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He grinned. "I started calling bookshops in the UK. Little places that didn't put their books online."

She flipped open the book, shocked by the crispness of the pages. "It looks like no one has ever read this copy," she said. "Like it's untouched by human hands."

"Nah," Darius said. "Look at the title page."

She looked from him to the book, then back at him. It couldn't be. She turned the first page, a blank one, and there it was. The name Mary Patricia Wall was written in a neat, curved script in black ink, just beneath her typeset name. Mary Patricia Wall had held this book in her hands, had put her fingers on these pages to keep them open.

Tears cascaded down her face, and she couldn't keep away from Darius anymore, couldn't pretend, even for his own good, that she didn't want to be with him. She let his gravity pull her in, leaning into his embrace, and he didn't say anything, didn't ask for anything, just wrapped his arms around her and let her cry. She cried for his thoughtfulness, for thankfulness to have someone who knew her so well, for fear of what was to come. She cried because she was angry and sad and afraid and loved and so, so tired. There was no way out, no solution to her illness, but at least there was this, a moment of loving human touch, a gift from someone who knew her well.

The warning bell for first period rang.

The crying set off a minor coughing fit. She sat up, bracing herself on the dashboard. Darius put a comforting hand on her shoulder. When it passed, she wiped her eyes with her sleeve and slipped the book into her backpack.

"'There must be something better, I know it in my heart,'" Darius said, quoting a line from the book. The main characters, siblings Lily and Samuel, are standing at the space beneath the stairs, and the wall has fallen away, and there is a swirling of color in the space. The gryphon has disappeared into it, and beckons Lily and Samuel to follow. "'And the only impossible thing is that I would leave you.'"

Madeline wiped her eyes again, then replied with Samuel's words, "'If we're together, I won't be afraid.'"

Lily's next line was, "Then take my hand, Samuel, and let us see what beautiful things await," but before Darius could say it, Madeline took his hand and squeezed, and before she could stop herself or think about what it meant or what the consequences might be, she leaned toward him and kissed his cheek.

She pulled away, the heat from Darius's hand familiar and comfortable. She looked into those dark-brown eyes, so deep they were nearly black. It was like looking into the night sky if all the stars blinked at once. It had been weeks since she had looked at him like this, and she wanted him to reach out, to touch her cheek.

Instead, he opened his door and came to get her. He walked her to class, her backpack on his shoulder, his hand on the small of her back, ready to catch her if she fell. Did she look as weak as that?

"If you need to go home early, text me," he said. His words were so gently delivered that she didn't get angry at the suggestion she couldn't make it through the day.

"You're going to be late for class," she said.

He grinned. "Impossible." Then he ran toward his classroom in that loping, long-legged stride of his, leaping like a deer over a planter, so full of life and joy and breath.

"Your car," she gasp-shouted.

He changed directions immediately, sprinting, a sheepish look on his face. "I might be late to class!" he yelled back, just as the bell rang again.


CHAPTER THREE
PARTNERS

Humans! Ye shall live upon another earth, a people of science and dust. From "The Ordering of the World," an Elenil story


After what had happened to his sister, Jason Wu had made a decision. He would never keep quiet about what he saw again, and he would never lie. No matter the cost, he would speak up and speak truth.

Sure, he'd gotten detention over the whole Principal Krugel fiasco, but his toupee was on backward. Maybe Jason shouldn't have mentioned it in front of the football team. He almost certainly should not have repeated it over the school intercom. He could still hear the principal's shrill voice shouting, "JASON WU!" from his office. That could have been the end of it, but when Jason refused to apologize or retract his statement, the principal had taken to the intercom to explain he did not wear a toupee.

That didn't excuse what Jason had done next. He saw that now.

Seeing Principal Krugel in front of the whole school at the football rally the next day, his ridiculous fake hair sitting on top of his head like a shag carpet, had driven Jason right to the edge of madness. Then Darius Walker had shouted to Jason, "Krugel's hair looks real to me! What are you going to do?"

Jason had said, "Pull his toupee off," meaning it as a joke.

But then he thought, I promised never to tell a lie.

Taking off the man's toupee wouldn't be good.

But if he didn't, he was a liar. Again.

It was a moral conundrum.

Anyway, it had earned Jason detention and earned Principal Krugel the nickname Principal Cue Ball.

He had received a second detention when the principal called his parents, put them on speakerphone, and made Jason explain what he had done. When the principal said there had been a mini riot at the assembly, Jason's mom asked if it was true. Of course Dad didn't say anything. He hadn't spoken—well, hadn't spoken to Jason—since things had happened with Jenny. Before he could stop himself, Jason said, "Yes, everyone was wigging out." Even that didn't get Dad to speak up. It had, on the other hand, turned Principal Krugel's face a shade of red Jason had never seen before, so it wasn't a complete loss.

So he wasn't trying to be insensitive when his chemistry partner, Madeline Oliver, came in to class looking like someone had given her a swirly. "You look terrible," he said. "Your mascara is running everywhere. Your eyes are red." All true.

Madeline choked out a sarcastic thanks, then started coughing. She coughed a lot. He knew she was sick. She didn't talk about it, ever. Everyone at school acted like it was a big secret, but he noticed that meant they couldn't take care of her, either. Couldn't ask how she was doing, couldn't make sure she was taking care of herself. That's why he'd asked to be her chem partner. She didn't know that—she had been at the doctor the day they picked partners. Besides, she was better at chemistry than he was. So they were watching out for each other, in a way. That's what partners do.

"You sound terrible too. Should you even be in class?" Jason spun a pencil in one hand, twirling it like a baton.

"I can't skip school all the time." She slammed her bag down and slid onto a stool, leaning against the counter.

"You already skip half the time," Jason said. "You're the worst lab partner I've had. Besides, it's a sub today. We're probably doing some idiotic worksheet."

"You just described half of high school," Madeline said. "Who are you to say I look terrible, anyway? Your clothes look like they're on day three of being picked up from your floor."
...

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