Shay’s foot caught on a fallen tree branch, and she tumbled to the ground.
At first, she had no intention of getting up. The ground was nice and the leaves beneath her offered a comfortable bed to sleep on. Her eyes began to drift closed. She could just rest and—
“Shay!” Isobel shouted. “Get up! We have to keep moving!”
Shay’s eyes flashed open and she remembered where they were. She mentally scolded herself for being so stupid. Lay down and sleep? They were being chased. They could be caught at any moment. Isobel was right; they had to keep moving.
Shay scrambled to her feet. Her legs swayed beneath her and she fell against a tree for support. She waited for them to steady, and then looked back at the others. Aubree had gone on ahead, but the twins had stopped with Theo.
“Okay,” she said. “I’m fine. Let’s go.”
Theo was a dead weight in the twins’ arms. Her breathing was growing fainter and fainter. She was so weak, and there was so much blood. There was no way any one person could lose that much blood and survive.
And Theo knew it.
“You need to . . . leave me,” Theo murmured between breaths.
Isobel shook her head. “We aren’t leaving you.”
“I’m . . . slowing . . . you down.”
“We aren’t leaving you,” Isobel said again, determined.
“I’m dying,” Theo told her. “And I’m slowing you down. Please. Just let me go, Isobel.”
“No,” Isobel said. “I’m not leaving you!”
“I know . . . that you’re scared,” Theo replied. She used the last bit of strength she had to open her eyes and look at Isobel. “But I need you . . . to be strong. Remember . . . remember when I found you? You and Ivory . . . were so strong. I need . . . I need you to be strong now. I need you . . . to let me go.”
“Theo, no,” Shay said.
Theo’s eyes flickered to Shay, but they barely seemed to be seeing her. “It’s okay, Shay. I . . . forgive you. It’s not your fault. Be strong . . . for Isobel. I’m ready. It’s time . . . to let go . . .”
“Theo, please don’t leave me,” Shay whispered. Warm tears gathered in her eyes. Theo couldn’t leave them. She couldn’t die. She’d always been to take care of Shay. She was the strong one, the one who held them all together during the tough times. She couldn’t leave.
“I’m ready . . .” she whispered again. “I’m going to see my mama . . .”
And those were the last words she spoke. Her lips parted slightly, and she took one last breath. The fading light in her eyes went out altogether and stared vacantly at Shay.
Theo slipped from the twins’ arms, and Shay fell down beside her.
“No, no, no! Theo, please!” Shay grabbed her shoulder and shook her. “Theo!”
Ivory had her arms around Isobel, her face grim with her lips pressed together as her sister sobbed into her shoulder. Aubree stood uncomfortably off to the side, with her head turned away but pity written across her face.
“She’s gone!” Isobel moaned.
“Theo!” Shay grabbed Theo’s shirt, knotting her fingers into the fabric, and fell against Theo’s chest. Her head shook back and forth, and her body trembled. Theo had taken care of her . . . Theo had been like a sister to her . . . And now, Theo was gone. Theo, who had been one of the strongest people Shay had ever met, was gone.
Ivory finally spoke. “We have to keep moving.”
Isobel nodded, lifting her head. “She’s right.”
“We can’t leave her,” Shay said, swallowing. Tears streaked her face as she looked up at Isobel. “You said it yourself. We can’t.”
“Shay, she’s gone. We have to leave her. I don’t want to anymore than you do, but we have to.”
Shay looked from Isobel to Theo, and then she moved her fingers to close Theo’s eyelids. Theo was pale and still, laying there among the leaves on the ground like Snow White after she’d eaten the poisoned apple.
“I’m so sorry, Theo,” Shay murmured.
Ivory glanced at Isobel, and then took her hand. Isobel nodded.
Theo had fallen down beside a bush, and Shay watched from where she knelt as the branches reached of it out, twining themselves around Theo’s body. They drew her close, pulling her into their embrace until she disappeared into the bush entirely.
Shay wiped the back of her hand across her face and stood.
“Alright,” she said. “Let’s go.”
They kept walking and for a while, no one spoke. All that could be heard was the chirping of birds and the rustling of leaves as other small animals moved around near by.
“I’m sorry,” Aubree said unexpectedly.
Shay turned her head to look at Aubree, and the girl’s blue eyes were sincere. “Thank you,” Shay told her.
“Well, isn’t that sweet,” a mocking voice said, and everyone’s eyes swiveled up to see where it had come from.
A girl was perched in the branch of a tree, leaning against the trunk with one arm. Her hair fell in tumbled brown waves around her, and her mouth was twisted into a cruel smirk.
Shay stopped. Her breath caught in her throat, and her stomach plummeted. “Rowan?” she gasped.
“Surprised to see me, Miss Shay?” Rowan asked, and her smile grew, pulling back so that Shay caught sight of the fangs that poked out at the corners of her lips.
“But you died,” Shay whispered. She felt as if someone was reaching inside of her and squeezing her heart. This couldn’t be real. She was seeing things. She was in shock.
Rowan’s smile fell. “No,” she hissed. “I was still alive! You left me in that burning house to die! After everything I did for you, you left me to die!”
“But a vampire . . . He snapped your neck! You couldn’t have survived that!”
“Do you I’m stupid?” Rowan asked. “When I went to get you your precious mortar and pestle, I ran into a vampire. He tried to kill me, but I staked him. I figured I wouldn’t be as lucky next time, and so I drank some of his blood. When the other vampire snapped my neck, he killed me, but I wasn’t really dead. I began to change. I began to become a vampire.
“And when Kendall came, she found me and she saw that I was transitioning. So she took me with her. But I wasn’t the only one you left behind,” Rowan said. “Isn’t that right, Matt?”
Shay’s legs gave way beneath her, and the ground rushed forward to meet her.
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