Topaz “Taz” Aevos has a very special skill. She can make things fall. This seems mostly harmless, until Stryder Black plays a horrible prank on Taz’s little sister at a high end party in front of the high school elites. In retaliation, Taz summons her supernatural strength and sends the ballroom chandelier to come crashing down around midnight. The event echoes Stephen King’s Carrie, although this is only the beginning of the story. A chain of events will commence that dooms Taz and Stryder to a shrinking loop of days, until they either find a solution or run out of time. Author Jodi Perkins has crafted a sharp young woman in Taz, who will no doubt rise to the challenges ahead. With clear and concise writing, Perkins captures the sensibilities of young adult hopes and dreams, but it is the nexus of time and circumstance that drives this fantasy-suspense plot, and the contemporary narrative that keeps it grounded and real.
What then is time?
If no one asks me, I know what it is.
If I wish to explain it to him who asks,
I do not know.
Monday, December 31
It all started because of a RAT.
On a night so full of promise. New Year’s Eve. The evening crept up bright and clear with a sharp chill that nipped at my bare shoulders like tiny teeth. As I rounded the corner of Pleasant Valley Way, my thoughts were on Seth. I could still see his soft hazel eyes—the way they had lit up when he found out that I was invited to Shana’s party. And then his casual text two hours ago, asking if I was still planning to go.
I wasn’t planning to go. Not originally. If it were anyone else’s party, maybe. But this was Shana’s party. Popular, wealthy, beautiful Shana. I’m not even sure how I scored an invite. Shana likes to surround herself with glamorous people, and I definitely don’t fit that profile (unless the fact that I had hosed out dog vomit from a kennel two hours before somehow scored me an 8.2 on the Glamor Scale and someone forgot to tell me).
But once Seth told me he was coming, I changed my mind. Apparently I’m that shallow.
The De’ Chancor Hotel loomed ahead, its dazzling lights penetrating the darkness draping it. I passed a scraggly little tree, barren for winter, and noticed a single brown leaf clinging to a long, skinny branch. I wondered what it must be like, to be that leaf, watching one by one as all the leaves cuddled around you withered and died. I narrowed my eyes until the leaf shivered and dropped to the frozen grass below.
Side-stepping the leaf, I cut across to the hotel, lifting my skirt so it wouldn’t drag through the snow-crusted lawn. I grimaced at my dirty sneakers—a huge contrast to my satiny, fawncolored dress. But what choice did I have? There was no way I was walking eight blocks in heels. And really, fancy clothes weren’t my thing. Although tonight, I was happy that Seth would get to see me in something other than jeans and hoodies.
“Hey, you,” a voice called out, ringing crisp and clear through the night air. I jumped, stared into the dark, and then spotted him as he emerged from the glowing trees lining the enormous circular drive. My heart somersaulted at the sight of him—his tall lean frame accented by black slacks, a soft gray button up shirt opened at the collar, and a black blazer.
“What are you doing walking by yourself?” His left hand was tucked into his pocket, a smile playing on his lips. “Aren’t you freezing?”
My heart thumped at the sight of him. He hadn’t seen me messing with that stupid leaf, right?
Don’t screw this up…
“I like walking.” I smiled at him. “And hey right back.”
“Did you come all the way from work? You should’ve called me.” He walked up and looked like he wanted to take my hand, but stopped. I stepped in closer, hoping he would reconsider.
There was no denying it, sparks had been flying between Seth and I for two months now, ever since we were both called up to the front of Chemistry for a demonstration. I had carefully poured chemicals from my beaker into Seth’s. It was supposed to change the color of his solution, but instead, it burst from the beaker, spilling all over him. Alarmed and wanting to help, I grabbed the paper towels sitting on the counter and lunged for his groin. Everyone in the class burst into uproarious laughter. Seth had shielded himself with his arms, saying “Uh, I think I got it.” Once I realized how close I had come to attacking his crotch with paper towels, my cheeks erupted into flames. And then we both laughed.
We’d been making eyes at each other ever since.
“You look gorgeous, by the way,” Seth said, cutting into my thoughts.
“Thanks,” I said, dropping the hem of my dress so it would cover my shoes, wondering if he could see my spirits soar at his compliment. “You look good too.”
He grinned. “Thanks.”
I felt a little light-headed as we passed a line of shiny cars, students in glittering finery pouring out onto the curb right before the cars were whisked away by valets. Warm air blasted my face as we pushed through the heavy glass doors and entered the hotel’s foyer. Thank goodness I was entering the party with Seth. I didn’t know if I’d have the guts to go in alone.
“Can I help you?” the clerk behind the counter asked as we approached the reservation desk. Her singsong voice echoed in the large room. The lobby was enormous, with gleaming marble floors and creamy Corinthian columns rising to the vaulted ceiling. The air smelled warm and sweet, like toffee and cream.
“Yes, we’re here for the Camellia party,” Seth said, his voice smooth, like he belonged here.
“That’s in the Baiser Ballroom in the eastern wing. I’ll have Mr. Frederick escort you.”
Seth gave a gracious nod and we followed the bellboy down the wide corridor. The walls shook beneath a heavy current of vibrating bass.
Much like the lobby, the ballroom was massive and splendid. An enormous crystal chandelier hung on a heavy bronze chain above the dance floor. It looked like the world’s most foreboding disco ball, shooting glittery shards of purple and green light from its thousands of glassy gems. The bedazzled dance floor was already crowded with teens, gyrating to the disjointed melody blasting from the giant speakers near the stage. Seth nodded a thank you to Mr. Frederick as we stepped farther into the room. Within seconds I spotted my older sister Phee in a flashy red evening gown. I figured she wouldn’t be hard to find. Phee strutted around with a confidence that was hard for people to ignore. I’m sure it was Phee who Shana really wanted at her party, and I was just a necessary part of the package.
Phee was chatting with my friend Michael in front of a table loaded with colorful hors
d’oeuvres. She was glancing sideways every few seconds as if an excuse to escape the
conversation might magically pop up beside her.
“I’m going to say hi to Phee and Michael,” I told Seth. I felt a little awkward. Were we
supposed to stay together the whole time? I wasn’t sure what the protocol was for our notquite-a date. “Um, do you want to come with me?”
He must have felt the same way I did, because he paused, looking around uncertainly. “Uh, no, it’s okay. I’m going to check out the DJ’s playlist and see if there’s anything I want to add.”
“Sounds good.” But as I walked away, I wondered if I had handled that well. Now Seth and I were separating, which was definitely not the direction I was going for. I tried to shake off my disappointment as I sauntered over to Michael and Phee.
“Hey guys,” I said, grabbing a plate from the hors d’oeuvres table. My stomach had been grumbling since I left the animal shelter. I glanced over the sophisticated spread, hoping to find something more my speed, like mashed potatoes. Or tacos. Unfortunately there was nothing but delicacies. Sighing, I piled a heap of lightly fried calamari on my plate. At least I could pretend they were onion rings.
“Hey Taz,” Phee said. “You look amazing!” She looked happy to have a diversion from Michael’s rant.
“Hi Taz,” Michael said. “You really do look great. Didn’t you come straight from the animal shelter?”
“Pretty much, but us poor country folk can clean up nicely when we want to.” I winked at him, and Michael tilted his head back and let out a hearty laugh.
In fact, if anyone looked too closely at my dress, they would see the little imperfections that landed it in the outlet mall. But even on clearance the dress had set me back a day in pay, landing me with an extra shift tonight. So instead of getting ready for the party at home with a giggling, talkative Phee, I was forced to get ready alone—changing in a tiny rink-adink employee bathroom, using a grimy mirror to apply my lip-gloss and blush.
Though, admittedly, walking the chilly eight blocks to the hotel was my choice. I’m sure several people could have given me a ride (including Seth). But sometimes I liked to walk. Something about the dark tranquility of Sezona Hills at nighttime…the way the moon cuts through the sugary clouds, sprinkling silver light on the occasional lonely brown leaf, like the one right outside the hotel. I always had a compulsion to break such leaves from their flimsy branches—put them out of their misery.
“So, I was talking to your sister about Descartes,” Michael said, changing the subject. “It’s funny, most people think of him as nothing more than the guy who said ‘I think therefore I am,’ but he was truly a methodical thinker. Did you know he came up with the Method of Doubt…?”
I nibbled on a fried squid tentacle, trying to concentrate on Michael’s discussion (everyone who knows Michael knows he’s obsessed with philosophy), but my eyes were already wandering the room, searching for Seth. That’s when I saw Krystal. My skin prickled.
“Sorry Michael,” I cut into his monologue, right at a juicy part where every scholarly thinker should doubt the size of the moon and stars. “I have to borrow Phee for a sec.” I grabbed her elbow and began pulling her away from the crowd. “It’s a girl thing,” I added behind my shoulder, worried about hurting his feelings.
Once out of earshot from Michael, Phee turned to me and started giggling.
“What the hell was he talking about? The method of doubt?” She shook her head. “Thanks for saving me back there.”
“Yeah, that’s not why I pulled you away.” I swung her around and pointed over to Krystal.
“What is this?”
“Oh, yeah, that,” Phee said. Krystal—our baby sister—swayed on the dance floor, dark hair careening over one pale shoulder, hands clasped trustingly around the neck of a darkhaired, gray-eyed senior.
I felt my big-sister instincts bubble up like the chemicals that had spilled onto Seth’s crotch. “What is she doing here?” I said. “And why is she dancing with him? I thought Shana only invites juniors and seniors to her parties.” I swung around, my eyes searching the room for our other sister. “Is Aviva here too?”
“No, Viv’s not here. Sophomore’s weren’t invited.”
“Krystal’s a freshman!”
“She didn’t tell you?” Phee raised a thinly arched brow. “She got in as a ‘plus one.’ Stryder asked her to be his date for the party. She was all excited because this is her first official date, and it happens to be with a senior. I told her she’d be an idiot if she goes with him, but she doesn’t care. She thinks she’s the luckiest girl alive. You know how freshman girls are…one look from a hot guy and they’re like, “‘OMG, I’m in love!’”
No, Krystal never told me that Stryder had asked her out. She knew how I felt about him. She knew I would have put my foot down.
“Yeah, this isn’t happening,” I told Phee, and I hurried over to the dance floor. As I neared the happy couple, I could see Stryder lean in and whisper something in Krystal’s ear. Her eyes sparkled, and she rested her head on his shoulder. My blood was about three degrees from boiling.
“I need to talk to you,” I cut in between them, refusing to look at Stryder.
“Taz!” she protested. I gave her my best ‘severe’ look, and she sighed and followed me to the edge of the dance floor. Stryder smirked at us from a distance and meandered off the floor towards the fizzing fountain of apple cider.
“Are you crazy?” she demanded, once he was out of earshot. I pursed my lips, trying to come up with the right words. “Look, Krys, you can’t be here with Stryder. He’s trouble.”
Krystal crossed her arms. “Don’t you think it’s unfair to judge a person by what they did in elementary school?”
Irritation twisted inside me. “What he did wasn’t some small thing! But that’s beside the point. He parades around campus with a new girl under his arm every week….” I trailed off, trying to find a stronger reason for my argument other than the fact that Stryder was like some Pied Piper of bimbos. I took a breath. “Plus why has he been hanging around Shana and Lance all the time lately?”
Just saying Lance’s name made me shudder. Lance was…missing something. It was as though whatever part of your brain controls feelings wasn’t there for him. I’m sure Stryder at least felt things, but the mere fact that he would choose Lance the Sociopath as a friend was bad news, and Krystal knew that as much as I did.
“It’s not just elementary school,” I said, softening my tone. “He’s got issues. I know you see it too.”
“You have no idea, Taz. He has been saying the sweetest things to me tonight. He just told me he thinks he’s falling for me.” She beamed at me, her eyes bright with the possibility. “He might have some issues, but maybe he just needs someone to care about him. Like, really care.”
“Falling for you?” The words spilled out of my mouth before I could stop them. “He’s just playing you!”
Her face fell. “Wow, tell me how you really feel. I guess you think it’s impossible for a senior to like me.”
Ugh, I hated hurting Krystal’s feelings. “That’s not what I mean. You know I’m seriously only trying to look out for you, right?”
Her face softened. “I know, but can you stop already? I’m in high school now. And I really like him. A lot. Can’t you just trust me? The worst thing that can happen is we don’t work out as a couple. But at least let me have tonight.”
My shoulders dropped, right along with my resolve. How could I argue with that? She was right. Krystal was a big girl now, and I needed to let her make her own decisions. And her own mistakes.
“Okay.” I forced out a tight smile. “Just—please—be careful. Don’t get too sucked in by him, okay?”
“Thanks Taz!” she leaned in to hug me. “Oh, and hey,” she whispered close to my ear, “you might want to change those shoes.”
Damn. I cringed down at my sneakers as she scurried back to Stryder, who was now walking toward her with a glass of bubbling cider. I had planned to swing by the ladies room to change them on my way in. That probably explained Stryder’s smirk. How many other people noticed I was still wearing my tennis shoes? I looked up just in time to see Stryder glance up at me as he put his arm around Krystal. His charcoal eyes seemed to communicate something, but I couldn’t tell what.
Who cares? I turned away from him, my thoughts steeped in worry over Krystal. If bad feelings were physical objects, mine were about the size of a Volkswagen.
It will be okay, I reassured myself as I hurried to the ladies’ room and pulled out a pair of shiny, strappy heels from the saggy leather messenger bag strung over my shoulder. I told myself that the pit in my stomach was just my protective instinct rearing its ugly head.
Leaving my bag stuffed with my sneakers in a corner of the ladies’ room, I headed back to find my plate of calamari, trying not to wobble with my new height. Seth found me. His eyes were light and warm.
“There you are. I was wondering if you would like to dance with me?”
Excitement bubbled up in my chest, and my anxiety over Krystal was momentarily forgotten. I couldn’t remember ever being asked to dance before. Phee, with her glossy nails and trendy clothes, was the noticeable one of us sisters, always on the dance floor. I was the one on the sidelines talking Plato and Aristotle with Michael. Suddenly I felt happy that my feet were crammed into my uncomfortable heels. It was worth it—being glammed up for this guy that made my heart skip all over the place.
“Sure, I’d love to,” I smiled. He took my hand and guided me to the dance floor, his hand warm and soft. I never really learned how to dance. My sisters used to laugh at me when I was little, because I’d spin around to music like a rock star, wearing my stepmom’s lacy apron and a blue pompom on my head as I sang into my hairbrush. Now I tried to let go of my insecurities and become that little girl again. I let the music wash over me as I moved my body back and forth, hoping that I didn’t look like an idiot. I glanced up at Seth, whose eyes were gazing into mine in an open invitation to someplace mysterious and warm.
The night pressed on, a pulsing blur of music and lights, adrenaline and body heat.
I saw Michael gravitate to Brittany, a freckled redhead who didn’t seem to mind listening to his philosophical lectures, but I had no idea where Phee and Krystal were. The last time I saw them was when all three of us had collapsed into a fit of giggles during some crazy linedance. Seeing Krystal’s glowing face, I finally admitted to myself that I had worried for nothing. Plus it was easy to let any stress slip away with Seth’s arms wrapped so tenderly around my waist.
As midnight approached, the lights in the room dimmed, and the DJ tempered the energy on the dance floor with some softer tunes. I leaned in closer to Seth. His body heat traversed the thin silky chiffon of my dress and warmed my skin. My heart wouldn’t stop its happy gallop. I wondered idly if he could hear it.
“Taz, you want to go to the movies with me this Saturday?” Seth asked, his breath tickling my ear.
A pleasant shiver shot up my spine. Oh my gosh. An official date. Could I do this?
“Yes. I’d like that,” I grinned up at him. He grinned back. I was pretty sure invisible stars were floating around me.
At the end of the song, the DJ announced that we were only a few minutes away from the countdown. The room stirred with excitement. That’s when I noticed Lance walking up to the stage area, followed by Stryder. Trailing behind them was a reluctant, but laughing, Krystal. Shana stood on the sidelines, arms folded in front of her, looking gorgeous and seductive in a cobalt blue evening gown with a plunging v-shaped neckline.
Why was Lance hanging around Krystal? A hot feeling spread sickly inside my stomach. Leaning towards the D.J, Lance said a few words, and then slipped him a bill. The D.J looked at the bill, nodded, and handed him the microphone.
What was going on?
Seth’s arm slipped off of me as I inched forward, straining to see what Lance and Stryder were up to.
“Are you okay?” Seth asked.
“Uh, yeah…” I said absently, continuing to lean forward, wondering how I might get myself closer to the stage without shoving dozens of people out of the way. Something premonitory gnawed inside of me. Lance tapped the mike a few times, and then began speaking.
“Hey there Sezona Hill rock stars!” Lance shouted into the mike. “Everyone having a good time?”
“Yeah!” the crowd reciprocated with whooping and stomping. Lance could always pump up an audience. With his disarming blue eyes and easy smile, he was a natural charmer.
“Alright! Well, before we get to the countdown, I thought I’d introduce y’all to Clagan High’s newest couple,” he gestured toward Stryder and Krystal. “Aren’t they adorable?”
The room exploded with awwws and catcalls. My gut clenched, and I could feel my skin getting hot. I didn’t like this.
“So,” Lance continued, “I just found out tonight that pretty little Krystal here has never officially been kissed. How many of you think Stryder should do the honors of giving her first kiss ever—“ he winked toward the audience “—at the end of tonight’s countdown?”
“Yeah!” the audience shouted again. “Kiss-her-kiss-her-kiss-her,” someone started chanting. It didn’t take long for everyone in the room to be swept up in the chant. “Kiss HER! Kiss HER! Kiss HER!” It was like a drum beat. I felt blood rushing into my head. This wasn’t right. I didn’t want my little sister’s first kiss to be so public, and I definitely didn’t want it to be with Stryder. I started elbowing my way closer to the stage, but the thick crowd had me gridlocked. I continued to squirm back and forth, hoping to worm my way through. Somewhere stranded behind me was Seth, but I couldn’t think about that right now.
“Looks like the people have spoken!” Lance announced with glee. “So let’s give ‘em their wish. Come on, you two.” He gestured for Stryder and Krystal to come forward, and they moved up to the stage. Krystal’s face shined with nervous anticipation, but something different played across Stryder’s face. It was hard to tell from here, but he didn’t look eager. Was that dread? If he didn’t want to kiss her, why was he up there? Lance passed the mike back to the D.J. “Ahhh, there’s nothing better than young love,” said the D.J, playing along. “Are you guys ready for the countdown?”
“Yeah!” The crowd shouted.
I was beginning to think “yeah!” was the only thing this crowd knew how to say.
“Here we go...Ten…! Nine…! Eight…!” Everyone joined in. Except for me. I pushed frantically closer to the stage, keeping my eyes on Stryder. “Seven…! Six…! Five…!” Stryder took Krystal’s hand and reluctantly leaned in toward her. She wet her lips and leaned toward him. “Four…! Three…! Two…!” Krystal closed her eyes and pursed her lips. “One!” She tilted her head back and went in for the kiss. The crowd was thunderous. “Happy New Year!” But right at ‘Hap—,’ Lance leaned forward and shoved something white and wiggly in Stryder’s hands, and Stryder flung it quickly in front of his face. My heart lurched. Whatever it was, Krystal planted her lips on it instead of Stryder. Startled, her eyes flew open, and she jumped back. A gasp echoed through the crowd.
It was a rat. A live rat. Her first kiss was with a germy rodent. In front of the most elite of the upper-west side junior and senior class.
Stryder dropped it, and the creature scurried frantically across the stage and onto the floor. Several girls jumped back, shrieking. Their dates tried to stomp it, but the agile critter was way too quick as it made its escape behind a giant speaker next to the stage.
Hot blood rose up on Krystal’s neck, contrasting wildly against her ivory skin as it settled on her cheeks. Her large almost doe-like eyes gleamed with angry, unshed tears. She glanced around the hushed crowd for a moment, and, clutching her shimmering white skirts, she pushed her way through the crowds. Laughter followed her across the dance floor. An almost unearthly chill swept through the room as Krystal rushed out, but it was gone almost as quickly as it had come.
“Oh dude, that’s not cool,” the D.J said.
But Shana and Lance paid no attention to the D.J as they stood laughing. Pointing. Mocking.
Fury rose within me as rapidly as the blood had bloomed on Krystal’s cheeks. I couldn’t stop it. Hot liquid anger pulsed through my body, stretching long sadistic fingers that poked into every pore of my skin. My temples pounded. My fingertips tingled. My eyes narrowed. I could hear tiny strands of delicate crystal clinking madly together and looked up as the beautiful chandelier hovering above the dance floor began to shudder, and then shake. No one else seemed to notice. They were still gaping and gossiping over the events that had just unfolded. I watched, transfixed, as the beautiful strands became a blur of contorted glass. It only took a few seconds. I narrowed my eyes, barely comprehending what I was doing, until—
“Look out!” someone cried. It sounded like Stryder. The bronze plate attaching the chandelier to the ceiling pulled apart with an unnerving crack, dribbling pieces of ivory molding and drywall. Then the chandelier made its grand descent. A collective gasp resounded through the room as guests lunged backwards from the dance floor. The scene unfolded before me as if in slow motion, and I gaped at it, frozen in place. Mesmerized, I watched as the chandelier hit the smooth marble floor and explode into a million pieces. The discordant melody of shrieking guests and breaking glass brutalized my ears. A hailstorm of crystal shards flew across my body, and I instinctively clamped my eyes shut and flung my arms in front of my face. Tiny sharp fragments pelted my skin, but I could barely feel them. I was too occupied with a numb feeling of horror.
Time passed. Slowly the shrieks subsided. I lowered my arms and flinched. Hot pain pierced me. I looked up. I felt dizzy. The room, swimming in front of me, was eerily dim and quiet.
Little by little, the room came back to life.
“Holy crap! What the hell was that?” Michael exclaimed from across the dance floor. Others around him began tittering similar exclamations. No one seemed to know that I was responsible for this mayhem. I still wasn’t sure I was responsible…it all happened so fast.
But that was a lie. I knew. I was still too numb to discern what exactly I had done, but I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I did it.
I heard a few more mutterings throughout the room—everything from “Oh shit, I’m bleeding” to claims of “Dude, this is the best party EVER.” Meanwhile, I was still glued in place. Sections of my arms were now starting to pulse with a raw burning, but I could barely focus on that. The realization of what I had done slowly crept up on me, filling my stomach with a huge lump of awareness. More like a giant, granite rock. I swayed on my feet, a tingling sensation pouring over me like a pitcher of ice water.
Oh my God, I thought. I’m evil. I am actually, certifiably EVIL.
“Taz” a deep male voice cut into my reverie. For a second I thought—hoped—it was Seth. I glanced up, my vision swimming. Then the anger was back, and I wished I could bring down another chandelier onto the demented skull belonging to the voice.
“What do you want Stryder?” I spat out his name like Brussels sprouts from the mouth of a two-year-old. My skin tingled all over. “Is your life complete, now that you’ve humiliated a freshman? What’s next, head-bashing orphaned kittens?” He blinked, looking almost surprised. Even I felt startled by the cold slice in my voice.
He stepped in closer. “Your arms. They’re bleeding.” He paused. “You didn’t even move. Everyone else jumped back from the chandelier. But you just stood there…” his steely eyes narrowed. Was that suspicion? I didn’t care. Fury and adrenaline coursed through me.
“I don’t know what you’re implying,” I said, “but stay the hell away from me. You spineless bastard! I will never forgive you for what you did to her. Never.”
The tingly sensation was getting worse, and the world around me was turning gray around the edges. I swung around to huff away, but he grabbed my wrist. Good. A physical assault would give me an excuse to punch him in the face. As I lifted my arm, something cut sharply into my flesh. Crying out, I glanced down toward the pain, and for the first time, I saw what he saw. Prickles of blood dotted the underside of my arm, leaving little crimson trails in their wake, all leading to two large chunks of glass wedged deeply into the soft tissue of my inner arm near the crease of my elbow. The shards protruded gruesomely, with their sharp edges gleaming against puddles of clotting blood.
My breath quickened and a blob of nausea uncurled within my stomach. My legs wobbled. Oh no you don’t! I willed myself.
“Are you okay?” Stryder’s voice sounded tinny and distant. My whole body began to sway. The gray closed in. “Taz…? Shi—”.
His arms wrapped quickly around my waist.
The repulsion of his touch was the last thing I remember before sinking into black.