7

7. Believe

Rhia ran.

Billboard, vending machines, lounge, stairs. Beige walls. Glowing red exit signs.

Out of breath. Disgusted with herself. Find him and apologize right now.

She ran into something pale and soft and sticky, which stretched behind her as she tried to move forward. It stuck to her face, her arms, her legs. She screamed and tried to move backward, tried to scrape it off her, but still it clung to her like her own guilt. It was an enormous spiderweb strung from wall to wall, and behind it stood Donna, with a burning, glazed-over look in her enormous eyes.

"Look what you did," she said, with a calmness which was more terrifying than screams. "First Aedan, now Josh. How many more people will you hurt today?"

Rhia hung her head.

"I – I didn't mean to," she said, hating the way her voice wobbled. "I'm sorry."

"Sorry won't cut it, Rhiannon." Donna's voice bit into her like fangs; her own name came out twisted and distorted into an insult. "You ruin everybody's lives. You're a disappointment to your parents and your teachers. You stole Aedan away from me. And now you were about to destroy his only dream. You are worthless, you are nothing. And I'm going to make you hurt as much as you hurt me."

As she talked, Donna fixed her silver eyes on the spiderweb; more strands began to weave their way across Rhia's body, wrapping her up like a fly about to be eaten. Rhia's head spun with fear, yet everything she saw, heard and felt was painfully sharp and clear. Donna's voice was soft, almost a whisper, and would have been sweet if not for the things she was saying. That voice was wrapping spiderwebs around Rhia's heart, so tightly it was about to burst, making her feel that she really was worthless, nothing, deserving every pain and torture –

But she had heard that voice recently.

Slowly, out of the darkest caves of her memory, a little chanting song began to drift to the top of her mind.

"Dreams are nothing...fevered images of sleep... Common sense is yours to keep."

She raised her head and glared back at Donna.

"It was you! You sang that song just before I woke up! You made me forget!"

Donna gasped, losing her concentration. The web disappeared and Rhiannon, overbalanced, fell over onto the floor.

"Only because you wanted to!" Donna shouted back. "Your mind is so weak, I could do anything with it! Your doubts were already there."

Rhiannon's confidence rose; she remembered everything now.

"That's not true, Donna, and you know that," she said calmly, picking herself up and using her height to look down at the other girl.

"I do believe in Aedan. I love him. And not even your lies and spiderwebs can make me forget."

The cold fire in Donna's eyes faded and she seemed to shrink, looking very pale and lost and ordinary.

"But I love him too," she said, her eyes full of tears. "He's all I have. He's the only one who was never afraid of me – even though I'm a monster with powers no one understands."

In a flash of understanding, Rhiannon realized what this girl's life must have been like, dealing with strange powers she couldn't understand, feared and avoided by everyone. Her heart went out to Donna in spite of herself, in spite of the leftover fear still making her hands shake.

"You know he always liked you," Rhiannon said. "He doesn't think you're a monster. Neither do I."

Donna stared at the floor, letting her long bangs fall to hide her left eye, trying to suppress her tears.

"I think I understand why he chose you," she said finally. "You're...different from what I thought." After a pause, she added, "If things where the other way around – if he loved me and not you – what would you do?"

"I'd be miserable, probably. But if being with you meant he could be human and happy, I could deal with it."

Donna looked astonished, then remorseful. A golden shaft of sunlight fell in through the window, illuminating her face; it looked like the sun was setting.

"I don't know that much about love...I guess I was wrong about everything. I'm sorry I lost my temper with you, Rhiannon."

"Lost your temper?" For the first time in what felt like years, Rhiannon laughed. "Now that's an understatement. But don't worry, it's okay."

Donna brushed her bangs away behind her ear and smiled. It was amazing, the way her face changed; she looked years younger and much more beautiful.

Rhiannon smiled back and held out her hand. Donna took it and let go very quickly, embarrassed; perhaps it was a long time since she had made physical contact with another person.

The sunbeam faded; they realized how dark it was in the corridor, until someone switched on the neon lights. A the same time, Rhiannon heard footsteps behind her. Donna gasped and was about to run, when a familiar voice said: "Don't go."

Rhiannon turned around and saw Aedan, living and breathing, wearing her own largest pair of cargo pants, black T-shirt, and no shoes.

Neither of the girls could stop staring; he was so much more...there, more real, than in any dream. He was looking at them both with so much tenderness – for Donna, his friend, and Rhiannon, his love – that his amber eyes seemed to shine.

He talked to Donna first, privately in her room. Rhiannon never knew everything they said to each other, except that when they left, Donna's face was like an April day, filled with sunshine and tears. She smiled at them both, wished them all the best, and went back into her room.

Aedan and Rhiannon faced each other for what seemed like an age. Happiness, love and guilt churned inside her; she did not know where to begin.

"Donna told me everything," said Aedan.

"I'm sorry – "

"It's all right." Aedan smiled. His face had the same look as when she had first seen him: a look of indescribable joy.

"Rhiannon, thank you. For everything. You..." He held up his hands, flexed his fingers, and beamed. "You made a miracle, I can't believe it!"

Like a kettle boiling over, his joy bubbled up in his eyes and he swept her up in a tight, warm hug. He picked her up and whirled her around, enjoying his freedom of movement, then put her down and kissed her passionately on the lips. When they came apart, both were laughing.

"I love you," said Rhiannon. It was the first time she told him, but it would not be the last.

Later that day, as they sat together on Mr. Spinelli's couch after explaining the whole story, the old man quietly blew his nose and wiped his eyes.

"I knew it," he said hoarsely, beaming at both of them. "Knew the day would come. I'm that happy for you both. And you're still my boy, Aedan, no matter what kinda shape you're wearin'. Just to remind you."

"I know, Father."

"And Rhiannon, honey – " Mr. Spinelli shook his head. "Ah...what can I say except I'm sorry and you're re-hired. If you still want the job."

"I still want it."

Mr. Spinelli stood up and held out his arms. "C'mere, both of you."

Aedan, Rhiannon and Mr. Spinelli melted together in a group hug for a few seconds, , then let go. Rhiannon was happy and a bit embarrassed at the same time; she had touched more people today than she usually did in a week. Suddenly she remembered one more thing she had to say.

"And before I forget, I'm transferring to Fine Arts."

The two men stared in astonishment; she shrugged, smiling crookedly. "What you said at the beach the other day was right, Aedan. And besides, after surviving Donna... I think I can handle it."