mug and realized I’d already drunk from it. There was some blood left, forming a pudding skin on top. When I looked up, I saw myself in the desk mirror, my mouth ringed with red.

“I’m disgusting,” I said, on the verge of tears.

She held my hand. “Don’t worry. You’re mine.”

After a moment, she sat back, folded her hands over her stomach.

“If you’re ready for the rest, I can tell you,” she said, and I scratched at the mud on my arm and listened.

7. Jiang-shi must drink blood to keep their bodies from turning into tombs; otherwise they go from strong to granite, and you’re trapped inside. (“You should learn to hunt deer,” she says. I ignore that.)

8. The yellow dress keeps me at bay. (“Tell your friends to wear yellow,” she says, like I have any friends I’d want to save.)

9. She can get blood from the butcher, “for sausage,” she says, winking broadly, so long as I give her a ride. She’s not allowed to have the car anymore.

10. Blood tastes disgusting.

11. At first.

At school, I went in the back way and made it through the morning trying not to fall asleep. (Good news about the new compulsions: I took monster notes.)

The cafeteria was an orgy of social anxiety, and my useless heart still pounded in my chest as I walked in. Old habits die hard, I guess.

Amber, Madison, Jason, and the rest were sitting at the lunch table with their McDonald’s bags, evidence that they were cool enough to leave campus. Jason was feeding Amber fries, one at a time.

I heard, Ignore them.

It was a boy’s voice. I looked around; I was alone.

You can’t see me, it said. You can stop looking.

“You can shut up,” I muttered, but I headed through the cafeteria, trying to shake it.

We should talk, now that you can hear me, it said.

“Now, as in you were around before?”

Outside, I found an empty bench and sank onto it, checking that I hadn’t been followed.

Still here.

I got nervous before I remembered I was dead, too. I probably had more in common with this thing than with any of the people in the cafeteria.

“How long have you been around when I couldn’t hear you?” I asked, folding my arms like I was too cool to care if some ghost had been watching me brush my teeth.

You brought me back, it said.

I thought about my sense that there was someone in the room with me that first long night.

“Wow, I hope you’re not a pervert,” I said.

12. If you’re frightened enough, or desperate enough, when you come back to your body, you can drag a soul with you by accident.

13. His name is Jake. He committed suicide. (He doesn’t say more than that, and I don’t press him. People get to strange places.)

14. He thinks he still has it better than me.

“We should send you home,” I say that night.

The idea of an imaginary friend was fun in class (I wrote snarky notes and he laughed), and it was great in study hall, when Amber and Company murmured and cast dark glances at all the nerds sitting around trying not to be seen. An imaginary friend who could secretly complain about how much they sucked was pretty ideal.

But now I was getting ready to shower, and, well.

I don’t know how to go back, Jake said. I don’t think I have a home anymore.

“Well, my room is not the place for invisible boys.”

I don’t look.

“Like I can tell,” I said.

He said, It’s not really my thing.

I wondered if it meant what I thought it meant; it would explain a lot about why he had committed suicide, but I didn’t push it.

“All right,” I said. “Hope you know chemistry.”

C plus last year, he said.

I opened my textbook. “Start reading up, then.”

I didn’t mention sending him back again. Even if I’d known how to, he didn’t seem eager to go. I guess any friend is a good friend if you’re lonely enough.

I knew the feeling.

Early on, the worst part of being jiang-shi is watching my body dying, a little at a time.

It’s not as bad as it could be; apparently if you don’t come back right away, you have to deal with the half- decomposed body you left behind. Disgusting.

But you can tell yourself a hundred times that what you look like doesn’t really matter; there’s still horror in waking up every morning to see your hair going white, that you’re getting paler and harder, that your eyes are bloodshot no matter what you do.

I deal. I dye my hair black even though it chokes me with the stink, and I wear those tinted sunglasses that make you look like a John Lennon impersonator.

Once, in the hallway, Madison calls me a poser, but no one else even notices I’m any different. Death hasn’t changed a thing about that.

It should make me happier than it does.

How long before someone figures you out, you think?

I shrugged and jogged across the crosswalk. “I don’t go to lunch. If anyone even notices, it’ll be Madison. She’ll just think I’m starving down to bikini weight.”

You could always eat her.

“Don’t tempt me,” I said, a reflex.

Then I thought about it — Madison screaming as I sliced into her neck with a plastic fork and started drinking. It would be like drinking Victoria’s Secret perfume, but I’d never had blood fresh. It might be worth it, just to find out what it tasted like when it was still hot and pulsing and —

I made a note to stay out of school when I was hungry.

“It’s just until college,” I said.

Jake said, So you’ll go to college?

Sometimes a normal question can stop you right in the street.

15. It will knock you sideways that everyone around you will grow older and go to college and major in art history, and they’ll get jobs and date and complain and marry and have normal lives and die, and you’ll be stuck at seventeen, sucking blood out of mugs and counting the stripes on your wallpaper forever.

16. You make a note to ask Grandmother if jiang-shi can die; what happens then?

Grandmother was home making tea, shuffling quietly back and forth in her house slippers. (Over the past couple of months she had become the most comforting thing in the world; anything she did was home to me.)

“What happens when I’m supposed to be older?”

She thought about that, shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know,” she said, in that tone she used when she had been thinking about something with no good outcome. (She used it a lot.)

Grandmother set a mug of warm blood next to me. “You’ll think of something. I know it.”

That was more faith than I had in myself.

I rested my head on her shoulder, just for a second, like a little kid would. Then I cleared my throat, said, “I

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