An Excerpt from The Day of First Sun, Plus $450 in Amazon Gift Cards & a Kindle Fire up for grabs! Novel Publicity

Please enjoy this excerpt from the urban fantasy novel, The Day of First Sun. Then read on to learn how you can win huge prizes as part of this blog tour, including $450 in Amazon gift cards, a Kindle Fire, and 5 autographed copies of the book.

Sturtagaard chose not to speak, though it was he who had called for the meeting. They both checked their watches and realized they had been sitting across from him for ten minutes, watching him sniff the air. If he wanted to play this, they would play along at least for a little while longer, though both were tired of the leering. As the vampire sniffed again, Cham finally figured out why.
“You know, you called us. We really don’t have anything to say to you, so if you’re just playing games, we’re happy to leave. I’ve got other, more important things to do than watch you sniff and leer,” Cham finally said, and stood up.
Sturtagaard smiled as he watched Cham open the door because he much preferred dealing with Annie, but when she stood up, too, he realized he’d overplayed his hand.
“If I talk, my employer will have me staked. I’d like some assurance that you won’t do the same,” he said rather quickly, before they left.
They turned and looked at him, both rolling their eyes.
“I’ll have you staked if you don’t talk,” replied Cham, as he stood by the door.
“You’re out of options if you ever hope to get out of here again,” Annie said calmly, focusing on his face.
Sturtagaard squirmed a little in his seat, as Annie’s expression was somewhat disquieting and unemotional. He looked at Cham, whose face was expressionless, and then back to Annie, who hadn’t moved a muscle. The vampire sighed.
“You heard right. I was hired to create a zombie army to overthrow the Wizard Council,” Sturtagaard said. His voice remained steady and calm with resignation.
“Who wants to overthrow the Council?” asked Cham, his hand still clutching the door.
“My employer. I’ve told you, I don’t know who he is. I always dealt with his associate. He’d show up, leave notes, or send others with messages. I’ve never contacted him.” He looked from one to the other, but they both remained stony and detached. “Come on, now. I can’t give you information I don’t have.” Sturtagaard was charming.
Annie rolled her eyes again. “You really don’t have any idea who the employer is?” she asked with sarcasm.
“Really, I don’t,” he said.
“So you’re building an army of the dead. How long did you have to get this done?” Annie took out her phone and pulled out her calendar.
“He wanted it ready for September first.”
Annie looked up with a grimace, and Cham looked surprised. She didn’t need to mark the date on her calendar or research its significance, though neither could figure out why a zombie army had to be created for that day, the Day of First Sun. It was a very powerful and ancient day for good magic.
“So, your employer wants an army of the dead on that day? Why?” Cham asked in a flat, emotionless voice.
“He’s a black wizard. What do you think he wants? He wants to overthrow the Council, take over the world, practice magic in the open. You know, the typical magical fantasy.” Sturtagaard grinned because he believed that would benefit the entire supernatural world.
“Wipe the smirk off your face, Sturtagaard. Having free reign won’t be as good as you think, with all the angry mobs, torches, and stakes through the heart.”
Annie smirked at Cham, who shook his head and laughed. He waited to compose himself before looking back at the vampire.

As part of this special promotional extravaganza sponsored by Novel Publicity, the price of the Day of First Sun eBook edition is just 99 cents this week. What’s more, by purchasing this fantastic book at an incredibly low price, you can enter to win many awesome prizes. The prizes include $450 in Amazon gift cards, a Kindle Fire, and 5 autographed copies of the book.
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About the book: A vampire, a rogue wizard and an army of soulless zombies are par for the course for Annie Pearce and Bobby “Cham” Chamsky of the Wizard’s Guard. But when the non-magical princess, Amelie of Amborix, is murdered by magical means, a deeper plot unfolds. Get it on Amazon.

About the author: Behind the wheel of her ’66 Mustang Convertible, Sheryl is a constant surprise, using her sense of humor and relatable style make her books something everyone can enjoy. Visit Sheryl on her website, Twitter, Facebook, or GoodReads.

Chapter Four

Just about all of the places that provide sample downloads of Semester Aboard allow people to read the first 10% free.  That takes you just a couple of pages into Chapter Four.  I figured, what’s the point of having chapters available on my blog if my readers don’t get anything extra?  So, here it is, for the first time: all of Chapter Four!

If you haven’t read the previous chapters, I suggest you do!

Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three

Chapter Four

     I followed Dani’s gaze across the dock but didn’t see anybody coming toward us.
     “Jon!” he yelled.  “Hey, Jon!”
      A man turned and looked at us.  That was Jon?  Aside from the fact he was wearing a business suit he didn’t look very boss-like.  As he walked over to us I noticed that he didn’t even look that much older than us.  He certainly didn’t strike me as old enough to run some company.  Then again, he had, in Thomas’ words, taken care of him.  Thomas had acted like he viewed Jon as a father figure more than an older brother, so he couldn’t be that close to us in age.  He must have just been aging well.  He had neatly combed black hair and dark eyes.
     “Danio,” he said as he approached us.  Even his boss called him that?  He stopped in front of us and looked at me.  “You must be Jennifer.”
     Thomas joined us.  “How was your trip?”
     Jon turned to Thomas.  “It was pleasant, we…” he trailed off and his eyes widened.  “Oh my god, Thomas.  It’s only been two weeks…” He started rapidly talking in a different language.
     Thomas looked embarrassed and I was surprised when he replied in the same language.  It looked like they started arguing.  Thomas was apparently fairly fluent; he spoke quickly and never seemed to fumble for words.  Jon was obviously worried about something and from their body language it looked like Thomas was defending himself.  I looked over at Dani.  He looked sort of angry.  His jaw was clenched and dark blues crashed in his eyes.  I wondered if he understood them.
     “We’re being rude,” Thomas said suddenly in English.  He was practically glaring at Jon and I knew their argument hadn’t been resolved.
     Jon looked annoyed that Thomas had ended the conversation, but nodded.  “My apologies,” he said to me, holding out his hand.  “I am Jon Kiyosugi.”
     “Jennifer Maddox,” I said.  “Nice to meet you.”  I took his hand and shook it.  He bowed a bit as we shook hands.
     “Shall we?” he asked, gesturing to the restaurant.
     They sat us outside by the dock, overlooking the water.  Thomas and Jon sat on one side and Dani sat next to me.
     “What language was that?” I asked Thomas as we sat down.
     “Japanese.”  He picked up a menu and opened it.
     That was that.  The three of them started reading the menus and didn’t seem in any hurry to explain things.  This was starting to get really annoying.
     Then, Dani leaned forward and spoke quietly in another language.  It sounded like he was speaking Japanese too!  Thomas and Jon both looked shocked by what he was saying.  Suddenly all three of them were whispering to each other.  I felt a bit uneasy and my silly government theory seemed a bit less silly again.  It made sense that Thomas and Jon could both speak it.  Jon looked Japanese and for all I knew he had been born there.  If he was like a father to Thomas he probably would have taught him.  But, it was a bit of a stretch that Dani spoke it too.  He spoke English, and Greek, and Japanese?  And TS spoke Greek.  I’d met a few tri, and even polylingual people before.  But with all the other weird things going on the fact that all three of them were at least bilingual, in the same language no less, was very suspicious.
     Even worse, they all kept glancing at me.  They weren’t talking about me, were they?  TS sat down in the chair on my other side, nodded to me, and then looked curiously at the others.  I was about to say something along the lines of ‘Annoying when people speak languages you don’t know, isn’t it?’ hoping they’d stop speaking Japanese and start explaining things to me.  Before I could TS’ eyes grew wide and he started speaking it too!  This wasn’t a coincidence; not if all four of them could speak it.  Maybe they all worked for a Japanese company; that would explain things.  But that seemed like pretty serious work for a bunch of college students.
     They stopped talking and all started staring at me.
     “What?” I demanded. 
     “Let’s eat first,” Jon said.  “We have things to discuss later.”
     Was he kidding?  I had waited all this time and he wasn’t going to talk to me until we finished eating?
     They all picked up a menu and I had no choice but to do it too.  The restaurant had a jungle-tiki theme and consequently the entire menu was a big splash of greens, browns, and reds.  All of the dishes had silly names, but I noticed that it was pretty standard burger joint food.
     “You want steak?” Thomas asked.
     “Please,” TS said.  He frowned at his menu and then shut it.  “Thanks.”
     Thomas nodded and studied his own menu.  “Jungle Sacrifice?  Twenty-four ounce steak with fries.”
     TS grinned.  “Perfect, thanks, Tom.”
     That was a bit odd, but I didn’t get to think on it for too long; Jon waved a waitress over and we all ordered.  They started up a conversation as soon as she left and kept it up until our food arrived.  They chatted about all sorts of nonsense while we ate.  Most of it was telling Jon about their time in Mexico.  TS kept complaining that his steak wasn’t rare enough, which baffled me.  I like my meat sort of rare, but I didn’t think his could have been any rarer without being raw.  Thomas got a huge appetizer sampler which, to my surprise, he easily ate by himself.  TS snagged some things off of it, but Thomas ate most of it alone.  Considering how skinny he was I would have assumed he’d get a salad or something.  He couldn’t possibly have eaten like this all the time.  Dani got a big hamburger with tons of toppings and Jon opted for some spicy chicken.  Had I not been annoyed by the fact they weren’t being very forthcoming, I would have enjoyed my wings, fries, and milkshake more.  The food on the ship was good, but not great.  The food in the ports, so far, had been amazing, but I did miss a good taste of home.
     We were almost done when Jon said, “Fend, let’s make sure.”
     An adorable little black bird came out of nowhere and landed on the table.  It looked like a little hummingbird.
     “Enjoying your dinner, Jennifer?” a male voice said.
     I looked around for the source of the voice.  “Who said that?” I asked.  It hadn’t been nearly deep enough for TS and was a bit higher than Thomas and Jon too.
     “Me!  Right here!”  The little bird hopped up and down.
     For a moment, I just stared at it.  The bird was talking.  No, no that was impossible.  It must have been a prank of some kind.  “Wow,” I said.  “That’s impressive.”
     “What is?” Jon asked.
     “The ventriloquist act.”  I hadn’t seen any of their mouths move, but that was the only explanation.  “And the trained bird.  What is it, a hummingbird?”  I hadn’t realized hummingbirds could be trained.
     “I’m a raven,” the voice said indignantly.
     “Right,” I laughed.  “You could almost convince me the bird is talking, but I’m not so gullible that I’ll believe it’s a raven.”
     They all exchanged a look.  Jon said something softly in Japanese and they all nodded.  Once again, before I could demand my answers, the waitress appeared.  Jon took the check without hesitation.
     “I can pay,” I said.
     “No no, I invited you here,” he said calmly.  He paid for all of us without batting an eye.  Then, he stood and bowed to me.  “Pleasure to meet you, Jennifer.  I hope to see you again.  Thomas, a moment?”  With that, he walked away.  Thomas got up and followed him.
     For a moment I just sat in shock.  He hoped to see me again?  He sounded like he was just going to walk away without giving me any answers.  I started to get up when Dani grabbed my arm.
     “Relax.  You’ll get a better explanation than you ever dreamed.”  He let go and I had to rub my arm to warm it back up; his hand had been freezing.
     I heard a growl and looked up in surprise.  TS was glaring in the direction that Jon and Thomas had gone and was literally growling softly.  He got up and Dani stood and blocked his way.
     “He’s fine, let Jon talk,” Dani said.  He didn’t seem at all concerned that TS could probably have crushed him.  I noticed for the first time that he was actually just a bit taller than TS was.  He sighed.  “You know I agree with what he’s probably saying to Thomas.”
     TS bit his lip and hung his head.  “I do too,” he whispered, like it was almost painful to admit.  “Tom’s really getting…”  He hesitated, glanced at me, and then switched to Japanese.
     Dani looked concerned and answered.  Strangely enough, as they spoke, TS sounded like he was using Japanese and Dani seemed to be speaking Greek.
     “Are you both speaking different languages?” I finally demanded.
     They exchanged one last worried look, then both laughed.  “My Japanese listening comprehension is a lot better than my speaking skills are,” Dani said.
     “Same with my Greek,” TS said.  “I’m sure it sounds insane, but it works.”
     “How many languages do you two speak?”
     “I speak seven,” TS said.  “But my Greek is sort of shaky.”
     “Four,” Dani said.  “Japanese is my weakest, but that’s just because I’m lazy.  English was harder to learn.”
     “English is your second language?” I was pleased that I had guessed that.
     “Third.  Panth was my first.”
     I frowned, I had never heard of that one.  “What is that?”
     Dani and TS glanced at each other.  “Panthalassish,” Dani said.  “I’ll explain later.”
     More secrets.  I was intrigued, but annoyed at yet another promise of ‘later.’  I noticed they were both looking past me and turned to see Thomas was back, without Jon.
     “Right,” he said, “I’m going out.  Shouldn’t take more than an hour, Jon found some er…” he glanced at me and said something in Japanese.  Oh this was getting very frustrating.  “I’ll meet you back on the boat.”
     “Ship,” Dani said.  Thomas tried to punch him and Dani snapped up his hand, caught Thomas’ wrist, and twisted it away.  His smug look faded instantly and he frowned.  He looked concerned.
     Thomas yanked his hand free and looked away, like he was almost embarrassed.  He cleared his throat, then turned to me.  “Come to my room on the ship in an hour.  We’ll explain everything.”
     Wait, he was putting it off again?  “That’s what you’ve been saying!  How do I know you’ll really explain things this time?”
     “Trust me,” he said.  He looked off to the side and sighed.  “I better go.  See you in an hour.”  He turned and left the restaurant.
     Dani called his name, but Thomas ignored him.
     “Don’t worry, I’m going to go with him,” TS said.  “Jen, we’re in room 3120.”  He and Thomas were roommates?  I sighed; things just keep getting more and more interesting.   
     “Tethys,” Dani called.  “Make sure he gets enough, I’m worried about him.”
     “You know I will, Danio,” TS said.
     “Back to the ship?” Dani asked me when TS jogged off.
     “I suppose.”
     We walked down to the dock in silence and stood to wait for the lifeboat.  It was just leaving the ship and would probably take ten minutes to get to us. 
     “Are you really going to explain things?” I asked after a moment.
     “We will, I promise,” Dani said.  He looked around.  “You know what, I’m going to go see if I can bother Charlie.  I’m regretting not signing up for that sunset canal transit trip.”
     I looked around; the sun was already going down.  “His trip has probably already left.”
     “Well, with any luck it’s not in a lock yet.”  Dani paused in thought.  “I could always…hmm no, Charlie would kill me if I tried to swim the canal.”
     “Swim the canal?” I asked skeptically.  “As in, swim through the locks?”
     “Yeah.  But, I won’t.  I am going to try and catch up with that trip though.  Maybe I can sneak on.  I’ll see you in an hour in Thomas’ room.” 
     Dani glanced around, then dove right off the dock and into the water.  Even though I knew that he had swum here from somewhere out in the ocean, my jaw dropped in shock.  I looked around, waiting for him to surface, but he didn’t.  It almost made me panic, but I had a feeling that he could probably hold his breath for a long time.  For an insane second, I wondered if he even needed to breathe at all, but quickly discarded the idea.  As cool as it would be if there really was something supernatural going on, I knew it wouldn’t be anything that neat.
     I still hadn’t seen any sign of Dani when the lifeboat arrived and I accepted that he really had been serious about going to find the boat Charlie was on.  After getting back on the ship I went back to my room and tried to pass the hour with a textbook, but just couldn’t concentrate.  I ended up going out on deck to where Dani had first gone overboard.  I had a great view of the port and could see the lights from the canal in the distance. 
     “Pretty, huh?”
     I turned to see Dani had joined me.
     “Yeah,” I said.  “What happened to finding Charlie?”
     “Too late.  The boat was already in the lock.”  He shrugged.  “Probably better that I stay here anyway.”
     “To explain things?”
     He nodded.  “Actually, I’m going to go wait for Thomas.  See you in…” He trailed off and looked for a clock.  “Well, I’ll see you there.”
     Dani left and I resisted the urge to follow and demand he start explaining.  I spent the rest hour with all the questions that had been building up just running through my head.  The one that kept coming back was ‘were they actually going to explain everything?’  Dani had obviously hurried off before I could ask him anything.
When the hour was up I headed down to 3120 and knocked.  Thomas opened the door and I followed him in.  TS and Dani were there too.  A part of me that had been expecting Jon to be smuggled onto the ship to explain things was disappointed to see he wasn’t with them.  Dani and TS were sitting on the same bed and Thomas sat down with them.  I nervously sat down on the other bed across from them.  I felt sort of like I was about to be interrogated or something.  There were butterflies in my stomach from a mix of curiosity and concern.  They were obviously going to tell me now, I could tell from their expressions.  But, they all looked very serious.  I had an odd feeling in my gut that something huge was about to happen.
     “I’d like to wait for Char and Mariana,” Thomas said.  “But, I think you’ll go nuts if we don’t explain now.”

~~~

Get to know the gang better!

Semester Aboard is published by Anchor Group Publishing!

Chapter Three

As promised here is Chapter Three of Semester Aboard!  If you have missed them, I strongly suggest reading chapters one and two first!  I hope you enjoy it!

Read Chapter One Here

Read Chapter Two Here

Chapter Three

No. Thomas was not going to come stalk me in my own room.

“Look, I just told Dani, I’m not going to tell people! Do you really have to follow me around like this?”

Thomas smiled. “I just thought you might want to know that I heard back from Jon.”

Oh. That changed things a bit. “What does he have to say?”

Thomas glanced up and down the hall. “May I come in? I’d rather not discuss this in the hallway.”

“Fine.” I stepped aside and held the door open. He didn’t move; he just shifted his weight like he was waiting. “Well?” I leaned forward and grabbed him. “Hurry up, I want to get this over with.” I tried to pull him into the room, but something happened. He tripped, or I tripped, and we fell. It almost felt like he had pulled himself out of my grip and had fallen deliberately. I tumbled back into my room, and he fell out into the hall. He sat up and winced, like he was in pain.

“Oh, come on,” I snapped. “Either get in here and tell me what you have to say so that you can stop stalking me or go away!”

He smiled, stood back up, and slid past me into the room. He regarded the beds for a moment and sat on the one that wasn’t mine. That was a bit creepy. Actually, it was really creepy. The crew had just made them, and I didn’t know how he knew which bed was which. Nevertheless, I sat down across from him.

“So,” I began, “Jon.”

Thomas sighed. “Jon.” He bit his lip like he was wondering how to say things. “So, Jon is my boss.”

“Your boss?”

“Well, actually he’s higher up than that. He’s the head of our agency.”

Agency? That caught my attention. Agency was a government term. For an absurd moment, I thought that he worked for the government, but quickly pushed the idea aside. He was just a college student. There was no way he worked for some government agency. Plus, it had to be a pretty small company. If this Jon guy really had a position that much higher than Thomas, he wouldn’t be personally corresponding with him or TS. Then, something else occurred to me, and I felt like an idiot for never even considering it before. They had all known each other to begin with. Out of 307 students, I was the only one from my school, and I had only heard of one other from my state. Mariana and Dani of course knew each other, but they had to have known the others before the voyage started. They wouldn’t all be sticking together like this, if they didn’t. And suddenly, things seemed a bit stranger.

“And what you saw…” Thomas continued. “Well, you shouldn’t have. I had to report it, and I figured I’d just go right to the top. Jon wants to talk to you.”

“Like, on the phone? Did you get my number while you were stalking me?”

“867-5309, right?” Thomas asked, looking like he was trying to hide a grin.

It took me half a second to recognize the number. I glared at him when I did. “Wrong Jenny.”

He laughed. I realized that it was the first time I’d heard a genuine laugh from him. Under any other circumstances, it would have been a cute laugh. “I’m sorry,” he said, still chuckling. “Bad joke. I didn’t think you’d know that song.”

I rolled my eyes. “It has my name in it. You’re far from the first person to make that joke. It is a catchy song though.”

“Most 80s songs are.” He turned serious again. “Anyway, no, he’s not going to call you. He’s coming to Panama.”

“What?” We’d be in Panama in two days. Why on earth would the head of the agency or whatever come all the way to Panama? “Let me get this straight,” I said. “The Big Boss is coming here just to talk to me?”

“Well, I assume he wants to see me too.”

“Why?” There was no way this supposedly high-up guy was going to come all the way to Panama to talk to one girl and see a random employee.

“He’s … sort of like my father.”

“Sort of? He either is or he isn’t.”

Thomas shrugged and looked uncomfortable. “He took care of me after my father died.”

I felt embarrassed for pushing the issue. My first instinct was to say I was sorry, but I knew from experience that people offering sympathy about a dead parent didn’t always mean much. Instead I said, “My father’s dead too.”

He looked surprised that we had something like that in common. “I’m …” He hesitated, and I had a feeling he felt the same way I did.

“Thanks,” I said softly.

He nodded, and we shared a small smile. Then, he sighed and, after a moment, spoke again. “I’m not entirely sure when Jon will be here. Sometime after we get to Panama.”

“What exactly is he talking to me about?” Thomas obviously didn’t want to talk any more about his father. But, that was all right with me. I didn’t want to talk about mine either.

“About … the other night,” Thomas said. Just like that, my empathy from our last topic vanished. I had guessed that much. More dancing around the truth.

“Is he going to explain things?”

It seemed like he hesitated. “Yes. And,” he added quickly, “until he does, you have to continue to keep quiet.”

“And then?” It seemed like I really did have to wait at least two more days until they stopped hiding things from me.

“Then, uh …” Thomas paused in thought. “Well, then, you’ll know. And you’ll still keep quiet. ‘Secrets are no fun, unless I am a part of one’, right?”

That was, I hated to admit, true. All I really wanted was to know what I had seen and get my questions answered. If I knew what was really going on, I probably would keep it a secret.

“Yeah. I won’t tell anyone,” I said. “If you promise that it’ll all be explained.”

“Oh, it will,” Thomas said with a smile. He stood. “I should go.”

“Are you guys going to keep stalking me?”

“We’ll ease up a bit.”

“Fine.”

Thomas let himself out, and I sat on my bed, replaying our conversation. Maybe this was bigger than I had thought. Had I really seen something so important that this “boss” was going to come all the way to Panama to talk to me? I took another moment to entertain the idea that they worked for the government. Had I stumbled onto some secret government experiment? They wouldn’t be using a bunch of college kids on a cruise ship, would they? I lay back with a sigh and thought for a while. Even though they were going to give me my answers in two days, I decided that I wanted to try and figure it out first. I liked a good mystery, and I had just found myself smack in the middle of a very odd one.

I put off going to dinner for as long as I could to puzzle it out, but finally decided to go up before they started putting the food away. On the way there, I stopped by the Student Life Desk. The wall across from it was covered in pictures of every student on the ship, like a giant yearbook page. It listed our names, birthdays, schools, majors, and expected graduation dates. I didn’t know their last names, which was how the wall was organized, so I knew it would be a challenge. The pictures were all too small to be useful, so I had to scan every single name and squint at the corresponding picture. It took a few minutes, but I found them all. Mariana Bar – she must have kept her last name – was majoring in International Affairs at a school in New York. Thomas Clark and Tethys – which explained why he went by TS – Conall were majoring in International Affairs too. My breath caught. They went to the same school as Mariana. A minute later, I found a bio for Daniel Pelagos, and then, I spotted one for Charles Smith. A chill ran up my spine. There was no way that this was a coincidence. All of them went to the same school and had the same major?

It was satisfying to have confirmed that they must have known each other before the voyage, but the student bios had left me with more questions than answers. I headed for the dining room, mulling over the new information. There was no line at the buffet, so I grabbed a plate and started loading up. Most of the lettuce had already been taken, and it looked like they weren’t going to replace it. I piled some veggies on my plate and moved on to the hot foods. The pasta looked rubbery and cold; I had waited too long to go up. I scooped out of a spoonful of the International Choice, some beef dish it looked like, and grabbed a fillet of tonight’s fish. I grabbed a couple of rolls out of the basket at the end of the buffet and looked around the dining room for a seat.

The professors had been and gone, and it looked like most of the students were finishing up. A table over by a window caught my eye, and I watched the occupants carefully. Charlie, TS, and Mariana sat next to each other and talked. Dani and Thomas sat next to each other with a textbook between them. There was an empty place next to Dani. Thomas glanced up from his book, and his eyes met mine. He tilted his head at the empty spot and smiled. I squared my shoulders and walked over. I sat down and braced myself.

“Good evening, Jennifer,” Thomas said pleasantly.

“Hiya, Jen,” Charlie said, grinning from across the table.

TS grunted a hello from around a bunch of food and speared another forkful. Dani waved but kept his eyes on the notebook he was holding.

Mariana smiled at me too. “The sea bass is really good.”

“Great.” I grabbed a fork and cut off a chunk to try.

Then, they all returned to what they had been talking about before. I was content to eat quietly and observe the strange group. TS had a big pile of fish and International Choice on his plate, and there was a large pitcher of the evening’s juice next to him. Thomas grabbed it and refilled TS’s glass. TS said nothing, but started drinking. He looked sort of sick. He was pale and seemed more quiet than usual.

“Eat up,” Thomas said to him.

TS snorted softly in Thomas’ direction, but shoved another forkful of International Choice into his mouth. He wrinkled his nose and took another long drink.

“Spicy isn’t it?” Charlie asked with a big grin. He took another big bite and chewed happily. “What country was this from again?”

“Ethiopia,” Dani said absently. “Thomas, you’re killing me.” He shoved the notebook away from him.

“What class is that for?” I asked.

“Climate,” Thomas said. “And what? Is it wrong?”

“It’s a disaster,” Dani laughed. “I’m getting a headache just looking at it.”

“Excuse me for not having a Master’s Degree in Environmental Science,” Thomas said.

Dani rolled his eyes and picked the notebook back up. I frowned. Was Thomas implying that Dani had a Master’s Degree? Less than ten minutes ago, I had read that he had another semester to go before getting a B.S. and was only turning twenty-two in the fall. Even if he had already graduated, there was no way Dani could have a Master’s.

“Are you just making stuff up?” Dani demanded. He flipped through a couple of pages. “This entire page is wrong too!”

“What?” Thomas yelped. He frowned at the page in confusion. “How is this wrong?” Dani started to smirk and Thomas narrowed his eyes at him. “You’re such a dick! Is any of this wrong?”

“Nope.”

Thomas glared. “I might kill you.”

“Come on, Tommy. You know I only tease you because I have a secret crush on you.”

“God help me,” Thomas muttered. “And don’t call me that.”

“He gets to.” Dani jabbed his thumb in TS’s direction.

Thomas glared. “That’s because he isn’t referring to the rock opera.”

“Can’t prove that I am,” Dani said.

Thomas sighed and rolled his eyes. “Except I know that you are.”

“For a deaf, dumb, and blind kid, you really are observant,” Dani said.

Thomas groaned. “Charlie, do something, please.”

Charlie held up his hands helplessly. “Don’t drag me into this; I’m innocent.”

“I’m knackered. I’m going to bed,” TS announced. He stood slowly, grabbed his tray, and headed off.

“Is he sick?” I asked.

They all exchanged a strange look.

“It’s a boat,” Thomas said. “We’ve all been sick.”

“Actually, it’s a ship,” Dani corrected.

“I will murder you in your sleep,” Thomas told him.

“I’ll leave the door unlocked for you,” Mariana said.

“Well, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll make sure Teth finds his way to bed,” Thomas stood and nodded to me. “Night, guys.” He turned to me. “Sleep well. I’ll keep my promise if you will.”

I nodded. I couldn’t meet this Jon guy fast enough. Charlie returned to his food, and Dani pushed the fish bones on his plate around. I followed their lead and quickly finished eating. The Ethiopian food was so spicy that I kept refilling my water. The pitcher ran out, and I looked around for more.

“Can have mine.” Charlie pushed his glass toward me. He kept eating, and I realized he hadn’t once taken a sip of water.

“Aren’t you thirsty? This stuff is really spicy.”

“I like it hot,” Charlie said with a wink. He winced and glared at Dani, who looked smug, and I assumed he had kicked Charlie under the table.

Dani slid out his chair and stood. “I should get going. I still have that essay for L.A. History.”

“I’m done, too,” I said.

“Yeah, me, too,” Mariana agreed.

The four of us took up our trays and headed down to Deck Four. Dani, Mariana, and I peeled off into the corridor, and Charlie continued down the stairs to Deck Three.

“Night,” Dani said, stopping at his room.

“Sweet dreams,” Mariana added.

“Goodnight.”

I curled up on my bed with a textbook and read. When Laurie came back to the room, she asked me to proofread her Latin American History essay. I offered her mine in exchange. When we were done reading and correcting, we turned on the TV. The first channel was the Ship channel. We watched for a moment, as the little icon of the ship sailed closer to Panama. When the screen changed to a display of announcements, we changed channels again. A special on the Panama Canal, a movie, and another movie. The second movie was just starting, so we put that on and laid back.

Before I knew it, Laurie’s alarm was going off. I rolled over and waited the twenty minutes until mine went off, before I got up to shower. I got out just as she got back from the gym. We went up to breakfast together and grabbed a table with Carrie from my Plants class and a girl from one of Laurie’s classes. TS walked by and nodded to me. I smiled and nodded back. He sat down with a couple of Professors nearby, but true to Thomas’ word, not at my table. Maybe they really were going to ease up. He looked a lot better this morning and dug right into what looked like nothing but bacon and sausage.

During Latin American History, Dani sat a couple of rows behind me, but once again not close enough to be a pain. Charlie walked near, but not with, me to our Plants class. I sat down next to Carrie, and Charlie sat on her other side. Nobody showed up to my other two classes. After Spanish, I got a smoothie and stretched out on deck in the sun. I noticed Thomas settle into a nearby lounge chair with a book a couple of minutes later, but he didn’t talk to me. They left me alone during dinner as well. I noticed that TS, Thomas, and Charlie ate alone and wondered where Dani and Mariana were. I still didn’t see them when everyone gathered in the Latin American History classroom for an evening lecture about docking in Panama.

Later that night, I crept into a classroom to find a quiet place to study. A few people were studying, but most were finished and wandered the ship, being loud. About an hour went by before I heard voices outside the door. I recognized Charlie’s voice and closed my book to listen. It sounded like a study-group. I was about to return to my book, when a loud song started to play. I looked in the direction of the door curiously; it was Part of Your World from A Little Mermaid. A silhouette outside of the frosted glass door stood and started for the door.

“Excuse me,” Charlie said.

I could see his shadow moving toward the classroom door. Before I realized what I was doing, I dropped down out of my desk and slid behind a couch. Was I seriously hiding from Charlie? The door opened, and he stepped in, Part of Your World still blaring. He closed the door again, and I felt my heart beating wildly. This was ridiculous. Charlie was part of some strange secret, yes, but I felt almost scared. From the way my heart was pounding at the thought of him finding me, I could have been hiding from a murderer or something. I closed my eyes and pressed my back against the couch. Too late to stand back up. I’d look like a total idiot. The song stopped abruptly.

“Hey,” Charlie said. “What’s up? … Danio? Why are you calling me on Mariana’s phone?”

A cell phone ringtone, of course. I almost laughed at myself.

“Toasty,” Charlie said with a laugh. “Well, I guess it’ll end up part of a coral reef or something … Of course, I’m laughing at you…What? You aren’t seriously considering looking for it. Do you realize how hard it would be to find a phone in the ocean? … I thought as much. Anyway, did you get there alright? … Of course I was worried! You know how I feel about water.”

I frowned, what on earth was he talking about? I was pretty sure he was talking to Dani, I’d heard them call him “Danio” before. But where was he? Why would he call Charlie from somewhere else on the ship?

“Yeah, yeah. Hey, what’s all that noise? … Oh, it’s Fend? Hi Fend! So Jon’s already there, then?”

I froze. Jon?

“Yeah, sure … Hey, Jon! … Nah, everything’s toasty here. What’s the plan? … Dinner tomorrow? … Yeah, I’ll tell her. I think we dock at nine … Oh, I don’t know what her trip is tomorrow … No, it won’t be overnight; there aren’t any of those in Panama, but my trip will be out late … Hot! I’ll see you then … Hi, Mariana … Swim was good? … Toasty, toasty … Yeah, I heard … Where are you and Dani staying? … Oh, okay … Tell me there’s a sauna there! … Hot! … Yeah, yeah … Why not, put him on … Hiya! So where’s dinner? … Right on the dock, huh? Do they have hot wings? … Phew! I miss spicy food. That’ll be great … Yeah, TS’ll be thrilled! Can’t get him to shut up about rare meat … Okay, so burger place on the dock at eight. What is that, fifteen-hundred? … I was kidding! Twenty. I know … Yeah, I don’t think I’ll make it, but I’ll tell Jen … Right, I love you too. See you tomorrow.”

Charlie left the room. I sighed and leaned against the couch. More mysteries. How was the swim? He couldn’t mean … Mariana and Dani couldn’t have swum from the ship to Panama! I went over to the window and looked out, no shore in sight. We had a good twelve hours of travel left to go. Swimming was impossible. And yet I had a feeling that Dani could have done it. He must have, and Mariana too! Then, there was that ‘I love you’. Charlie couldn’t have been talking to Jon. Maybe, what was the name, Fend? I heaved another sigh. I had hoped his conversation would clear things up. Now I was even more confused.

I dragged studying on until long after I heard Charlie’s group leave. When I got back to my room, I found a folded note stuck to my door. I grabbed it and squinted at the sloppy handwriting.

Jen – Jon’s in panama. wants to meet you. dinner at a burger place right on the dock at 8 tomorrow night. can’t miss it. will your trip be over by then? drop by my room or call me – 3044 and let me know! – Charlie

Well, why not? I grabbed the ship phone off of my roommate’s desk and dialed the room number.

“Hello?”

“Charlie?” I asked.

“No, it’s Mark. Charlie’s not here.”

Mark, hmm? I wondered if Mark was in on their little secret. “Can you tell him that Jen says eight o’clock is fine?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Thanks, bye.”

I sighed after hanging up. A part of me was excited to dock in our second country and see new things. I couldn’t wait for my trip tomorrow. And yet there was another part of me that just wanted to skip the clock up to dinner so that I could find out just what was up with these people. It was a miracle that I fell asleep at all.

I got up early enough for the tradition of watching the sunrise in port, but it was too rainy and cloudy to see anything. The sunrise in Mexico had been spectacular. Disappointed, I went to breakfast much earlier than usual. I spotted Charlie across the dining room, but didn’t see anybody else. Maybe Dani and Mariana really had somehow gotten off the ship early. I ate quickly, hoping to avoid Charlie. I knew that he couldn’t have known that I overheard his phone call, but with all the strange things happening, it wouldn’t have surprised me if he did.

He caught me anyway. “Hey, Jen. Did you get my note?”

“Yeah. I left a message with um …”

“Mark,” he said dryly. “Figures. Does eight work?”

“Yeah.”

“Toasty. Have a good day!”

Much to my relief, he didn’t say anything else. I went back to my room to get ready and made my way to the gangway to disembark. We couldn’t dock in Panama, we had to anchor out in the bay and use our lifeboats to cruise into the dock. They separated us into groups of twenty to fill the lifeboats and let us out one at a time. When it was finally our turn we lined up and swiped our ID’s to check ourselves off of the ship.

“Hello again!”

Just my luck, Charlie, TS, and Thomas were all in my group. I grumbled a greeting back to Charlie. Thomas nodded at me before stepping through the metal detector. He swiped his ID and headed for the small staircase that led down to the lifeboat. The girl behind him did the same and moved through the metal detector.

“Oh my god, he fell in the water!” the girl in front of Charlie screamed.

The crewmember checking us off of the ship raced forward. “Stay here!”

I could hear everyone on the lifeboat freaking out and the crewmembers shouting orders. I craned my neck but couldn’t see what was happening. I noticed movement and looked over at Charlie. Rather than trying to see what was happening, Charlie had calmly swiped his ID. I looked at the screen where our data appeared and to my surprise saw Dani’s picture appeared with Daniel Pelagos above it. Charlie slid the ID into his pocket, pulled out another, and swiped it as well. The name Mariana Bar and her picture popped up, too. Charlie turned and noticed I was watching. He shot me a look that plainly said to keep quiet.

The checkout crewmembers returned.

“Everything is alright now,” one said.

“I haven’t swiped my ID yet,” Charlie told him innocently.

The man nodded and Charlie swiped his own ID, and vanished out the door. After they looked in my purse, I checked out and got onto the steps. At the bottom, two crewmembers took my arms and helped me jump from the steps into the arms of the crewmembers waiting on the boat. It was a bit freaky, but also fun. I stepped down into the lifeboat and looked for a seat. And there, soaking wet and wrapped in a blanket, was Thomas. Charlie and TS sat across from him, so I sat down in an empty chair next to him.

You’re the one who fell in?”

He nodded sheepishly. “Slipped.”

“Or did you fall in so that Charlie could use Dani and Mariana’s ID’s without anyone seeing?”

Thomas glared at me. “You are entirely too observant.”

Charlie and TS glanced at each other and shrugged.

“So, where are you off to, Tom?” TS asked. Seeing as they probably spent a lot of time together, I doubted that TS really didn’t know Thomas’ plans for the day.

“Indian village trip.”

“Me too! Keen!” They high-fived, and I rolled my eyes.

“I’m doing the half-day rainforest tour,” Charlie said. “Then, I’m taking that sunset Panama Canal boat ride.”

“I’m doing the rainforest tomorrow,” TS said, “Let me know how it is.”

“Will do. What about you, Jen?” Charlie asked.

“Lake Gatun boat tour.” As eager as I was to meet Jon and figure out what was going on, I was excited for the trip. We’d be on a boat on one of the largest man-made lakes in the world.

The little boat, rocking violently, started across the bay.

“I’m gonna be sick,” TS groaned.

“You’re fine,” Thomas said. “We’re only on for a few minutes.”

It was a short ride, and TS was practically the first person off the boat.

“Don’t forget, that restaurant down there at eight!” Charlie reminded me, pointing down the dock.

Thomas argued with the crew for a bit, before they agreed that he was perfectly fine, just a bit wet. After he pointed out that we were practically on the equator in the middle of summer and he’d dry off fast, they let him go. He and TS headed off toward the bus marked with their trip number. The bus next to it closed its door, and Charlie groaned.

“Oh clinker! That’s my trip! Gotta go. Give this to Danio, will you?” He thrust Dani’s ID at me and ran off toward his bus.

I frowned after him and made my way to my own bus. I almost felt bad that I didn’t have time to find Dani, but I didn’t want to miss my own trip. A teacher seemed to be arguing with someone, and as I went around of the front of the bus, I saw Dani. So, he was on this trip with me, then. Charlie must have known that.

“I swear, I had it when I got off the ship,” he said. “Ask anyone, I really am a student, you can’t kick me off the trip!”

“No ID, no trip,” the teacher said.

“Dani!” I called and hurried over. “Here, I found this down on the dock.”

I handed him his ID, and he grinned.

“Thanks, Jen! You’re a lifesaver!”

We got onto the bus and ended up sitting together.

“You know, Thomas fell off of the lifeboat and into the water.”

“Really?” I noticed that he seemed curious, but not at all concerned.

“Yeah. And then Charlie used the distraction to swipe your and Mariana’s ID cards.”

Dani hummed under his breath and smirked. “You really keep an eye on us, don’t you?”

“Well, I am curious. But I meet Jon tonight, right?”

Dani nodded.

“So…how did you get here?” I asked. “Did you and Mariana jump off the ship and swim all the way to shore?” I left out the fact that ‘all the way to shore’ would have been over 100 miles.

He just smiled at me. “Everything will be explained, I promise.”

“But you did, right? If it were anybody else, I’d say that it was impossible to swim that far, especially in an ocean. But you did.”

“Keep your voice down! Yes, all right? We swam here to meet Jon.”

“Last night.”

Dani looked shocked.

“You weren’t at dinner.”

“Fine, fine. Keelhaul me, why don’t you?” he hissed. His eyes were doing that weird thing again, where darker blues looked like they were splashing with his normal color. “Yes, we did. Now drop it.”

He turned away from me, and I knew that the conversation was over. He and Mariana had swum from a ship in the ocean to shore in the middle of the night. It just wasn’t possible. The more I tried to figure it out, the more supernatural my thoughts became. I decided that I needed to lay off the fantasy books.

The trip went well. We took the boat around the little islands on the lake and saw some huge ships bound for the Panama Canal. There were monkeys in the trees and crocodiles in the water. While we ate lunch, I noticed that Dani was nowhere to be seen, but when we all went to a swimming hole after lunch, he was back. I climbed up some rocks and sat down by a small waterfall. I watched Dani while he swam below me, half hoping that he’d do something out of the ordinary. A few minutes later, he scaled the rocks and settled down next to me.

“Done swimming?” I asked. “Isn’t that your thing?”

He let out another one of his lyrical hums and leaned back against a rock. “Don’t like the water,” he said with a shrug. “This little swimming hole is gross.”

I looked down at the water; it looked fine to me. Dani stretched out in the sun, and I realized that he hadn’t changed into a swimsuit; he was still wearing his shorts and t-shirt.

“Your clothes are going to be wet for hours.”

Dani chuckled. “You think wet clothes are going to bother me?”

His eyes were their usual cheery blue, but in the sunlight I could swear that the irises were still slowly moving. It reminded me of gentle waves.

“So, where were you?” I asked.

“Hmm?”

“During lunch. You vanished.”

He narrowed his eyes, and I could see the flecks of blue-gray appearing. “I was around.” His tone sounded worried, and I realized that “worried” was the exact word I’d use to describe what his eyes did too. I thought of Charlie and how his flared red when he got upset. It was like their eyes reacted to their emotions! It was the strangest thing I’d ever seen. A little voice in the back of my mind kept saying inhuman.

“We ate lunch on a tiny boat. You weren’t there.”

His eyes got even lighter, but streaks of dark blues starting churning in. It was fascinating and so strange to watch. “Maybe I was hiding to make you suspicious.”

I glared at him. Then, without another word, he slid down off of the rocks and jumped back into the water.

I didn’t talk to him until we were back on the bus a couple of hours later. I had a feeling he was avoiding me. It seemed like there was a lot more to what was going on than just the fact Dani had gone overboard. With every new thing that he and the others tried to hide from me, my curiosity grew. I sat down next to him on the bus and couldn’t help but feel a bit smug that I’d stopped his avoiding-game. It was time to get some more information.

“Is Jon your boss too?”

He glared at me. “Yes,” he finally muttered. His eyes swirled to dark blue as I watched.

I never really thought of blue as an angry color, but his irises reminded me of waves during a storm. They really did react with his moods. I stared, mesmerized as they grew darker and darker. The colors in them crashed against each other like waves on rocks.

“Is there a reason you’re staring at me?” he chuckled. “I’m married, you know.”

“Sorry,” I said quickly. “It’s just …” Just what? Your eyes are weird? I didn’t think that would be very polite.

“Just?”

“Your eyes are … interesting.”

He looked confused for a moment and his eyes stayed dark, but the movement slowed. Dani studied me for a moment, almost like he was curious. “Interesting how?”

“They uh …” I wasn’t sure how to say it without sounding crazy. “Change color.” Eyes did that. Not nearly in the way that Dani’s did, but it didn’t sound as insane if I said it like that.

That got his attention. Now he was definitely curious. He almost looked surprised. “Change color? What do you mean?”

“Like, different shades of blue.” Well, now that I was telling him…”And they move. The colors sort of, I dunno, splash around. It’s like water.”

Dani’s jaw literally dropped. Then, the touch of the deep blue I had started to associate with angry splashed in his eyes. “You’re not just something messing with us, are you?”

“What?” I asked in confusion. “No, I’m not. Your eyes really do that!” I figured that was something he would have known.

Dani studied me for a moment, then whistled and hummed at the same time and looked out of the window. He looked really bothered, and I hoped I hadn’t hurt his feelings or anything. The bus stopped near the dock, and Dani wordlessly fell into step with me when I headed for the burger place. We stopped at a railing on the dock by the restaurant and leaned against it. I watched one of the lifeboats make its way from the dock to the ship in the distance. A few minutes later Dani pushed himself up off of the railing and cleared his throat.

“He’s here,” he said.

  

Chapter Two

Since I already posted Chapter One, I figure that I might as well post Chapter Two as well!  If you haven’t read Chapter One, I suggest you do!  I hope you like Chapter Two!

Read Chapter One

Chapter 2

The following morning started like any other.  I woke up and traded showers with Laurie, then went to breakfast.  Ordinarily I would have chosen a table with people at it – I liked to eat meals with people from all over the ship – but my thoughts were still whirling from the night before.  I chose an empty table by a window and sat down.  I ate slowly, looking out at the water.  It was still raining lightly and the sky was darker than usual, but it was all so different from last night that I started to wonder if maybe I had just been dreaming.  It all seemed even more ridiculous and impossible than it had last night.
A mug thumped down next to me and I turned to greet whoever had joined me.  I was shocked to see that it was Dani.  He looked tired, but otherwise showed no sign that he had fallen into the ocean less than twelve hours ago.   “I can’t believe you lied to me,” he said.
I realized that he wasn’t talking to me and looked up and saw that Mariana was settling in across from us.
“I didn’t lie; they had plenty of melon when I came up earlier.  If you could get out of bed at a reasonable time you could have had some.”  Mariana looked at me and smiled.  “Good morning, Jen.  I’m Mariana by the way.”
“Hi…”
“Hey, Jen,” Dani said.  He turned back to Mariana.  “There is nothing reasonable about seven in the morning!”  He chugged his entire mug of steaming coffee in a few gulps.
“I get up every morning at six for swim practice,” Mariana said.
“So?  I get up at five for crew.  You don’t see me bragging.”
Mariana stabbed a pineapple slice with her fork and glared at Dani.  “You get up at five at home, but complain when I try to wake you at seven?”
“Crew only takes two hours.  I’m in bed before eight and I never have class before noon.  If you wake me up at seven here then I have to stay up all day.”
Mariana pointedly turned away from him.  “So, how are you?”
“I’m fine,” I said.  Seemed like their honeymoon wasn’t off to a harmonious start.
Dani mumbled something about coffee and got up with his empty mug.
“You swim on your school team?” I asked.  I had been so occupied with Dani I had forgotten that Mariana had been dressed for swimming last night.  Maybe she had been planning on diving off of the ship too.
“I did.  I was actually doing a little kid coaching thing this spring.  Kids are fun.”  Well, she was perfectly willing to talk about that.  I had a feeling she’d be a lot less forthcoming if I asked about last night.
“Kids are a pain,” Dani said.  He sat back down and took a sip of coffee.
“You love little kids, don’t even lie,” Mariana said.  I hoped I hadn’t started another argument.
“Ember and Catalina?  Yes.  Random brats on the street?  No.”
“Ember doesn’t count a little kid anymore, you know.”
“Don’t remind me,” Dani groaned.
I ate slowly, hoping to learn more about them.  Dani seemed content to drink his coffee quietly and Mariana ate.  I looked out the window, the rain was picking up and the sky was darkening.  The waves looked a bit ominous.
“Very Poseidon Adventure, isn’t it?” Dani asked.
I turned and saw that he was looking out the window over my shoulder.
“Very what?” Mariana asked.
Poseidon Adventure,” Dani said, like it was obvious.  “With Roddy McDowall?”  Mariana shook her head.  “How have you never seen…oh forget it.”
The two argued about Dani’s apparent bad taste in old movies until the bell for Latin American History sounded.  I left the table before them, but heard them behind me all the way to the classroom.  I sat next to Laurie in our usual place and was relieved when Dani and Mariana veered off toward the other side of the room.
“Mind if I join you?” asked a deep, gravelly voice.
Laurie and I turned toward the speaker.  It was Football Guy.  Up close I could see that his eyes were dark, dark brown and his hair wasn’t just shaggy, but messy.
“Sure,” Laurie said.  “I’m Laurie, this is Jen.”
“Cheers,” he said, sitting down.  “You can call me TS.”  He had a slight accent that I couldn’t place.
Laurie giggled at him and I rolled my eyes and pulled out my notebook.  We didn’t talk during class.  When it was over Laurie lingered behind to talk to a friend.
“Gotten a reply from Jon?” I asked TS as we walked toward the door.
He looked surprised, but then laughed.  I noticed that the very tip of his tongue poked oddly out of the corner of his mouth when he did.  Instead of answering me he just turned out of the classroom and headed down a nearby stairway.  I considered going after him, but decided I didn’t want to be late for class.  Tardiness was a bit harder to get away with when your classes were all on a ship.  I turned away from the stairs and started toward the back of the ship.  My next class was on the same deck, but all the way aft, while the Latin American History classroom was all the way forward.  I had only just started walking when someone fell into step beside me.
“Picked a plant to study in Panama?”
I suppressed a groan.  Charlie.
“Not yet,” I grumbled.
“Me neither.  I’m just going to see what plants spark my interest once we get there.”
I grunted in agreement and we continued in silence.  I sat next to Carrie in class, but to my dismay Charlie gave up his usual desk near the door in favor of one closer to me.  And here I’d woken up this morning wondering if it really had been a dream.  The fact they were all practically stalking me proved that I really had seen something strange, something they didn’t want other people to see.  An hour and a half later I hurried out of the classroom, only to have him walking right next to me again.
“What’s your next class?” he asked.
“Ancient Latin American Cultures,” I snarled.
“Getting lunch first?” We all got a break between the first two and last two classes of the day.
“Yes.”
“I’ll join you for lunch then.”
He didn’t seem at all concerned that I was practically running down the halls.  I stomped down the stairs to the Deck Five dining room, grabbed a small lunch, and ate in silence.  Charlie sat next to me and read a textbook without a word.  When I stood back up and started for my next class he was right behind me.
“I know what you’re doing,” I said finally.
“Escorting you to class like a gentleman?”
I glanced at him as we walked and glared.  “You’re following me.  All of you.  Dani and Mariana and that big guy.”
“TS.”
“Whatever.  You’re trying to make sure I don’t tell anyone what I saw last night.”
Charlie smiled at me.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
I stopped outside my classroom door.  “I wasn’t going to tell anybody.  I’m still trying to explain what happened to myself.  But, now that you’ve all gotten weird and stalkerish on me, I just might start talking.”
Charlie grabbed my arm and tugged me to face him.  “Don’t!”
The weird thing happened to his eyes again, but this time his face was hardly two feet from mine.  Flashes of orange and red flared in his irises and I was sure that this time it wasn’t a trick of the light.  My arm felt uncomfortably hot where his hand was.
Trying to ignore the strange thing his eyes were doing, I forced a sweet smile.  “Too bad none of you are in this class with me; it’ll make it awfully hard to spy.”
The corner of his mouth twitched into a smile and his eyes faded back to red-brown.  “Don’t bet on it,” he whispered.  Then he released my arm, waved, and strode away.
This was getting a bit creepy.  I really wasn’t planning on talking; what I had seen sounded crazy even to me.  But, I knew that I had really seen something.  The fact that they were all making attempts to keep tabs on me made me even more convinced that whatever I had seen was as strange as I thought it was.  I opened the door to the class and went over to my seat.  I glanced up to see if the Professor was there yet and froze.
Thomas was leaning against the Professor’s podium talking to him.
“Thank you very much,” Thomas said with a smile.
The Professor waved him away and Thomas crossed the room and sat down next to me.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
Thomas smiled at me.  “I heard you’re watching a video on the Aztecs and asked if I could sit in.”
“What about your class?” He was actually skipping class to keep an eye on me.  I was getting more than a little creeped out.
He shrugged.  “I’d rather watch this.”
I knew my mouth was hanging open, but I didn’t really care.  He pulled out a notebook without another word and adjusted himself so that he could see the TV.  I spent more of the class glaring at him than I did watching the video.  He looked a lot different in the light than he had last night.  His eyes were somewhere between gray and green, but the color was muted, almost dull.  His skin was a bit pallid like he didn’t get out much, and I hoped he was planning on using sunscreen when we got to the equator.  Now that it was dry I could see that his hair was light brown and, without the rain matting it down, it was a totally different style, not at all emo like I had thought.  His bangs fell almost neatly across his forehead, not quite long enough to be in his eyes, and it was slightly longer in back.  I hated to admit it, but now that I could see him in better light he was cute.  Really cute, actually.  If he put on a little more weight and got a light tan he’d be really handsome.  But, I reminded myself, he was here basically spying on me which made him about as unattractive as a guy could be.
“Can I get a real answer?” I asked when class ended.
“Of course,” Thomas said, as if he actually intended to give me one.
“Are you going to follow me to my next class?” It wasn’t the question I wanted to ask, but I wanted to make sure he was capable of answers.
“Sure, I don’t mind walking with you to class.”
I glared.
“Here, I’ve got that.”  He scooped my books from my hands before I could protest and started walking.
“What were you doing in my class?”
“Watching a video, I told you that.”
I sighed, then sighed again when he turned down the hall to my next class without stopping to ask me where it was.
“Look, I know you’re following me around to make sure I don’t tell people about last night, but this is weird enough as it is.  You can at least tell me how you know my schedule.”
Thomas shrugged.  “Mariana’s a work-study student.  She helps out at the Student Life desk, so she has some extra computer access.”
I almost stopped short.  “And she what?  Looked up my class schedule?”
“Exactly.”
For some reason, confirmation that they had put extra effort into monitoring me was even more unsettling than the paranoia that they might have.  Thomas stopped without prompting in front of my Spanish classroom and handed my books back.
“Enjoy class.  Adios.”  Without another word he turned and headed back the way we had come.
I walked in and sat down, dropping my books heavily on a table.  “Well, I’d say this is a pleasant surprise, but it isn’t a surprise and it’s not at all pleasant.  What’s your story?  Flunk out of your Spanish class?”
Dani chuckled.  “I was feeling seasick this morning and missed mine.  Your teacher is kindly letting me make it up this period.”
“How generoso of her,” I said dryly.  I didn’t even bother asking Dani why he was skipping his other class.  “And why do I get the feeling that you don’t get seasick?
Dani looked a bit nervous, then quickly covered it with a grin.  Interesting.  “We should get started before the teacher yells at us for speaking English.  Como estás?”
“Malo.”
“Aww, por qué?”
“Por qué do you think?”
Dani smirked.
When class ended I gathered my books and left the room.  Dani followed wordlessly.
“How do you say creepy stalker in Spanish?” I asked.
“Yo no se,” Dani said.
We headed aft toward the staircase to Deck Seven and spotted TS going down it.
“Have you seen that?” he asked, pointing to the wall behind him.  The walls on every landing between decks were plated with glass and had a different poem painted on them.  I had stopped to read them all, they were pretty neat.  One side was written in English and the other looked like the Greek alphabet.
“Yeah,” I said.  “Ocean-y poems.”
“Glanced at it,” Dani said.
TS grinned and once again the tip of his tongue stuck out.  I couldn’t decide if it was almost cute in a weird, funny way, or just weird.  “Better read it again.”
Dani frowned and hurried up the first half of the stairs to the landing.  I followed and stood next to him as he read it.
“What?” he suddenly yelled.  He looked back and forth from the English side to the Greek side.  “Why would you do that?”
TS started laughing and his tongue lolled out a bit more.
“Seriously,” Dani said.  “That ruins the entire verse!”  He glared at the wall.  “What kind of an idiot translated this?”
“I’m so glad I’m here for this,” TS laughed.
Dani turned and said something to him in another language.  TS chuckled and replied.  Whatever he said made Dani roll his eyes and start up the second flight of stairs.
“Cheers,” TS laughed.  “Bye, Jen,” he added to me as he headed back down the other steps.
Curious, I hurried after Dani.  “Do you speak Greek?” I asked when I caught up.
“Yeah.”
I looked at his dark hair and tan skin with a fresh perspective.  “Are you from Greece?”
“Mm-hmm.”
“Oh.  You don’t have an accent.”
Dani shrugged.  “I moved to the states a long time ago.”
He pushed open the door to the Deck Seven exterior deck and we went outside.  It was still raining so I ordered hot chocolate and settled into a chair.  Dani went out from under the overhang that covered half of the deck, but stayed near me.  He dropped his elbows onto the railing and looked out over the water, ignoring the light rain.  After a minute he closed his eyes and raised his head, letting the rain splash onto his face.  He looked oddly content.
“Aren’t you cold?”  Seeing him getting rained on in just a t-shirt was making me shiver.
Dani shook his head.  I sipped my hot chocolate and thought about the night before.  I had never really had a wild imagination and was starting to wish that I did.  Judging from their behavior today I had clearly witnessed something important and secret, but couldn’t begin to imagine it.  Even though he obviously had gone overboard, I still couldn’t figure out how he could possibly have gotten back on the ship.
“Did it hurt?”
“Did what hurt?” Dani asked, looking at me in surprise.
“When you hit the water.”
Dani looked at me critically, as if wondering how much to really tell me.  His eyes looked a lot lighter and grayer than their usual cheery blue.  I would have thought it was just an optical illusion from the gray sky, but I noticed that flecks of grays and blues seemed to be moving in his eyes, almost like gentle waves.
“Yeah,” he said finally, then shrugged.  “Didn’t kill me though, so no worries there.”
“No.  Falling off of a ship didn’t kill you.”
Dani rolled his eyes.  “Just forget it.  Really.”
I didn’t stay on the deck as long as I usually did.  Dani followed me back to my room and I stopped outside of it.
“I’m not going to tell anyone from inside my room,” I said.  “Laurie isn’t even here.  Besides, I’m not planning on telling anyone anyway.  But, you know, the more you guys follow me around the more curious you’re going to make me.”
He hummed under his breath.  It looked like he was annoyed, but the hum was oddly lyrical.  Now there were bits of darker blue in his eyes, swirling with the lighter blue.  I didn’t care that it wasn’t physically possible; his irises were actually moving.  “See you at dinner then,” he said before heading back down the hall.  I stared after him for a moment.  I’d never seen anybody with eyes that did that.  No, I realized; I had.  Charlie’s eyes were weird too.
I slammed my door behind me; at last, I was free.  At least until they forcibly joined me for dinner.  But my freedom didn’t last.  I growled when someone knocked on the door just a few minutes later.  I opened it and was disappointed, but not surprised, to see Thomas.

Chapter Three
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Chapter One

 

Young Adult Urban Fantasy

Jen is looking forward to spending an entire summer studying abroad on a cruise ship and she knows the experience will change her life. Then she sees something she wasn’t supposed to see, something she can’t explain. Jen finds herself thrust into a world she never knew existed and her life will change more than she imagined. That is, if she can survive the dangers lurking on the ship…

Chapter 1

     A taxi cab raced down the dock, came to a stop, and a girl laden with shopping bags flew out.  Everyone at the rails of the ship yelled as she rushed toward the gangway.  She was a ‘runner’, one of the students who had pushed the all-aboard time to the limit.  She vanished into the ship to a mix of boos and cheers.

   “She’s going to be cleaning tables tomorrow,” my roommate, Laurie, snickered.
   Most of us had taken the all-aboard time and subsequent punishments for being late seriously, and had been on the ship for over an hour.  The majority of the people watching the runners had changed into pajama bottoms or sweatshirts with Semester Aboard-Study Abroad written on them.  We were students on a cruise ship that had been turned into a floating campus.  Instead of studying abroad for a summer in one country we were traveling down the western coast of Latin America.  Our ship had classrooms, a dining hall, dorm rooms, even a work-out room and a pool.
   “Look there’s another!” called Dani.  He pointed to another cab speeding down the dock.
   Even though it had been ten days since our voyage had started I still didn’t know half of the 307 students.  I had just met Dani earlier today.  We had ended up next to each other on a bus that took us on a tour of Acapulco.  Every country had a bunch of trips to choose from and you never knew who else on the ship would end up with you.  It turned out that Dani and I were just four rooms apart and had never seen each other before today!  I wasn’t entirely sure how I’d missed him.  He was really tall, with short hair and tan, olive skin.  His hair had looked black on the bus, but once I saw it in the sun I was pretty sure that he dyed it midnight blue.  And he was drop-dead gorgeous with a personality to match.  He was incredibly friendly and outgoing.  We had spent the entire bus ride chatting and when I had mentioned that I didn’t recognize anybody else on the bus, he offered to stick around so I’d have somebody to talk to.  We ended up spending the entire tour together.
    “Dani!” someone called.  We both turned to see a boy winding his way between people and tables toward us.  He had wavy red hair and looked like he’d gotten sunburned in Mexico.  I was pretty sure he could pull off the natural redhead look, but I could see streaks where the red dye, which was a bit too bright to be natural, had faded to orange and blonde.  It gave his head an almost flaming appearance, which, I had a feeling applied to more than just his hair.  He was in one of my classes and I racked my brain for his name.  He didn’t sit next to me, but we’d talked a bit before our class had started.
    “Hey, Charlie,” Dani said.
    “How was the city?” he asked, joining us at the rail.  I noticed that he wasn’t much taller than me.  He was sort of stocky, but not overweight.
     “It was fun,” Dani gestured to me, “Jen, here, was with me.”
     “See anything good?”
    “The fort was pretty splashy,” Dani said.  “How was your mountain biking?”
    “Toasty.  I saw like a dozen Chupacabras.”
    “No, you didn’t,” Dani laughed.
    “Yes, I did!”
    I laughed and turned my attention back to the runners while they argued.  The last of the late students climbed aboard and dock workers started undoing the mooring lines.  By now just about everyone, including faculty, had gathered on the deck.  Mexico was our first port and we’d been inside for orientation the first time the ship had left a dock.  We cheered as the ship started to pull away.
    “Adios Mexico!” someone yelled.
    “Vaya con dios!”
    We waved at the scattered people on the dock until we were too far away to see them in the dark.  The wind started to pick up as the ship cruised along past the lights of the buildings on the edges of the bay.  People gradually started to disperse.
    “Class in the morning,” Laurie reminded me with a groan.
    “Ugh.”  We had classes every day we were at sea and the first one started bright and early at eight.
    We wove our way through the crowd and back inside the ship, and joined the scattered people going down to their rooms.  After we reached the fourth deck we turned off the stairway and into a brightly lit, long corridor that spanned the entire length of the ship.  Doors to our cabins lined both sides of it.  Long railings ran along the walls, but so far I hadn’t needed to use them.  As Laurie and I walked down the hall I spotted two now familiar faces.  Charlie was leaning against the outside wall, laughing, while Dani swiped his ID card over and over on a door.
    “Would you stop laughing?” Dani grumbled.
    “I told you not to put it in the same pocket as your phone,” Charlie said.
    “Are you locked out again?” cried a voice behind me.
    I turned to see a girl striding down the hall toward us.  I’d seen her around the ship before; she looked like a supermodel.  She was tall with thick, wavy blonde hair that looked like it had green streaks in it.  She had dark blue eyes and a figure that women paid thousands for.  I noticed that she had on a tee-shirt that said Marlins Swim Team, which explained her green hair.  She was probably a great swimmer; she definitely had the body for it.
    “How else am I going to carry it?  It’s not like I have a purse!” Dani asked.
    “Get your ID punched and put it on that lanyard they gave us,” the blonde sighed.  She shoved Dani out of the way, swiped her ID, and opened the door.  Halfway in, she turned back to Dani with a condescending look.  “If you get locked out one more time, I’m not letting you back in.”
    Dani had to lunge forward to catch the door as it closed.  Charlie laughed and followed them in.  Wait…the blonde girl and Dani were roommates?  With the exception of some of the professors and staff who had brought their families all of the rooms on the ship were single-sex.  I knew for a fact Dani was a student.
    “Are they roommates?” I asked Laurie.
    “Yeah, that’s Mariana and Dani.  They’re married.”
    “What?  Seriously?”  It actually wasn’t that hard to believe.  Dani was probably the hottest guy on the ship and Mariana could easily be the most beautiful girl.  If anyone on the ship would be married to one of them, it would clearly be the other.
    Laurie nodded.  “I heard Mariana telling somebody that this is like their honeymoon or something.  She said they had to fax their marriage certificate the second they got it so that they’d be allowed to share a room.”
    “Wow.”  It sounded pretty cool, but I wasn’t sure I’d want to take classes on my honeymoon.
    We continued down the hall to our room.  Even though I had only slept there for a few nights before we arrived in Mexico, it already felt like home and it was nice to be back.  It wasn’t a very big room, but it was cozy.  We had a narrow alcove that separated our room from the door.  Just by standing in one spot and turning I could close our door, open the bathroom door, open the closet, and reach my hand into the bedroom.  Our beds were so close together that our nightstands were sandwiched between them, without enough room for even a pencil to roll off.  I could have reached out and touched Laurie’s bed from mine.  We each had a chair and a little desk at the foot of our beds.  Aside from some drawers built into the wall and a small TV, there was nothing else in our room.
    After brushing my teeth I climbed happily into bed.  It didn’t take long for the motion of the ship and hum of the engines to lull me to sleep.  All too soon my alarm was ringing for my morning class.  By the time I got out of the shower Laurie had returned from her daily trip up to the gym.  I stepped out of the bathroom and was dressed before I heard the shower turn on.  I smiled at how easily we got back into routine after five days in port.  I went up to breakfast and chose a random table.  A couple of girls I hadn’t met yet and a professor and her two little boys were sitting there.  We exchanged introductions and ate.
    I found Laurie after breakfast and we made our way to the huge room that served as the Latin American History classroom.  It was the first class of the day and was mandatory for everyone, even the faculty.  Across the room I spotted Charlie’s bright hair and noticed that he was sitting with Dani and Mariana.  After class I joined the shuffle of students heading to other classrooms.  My next class, Plant Use in Latin American Culture, was the one that Charlie was in too.
    “Hey, Jen!”  Carrie greeted me as we entered the classroom.  “The in-port project isn’t due today right?”
    “No, it’s due tomorrow,” Charlie answered.  He was sitting at the desk closest to the door.
    “What a relief!” Carrie said.  “I did that algae the Aztecs grew.  What about you guys?”
    “I wrote mine on tomatoes,” I said.
    “Chilies,” Charlie said.
    “Ugh!”  Carrie wrinkled her nose.  “I can’t stand spicy stuff.”
    “You won’t like me then,” Charlie said and winked at her.
    We laughed and took our seats across the room.
    “He’s cute, but he sets off my gaydar like whoa,” she whispered to me.
    “Mine too,” I giggled.
    After class ended I had half an hour to kill.  I swung by the dining room on Deck Five and grabbed a quick lunch.  Like my Plant Use class, my next class was uneventful.  When it was over I passed Dani in the hall on the way to Spanish for Travelers.
    “Hola,” Dani called as he passed me.  “Doin’ alright?”
    “I’m bueno,” I giggled to him.  He laughed and headed for the stairs.
    After Spanish I joined the throng of people gathered on Deck Seven.  I found a lounge chair and pulled it over to the rails so I could watch the water while I studied.
    The next day was pretty much the same, but it started raining early in the afternoon and  was a bad storm by the time I went to bed.  I woke up in the middle of the night and stumbled over to our bathroom, feeling awful.  A bit of quality time bent over the toilet didn’t help at all and I decided to try for some fresh air.  I pulled a sweater on over my pajamas, hung my ID card strap around my neck, and slipped out of the room.  I made my way down the corridor to the door that led outside.  For the first time since getting on the ship I had to keep one hand on the railing.  The halls were well lit, even though it was the middle of the night, and it was almost disconcerting to step outside into the darkness.  But the moment the cool, damp wind hit my face I felt better.  I hadn’t been seasick since our first night, but sometimes I felt nauseous if I stayed in our room too long.  Being out on the deck always helped.
    I had assumed that I’d be the only one crazy enough to go out in the rain in the middle of the night, but to my surprise I wasn’t.  There were people on the other side of the deck.  It was too dark to see them well, but the lights from the deck above us illuminated them a little.  One of them was Charlie.  He was standing under the overhang where Deck Five extended out above Deck Four.  He was just wearing a t-shirt and jeans and I shivered in sympathy.  A guy I recognized, not surprising since we all lived on a ship, was sitting on the bottom steps of the outdoor stairway that led to Deck Five.  He was probably a football player back home or something.  He had shaggy, dark brown hair and a fairly large nose.  I’d heard a few girls giggling about him, but I didn’t think he was that good looking.  I wasn’t sure what his name was.  Another guy was sitting in a chair, probably pilfered from Deck Five, with his back to me and his feet up on the rails.  Mariana was near him, wearing only a bikini top and a short skirt.  I couldn’t believe she wasn’t cold.
    “I didn’t scream!” she said.
    “You totally did!  You freaked out!” Dani laughed.
    It had been too dark to notice Dani until he spoke.  My jaw dropped in shock.  Dani was sitting on the railing of the ship.  Messing around on the rails was one of the first things they’d told us not to do when we got on board.  Even sitting on them in the middle of a calm day was suicidal at best.  But to sit there in the middle of a stormy night was nothing short of a death wish.
    “I was not!” Mariana cried.
    “You were all like, ‘Oh, Danio, save me Danio!'”
    “Well, I…I-don’t be such a jerk!”
    As Mariana spoke she spun to face Dani and shoved him hard.  Dani’s laugh turned into a yell of surprise and he tumbled backward off of the railing!  I gasped in horror.  Every second now was critical.  If someone went overboard we were supposed to immediately throw them a life preserver and then run and tell a crew member.  But not a single one of them did anything!  The one in the chair uncrossed his legs and recrossed them with a different one on top.  The guy on the stairs threw back his head and laughed!  Charlie quickly stuck his head over the railing and then pulled back and shivered.  It was as if Dani hadn’t gone overboard at all.
    “Oh my god!” I gasped.  They must have been in shock.  That was the only reason they weren’t rushing to save Dani.  I ran across the deck, at the very least, I could throw the life preserver in and hope he was still alive to use it.
    They all jerked around to look at me.  They acted more surprised to see me than they were about Dani falling overboard.  Mariana gasped and backed against the rail.  Charlie stepped to the edge of the overhang and Football Guy jumped off of the stairs to his feet.  The guy in the chair was on his feet in an instant.  I hardly even saw him move; one second he was sitting and the next he was up.  He stepped in front of the others, almost protectively.
    “That’s Jennifer.”  Charlie spoke softly like he didn’t want me to hear, but the wind carried his words right to me.  “She’s in one of my classes.”
    The guy in front smiled.  “You’re up late.”
    They were acting like nothing had happened!  This was insane!
    “What’s the matter with you?” I cried.  “We have to do something!”
    “Do something?”  He almost looked genuinely confused.  “About what?”
    “She just…” I gestured to Mariana.  “She just pushed Dani overboard!”
    He had the audacity to laugh.  “It’s raining, you know.  And dark.  You’re mistaken.”
    “Jeez, Mariana, if you wanted a divorce you should’ve just-”  My jaw dropped as Dani reappeared at the rail.  He caught sight of me and froze.
    My mind was reeling.  He was soaking wet, it was obvious it wasn’t just from the rain.  He’d fallen into water that had to be well over fifty feet below us.  We were really moving too; even an Olympic swimmer couldn’t have kept up with us.  Dani had fallen all the way down into the ocean and, not only had he not drowned, he’d gotten back on the ship.
    This was impossible.
    Dani vaulted easily over the railing and landed on the deck.  He walked quickly across the deck and stopped right behind the guy I’d been talking with.  Dani was quite a bit taller than him and leaned down to put his mouth near the guy’s ear.  “I think it would be better if I went in.  You got this?” he whispered.
    “Yeah.  Take Mariana with you.”  The wind was still in my favor and I could just make out what they were saying.
    Dani grabbed Mariana by the arm.  “Come on.”
    “Dani, I’m so sorry.”
    “It happens.  Let’s go.”
    Dani glanced at me as he and Mariana went inside.
    Football Guy edged toward the stairway he’d been sitting on.  “Right, I’ll call Jon.”
    The other one nodded.  “Wait,” he said when Football Guy was halfway up the stairs.  “It’s late, email him.  We can handle this until he gets it.”  Football Guy nodded and ran up the rest of the stairs to Deck Five and, probably, the computer lab.  Then the not-so-forthcoming one turned back to me.  “Jennifer, right?  I’m Thomas.  What brings you out on deck?”
    I glared.  “Dani just fell overboard and you’re going to stand there like nothing happened?”
    “Nothing did happen.”
    “Dani fell off the ship, into the ocean, and climbed back up again!  I saw it with my own eyes!”  He looked uncomfortable and I realized that he was trying to cover up what I had just witnessed.  “So don’t lie to me!  What just happened?”
    “Nothing,” Thomas said firmly.  “Forget about it.”
    “If nothing happened, then what is that guy going to email Jon about?”
    Thomas looked surprised for a second, then sighed.  “Alright, tell you what.  I’ll explain things after I hear back from Jon.”
    No way.  He was just stalling.  “Explain now,” I insisted.  He glared.  I got the feeling that if they were going to this much effort to cover things up then they clearly wouldn’t want me going around talking about it.  “Explain now, or I’m going to start asking around until I find someone who will.”
    “Go ahead,” Charlie snarled.  “Dani’s safe and dry by now.  You’ve got no proof and none of us are going to back up your story.”  As he spoke something weird happened.  His eyes, which were a very reddish-brown, seemed to change.  It must have been the rain or the lights or something, but bright reds and oranges flared in his eyes, almost like flames.
    “Char!” Thomas snapped.
    Charlie closed his mouth and took a step back.  He looked pissed, but Thomas had shut him up.
    “You’re just going to let him boss you around?” I asked incredulously.  Charlie stuck up his chin defiantly, but stayed quiet.
    Thomas stepped closer and more into the light, allowing me to finally get a good look at him.  He was a few inches taller than me and pretty thin.  The rain had plastered his bangs across his forehead and over one eye.  It struck me as a sort of emo haircut.  He looked fairly pale and I could see circles under his eyes like he didn’t sleep enough.  His cheeks were a bit hollow and he looked like he might have been a bit seasick.  He was wearing a retro looking band tee-shirt and I stifled a groan; he probably was one of those emo-kids.
    “If you want an explanation at all, you’ll wait until I hear back from Jon.  And in the meantime, you’ll keep quiet.”
    “Is that a threat?” I laughed.
    Thomas leaned forward and actually curled back his upper lip.  “Don’t.  Tell.  Anyone,” he snarled.  This time I didn’t feel like laughing.  For an instant my entire body froze and I almost couldn’t move.  This was absurd.  He was just some emo college guy acting tough, what did I have to be afraid of?
    I sucked in a deep breath, squared my shoulders, and glared at Thomas.  “Fine!  If you promise that you’ll explain everything after this Jon guy talks to you, then I won’t say anything.”
    He looked surprised.  More than surprised; he looked shocked.
    “Man, she’s got some spice,” Charlie said softly.  “I felt that from here.”
    “Deal,” Thomas said.  “We’ll talk tomorrow then.  Goodnight.”  With that he turned and swept across the deck and up the stairs in the direction football guy had gone.
    “Don’t say anything, Jennifer,” Charlie said.  “Please.”  He opened the door back inside and started in.  I followed.  Halfway down the corridor he turned and glared at me.  “Are you following me or something?” he snapped.  I saw the strange red flare in his eyes again.
    “My room is this way!”
    “Oh…” Charlie turned back and kept walking.
    He paused outside of Dani and Mariana’s room and knocked.  I knew that I’d make things worse if I stopped, so I kept going.  But I slowed down.  By the time I got to my room Dani’s door had opened.  I quickly opened mine and waited in the doorway.  I peered out around the doorjamb and yanked my head back as Dani’s appeared in his own.
    “You better have good news,” I heard Dani whisper to Charlie.  “Mariana is beside herself.”
    I heard the door close and then closed my own and leaned against it.  What on earth had I just witnessed?  I lay down and played it over and over again in my mind.  I was convinced that I had seen something very, very strange.  The fact they were all trying to cover up made it even more confusing.  When I finally fell asleep I still couldn’t for the life of me figure out what had happened.

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