have homework, gotta go,” and scooped my backpack over my shoulder on my way up the stairs.

Grandmother watched me go, looking lonelier than I’d ever seen her. My stomach twisted just to see it.

I dreamed that the school was empty and covered over with vines, the walkways broken with tree roots, the shelves of the library stuffed with birds’ nests. There was a little river sloshing through the main hallway, and as I walked, I made no sound.

The sunlight streamed through the broken windows and through the holes in the ceiling where the beams had given in at last.

They are all dead, I thought, and I knew it was true. I was the only one there; I was the only one left.

I didn’t think it was a nightmare until I woke up and heard myself panting.

Sorry, Jake said. I was trying to wake you, but —

My hand shot out across the bed, looking for him. He took in a breath, held it.

Then I remembered he was only a spirit, some remnant I had brought back with me because I was too angry to come back alone. I felt the lingering horror of the dream, seeping quietly through me like rising water.

“Why do you think it was you I brought back?” I asked, just to say something.

He let out the breath slowly. I wondered if I still breathed, too; how deep my habits went.

I was looking for a way out, he said finally, like the words were being forced out of him. I couldn’t — I couldn’t be there anymore.

Jesus. I asked quietly, “Why not?”

But there was no answer. He was gone.

The room was so quiet that I heard the first raindrops falling before it started to storm.

The next day in chem, Madison was sitting so close to Jason that their legs were touching, so close that when she turned to look at him they were practically kissing.

I wondered how long it would take for that to get around to the injured party. I scribbled in the margin of my notebook, “T-minus Amber?”

There was no answer from Jake. Not like I had expected one, anyway. Whatever.

I erased the note.

(Third period, Madison’s car got towed. High school is more efficient than the Mob.)

Jake was silent all day. I hadn’t realized how much I liked having him around. I mean, I managed — you take the notes and ask questions and draw stick-figure monarchs in your history notebook just like usual — but it was. strange. You get used to some people.

(You miss someone.)

17. You stop sleeping at night.

18. You get in more and more trouble for nodding off in class.

I had been drinking blood for months, but I still ended up in bed later that week, broiling and thrashing.

It was Grandmother’s day at the doctor, so she couldn’t help me for hours, and I could hardly move; I was going to burn, I was going to burn.

There was a cool breath on my neck. Suyin? Suyin.

It was Jake. Jake was back. I could hardly hear him through the grinding ache of my blood as it slowed.

Suyin, open your eyes.

I struggled to find the will, but at last I hauled my eyelids open, gasping with the effort.

There was a boy in my room. He had dark hair and slightly crooked glasses. He wasn’t quite real — I could see my desk through him, and he had eye sockets instead of true eyes — but I could see the silhouette of his hands, which he was holding up, palms out.

Count my fingers, he said.

I couldn’t even focus my eyes for more than a moment, but I counted, one through ten. After that I counted the threads in my comforter, and just as I was running out (and panic was coming), Grandmother knocked on my door.

Jake stepped behind my drapes.

“What’s wrong?” Grandmother asked, kneeling and looking me over. My skin was clammy; my hands were shaking.

“I’m so hungry,” I said. “I drank yesterday, but. ” I couldn’t finish, my throat too dry; I shook my head.

Grandmother frowned at me. Then she said, “Let me see what I can do.” She handed me a book, said, “Count the words,” and closed the door behind her.

By the time I was on chapter three, I had a mug in my hands. The blood was hot and rich, and when I was finished, I licked down into the mug as far as I could.

Grandmother looked tired, but she smiled at me. “We’ll find a way,” she said. “We’ll find something.”

I nodded and kissed her cheek. (She smelled like salt and lotion and talc.)

After she had gone, Jake stepped out from behind my curtains.

“Thanks,” I said. “For before.”

He shrugged. No problem, he said, not quite looking at me. I’ll let you get some sleep. He started to fizzle around the edges, like film burning out.

“Don’t go,” I said.

He stopped. Now I could see him when he held his breath; I could see him nodding, his dark hair falling into his face.

Even if he’d never told me, I could tell he had died unhappy. His eye sockets were two black pits, as if sadness had swallowed him up while he was still alive. I wondered if he would ever have real eyes, or if this was how his sorrow had marked him.

(I wondered if he was sorry for anyone else; if he had seen anyone else’s last moments, when he happened to be looking. Madison and the rest of them were worthless, but it hurt, it hurt, to think of them all being gone, and just me left behind. There were kinds of loneliness that I still couldn’t name.)

He spent all night beside me. I could feel him breathing, and if I reached out my hand, there was a chill when my fingers passed through his fingers.

One morning as I was walking to school, the sun came out. It was the summer sun, hot and bright.

My blood started to boil.

I screamed, pulled my hoodie up over my head, and ran. The sun was beating down, I was aching and trembling, I didn’t know where I could go that would be safe. Finally I ran past the wooded acre — FOR SALE for the last five years. It was studded with trees and brambles; it was dark and wild.

It was a beacon.

I ran until I couldn’t see the street, and then I fell to my knees and pressed my face to the ground. It had rained overnight, and the smell of the damp earth was as comforting as an embrace.

I dug. My arms were like marble, like iron; mud and roots flew up under my hands.

I slid into the shallow trench, pulling mud over me until the last of the knife-sharp pain was gone; still my body trembled, and I gasped into the sopping mud, openmouthed, until I choked.

The grave got mercifully cool, as if snow had suddenly fallen on it. Jake whispered, Suyin?

I cried.

When it was dark, I clawed my way out and walked home, sluicing mud off my clothes with my hands. Jake was quiet, but I could feel him to my right, a patch of blessed cold in a world that was getting warmer.

(My body was room temperature these days.)

I got home just in time to catch Mom, Dad, and Grandmother cooking dinner. They stopped and stared.

“I slipped,” I said into the silence.

My mom sighed. “Suyin, what’s wrong with you?”

“I’ll wash them,” I said. “I need to shower. Sorry.”

I dropped the boots in the hall and squelched up the stairs as carefully as I could.

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