, with her face set in cool lines and her exotic gray eyes

running over Gillian in appraisal. Without Angel, Gillian would have dried up and withered away under

that scrutiny.

Tanya said one word. "Talk."

What followed was more like a play than a conversation for Gillian. She repeated what Angel whispered

to her, but she never had any idea what was coming. The only way to survive was to give herself up

completely to his direction.

"Look, I know you're upset with me, Tanya. But I'd like to deal with this with a little maturity, okay?"

She followed Angel's instructions over to a desk and brushed absent fingers over its imitation-wood top.

"I don't think there's any need for us to act like children."

"And I don't think I know what you're talking about."

"Oh, really?" Gillian turned and looked Tanya in the face. "I think you know exactly what I'm talking

about." (Angel, I feel just like one of those people in a soap opera-)

"Well, you're wrong. And, as a matter of fact, I happen to be busy-"

"I'm talking about the rumors, Tanya. I'm talking about the stories about my mom. And I'm talking about

David."

Tanya stood perfectly still. For a moment she seemed surprised that Gillian was taking such a direct

approach. Then her gray eyes hardened with the clear light of battle.

"All right, let's talk about David," she said in a pleasant voice, moving tigerishly toward Gillian, "I don't

know about any rumors, but I'd like to hear what you and David were doing this morning. Care to tell

me?"

(Angel, she's actually enjoying this. Look at her! And she's bigger than me.) (Trust me, kid.)

"We weren't doing anything," Gillian said. She had to tip her chin up to look Tanya in the face. Then she

looked aside and shook her head. "All right. I'll be honest about that. I like David, Tanya. I have ever

since he moved in. He's good and he's noble and he's honest and he's sweet. But that doesn't mean I

want to take him away from you. In fact, it's just the opposite."

She turned and walked away, looking into the distance. "I think David deserves the best. And I know he

really cares about you. And that's what happened this morning-he told me you guys had made a promise

to each other. So you see, you've got no reason to be suspicious."

Tanya's eyes were glittering. "Don't try to pull that. All this …" She waved a hand to indicate Gillian's

dress and hair. "In one day you turn from Little Miss Invisible to this. And you start prancing around the

school like you own it. You can't pretend you're not trying to get him."

"Tanya, the way I dress has nothing at all to do with David." Gillian told the lie calmly, facing the

chalk-misted blackboard again. "It's just-something I needed to do. I was-tired of being invisible." She

turned her head slightly, not enough to see Tanya. "But that's beside the point. The real issue here is

what's best for David. And I think you're best for him-as long as you treat him fairly."

"And what is that supposed to mean?" Tanya was losing her legendary cool. She sounded venomous,

almost shrill.

"It means no more fooling around with Bruce Faber." (Oh, my God, Angel! Bruce Faber? Bruce the

Athlete? She's been fooling around with Bruce Faber?)

Tanya's voice cracked like a whip. "What are you talking about? What do you know?"

"I'm talking about those nights at the pool parties last summer in Macon's cabana. While David was up

north at his grandma's. I'm talking about what happened in Bruce's car after the Halloween dance." (In a

cabana?)

There was a silence. When Tanya spoke again, her voice was a sort of icy explosion. "How did you find

out?"

Gillian shrugged. "People who're good at spreading rumors can be a two-edged sword."

"I thought so. That brat Kim! Her and her mouth…" Then Tanya's voice changed. It became a voice

with claws and Gillian could tell she

was moving closer. "I suppose you're planning to tell David about this?"

"Huh?" For a moment Gillian was too confused to follow Angel's directions. Then she got hold of herself.

"Oh, of course I'm not going to tell David. That's why I'm telling you. I just want you to promise that

you're not going to do anything like that anymore. And I'd appreciate it if you'd stop telling people things

about my mom-"

"I'll do worse than that!" Suddenly Tanya was standing right behind Gillian. Her voice was a yelling hiss.

"You have no idea what I'll do if you try to mess with me, you snotty little midget. You are going to be so

sorry-"

"No, I think you've done plenty already."

The voice came from the door. Gillian heard it, and in that instant she understood everything.

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