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"Haven't seen one of those. But my mom had a picture of one shaped like a corncob."

"I'd still rather have the house." Lena stared up at the sky, where there wasn't a cloud in sight.

"I'd take the corncob or the ketchup, if you were there."

She reached for my hand and we stayed like that, at the edge of Summerville's plain white water tower, looking out at Gatlin County as if it was a tiny toy land full of tiny toy people. As small as the cardboard village my mom used to keep under our Christmas tree.

How could people that small have any problems at all?

"Hey, I brought you something." I watched as she sat up, looking at me like a little kid.

"What is it?"

I looked over the edge of the water tower. "Maybe we should wait until we can't fall to our deaths."

"We're not going to die. Don't be such a chicken."

I reached into my back pocket. It wasn't anything special, but I'd had it for a while now, and I was hoping it might help her find her way back to herself.

I pulled out a mini Sharpie, with a key ring on it.

"See? It fits on your necklace, like this." Trying not to fall, I reached for Lena's necklace, the one she never took off. A tangle of charms, each one meant something to her -- the flattened penny from the machine at the Cineplex, where we had our first date. A silver moon Macon had given her the night of the winter formal. The button from the vest she was wearing the night in the rain. They were Lena's memories, and she carried them with her as if she might lose them without proof of those few perfect moments of happiness.

I snapped the Sharpie onto the chain. "Now you can write wherever you are."

"Even on ceilings?" She looked at me and smiled, a little crooked, a little sad.

"Even on water towers."

"I love it." She spoke quietly, pulling the cap off the Sharpie.

Before I knew it, she was drawing a heart. Black ink on white paint, a heart hidden at the top of the Summerville water tower.

I was happy for a second. Then I felt like I was falling all the way down. Because she wasn't thinking about us. She was thinking about her next birthday, the Seventeenth Moon. She was already counting down.

In the center of the heart, she didn't write our names.

She wrote a number.


The Call

I didn't ask her about what she'd written on the water tower, but I didn't forget it. How could I, when all we had done for the past year was count down to the inevitable? When I finally asked why she'd written it or what she was counting down to, she wouldn't say. And I had the feeling she really didn't know.

Which was even worse than knowing.

It had been two weeks since then, and as far as I could tell Lena still hadn't written anything in her notebook. She was wearing the little Sharpie on her necklace, but it looked as new as the day I bought it at the Stop & Steal. It was weird not to see her writing, scribbling on her hands or her worn-out Converse, which she didn't wear much these days. She had started wearing her thrashed black boots instead. Her hair was different, too. Almost always tied back, as if she thought she could yank the magic right out of it.

We were sitting on the top step of my porch, the same place we had been sitting when Lena first told me she was a Caster, a secret she had never shared with a Mortal before. I was pretending to read Jekyll and Hyde. Lena was staring down at the blank pages of her spiral notebook, as if the thin blue lines held the answer to all her problems.

When I wasn't watching Lena, I was staring down my street. My dad was coming home today. Amma and I had visited him on Family Day every week since my aunt checked him into Blue Horizons. Even though he wasn't back to his old self, I had to admit he was acting almost like a regular person again. But I was still nervous.

"They're here." The screen door slammed behind me. Amma was standing on the porch in her tool apron, the kind she preferred over a traditional one, especially on days like this. She was holding the gold charm around her neck, rubbing it between her fingers.

I looked down the street, but the only thing I saw was Billy Watson riding his bike. Lena leaned forward to get a better look.

I don't see a car.

I didn't either, but I knew I would in about five seconds. Amma was proud, particularly when it came to her abilities as a Seer. She wouldn't say they were here unless she knew they were coming.

It'll be here.

Sure enough, my aunt's white Cadillac made the right onto Cotton Bend. Aunt Caroline had the window rolled down, what she liked to call 360 air conditioning, and I could see her waving from down the block. I stood up as Amma elbowed her way past me. "Come on, now. Your daddy deserves a proper homecomin'." That was code for Get your butt down to the curb, Ethan Wate.

I took a deep breath.

Are you okay? Lena's hazel eyes caught the sun.

Yeah. I lied. She must have known, but she didn't say a word. I took her hand. It was cold, the way she always was now, and the current of electricity felt more like the sting of frostbite.

"Mitchell Wate. Don't tell me you've been eatin' anybody's pie but mine. 'Cause you look like you fell into the cookie jar and couldn't find your way back out." My dad gave her a knowing look. Amma had raised him, and he knew her teasing held as much love as any hug.

I stood there while Amma fussed over him as if he was ten years old. She and my aunt were chattering away like the three of them had just come home from the market. My dad smiled at me weakly. It was the same smile he gave me when we visited Blue Horizons. It said, I'm not crazy anymore, just ashamed. He was wearing his old Duke T-shirt and jeans, and somehow he looked younger than I remembered. Except for the crinkling lines around his eyes, which deepened as he pulled me in for an awkward hug. "How you doing?"

My voice caught in my throat for a second, and I coughed. "Good."

He looked over at Lena. "Nice to see you again, Lena. I was sorry to hear about your uncle." Those were hard-bred Southern manners for you. He had to acknowledge Macon's passing, even in a moment as awkward as this one.

Lena tried to smile, but she only managed to look as uncomfortable as I felt. "Thank you, sir."

"Ethan, come on over here and give your favorite aunt a hug." Aunt Caroline held out her hands. I wanted to throw my arms around her and let her squeeze the knot right out of my chest.

"Let's go on inside." Amma waved at my dad from the top of the porch. "I made a Coca-Cola cake and fried chicken. If we don't get in there soon, that chicken'll have a mind to find its way home."

Aunt Caroline looped her arm through my dad's and led him up the stairs. She had the same brown hair and small frame as my mom, and for a second it felt like my parents were home again, walking through the old screen door of Wate's Landing.

"I have to get home." Lena was clutching her notebook against her chest like a shield.

"You don't have to go. Come in."


I wasn't offering to be polite. I didn't want to go in there alone. A few months ago, Lena would have known that. But I guess today her mind was somewhere else, because she didn't.

"You should spend some time with your family." She stood up on her toes and kissed me, her lips barely touching my cheek. She was halfway to the car before I could argue.

I watched Larkin's Fastback disappear down my street. Lena didn't drive the hearse anymore. As far as I knew, she hadn't even looked at it since Macon died. Uncle Barclay had parked it behind the old barn and thrown a tarp over it. Instead, she was driving Larkin's car, all black and chrome. Link had foamed at the mouth the first time he saw it. "Do you know how many chicks I could pull with that ride?"