Invoke, an NA paranormal, is being posted in installments on Tuesdays and Thursdays. After it has been posted in its entirety, it will be taken down.

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Chapter Four

Gavin couldn’t sleep. After tossing and turning in his bed for hours, he’d finally decided to get up and go look in the den for those books he’d been trying to find the other night. He wasn’t having any luck, though. He read over the entry in the book again and again.

Spirits can be trapped by very powerful, dark events. If they gather power to manifest, they often have a tattered and burnt appearance. These spirits do not behave like regular spirits. They do not soak up their environment, but rather serve to influence it. These spirits can be dangerous. They may be stuck in a loop that mirrors their dark event. Sometimes, they can only be convinced to change form and release their dark energy by reliving the dark event and successfully resolving it.

That wasn’t very helpful. Assuming the spirits he’d seen during the exercise with Madame Braith were trapped spirits who’d been released, then how was he supposed to know what the dark event was that trapped them? And how could they relive it?

Gavin swallowed. He wanted rid of them, that was for sure. Because they’d forced him to do something with Madame Braith that was absolutely disgusting. He was sure he’d had sex with her now. There was a certain amount of evidence in and on his body the next morning that he couldn’t ignore no matter how hard he tried to put it out of his mind.

It was horrible for several reasons. One was because he thought sleeping with his teacher was gross and like something from a WB teen show. He hadn’t wanted to be with her like that. He’d never been attracted to her. That led to the second reason. He hadn’t done it willingly. He’d felt as if something else had taken over his body that night. Was he being influenced by the trapped spirits? Finally, it was horrible because he’d betrayed Wyn. He’d been unfaithful to her, and now he could barely look at her without drowning in guilt. He wanted to tell her, but he couldn’t find the words. And he didn’t think Wyn would forgive him.

There were other strange things going on with him and Wyn. Something was missing. Some perfect, beautiful component had simply gone out of their relationship. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but when he was with her now, he felt as if the threads of connection that had bound them so close to each other had been severed in some way. He didn’t like it, because more than ever, he felt very alone.

Gavin wanted to cry, and he might have started if it weren’t for the scuffling he heard in the hallway. He got up to investigate. Reese was in the hallway, carrying his suitcases. He was heading for the front door.

“Hey,” said Gavin.

Reese turned to him. All at once, Gavin felt the same kind of threads of connection he usually felt to Wyn. But these connections were tied to Reese. It wasn’t a romantic connection, the way it was with Wyn. Instead, it was a deep friendship. Staring at Reese, Gavin realized he’d trust him with his life. And he felt, oddly, as if he’d known him for years. Gavin’s mouth dropped open.

Reese set down his suitcases. He seemed to have felt something too.

“Are you leaving?” asked Gavin.

Reese nodded. “I was going to.”

“How come?”

“I don’t really like this place. Something not-so-good is going on, I think.”

Gavin nodded. He kept feeling like that too. “You’re not the only person who feels that way,” he said.

“You should, um…” Reese shifted on his feet. “I don’t know why I’m saying this, actually, but you should come with me. I feel like we’d get along really well. And there’s something going on around here. I don’t like it.”

“Stay,” said Gavin. He was sure that he and Reese shouldn’t be apart. “We’ll fight it. We’ll fix it.”

Reese looked conflicted.

“How were you planning on leaving?” Gavin asked. “It’s miles to civilization. Were you going to steal Madame Braith’s car? Hitchhike?”

“I was hoping it would just work out,” said Reese. “I couldn’t think beyond getting out of here.”

“Why do you want to get out of here?” asked Gavin. “What happened?”

They sat down in the den. Reese told Gavin about seeing Sophia die and about seeing her spirit, then about returning to find a spirit telling them that Sophia had left on a journey. He told him that he knew the other spirit wasn’t Sophia.

Gavin told Reese about what had happened to him, about seeing the tattered spirits in the exercise, about the weird interaction he’d had with Madame Braith (but he’d left out the kissing and the sex; he couldn’t bear to say it aloud), and about a dream he’d had, one that he could only remember in fragments. “But I think it was Madame Braith in the dream,” he said. “And I think she’s the one who made the fake Sophia for everyone to see at the summoning.”

Reese nodded. “I agree with you. I don’t trust her. But why would Madame Braith do that? And why did she do it right after I showed up?”

“It’s got something to do with the exercise,” said Gavin. “Something happened.”

“She released some trapped spirits, like the book you were reading says?”

“Maybe. But did she do it on purpose? Was that an exercise or a ritual?”

“Right. And what kind of spirits did she release?”

Gavin shook his head. “I don’t think they were good spirits.”

Reese glanced around the den warily.

“You’ve got to stay,” said Gavin. “I need you. This might sound weird, but you’re the only person I really feel like I can trust.”

“It does sound weird. But I know what you mean.”

* * *

“You haven’t been hurt, have you?” he asked, taking in the bedchamber. It wasn’t luxurious, but it didn’t look as if Meleagant had mistreated her. He hoped to God Meleagant hadn’t. If he had…

“You’re hurt,” she whispered, indicating his hand.

He looked at his palm, the angry cut down it. He was bleeding. “This is nothing,” he said. “We have to get you out of here.”

She was out of bed, then, ripping sheets. “Let me bind your wound,” she said.

God. She was wearing nothing but her nightgown, and it flowed around the curves of her body. Her hair was unbound, raven locks falling down her back. He stumbled away from her, collapsing on the bed, blood from his hand going everywhere.

“Come, come,” she said. “You can’t rescue me while you’re bleeding like that. Let me bind the wound.”

Wordlessly, he offered her his hand. Her touch was gentle as she tied the bed sheets tight over his wound, stanching the blood. When she was finished, her hand lingered on his. He gazed into her eyes. This woman…

She belonged to his king. To his closest friend. He mustn’t… “Meleagant,” he said. “What did he do to you?” Had her honor been compromised? If so, the king would be well within his rights to set her aside, to take another queen, especially since the queen was childless. He didn’t want anything to have happened to his beautiful queen, but part of him longed…

“If I say yes,” she said, “he could set me free, could he not? And we could—”

“The truth, my lady,” he said. “Tell me the truth. Meleagant abducted you. Has he…ravaged you?”

“No,” she whispered. “But perhaps I should say that—”

“We can’t lie to the king like that,” he said. They were still holding hands. He knew they shouldn’t.

“We lie to him every day when we pretend we don’t feel what we feel,” she said.

“They are only feelings, my lady. They are not actions.”

“No. They are not.”

Her hand moved against his, feather soft. Her fingers stroked his knuckles. It felt like tendrils of desire traced themselves up his limbs to his heart. He reached up and put a hand on her cheek. “My lady,” he said, “we should leave now.”

“Yes,” she said, “you’ve rescued me. I want to thank you.”

And her lips came closer and closer to his until he could stand it no longer, and he kissed her. Her lips were sweet and soft. He gathered her into his arms, feeling how small she seemed against him. It was bliss. He had wanted to hold her like this for so long.

But the door burst open. Meleagant saw them kissing. He saw the blood on the bed. He began screaming that the queen was an adulterous whore, not worth anything to the king.

He couldn’t handle hearing Meleagant’s accusations. He swung with his sword without thinking. The sword sunk into Meleagant’s skull, and he fell to his knees, blood trickling down his forehead, a dazed look in his lifeless eyes.

* * *

Reese rubbed his eyes. So he was having dreams now too. Was it simply because Gavin had placed the thought in his head or were these dreams part of the bigger thing that was happening at the academy? What did his dream have in common with Gavin’s? Mention of a king? Some sort of weird, medieval setting? But it Gavin’s dream, hadn’t Gavin been the king? And besides, why had it seemed that the queen in the dream was so much like Wyn? She hadn’t looked like Wyn, but he’d somehow known it was her, the way you sometimes knew in dreams.

Why was he having dreams about making out with Gavin’s girlfriend?

He liked Gavin a lot. He had to admit he liked Wyn too. When he’d first arrived, he’d thought that Wyn was standoffish and a little snobby. Now he knew differently. She was actually really awesome. He hadn’t spent much time talking to her, but he knew somehow that he would really enjoy her company. He just didn’t see why he wanted to subconsciously make out with her.

Should he tell Gavin about the dream? Sure. He’d just leave out the part where he was kissing Wyn. Somehow, he didn’t think Gavin would be too excited about the idea that Reese was dreaming about his girlfriend like that.

* * *

“With all the excitement over the weekend, I hope you still found time to complete your reading,” said Madame Braith.

Wyn had been up late last night doing just that, because she’d forgotten all about it. It was Monday morning, and she and the other students were gathered in the den, which served as their classroom as well. She opened the book they were reading from, which was entitled Ghosts and Hauntings: A Case Study. This book was written by Miles Workman, who was a Sensitive, but had never been properly trained. Workman consistently misunderstood the phenomena he was encountering and did all kinds of silly things to try to “exorcise” spirits from houses.

“I didn’t,” said Gavin, as he walked in and plopped down on the couch next to Wyn. Wyn was glad to see him. She hadn’t talked to him since Saturday evening. It wasn’t like him to be late for class.

“Hello Gavin,” said Madame Braith. She smiled at him.

Gavin flinched, as if she’d slapped him.

“I did the reading,” Wyn volunteered.

“Good,” said Madame Braith. “Then perhaps you can give us your impressions of it.”

“Well,” Wyn said, “um, he’s still trying to drive out what he thinks are ghosts from houses. He doesn’t seem to realize that the best way to get rid of an unwanted spiritual entity is to redirect it into another incarnation. He claims to have success, but I can’t see how he is.”

“Ah,” said Madame Braith, “this is a good question. How is Workman able to succeed at what he does?”

No one said anything.

“Really,” said Madame Braith, “I know you’re all exhausted and that you miss Sophia, but it’s unlike you all not to participate.” She gestured to Reese. “When I invited Reese here, I assured him he’d be among students who were eager learners.”

“A few times, Workman uses something that meant something to the person who the spirit emulates,” said Luke. “I think this may encourage the spirit to actually take another incarnation.”

“Yes!” said Madame Braith. “Did you catch that?”

“Like when he used that woman’s necklace?” asked Wyn.

“Exactly,” said Madame Braith. “Such a thing is called a talisman, and it can be very powerful to spirits. If some of you wish to make your living being so-called ghost hunters or exorcists when you leave this place, then this technique may be something you’ll want to try.”

They spent the rest of the morning analyzing the steps Workman described taking and discussing how to do things more effectively. Afterwards, Madame Braith dismissed them. They’d be back for exercises in the spirit realm later that evening.

Wyn watched as Meaghan approached Reese. They spoke quietly for a few minutes and then Reese backed away from her, shaking his head. Wyn went closer to the two of them.

“…don’t know if you got the wrong idea because I was talking to you at the party,” Reese was saying, “but I really didn’t mean for you to think anything like that.”

“I can’t stop thinking about you,” Meaghan was saying.

“I was drunk. I didn’t know anyone. I was only being friendly. Please stop misinterpreting that,” Reese said.

Wyn’s heart went out to Reese. He was such a nice guy, and he was trying to be nice to Meaghan, but the nicer he was to her, the more she thought she had a chance. Wyn walked over to them. “Hey,” she said, “you guys want to come make sandwiches with me in the kitchen?”

Reese shot her a grateful look. “That would be great,” he said.

Meaghan looked crestfallen. “I’m not hungry,” she mumbled, and she fled the den, clambering up the steps to her bedroom.

“I’m sorry about that,” said Wyn. “Before you showed up, everyone was dating someone here at the academy. I think Meaghan really wanted to have a boyfriend, and there are slim pickings in a place this small.”

“She seems like a nice girl,” said Reese. “But she sure does come on strong.”

Wyn laughed. She looked around for Gavin, to see if he wanted to have lunch with them as well. Gavin wasn’t around. “Guess it’s just me and you, then,” she said. Why did she feel so excited at the prospect of being alone with Reese?

“Guess so,” he said.

He followed her to the kitchen, explaining that he was still trying to remember how to find his way around. The mansion wasn’t that big, but he sometimes found it confusing. Wyn agreed that at first, everything around here could be a little overwhelming.

“But,” she said, opening the refrigerator, “you’re really picking up on the other stuff quickly. I mean, you’ve had no problem contacting the spirit realm.” She handed him a loaf of bread and some sliced Swiss cheese.

He set the food on the counter and began rummaging in the drawers for silverware. “Is that usually a problem for newbies?”

“It was for me,” said Wyn. “Do you want turkey or roast beef?”

“Turkey,” he said. “So you had problems contacting the spirit realm when you first got here?”

“Yeah,” said Wyn, pulling out the turkey. She also got some mustard and lettuce. “I don’t know, it might just have been because I had trouble relaxing. It was hard for me to find a place of peace when I got here. The whole closing my eyes and letting myself drift into the spirit realm was next to impossible for me.”

“Really?” said Reese. “I’m sorry. That sounds tough to deal with.”

Wyn shut the refrigerator door and went to the counter. “It was. See, for me, I just wouldn’t feel safe closing my eyes. Not unless I was locked in a room by myself.” She got a few plates out of the cabinet and arranged slices of bread on them. It was whole wheat, of course. Madame Braith only ever bought healthy food.

“Wow,” said Reese. There was such concern in his eyes.

Usually, Wyn didn’t like to talk about this at all. Her past was painful, and she didn’t see much point in dredging it up all the time. But around Reese, she felt really comfortable. She squirted some mustard onto her bread and handed the bottle to Reese. “I didn’t really know my dad because he skipped out on my mom and me when I was really little,” she said. “My mother got remarried when I was ten to a guy named George. At first, he seemed really cool. He had a good job, and we moved into his house. We had all kinds of stuff that we’d never had before, like a big TV and a dishwasher. But then, he just started to get weird.”

Wyn paused. Reese handed her the turkey and cheese. She began to assemble her sandwich. “He hurt me and my mom. I didn’t like it, but my mother said that he was sorry, and he’d stop, and he loved us. I didn’t spend much time at home when I was a teenager, and when I was eighteen, my mom kicked me out of the house. So whenever I’d close my eyes and try to relax to encounter the spirit realm, I’d just think that George was going to barge in at any second and start wailing on me. It was really hard to adjust for me.”

“Wow,” said Reese. “I just…” He held out his arms. “Do you want a hug?”

She laughed a little and went to his arms. He pulled them close around her. It felt lovely, like being engulfed in Reese. She hugged him back. Maybe they hugged for too long.

They both dropped their arms and went busily back to their sandwiches.

“So, um,” said Reese, “how did you know you were Sensitive?”

“I got to the point where I could predict when George was going to get mad, and I’d do stuff like lock him in the basement. But it would only make him madder. Also, I started seeing other stuff, like when I’d see someone, I’d know when they were going to be in danger.”

“Can you still do that?”

“I can control it now,” said Wyn, “so I only see it when I want. I’m so safe here at the academy that I don’t need to look for danger.”

Reese didn’t say anything.

“Don’t you think it’s safe here?” Wyn asked.

“I don’t,” he said, “and neither does Gavin.”

Gavin had been talking to Reese and not her? She felt a little stab in her heart. She was losing Gavin! Why was this happening? She smashed her sandwich together and walked over to the kitchen table.

Reese followed her. “Look, after what you’ve been through, I can see why you’d want to believe that Madame Braith is our surrogate mother, and she’s only got our best interests at heart.”

“She does only have our best interests at heart!” God, everyone was suspicious of Madame Braith. Everyone except her. Maybe she should pay attention to what was going on.

Reese took her hand across the table. “It’s okay,” he said. “We don’t really know what’s going on yet. But Gavin and I have seen things. And we’ve had dreams.”

“Dreams?” asked Wyn.

“Did you have a dream?”

“The night of the party, I dreamed I’d been kidnapped. Only it was like this old ages type world. And I was waiting for someone to rescue me.” She took a bite of her sandwich and chewed. Reese watched her. “I think it was you.”

“Really,” said Reese, looking slightly alarmed.

“I mean, it couldn’t have been you, not really. I’m not even sure it was me. And it was a dream anyhow. You know how dreams are. Sometimes you dream about a person and they don’t even look like the way they do in real life, but somehow you know that—”

“—that it’s that person,” Reese finished. He took a bite of his sandwich. “I think I had a dream about you.”

“Me? What was I doing?”

Reese blushed.

Wyn focused on her sandwich. So it had been that kind of dream.

“You weren’t doing anything. It probably wasn’t even you. There was a queen, and I was rescuing her. But then we… It’s not important.”

“It was just a dream,” said Wyn. “It doesn’t mean anything, because I’m dating Gavin, and—”

“Absolutely,” said Reese. “And I really like Gavin. So I would never—”

“Neither would I!”

“Okay then,” said Reese.

They finished their sandwiches in silence and then began to clean up after themselves. Reese put the food back in the refrigerator while Wyn washed the dishes. She couldn’t help but noticing that even in their silence, they seemed to work well together. They knew just how to compliment each other’s actions. And when she looked at him, she felt something strong. Friendship, she guessed. She and Reese were going to be very good friends, no matter what kind of weird dreams they had.

“Hey,” she said as they were leaving the kitchen, “you really do think Madame Braith is doing something, don’t you? Do you think we’re in danger?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “Can you… can you use your ability?”

Wyn hesitated. She’d built those barriers in her mind a long time ago. To break them down now would feel strange. But if they were in danger, she wanted to know. Slowly, she nodded. She went back into the kitchen and sat down at one of the chairs at the table. She closed her eyes and let her head drop onto her chest. For a few seconds, she just breathed. And then, she imagined herself creeping into her own mind, tiptoeing around her memories and thoughts so as not to disturb them. At one end, there was a huge door, holding back her ability to see danger. She stood in front of it, shuddering. In the chair in the kitchen, her body shook. And then, she pulled the door open.

Images rushed at her, taking away her breath.

Madame Braith was pregnant, lumbering around the mansion in labor, laughing like a hyena.

Meaghan was standing in the bathroom, shaking a bottle of pills into her hands.

Luke was cleaning a gun on the kitchen table, intent on his purpose.

The entire mansion was covered in an inky blackness, blocking out the sunlight. Inside, everyone was gasping for breath. And Madame Braith was standing at the top of the stairs, her green eyes dancing. She dragged Gavin behind her. “Together,” she crowed. “Together!”

Wyn gasped, opening her eyes.

“What did you see?” asked Reese.

“I don’t really know,” said Wyn, “but I don’t think it’s good.”

* * *

Wyn was at his door again. Gavin let her in. He tried to embrace her, the way they always had in the past, but something about it felt awkward. They ended up giving each other a stiff hug and a peck on the lips. Gavin retreated from her, feeling guilty. It had to be because of what had happened with Madame Braith that he felt this way. He and Wyn used to be so in sync. He’d always thought they were a perfect couple. It was just that lately, things didn’t seem right.

“I talked to Reese today,” she said, sitting down on his bed.

He sat down next to her. “Okay.”

“About Madame Braith,” she continued.

Oh God. Reese had confided in Wyn about this stuff? Gavin hadn’t wanted Wyn to know. He knew that Wyn worshipped Madame Braith, and he thought his suspicions would only upset her. He’d wanted to wait until he had proof. Now that was ruined. He waited for Wyn to begin accusing him of overreacting to everything. She didn’t.

“I want to help,” she said.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“I lowered my barriers for a minute,” she said. “And I saw Madame Braith with you yelling, ‘Together!’ Do you know what that means?”

He shook his head, swimming in guilt. He couldn’t let Wyn find out what had happened between him and Madame Braith. She wouldn’t be able to understand. Hell, he hardly understood it himself.

“Well,” she said, “when I do that, it only shows me danger, so whatever is going on with her, it’s dangerous. And I think we should keep our eyes on Meaghan and Luke. I saw something about them too.”

“Why would Madame Braith want to be together with me?” he said.

“I don’t know,” said Wyn, sounding bewildered. “Why are you being so defensive?”

“I’m not being defensive,” he said, aware that even that statement sounded defensive. He went to the door of the room and opened it. “Look, Wyn, maybe you should just not come to my room anymore unless I invite you.”

She stood up. “What is going on, Gavin?” she demanded. “First you’re all secretive for no reason. Then you talk to Reese and not me. Now you’re kicking me out of your room. Do you want to break up with me or something?”

“No!” He crossed to her, grabbed her hands. “I love you, Wyn, but things are really complicated right now.” I slept with our teacher, and I don’t even know why I wanted to do it, but when I did, I was very, very into it.

“So tell me about it. Let me help.”

She couldn’t help. “No,” he said. “I just want you to stay out of it.”

Wyn looked so hurt. “I can’t stay out of it forever, you know, Gavin. Whatever’s going on, it involves all of us. Reese thinks it had something to do with that exercise that Madame Braith did and he said you saw something. Why couldn’t you have told me that?”

He couldn’t deal with this right now. “I did what I did, okay?”

“It’s not okay,” she said, and she swept out of the room.

Gavin sat down on his bed and buried his face in his hands. What was he going to do?

* * *

She snuggled close against his shoulder, feeling his arms close around her as he murmured into her hair how much he loved her. When it was like this, after they had made love and they were lying together, she couldn’t understand how something so perfect could be wrong. She belonged to him in her heart, even if the state said she was the queen and the wife of the king. This was all that was real to her in these moments. It seemed that frequently, she needed these moments more often than ever. She signaled him to come to her bed three or four times a week these days. It was careless, and she knew it. He told her they must be cautious. If anyone were to know of their affair, it would have disastrous consequences. Not to mention the fact it would hurt the king so deeply. And neither of them wanted to hurt the king.

Still, he didn’t deny her when she summoned him. He came, and she lost herself in his body and his kisses and the way he whispered her name.

He would fall asleep soon. She could hear his breathing growing slower and more even. She shouldn’t let him fall asleep. She should rouse him and send him back to his chamber. More than once, he’d ended up in her bed until sunrise. He’d had to climb out the window and scale the wall outside to avoid detection from her servants. But it felt so nice to be close to him, and she didn’t want him to leave yet.

She huddled closer and closed her eyes, his breath against her cheek, their skin warm against each other. This was too perfect. She would just rest for a few minutes, enjoying his closeness. Then she would rouse him and tell him to go back to his chamber. Just a few more moments…

The clatter of the door being thrust open woke her. She sat up in bed, pulling the blankets and furs close to her body. Who was there?

Mordred. Of course it was Mordred. He smirked at her as he entered the room. There were others with him. So many others. And they could all see her in bed with her lover.

“And you see,” said Mordred, “that it is as I said. The queen is a whore.”

That woke him up. He sat up next to her.

They were armed and he (Reese? No, not Reese…) wasn’t. His clothes were out of reach. So was his sword. He was naked, but he still yelled that he would fight anyone who would so malign the queen. He leapt from the bed, pulling away a few furs and wrapping them around his body. He dove for his sword.

Mordred was waiting for him, sneering. The others flanked Mordred, their swords drawn.

“No,” she screamed. “No, they’ll kill you. Run! For God’s sake, run!”

He wouldn’t do it. He wouldn’t run. He held his honor too dear.

“Please, my love,” she begged. “For my sake, would you—”

Someone was shaking her. There was a light in her face. Wyn opened her eyes to see Meaghan standing over her bed. She’d switched on the bedside lamp. “Meaghan?” she mumbled, still waking from her dream.

“You were screaming,” Meaghan said. “Bad dream?”

Wyn sat up, trying to push aside the last tendrils of sleep. “Yeah,” she said. “Bad dream.” Another dream about Reese? It hadn’t been Reese, not really, but at the same time, she had somehow known that it was Reese. And this time, she’d been in bed with him. What was more, she was sure that she’d been the same woman who’d been kidnapped in the last dream. Was she having some sort of memories of a past life? Was that it? Had she known Reese in another lifetime?

“You seem shaken up,” said Meaghan. “I can stay if you want.”

Wyn smiled at her. “Thanks,” she said, scooting over to make room in the bed for Meaghan. Meaghan burrowed under the covers, but both remained sitting up.

“What was your dream about?” Meaghan asked.

Wyn told her. She told her about the dream she’d had after the party in the woods, and about Reese telling her what he’d dreamed. “It’s like we’re dreaming about the same thing. And about each other.”

“That is weird,” said Meaghan. She sighed. “I can’t believe you got to kiss Reese, even if it was only a dream.”

Wyn rolled her eyes. “I didn’t kiss Reese. I probably only had this dream tonight because Reese told me about having a dream, and so it was on my mind. I wouldn’t have had it otherwise.”

“You guys are like dream lovers,” said Meaghan.

“No, we aren’t!”

“Hell no, you aren’t, because Reese is mine,” said Meaghan, grinning at Wyn.

Wyn shoved Meaghan playfully. “Don’t tease me about stuff like that. Especially when stuff’s so weird with Gavin.”

“Yeah, you two haven’t been hanging out much, have you?”

“Not really.”

“And you were always attached at the hip.”

“I know.” Wyn rubbed her face in frustration. “I can’t for the life of me figure out what’s up with him. Everything got weird after that exercise Madame Braith did. Gavin and Reese think it did something to us.”

Meaghan considered. “That exercise was wicked spooky.”

“Do you still think Sophia is dead?” Wyn asked.

“No, we saw the spirit at the summoning. I was wrong.”

“What if she is dead?” Wyn asked.

“Then where did that spirit come from?”

“Madame Braith?”

“I thought you loved Madame Braith.”

“I did. I do. I… I lowered my barriers this afternoon to look for danger. Let’s say Madame Braith was playing a pretty dominant role.”

“Oh,” Meaghan breathed, looking alarmed.

“Which reminds me,” said Wyn, “you need to stay away from pills, okay?”

“Pills?”

“I saw you taking a bunch of pills. Don’t do it.”

Meaghan laughed. “Okay. I won’t take pills. Don’t worry, Wyn, I would never do anything like that.”

“Promise?”

“I promise!” Meaghan was still laughing.

She wasn’t taking it seriously. Wyn was going to have to keep an eye on Meaghan and that was all there was to it. She couldn’t let her friend hurt herself. Not even on accident. God, but how was she going to try to repair things with Gavin, spend time with Reese trying to figure out what was going on, and make sure Meaghan was okay? It was too much.

“So what do you think Madame Braith is trying to do to us?”

“I don’t know! Nothing,” said Wyn. “I hope it’s nothing.”

“I think she’s gained weight.”

“Since when?”

“Since the exercise.”

“That’s barely been four days, Meaghan. People don’t gain weight in four days.”

Meaghan shrugged. “I think she did. Maybe the fat is turning her mean.”

Wyn sighed. “Let’s get some sleep. Do you still want to stay in here?” She settled down in bed and pulled the covers tight around her chin.

Meaghan got comfortable beside her. “Sure,” she said. “But before we sleep, I just have to ask you, since you spent time with Reese today, what do you think he wants in a girl? What do you think I can do to get him to notice me?”

“He’s noticed you, Meaghan,” said Wyn. “That’s not the problem.” Poor Meaghan. Things would be easier if Reese liked her. Still, she was kind of glad he didn’t, because then he’d be spending all his time with Meaghan. With Gavin ignoring Wyn, Reese was one of the few people she could actually hang out with.

“Okay, I know that, but it’s not enough.”

“I just…” Wyn tried to say it as gently as she could. “I don’t think he’s into you like that, sweetie.”

“Yeah,” Meaghan said softly. She reached over and switched off the bedside lamp. She was quiet for a few minutes. “I just wish that he could be into me. You know? Because I can’t stop wanting him, no matter how hard I try.”

Wyn didn’t know what to say. She just lay next to her friend, feeling helpless, as Meaghan started to cry.

* * *

Gavin looked up from outside Wyn’s bedroom to see Reese standing there. Reese looked uncomfortable.

“I heard her screaming,” said Reese.

“Me too,” said Gavin.

“You go in,” said Reese. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”

Gavin turned back to the door. He heard voices filtering through it. He turned away. “Meaghan’s in there,” he said.

“Okay,” said Reese. “I’m going back to bed.” He started back for his bedroom, his head drooping as if he were ashamed.

“Wait,” said Gavin. He wasn’t going to go in there if Meaghan were there. There wasn’t any point. Besides, he had no idea what he’d say to Wyn anyway. Which sucked, because it used to be easy to talk to her, but now everything was hard with her, all the time. He felt like he was falling apart. “Do you want to go help me look through books in the den? I can’t sleep.”

Reese looked back at him, a grateful look on his face. “Yeah,” he said. “I don’t know if I can sleep either.”

As they poured over books in the den, Gavin felt the same feeling he’d had before with Reese. He felt connected. He felt like he could trust Reese. He really liked Reese. All this stuff with Madame Braith would be unbearable if he didn’t have Reese around too. “I’m really glad you showed up at the academy,” Gavin told him as he closed another book and put it back on the shelf.

Reese was running his finger down a page of an index. “Can’t say the same exactly,” he said. “So, you think we’ve been taken over by spirits? Like possessed or something?”

Possessed? Now there was a thought. “Look up possession,” he said. “No, I know that this isn’t the nicest place to be right now, but I mean that I’m glad that I met you. You know, I feel like we’re friends. Good friends.”

Reese looked up from the book thoughtfully. “Yeah, I’ve been feeling like that too. Which is good. I mean, if weren’t for you and Wyn, I would have left already.”

“You’ve been talking to Wyn?”

“Um, yeah, but not a lot or anything. She seems, um…”

“Awesome,” Gavin said. “She’s awesome.” He missed her so much. But things didn’t feel the same anymore. “I’m glad you guys are hanging out.”

“You are?”

“Yeah, because I can’t be around her right now. I don’t know why, but it’s harder than it was. And I can’t…talk to her anymore. She probably feels really alone. So, I’m glad she’s got someone to talk to, you know?”

Reese nodded. “Yeah. Anytime.” He went back to his book. “I found the entry on possession.”

“Okay, what’s it say?”

Reese’s eyes darted over the page for a few seconds. Then he started to read aloud. “For the most part, spirits cannot possess humans. In certain instances, very brief periods of possession may occur, however, causing a human host to behave in the manner that the spirit wishes. These instances are rare, however, and generally do not last for longer than a few hours.” He paused. “Doesn’t sound like what’s happening.”

“I don’t even know what’s happening,” said Gavin. “But I did stuff I wouldn’t normally do. But it was only for a few hours… Maybe I was possessed. Maybe it’s over now.”

“What did you do that you normally wouldn’t do?”

Gavin shook his head. “Does it say anything about long-term effects of possession?”

Reese skimmed. “No, not really. What did you do? And when?”

“It’s… I can’t talk about it, really. It’s not important.”

“I think it is. If you think you were possessed. It’s kind of important.”

“Has anything like that happened to you?”

“No… the extent of my weirdness is seeing a girl die and then having her pull me into a mystical world with swirling papers only to tell me that we’re all being consumed. I wish I could remember everything she said. She quoted something I thought I’d heard from somewhere. Something about deaths and power or…”

“You two are up late,” said a voice.

Both Gavin and Reese stood up and faced the voice. It was Madame Braith. She was wearing her pajamas, which Gavin noted were actually an oversized t-shirt and gym shorts, not a long, white nightgown.

“We’re going to bed now,” said Gavin.

“What are you two looking for in the books?” she asked, coming into the room and settling on one of the easy chairs. “Maybe I can help.”

“Nothing really,” said Reese. “I just feel so behind everyone else. Gavin was helping me catch up.”

Madame Braith raised her eyebrows. “Gavin, did it have something to do with what you told me about the other night?”

“What did you tell her the other night?” Reese asked. “When did you talk to her?”

God! What had he revealed to Madame Braith when he’d been possessed or confused or crazy or whatever had been wrong with him? He might have told her everything he’d seen during the exercise. She knew everything. He was an idiot.

“He told me about something he saw during the exercise,” said Madame Braith. “Something about some burnt or tattered spirits or something? Really interesting.”

Oh, yeah. Gavin remembered. “You said it was some kind of gift,” Gavin said, eyeing her.

“Did I?” She laughed self-consciously. “That night is a little blurry for me.”

She was lying. She was behind this, all of it. Of course she knew what had happened. What they’d done. Gavin felt sick just thinking about it.

Reese eyed Gavin. “Why don’t you tell me about that night?”

“Actually,” said Madame Braith, “I was hoping I could talk to you about it, Gavin.”

Gavin felt his face redden. He studied his feet. “Nothing to talk about,” he said.

Madame Braith laughed again. She sounded nervous and embarrassed. “Well, okay, then,” she said. “That’s very, um, nice of you, Gavin. We’ll forget about it, then.” She smiled. “I’ll leave you two to it. I’m tired, and I think I’ll get to bed.” She got up and went to the door. With a little wave, she disappeared down the hallway.

“Maybe we should just go to bed,” said Gavin.

Reese folded his arms over his chest. “What was that all about, Gavin?”

“Nothing,” said Gavin.

“I don’t know how I’m supposed to help figure all this out if you won’t tell me everything.”

Gavin shrugged. “I’m sorry. I don’t want to talk about it.”

“What? Did you screw her or something?”

Gavin grimaced and looked at the ceiling.

“Oh God,” said Reese. “ Did you screw her?”

Gavin sank down on a couch. It felt good to tell someone. “It just happened. I didn’t mean for it to happen. It was all strange. I called her another name. The name of the woman I dreamed about. When I woke up, she was gone.”

Reese sat down next to him. “Does Wyn know?”

Gavin shook his head. “You can’t tell her. It would kill her to know.”

“Jesus, Gavin, this all just keeps getting weirder and weirder.”

“Yeah,” said Gavin.

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