Undercurrent, page 1
We bring stories to life
First published by Egmont USA, 2011
443 Park Avenue South, Suite 806
New York, NY 10016
Copyright © Tricia Rayburn, 2011
All rights reserved
1 3 5 7 9 8 6 4 2
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Undercurrent: a Siren novel/Tricia Rayburn.
Summary: Returning to Boston for her senior year of high school after the sudden death of her older sister, seventeen-year-old Vanessa must ward off her transformation into a full-fledged siren while also trying to handle applying to college, a long-distance relationship, and the mysterious return of the sirens she thought she had killed.
ISBN 978-1-60684-075-7 (hardcover)—ISBN 978-1-60684-203-4 (electronic book) [1. Supernatural—Fiction. 2. Sirens (Mythology)—Fiction. 3. College choice—Fiction. 4. Interpersonal relations—Fiction. 5. Boston (Mass.)—Fiction.] I. Title.
Printed in the United States of America
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher and copyright owner.
For helping bring this Siren story to readers, I’ll be forever grateful to super-agent Rebecca Sherman; expert editor Regina Griffin; Elizabeth Law, Doug Pocock, Mary Albi, Alison Weiss, and the rest of the Egmont USA team; and Cecilia de la Campa, Angharad Kowal, Chelsey Heller, Ty King, and Jenna Shaw at Writers House.
IT WAS SEPTEMBER first. The day my older sister Justine should have been starting classes. Buying textbooks. Thinking about her future. The day she should have been doing all the things freshmen do but wasn’t, because her future had been decided the second she jumped off a cliff in the middle of the night three months earlier.
On this day, I walked a college campus instead.
“That’s Parker Hall,” my tour guide said. “And there’s Hathorn Hall and the chapel.”
I smiled politely and followed him through the main quad. The pretty, parklike square was surrounded by redbrick buildings and filled with kids talking, laughing, and comparing schedules.
“That’s Coram Library,” he continued, pointing. “And right behind it is Ladd Library, the one-hundred-twelve-thousand-square-foot Mecca of learning.”
“Impressive,” I said, thinking the same thing about him. His brown eyes were warm, his dark hair slightly messy, like he’d fallen asleep on an open textbook before meeting me. His toned arms shone bronze against the sharp white of his crew team T-shirt. If Bates strived to appeal to teenage girls’ romantic aspirations in addition to their academic ones, they’d picked a good representative.
“And comfortable. Trust me, I should know.” He stopped, took my sweatshirt sleeve in one hand, and tugged. As I stepped toward him, a Frisbee sliced through the empty air space my head had just occupied.
“I do,” I said.
We stood so close I could hear his quick intake of breath. His fingers tightened on my sweatshirt, and his arm tensed. After a few seconds, he released me and grabbed the backpack straps near his shoulders.
“What’s that?” I asked.
He followed my nod to a tall building next to the libraries. “That is the deciding factor,” he said, starting down the side-walk. When he reached the building’s front steps, he turned toward me and grinned. “Behold Carnegie Science Hall.”
I covered my chest with one hand. “The Carnegie Science Hall? Where some of the world’s most brilliant, forward-thinking scientists conduct groundbreaking research that continues to shape the landscape of modern science as we know it today?”
He paused. “Yes?”
“Hang on. I have to get a picture.”
“If you’re familiar with the building,” he said as I rummaged through my purse for my digital camera, “then you know the work it houses sets this college apart from the rest. Even if you’re not a science major, I think that alone warrants the hefty two-hundred-thousand-dollar price tag.”
Vox clamantis in deserto.
I stared at the digital camera screen and my mind filled with images of green key chains. Coffee mugs. A sweatshirt and an umbrella. All bearing the familiar Dartmouth shield.
“Sorry.” I shook my head once and held up the camera. “Say lobster.”
He started to speak but then stopped. His eyes lifted and landed somewhere behind me. Before I could look to see what had caught his attention, there was a tap on my shoulder.
“That’s all wrong,” a guy said when I turned around. He looked about my age, maybe a year or two older, and was flanked by two other guys who smiled when I glanced at them. He wore cargo pants, a fleece, and hiking boots, like he planned to hit the trails as soon as he was done with classes.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, it’s a fine shot… but it’d be better if you were in it.” He held out one hand, palm up. “May I?”
“Oh.” My eyes fell to the camera. “Thanks, but—”
“Mitosis,” my tour guide said.
The hiker looked up, toward the steps behind me.
“I just remembered that there’s an excellent photography exhibit of cellular mitosis inside. It’s best seen right about now, in the late morning. We should get going before the light changes.”
“Right.” The hiker nodded. “You know, you’d probably recruit thousands more students each year if you included her in the school’s promotional materials.”
“I’ll be sure to pass that along to Admissions.”
The hiker gave me one more appreciative look before leaving. I waited for him and his friends to walk away and round the corner, out of sight, before turning back. My tour guide stood on the same step, hands in his pockets, his face tight with… what? Nervousness? Jealousy?
“Is there really an excellent photography exhibit of cellular mitosis inside?” I asked.
“If there is, it wouldn’t be on the tour. We don’t want to bore kids into not applying.”
I held up the camera again.
“Lobster,” he said.
I took his picture and put the camera back in my purse. “So, I realize the Carnegie Science Building sets your college worlds apart from others, but there’s still one other thing I’d like to see before making any decisions.”
“The gym? Theater? Art museum?”
My pulse quickened as he looked down. Thinking I’d made him uncomfortable, I prepared to offer an alternative—like someplace off campus, where there were fewer people, fewer distractions. But then he started d
“Just wait till you see the concrete walls and linoleum floors,” he said. “You might never go home again.”
We didn’t talk as we walked through the quad. Every now and then he greeted friends or classmates, but I stayed quiet. My head spun with thoughts of Justine, last summer, this fall, and I didn’t know which thought would come out if I tried to speak. The spinning continued all the way across campus, into a tall brick building, and up four flights of stairs.
Fortunately, the silence wasn’t awkward. It never was.
“I should warn you,” he said when we stopped in front of a closed door. “The décor leaves something to be desired. That’s what happens when you throw two bio majors together in one small space. Or any space, for that matter.”
“Is your roommate…?”
“Out. At a four-hour seminar that won’t end for another three and a half hours.”
My heart lifted, and my stomach turned. The mixed feelings must’ve been clear on my face because he stepped toward me, instantly concerned.
“Well,” I said, relieved when my voice was calm, even, “if that’s the case, we should probably get on with the tour.”
This seemed to reassure him. He smiled as he took his keys from the pocket of his jeans and unlocked the door. Once inside, he leaned against the closed door with his arms folded behind his back and surveyed the room. “Interesting,” he said.
“What is?” I asked.
I looked around. It was a typical dorm room with two beds, desks, dressers, and bookshelves. One side was messier than the other, and I assumed that side belonged to his roommate, who probably wasn’t expecting company. The only accessories were a blue area rug, the college banner… and a framed photo of a girl in a red rowboat.
“I knew something was missing,” he continued gently, “and I’d had a pretty good idea of what that something was. But now I know for sure.”
My eyes found his and stayed there. He didn’t move as I came closer. He was waiting to make sure that whatever happened next happened because I wanted it to. It had been two months and that hadn’t changed. In two years—in two decades—it still wouldn’t.
I stood as close as I could without our bodies touching. I smelled the soap on his skin and saw his chest rise and immediately fall. His jaw clenched, and his broad shoulders squared as he leaned harder against the door, locking his arms in place.
“It’s okay,” I whispered, tilting forward. “I’m okay.”
My lips had barely grazed his cheek when his hands were on my hips. He pulled me to him, closing the remaining distance between us. His hands moved from my waist to my neck and then lingered there, cradling my face like it was made of glass. His eyes held mine once more, just long enough for me to feel their warmth, before lowering his mouth to mine.
The spinning stopped. My head cleared. There was just this, us, him.
Simon. My Simon.
The kiss started slowly, sweetly, as if our lips were getting to know each other again after a long separation. But soon they pressed harder, moved faster. I grabbed the front of his sweatshirt with both hands and held on as his mouth moved across my cheek, over my ear, down my neck. He paused only once, when he ran out of bare skin. Not wanting him to stop, I released his sweatshirt and pulled mine up and over my head. By the time I dropped it to the floor, his was already there.
He rested his forehead on my shoulder and his palms moved slowly down my back and over my jeans. We kissed all the way to the bed, until he was lying down with me on top of him, my legs hugging the sides of his waist.
“We can stop,” Simon said softly when I pulled back. “If you’re at all nervous or unsure… .”
I smiled. If I was ever nervous or unsure around Simon, it wasn’t because I was afraid of being too close to him.
It was because I was afraid of not being close enough.
“I missed you,” I said.
“Vanessa… you have no idea.”
Except that I did. I knew it every time he looked at me, every time he said my name, every time he held my hand or kissed me. He’d said it only once, but reminders weren’t necessary.
I knew Simon loved me.
Unfortunately, I also knew why.
He opened his mouth to say something else, but I kissed him first. I kissed him until he seemed to forget whatever he was going to say, and until I pushed the familiar nagging thought far enough aside that I could focus on him, on us, together in this moment.
Because this moment would end. It had to. Sometimes I was so caught up, so happy, I let myself pretend it wouldn’t… but reminders were never far off.
Like when we lay together later, our legs entwined, my head on his chest. While Simon’s fingers twirled absently through my hair, I stared at the picture of the girl in the rowboat on the dresser next to the bed and counted the steady, relaxed beats of his heart.
“Be right back,” I whispered.
I gathered the sheet around me, stood, and forced my feet to walk to the closet. After switching the sheet for Simon’s robe and taking a towel from the shelf, I retrieved my purse from the floor and left the room.
In the hallway, I ran. I’d noted the bathroom on our way up and found it easily. Ignoring the curious looks of kids passing by, I flung open the door and flew inside.
Each shower had two parts: the actual stall and a small area to change and dry off. I dashed into the last shower and yanked the vinyl curtain closed. I dropped my purse three times before my shaking hands got a good enough grip to hold it open and grab the container inside. Once they did, I dropped the purse and Simon’s robe onto the tile floor and stepped into the stall.
My chest and skin were on fire. I couldn’t feel my legs. It took every bit of strength I had left to turn on the water and pry the lid off the plastic container.
I tilted my head toward the shower nozzle so water streamed down my face. I opened my mouth and brought the container to my lips, coughing as the water and powder shot down my throat.
But then, finally, relief. It came little by little, with every swallow. Slowly, the invisible flames on my skin extinguished and the burning in my chest subsided. Feeling stronger, I took handfuls of salt and spread them across my body. The tiny granules scratched then soothed as they mixed with the water.
It’s just body wash, I told myself, that exfoliates, like at a spa.
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