"You're afraid these children won't like you. That's what you were grinding your teeth over in your sleep. Worrying how to make them like you, how to infiltrate their little group."

He lifted his head, looking at me intently. "But the person you are is delightful, and they will like you if you'll just...be that."

I shifted, smoothing imaginary wrinkles in my heavy skirt. "So that's your big advice? Be myself?"

Torin grinned, his teeth slightly crooked, but very white. "That's it. Be yourself. Be Isolde Brannick, and they will have no choice but to adore you." He reached out and took my hand, pressing a kiss to the back of it.

I was too stunned to do anything but sit there, my hand limp in his.

When Torin lifted his head, his eyes were bright green, almost the same green as the water we floated on. "Now, wake up," he whispered.

I came awake almost instantly, my stomach in knots. According to my clock, I had three minutes before my alarm went off, pale gray light shining around the edges of my curtains.

Immediately, my eyes shot to the mirror, but there was no trace of Torin there. Which, considering how weirded out I felt, was a good thing. What the heck had that been? The hand-holding in the last dream had been one thing, but hand-kissing was, to quote Maya, a whole 'nother ball of wax.

Still unsettled, I threw back my covers and headed downstairs.

Mom had already left. This time, there was no huge breakfast spread. Just a Post-it on the freezer reminding me that there were frozen waffles inside. I popped a couple into the toaster, then went back upstairs and took the hottest shower I could stand. As I stood under the spray of scalding water, I thought about my dream last night. Not the hand-kissing stuff-I definitely didn't want to think about that-but the stuff that came before.

Be yourself, Torin had said. I could do that. And hey, so maybe yesterday was less than ideal-ha! pun alert-but I had at least made friends with Romy. Kind of. So now all I had to do was talk to her about the ghost hunter club and see if she knew anything about the attack on that science teacher.


I felt better when I got out of the shower, but I also discovered that my little inner pep talk had taken longer than I thought. My waffles were burned and I was in danger of missing the bus.

Throwing on some clothes-jeans, another black T-shirt, and, remembering the looks I got yesterday, the one pink hoodie I owned-I ran out the door. The stop was down the block, and the bus doors were starting to close as I rushed up. My hair was still damp on my shoulders as I hoisted myself up the steps, giving what I hoped was an apologetic smile.

The driver-Maggie, according to her name tag-gave a disdainful sniff. "I don't wait," she snapped at me. "You lucked out this time, girlie."

"Sorry," I mumbled, making my way to the back. I scanned the rows for an empty spot, and suddenly Dex stood up, waving his arms. "Isolde!" he called. "It's me, Dex, your new best friend! I saved you a seat!"

Several of the kids around him turned to glare, but Dex either didn't notice or didn't care. I lifted my hand, acknowledging him. He sat there beaming at me, looking as threatening as a golden retriever, but I couldn't forget what happened yesterday. If I knew Dex was Prodigium, did he know what I was? Is that why he was so buddy-buddy this morning?

The bus lurched forward just as I got to the back, and Dex reached out to steady me. I think he was trying to grab my waist, but his hand landed on my hip. Even through my jeans I felt that low hum of magic.

Dex jerked back, and for a second I thought maybe he'd felt it too. But then he winced and said, "Sorry. We probably haven't reached the inappropriate touching stage of our friendship yet."

Oh, right. I'd been so concerned with trying to figure out what Dex was that it didn't even occur to me that a boy had just touched my hip, which was definitely in the "bathing suit zone." That was as far as Mom had gotten in her Facts Of Life talk a few years back: "Don't let boys touch you in the bathing suit zone." Then the warlock she and Finn had been chasing chose that moment to leap onto the hood of our car, and the rest of her talk had gone unfinished.

I think Mom had been relieved.

Blushing, I sat down next to Dex, trying to keep our thighs from touching. (Thighs were not in the bathing suit zone, but I was pretty sure they were still kind of scandalous.)

As I reached behind me to start braiding my hair, Dex propped his ankle on the opposite knee. Today he was wearing gray corduroys and a deep navy V-neck that made his eyes look even bluer. The peacoat was balled up behind his head.

I nodded at it. "Were you napping?"

"Yeah. Bus gets to my neighborhood at six thirty, which is just inhumane, if you ask me. I usually sleep the whole way, but I'll endeavor to be an alert seatmate for you."

Securing a rubber band around the end of my braid, I looked at him. "Do you always talk like that?"

"Like what?"

I raised both eyebrows. "'Endeavor to be an alert seatmate'? Who says stuff like that?"

Chuckling, Dex elbowed me in the ribs. "Civilized people. People with names like Dexter and Isolde."

"Izzy," I told him. "Only my mom calls me Isolde, and even then, just when she's mad at me." I didn't mention that Mom had been calling me that a lot lately.

"So how did you end up in Ideal, Mississippi, Izzy?" Dex asked, sitting up. His hair was tangled in the back, and I had this completely bizarre urge to smooth it out. Just in case my fingers decided to do that, I clasped them together, laying my hands in my lap.

"We lived in Tennessee, but then my mom, um, lost her job. So she thought a change of scenery would be good for us." There it was, my first time using the cover story. Dex accepted it with an easy shrug.

"I'm new, too," he said. "Well, newish. I moved here back in the summer."

"From where?"

Dex linked his fingers and stretched his arms over his head. "New York."

"Did your parents want a change of scenery, too?"

"They're, uh...not around anymore."

Surprised, I twisted to face him. "Who do you live with?"

Dex widened his eyes in mock innocence. "Oh, I live by myself. Didn't I mention? I'm thirty-five."

When I just rolled my eyes, he relented. "I live with my Nana."

He said it lightly, but Mom had taught me and Finn to pay attention to body language. Dex was twisting the strap of his bag around his fingers so tightly that his knuckles were turning white.

Before I could ask anything else, a face suddenly popped up over the seat in front of me. "Hey," Romy said. "Izzy, right?"

"That's me," I said. "Have you, um, been there the whole time?"

"Romy's like me," Dex said, nudging the back of her seat with one pointy-toed boot. "Picked up entirely too early, sleeps the whole ride."

"Tries to sleep," she corrected. "This idiot usually keeps me awake." Despite the insult, there was affection in her voice, and Dex was grinning at her.

"Anyway, just wanted to say thanks for tearing Ben McCrary's arm off yesterday."

"I dislocated his shoulder," I said, but Dex waved me off.

"I like Romy's version better. And just wait, by spring break, the story will be that you tore off both his arms and shattered his spine."

Romy snorted. "Did you tell her about the meeting?" she asked Dex.

"No, I was boring her with my life history first," Dex replied. "Why don't you give her the hard sell?"

Eyes twinkling behind her glasses, Romy rested her chin on her hands. "Well, since you're such a rad chick and all, we thought you might want to join our club."

I hoped my face looked confused rather than relieved. All that worrying over how I was going to get into the club, and then, bam, I'm invited. Maybe today really would be better than yesterday.

Doing my best to furrow my brow, I looked back and forth between them. There was something unnerving about their identical expressions of glee. "Um, is this one of those clubs where the first rule is you don't talk about it?"

Dexter threw his head back and laughed, and Romy made that snorting noise again. "No," she said. "But if it were, I'd definitely want you in that one, too. This is actually a school-sanctioned thing, so it counts for extracurricular stuff on college applications."

Oh, right. College. That was something I'd have to pretend to be thinking about, too.

But then Dex sat up and said, "Romy, I don't think Harvard is going to very impressed by your membership in something called PMS."

A startled giggle burst out of me. Paranormal Management Society. PMS. I hadn't even thought of it like that.

Romy looked a little chagrined. "I didn't come up with the name, and by the time we got it, Anderson had already made the T-shirts," she insisted, which only made Dex laugh harder.

"So what is PMS?" I asked, even though I already knew. "I mean, I know the traditional definition...."

"Paranormal Management Society," Romy answered, swatting at Dex.

"Oh," I said weakly. "That's...um...that's awesome."

"Okay, see, I feel like when you're saying 'awesome,' what you mean is 'lame' and 'making me not want to be friends with you,'" Dex said.

"No." I shook my head. "That doesn't sound lame at all. It's just...I never heard of a school-sponsored monster-hunting club. What do you guys do?"

"Mostly we lurk around places at night with dorky equipment purchased off the Internet," Dex offered, making Romy smack his arm again.

"We research local ghost legends, and then we...investigate them."

Dex leaned over and said in a stage whisper, "'Investigate' is code for lurking around places at night with dorky equipment purchased off the Internet."

"We're working on doing more," Romy said quickly. "Anderson-you'll meet him later-is our resident ghost-lore researcher, and he's looking into ways we can actually, like, banish ghosts and exorcise places."

She sounded so excited, and it was all I could do not to wince. Humans getting involved with the supernatural was bad enough, but exorcisms were way more than a bunch of teenagers could handle.

"Have you guys ever found anything?" I asked.

"We thought we got some ghostly voices on a tape recorder once," Romy offered. "At this creepy abandoned house in the next town over. And Anderson's closet door opened on its own one time."

"Because he had his window open," Dex muttered, and Romy shot him a look. "Maybe it was because of that. We don't know. It could've been...other stuff."

"Sure, why not? I just, uh, don't want to wear a T-shirt that says PMS, okay?" I added, and Romy stuck out her hand. "Deal."


We shook on it just as the bus pulled up to the school. "Try to get kicked out of P.E. again today," Dex told me as he gathered up his stuff. "We can hang on the football field."

"Ha-ha," I muttered, slinging my bag over my shoulder.

Romy and I made our way to English while Dex sauntered off to his first class. We got to Mrs. Steele's room before the second bell, so Romy tossed her backpack onto the desk next to mine and said, "Gonna run to the bathroom. Watch my bag?"