Fire and Ice Young Adult and New Adult Books

A Juniper Sawfeather Novel #2

Whisper of the Woods

by D. G. Driver



"Whisper of the Woodsquot; by D. G. Driver Juniper Sawfeather seems to have a talent for finding mythological creatures. Or maybe the creatures are finding her.

The mermaids she saved from the oil spill are long gone. There’s no evidence of them, and she’s been branded as a liar and a fake in the media and at school. Her environmental activist parents have moved on to a protest to save Old Growth trees from being chopped down. June isn't particularly concerned with this cause, but that changes when she falls asleep at the base of a giant tree and wakes to find herself 40 feet in the air on one of its branches!

From this point on she becomes obsessed with the tree, and it appears the tree is becoming obsessed with her, too. Soon, she is trapped 170 feet above the ground, and the magical spirit that resides in the tree isn’t interested in letting her go free or allowing anyone else to save her. Is the tree spirit good or evil? Will Juniper’s feet ever touch the ground again?


 

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Teens


Chapter One

The mermaids were gone. I had to accept it and move on with my life.

That’s what my mom kept telling me when I’d ask if I could borrow her car and drive to the beach. “You won’t find them, June,” she’d remind me as she twirled my long black hair with her fingers and then let it fall in front of my shoulder instead of behind where I preferred to wear it. “You know as well as I do that when the mermaids escaped from Affron Oil’s marine lab they went far, far away so they couldn’t be caught again. They were intelligent enough to know not to hang around. Plus, it’s getting cold now. They probably migrated south, maybe to Hawaii.”

I almost convinced my dad to get tickets for a trip to Hawaii over Fall Break, but Mom (the person in the family who never saw the mermaids in real life) shot it down. “You’re not going to find them again. No one will ever see them again. I’m sure of it.”

She also reminded my dad and me that there was this logging protest we still had to manage, and no one was going anywhere until it was resolved. My dad agreed that the protest was a more pressing issue than finding the lost mermaids, but it would be concluded soon and maybe we could look into tickets for Hawaii over Winter Break. Mom shook her head in a way that let me know that she not only thought we were both pitiful but that we would never be standing on Waikiki Beach.

Despite everything my mom said about it, I still made an effort to get to the beach here in Washington after school and on weekends to look for the mermaids. I outlasted the U.S. Coast Guard and their efforts to clean up what remained from the Affron Oil Spill. (Despite how much Affron tried to cover it up there really was an oil spill, and my dad finally convinced the government to put a team on it. Once they were in place, Dad was free to help Mom with the lawsuit and now the logging protest.) I thought the mermaids might come back once all of that business was done. All I hoped for was a flash of a tail or a webbed hand to come out of the water. I wanted to feel my mermaid’s thoughts in my head and know she was safe.

Unfortunately, the beach was over an hour away, and not having a car of my own prevented me trekking out there as often as I’d like. Haley and Carter took turns carting me around, but as the weeks passed and the weather got colder neither of them wanted to sit in the freezing rain to watch the ocean with me anymore. I couldn’t blame them. There was nothing to see – or feel. The mermaids were definitely gone.

I wasn’t the only person giving up on searching for the mermaids. As winter came on even the die-hard conspiracy theory guys who’d gotten all fired up when I sent that video of the mermaids caught in the oil spill out all over the internet were beginning to back off the subject. I lurked on their blogs and Twitter feeds sometimes, using another name so they wouldn’t know it was me. For a couple months they refused to believe I was a fake. I’d see lots of posts like “There is so much of the ocean that is unexplored, of course mermaids haven’t been discovered yet” and “Juniper Sawfeather was so lucky to have seen them for real. It’s too bad that the oil company sent them into hiding again.”

Those posts made me feel better, because in real life my reputation had gone down the tank. Popularity and I never flirted with each other in my life, but now I was a pariah. I’d embarrassed the most popular kids in school when it turned out I was a liar and a fake. They ricocheted the teasing toward me, making sure everyone knew I was not to be trusted.

Then, I don’t know if it was to poke fun at me or a clever attempt at putting up a display that went with “what everyone is talking about right now”, but Mrs. Katz, the librarian, filled the front table by the checkout with every mermaid-themed Young Adult novel in existence. There were a dozen or more, with sexy covers of gorgeous, sultry women-fish, often kissing handsome young men. Mrs. Katz was often a little out of touch with pop culture, and I imagined the old lady occasionally ambling over to her display, wearing that fraying velour sweater that she’d owned since the eighties, sighing and patting her own shoulder for finally having something topical to share. Whatever her reason, I changed my route between classes so I never had to pass the library. Once was enough, and that was the day that three girls I didn’t know jumped up at me from behind and jeered:

“I bet you’ve read all of those books, haven’t you? Isn’t that why you have mermaid fantasies?”

“No, Clarissa. She hasn’t read any of them, or her mermaid wouldn’t have been so ugly.”

“Yeah, your mermaid was ugly, Juniper. Mermaids are supposed to be gorgeous. Everyone knows that. If you’re going to make up a story, get it right.”

I wanted to say so many things, like the fact that my mermaid, the one I’d saved twice—one time from the oil spill and the other from the clutches of the oil company itself—was beautiful in a way they wouldn’t understand and would never know. All those girls had ever seen was that crappy video my dad had taken of the mermaids on the beach covered with oil and dying. I still wouldn’t call that ugly. Sad. Desperate. Horrible. Those were the right words. I wished I could dump a barrel of oil on these girls and see what they thought of it. I bit my tongue on all the things I could say. I’d learned that it was pointless to defend myself. The girls trailed me as I walked away.

“So, where are your mermaids now?”

“How come they didn’t take you with them to their magical land under the sea?”

“Yeah, why don’t you go swimming and see if they pull you down there with them?”

Ha ha. Hee hee. They were so freaking funny. And original.

It got old, listening to stuff like that. That’s why the internet chatter supporting me helped a lot, even if it was mostly a bunch of weirdos. Now that it was New Year’s Eve, over three months since we freed the mermaids from Affron Oil’s secret facility, it had been a long time since any new information had been leaked to these mermaid fanatics. Their posts about mermaids had become less frequent and eventually stopped altogether, returning to new theories about Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, and aliens.

Not being in Hawaii, I was at home scrolling through the usual blogs for about an hour and finally gave up finding anything mermaid related. So, I copied an image I found on some website of a pin-up mermaid perched on a champagne glass, and I posted it on one of my favorite sites called ??? SCIENCE or FICTION ??? My comment with it: I hope the mermaids are having as good a time tonight as we are. Happy New Year! I signed it with my new favorite username: SilverScales.

My cursor was on its way to the little red x in the right hand corner of my computer when a post came up under mine.

 

How could you post something like that? You of all people.

 

I lifted my hand from the mouse and froze. I rarely commented on these blogs because they were mostly nonsense. Sometimes I’d post some actual facts about marine life to help keep them honest. I rarely ever got responses back, and those were usually in the form of “thanks for the info”.

 

Do you think the mermaids are having some big party on the ocean floor like in some Disney movie?

 

I decided this person going by the username TruthBeKnown had started his New Year’s drinking early. Probably some loser, home alone, with nothing to do but waste time on the internet. Kind of like me.

 

Sorry to offend. I wrote back. Just trying to send something cheerful.

 

Do you ever wonder why you haven’t seen them again?

 

That’s what I thought. This person knew who I was. I considered pretending I didn’t know what he was talking about, but that seemed pointless.

 

How do you know it’s me?

 

Everyone knows. You’re not fooling anyone, Juniper Sawfeather.

 

I highly doubted everyone knew who I was—until he put my name on the internet. Thanks for that. Now I’d have to change my username again.

 

So? Do you ever wonder what happened?

 

Was there any harm in engaging this conversation? I wasn’t sure if it was worth it to answer, but I was kind of interested in what the person’s theory could be.

 

All the time. Pretty sure they’re gone. Far away.

 

They’re not. They’re still trapped.

 

No. I saw them get released.

 

It was too easy. Affron trapped them again. I’m sure of it.

 

And that was long enough for the other nerds to discover that I, the wondrous (possibly devious) finder of mermaids, was chatting live. Seven comments interrupted the conversation I was having with the crazy-conspiracy-theory person ranging from “Is it really you? I’m such a fan” to “Get off this blog, you fake!” They all started arguing with each other about my validity. TruthBeKnown went silent, and so did I.

I didn’t have music playing in my room, and I didn’t own a TV. My room should’ve been quiet, but I swear I could hear the voices of these far away people. They were so loud in my head I didn’t know Haley was in my room until she leaned over and put her chin on my shoulder.

“You talking to some friends?”

“I’ve got to find them somewhere,” I said, finally clicking that X and shutting them all up. The buzzing in my head stilled, and I looked at my best friend. Her outfit was really cute—a new green dress that flattered her full figure by hugging her ribs tightly and then flaring out at her hips again. It gave her a nice hour-glass shape. She’d been dressing a lot nicer since she started dating Ted and Marlee deigned to befriend her. “You look nice.”

Haley sneered at my jeans and old sweatshirt. “You don’t. I thought you were going out with Carter tonight.” I don’t think I’d brushed my hair all day, and I certainly hadn’t put on a smidge of make-up. Did I brush my teeth?

“That’s not happening,” I told her, as if it wasn’t obvious.

“Why not?” she whined. “You said that your parents said you didn’t have to join them for the New Year’s Tree Vigil Thing-bopper so you could go out with Carter. I thought you guys would come by the party.”

“That’s when I thought Carter would get home from his skiing trip in time, but he texted that he and his dad were going to do a couple more runs before they left. He hasn’t texted since then, so I’m guessing they haven’t even started home yet. It’s almost seven, right?”

“Eight.”

I picked up my cell phone and shook it, hoping that would make a text from my boyfriend magically appear. No luck.

“He’s not going to get home in time. I doubt he’ll even be back by midnight.”

“Why don’t you come to the party with me, and Carter can meet us there and take you home?”

“You’ve got to be kidding.”

“I’m not.”

“Who would I talk to?”

“Me.”

“And when you’re busy, which you will be?”

Haley pursed her lips as she thought up an answer for me that might satisfy. “It’s called milling around, June. Get to know some of the people you go to school with. I promise these parties aren’t as out of control as they are in the movies. Mostly people are just sitting or standing around.” Her answer did not satisfy.

I gave an excuse that should work. “Carter’s going to be too tired.”

“You don’t know that. Plus, he’ll want to see your pretty face.” She rubbed my cheeks like I was a baby.

I pulled away from her and tried another one. “I don’t have anything to wear.”

“Wear one of my new dresses.”

“You’re kidding.” I was about five inches taller than her, and where she was a little heavy-set and curvy, I was a board.

“Maybe your mom has something.” Haley jogged out of my room and down the hall to my parents’ bedroom. Reluctantly, I pushed back from my desk, got out of my chair and slogged after her. By the time I got to my mom’s walk-in closet that smelled like shoes and her perfume Haley was twirling around with a dress on a hanger pressed against her chest. “This is perfect.”

The dress was pretty, cream-colored with giraffe spots of brown. I couldn’t picture myself in it, but I knew it looked terrific on my mom. Then again, everything looked terrific on Mom. “Can’t I wear pants?”

“No.”

“Please.” I wasn’t asking. I hated wearing dresses. They made my legs look like tree trunks.

“If I had long legs like yours, I’d wear nothing but dresses. Have you ever heard of short supermodels?”

No one would compare me to a supermodel. I unsnapped a pair of silvery-gray capris from a hanger. “How about something like this?” They’d be a little shorter on me than my mom, but the tag said they were my size.

Haley considered it for a second then nodded her approval. “With heels, no sneakers,” she amended.

“That I can do.”

As I got dressed in the pants and a tunic style blouse, I asked her, “Why do you want me to go to this party so badly? Aren’t you the same person who asked me to quit my own club, one that I founded with you by the way, because no one wanted to join if I was the leader?”

She grimaced and sucked in some air like I burned her. “Yeah, about that...”

“It’s okay.” It wasn’t really, but what else could I say? I had come to terms with it a few weeks ago. I decided it was more important that the Recycling Club recruited lots of people who were interested in helping the environment than me being the person who headed it up. It’s not like I was going to stop recycling. My parents taught me about protecting the environment before they taught me to walk. My first shape sorting game was learning that plastic went in the blue can and paper in the black can.

I plopped down on the bed while I slid my feet into some pumps, and Haley came at me with some make-up. I backed away from her and tried to wave her off.

“Just a little!” she insisted. “I promise I won’t make you look like a tramp.”

I sighed and closed my eyes. “All your friends hate me.”

“Oh, not really,” Haley said, her warm breath on my cheek as she leaned in close to put some shadow on my eyelids. “Ted says he’s over it. He never believed there were mermaids in the first place and says he doesn’t care anymore. Marlee said she’s fine about it all.”

“Regina?”

“Oh. Well. She’s Regina. She’s still mad that the mermaids got away before she could see them, but she’d never tell anyone that. She’s stopped talking about the mermaids, and no one talks about them to her unless they have a death wish.”

“Ah, this is really inspiring me to go.”

“It’s been months, June. Months. You’re old news. There are more interesting things going on in the lives of high school seniors.”

“I’ll have to take your word for it.”

Regina, Marlee, Ted, and Gary were the four members of Student Council who helped a little (but mostly hampered) the efforts to save the mermaids from Affron Oil. They hated me before the mermaid discovery for no good reason and hated me more now because they thought I’d tricked them somehow. I still wasn’t clear why they’d taken Haley into their fold, her being my best friend and all. Every single day I found myself anticipating that call from her where they’d done some horrible hazing trick on her, but so far it hadn’t come. Ted was even dating her now, which had Haley ecstatic. I remained dubious but kept my mouth shut about it. Being popular had always been her dream, and now it looked like it was finally happening for her.

I wasn’t jealous. In fact, I felt quite the opposite. I didn’t trust that foursome for anything, and I wished Haley would see what I saw in them and leave it all behind.

A car horn honked in Haley’s driveway next door. She ran to my bedroom window and looked out. “It’s Ted. Come on!”

“He honks for you? Can’t even come to the door? What a gentleman.”

“Ted doesn’t like parents.” Then she tilted her head, wondering. “Does Carter always come to the door?” Carter and Ted were our first boyfriends. Neither of us knew how the whole dating thing was supposed to be done, and we always shared and compared so that we could find some kind of “normal” between us.

“Carter loves my parents. And they love him. We’ve been late for movies sometimes because they won’t stop talking to each other.”

“Oh no,” said Haley, shaking her head dramatically. “I prefer the honking.”

She grabbed my hand and pulled me out the bedroom door. I barely was able to snag my jacket and a purse from the hook on my wall. Outside, Ted had his pick-up in the driveway, engine on, and was drumming his fingers on the steering wheel while listening to a pop song I hadn’t heard before. Even though it was dark, the lights from his panel were bright enough on him for me to see his shoulders slump at the sight of me coming out with his girlfriend. He opened the door and got out. He didn’t say anything at all, only opened his arms up in a ‘what the heck?’ gesture. I noticed he wasn’t dressed up at all. He wore a t-shirt and jeans.

“I should stay home,” I mumbled.

“No. Don’t worry.”

She went over to him, and they spoke quietly to each other, eyes glancing at me the whole time. The end result was that he parked on the curb, and we took Haley’s car because the truck didn’t have an extra cab.

“Hey,” I said, scooting into my seat in the back and closing the door.

“Hey,” Ted responded.

And that was the entire conversation between Haley’s boyfriend and me. It was also the only view I had of his face, as he kept his head turned to look out his passenger window the whole ride. His hair had been recently trimmed, I noticed.

Haley blabbered on and on to him about the various popular people that were supposed to be at the party, and he occasionally said “uh huh” or “yeah” between her phrases to give the illusion that he was listening to her. I was listening, and each name she rolled off made the acid in my stomach churn a little more. I ceased to exist completely to the two of them. I was certain neither of them would notice if I didn’t get out of the car when they got to the party. I seriously considered it. I had a good book on my phone that I could read while I waited to hear from Carter.

I had just put up the armrest and was lifting my legs to stretch out across the backseat when Haley opened the driver side rear passenger door. “What are you doing?” she asked me.

“Nothing.”

She gave me another one of those poignant looks, and, frankly, I was getting tired of them.

“Come on,” she said, holding her hand out to me. I ignored her hand and got out on the opposite side of the car where Ted saw me and immediately turned away and walked toward the house without a word. Yeah, he was totally over it.

Haley was right about the party not being wild. Unlike movie parties, the place wasn’t spilling drunken teenagers out into the yard while rock music blasted from open windows. It was pretty calm, with a solid selection of the school’s elite members and their friends. I wasn’t sure whose house this was, but the parents had provided a spread of catered food on the dining room table and lots of soft drinks, and some beer, in the kitchen. From what I could tell the parents weren’t around, but I heard a rumor they were at a neighbor’s house down the block in case anything got out of hand.

No one said anything outwardly mean to me as I walked through the house, and I noticed they weren’t overtly welcoming to Haley either. She wasn’t as in with the popular kids as she liked to think. Ted instantly got swept up into a group of guys from the basketball team. He followed them to the basement where I heard there was a gaming room, not even saying so much as a “see you later” to Haley. Did it matter to her? I wasn’t sure, because her eyes were busy searching the rooms for someone of interest.

Carter would never ditch me like that. He’d never take me to something like this in the first place. I still had my cell phone in my hand, and even though it hadn’t vibrated at all, I checked it for a text. Nothing. I sighed and tucked it into my purse. The outfit Haley picked out for me didn’t have any pockets, and I didn’t have big enough boobs to keep it in my bra without it falling out. Beside me, I felt Haley relax her posture, and I saw a big smile cross her face. Marlee was coming down the stairs from the second floor.

“Hey girl!” Haley shouted to her.

Marlee smiled politely. “Oh, hey. Um, you can put your purses and jackets up in that bedroom to the right of the staircase. That’s where everybody’s leaving their stuff.”

“Oh, thanks.” Haley said, stepping toward Marlee to join her mid-staircase. Marlee squeezed closer to the rail, contracting her shoulders away from Haley who looked like she was aiming for a hug. She didn’t get one.

To save Haley, and maybe Marlee too, from any more awkwardness, I came up behind my friend and put a hand on her back to push her gently up the stairs. “Let’s go put our stuff down.”

“Yeah,” she said weakly. She craned her head around to find that Marlee was already at the bottom of the steps and going around the corner to the living room. All we saw was the top of her shiny, brown curls.

I didn’t want to put my purse down in case Carter texted, but Haley insisted I do what everyone else was doing. Every boy in the place wore jeans and had their phone in their pocket. I should have fought harder to wear jeans, and then at least I could be in with what the boys were doing and have my phone on my body.

For the next two hours I sat in a chair next to a bookshelf in the living room reading the titles of every single book over and over again while people ignored me. Haley played this game where she walked around and hovered on the edges of conversations and pretended like she was included. I noticed that when she’d say something to insert herself, the circle of people would tighten just enough to push her out. Then she’d move on. I honestly had no idea if she realized what was happening to her or not.

A big commotion by the front door happened around 10:30. I didn’t get up to see, but Haley came back and reported that Regina Williams had arrived. Did it just get colder? Did someone turn off the heat?

“She’s with Vanessa Martel. You remember her. She was a senior last year. I mean, that’s what everyone’s talking about. Regina’s not even hanging out with anyone from our school anymore. She’s all about hanging out with older kids, people who are in college already.” Haley told me all about some falling out she’d had with Marlee, and how Ted was always saying awful things about her. I didn’t hear much of it. My stomach hurt. My spine was stiff. I kept my eyes on this dirty spot on the floor that probably was caused by a cat vomiting. I wondered if I could get out of the house without Regina seeing me.

“Can we go?” I asked Haley. “Can Ted get a ride with a friend? Gary, maybe? I need to go.”

“Regina won’t bother you.”

“I really don’t want to be here anymore.”

“I’m on a date, June.” Haley’s tone wasn’t terribly friendly or understanding. I raised my eyes to find hers scowling at me.

“What date?” I asked. I raised my hands to present the room to her. “Do you see Ted anywhere? Have you seen him since we got here? How is this a date?”

“He brought me.”

“No. You brought him, remember?”

“He was going to bring me, before you tagged along.”

“You asked me to tag along!”

“Well, I shouldn’t have.”

“No, you shouldn’t have.” I paused and took a deep breath. “Look, just take me home, and then you can come right back.”

“Fine. Whatever. Let me go tell Ted what’s happening.” She got up in a huff and disappeared down the basement steps.

I stood up and went toward the foyer to the foot of the steps. Regina was still in the doorway, the gaggle of girls around her so excited about her appearance that they hadn’t even let her take more than a step inside. It was all giggles and whispers behind hands about what she was wearing and who she was with. I was surprised they’d even let her close the door. Vanessa stood beside her, looking a little bored. I remembered her from school last year. She had been Homecoming Queen, a beautiful African American girl who won her popularity as captain of the champion volleyball team. I had never spoken to her or vice versa.

Keeping my head down, I tried sneaking behind the crowd and up the stairs. My height was to my disadvantage though, because I heard Vanessa’s voice ask, “Isn’t that Juniper Sawfeather?” The crowd hushed, hoping for a show.

“Why, yes it is,” Regina confirmed.

I spun around and offered a stilted smile. “Hey. Um, I’m just going upstairs to get my stuff. I’m leaving. I won’t be in your way.”

“Who says you’re in my way?” Regina asked, pushing through the crowd to the front of the steps. “Actually, you can do me a favor.” She handed me her purse and faux fur coat. “Will you take these up for me?”

Vanessa put her belongings on top of Regina’s, filling my arms like I was their valet. “Thanks.” She smiled at me in way that was kind of a cross between gratitude and pity. “You’re much prettier than in that mermaid video.” I think I was supposed to be grateful for that bone, but I withheld my thanks.

They walked toward the dining room with the buzzing girls trailing behind them. Only Marlee remained in the foyer after they left. “Do you need any help?” she asked me.

“No,” I said, wiggling my arms to balance their stuff. “I got it.”

“Okay.” She started to walk off the opposite direction of the crowd then stopped and said to me, “You don’t have to go if you don’t want to. Don’t let her scare you off.”

“Me leaving has nothing to do with Regina,” I told her. But Marlee didn’t hear me. She was already walking away. I noticed she didn’t follow the Regina Parade. I normally didn’t care about anything that transpired with the popular kids at school, but I was kind of curious if the two of them were fighting and why.

I continued upstairs and stopped at the closed bedroom door. I shifted the purses and coats to my left arm and reached out for the door handle. Locked.

A girl squealed from inside. “Oh my God! Just a second! Oh my God, oh my God!”

“Sorry,” I said, backing up a step but still facing the door. “I only need to get my purse.”

A beat later the door opened a bit and Nick Klein was standing there, blocking the way in, casually leaning against the door frame but holding the doorknob on the inside. “Why? Are you leaving already? It’s not midnight yet.” Through the small space between his shoulder and chin I could see a girl on the bed, buttoning up her blouse. He pointed at the load in my arms. “Wait. Are you dropping off or picking up? I’m confused. Or are you so used to making up stories that you can’t get anything right anymore?”

“I’m sorry,” I repeated through clenched teeth. “I’ll be quick.”

From behind him, the girl said, “I thought you said no one would come up here for another hour at least.”

He angled his head toward her enough to say “I didn’t think anyone would leave before the New Year started.” He looked back at me. “Guess I was wrong.”

I didn’t know Nick well. He was a senior and an athlete and had transferred here two years earlier. Baseball. Not one of the sports the cheerleaders support, so not uber-famous. Still, he was handsome, especially for a red-headed guy, and he knew it. I’d heard he went through girlfriends pretty fast. More than once I’d entered a school bathroom to find some girl sobbing about him dumping her. Standing this close to him I could tell why the girls flocked to him. His eyes were a shade of blue that was almost clear and rimmed with black. That auburn hair was nicely styled, trimmed short around his ears and tousled on top. He had some height to him, because it was the rare guy that made me have to look up to make eye contact. I blinked and lowered my eyes.

“I’d come back, but my phone is in my purse.”

“Well, go get it,” he told me. He lifted his right hand off the door handle and arched his arm so that I had to walk under it to get in the room. Now I could see that the girl was Aimee Pinsdale, a sophomore and member of the Drama Club. I’d seen her with those kids who were always running around campus in costumes to help advertise the current play in production. She stood up quickly when I walked into the room and moved away from the bed in a way that was supposed to make me think she was merely sitting there to slip on her shoes or something. I wasn’t fooled. All the purses and jackets that had once been on top of the bed were now on the floor around it. The navy blue comforter was a mess, and the pillows had been pushed aside.

I plopped Regina and Vanessa’s belongings on the foot of the bed and began rummaging through the pile for my things. It seemed like it took an eternity before I finally got my hands on them. I stood up and walked to the door again, but Nick closed it and blocked the way.

“You can stay if you want, Sawfeather,” he said to me. “We don’t mind.”

“I mind,” Aimee said, raising a hand like she was voting.

“Whoever owns this room is not going to appreciate how you’re using it.” That was weak, I know, but I wasn’t really used to this kind of thing and didn’t have any practice.

“It’s my room. Don’t you even know where you are?”

Now that he said it, I became aware of the bookshelf with more trophies than books and the pennants on the walls. Yankees? Angels? Where was his Mariners pennant? Now I disliked him even more for being unfaithful to the home team.

“Let me out, Nick,” I told him as coolly as I could manage.

Instead of letting me pass, he moved closer to me. I could smell Aimee’s perfume on him and it made my stomach churn. “Come on. You don’t have to worry about your reputation or anything. We can make a video on your phone. You could put it up on the internet even, and no one would ever believe it.”

“You’re a jerk!” I shoved him out of the way and opened the door myself. I was halfway down the stairs when I heard Aimee stomping down the steps behind me.

“He is a jerk.”

From above us, Nick was laughing. “Can’t you girls take a joke? I was messing with you. Aimee come back.”

I felt Aimee slow down like she was considering it. I stopped, spun around and looked at her. “Really?”

“He’s really hot,” she said, like that explained something.

“It’s your dignity,” I told her with a shrug and then dashed out the front door. I ran down the block and finally stopped about six houses down, between two streetlights where it was darkest, and sat on the curb. Before I put on my jacket, I pulled my phone out of my purse. I’d missed three calls from Carter and had a dozen texts waiting for me. The phone vibrated in my hand before I could read any of them.

The best voice in the world came from the speaker. “June?”

“Please save me.”