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The Kill (Chapter 16)

The elemental energy, the quicksilver brightness, was gone from Julian's figure. Jenny was still holding his hand, but it suddenly seemed less substantial. She held tighter-and her fingers met.

Julian's body was dissolving into mist and shadows. In a moment even those had disappeared.

Just like that. Like smoke up a chimney.

Jenny sat back on her heels.

Then, slowly at first, but more quickly with each step, her friends gathered around her. Jenny felt Tom's arms, and felt that he was shaking.

She buried her head in his shoulder and held him as he held her.

It was Audrey and Michael who were the most helpful in what had to be done next. There were a lot of practical things to be handled.

Here in Pennsylvania the sun was just rising, and home in California it was 3:00 in the morning. Audrey and Michael went next door and woke the neighbors up and asked if they could use a phone.

Then Audrey called her parents and woke them up, and asked if they could please wire some money. And Michael called his father and woke him up, and asked him to explain to everybody else's parents that all the kids were safe.

That was something for Jenny to hang on to, once Audrey and Michael had reported back. The thought that Michael's father would be calling Mr. and Mrs. Parker-Pearson and telling them Summer was coming home. Michael's father was a writer and slightly odd, but an adult, and therefore somewhat credible. Maybe they would even believe him.

Jenny really couldn't wait to see Summer's little brother's face.

And she wanted to see her parents, too, and her own little brother.

There were other things. Angela, P.C.'s almost-girlfriend, who would have to be told that P.C. was really and truly dead. And there would be the police to deal with again, and impossible questions to answer.

But she couldn't think about all that now. She was still thinking about Julian.

Nothing died if it wasn't forgotten-and she would never forget him. There would always be some part of him in her mind. Because of him, all her life she'd be more sensitive to the beauty of the world. To its-sensuality and immediacy. Julian had been a very immediate person.

The most extraordinary person she would ever meet, Jenny thought. Whimsical, quixotic, wild-impossible.

He had been so many things. Seductive as silver and deadly as a cobra. And vulnerable like a hurt child underneath it all.

Like a hurt child who could strike out with lethal accuracy, Jenny thought as she watched Audrey moving slowly around the living room, tidying things. He'd hurt Audrey badly, and if he hadn't quite killed Summer, it had been close. He'd let his Shadow Animals kill Gordie Wilson, who'd only been guilty of skipping school and killing rabbits.

The truth was that Julian had probably been too dangerous to live. The universe would be a much safer place without him.

But poorer. And more boring, definitely more boring.

It was Summer who said the astonishing thing.

"You know," she said, after twisting around on the living room couch to see if the cab was coming, "Julian said the world was evil and horrible-remember? But then he proved himself that it wasn't."

Jenny came out of her own thoughts and looked at Summer, amazed. That was it, exactly, of course. And that was why she could go on living, and even look forward to things. In a universe where that could happen, you had to go on living and hoping and doing your best. In a universe where that could happen, anything was possible.

That was Julian's real gift, she thought.

But there was another one, too, and she saw it as she looked at the others. They had all changed-Julian had changed them. Like the rune Dagaz, the catalyst, he'd transformed everyone who met him.

Audrey and Michael-look at them. They were walking around holding hands. Audrey hadn't even bothered to put her hair up. Michael was patting her shoulder protectively.

And Dee and Audrey had been enemies a month ago. After tonight, Jenny didn't think they could ever be that way again.

Zach, now-Zach was looking at Summer with puzzled interest in his keen gray eyes. Like a scientist who finds himself unexpectedly fascinated by a new form of flower.

Won't last a week, Jenny thought. But it was good for Zach to notice girls, just the same. To have a human interest, something besides his own imagination and his photographs.

Julian had taught Zach that imagination wasn't always better than reality.

Summer is different, too, Jenny thought. She's not half as muddled as she used to be. That's why Zach's staring.

Now, Dee…

Jenny turned to look at her friend.

Dee was sitting instead of pacing, with one long leg stretched in front of her. She was looking very thoughtful, her head bent, her thickly lashed eyes narrowed.

Well, Dee was Dee, and would never change, Jenny thought lovingly.

But she was wrong. As she watched, Dee looked up at her and smiled.

"You know, I've been thinking. And I was thinking-it would mean a major change of plans, you see. It would mean a lot of studying, and I hate studying."

She stopped, and Jenny blinked, then leaned forward.

"Dee?"

"I'm thinking of maybe going to college after all. Maybe. I'm just barely entertaining the idea."

Dee had changed, too.

"Aba would be happy," Jenny said, and then she dropped it, because she was afraid that Dee would turn balky. Dee really hated being pushed.

"It's your own choice," was all she added.

"Yes, it is. Everything really is, isn't it? Our own choice."

Jenny looked down at the gold ring on her finger, then clasped her other hand over it. "A lot is."

And Tom was different-the fact that Jenny was wearing that ring showed how different. He hadn't said a word about it; she didn't even think he minded.

He understood.

If he hadn't, Jenny could never have been happy. As it was, she knew he wouldn't hate her if she tried to dream Julian into a wonderful dream. He might not want to hear about it, but he wouldn't be upset.

He didn't take her for granted anymore, and he didn't need to be possessive, either. Jenny thought that maybe he had changed the most of all.

Or maybe she had.

"The cab's here," Michael said. "Okay, so first we

have to go to the doctor… ." He stared at a scribbled list.

"No, first we go to the Western Union office, then the doctor," Audrey said, taking the list from him. "Then-"

"Then we eat," Michael said.

"Apres vous," Dee said, gesturing them through the door. When Audrey hiked a copper eyebrow at her, she grinned. "I can throw those fancy words around, too. Bonjour. O solo mio. Gesundheit."

"D'accord," Audrey said and grinned back at her.

Zach and Summer went out. Jenny stopped for just an instant on the threshold, long enough to look back.

The hallway was empty, the door to the basement was shut. That was good. If any adults would listen to Jenny, she would have them make sure that door was never opened again.

She turned and went outside.

As they headed for the cab, Michael said the kind of thing that only Michael could say. The kind of thing that came from having a science fiction author as a dad.

"Look. What if-someday-somebody carved Julian's name back onto that runestave?" he said.

Tom stopped dead on the lush green grass for a moment. Then he started walking again, as Jenny put an arm through his. "Don't even talk about it," he said. "It'll never happen."

"No, I guess not. Just as well."

And Jenny, her arm entwined with Tom's, agreed -but, deep inside, some tiny part of her wondered.

She couldn't give in to the twinge of wistful sorrow she felt-she had a life to build. Things to consider. She couldn't just follow Tom to college now. She had to find out what she wanted to do with herself.

What do I like? she thought. Swimming. Computers. Cats. Helping people. Kids. Flowers.

She didn't know how she was going to put all those together-she'd have to find a way. After all, she was Jenny Thornton, her only master.

But just before she got into the cab, she looked up at the Pennsylvania sky. It was so blue-a bluer blue than California skies ever were in the morning. A beautiful, luminous color that seemed filled with promise.

If, someday, Julian should be reborn, she wished him well.

[The End]

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