Restless, I sat on the roof in the dark, flicking stones into the night as I tried to realign my thinking. I wasn't alive, but I wasn't altogether dead, either. As I'd suspected, a careful questioning of my dad spanning the entire day confirmed that not only did he not have a clue I had been dead at the hospital, but he didn't even remember the accident. He thought I'd ditched Josh when I found out I was a pity date, got a ride home with Seth and Barnabas, and watched TV all night, pouting in my costume.
He wasn't pleased I had ruined the rental, either. I didn't appreciate him taking the cost of it out of my allowance, but I wasn't going to complain. I was here, sort of alive, and that was all that mattered. My dad seemed surprised at my meek acceptance of my punishment, telling me I was growing up. Oh, if he only knew.
I watched my dad closely all day as I unpacked and put my stuff in drawers and on shelves. It was clear he knew something wasn't right, though he couldn't put his finger on it. He hardly let me out of his sight, coming upstairs to bring me snacks and pop until I could have screamed. More than once I caught him watching me with a frightened expression, hiding it when he saw me return his gaze. Dinner was a forced conversation over pork chops, and after picking at my food for a good twenty minutes, I excused myself, claiming I was tired after last night's prom.
Yeah. I ought to be tired, but I wasn't. No, it was two in the morning, and here I was out on the roof, pitching stones, pretending to be asleep as the world turned in a chilly darkness. Maybe I didn't need to sleep anymore.
Shoulders slumping, I picked another bit of tar off the shingles and flicked it at the chimney. It hit the metallic cap with a ting, ricocheting into the black. I scooted up the shallow pitch of the roof, then tugged my jeans back up where they ought to be.
A faint feeling of unease crept through me, starting from the tops of my hands in a soft prickling, slipping inward with an increasingly jagged spike. The sensation of being watched exploded into existence, and I spun, gasping, when Barnabas fell out of the tree arching overhead.
"Hey!" I shouted, heart thumping while he landed in a crouch like a cat. "How about some warning?"
He rose to stand in the moonlit darkness with his hands on his hips. There was a faint shimmer on him visible right along with his disgust. "If I had been a black reaper, you'd be dead."
"Yeah, well, I'm already dead, aren't I?" I said, flicking a stone at him. He didn't move as it arched over his shoulder. "What do you want?" I asked sullenly.
Instead of answering, he shrugged his narrow shoulders and looked east. "I want to know what you didn't tell Ron."
He stood still as a rock, arms crossed over his chest and staring. "Seth said something to you in that car. It was the only time you were out of my sight. I want to know what it was. It might be the difference between you getting to play out this lie of being alive, or you getting carted off to a black court." Now he moved, his motion rough and angry. "I'm not going to fail again, and not because of you. You were important to Seth before you stole that stone. That's why he came to get you at the morgue. I want to know why."
I looked down at the stone, glittering in the moonlight, then shifted my gaze to my feet. The awkward angle of the roof made my ankles hurt. "He said my name had come up too many times in the affairs of men, and he was going to cull my soul."
Barnabas moved, coming to sit beside me with a lot of space between us. "He's done that. You're not a threat now that you're dead. Why did he come back for you?"
Reassured by his more relaxed posture, I looked at him, thinking his eyes seemed silver in the moonlight. "You won't tell?" I asked, wanting to trust him. I needed to talk to someone, and it wasn't like I could call up my old friends and vent about being dead-as entertaining as that might be.
Barnabas hesitated. "No, but I might try to persuade you to tell him yourself."That I could deal with, and I took a slow breath. "He said that his ending my pathetic life was his ticket into a higher court. He came back to prove he had... culled me."
I waited for a reaction, but there was none. Finally I couldn't take it anymore and I lifted my head to meet his eyes. Barnabas was looking at me as if trying to figure out what it meant. Clearly not having an answer, he slowly said, "I think you should keep this to yourself for a while. He probably didn't mean anything by it. Forget it. Spend your time learning how to fit in."
"Yeah," I said with a sarcastic bark of laughter. "A new school is tons of fun."
"I meant fit in with the living."
"Oh." Okay. I was going to have to learn how to fit in, not at a new school, but with the living. Swell. Remembering the disastrous dinner with my dad, I bit my lip. "Uh, Barnabas, am I supposed to eat?"
"Sure. If you want to. I don't. Not much, anyway," he said, sounding almost wistful. "But if you're like me, you'll never be hungry."
I tucked my short hair behind my ear. "How about sleep?"
At that, he smiled. "You can try. I can't manage it unless I am bored out of my mind."
I picked a bit of tar off the shingles and flicked it at the chimney again. "How come I don't have to eat?" I asked.
Barnabas turned to face me. "That stone of yours is giving off energy, and you're taking it in. Basking in it. Watch out for psychics. They'll think you're possessed."
"Mmmm," I murmured, wondering if I could get any useful information about what was really going on from a church, but they were wrong about grim reapers, so maybe they didn't know as much as they thought.
I sighed, sitting in the dark on my roof with a white reaper-my guardian angel. Nice going, Madison, I thought, wondering if my life-or death, rather-could get any more screwed up. I slowly fingered the stone that kept me somewhat alive, wondering what I was supposed to do now. Go to school. Do my homework. Be with my dad. Try to make sense of who I was and what I was supposed to do. Nothing much had changed, really, apart from the no-eating-no-sleeping thing. So I had something worse than a black reaper gunning for me. I also had a guardian angel. And life, apparently, goes on, even if you aren't a participating part of it anymore.
Barnabas surprised me when he suddenly stood, and I leaned to look up at his height measured against the stars. "Let's go," he said, extending his hand. "I don't have anything to do tonight, and I'm bored. You're not a screamer, are you?"
My first thought was screamer? And then, go where? But what came out of my mouth was a lame, "I can't. I've been grounded. I can't set a foot outside the house apart from school until I pay for that costume." But I smiled, taking his hand and letting him help me rise. If Ron could make my dad forget I had died, I'd be willing to bet Barnabas could cover for me sneaking out a couple of hours.
"Yeah, well, I can't do anything about you being grounded," he said, "but where we're going, you won't be setting a foot anywhere."
"Huh?" I stammered, then stiffened when he moved behind me, taller because of the roof's pitch. "Hey!" I yelped when his arm went around me. But my protest vanished in shock at the gray shadow suddenly curving around us. It was real, smelling like my mom's feather pillow, and I gasped when his grip tightened and my feet left the roof in a downward drop of gravity.
"Holy crap!" I exclaimed as the world spread out beneath us, silver and black in the moonlight. "You have wings?"
Barnabas laughed, and with my stomach dropping in a tingling surge, we went higher.
Maybe... maybe this wasn't going to be so bad after all.