CHAPTER ONE “You say you wanna play around with other boys. You tell me that it’s over, but all I hear is WHITE NOISE!”
Crow grabbed the microphone and leaned forward, and for a second Em was sure he was looking right at her.
She leaned back into the beat-up armchair and wrapped her puffy down coat more tightly around her as she watched Crow practice his latest song, “White Noise.” The sound of crappy, hand-me-down instruments and boys who love to play them reverberated through the garage. For the past several weeks Em had been spending more time with Drea Feiffer and her friends; as a result she was getting used to the buzzing electrical feed from the amps, the heart-pounding drum rhythms, and the screaming guitar solos. In addition to loving coffee and obscure movies, Drea’s alternative crowd loved music, especially the kind they created themselves.
Tonight they were at Colin Robertson’s rehearsal space in Portland—if you could call a rug on a concrete floor, some ratty old couches, and a secondhand drum set a “rehearsal space.” Colin’s name had long ago been shortened to C-Ro, and that nickname had soon morphed into Crow. Em had never heard him called anything else. Well, except for when she and Gabby and some of their friends had referred to him as the Grim Creeper, back before he left Ascension. Not graduated, just . . . stopped coming. He was the only high school dropout Em had ever known.
Now Em knew he’d left to play music.
Crow strummed his guitar, licking his lips in concentration before opening his mouth to sing a verse. His longish black hair (it used to be bleached blond; this was better) often fell into his gold-green eyes, which always seemed just the slightest bit squinted—like he was still waking up, or like he had just gotten high.
Technically there were four guys in Crow’s band, the Slump: Crow, who sang lead vocals and played rhythm guitar; Jake, the drummer; Patrick, the bassist; and Mike, who played lead guitar. They couldn’t afford new instruments, but there was no question about their abilities. Other local musicians hung around the roomy old warehouse in South Portland, which Crow and the band rented for a cheap monthly rate. There was one guy who played the xylophone and another famous for his “found instruments”—a paintbrush on a metal tray, a wrench scraping against a birdcage.
Em couldn’t believe this whole other world existed. And she really
couldn’t believe how cool it all was.
“Yo, Em, you want any of this?” From her perch on a ratty couch, Drea held up a Styrofoam cup of microwaved ramen noodles. Little-known fact that Em had learned recently: In Ascension, Maine, where Em and Drea lived, alternative types apparently subsisted on papery noodles in way-salty broth.
She made a face and waved her hand. “No thanks. Not hungry.”
The room was starting to warm up—it was freezing when Em and Drea had first arrived—and Em started shedding layers. She unwound a thick burgundy pashmina from around her neck, shaking out the waves of her long, dark brown hair. As she stood up to take off her coat, she tugged at the belt loops on her jeans to hitch them up—they kept getting looser.
Her opinions of Crow and guitar solos weren’t the only things that had shifted over the past few weeks. In fact, thanks to Drea, Em was seeing a whole new side of Ascension and its surroundings—and not just the green chai tea at the Dungeon, a hippie café downtown and a much preferable alternative to the watered-down Crappuccino next to the old mall. She was getting to know Ascension’s “dyed-hair freaks.” That’s what she and Gabby used to call them, anyway. She didn’t like thinking about that side of herself. Especially not since Drea had recently dyed her hair purple.
These days she felt like she was straddling two worlds, often more comfortable amid Drea’s friends and their loud music than at the Ascension parties.
Crow’s gravelly voice hit the notes of a chorus—“And my voice,”
he growled to the beat, “it’s white noise.”
Em pulled out her journal and wrote down some of Crow’s lyrics. They really were good. Em had recently started bringing her journal with her everywhere. She’d kept one sporadically in the past, but these days it was like she couldn’t keep her pen off the paper. Now that everything had changed—now that she’d
changed—writing was the only way to keep her grip on reality . . . or what was left of it. It was the beginning of March; the showdown with the Furies had happened more than a month ago. She’d only recently begun to emerge from the practically comatose state she’d been in for weeks.
The royal-blue notebook was full of poems about love and regret. The snow. The cold. Her best friend, Gabby. And, of course, the Furies, who sought to punish wrongdoers for their sins. Em was a victim of their intractable wrath; the three beautiful-yet-hideous girls had exacted revenge on her because she’d spit in the face of love and trust by hooking up with Gabby’s boyfriend. Now she was swallowing the bitter consequences. The worst part was that the guy, Zach, hadn’t even been worth it. Nowhere close.
Well, no. The worst
part was what had happened with JD Fount, her quirky neighbor, her childhood friend, and the boy she loved. The Furies had tried to kill him to teach her a lesson about lost love. She’d done what she had to in order to save him. But that included promising never to tell him, or anyone else, the truth about what had happened that night at the new mall, the Behemoth. And keeping those secrets put an impossible barrier between them. How could she apologize to JD without explaining what had really happened—and risk losing him all over again?
She wrote short entries in the journal every night, venting the uncontrollable feelings of sadness and hostility that seemed, sometimes, about to consume her. Writing eased her insomnia a bit, although it couldn’t cure it. She cursed her pale skin, which made the dark circles under her eyes even more prominent.
Em blinked a few times, trying to snap back to attention. She wondered if Drea would want to go home soon—it was Sunday night, after all, and Em still had a chemistry lab to finish before third period tomorrow.
“We keeping you up?” Crow sauntered over, towering above the couch and raking his hand through his hair. “I know a pretty girl like you needs your beauty sleep.”
“Sorry for blinking,” Em said, sitting up straighter. While Crow had ignored her at first, he’d recently started to notice—and tease—her.
“Ah. The princess awakens!” Crow’s eyes gleamed.
“I’m not a princess,” Em blurted out. She’d been defensive lately, wary of people assuming that she thought she was better than everyone else. Like JD had. They’d only communicated once since that night at the Behemoth, the night she’d saved his life. One email, from him to her: I’m not willing to be your Chauffeur anymore, Em. I won’t be taken for granted ever again.
Since then, nothing. No eye contact in the hallways, no waves from his driveway, where JD was apparently working on his dad’s Mustang. Most days when Em came home, she glimpsed him lying halfway underneath the car, an open toolbox next to him on the freezing pavement. He never poked his head out to shout hello. Without saying a word, he was communicating clearly: JD wanted nothing to do with her anymore.
Telling him she loved him would be meaningless without an explanation about that night. Still, she thought about him constantly. His absence only made her realize how intense their connection had been, and how right he was—she had
taken him for granted. One thing was for sure: Her feelings for him weren’t like what she’d felt, or thought she’d felt, for Zach. Things with JD had never been tinged with betrayal. What they shared was warm and right
. Or at least, it could be. It had been.
“Seems like you’re slumming it, to me,” Crow said stonily, raising an eyebrow. He was egging her on, and she took the bait.
“I didn’t realize I needed your permission to be here,” she said. “We can go.” She tried to keep her tone light—flirtatious, even—but she was surprised at the pricks of tears she felt at the backs of her eyes. She stood up and turned to find Drea.
“Whoa, no need to take off.” Crow threw up his hands in mock surrender. “Never mind. My bad. You’re a plebeian just like the rest of us.”
Thank god Mike chose that moment to come over and discuss chord progressions with Crow. Em hoped Crow didn’t see her face, which she could feel was burning bright red.
She leaned toward the couch where Drea sat with Cassie, an Ascension sophomore Em had never spoken to before last month. “Drea, are you ready to go soon? I’ve got chem homework.” She crossed her arms and hoped her ears weren’t turning red too.
“Sure, lemme just finish this up,” Drea said, motioning to the tattoo drawing she’d started for Cassie on the back of an envelope. Em nodded and crouched down, pretending to dig in her bag for something.
“Hey, Em,” Crow said, turning away from Mike.
She refused to look up at him, and instead kept her eyes on the toes of his ratty Converse sneakers. “Yeah?”
“Listen, I didn’t mean anything by what I said. I was just thinking, you know, Sleeping Beauty and all.” He tapped her knee with the tip of his Converse, and she finally looked up. “Are you one of those hot girls who can’t take a compliment or something?”
“Oh, please.” Now Em was really blushing.
“I’m serious. Look, I didn’t mean to call you out for being here. I really hate that kind of shit—groups and types and all of that.” He said it vaguely, but Em couldn’t help but think of how many times she’d called him the Grim Creeper or stared at him and whispered as he walked down the hall.
“It’s totally fine,” Em said, embarrassed. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Drea picking up her bag. She searched for something else to say to Crow, to convince him that things between them were cool.
“Awesome. So does your chem homework involve spewing blood?” He smiled at her.
Em stiffened. “What are you talking about?”
“Remember that badass volcano you made in sixth grade? I thought of it the other day. The lava just came pouring out, and you said it looked like spurting blood? That ruled.” He laughed. “Emily Winters, mistress of gore. Put that on your prom queen résumé.” He made a fake-scared face. “Just kidding. No princesses. No queens.”
Em rolled her eyes. “Yeah, I’m thinking of submitting one volcano with each of my college applications,” she said.
He snorted and shook his head. “Good stuff.” And then Jake called out to him; break was over. “See you around.” He touched her shoulder lightly with two fingers and she smiled shyly. Maybe she fit in with Drea’s friends better than she thought.
Or maybe not. As she and Drea walked toward the door, she heard Crow call out her name. She turned.
“Hope you grace
us with your presence again soon,” Crow said over his shoulder, giving a slight bow. She glared at his back.
• • •
“We need to stop at the Dungeon when we get back to Ascension,” Drea said as she merged onto the highway. “I am in des-per-ate need of some caffeine.”
Em used to think she and Gabby were caffeine fiends, but Drea’s coffee addiction knew no limits. It was like she needed a Red Bull just to have a conversation. “I thought you were trying to cut down,” Em said lightly.
“I’ll cut down tomorrow. Looks like you could use some too,” Drea wryly pointed out. Damn those dark circles.
Em shook her head. “I’m having trouble enough sleeping. I definitely don’t need a pick-me-up.”
“That’s not getting any better, huh?” Drea looked over at her. Their faces were illuminated every time an oncoming car drove by; it gave their conversation an erratic rhythm.
“Not really,” Em said glumly. No need to tell Drea the lack of sleeping had actually gotten worse. She stared out the window. The winter had been a brutal one so far, but Gabby’s mom, local weatherwoman Marty Dove, was predicting a milder end of winter. Em would be grateful for a break from the frigid temperatures, the hard creaking of icy branches outside her bedroom window.
“Well, think about it this way,” Drea said, picking at her fingernails like she did whenever she was thinking hard. “All the creative geniuses in the world were haunted by something. I bet Hemingway, like, never
experienced REM sleep.”
Em looked down at the journal in her bag. Its contents were definitely not genius caliber. Nor were her grades, not since the Furies had come into her life. “I might be an insomniac, but I’m no genius,” she said.
They were pulling into the Dungeon parking lot when Em spotted JD’s car. Her stomach flipped. And there he was. She watched him push through the café’s doors and stride toward his car. He had such a specific gait—like his feet had tiny springs in them.
She’d been silent for weeks, but tonight she was feeling feisty—which she could probably attribute to her exchange with Crow. Drea hadn’t even pulled the car completely into the parking spot before Em hopped out.
“Where are you . . . ?” she heard Drea cry out as she hurried to intercept JD before he reached his driver’s-side door.
“JD,” she called, her voice ringing in the night air. He looked up and flinched. “Hold on for a second, okay?” It was better to corner him here, she figured, where there were few distractions.
For the first time in what felt like ages, she found herself face-to-face with him. She was standing between him and the Volvo; he’d have to move her if he wanted to leave. In regular jeans and a black jacket, he looked kind of subdued—only his tousled hair and a pair of thick-framed glasses betrayed his typically eccentric style.
As they looked at each other, trying to figure out who would speak first, Drea walked by, head down.
“Hey, Fount,” she said to JD. “Em, I’ll meet you inside.”
“Hi, Drea,” JD said, not taking his eyes off of Em.
Then, breaking the silence, JD asked coldly, “What do you want, Em?”
“Nice glasses,” she said. Nothing. Stony silence. She sighed and continued. “Please,” she said, pulling the ends of her scarf to make it tighter, “I need to know why you’ve been avoiding me. It’s been weeks.” She thought she was in fair territory—when they’d made their pact with her, the Furies hadn’t forbidden asking questions, right?
“Clearly my strategy hasn’t worked too well,” JD said evenly. “I started coming here because I thought you preferred the Crappuccino.”
“It’s Drea . . .” Em said weakly. “She likes it here.” She swallowed back the tightness in her throat. “JD, please
. Please talk to me.”
JD looked at her coldly. “I can’t,” he said. “Could you
if I’d done what you did?”
Em stared back. What did he mean?
“And you want to know the worst part?” He barreled on. “The worst is that you obviously don’t even think it was a big deal. What happened that night . . . I thought things between us were going somewhere. The only place they were going, apparently, was the hospital.”
She watched as his hand rose to touch his head where the pipe had hit him, the one that had landed him at the bottom of the mall’s foundation and in danger of being buried by concrete. He would have been if she hadn’t pulled him out. A reddish scar extended from his hairline diagonally across his forehead. She was desperate to know what he thought had happened that night at the Behemoth—the night she’d realized that she was in love with him.
The Furies had tried to kill JD in order to punish her
, to teach her a lesson about lost love and betrayal, and she’d done whatever she could to stop them. And that included swallowing five glowing red seeds and promising to keep her mouth shut. Not to talk about it with anyone, in fact.
He cut her off. “Don’t you mean Chauffeur
?” She flinched. “Yeah, Gabby told me about your little nickname for me—she slipped up at the pep rally. I know that’s all I am to you, Emily.”
“JD, that was just a silly nickname. I don’t feel like that. Things have changed. You have to believe me. You mean so much more to me than that.” She put her hand on his arm. He shook her off.
“Things haven’t changed one bit. You ditched me at the pep rally because something better came up.” The disdain dripped from his voice. “You made up that story about Gabby being in trouble, and then you ditched me to go make out with some other guy at a construction site. That is low, Em. Especially for you.”
Em was practically shaking. “I—I don’t understand.”
“No, you sure don’t,” JD spat out, grinding his boot into the slushy pavement. “I was worried about you, Em. Don’t you get that? That’s why I followed you. And when I saw that you’d just gone on some romantic rendezvous—” He broke off. “And, Christ, you laughed
She’d laughed at him? No, she hadn’t. But as he said it, the silver sound of the Furies’ laughter, like a wind chime that wouldn’t stop tinkling, resounded in the back of her mind.
“No—no. Gabby wasn’t there. It was a trick. They tried to hurt you. I saved you,” she said without thinking. JD’s memories of that night . . . they were all wrong. And now she didn’t know what was going on. She was letting things slip.
JD rolled his eyes. “You saved me? Oh, thank you, fearless warrior,” he said with an exaggerated clasping of his hands. “Thank you so
much for saving
me by bringing me to the hospital after your new loser boyfriend—or whoever the hell that was—clobbered me with an industrial pipe. You really pick the good ones, don’t you, Em?”
She took a step back, knowing that the insult was meant to remind her of Zach. How badly she’d misjudged. She wanted to defend herself, but she knew that she had to stay silent. She was on the verge of breaking her pact with the Furies.
“So no,” JD continued, “I will not believe you, or trust you ever again.”
“JD, please, you’ve got to listen to me. . . .” But then she trailed off, reminding herself that it was JD who would suffer if she screwed up. The Furies didn’t play fair. And she refused to take that risk. She knew she’d already said too much.
“Nothing to say, huh?” JD took a quick step forward. “Then please get out of the way.”
She moved away from his car mutely. There was nothing she could do. Her throat was so tight, it felt like it was clenching her windpipe.
JD paused, and then turned and looked over his shoulder. “You laughed
at me,” he repeated. “Why did you have to laugh?”
Then he threw open the car door, ducked inside, and was gone.
Watching him peel out of the parking lot, she choked back a sob as she wrapped her arms around her body. The cold seemed to reach inside her now. She wanted to go home.
Em managed to get Drea’s attention through the window. Urgent
, she motioned with her hands. And then they were driving home, Drea knowing better than to pry.
Drea didn’t speak until they were nearing Em’s house. “You want to get lunch tomorrow?” she asked. “Deli? I have this weird craving for a Reuben.”
“Ummm, I don’t know.” Right now it was impossible to think about having to face school tomorrow. Her stomach hurt, and her heart hurt, thinking about how angry JD was. How she couldn’t do anything to fix it. “I mean, maybe later in the week or—” Em cut herself off as she spotted a glint of white in the moon-silvered trees at the end of her street. She peered out the passenger-side window, trying to get a closer look. “Slow down,” she said.
Sure enough, there was something white hanging from the oak tree by the small park at the end of her block. It was a sheet of sailcloth, just like what Em and JD had used as a signal flag when they were younger—he used to put it in his tree house as a sign that she should meet him there. She hadn’t thought about that flag in years, but seeing it now made her heart speed up.
“Can you drop me here?” Em knew it was an odd request on this dark, cold night, but she was equally certain that Drea wouldn’t care.
“A bit brisk for an evening stroll, isn’t it?” But Drea stopped the car and didn’t ask any other questions as Em gathered her things and said good-bye.
“See you tomorrow, D,” Em said. Her words came slow, like she was in a trance—she couldn’t take her eyes off the makeshift flag. It couldn’t be a message from JD, she knew that. But the coincidence was too much. She had to investigate.
As Drea drove off, Em crunched across the frozen grass and made her way over to the sailcloth. Stretching onto tiptoes, she worked to untangle the flag, which the wind had wrapped several times around the oak branch. As she struggled with the canvas and her freezing fingers she thought of days spent chasing JD around the park’s small circumference. The afternoon they decided to “trick” their parents by putting plastic ants on their cheese plate. The night they co-babysat JD’s little sister, Melissa, and brought her here to play flashlight tag. Maybe Melissa had been playing with the flag and that’s how it had ended up here? But no, even Melissa was too old for the flag now.
A gust of wind finally shook the flag loose. It flapped open, its edges whipping her face.
“Ow,” Em said to no one, putting her hand to her cheek. But she dropped it and gasped as the flag came into full view. Through the center of it, there was an ugly gash, as though it had been knifed by an animal’s claw. Years of play had never even frayed the material, but here it was, practically shredded.
And then, out of nowhere, the soft chimes of female laughter. Em whipped around, wriggling free as the flag wrapped around her wrist.
“Melissa?” she called out into the dark playground. “JD?”
Em swallowed hard. Only a short while ago, in December, she’d been sitting on the swings when she’d found a note in her pocket. Sometimes sorry isn’t enough.
A note from the Furies. The thought made her palms tighten in fear.
There it was again. That eerie, beautiful laughter.
She knew that sound. She would know it anywhere.
The Furies. They were here.
Why were they back? She’d already been punished. Why show up here, why now? Would they reappear in her life whenever they felt like it? She thought of the fragments of the story she’d shared with JD in the parking lot. Did the Furies know? Had she brought them back?
She swung her head in all directions, but the laughter seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere at the same time. She started to retreat, moving backward slowly at first and then faster, faster. She turned, leaving the flag. Breathing hard in the night air. She moved toward the park gate, not daring to look behind her.
Suddenly, just before she reached the chain-link fence that bordered the park, a sharp icicle fell from above, soundlessly. Em yelped as it scratched her arm like the tip of a knife. And then icicles were raining down on her, piercing and deadly. Making no sound save the smallest whoosh
She sprinted down the street but then tripped on a branch, landed on all fours, and skidded on the ice. She heard her jeans rip and felt tiny bits of dirt and salt cut into her knee. Her bag fell from her shoulder. And all the while there was that laughter, shimmering and bouncing like light on a lake. She couldn’t see
them, but they were here. She could feel
“Don’t you dare come back here!” she shouted as she shakily got to her feet. “I stopped myself! I kept my promise!” She grabbed her bag from where it had fallen and frantically retrieved the stuff that had tumbled out of it. She could feel how panicked she looked, scrambling around on the dark street for her phone, her powder compact, her keys. It made her angrier. She yelled into the night air, “I’ve paid enough!”
She stumbled the last few yards to her driveway, then in through her front door, slamming it behind her, breathing hard. Only inside, away from the moon and the snow and the tree branches that seemed to grab for her, did the echoing laughter diminish.
Em pulled herself upstairs. I didn’t do anything wrong this time. I didn’t say too much
, she told herself. I’m safe.
But somehow she didn’t feel reassured. This was a warning. She put her cold hands to her face in an effort to ease her burning cheeks. Either the flag or the wind had lashed her skin raw.