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The Short Second Life (Chapters 6)

The room was fil ed with a sudden blaze, and I felt the warmth on my leg in the same instant that I realized there wasn't enough room for me to pin Diego to the wal without some part of myself touching the sunlight.

"Bree!" he gasped.

I twisted away from him automatical y, rol ing myself tight against the wal . It took less than a second, and the whole time I was waiting for the pain to get me. For the flames to hit and then spread like the night I'd met her, only faster. The dazzling flash of light was gone. It was just the pil ar of sun again. I looked at Diego's face – his eyes were wide, his mouth hanging open. He was total y stil, a sure sign of alarm. I wanted to look down at my leg, but I was afraid to see what was left. This wasn't like Jen ripping my arm off, though that had hurt more. I wasn't going to be able to fix this.

Stil no pain yet.

"Bree, did you see that?"

I shook my head once quickly. "How bad is it?"

"Bad?"

"My leg," I said through my teeth. "Just tel me what's left."

"Your leg looks fine to me."

I glanced down quickly, and sure enough, there was my foot and my calf, just like before. I wiggled my toes. Fine.

"Does it hurt?" he asked.

I pul ed myself off the ground, onto my knees. "Not yet."

"Did you see what happened? The light?"

I shook my head.

"Watch this," he said, kneeling in front of the beam of sunshine again. "And don't shove me out of the way this time. You already proved I'm right." He put his hand out. It was almost as hard to watch this time, even if my leg felt normal. The second his fingers entered the beam, the cave was fil ed with a mil ion bril iant rainbow reflections. It was bright as noon in a glass room – light everywhere. I flinched and then shuddered. There was sunlight all over me.

"Unreal," Diego whispered. He put the rest of his hand into the beam, and the cave somehow got even brighter. He rol ed his hand over to look at the back, then turned it palm up again. The reflections danced like he was spinning a prism. There was no smel of burning, and he clearly wasn't in pain. I looked closely at his hand, and it seemed like there were a zil ion tiny mirrors in the surface, too smal to distinguish separately, al shining back the light with double the intensity of a regular mirror.

"Come here, Bree – you have to try this."

I couldn't think of a reason to refuse, and I was curious, but I was also stil reluctant as I slid to his side.

"No burn?"

"None. Light doesn't burn us, it just… reflects off of us. I guess that's kind of an understatement."

Slow as a human, I reluctantly stretched my fingers into the light. Immediately, reflections blazed away from my skin, making the room so bright that the day outside would look dark in comparison. They weren't exactly reflections, though, because the light was bent and colored, more like crystal. I stuck my whole hand in, and the room got brighter.

"Do you think Riley knows?" I whispered.

"Maybe. Maybe not."

"Why wouldn't he tel us if he did? What would be the point?

So we're walking disco bal s." I shrugged.

Diego laughed. "I can see where the stories come from. Imagine if you saw this when you were human. Wouldn't you think that the guy over there just burst into flames?"

"If he didn't hang around to chat. Maybe."

"This is incredible," Diego said. With one finger he traced a line across my glowing palm.

Then he jumped to his feet right under the sunbeam, and the room went crazy with light.

"C'mon, let's get out of here." He reached up and pul ed himself toward the hole he'd cut to the surface. You'd think I would have been over it, but I was stil nervous to fol ow. Not wanting to seem like a total chicken, I stayed close on his heels, but I was cringing inside the whole way. Riley had real y made his point about burning in the sun; in my mind it was linked to that horrific time of burning as I became a vampire, and I couldn't escape the instinctive panic that fil ed me every time I thought of it.

Then Diego was out of the hole, and I was next to him half a second later. We stood on a smal patch of wild grass, only a few feet from the trees that covered the island. Behind us, it was just a couple of yards to a low bluff, and then the water. Everything around us blazed in the color and light shining off of us.

"Wow," I muttered.

Diego grinned at me, his face beautiful with light, and suddenly, with a deep lurch in my stomach, I realized that the whole BFF thing was way off the mark. For me, anyway. It was just that fast.

His grin softened a little bit into just the hint of a smile. His eyes were wide like mine. Al awe and lights. He touched my face, the way he'd touched my hand, as if he was trying to understand the shine.

"So pretty," he said. He left his hand against my cheek. I'm not sure how long we stood there, smiling like total idiots, blazing away like glass torches. The inlet was empty of boats, which was probably good. No way even a mud-eyed human would have missed us. Not that they could have done anything to us, but I wasn't thirsty, and al the screaming would have ruined the mood.

Eventual y a thick cloud drifted in front of the sun. Suddenly we were just us again, though stil slightly luminous. Not enough that anyone with eyes dul er than a vampire's would notice. As soon as the shine was gone, my thoughts cleared up and I could think about what was coming next. But even though Diego looked like his normal self again – not made of blazing light, anyway – I knew he would never look the same to me. That tingly sensation in the pit of my stomach was stil there. I had the feeling it might be there permanently.

"Do we tel Riley? Do we think he doesn't know?" I asked. Diego sighed and dropped his hand. "I don't know. Let's think about this while we track them."

"We're going to have to be careful, tracking them in the day. We're kind of noticeable in the sunlight, you know."

He grinned. "Let's be ninjas."

I nodded. "Super-secret ninja club sounds way cooler than the whole BFF thing."

"Definitely better."

It didn't take us more than a few seconds to find the point from which the whole gang had left the island. That was the easy part. Finding where they'd touched ground on the mainland was a whole other problem. We briefly discussed splitting up, then vetoed that idea unanimously. Our logic was real y sound – after al, if one of us found something, how would we tel the other? – but mostly I just didn't want to leave him, and I could see he felt the same. Both of us had been without any kind of good companionship our whole lives, and it was just too sweet to waste a minute of it.

There were so many options as to where they could have gone. To the mainland of the peninsula, or to another island, or back to the outskirts of Seattle, or north to Canada. Whenever we pul ed down or burned down one of our houses, Riley was always prepared – he always seemed to know exactly where to go next. He must have planned ahead for that stuff, but he didn't let any of us in on the plan.

They could have been anywhere.

Ducking in and out of the water to avoid boats and people real y slowed us down. We spent al day with no luck, but neither of us minded. We were having the most fun we'd ever had. It was such a strange day. Instead of sitting miserably in the darkness trying to tune out the mayhem and swal ow my disgust at my hiding place, I was playing ninja with my new best friend, or maybe something more. We laughed a lot while we moved through the patches of shade, throwing rocks at each other like they were Chinese stars.

Then the sun set, and suddenly I was stressed. Would Riley look for us? Would he assume we were fried? Did he know better?

We started moving faster. A lot faster. We'd already circled al the nearby islands, so now we concentrated on the mainland. About an hour after sundown, I caught a familiar scent, and within seconds we were on their trail. Once we found the path of the smel, it was as easy as fol owing a herd of elephants through fresh snow.

We talked about what to do, more serious now as we ran.

"I don't think we should tel Riley," I said. "Let's say we spent al day in your cave before we went looking for them." As I spoke, my paranoia started to grow. "Better yet, let's tel them your cave was fil ed with water. We couldn't even talk."

"You think Riley's a bad dude, don't you?" he asked quietly after a minute. As he spoke, he took my hand.

"I don't know. But I'd rather act like he was, just in case." I hesitated, then said, "You don't want to think he's bad."

"No," Diego admitted. "He's kind of my friend. I mean, not like you're my friend." He squeezed my fingers. "But more than anyone else. I don't want to think…" Diego didn't finish his sentence.

I squeezed his fingers back. "Maybe he's total y decent. Our being careful doesn't change who he is."

"True. Okay, the underwater cave story it is. At least at first…

I could talk to him about the sun later. I'd rather do it during the day, anyway, when I can prove what I'm claiming right away. And just in case he already knows, but there's some good reason why he told us something else, I should tel him when we're alone. Grab him at dawn, when he's coming back from wherever it is he goes…."

I noticed a ton of I's rather than we's going on in Diego's little speech, and it bothered me. But at the same time, I didn't want much to do with educating Riley. I didn't have the same faith in him Diego did.

"Ninja attack at dawn!" I said to make him laugh. It worked. We started joking again as we tracked our herd of vampires, but I could tel he was thinking serious stuff under the teasing, just like I was.

And I only got more anxious as we ran. Because we were running fast, and there was no way we had the wrong trail, but it was taking too long. We were real y getting away from the coast, up and over the closest mountains, off into new territory. This wasn't the normal pattern.

Every house we'd borrowed, whether it was up a mountain or on an island or hidden on a big farm, had a few things in common. The dead owners, the remote locale, and one other thing. They al were sort of focused on Seattle. Oriented around the big city like orbiting moons. Seattle was always the hub, always the target.

We were out of orbit now, and it felt wrong. Maybe it meant nothing, maybe it was just that so many things were changing today. Al the truths I'd accepted had been turned upside down and I wasn't in the mood for any other upheavals. Why couldn't Riley have just picked someplace normal?

"Funny they're this far out," Diego murmured, and I could hear the edge in his voice.

"Or scary," I muttered.

He squeezed my hand. "It's cool. The ninja club can handle anything."

"You got a secret handshake yet?"

"Working on it," he promised.

Something started to bug me. It was like I could feel this strange blind spot – I knew there was something I wasn't seeing, but I couldn't put my finger on it. Something obvious…

And then, about sixty miles farther west than our usual perimeter, we found the house. It was impossible to mistake the noise. The boom boom boom of the bass, the video-game soundtrack, the snarling. Total y our crowd.

I pul ed my hand free, and Diego looked at me.

"Hey, I don't even know you," I said in a joking tone. "I haven't had one conversation with you, what with al that water we sat in al day. You could be a ninja or a vampire for al I know."

He grinned. "Same goes for you, stranger." Then low and fast, "Just do the same things you did yesterday. Tomorrow night we'l get out together. Maybe do some reconnaissance, figure out more of what's going on."

"Sounds like a plan. Mum's the word."

He ducked close and kissed me – just a peck, but right on the lips. The shock of it zinged through my whole body. Then he said, "Let's do this," and headed down the side of the mountain toward the source of the raucous noise without looking back. Already playing the part.

A little stunned, I fol owed from a few yards behind, remembering to put the distance between us that I would put between myself and anyone else.

true

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