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The Initiation (Chapter Two)

When Cassie got to the place where the boy had turned, she walked up the dunes between the pitiful little clumps of scraggly beach grass. At the top she looked around, but there was nothing to be seen but pitch pines and scrub oak trees. No boy. No dog. Silence.

She was hot.

All right; fine. She turned back toward the sea, ignoring the twinge of disappointment, the strange emptiness she felt suddenly. She'd go get wet and cool off. Portia's problem was Portia's business. As for the red-haired guy – well, she'd probably never see him again, and he wasn't her business either.

A little inside shiver went through her; not the kind that shows, but the kind that makes you wonder if you're sick. I must be too hot, she decided; hot enough that it starts to feel cold. I need a dip in the water.

The water was cool, because this was the open-Atlantic side of the Cape. She waded in up to her knees and then continued walking down the beach.

When she reached a dock, she splashed out of the water and climbed up to it. Only three boats were tied there: two rowboats and a powerboat. It was deserted.

It was just what Cassie needed.

She unhooked the thick, frayed rope meant to keep people like her off the dock and walked onto it. She walked far out, the weather-beaten wood creaking beneath her feet, the water stretching out on either side of her. When she looked back at the beach, she saw she'd left the other sunbathers far behind. A little breeze blew in her face, stirring her hair and making her wet legs tingle. Suddenly she felt – she couldn't explain it. Like a balloon being caught by the wind and lifted. She felt light, she felt expanded. She felt free.

She wanted to hold her arms out to the breeze and the ocean, but she didn't quite dare. She wasn't as free as all that. But she smiled as she got to the end of the dock.

The sky and the ocean were exactly the same deep jewel-blue, except that the sky lightened down at the horizon where they met. Cassie thought that she could see the curve of the earth, but it might have been her imagination. Terns and herring gulls wheeled above.

I should write a poem, she thought. She had a notebook full of scribbled poems at home under her bed. She hardly ever showed them to anyone, but she looked at them at night. Right now, though, she couldn't think of any words.

Still, it was lovely just to be here, smelling the salt sea-smell and feeling the warm planks beneath her and hearing the soft plashing of the water against the wooden piers.

It was a hypnotic sound, rhythmic as a giant heartbeat or the breathing of the planet, and strangely familiar. She sat and gazed and listened, and as she did she felt her own breathing slow. For the first time since she'd come to New England, she felt she belonged. She was a part of the vastness of sky and earth and sea; a tiny part in all the immensity, but a part just the same.

And slowly it came to her that her part might not be so small. She had been immersed in the rhythm of the earth, but now it seemed to her almost as if she controlled that rhythm. As if the elements were one with her, and under her command. She could feel the pulse of life in the planet, in herself, strong and deep and vibrant.

The beat slowly rising in tension and expectancy, as if waiting for… something.

For what?

Staring out to sea, she felt words come to her. Just a little jingle, like something you'd teach a child, but a poem nonetheless.

Sky and sea, keep harm from me.

The strange thing was that it didn't feel like something she'd made up. It felt more like something she'd read – or heard – a long time ago. She had a brief flash of an image: being held in someone's arms, and looking at the ocean. Being held up high and hearing words.

Sky and sea, keep harm from me. Earth and fire, bring…

No.

Cassie's entire skin was tingling. She could sense, in a way she never had before, the arch of the sky and the granite solidity of the earth and the immeasurable span of the ocean, wave after wave after wave, to the horizon and beyond. And it was as if they were all waiting, watching, listening to her.

Don't finish it, she thought. Don't say any more. A sudden irrational conviction had taken hold of her. As long as she didn't find the last words of the poem, she was safe. Everything would be as it always had been; she would go home and live out her quiet, ordinary life in peace. As long as she could keep from saying the words, she'd be all right.

But the poem was running through her mind, like the tinkling of icy music far away, and the last words fell into place. She couldn't stop them.

Sky and sea, keep harm from me. Earth and fire, bring… my desire.

Yes.

Oh, what have I done ?

It was like a string snapping. Cassie found herself on her feet, staring wildly out at the ocean. Something had happened; she had felt it, and now she could feel the elements receding from her, their connection broken.

She no longer felt light and free, but jangled and out of tune and full of static electricity. Suddenly the ocean looked more vast than ever and not necessarily friendly. Turning sharply, she headed back toward the shore.

Idiot, she thought as she neared the white sand of the beach again and the frightened feeling slipped away. What were you afraid of? That the sky and the sea were really listening to you? That those words were actually going to do something?

She could almost laugh at it now, and she was embarrassed and annoyed with herself. Talk about an overactive imagination. She was still safe, and the world was still ordinary. Words were only words.

But when a movement caught her eye then, she would always remember that deep down she had not been surprised.

Something was happening. There was motion on the shore.

It was the red-haired guy. He'd burst out between the pitch pines and was running down the slope of a dune. Suddenly inexplicably calm, Cassie hurried the rest of the way down the dock, to meet him as he reached the sand.

The dog beside him was loping easily, looking up at the guy's face as if to say this was a great game, and what next? But from the boy's expression and the way he was running, Cassie could tell it wasn't a game.

He looked up and down the deserted beach. A hundred yards to the left a headland jutted out, so you couldn't see what was beyond. He glanced at Cassie and their eyes met. Then, turning abruptly, he started toward the headland.

Cassie's heart was beating hard.

"Wait!" she called urgently.

He turned back, scanning her quickly with his blue-gray eyes.

"Who's after you?" she said, though she thought she knew.

His voice was crisp, his words concise. "Two guys who look like linebackers for the New York Giants."

Cassie nodded, feeling the thump of her heart accelerate. But her voice was still calm. "Their names are Jordan and Logan Bainbridge."

"It figures."

"You've heard of them?"

"No. But it figures they'd be named something like that."

Cassie almost laughed. She liked the way he looked, so windblown and alert, scarcely out of breath even though he'd been running hard. And she liked the daredevil sparkle in his eyes and the way he joked even though he was in trouble.

"Raj and I could take them, but they've got a couple of friends with them," he said, turning again. Walking backward, he added, "You'd better go the other way – you don't want to run into them. And it would be nice if you could pretend you hadn't seen me."

"Wait!" cried Cassie.

Whatever was going on wasn't her business… but she found herself speaking without hesitation. There was something about this guy; something that made her want to help him.

"That way's a dead end – around the headland you'll run into rocks. You'll be trapped."

"But the other way's too straight. I'd still be in sight when they got here. They weren't far behind me."

Cassie's thoughts were flying, and then suddenly she knew. "Hide in the boat."

"What?"

"In the boat. In the powerboat. On the dock." She gestured at it. "You can get in the cabin and they won't see you."

His eyes followed hers, but he shook his head. "I'd really be trapped if they found me there. And Raj doesn't like to swim."

"They won't find you," Cassie said. "They won't go near it. I'll tell them you went down the beach that way."

He stared at her, the smile dying out of his eyes. "You don't understand," he said quietly. "Those guys are trouble."

"I don't care," Cassie said, and she almost pushed him toward the dock. Hurry, hurry, hurry, something in her brain was urging. Her shyness had vanished. All that mattered was that he got out of sight. "What are they going to do to me, beat me up? I'm an innocent bystander," she said.

"But – "

"Oh, please. Don't argue. Just do it!"

He stared at her one last instant, then turned, slapping his thigh for the dog. "C'mon, boy!" He ran down the dock and jumped easily into the powerboat, disappearing as he ducked into the cabin. The dog followed him in one powerful spring and barked.

Sh! thought Cassie. The two in the boat were hidden now, but if anyone went up the dock, they would be plainly visible. She hooked the loop of frayed rope over the top of the last pier, screening off the dock.

Then she cast a frantic glance around and headed for the water, splashing in. Bending down, she dug up a handful of wet sand and shells. She let the water wash the sand out of the loose cage of her fingers and held on to the two or three small shells that remained. She reached for another handful.

She heard shouting from the dunes.

I'm gathering shells, I'm only gathering shells, she thought. I don't need to look up yet. I'm not concerned.

"Hey!"

Cassie looked up.

There were four of them, and the two in front were Portia's brothers. Jordan was the one on the debate team and Logan was the one in the Pistol Club. Or was it the other way around?

"Hey, did you see a guy come running this way?" Jordan asked. They were looking in all directions, excited like dogs on a scent, and suddenly another line of poetry came to Cassie.

Four lean hounds crouched low and smiling. Except that these guys weren't lean; they were brawny and sweaty. And out of breath, Cassie noticed, vaguely contemptuous.

"It's Portia's friend – Cathy," said Logan. "Hey, Cathy, did a guy just go running down here?"

Cassie walked toward him slowly, her fists full of shells. Her heart was knocking against her ribs so hard she was sure they could see it, and her tongue was frozen.

"Can't you talk? What're you doing here?"

Mutely, Cassie held out her hands, opening them.

They exchanged glances and snorts, and Cassie realized how she must look to these college-age guys – a slight girl with unremarkable brown hair and ordinary blue eyes. Just a little high-school ditz from California whose idea of a good time was picking up worthless shells.

"Did you see somebody go past here?" Jordan said, impatient but slow, as if she might be hard of hearing.

Dry-mouthed, Cassie nodded, and looked down the beach toward the headland. Jordan was wearing an open windbreaker over his T-shirt, which seemed odd in such warm weather. What was even odder was the bulge beneath it, but when he turned, Cassie saw the glint of metal.

A gun!

Jordan must be the one in the Pistol Club, she thought irrelevantly.

Now that she saw something really to be scared about, she found her voice again and said huskily, "A guy and a dog went that way a few minutes ago."

"We've got him! He'll be stuck on the rocks!" Logan said. He and the two guys Cassie didn't know started down the beach, but Jordan turned back to Cassie.

"Are you sure?"

Startled, she looked up at him. Why was he asking? She deliberately widened her eyes and tried to look as childish and stupid as possible. "Yes…"

"Because it's important." And suddenly he was holding her wrist. Cassie looked down at it in amazement, her shells scattering, too surprised at being grabbed to say anything. "It's very important," Jordan said, and she could feel the tension running through his body, could smell the acridity of his sweat. A wave of revulsion swept through her, and she struggled to keep her face blank and wide-eyed. She was afraid he was going to pull her up against him, but he just twisted her wrist.

She didn't mean to cry out, but she couldn't help it. It was partly pain and partly a reaction to something she saw in his eyes, something fanatical and ugly and hot like fire. She found herself gasping, more afraid than she could remember being since she was a child.

"Yes, I'm sure," she said, breathless, staring into that ugliness without letting herself look away. "He went down there and around the headland."

"Come on, Jordan, leave her alone!" Logan shouted. "She's just a kid. Let's go!"

Jordan hesitated. He knows I'm lying, Cassie thought, with a curious fascination. He knows, but he's afraid to trust what he knows because he doesn't know how he knows it.

Believe me, she thought, gazing straight back at him, willing him to do it. Believe me and go away. Believe me. Believe me.

He let go of her wrist.

"Sorry," he muttered ungraciously, and he turned and loped off with the others.

"Sure," Cassie whispered, standing very still.

Tingling, she watched them jog across the wet sand, elbows and knees pumping, Jordan's wind-breaker flapping loose behind him. The weakness spread from her stomach to her legs, and her knees suddenly felt like Silly Putty.

She was aware, all at once, of the sound of the ocean again. A comforting sound that seemed to enfold her. When the four running figures turned the corner and disappeared from her sight, she turned back to the dock, meaning to tell the red-haired guy that he could come out now.

He already had.

Slowly, she made her jellied legs carry her to the dock. He was just standing there, and the look on his face made her feel strange.

"You'd better get out of here – or maybe hide again," she said hesitantly. "They might come right back…"

"I don't think so."

"Well…" Cassie faltered, looking at him, feeling almost frightened. "Your dog was very good," she offered uncertainly, at last. "I mean, not barking or anything."

"He knows better."

"Oh." Cassie looked down the beach, trying to think of something else to say. His voice was gentle, not harsh, but that keen look never left his eyes and his mouth was grim. "I guess they really are gone now," she said.

"Thanks to you," he said. He turned to her, and their eyes met. "I don't know how to thank you," he added, "for putting up with that for me. You don't even know me."

Cassie felt even more queer. Looking up at him made her almost dizzy, but she couldn't take her eyes from his. There was no sparkle now; they looked like blue-gray steel. Compelling – hypnotic. Drawing her closer, drawing her in.

But I do know you, she thought. In that instant a strange image flashed through her mind. It was as if she were floating outside herself and she could see the two of them, standing there on the beach. She could see the sun shining on his hair and her face tilted up to him. And they were connected by a silver cord that hummed and sang with power.

A band of energy, linking them. It was so real she could almost reach out and touch it. It bound them heart to heart, and it was trying to draw them closer.

A thought came to her, as if some small voice from deep inside her was speaking. The silver cord can never be broken. Your lives are linked. You can't escape each other any more than you can escape destiny.

Suddenly, as quickly as it had come, the picture and the voice vanished. Cassie blinked and shook her head, trying to wrench her mind back. He was still looking at her, waiting for an answer to his question.

"I was glad to help you," she said, feeling how lame and inadequate the words were. "And I didn't mind – what happened." His eyes dropped to her wrist, and there was a flash from them almost like silver.

"I did," he said. "I should have come out earlier."

Cassie shook her head again. The last thing she'd wanted was for him to be caught and hurt. "I just wanted to help you," she repeated softly, confused. Then she said, "Why were they chasing you?"

He looked away, drawing in a deep breath. Cassie had the sense of trespassing. "That's all right. I shouldn't have asked – " she began.

"No." He looked back at her and smiled, his wry one-sided smile. "If anybody has a right to ask, you do. But it's a little difficult to explain. I'm… off my turf here. Back home, they wouldn't dare come after me. They wouldn't dare look at me cross-eyed. But here I'm fair game."

She still didn't understand. "They don't like people who are – different," he said, his voice quiet again. "And I'm different from them. I'm very, very different."

Yes, she thought. Whatever he was, he wasn't like Jordan or Logan. He wasn't like anyone she had ever met.

"I'm sorry. That's not much of an explanation, I know," he said. "Especially after what you did. You helped me, and I won't forget about it."

He glanced down at himself and laughed shortly. "Of course, it doesn't look like there's much I can do for you, does it? Not here. Although…" He paused. "Wait a minute."

He reached in his pocket, fingers groping for something. All in an instant Cassie's dizziness overwhelmed her, blood rushing to her face. Was he looking for money? Did he think he could pay her for helping him? She was humiliated, and more stricken than when Jordan had grabbed her wrist, and she couldn't help the tears flooding her eyes.

But what he pulled out of his pocket was a stone, a rock like something you might pick up on the ocean floor. At least that was what it looked like at first. One side was rough and gray, embedded with tiny black spirals like little shells. But then he turned it over, and the other side was gray swirled with pale blue, crystallized, sparkling in the sunlight as if it were overlaid with rock candy. It was beautiful.

He pressed it into her palm, closing her fingers around it. As it touched her she felt a jolt like electricity that ran through her hand and up her arm. The stone felt alive in some way she couldn't explain. Through the pounding in her ears she heard him speaking, quickly and in a low voice.

"This is chalcedony. It's a – good-luck piece. If you're ever in trouble or danger or anything like that, if there's ever a time when you feel all alone and no one else can help you, hold on to it tight – tight" – his fingers squeezed hers – "and think of me."

She stared up at him, mesmerized. She was hardly breathing, and her chest felt too full. He was so close to her; she could see his eyes, the same color as the crystal, and she could feel his breath on her skin and the warmth of his body reflecting the sun's heat. His hair wasn't just red, but all sorts of colors, some strands so dark they were almost purple, others like burgundy wine, others gold.

Different, she thought again; he was different from any guy she'd ever known. A sweet hot current was running through her, a feeling of wildness and possibility. She was trembling and she could feel a heartbeat in her fingers, but she couldn't tell if it was hers or his. He had seemed to hear her thoughts before; now she felt almost as if he were in her mind. He was so close and he was looking down at her…

"And what happens then?" she whispered.

"And then – maybe your luck will change." Abruptly he stepped back, as if he'd just remembered something, and his tone altered. The moment was over. "It's worth a try, don't you think?" he said lightly.

Unable to speak, she nodded. He was teasing now. But he hadn't been before.

"I've got to go. I shouldn't have stayed this long," he said.

Cassie swallowed. "You'd better be careful. I think Jordan had a gun – "

"Wouldn't surprise me." He brushed it off, stopping her from saying anything further. "Don't worry; I'm leaving the Cape. For now, anyway. I'll be back; maybe I'll see you then." He started to turn. Then he paused one last moment and took her hand again. Cassie was too startled at the feeling of his skin against hers to do anything about it. He turned her hand over and looked at the red marks on her wrist, then brushed them lightly with his fingertips. The steely light was back in his eyes when he looked up. "And believe me," he whispered, "he'll pay for this someday. I guarantee it."

And then he did something that shocked Cassie more than anything else had during that whole shocking day. He lifted her wounded hand to his lips and kissed it. It was the gentlest, the lightest of touches, and it went through Cassie like fire. She stared at him, dazed and unbelieving, utterly speechless. She could neither move nor think; she could only stand there and feel.

And then he was leaving, whistling for the dog, which romped around Cassie in circles before finally breaking away. She was alone, gazing after him, her fingers clenched tightly on the small rough stone in her palm.

It was only then she realized she'd never asked him his name.

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