Angels in the Dust (Book 1)

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12: Alli

A few hours after school, I found myself floating in and out of consciousness in Chris's arms. Considering the past couple of nights I'd spent dealing with turbulent thoughts and less than restful sleep, I wasn't surprised that my body was forcing itself to rest.

We were lying on the couch in my living room, supposedly watching a movie together. Chris had known for a while now that I had tuned out and he'd stopped commenting on the film. One of his arms pillowed my head while the other curled around my waist. The hand at the end of that arm rested near my breast, but not on it, not with my dad in his office just upstairs away and my mom due home any second.

Slowly, the world started to come back into focus--the commercial interrupting the movie, irritating thoughts that reminded me of how much homework I had, and, undeniably, thoughts of Jadin. That wasn't surprising either. He'd been in my head all day. Because I was worried about him, yes, but when I summoned his face, it was talking to him that I focused on, not the image of me following his limp form to the nurse's office. He had been so strange, frightening even, but also very lost, out of place. Add that kind of intrigue to the bizarre connection I'd made between him and my visions and my curiosity was fast approaching an unhealthy level.

"Back from the dead?" Chris asked, noticing my awakening consciousness. He trailed a delicate finger down my side, making me shiver. It was enough to turn my thoughts back to where they should be.

I shifted so that I could look up into his blue eyes, and stretched. "I'm sorry," I said hoarsely, "didn't mean to abandon you."

Chris shrugged with a mischievous smirk. "That's okay. With you out, I didn't have to keep that chick flick on."

I slapped him playfully and then gave him a kiss.

If Chris noticed that my thoughts had been wandering away from him, he didn't seem to care. In fact he pulled me closer, inched his hand ever so slightly higher, and deepened the kiss. It was so nice to just fall into that feeling and let it overtake the stress. Chris's lips were strong and firm, practiced too, but I'd quit letting that bother me a long time ago. I let him lead me, content in the knowledge that this part, at least, was not complicated.

Then we heard the sound of a key in the lock and scrambled apart so fast it was almost comical.

"I'm home," my mom called out to the house in general.

"In here," I answered, hoping my voice didn't sound out of breath. One thing was for sure, I was certainly awake now.

Mom entered the living room and I propped myself up on my elbows into a less compromising position. Not that it made much of a difference--the narrowness of the couch practically screamed 'compromising.'

"Hello," she said, warmly if distractedly. She dropped her heavy purse on the end table near our feet with a thud and kicked off her heels so carelessly that one of them hit the base of the T.V. stand. It was nice to know exactly where I got my disregard for the finer points of fashion. For me though, sharing that trait with my mother had always been strange. She went to work all dolled up, perfect hair, perfect face, professionally dressed as if someone had done it for her, and then she came home and threw her expensive shoes across the room in favor of ratty socks. I loved her for it, but the discrepancy in her personality always freaked me out.

Now she looked up at me with just the faintest hint of the expression she'd leveled on me at least once a day since the party. Worry and relief all wrapped together as she tried to be subtle in looking me over. When she finally noticed Chris, her look shifted into something equally familiar. She tried very hard to hide it, but distaste and even more of the worry flashed across her face for a brief moment. I really didn't understand this about her either. Chris was incredibly casual about everything, which I knew drove her up the wall, but he wasn't a bad guy.

I snuggled down just a little bit closer to him and said, "Hi."

"Hi, Mrs. Moore," Chris said. He sat up, dislodging me as he moved to the other side of the couch.

"Hi, Chris, how are you?" Mom answered politely. She was always polite. I didn't even think Chris knew she disliked him.

"Can't complain," he said a little too smugly. I fought down a blush.

Luckily, Mom didn't seem to be paying attention anymore. She was looking out the window behind the couch, peering into the early winter darkness.

Curious, I pulled myself up and looked over the top of the couch. Through the small gaps left between the barely open blinds, I could only see my own eyes and reflections of color from the T.V. Regardless of what I was seeing, her face had taken on that concentrated look that I knew meant she was thinking about something out there. I was more than willing to drop it and let her focus on anything other than me until she leaned across us, lifted a blind, and cupped her hand around her eyes to look closer.

"What's wrong?" I found myself asking. I looked again. Still nothing.

She looked at me as if just becoming aware of her actions. "It's nothing," she said, but she didn't let the blinds drop. I gave her a hard, disbelieving look and Chris let out an amused chuckle. He knew this stubborn pose of mine as well as my mom did. Mom sighed and wisely decided to let me in on it. "There's a boy outside, just past the street light."

With this new information, I checked once more, and yes, there was a figure there, crouched just outside of the street light's illumination.

"He was outside when I got home," Mom was saying. "It wouldn't have bothered me but…he doesn't look well. And he looks familiar."

Yes, of course he was familiar. It just took me a minute to get past my shock and say it aloud. "That's Jadin."

"You know him?" Mom asked, finally pulling herself upright.

"Not really," I answered honestly. "He was new in my class today."

"Oh," Chris scoffed dismissively. "Him." He added a mocking laugh to complete his opinion.

"Knock it off," I snapped. I'd told Chris about Jadin, not about all of my complex thoughts surrounding him, but he knew about his trip to the office. I'd had to tell someone about my concerns and now here he was, throwing them in my face like it was all a joke. "It's not his fault he got sick."

"Sick," Mom said in a tone that made me break my angry eye contact with Chris. She was nodding as if to confirm something with herself. "I knew I recognized him. I was in the office today. He ran through like a mad man, startled most of the staff."

Her description was so at odds with my vision of Jadin's quiet demeanor that it was hard to believe. But my mom was as good at faces as she was at putting on a professional front. She knew what she was talking about.

None of that really mattered though, not compared to the obvious lingering question: what was Jadin doing in front of my house? First he was down the street, and then in my class, now he was close enough for me to see from my living room window. Maybe he lived closer than he remembered. I didn't associate my house as being anywhere near a park, but maybe his perception of distance was as skewed as his people skills obviously were. I turned around and put my back moodily to the window. No more excuses. I'd known since school that his being new to the area could only cover so much. This was the limit. It felt too much like stalking.

In front of me, Mom had her arms crossed over her chest, thinking. "He really didn't look well. Then or now." She looked at me and there was a protest on my lips before she even got the words out. "Alli, maybe you should go check on him."

"I am not going out there," I said firmly.

My curiosity had utterly evaporated. Jadin was obviously okay, so I didn't have to worry about that anymore. And honestly, he was beginning to frighten me. He brought up so many uncomfortable feelings and ideas in me that I wanted to keep him safely at arms length and study him in my own time. It was what I'd always done with my dreams and recently my visions: put them away in a mental box until I knew for sure that I was stable enough to examine them. Jadin wasn't giving me the time I needed to deal with myself, let alone him.

"Alli," Mom said. Her tone was stern. Mostly what I noticed though, was the real concern in it. That was her job again, coming home to rear its head.

"Why don't you go?" I asked petulantly. It was a mistake. Nothing made my mother more determined to get her way than that tone from my mouth. She didn't even have to say anything for me to know the discussion was over.

"Oh, fine." I got up before I could change my mind. My instinct said to look towards Chris for support, but after his last remark, I didn't want him near Jadin. I hadn't forgotten Matt and the withering look he'd received from Jadin with less instigation than Chris was likely to give him.

So I grabbed my discarded sweater from the back of the armchair where I'd thrown it and went outside alone.

Without the window in the way, there was no question who the figure across the street was. I crossed quickly, determined to get enough information to placate my mother and get back inside. As I got closer though, I saw what she'd meant. Jadin was sitting hunched over on the neighbor's planter, elbows on his knees and head in his hands. His shoulders were high and tense and his fingers were like claws where they met his hairline. He wasn't wearing anything warmer than that long sleeved shirt; as I watched a shiver ran up and down his body.

I stopped right in front of him, but he didn't look up.

"What are you doing here?" I asked, sharply, but not as sharply as I'd intended. Taking out my frustration on him now really felt like kicking a wounded dog.

He raised his head and seemed surprised to see me, like he really hadn't noticed my approach. "Alli," he breathed my name out on a resigned sigh. "Hi."

While I waited for an answer he stared at me. I watched his expression seamlessly shift from hurt, to accusation, to a dark emotion I was afraid to name. I would have been offended except that I really wasn't sure that his mind was in the moment. His eyes were on me, but that was about it.

Finally he said, "I was just wandering." He sounded forlorn enough that I decided to buy it. Coincidence was the easiest explanation anyway, the one that gave me the least amount of goose bumps.

I dropped the defensive pose I'd been holding. "Your parents aren't worried?"

He grimaced in annoyance. "I doubt they care."

"If you say so," I replied, giving in because that was the easiest path. Talking about normal things always seemed to make him uncomfortable. "Are you feeling any better?" I tried instead, even though I could read the answer in his pained face.

"Not really," he said, bluntly honest.

"I was worried about you." I hadn't intended to admit that, but the words flew out on their own.

"I know. Mary told me."


"The nurse." He paused and then added, "She's a nice lady."

"I don't know her," I said.


The conversation came to another awkward standstill. If I waited for Jadin to supply information, I'd be standing out here all night. I raised my eyes to the sky in an attempt to get a handle on my emotions. I knew that I let him annoy me over little things because the other options--further curiosity or outright dislike--were too far apart on the spectrum. Not that that made the irritation any easier to work around.

At the sound of an audible shudder from Jadin, I looked back down. He had to be freezing. His lack of any real winter clothing had looked odd in school too, but it was his sandals I focused on now.

"Your feet have got to be like ice," I commented, anything to get him talking.

He followed my eyes and glanced down at them. "They are, actually," he said, surprising me by agreeing instead of denying the problem. "They haven't been having a very good time lately."

"It might help if you put some real shoes on," I said, only half sarcastically.

"Let's just say that they haven't been unpacked yet."

I couldn't help but grin at his dry tone.

As if he sensed the smile, he looked up. I expected a returning grin, even if it was small. What I got was the return of that dark look of blame. Definitely directed at me.

I opened my mouth, more in disbelief than anger. What could I have possibly done to him to deserve that kind of complicated expression? I'd barely even spent a full hour around him.


I turned at the sound of my mother's voice, breaking eye contact with Jadin at the last possible second. She was standing in the front doorway, framed by the porch light.

I made a 'what?' gesture rather than shouting across the street.

She waved her hand, beckoning me. "Invite him in. It's too cold to be standing around out there."

And she wanted a closer look at him, of course.

I turned back, knowing that my face registered my negative opinion of that idea.

"Don't worry," Jadin said, his expression reflecting mine. "I'd rather stay out here anyway."

I was more than willing to accept that as an answer. This was uncomfortable enough; I couldn't imagine trying to cater to him as a guest. Then another violent shiver ran through him and my better nature kicked in.

"No," I sighed. "She's right. Come on. The least I can do is dig you up some socks."

He looked both surprised and torn over my offer. I could literally see him fighting with himself about whether or not to accept. I held my hand out encouragingly to help him out.

Reluctantly, he nodded and pushed himself up, ignoring my hand.

"Last time I offer that," I muttered.

He gave me a sidelong look, so I knew he'd heard, but he didn't respond.

Together we walked across the street. The distance that we kept between us couldn't have broadcast 'distant acquaintances' any better. At least my mom would understand that asking me any intimate questions about him was useless.

I walked right past Mom, but Jadin stopped in the doorway. A shade of the sickness I saw in him today returned to his face.

"Don't be shy," Mom said warmly. She opened the door wider. "Come on in."

I wondered if her act was fooling Jadin. It certainly wasn't fooling me. I knew that she did legitimately care, but it was mostly her social worker's eyes that roamed over him, taking in his unwashed hair, the gray pallor of his skin, his insufficient wardrobe. What I couldn't decide was if it was only her soft heart wanting to help, or if her professional side was doubting his parents. I really hoped it wasn't his parents. I was sure that they didn't need that kind of stressed heaped on their uprooted lives.

Jadin stepped inside and immediately started to rub his hands. I imagined the sudden tingle of warmth that must be running through his fingers and was glad that I hadn't left him.

The three of us migrated back into the living room, where Chris hadn't moved from his spot on the couch. He gave me a teasing look, making fun of my obvious discomfort. Any other day that would have been fine, would even have relieved some tension. Not now. Now the atmosphere had turned so suddenly icy, I had no idea what to do with it.

Jadin caught sight of Chris and made a face equivalent to a sarcastic eye roll.

"Chris, this is Jadin," I said in an attempt to break the ice between them. It was an awfully big task; the look on Chris' face was no less mean-spirited than Jadin's. "Jadin, you remember me telling you about Chris?"

"The boyfriend," Jadin answered with complete disinterest.

I decided to keep my mouth shut since evidently nothing I said was helping.

We all stood there in silence, trying not to stare at each other. I didn't even want to see what Mom was doing, or where her attention was. Her presence was not helping. Jadin's eyes were darting around like a caged animal's. Funny, that was pretty much how I felt right now.

Chris thankfully broke the tension in his usual light-hearted way. "Well," he said, getting up from the couch and spreading his arms in a wide stretch. "I'm getting out of here."

I didn't know if I wanted to kiss him or kick him. He'd broken the tension, true, but he was also running away and leaving me alone. There was no way I'd be allowed to run too.

"You don't have to go," I offered. It came out a little too desperately, despite the fact that I knew it was a bad idea to keep these two together.

"That's all right," Chris said without changing his tone. He looked at his wrist and consulted an invisible watch. "I should have been home, oh, two hours ago. My parents are going to be bent."

I could practically hear my mother gritting her teeth behind me.

Chris came over to me and gave me a parting kiss. Only this wasn't the same as the ones we'd shared on the couch, enjoying each other. This was him making a trophy out of me, much too aggressive, and way too obvious. I stood very still until he stopped and did not follow him to the door.

When he was gone, my mother finally acted. She'd probably been waiting for him to leave the whole time. "Why don't you sit down, Jadin? Make yourself comfortable."

From what I'd seen, Jadin didn't know the meaning of the word. Still, he mumbled a thank you and perched on the edge of the arm chair. Slowly, very aware that we were watching, he slipped the sandals off of his feet and rubbed his toes curiously through the carpet.

It gave me as good an excuse as any to give myself a break. "I'll go get those socks for you," I announced and disappeared into the laundry room before anyone could question me.

I shut the door behind me, inhaled the scent of soap and dryer sheets, and tried to figure out what to do with the boy in my living room. It had been hard enough to interact with him outside, or in school, but now he was in my house and more or less my responsibility. I was a social person, good with people, but I had no idea what to say to Jadin. Everything I tried either came out wrong, or was taken the wrong way and backfired on me. If he ever planned to make friends, this was not the way to do it. I didn't even know how much longer I'd be willing to deal with him if he didn't open up a little. I wondered how he was faring with my mother. Mom…what on earth had possessed her to invite him in? What did she hope to accomplish?

I took a deep breath. Okay. He was here. I could deal with his disconcerting attitude a little while longer. All I'd been thinking about all day was getting another chance to talk to him. Awkward or not, here was my chance. I doubted now that it would be any less awkward in a different setting. Besides, he really didn't look like he'd recovered. If anything, he looked less stable. A few minutes of rest in a warm room was warranted. And maybe if I got to know him, I'd be able to remind myself that he was only human, that the connection between him and my personal delusions was void. Then maybe it would be possible to ignore him instead of fighting so hard though his moods.

I found a clean laundry basket and pulled out a pair of my dad's mismatched socks. Their counterparts had probably disintegrated long ago, victims of the dryer, but no one had had the heart to throw them away.

When I came back into the living room, my mom was actually smiling, on the verge of laughter. I couldn't imagine anything Jadin saying bringing on that reaction. If there was a charming side to him, he'd yet to show it to me.

"Here you go," I interrupted, tossing the socks on the arm of his chair and giving my mother a quizzical look.

With me in the room, Jadin clammed up fast. His slightly relaxed manner became stiff again.

Mom had been leaning against the couch, but now she straightened. "Is your dad in his office?" she asked me.

I nodded. "He's working on some article."

"I'm going to go say hi, and let you two talk." She started to walk away, then turned back. "Jadin, do you want to stay for dinner?"

Jadin looked at me first and I did my best to keep my face nuetral. I wasn't going to give him permission, but I didn't want to kick him out either.

I watched as he made up his mind, a much more painful process than the simple offer warranted. At last, he agreed. "If it isn't too much trouble."

"Of course not," Mom smiled at him more warmly than she ever had at Chris, squeezed my arm as she passed, and went upstairs.

When I turned away from ruefully watching her go, Jadin was staring at me. No, studying me would be the better term.

"What did you say to her?" I asked, genuinely interested.

"What do you mean?"

"When I came in, she was grinning like crazy."

"Oh," he thought for a moment, at as much of a loss as I was. "I only told her that she had a very nice house. And soft carpets."

I had no idea if he was kidding so once again, I just let it go.

"Thanks for these," he said, grabbing the socks and putting them on. "It was very thoughtful."

I shrugged dismissively, "It's nothing." And it wasn't really, but the look he gave me suggested that the gesture or rather, the so-called thoughtfulness of the gesture was an odd thing.

I watched him for a minute, but when it was obvious he still wasn't going to initiate anything, I pulled my discarded backpack from beside the couch. "I'd like to talk, but I should get my homework started," I said. It was only half a fib. I would like to talk if I didn't have to interpret everything he said or have my every move examined.

As I laid my books across the coffee table, a piece of actual common ground presented itself. "Actually, you have homework too."

"I do?" he asked incredulously.

"Our history class, remember?"

"I wasn't exactly paying attention."

"Right," I said and for once I understood why he turned away from me. If I were him, I wouldn't want to remember the school day either. "Well, we're supposed to read the first section in the chapter and answer the questions. Do you want to borrow my book?"

He shocked me by moving from the chair and kneeling down in front of the table across from me as an answer. He picked up the book and started randomly leafing through the pages.

"Chapter 9," I prompted and turned to one of my more complicated assignments.

We worked quietly for a while. I would even have ventured to say that we were getting comfortable with each other. It was nice to actually share something with him. I didn't have to ask questions and suddenly his reluctance to answer wasn't an issue.

Eventually I looked up and noticed that Jadin was only staring blankly at an open page, elbows on the table, chin in one hand.

"I'm sorry," I said, feeling guilty for not paying more attention. "Are you done reading?" I pushed a piece of paper and a pen at him. "I can help you with the last question if you want. It's always an essay and I know what Mr. Silvey wants."

"Honestly," Jadin said on a wispy breath without looking up. "I'm too tired to deal with this."

"Okay," I said gently. We were back to carefully not referencing his fainting incident. "I understand."

He only gave me a brief sarcastic smile and a head shake.

I put my pen down angrily. "What does that mean?" I hadn't meant to snap, but I didn't try to cover it up. He was so exasperating and he had just destroyed any concept of normal I'd been trying to forge.

I was surprised by the response it got me. "It means you don't understand anything. You have no idea." It was probably the first time he'd spoken his mind without carefully filtering the words or trying to control the angry tone that propelled them.

I bristled under his implication. "Says who?" I asked just as bluntly. I was tired of consoling him and I was done with his condescending attitude. "You think you're the only one who's ever had a bad day at school? It happens. It'll blow over."

"That's it?" he replied, sitting up straight so that when his eyes flashed dangerously, I saw it all too well. "School? That's the best you can think of? Do you really think I care about this?" He swiped his hand across the table almost casually and my history book hit the floor. "Do you really think that writing an essay tops my list of concerns?"

It was as if all of those little emotions I'd seen glimpses of all day had suddenly exploded. It wasn't just the anger; it was hurt, and that constant sense of confusion and frustration, all showing themselves in this seemingly random outburst. I had a cutting response dangling from my tongue, but I couldn't use it. Jadin was a mess, just barely holding it together. It was no wonder he always looked so uncomfortable if this was what he was keeping in.

"I was only trying to help," I said calmly, trying to diffuse him.

"Don't bother," he snapped. "Trust me, there are far better ways to spend the rest of your life than trying to help me."

He stood up before I could respond, or before I could even really make sense of the words. With one last scathing look, he turned, picked up his sandals, and walked out the door.

The dream that night was the worst one I'd ever had. The most intense, the most clear.

In it, I was in a bus full of people. No one was interacting much. They were just travelers minding their own business. That was fine, pleasant even, the rocking of the vehicle soothing. What wasn't okay was the familiar sight of winged people, and those pouches tied onto waist bands. It wasn't just one of those people like it had been in my dream with the little girl, although he was there too. They were everywhere, swarming among the crowd, reaching delicate fingers into their bags and indiscriminately sprinkling the contents onto everyone in sight.

There was no doctor here to tell me, but I knew deep down that the riders were all going to die. Just as I knew that there was a pouch on my own hip as well, that I was no mere observer but a participant. Cold, detached, I pulled open the drawstring and dipped my fingers in.

Mercifully, that was when I woke up, gasping for air, my hands clenched around the blankets. My ceiling fan had never been a more comforting sight. It told me that I was safe, in my room, and, for now, protected from the horrors of my mind.

When was it going to stop?

Heart racing, I sat up, trying to clear away the images and relax. I hadn't been at all frightened in the dream, but that lack of emotion was what was scaring me the most now. I breathed in slowly, focusing on more of my well-known possessions around the room: my backpack, my dresser, my bookcase. That last one the most. It made me remember that stories, even frightening ones, always started out in someone's head and were not real.

"Not real," I muttered. My throat was dry.

I threw my covers aside and padded down the hall to the bathroom for some water. I only drank some, the rest I splashed on my face. One last dose of reality. When I came back to my room, I couldn't help but stare at my bed like it was an enemy. A stupid idea since, according to my digital clock, it was 2am. 6 o'clock and school would come fast whether or not I got back to sleep. Still, I gave the bed a wide berth and stood in front of the window, staring down through the curtains at the quiet street. It was calming somehow, to know that everyone else was sleeping peacefully, that it would be possible for me again.

No. Not everyone. The street was quiet but not entirely empty.

Jadin was in front of our house this time instead of the neighbor's, but otherwise the circumstances were the same. Same dejected pose, same feeling that something was wrong with him being there.

I placed my head against the cool glass and breathed out in exasperation. I should just go back to bed and leave him out there. It wasn't my problem now any more than it had been earlier. He didn't want my help. And if he didn't want it, then he didn't need to be in front of my house. He couldn't make excuses about coincidence anymore.

I thought back to this afternoon, how confused I'd been after he'd left so abruptly. I'd gone from thinking that just maybe we could be friendly, to watching him slam my books on the floor in a fit of anger. More than that, I was by now completely convinced that that anger was against me, or at least, that he was taking it out on me. I'd tried to help, I'd been sympathetic and gentle where I thought he needed it, and it still wasn't good enough to earn me a place in his good graces. It hurt more than I wanted to admit.

And now here he was again, still huddled against the cold. Except this time I was the one who'd found him, not my mom. She hadn't given me much choice, and I'd dealt with it as best I could. This was my decision, and he'd as good as told me to leave him alone. Suddenly the bed didn't look like an enemy anymore.

I needed to learn to keep my nose out of it before he really bit it off. But I found myself grabbing a bathrobe and quietly padding down the stairs anyway. Because even if he didn't want to admit it, Jadin was hurting. Intentional or not, he'd shown me enough of that to make me officially involved. Not to mention that I was a compassionate idiot. One of these days that character trait was going to get me more than a fit of anger.

I opened the door into the night and closed it behind me carefully. The noise it made was barely a quiet click, but out here the sound traveled like a thunderclap. Jadin heard it, raised his head, and locked eyes with me. I tightened my robe around my pajamas and walked down the driveway to stand in front of him.

"Hey," I said softly, timidly. I was ultra aware of the sleeping neighborhood, but I was also afraid that he might snap at me again.

"Hi," he answered. The hesitance in my voice turned out to be unwarranted. There was none of that angry fire left in him. He just looked tired.

These strange circumstances hadn't changed anything; I still didn't know what to say to him. It was worse actually, because even though I'd come out here with good intentions, I didn't think he wanted to hear them.

Finally, maybe sensing my discomfort, Jadin broke the silence between us. "That's quite a bruise," he said, pointing at my chest where the top of the bruise showed through the neck of my robe.

I shrugged like it was nothing. I tried not to think about it, except to cover it up when I was dressing, or to be more careful when I moved so I didn't rub it accidentally. "I had an accident a few days ago."

To his credit and my gratitude, Jadin didn't ask the millions of questions that anyone else at school would then have proceeded to bombard me with. He only asked, "Does it hurt?"

Surprised, I answered him honestly. "Sometimes. It's getting better though."

"Good." Then, as if understanding that we couldn't avoid the subject any longer, he said, "Listen, about earlier. I'm sorry. I've been saying that a lot lately, but I really mean it now."

"Forget it," I said, waving him off as if the incident hadn't been bothering me since it happened.

"No, really," he insisted, his face earnest. "The last few days," he laughed helplessly, "have really sucked. But that's no reason to take it out on you."

"No, it isn't," I agreed. "But it's okay."


A chill wind whipped around us, sending a shiver down my spine like someone had dropped an icicle down my shirt. It reminded me of why I'd come out here in the first place. "But you weren't waiting outside of my house at two in the morning just to tell me that."

He looked away from me and stayed quiet.

"Why aren't you at home?" I pressed.

Even in profile, I could see the sadness that crossed his face and crumpled his brow. His words came out on a shaky breath like an admission of guilt. "I don't have anywhere to go."

"But...what about…?" I started, confused. He'd given me so many details about where he was staying, vague details, but still, nothing to indicate that he was making it up. "I thought you lived next to the park?"

"I slept in a park once," he clarified.

"Oh," I said lamely.

"I know it must seem strange, my being here right now," he said, looking back at me. "I just…couldn't think of another place. And I was too tired to wander around looking."

Now it was my turn to look away uncomfortably. "I'm sorry," I said. It wasn't enough, but I didn't know how else to respond.

Jadin shrugged, but his face said he cared quite a bit.

"Do…" I began. I tried to stop myself, but it was no good. There really was another way to respond after all. "Do you want to come inside?"

"Maybe that's not such a good idea," he said quickly. "Considering."

"That was a one time thing, right? We're over that now."

He didn't seem convinced, but he didn't disagree either.

"Come on," I said. "There are extra blankets in the closet and the couch isn't that bad."

He still looked reluctant.

After last time, I didn't blame him. Still, I insisted. "Please. I can't just leave you out here."

Jadin raked one of those piercing looks of his over me, the kind that seemed to judge my words and my actions as two separate entities. Then he nodded. "Okay."

I smiled widely and held my hand out, forgetting my intention not to bother with that again. There was no reason to imagine that this time he wouldn't ignore it just like always. Regardless, I found that I couldn't help doing it. Physically expressing my need to help came too naturally. The trick was not to be disappointed when he didn't take it.

But he did take it. Slowly. He looked at my open hand with uncertainty and something like fear. Then, very gently, he placed his cold fingers across my palm. I closed my own fingers around them and squeezed encouragingly. I felt a warm smile crease my face as he returned the grip and let me help him up.

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