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Beside her, Penny lay on her side, eyes sleepy but open, watching as Gen turned the pages. Presumably afraid she was going to miss something of dire importance, the dog fought off sleep and waited for Genevieve to announce it was finally time for bed.
"A few more minutes, girl," Gen replied to her dog’s unasked question, yawning again in spite of her resolve not to. Michael had been right about the nightmares—very right. No matter how exhausted she got, some nights she was afraid to sleep. The nightmares didn’t stop come morning either. No, they haunted her all day long, and filled her with dread, made her start at every little noise. As a result, she ended up lying in bed until dawn rolled around nearly every night, only finally sleeping when she couldn’t keep her eyes open any longer. And so she did what she could to occupy her brain while she was awake.
What she hadn’t told anyone was how difficult it was finding something to do during the long nights when even her art wasn’t interesting her anymore. Before, that was all she had—all she really cared about. Losing herself in a sketch or painting had calmed her mind when she was worried, occupied her brain when she was bored, given her reason to procrastinate doing actual school work. But now the muse was gone. She took no pleasure in it, found no comfort...
There was a quiet, slow knock at her door.
"Yeah?" Gen looked up to see her father open the door, standing in his pajamas and rubbing at his eyes.
"It’s late—why are you still up, Genny?"
She glanced at the clock to see it was just after two in the morning and shrugged. "Can’t sleep."
"Have you even tried?"
She realized then that she hadn’t even changed into her nightshirt and still wore the clothes she had on when leaving for school in the morning.
She closed the book. "You know I don’t sleep much."
"Now that’s an outright lie—you sleep all the time." He stepped in the room and closed the door softly behind him, probably to keep from waking her mom, then took a seat in the rattan chair across from Gen’s bed. "Your mother used to get up an extra hour early every morning just to try to get you up for daycare."
"But I’m not in daycare anymore." She pulled herself into a sitting position and crossed her legs. "Things change."
"Some things don’t, such as your mother being furious you didn’t get home until eleven tonight."
"Shit, I thought you guys were asleep!"
Leo Weist looked vaguely amused at this. "I was until your mother woke me up to tell me you just got home and that I should go and ground you for it."
"So I’m grounded?" So much for Peyton’s welcome party.
"That depends on where you were."
"I...I was hanging out with Sage," she said, which was at least a partial truth.
"She was Hayden’s girlfriend, right?"
"And how’s she doing?"
"I don’t think she’s good, Dad," she said honestly. "But she doesn’t really talk to us, so it’s hard to know."
"She probably just needs some time to heal. And it’s important that you be there for her, just in case she decides she needs you."
"But is that really true?" Gen frowned. "Hayden was my friend so I can deal, but he was her boyfriend. She really loved him and now he’s gone...can anything actually help that?"
Her father sighed, and she knew she probably wouldn’t like what he was about to tell her. Clearly, he knew it too—his tone was laboured, as if trying to be delicate, but not sure how. It was rare they had a serious discussion about anything, and Gen imagined it was taking all his parenting instincts to get him through this one.
"Genny, you’re young...and I know you won’t believe this now... But when you’re in high school, everything seems very serious. Very real. But you find, when you’re older, that things are different. It’s easier to move on."
"You’re saying Sage and Hayden weren’t really in love?" she accused.
He shifted his gaze and grinned slightly. "You know, you look exactly like your mother when you’re ready to jump down my throat about something."
"Don’t change the subject." She realized that too made her sound like her mother, but didn’t really care at that moment. "You don’t think they really loved each other?"
"I never said that," he corrected her. "I said people change. Maybe they would have gone off to college, but still stayed together. Maybe not. But she’s only sixteen. It will take time to heal, but eventually there will be other boys, and other people to love."
"You’re only forty-three—if Mom died, would you remarry?"
"That’s not the same thing, Genny. I’ve been married to your mom for nearly twenty years—"
"So? Would you remarry or not?"
She gave him a look that clearly said, "Duh."
"Possibly. Your mom and I have discussed it before, and we decided we both want one another to be happy—"
"Whatever—I don’t believe that. I’d want my girlfriend to be miserable without me."
"Ah, what a happy woman you will someday make someone."
"It’s just that..." Now how to phrase this in a way that doesn’t make me sound crazy... "There was a story I heard today."
"Yeah, in English class," she said quickly. "Can’t remember the author. But it was about a woman who was immortal and she fell in love with this guy who she then looked for every time he was reincarnated. And they only ever see each other for a few years, but they’re like soul mates or something."
"I think that was actually a Paula Cole music video, dear. You’re mother liked her."
Gen made a face. "Who? God, you’re old. Anyway, the point of the story is that they’re so in love that they keep meeting again and again."
"Well, like you said, it’s a story. I don’t think things work like that."
"But it’s not...I mean, it’s a very real story. Like it could have happened. Don’t you think that’s possible?"
"That some woman out there is immortal?"
"No—that it’s possible to love someone all that time."
"I think you and your future wife will be just like that, Genny," her father said, smiling kindly if not slightly patronising. "Now this is about as philosophical as I get after midnight, but anything else before I urge you to retire for the night?"
"And are you going to sleep now?"
"Yeah, yeah," she muttered.
Her father left, closing the door behind him. Gen stretched out on her stomach again and pulled out the book once more.
The stories of her other selves were few. Sage’s book had been far fuller, but then apparently people didn’t think to kill—and obliterate any record of—warrior women as often as they did witches. Regardless, the lack of contents of the book had actually made an excellent case for not telling anyone about what she was. Not that she assumed the O.P.P.—or even R.C.M.P.—would permit her to be burned at the stake or whatever, but she’d prefer not to take any chances.
A section of the book had nothing but sketches on pages so old she thought they might disintegrate should she touch them, kept in sealed plastic bags that were then pasted to the pages. Towards the end, she even found a black and white photograph, scratched and a tad overexposed. None of the girls were ever over twenty-five, though. Part of her tried to come up with logical explanations as to why none of them was any older, but she knew the truth...
They didn’t actually live any longer.
Some girls couldn’t have been more than fourteen... Already, she had outlived some of her former selves, and the very thought chilled her through and through. Perhaps it would have been better if Michael hadn’t shared these books with them after all.
She closed the book, deciding whether she was tired or not, she couldn’t look at the pictures any more. She set it aside on her nightstand, swiftly changed into a tank top and pajama bottoms, and then settled in bed. Penny stood and walked in a few circles until she apparently found the place she wanted, then flopped back down at the bottom of the bed and promptly passed out. Gen reached over and flipped out the light.
Eyes wide open, she stared up at the ceiling for a long time. Sleep came for her, tried to pull her along, but gave up and went for someone else, and once again, Gen was left alone.
She turned onto her side with a sigh, hoping maybe the change of scenery might help her drift off. Instead, her gaze settled on the book Michael had given her. It might not have had a face, but still it seemed to be staring back at her, threatening her with tales of the dead girls she once lived as.
Gen grabbed the book, dropped it on the floor, and then took the pile of clothes she had been wearing the day before and cast them over top.
Satisfied that "out of sight, out of mind" might actually work in this instance, Genevieve closed her eyes and hoped that sleep would drop by for her again soon.
God, it was cold. She sucked in a deep breath of icy air and nearly choked.
"You’re not strong enough," said a woman’s voice.
Genevieve looked around, but didn’t see anyone... Nothing but snow all around her—she was alone.
"And you never will be until you start listening to me."
That voice...it was so near...
"Who are you?" she whispered, gaze darting around for any sign of life beyond her own.
"Who do you think?"
As the words left her mouth, Gen realized all this time she’d been speaking—speaking to herself in a voice that sounded far different from her own.
Somewhere behind her, Gen heard snow crunch under foot. Someone drew near, and though she wanted to look, instinct warned her not to.
"What do I do?" she whispered. The wind grew colder and colder, bitterly blasting her face and taking her breath away. She squeezed her eyes closed as the footsteps drew closer...
"Do you trust me?" said the other voice from her lips.
The footsteps stopped just behind her. She heard heavy breathing now—he was so close. Her own breathing had ceased completely, her thoughts drowned out by her pounding heart.
"Yes," she whispered.
Long seconds seemed to pass without anything happening. And then the snow crunched again, as if whoever was behind her had shifted his weight, preparing for something...
The wind went still. "Move," said the woman’s voice.
Genevieve felt a force push her forward, and then her legs were moving, one after the other, trudging through the snow.
"Where do I go?" She looked around as she ran, seeing nothing but rolling hills of snow in every direction.
"Keep going," was her answer, and so Gen did. She ran through snow that reached mid-calf, all to get away from an assailant she didn’t see. She slipped now and then, her foot catching in a snow drift or twisting on the rough terrain, but terror lent her speed. She pushed on, farther and farther, into the white nothingness, until she could run no more.
Gen crumpled into a heap in the snow, gasping from lack of breath, shivering as the sweat she’d built up running turned to ice suddenly. She swung her head around, gaze travelling across the snow. No one followed—she was alone...
Except for a single figure that seemed to come out of nowhere and move toward her.
She was dressed as Gen had seen her before, as though she’d stepped out of another time. The wind picked up, rustling her long dress and yellow hair, but the bitter cold didn’t seem to bother her in the least. She stopped next to Genevieve and dropped onto her knees in the snow in front of her.
"Who are you?" Gen repeated, still unable to wrap her brain around the fact she was staring at herself.
"I think you know by now," the other her said.
"Why are you here?"
"Because you’re weak and you need me."
She spoke coldly—matter of factly—and nowhere near as nice as Gen would have expected herself to be.
"Who was after me?" she asked, but her doppelganger only smiled. "Who’s trying to kill me?"
"I think a better question would be who isn’t trying to kill you. The enemy comes from all sides, and it’s not only The Brethren you have to worry about."
"But that man—"
"He can only hurt you when you fail to remember who you are."
"Who am I?"
The other Genevieve leaned in close to whisper. "You’ll find out."
Gen blinked. The other her was gone. Not only that, but she no longer knelt in the snow—instead she stood once more on that same hilltop, overlooking a village in the distance.
The snow crunched beneath heavy boots behind her. He was there, and there was nothing she could do about it.
He can only hurt you when you fail to remember who you are.
She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to remember, to know what the other woman had been talking about, but no memory came to her.
A hand went to her waist. She bit down on her lip until the point she tasted blood, knowing what would happen next but unable to force her legs to move.
Long seconds passed, and for a moment she thought she might be wrong—that he might not hurt her after all...
And then she felt the knife plunge in her side.
A cool autumn wind stirred her hair and nipped at her skin, but Genevieve failed to notice. Dark-rimmed eyes stared blankly at the open textbook in front of her, skimming the same sentence again and again without reading it.
She sat on a bench outside the school alone, having decided that, after sleeping in and missing her first few classes, she didn’t much care about attending the rest of them.
She looked up slowly, the familiar voice taking a few seconds to reach her mind.
Meredith stood just a few feet away holding her jacket in her arms and with a knapsack slung over one shoulder. She offered a half smile, then stepped forward with care. "I was on my way to Bio and saw you through the window. Missed you in class today."
Gen’s eyes dropped to the book once more. She snapped the cover closed and sighed. "Slept in."
"Have a spare right now?"
Gen knew full well Merri had seen her schedule and was aware she didn’t have any spare periods, but couldn’t find it in her to be annoyed at the pointed question.
"Got here, but...I don’t know; I just didn’t feel like going."
Meredith sat down beside her, slipping on her thin fall coat and shivering as the wind blew. "You remember we’ve got Peyton’s ‘Welcome to Newhaven’ party tonight, right?"
"Shit," Gen muttered, momentarily forgetting her troubles to recall it was in fact Friday, and they had all planned to go out that night. Unless one was willing to trek to Toronto, there wasn’t anywhere to go but a club outside of town called On The Map. Peyton immediately agreed to go when they had proposed the idea, and the upcoming group "date" had been about the only thing Gen had looked forward to in weeks. "Everything still on?"
"Yeah…more or less."
"Great—what’s the problem?"
"Well, Peyton asked like a dozen times today if you would still be there tonight." Meredith gave her a little grin.
"Yeah. So you’d better be there. And it’s still me, and Levi said Stephie would probably go. But now there are a couple of guys from the Phoenixes who wanted to come, and then someone in class overheard, and these two girls were all over Levi, insisting they wanted to go too."
Gen rolled her eyes at the thought. As terrible as the Newhaven Phoenixes were, they still had a following, as did each of the players. And since Hayden’s death...well, it was clear there were plenty of girls ready to give Levi a shoulder to cry on—or anything else, if need be.
"So there’ll be a few more people there than we thought. Sound okay?"
"Sure." It didn’t seem to matter much if it didn’t seem okay since plans had already been set, but she wasn’t about to complain. The night out would be good...
"Now are you going to tell me what’s wrong?"
Gen looked up to catch Merri’s steady gaze, then shifted nervously and shrugged. She didn’t even see the point in the conversation—the damn woman was basically psychic anyway. She probably already knew the answer.
"Just don’t sleep much. I’m sure Michael told you."
Merri sighed heavily. "He doesn’t tell me everything, Gen."
"He tells you more than he tells us."
"Which I might point out still isn’t much. The guy is..." She shook her head. "He’s just impossible to read. Every time he speaks, I don’t know if it’s the truth or complete bullshit. He’ll tell me enough to keep me thinking he’s being honest, but that’s as far as it goes. I swear."
Genevieve met her friend’s eyes then, and was pretty sure she was telling the truth. Of course, one could never tell with Merri, and she found it particularly ironic on this occasion when she was lamenting the dishonestly of Michael. But she had to trust someone, and that person might as well be Meredith.
At least Merri didn’t almost leave me to die...
"Mer...I wanna tell you something."
Merri offered another smile. "Anything."
"Do you...I don’t know, ever have weird dreams?"
"Ones that..." God, she was going to sound insane if she ever actually forced the words out. "Ones that are different, though? Dreams that aren’t normal...kind of like visions?"
Merri grinned at that, as if relaxed, but Gen didn’t find it comforting. "I’m a Seer—I have dreams that are visions of the future all the time—"
"No...not the future. Visions of the past."
A slight frown crossed Merri’s face, but she didn’t comment. "Like memories?"
"If they’re memories, they’re not recent ones. I..." Deep breath, Gen... Even if Merri couldn’t help her, maybe she’d feel better just saying it out loud... "I had a dream last night. I’ve had it before—once Monday night too." She tried not to let the memories come back to her in full, but terror rushed over her once more. Shivering, Gen cast a quick glance over her shoulder, certain someone would be standing there behind her, ready to stab her again. Though her rational mind found it unsurprising that they remained alone, the rest of her couldn’t shake the feelings from her dream.
"Gen, you don’t need to tell me if—" Merri started, but Genevieve shook her head.
"It’s okay. In the dream...I’m standing on a hill. It’s really snowy and I can see this tiny town in the distance. But everything else is snow. I’m just standing there...and I’m not alone. Someone is there behind me...a man...
"And I know him. That’s the thing that gets me—somehow, I know who he is, and though I don’t remember now, in the dream I know why he’s there."
She swallowed hard as a lump formed in her throat and stared at the empty space in front of her. "And then he kills me. Just like that. Stabs me in the side, and when I fall down, he slashes my throat."
"That’s...creepy," Merri said, her frown deepening.
"Michael gave us those books on Monday, and I got thinking... Now that I know I’ve lived other lives, I think maybe it really happened. And if it did...Mer, what if he’s still out there? Somehow...I mean, it’s possible. And I’m scared he’s going to try to kill me...again. I looked through that book and these girls...these girls were all so young—there aren’t any stories of them when they’re older. I think they all...I mean I died. Really young."
"So did some of the girls in my book," Meredith said quickly. "But people were afraid of others that could do what we can, especially women—"
"Except no one’s been burned at the stake or whatever terribly lately. There was a photograph in my book, under a hundred years old. Why didn’t she live to be really old? What if the guy from my dream killed her?"
Silence grew between them. Merri’s gaze drifted off, as she seemed to be concentrating on something, meanwhile Gen didn’t feel the slightest bit better after finally speaking her thoughts aloud.
"Is there anything else in the dream?" Merri asked suddenly.
"Well...the three times I remember having it, there’s this other girl there. She looks like me, but she’s not. She’s...stronger, I guess. Confident. I think she’s me in one of my other lives. She says I have to remember who I am."
"Have you had any problems with spells?"
"If by ‘problems’ you mean ‘not tried any’..."
"You don’t understand!" Genevieve interrupted, her voice breaking. "And neither does Michael. I don’t even know what I did to those guys that day—and I know they were going to kill us and all, but... What if I do something and I can’t control it? Fuck—three weeks ago I was scared this stuff wasn’t even gonna work, and now—"
"You just need to practice," Merri said, her calm voice smoothing some of Gen’s rising nerves. "Keep working with the small stuff, let Michael guide you—"
"Yeah, ‘cause Michael’s been a really great mentor thus far. He’s totally my Yoda." She rolled her eyes for effect, and Merri chuckled.
"Okay, forget Michael then. I’ll help you—I’ll be your old, wrinkly green guy. While Sage and Michael work together, you and me can meditate and work on some simple spells. I can’t do any of them, obviously, but I can help you with focusing."
"Of course. No more mysterious spells that Michael hasn’t explained to you ahead of time, nothing dangerous. Just simple stuff. I’m sure he won’t mind."
Gen gave her a look.
"Much," Merri added with a grin. "Wanna hit your last class or head over to Michael’s now?"
"Sit out here then?"
"No...Michael’s, I guess." The two stood and began the familiar walk away from the school property towards Michael’s.
"Mer...can I ask you something else?"
"Have..." Gen thought about her dream for a moment. "Have you ever heard of ‘The Brethren?’ Like has Michael ever said anything about them?"
"No, what is it?"
"I don’t know...but the girl that looked like me in the dream mentioned them. She said they weren’t the only ones I should worry about."
"Maybe they were the guys who came after us before?"
"Maybe... Do you think you can find out? From Michael, I mean?"
Meredith didn’t say anything for several long moments. "I don’t know, Gen. He isn’t always very...forthcoming. Maybe we can look into it ourselves first?"
"Like Nancy Drew?"
"I was thinking a little more attitude."
"Veronica Mars it is, then. Should we make some calls to people while using fake accents and start bugging phones?"
"Would you even know who to call?"
This sneaking around idea was going to be difficult if Meredith couldn’t get in the spirit of things. "Well, no," Gen admitted. "So why don’t we skip Michael’s and head to my place? Check the internet? I’m sure there’s something on there…"
Apparently, merely Googling "brethren" wasn’t as helpful as Genevieve thought it might be.
She hadn’t completely eliminated the possibility that the name referred to one of the thousands of church groups that came up, but she and Merri couldn’t be certain. And since the thought of visiting those thousands of pages destroyed any desire she had to know who exactly the Brethren were, the girls decided that perhaps they could first think of some better ways to investigate before actually investigating. Of course, three hours of going through different search engines could wipe out anyone’s enthusiasm.
Adding to their difficulty in getting anything accomplished was Genevieve running to the phone every time it rang—in case it was the school informing her mother of her absence—and then keeping her father from randomly walking into her bedroom to check up on them and tell Meredith lame jokes, as he was fond of doing when she had friends over. If they did any more snooping into the Brethren, they’d have to go to Merri’s for some peace and quiet.
"Levi’s still going to pick us up in an hour, right?" Gen asked, glancing at the clock on the bottom of her computer screen’s desktop.
"Far as I know," Merri replied as she closed the notebook she’d been writing their search results in. "Know what you’re wearing?"
Gen sighed as her gaze trailed to the closet. "No. I figured I’d just blindly reach towards the back where my cuter outfits rest—still with the tags, in most instances—and hope I come up with something. How about you?" Only then did it occur to her that she’d never seen Merri in anything but jeans and faded T-shirts, always in muted tones. She frowned at the thought. "Will you have time to go to your place and change? You can borrow something of mine, but I’m like a foot taller than you…"
Meredith held up her backpack, which in retrospect, Gen mused, seemed quite a bit more full than usual. "I figured we’d head to Michael’s after school or something, so I came prepared. Mind if I get changed in the bathroom?"
"Be my guest."
While Merri went to change, Genevieve herself did exactly as she said she would: she reached into the back of the closet and fished out a few articles of clothing that still had their tags. Changed and just pinning her long blonde hair into a rough ponytail, she heard a knock at her bedroom door.
The door creaked open and she took a moment to finally get the last bobby pin in her hair before turning around.
"Holy Christ, you look hot!" she managed to sputter under the shock of seeing Merri. Twenty minutes in the bathroom had let her replace her jeans with a short skirt, T-shirt with a form-hugging lace top, and legs clad in black stockings and a pair of bulky black boots. Dark, dramatic make-up, hair piled on her head in a messy-but-stylish ‘do…the woman was all curves and sin incarnate as far as Genevieve was concerned.
"So this is okay?" Merri asked with a half smile.
"Okay? If you ever decide you go for chicks, I’d better be the first to know."