Chapter One

Will's grip was tight, as if his fingers knew what was coming. The sun had set, but from his vantage point high above the trees, he could still see the orange tinge in the sky at the horizon. The stone of the old abandoned church tower was cold beneath his fingers. It had been weathered away, leaving a minute sponge-like pattern of white rock covered with patches of green, and the boy standing there found himself hoping his hands would not pick it up.

There was something about that feeling, the dizzy anticipation humming at the bottom of his stomach, the Leonardo DiCaprio king-of-the-world feeling, only a shitload more macabre. Will glanced down, past the worn-out toes of his Chuck Taylor All-Stars. There were three stories beneath his feet. He stood on the ledge of the fourth, gazing down at the growth tangled around the base of the tower. The overgrown bushes were all the same kind: the kind children feared, the kind that seemed to reach out and grab you, catching in your pretty clothes and tangling in your hair. The smell of them was spicy sweet, and a small updraft of chilly autumn air brought it to the boy's nose. The resulting sneeze echoed through the small graveyard below and made Will wobble on the balcony ledge, the fierce wind swirling all around him, a billion tiny forces trying to convince his body to fall one way or the other. However, he gripped tighter and stood firm. If there were to be any falling that night, it would be of his own accord.

Tears suddenly stung his eyes. He sucked in a quick breath, looking around to make sure no one was watching. Not only was the graveyard quite empty, but he couldn't see it anyway. His vision, blurred by tears, was a mass of green and gray and blue. A sob struggled its way from his throat and he flung himself backward, letting out a growl of defeat as he collapsed against the wall under the window ledge and cried.

"Coward," he whispered to himself. "Nothing but a coward."

He then collapsed farther, sliding down the grimy wall until he was all but lying on the leaf-strewn floor of the tower. A deep breath swirled into his lungs, and he let the energy of the old church flow around him, cradling him like a sleeping infant, and he tried to find some semblance of calm there. He tucked the hair behind his ear, his fingertips lingering on the soft brown curls, and he stood again, this time with his feet planted firmly on the rotting floorboards of the tower, his hands clinging white-knuckled to the ledge he had formerly been standing on.

As the moon started to rise, its light glinted off the object of his specific interest: the uppermost point of the cross on the top of the oldest tomb, which someone had recently filed down to a deadly, sharp point. He stared at it, trying to pierce it with his eyes, it seemed, trying to divine the mysteries of it, though he wasn't certain there were any mysteries at all. He had calculated all of it with physics. Hurling himself off the balcony of the tower would carry him specifically to that sharp point. If he had calculated precisely enough, it would pierce his heart.

That's all Will really wanted at the moment. He found life to be unexciting, tedious, and dull. Nothing worth noting ever happened. He went to school, he did his chores, he did his homework. Well, at least sometimes. Sometimes he went out with friends, and that was enjoyable enough, but he found himself desiring more: desiring drama, desiring adventure.

And at that point, a dramatic death was the biggest adventure he could dream up.

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Isobel sat on the edge of the bed, her elbows on her knees and her face in her hands. This was not how she had planned her life to go. The sunlight was bursting through the tattered blinds and she groaned, pressing her face more deeply into her palms. When she raised her head, she squinted against the brightness and gazed at her surroundings. The room was dingy. The wallpaper was peeling and the dresser drawers stuck out at odd angles, unable to close. The walls were too close together, and the furniture skirted about them made the room seem even smaller. It didn't help that Isobel was already claustrophobic.

She pressed a shaking hand to her stomach, her eyes fluttering shut as the dizziness swirled in her head. Getting up and stumbling a little, she ran to the bathroom. As she wiped her mouth, resting her head on the lid of the toilet and waiting for it to happen all over again, she knew she could no longer deny the baby's presence. And that left her in a place that no newly-single woman specifically wanted to be. Deciding it was over, she stood up and looked at herself in the mirror. A small gasp escaped her throat. Her eyebrows drew together in the middle and her mouth pulled to one side in a horrible wince. All around her left eye was swollen and dark.

This was going to be harder than she ever imagined. Hell, she didn't even know which man was the father: the one that she had had an affair with, or the one that caught her cheating and gave her the horrible throbbing bruise around the eye. She didn't remember all of the previous night. He must have knocked her unconscious at some point. Of course, he had no clue that she was pregnant.

Vaguely, Isobel remembered waking up on the front steps of her parents' dumpy little trailer. Someone scooped her up into their arms and brought her inside. She remembered a tear falling on her face. And then nothing, until the moment she awoke, dazed and confused, on the lumpy mattress of the spare room, which used to be her own.

She was thirty years old. And now, after fourteen years of being out on her own, she was back in the same exact place, in nearly the same exact position.

As Isobel splashed water on her face, she looked herself in the eyes and said, "Something's got to change." With one last look of self-disgust, she stepped into the shower and let it rain.

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It was 11:57 AM, and getting later. The toe of Marcus White's expensive dress shoe tapped against the freshly-waxed airport floor, the only outward sign of his agitation at the slow security screening process and the long line of Thanksgiving travelers. He glanced at his watch, then up at the massive clock hanging above the entrance to the gates, and back down again, watching as the seconds ticked in unison.

Everything about the way he held himself told those around him that he was important. His broad shoulders were perfectly square with his feet, aligning his body and demonstrating impeccable posture. His suit had been picked up fresh from the dry cleaner that morning. His shoes, the toes of which were still tapping anxiously, were meticulously shined. He seemed like the epitome of a strong, powerful, ambitious businessman. Whenever anyone asked his age, he said thirty-one, though he was really twenty-four. He assumed people would take him more seriously that way. Dishonesty had a purpose, as did its counterpart, and Mr. White used this to his advantage.

A toddler went wobbling past him, carrying a leaking cup of juice, and he watched the golden curls of the little girl as she followed the line of people. Like many others, Marcus was looking this way and that for whoever might be responsible for her. No one really seemed that concerned, for the child meandered along the line, until Marcus lost sight of her. He chuckled, a low sound in his throat, and glanced at his watch again, remembering Diffusion of Responsibility from his college psychology class. It was 12:01 PM, and the line had not budged an inch.

Click. Click. Click.

Marcus White didn't know it, but the taps of his toe matched the seconds exactly.

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Will's iPod was blasting music in his ears at a furious volume, deafening him to anything but the fierce piano and drum combo of his favorite band. It was well after dark by the time he started home, but he didn't mind. The night had always been his favorite time, even as a child. While most children feared the dark, Will loved laying in it, imagining all the things around him that he couldn't possibly see. His brain seemed to work in a horridly morbid way. In fact, his mother had been a little concerned. Instead of scribbling trees and flowers with his crayons, Will had drawn things like ghosts, strange balls of light, and creatures of the dark, even at the tender age of six. He felt more at home in the darkness of the abandoned, overgrown dirt road on the way to the cemetery and deserted church than on a sunny, well-populated avenue.

Despite that, he might have been afraid, had he heard the unmarked white van speeding up from behind him. Because of the outrageous level of his music, he was spared that specific shock until the van went whizzing by him. He yelled in surprise and jumped nearly out of his skin, his hand flying to his heart and his iPod tumbling to the ground, landing in the rough red dirt.

"Fuck!" he yelled, throwing an arm up in the air and glaring at the taillights of the van as it sped on. He grumbled and glared, leaning down to pick up his iPod, which had coincidentally landed in a pothole full of mud. As he straightened up and tried desperately to wipe it clean with his shirt, he realized with horror that the van had stopped, and the reverse lights were on. His heart nearly stopped dead in his chest. The span of time he was frozen there seemed like an eternity, but when his legs finally moved, Will darted to the side of the road and shoved his body through the thick line of bushes, cursing under his breath as a sharp branch scraped up the length of his arm, and another sliced through his shirt and left a stinging line of red down his side.

The sound of tires on gravel exploded into the night. Will was hidden in the depths of the bushes now, and he saw the white of the van whiz past in the dark. It stopped when it had passed him, and doors slammed. Will's heart seemed to be beating in his throat now, so loudly that he was sure whoever had gotten out of the van could hear it. Will imagined the person to be a huge, muscled, dangerous man; a murderer, even! His mind was racing, and he held his breath, as if its displacement of the leaves would give away his position, even though the wind was doing a much better job of it. Indeed, the man approached the bushes. Will tried to scramble back farther, but he couldn't do so without shaking the branches of the bush too much. He certainly didn't want to give himself away.

"Whoever 'twas, they're in there," a gruff voice called, and Will's terror intensified. It was a man's voice, and it sounded old, but strong, and also as if its owner had been smoking for many years. He pictured an ex-marine. "And whoever 'twas, they're not allowed to be here!" The man accented the last five words, snarling them out into the bushes.

Will's heart stopped. Every inch of his body went ice-cold as the next words were muttered.

"Wilson, bring the dog."

And with that threat, Will burst from the other side of the bushes, running through trees and jumping over a small stream, making his way as quickly as possible through the unfamiliar terrain, looking for the road, where he left his car half-concealed on the shoulder. His heart was racing. Where was it? Where was the road?

Will could hear barking in the distance and, though he didn't know it was possible, he started running faster. Finally, he burst out onto the deserted farmland highway. Aside from his panting breath and his thundering heart, everything was silent. His hand flew to his chest and he bent over a little, bracing himself with his other hand on his knee as he tried desperately to catch his breath. Confusion was swirling through his mind. He had been to that place so many times, over so many years. And now this?

His car was a little way down the road. It took a few seconds of stumbling to get there, for his legs were cramping up painfully, but when he reached it he realized the van was pulling off the dirt road and turning in the opposite direction. He ducked down anyway, hoping to avoid being noticed. It seemed to work, and he quickly scrambled into the driver's seat as the van's taillights faded into the night.

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Isobel's parents were in their late fifties. Their children had not turned out to be what they considered "the best," or even "good." Her mother blamed her father's alcoholism for it. So the family was in a constant state of warfare, it seemed, and her arrival had obviously not made it any better.

When Isobel emerged from the stupor she had been in, she realized that her parents were fighting again. It took her back to her adolescence. As she had noticed before, almost nothing had changed. Except this time, they didn't know about the baby. Isobel's hand came to her abdomen instinctually, and she brushed her black hair back with the other. She may have been a lot older than the first time this situation came about, but she was no better off.

"You really ought to pick better men," said Robert Mercier, Isobel's hulking, gray-haired father from the kitchen. His rough bark still made her jump, even after all these years. "At least this time you aren't pregnant."

Isobel winced, brushed her hair behind her ear, and got some milk from the fridge.

"Not that that would surprise me," he grumbled, taking a drink from a longneck bottle and staring out the tattered curtains at the backyard.

"I'm not that person anymore," she said, standing up as straight as she possibly could, trying to hold herself above him. She was taller by nearly four inches, and she could defensively stare down her nose at him. This was certainly something she tried to use to her advantage, especially at times like this.

Unfortunately, her practiced look had practically no effect on her father, though it intimidated others quite frequently. Mr. Mercier, though, just chuckled crudely and said, "Whatever," as he took another swig of beer. The smell assaulted Isobel's nostrils and made her feel a little sick, stemming from the time she had one or five or seven too many, under her dad's supervision. And he hadn't even cared when his fourteen-year-old daughter was passed out on the floor. He left her there. She woke up the next morning in a strange house that she barely remembered and he was right there, practically beside her. She had never had alcohol again, though that's not to say she hadn't experimented with other things in her day.

Now bitter regret welled up within her, and she slammed the milk down on the counter with more force than she intended.

"No need to get so upset over it," her father chuckled, walking past her to sit down in his armchair.

Isobel suppressed a growl.

"Oh, and," he called to her from the living room, "if you're going to be staying here, you better get a job. I already have a freeloader here. I don't need another one."

She knew he meant her mother, and this time, she did growl.

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By 12:42 PM, A headache was slowly arching to a climax in Marcus' head. The sharp pain was like lightning through his temples, scorching a billion degrees of white-hot, blinding pressure in slow pulses. A few Advil tumbled into his hand, and he swallowed them without anything to drink. He looked up from his issue of Business Week to see the bobbing golden curls of the toddler, this time accompanied by her mother. Though fatigued by his headache, Marcus took an interest in the woman as she walked toward the gate. She didn't fit his schema for a responsible mother. Her hair was wound up in a bun, though many of the hairs had already come loose. She was drenched with sweat, as if she had just performed some extremely tiring physical labor. Her clothes were much too big for her and she gripped the waist of her pants on one side as she walked shakily, her other hand clinging to the hand of her three year old. In fact, it seemed almost as if the girl was leading her onward. Finally, the toddler chose a chair and climbed up on it, hoisting herself up with one knee, grabbing hold of the armrest, and tugging the other knee up. She sat sideways for a second and then stood, giggling at her height difference as her mother sat beside her and let out a pained groan. Marcus was concerned.

The giggling toddler clambered down from her chair and stumbled off into the crowds of people. Her mother, pale face buried in her hands, didn't even notice.

Marcus was on his feet immediately. He shouldered his bag and set off after the girl, following her little blonde curls through the crowds of travelers. This time, her wandering didn't go unnoticed by the airport staff. After watching her for a few moments, a kindly looking young man in a flight attendant uniform bent down in her path and said in a sweet voice, "Who do you belong to, sweetheart?"

The girl stopped and tilted her head a bit, puffing out her little cheeks before answering in an innocent, adorable voice, "God."

The flight attendant smiled and took her hand, patting her head gently a few times.

"Let's find your mommy or daddy, okay?"

Marcus approached him and looked down at the girl.

"Her mother is over there at gate eleven, but she's looking ill. I don't think she noticed her daughter wander off," he told the man, gazing down into the child's big blue eyes and smiling softly as she looked back up at him.

"Where mommy?" the girl said, a frown suddenly darkening her angelic face. She began to tug the flight attendant back the way she had come. Marcus turned and led the way for her.

It wasn't until the figures of Marcus and the flight attendant were looming over her that the toddler's mother looked up, shielding her exhausted eyes from the light.

"C-can I help you?" she managed in a shaky voice, her eyes slipping closed again and opening dazed and out of focus. The flight attendant's eyes flicked over at Marcus, who held an intensely concerned look on his face.

The little girl stumbled forward, between the two men, and shook the leg of her mother's pants.

"Mommy, time to go?" she whined, a powerful frown dominating her features.

The woman seemed to wake up for a moment and realize what was going on. Her eyes drifted from the flight attendant's thin face to Marcus' strong jaw, then to the cherub face of her daughter. She leaned forward, obviously in great physical discomfort, and placed a small kiss on the child's nose.

"Almost," she managed, hugging the toddler to her. The girl's thin arms wrapped around her mother's neck, and her nose nestled into her sweaty hair. "Almost."

The flight attendant's face looked puzzled and worried. He looked at Marcus, who merely shrugged. The woman seemed much more alert now. Her eyes had lost their overcast look and she seemed suddenly aware that her clothes were too big. She stood, obviously gritting her teeth against some gigantic pain, and pushed herself up from her seat. The little girl reached up and took her hand. For a moment a mother's fondness could be seen in her expression, but it was masked again with despair almost immediately. The woman swallowed, her face now perfectly blank, for it seemed as if she realized she was drawing attention from everyone around her. Immediately, the world seemed to settle back to normal. It happened almost too quickly. Everyone's attention snapped away from the woman. Even Marcus caught himself looking elsewhere. It was such an odd feeling to him, and his eyebrows furrowed a little. By the time he had managed to look back at the spot where the woman had been standing, she was walking toward the restroom at a quick pace, tugging the toddler along behind her.

Deeply disconcerted, Marcus took a seat again. He pulled out his copy of Business Weekly and flipped through the pages, though instead of reading, he stared through them, deep in thought.

Something wasn't right.

He glanced at his watch.

1:00 PM, sharp.

Like clockwork, the woman at the gate picked up the microphone and announced that the plane was ready to board.