Starcrossed (Extract)

How do you defy destiny?

Helen Hamilton has spent her entire sixteen years trying to hide how different she is—no easy task on an island as small and sheltered as Nantucket. And it's getting harder. Nightmares of a desperate desert journey have Helen waking parched, only to find her sheets damaged by dirt and dust. At school she's haunted by hallucinations of three women weeping tears of blood . . . and when Helen first crosses paths with Lucas Delos, she has no way of knowing they're destined to play the leading roles in a tragedy the Fates insist on repeating throughout history.

As Helen unlocks the secrets of her ancestry, she realizes that some myths are more than just legend. But even demigod powers might not be enough to defy the forces that are both drawing her and Lucas together—and trying to tear them apart.

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2. Chapter 3

In the morning when Helen woke up and looked at her feet, the cuts were gone. She almost believed that she had imagined them – until she saw that her sheets were dirty with dried, brown blood and grit.

In order to test her sanity, Helen decided to leave her sheets on the bed, go to school and see if they were still dirty when she came home. If they were clean when she got home, then the whole thing was an illusion and she was only a little crazy. If they were still dirty when she came home, then she was obviously so crazy that she was walking around at night and getting dirt and blood in her bed without remembering it.

Helen tried to eat a bowl of yogurt and berries for breakfast but that didn’t work out very well so she didn’t even bother to take her lunch box. If she got hungry, she could try buying something more tummy friendly like soup and crackers later.

Riding her bike to school, she noticed that it was unbearably hot and humid for a second day in a row. The only wind was the breeze created by her spinning wheels,

and when she locked her bike up at the rack she realized that not only was the air still, but it was also lacking the usual insect and bird sounds. All was unnaturally quiet – as though the entire island was nothing but a ship becalmed in the middle of the vast ocean.

Helen arrived earlier than she had the day before, and the halls were crowded. Claire saw her come in. When her face broke into a smile, Helen knew she had been forgiven. Claire fought the flow of traffic to double back and join her on the walk to homeroom.

As they made their way towards each other, Helen suddenly felt as if she was trying to trudge through oatmeal. She slowed to a stop. It seemed to her that everyone in the hallway vanished. In the suddenly empty school Helen heard the shuffling of bare feet and the gasping sobs of inconsolable grief.

She spun round in time to see a dusty white figure, her shoulders slumped and quivering, disappearing round a corner. Helen realized that the sobbing woman had passed behind someone – a real person staring back at her. She focused in on the figure, a delicate young girl with olive skin and a long, black braid trailing over one shoulder. Her naturally bright red lips were drawn into an O of surprise. To Helen, she looked like a china doll, so perfect she could not be entirely real.

Then the sound switched back on and the corridor was full of rushing students again. Helen was stand- ing still, blocking traffic, staring at a glossy black braid swinging against a tiny girl’s back as it vanished into a classroom.

Helen’s whole body shook with an emotion that took her a moment to recognize. It was rage.

‘Jesusmaryandjoseph, Len! Are you gonna faint?’ Claire asked anxiously.

Helen made her eyes focus on Claire, and she took a wobbly breath. She realized that she was drenched in cold sweat and shivering. She opened her mouth but nothing came out.

‘I’m taking you to the nurse,’ Claire said. She grabbed Helen’s hand and started to tug on it, trying to get her to move. ‘Matt,’ she called out over Helen’s shoulder. ‘Can you help me with Lennie? I think she’s going to faint.’

‘I’m not going to faint,’ Helen snapped, suddenly alert and aware of how strangely she was acting.

She smiled bashfully at them both to try to take the sting out of her words. Matt had put his arm round her waist and she patted his hand softly to let him know he could release her. He gave her a doubtful look.

‘You’re really pale, and you’ve got circles under your eyes,’ he said.

‘I got a little overheated riding my bike,’ she started to explain.

‘Don’t tell me you’re fine,’ Claire warned. Her eyes were flush with frustrated tears, and Matt didn’t look much happier. Helen knew she couldn’t brush this off.

Even if she was going crazy, she didn’t have to take it out on her friends.

‘No, you’re right. I think I might have heatstroke.’

Matt nodded, accepting this excuse as the only logical one. ‘Claire, you take her to the girls’ room. I’ll tell Hergie what happened so he doesn’t mark you late. And you should eat something. You didn’t eat any lunch yesterday,’ he reminded her.

Helen was a little surprised he remembered that, but Matt was good at details. He wanted to be a lawyer, and she knew that some day he would be a great one.

Claire drenched Helen in the girls’ room, dumping cold water all the way down her back when she was supposed to just wet her neck. Of course they wound up having a gigantic water fight, which seemed to calm Claire down because it was the first normal response she’d had out of Helen in a few days. Helen herself felt like she had passed an exhaustion barrier and now everything had become funny.

Hergie wrote them hall passes, so the two friends took their time getting to their first classes. Having a hall pass from Mr Hergeshimer was like getting one of Willy Wonka’s golden tickets – a student could go anywhere and do anything for a full period and not one teacher would put up a stink.

In the cafeteria they got oranges for Helen’s low blood sugar, and while they were at it they split a chocolate chip muffin. Helen choked it down and miraculously started to feel better. Then they went and stood in front of the six-foot-tall fan in the auditorium to cool down, taking turns singing into the whirling blades and listening to each other’s voices get chopped into a hundred pieces until they were both laughing their faces off.

Helen felt so giddy after playing hooky on a Hergie hall pass and eating raw sugar on an empty stomach that she couldn’t even remember what class she was supposed to be going to. She and Claire were casually strolling down the wrong hallway at the wrong time when the bell signalling the end of first period rang. They looked at each other and shrugged as if to say, ‘Oh well, what can you do?’, and burst out laughing. Then Helen saw Lucas for the first time.

The sky outside finally exhaled all the wind that it had been holding for two days. Gusts of stale, hot air pushed through every open window into the sweltering school. It caught loose sheets of paper, skirt hems, unbound hair, stray wrappers and other odds and ends, and tossed them all towards the ceiling like hats on graduation day. For a moment it seemed to Helen that everything stayed up there, frozen at the top of the arc, as weightless as space.

Lucas was standing in front of his locker about twenty feet away, staring back at Helen while the world waited for gravity to switch back on. He was tall, over six feet at least, and powerfully built, although his muscles were long and lean instead of bulky. He had short black hair and a dark end-of-summer tan that brought out his white smile and his swimming-pool blue eyes.

Meeting his eyes was an awakening. For the first time in Helen’s life she knew what pure, heart-poisoning hatred was.

She was not aware of the fact that she was running towards him, but she could hear the voices of the three sobbing sisters rise into a keening wail, could see them standing behind the tall, dark boy she knew was Lucas, and the smaller, brown-haired boy next to him. The sisters were tearing at their hair until it came out of their scalps in bloody hanks. They pointed accusing fingers at the two boys while they screeched a series of names – the names of people murdered long ago. Helen suddenly understood what she had to do.

In the split second it took for her to close the gap between them, Helen saw the other boy lunge at her, but he was stopped by Lucas, who threw out an arm and sent him flying back into the lockers behind them. Then her whole body stopped and strained.

‘Cassandra! Stay where you are,’ Lucas called over Helen’s shoulder, his face no more than an inch away from hers. ‘She’s very strong.’

Helen’s arms burned and the little bones in her wrists felt like they were grinding together. Lucas was holding her by the wrists to keep her hands away from his neck, she realized. They were locked in a stalemate, and if she could get her fingers half an inch closer, she could reach his throat.

And then what? a little voice in her head asked. Choke the life out of him! answered another.

Lucas’s achingly blue eyes widened in surprise. Helen was winning. One of her long nails grazed the pulsing skin covering the fat artery she itched to slit. Then, before she could process what was happening, Lucas spun her round and clamped her to his chest, restraining her arms against her breast and standing between her legs. The position he’d forced her into kept her off balance and unable to bring her heel down on his instep. She was immobile.

‘Who are you? What is your House?’ he breathed into her ear, giving her a rough shake to punctuate his point. She was beyond understanding language.

Outmanoeuvred and helpless, she started to scream with rage, then stopped herself. Now that she couldn’t see his eyes she was becoming aware of the fact that half the school’s faculty was trying to tear her off him. Everyone was staring.

Helen doubled over in agony as her abdomen seized up with cramps. Lucas immediately let her go as if she’d turned into a lit match, his body convulsing spasmodically, and she dropped to the floor.

‘Miss Hamilton! Miss . . . Helen. Helen, look at me,’ said Mr Hergeshimer. He was kneeling on the floor next to her while she panted, trying to relax her muscles. She looked up at his sweaty face. His hair was messed up and his glasses had been knocked sideways on his face in the fight. She wondered for a moment if she had been the one to hit him, and then she burst into tears.

‘What’s wrong with me?’ she whimpered softly.

‘It’s all right now. Calm down,’ Mr Hergeshimer said sternly. ‘All of you had better get to class. Immediately!’ he roared to the throngs of kids standing around with their mouths open. Everyone scattered as Mr Hergeshimer stood up and took charge.

‘You boys,’ he pointed at Lucas and Jason, ‘are to come with me to the principal’s office. Mr Millis! Miss Aoki! You are to take Miss Hamilton to the nurse’s office and then go directly to your next classes. Understood?’

Matt immediately stepped forward and put Helen’s arm over his shoulder, helping her to stand. Claire took Helen’s hand and held it reassuringly. Helen glanced up and saw Lucas looking back over his shoulder at her as he went quietly with Mr Hergeshimer. Another wave of loathing broke over her, and fresh tears lined up in her eyes. Matt guided her while she cried, awkwardly patting her hair and getting her to walk towards the nurse’s office at the same time. Claire walked on Helen’s other side, shaken and silent.

‘What did he do to you, Lennie?’ Matt asked hotly.

‘I’ve never seen him b-b-before in my l-l-life!’ Helen hiccuped and cried even harder.

‘Great idea, Matt! Ask her questions! Can you shut the hell up now?’ Claire snapped, trying to get hold of herself.

They walked the rest of the way without talking. When they got to the nurse’s office, they told Mrs Crane what had happened and made sure to add that Helen had come to school with heatstroke that morning. Mrs Crane had Helen lie down with a cool towel over her eyes and went back into her office to call Jerry.

‘Your father’s on his way, dear. No, no, keep your eyes covered. Darkness will help,’ Mrs Crane said as she passed by Helen’s bed. Helen heard her rush out to the hall to speak to someone briefly, then come back in and sit behind her desk.

Helen lay under the towel, grateful that she was being left alone and in relative privacy. She couldn’t think two coherent thoughts in a row, let alone explain herself to anyone. What scared her the most was that for some reason she knew that what she had tried to do was right, or at least that it was expected of her. Deep inside, she knew she would have killed that boy if she could have, and she didn’t even feel guilty about it. Until she saw her father.

He was a mess. Mrs Crane told him everything that had happened, explaining that Helen was suffering from a serious case of heatstroke and that it may have caused her strange outburst. He listened patiently and then asked Mrs Crane for a moment alone with his daughter, which she gave them.

Jerry didn’t say anything at first; he just sort of hovered over Helen’s bed while she sat up and fidgeted with her necklace. Finally, he sat down next to her.

‘You wouldn’t lie to me right now, would you?’ he asked softly. She shook her head. ‘Are you sick?’

‘I don’t know, Dad. I don’t feel right – but I don’t know what’s wrong,’ she told him earnestly.

‘We’ve got to take you to the doctor, you know.’

‘I figured,’ she said, nodding. They smiled at each other, and then suddenly they both turned their heads at the sound of hurried footsteps coming towards the nurse’s office.

Jerry stood up and faced the door, putting himself in front of Helen. A tall, impossibly fit man in his early forties burst into the room. Helen jumped off the bed and stood on the other side of it, glancing around instinctively for another exit. There wasn’t one. Helen had the feeling that she was going to die.

In the corner of the tiny office, one of the sobbing sisters from her nightmare appeared. She was hunkered down on her knees, her face covered by her filthy hair, moaning names and saying ‘blood for blood’ as she hit her forehead repeatedly against the wall.

Helen put her hands over her ears. She pulled her eyes away from the horror in the corner and mustered enough courage to look back at the large man. A spark of recognition passed between them. She had never seen him before, but somehow she knew that she should be very afraid of him. At first his angular face was set with determination, but it quickly morphed into shock and then confusion. His eyes zeroed in on Jerry, and a nearly comical look of disbelief derailed what might have been a terrible fight.

‘Are you . . . are you the father of the young lady that attacked my son?’ he asked in a halting voice.

Jerry nodded curtly. ‘My daughter, Helen,’ he said, gesturing back to her. ‘I’m Jerry Hamilton.’

‘Castor Delos,’ the big man replied. ‘My wife, Noel, won’t be able to make it. And Helen’s mother?’

Jerry shook his head. ‘It’s just Lennie and me,’ he said with finality.

Castor’s eyes darted to Helen and back to Jerry and he pursed his lips as if he had set something right in his head. ‘Pardon me. I didn’t mean to bring up personal matters. Is there any way you and I might have a word alone?’

‘NO!’ Helen shouted. She lunged across the bed, grabbing her father’s arm and yanking him away from Castor.

‘What is wrong with you?’ Jerry shouted. He tried, and failed, to shake Helen off.

‘Please don’t go anywhere with him!’ she begged, tears welling up in her eyes.

Jerry made a frustrated sound, put his arms round Helen and held her reassuringly. ‘She hasn’t been well,’ he explained to Castor, who looked on with sympathy.

‘I have a daughter,’ Castor replied gently as if that explained everything.

Mrs Crane and the principal, Dr Hoover, rushed into the room as if they had been trying to catch up with Castor.

‘Mr Delos,’ the principal began in an irritated voice, but Castor talked over him.

‘I hope your daughter feels better soon, Jerry. I’ve had heatstroke myself, and I was told I did all kinds of strange things. It can make you hallucinate, you know,’ he said to no one in particular.

Helen saw him glance quickly at her and then into the corner where the sobbing sister was still rocking back and forth. Did he see her too, she wondered, and if he did, how the heck could two people share a hallucination?

‘Well . . . OK. There’s no animosity, then?’ Dr Hoover said uncertainly, looking from Castor to Jerry.

‘Not on my part, nor on my son’s, I’m sure. I’m more concerned about you, young lady,’ Castor said, turning politely to Helen. ‘Luke told me he had to be, well, a bit rough. Did he hurt you?’ Castor enquired. On the surface, it seemed like he had extraordinarily good manners, but Helen didn’t buy it. He was just trying to gauge how strong she was.

‘I’m fine,’ she replied tartly. ‘Not a scratch.’

His eyes widened ever so slightly. She didn’t know why she was baiting a full-grown man, a very big man in the prime of his life at that, but she simply couldn’t help herself. Usually, she hated arguments so much she couldn’t even bear to watch those trashy daytime talk shows where everyone screamed at each other, and here she was for the second time in half an hour looking to mix it up with someone much bigger and stronger than she was. Thankfully, she wasn’t as desperate to kill Castor the way she had been with his son. No one had ever enraged Helen the way that Lucas had, but she still wanted to put a few dents in Castor’s fender. That urge confused her deeply.

‘I’m glad you’re all right,’ Castor said with a smile, diffusing the situation. He turned to the principal and made it clear that he and his family did not want Helen punished. As far as he was concerned, Helen had been ill, and the whole incident should be forgotten. He left as abruptly as he had entered.

As soon as Castor’s footsteps faded away, the sobbing sister vanished and the whispering stopped. Helen no longer felt angry. She slumped down on to the bed like a balloon with a fast leak.

‘You’d best take her home now, Jerry,’ Mrs Crane said with a no-nonsense voice and a comforting smile. ‘Lots of fluids, no direct light and get her to take a cool bath to bring her core temperature down. All right?’

‘Sure, Mrs Crane. Thanks a lot,’ Jerry replied, reverting back to the teenaged boy he had been the last time he was in Mrs Crane’s office.

Helen kept her head down on their way out to the parking lot, but she could feel the other students staring at her as she passed. As she jumped up into the passenger seat of the Pig she saw the door by the principal’s office open and the two Delos boys leaving with Castor. Lucas’s eyes went straight to hers and held them. Castor pulled up and put his hand on the back of his son’s neck, talking to him. Finally, Lucas broke his stare contest with Helen and looked at his father briefly before nodding and looking at the ground.

It started to rain. One, then two, then three big, fat drops of summer rain splashed down, and suddenly the air was full of water. Helen slammed her door shut and glanced over at her father, who was also looking back at the Delos family.

‘Which one did you jump?’ Jerry asked, fighting a grin.

‘The bigger one,’ Helen answered, a half smile of her own creeping up her face.

Jerry looked at Helen, whistled once, and started the engine. ‘You’re lucky he didn’t seriously hurt you,’ he said, not joking around any more.

Helen nodded meekly, but she was thinking that Lucas was the lucky one. The strangeness of her own thoughts scared her silent for the rest of the drive home.

 

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