"It's burnt now, too."
She looked at me evenly, her eyes strangely dark and bright at the same time. She tossed the grass. "It was me."
"You are pretty hot."
"You can't be joking right now. It's getting worse." We sat next to each other, looking out at what was left of Greenbrier. But we weren't really looking at Greenbrier. We were looking at the power of the other fire. "Just like my mom." She sounded bitter.
Fire was the trademark of a Cataclyst, and Sarafine's fire had burnt every inch of these fields the night of Lena's birthday. Now Lena was starting fires unintentionally. My stomach tightened.
"The grass will grow back, too."
"What if I don't want it to?" she said softly, strangely, as she let another handful of charred grass fall through her fingers.
"Why should it?"
"Because life goes on, L. The birds do their thing, and the bees do theirs. Seeds get scattered, and everything grows back."
"Then it all gets burnt again. If you're lucky enough to be around me."
There was no point arguing with Lena when she was in one of these moods. A lifetime with Amma going dark had taught me that. "Sometimes it does."
She pulled her knees up and rested her chin on them. Her shape cast a shadow much larger than she actually was.
"But I'm still lucky." I moved my leg until it caught the light, throwing a long line of my shadow into hers.
We sat like that, side by side, with only our shadows touching, until the sun went down and they stretched toward the black trees and disappeared into dusk. We listened to the cicadas in silence and tried not to think until the rain started falling again.
In the next few weeks, I successfully convinced Lena to leave the house with me a total of three times. Once to the movies with Link -- my best friend since second grade -- where even her signature combination of popcorn and Milk Duds didn't cheer her up. Once to my house to eat Amma's molasses cookies and watch a zombie marathon, my version of a dream date. It wasn't. And once for a walk along the Santee, where we ended up turning around after ten minutes with sixty bug bites between us. Wherever she was, she didn't want to be.
Today was different. She had finally found somewhere she was comfortable, even if it was the last place I expected.
I walked in her room to find her lying sprawled across the ceiling, arms flung across the plaster, her hair spread out like a black fan around her head.
"Since when can you do that?" I was used to Lena's powers by now, but since her sixteenth birthday they seemed to be getting stronger and wilder, as if she was awkwardly growing into herself as a Caster. With every day, Lena the Caster girl was more unpredictable, stretching her powers to see what she could do. As it turned out, what she could do these days was cause all kinds of trouble.
Like the time Link and I were driving to school in the Beater, and one of his songs came on the radio as if the station was playing it. Link was so shocked he'd swerved a good two feet into Mrs. Asher's front hedge. "An accident," Lena said with a crooked smile. "One of Link's songs was stuck in my head." Nobody had ever gotten one of Link's songs stuck in their head. But Link had believed her, which made his ego even more unbearable. "What can I say? I have that effect on the ladies. This voice is as smooth as butter."
A week after that, Link and I had been walking down the hall, and Lena came up and gave me a big hug, right as the bell was ringing. I figured she had finally decided to come back to school. But she wasn't actually there at all. It was some kind of projection, or whatever the Caster word was for making your boyfriend look like an idiot. Link thought I was trying to hug him, so he called me "Lover Boy" for days. "I missed you. Is that such a crime?" Lena thought it was funny, but I was starting to wish Gramma would step in and ground her, or whatever it was you did to a Natural who was up to no good.
Don't be a baby. I said I was sorry, didn't I?
You're as big a menace as Link in fifth grade, the year he sucked all the juice out of my mom's tomatoes with a straw.
It won't happen again. I swear.
That's what Link said back then.
But he stopped, right?
Yeah. When we stopped growing tomatoes.
"I like it better up here."
I grabbed her hand. A current crept through my arm, but I didn't let go, pulling her down onto the bed next to me.
"Ouch." She was laughing. I could see her shoulder shudder even though her back was to me. Or maybe she wasn't laughing but crying, which was rare these days. The crying had mostly stopped and had been replaced by something worse. Nothing.
Nothing was deceptive. Nothing was much harder to describe or fix or stop.
Do you want to talk about it, L?
I pulled her closer, resting my head on hers. The shaking slowed, and I held her as tight as I could. Like she was still on the ceiling, and I was the one hanging on.
I shouldn't have complained about the ceiling. There were crazier places you could hang out. Like where we were now.
"I have a bad feeling about this." I was sweating, but I couldn't wipe my face. I needed my hands to stay right where they were.
"That's weird." Lena smiled down at me. "Because I have a very good feeling about it." Her hair was blowing in a breeze, though I wasn't sure which kind. "Besides, we're almost there."
"You realize this is insane, right? If a cop drives by, we're gonna get arrested or sent to Blue Horizons to visit my dad."
"It's not crazy. It's romantic. Couples come here all the time."
"When people go to the water tower, L, they aren't talking about the top of the water tower." Which is where we would be in a minute. Just the two of us, a wobbly iron ladder about a hundred feet above the ground, and a bright blue Carolina sky.
I tried not to look down.
Lena had talked me into climbing to the top. There was something about the excitement in her voice that made me go along with it, as if something so stupid might be able to make her feel the way she did the last time we were here. Smiling, happy, in a red sweater. I remembered, because there was a piece of red yarn hanging from her charm necklace.
She must have remembered, too. So here we were, stuck on a ladder, looking up so we didn't look down.
Once we reached the top and I looked out at the view, I understood. Lena was right. It was better up here. Everything was so far away that it didn't even matter.
I let my legs dangle over the edge. "My mom used to collect pictures of old water towers."
"Like the Sisters collect spoons. Only for my mom, it was water towers and postcards from the World's Fair."
"I thought all water towers looked like this one. Like a big white spider."
"Somewhere in Illinois, there's one shaped like a ketchup bottle."
"And there's one that looks like a little house, this high off the ground."
"We should live there. I'd go up once and never come back down." She lay back on the warm white paint. "I guess in Gatlin it should be a peach, a big old Gatlin peach."
I leaned back next to her. "They already have one, but it's not in Gatlin. It's over in Gaffney. Guess they thought of it first."
"What about a pie? We could paint this tank to look like one of Amma's pies. She'd like that."