The Captive (Chapter Five)

"You stupid outsider," Faye screeched, twisting away from Cassie. "It was just getting started-now you've ruined everything!"

Cassie lay on her back, gasping. Then she pointed shakily, sitting up.

"That's what I ruined," she said, her voice soft from lack of breath, and from fear. Faye looked up at the ceiling, at the dark, charred circle on the white plaster.

"It was coming right at you," Cassie said, too unnerved to yell, or even to be angry. "Didn't you see it?"

Faye just looked at her, black lashes heavy over speculative golden eyes. Then she looked at the skull.

Cassie leaned over and covered the skull with the cloth.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm taking it back," Cassie said, still breathless. "Diana was right. I was right, if I'd listened to myself. It's too dangerous to handle."

She expected Faye to explode, possibly even to fight her. But Faye looked up at the stain on the ceiling and said musingly, "I think it's just a matter of more protection. If we could capture that energy-channel it. . ."

"You're crazy," Cassie told her bluntly. "And," she added, "our deal is finished. I did what you asked: I brought you the skull. You used it and you almost got killed. So now it's over."

Faye's lazy expression disappeared. "Oh, no, Cassie," she said. The hint of a smile curved her lips, but her eyes were predatory. Ruthless. "It's only starting. Don't you see?" She began to laugh. "You're more my captive now than ever. It's not just Adam anymore-now I can tell Diana about this. How do you think the Princess of Purity is going to feel when she finds out her 'little sister' stole the skull? And then brought it to me to use?" Faye laughed harder, seeming delighted. "Oh, Cassie, you should see your face."

Cassie felt as if she were smothering. What Faye said was true. If Diana found out that Cassie had dug up the skull-that Cassie had lied to her-that the whole story last Sunday about being too scared to go home had been a trick…

Just as it had the last time she'd stood in this room, Cassie felt her spirit, her will, draining away. She was more trapped than ever. She was lost.

"You take the skull back now," Faye said, as if it had been entirely her idea. "And later- well, I'll think of something else I want from you. In the meanwhile, you just keep yourself available."

I hate you, Cassie thought with impotent rage. But Faye was ignoring Cassie completely, bending to pick up the bristling kittens, one gray and one orange, which had crawled out from under the dust ruffle. The vampire kittens, Cassie remembered distractedly-the ones with a taste for human blood. Apparently even they hadn't liked this business with the skull.

"What about that?" Cassie said, pointing at the dark stain on Faye's ceiling. "Don't you feel at all responsible about letting it loose? It could be out killing somebody-"

"I doubt it," Faye said, and shrugged negligently. "But we'll just have to wait and see, I suppose." She stroked the orange kitten and its fur began to lie flat again.

Cassie could only stare at her, tears rising to her eyes. She'd thought she could control Faye, but she'd been wrong. And right now the new dark energy could be doing anything, and she was helpless to stop it.

You could tell Diana, an inner voice, the core voice, whispered, but Cassie didn't even pretend to listen. She could never tell Diana now; that chance was over. Things had gone far too far with Faye.

"Cassie, are you nervous about something?" Laurel had paused with the white-handled knife in her hand.

"Me? No. Why?" Cassie said, feeling every moment as if she might jump out of her skin.

"You just seem kind of jittery." Laurel gently snicked the knife through the base of the small witch-hazel bush. "Now, this won't hurt a bit… you've got plenty of roots down there to grow back from…" she murmured soothingly. "It's not about Homecoming, is it?" she asked, looking up again.

"No, no," Cassie said. She hadn't even thought about Homecoming this week. She couldn't think about anything except the dark energy. Each day she expected to hear about some new disaster.

But today was Thursday, and nothing had happened yet. No avalanches, no bodies found, nobody even missing. Oh, if only she could let herself believe that nothing would happen. The energy she and Faye had released had been small-she felt sure of that now-and maybe it had just evaporated. Cassie felt a delicious peace steal through her at the thought.

Laurel had moved over to a clump of thyme. "It's not too late to change your mind about coming," she said. "And I wish you would. Dancing is very witchy-and it's Nature. It's like one of our incantations:

"Man to woman, woman to man, Ever since the world began.

Heart to heart, and hand to hand, Ever since the world began."

She added, looking up at Cassie thoughtfully, "Wasn't there some guy you met over the summer that you were interested in? We could do a spell to pull him here-"

"No!" said Cassie. "I mean, I really don't want to go to Homecoming, Laurel. I just-I wouldn't be comfortable."

"Thank you," Laurel said. For an instant Cassie thought it was addressed to her, but Laurel was now talking to the thyme. "I'm sorry I needed part of the root, too, but I brought this to help you grow back," she went on, tucking a pink crystal into the soil. "That reminds me, have you found your working crystal yet?" she said to Cassie.

"No," Cassie said. She thought of the jumble of crystals in Faye's box. She'd liked handling them, but none of them had stood out as hers, as the one she needed as a witch.

"Don't worry, you will," Laurel assured her. "It'll just turn up one day, and you'll know." She stood up with the thyme plant in her hand. "All right, let's go inside and I'll show you how to make an infusion. Nobody should fool around with herbs unless they know exactly what they're doing. And if you change your mind about Homecoming, thyme soup helps overcome shyness."

Cassie cast a look around the great wide world, as she always did now, checking for the dark energy, then she followed Laurel.

The next day, in American history class, Diana sneezed.

Ms. Lanning stopped talking and said, "Bless you" absently. Cassie scarcely noticed it at the time. But then, at the end of class, Diana sneezed again, and kept sneezing. Cassie looked at her. Diana's eyes were pink and watery. Her nose was getting pink, too, as she rubbed it with a Kleenex.

That night, instead of going to the Homecoming game, Diana stayed at home in bed. Cassie, who knew nothing about football and was only yelling when everybody else yelled, worried about her in some back corner of her mind. It couldn't have anything to do with the dark energy, could it?

"Applaud," Laurel said, nudging her. "For the Homecoming Queen. Sally really looks almost pretty, doesn't she?"

"I guess," Cassie said, applauding mechanically. "Laurel, how come one of us isn't Homecoming Queen? Instead of an outsider?"

"Diana didn't want to be," Laurel said succinctly. "And Deb and the others think it's too goody-goody. But from the way Jeffrey Lovejoy's looking at Sally, I'd say Faye made a mistake. She told Jeff to come to the dance with her, but he'd already asked Sally and he's a fighter. It'll be interesting to see who gets him."

"You can tell me all about it," Cassie said. "I saw the last fight between Faye and Sally; this one I can miss."

But it didn't turn out that way.

Cassie was in the herb garden when the phone call came. She had to go through the kitchen and into the new wing of the house to get to the telephone.

"Hello, Cassie?" The voice was so muted and stuffed-up it was almost unrecognizable. "It's Diana."

Fear crinkled up Cassie's backbone. The dark energy… "Oh, Diana, are you all right?"

There was a burst of muffled laughter. "Don't panic. I'm not dying. It's just a bad cold."

"You sound awful."

"I know. I'm completely miserable, and I can't go to the dance tonight, and I called to ask you a favor."

Cassie froze with a sudden intuition. Her mouth opened, and then shut again silently. But Diana was going on.

"Jeffrey called Faye to tell her he's going with Sally after all, and Faye is livid. So when she heard I was sick, she called to say she would go with Adam, because she knew I would want him to go even if I couldn't. And I do; I don't want him to miss it just because of me. So I told her she couldn't because I'd already asked you to go with him."

"Why?" Cassie blurted, and then thought, Ask a stupid question…

"Because Faye is on the prowl," Diana said patiently. "And she likes Adam, and the mood she's in tonight, she'll try anything. That's the one thing I couldn't stand, Cassie, for her to get her hands on Adam. I just couldn't."

Cassie looked around for something to sit down on.

"But Diana … I don't even have a dress. I'm all muddy…."

"You can go over to Suzan's. All the other girls are there. They'll take care of you."

"But…" Cassie shut her eyes. "Diana, you just don't understand. I can't. I-"

"Oh, Cassie, I know it's a lot to ask. But I don't know who else to turn to. And if Faye goes after Adam…"

It was the first time Cassie had ever heard such a forlorn note in Diana's voice. She sounded on the verge of tears. Cassie pressed a hand to her forehead. "Okay. Okay, I'll do it. But-"

"Thank you, Cassie! Now go right to Suzan's-I've talked with her and Laurel and Melanie. They'll fix you up. I'm going to call Adam and tell him."

And that, Cassie thought helplessly, was one conversation she thought she could miss too.

Maybe Adam would get them out of it somehow, she thought as she drove the Rabbit up Suzan's driveway. But she doubted it. When Diana made her mind up about something, she was immovable.

Suzan's house had columns. Cassie's mother said it was bad Greek Revival, but Cassie secretly thought it was impressive. The inside was imposing too, and Suzan's bedroom was in a class by itself.

It was all the colors of the sea: sand, shell, pearl, periwinkle. The headboard on Suzan's bed was shaped like a giant scalloped shell. But what caught Cassie's eye were the mirrors- she'd never seen so many mirrors in one place.

"Cassie!" Laurel burst in just behind her, making Cassie turn in surprise. "I've got it!" Laurel announced triumphantly to the other girls, holding up a plastic-draped hanger. Inside Cassie glimpsed some pale, gleaming material.

"It's a dress Granny Quincey got me this summer-but I haven't worn it and I never will. It's not my style, but it'll be perfect on you, Cassie."

"Oh, God," was all Cassie could think of to say. She'd changed her mind; she couldn't do this after all. "Laurel-thanks-but I might ruin it…"

"Don't let her talk," Melanie ordered from the other side of the room. "Stick her in a bath; she needs one."

"That way," Suzan said, gesturing with splayed fingers. "I can't do anything until my nails are dry, but all the stuff's in there."

"Beauty bath mix," Laurel gloated, examining the assortment of bottles on the gilt shelves in Suzan's bathroom. There were all kinds of bottles, some with wide necks and some with long narrow necks, green and deep glowing blue. "Here, this is great: thyme, mint, rosemary, and lavender. It smells wonderful, and it's tranquilizing, too." She scattered bright-colored dried flowers in the steaming water. "Now get in and scrub. Oh, this is good," she went on, sniffing at another bottle. "Chamomile hair rinse-it brightens hair, brings out the highlights. Use it!"

Cassie obeyed dazedly. She felt as if she'd just been inducted into boot camp.

When she got back to the bedroom, Melanie directed her to sit down and hold a hot washcloth on her face. "It's 'a fragrant resin redolent with the mysterious virtues of tropical balms,' " Melanie said, reading from a Book of Shadows. "It 'renders the complexion clear and brilliant'-and it really does, too. So hold this on your face while I do your hair."

"Melanie's wonderful with hair," Laurel volunteered as Cassie gamely buried her face in the washcloth.

"Yes, but I'm not going to give her a do," Melanie said critically. "I'm just making it soft and natural, waving back from her face. Plug in those hot rollers, Suzan."

While Melanie worked, Cassie could hear Laurel and Deborah arguing in the depths of Suzan's walk-in closet.

"Suzan," Laurel shouted. "I never saw so many pairs of shoes in my life. What do you do with them all?"

"I don't know. I just like buying them. Which is lucky for people who want to borrow them," Suzan called back.

"Now, let's get you into the dress," Melanie said, some time later. "No, don't look, not yet. Come over to the vanity and Suzan will do your makeup."

Feebly, Cassie tried to protest as Melanie whipped a towel around her neck. "That's all right. I can do it myself-"

"No, you want Suzan to do it," Laurel said, emerging from the closet. "I promise, Cassie; just wait and see."

"But I don't wear much makeup-I won't look like me …"

"Yes, you will. You'll look more like you."

"Well, somebody decide, for heaven's sake," Suzan said, standing by in a kimono and waving a powder puff impatiently. "I've got myself to do, too, you know."

Cassie yielded and sat on a stool, facing Suzan. "Hm," said Suzan, turning Cassie's face this way and that. "Hmm."

The next half hour was filled with bewildering instructions. "Look up," Suzan commanded, wielding a brown eyeliner pencil. "Look down. See, this will give you doe eyes," she went on, "and nobody will even be able to tell you're wearing anything. Now a little almond shadow…" She dipped a small brush in powder and blew off the excess. "Now just a little midnight blue in the crease to make you look mysterious…"

Eyes shut, Cassie relaxed. This was fun. She felt even more decadent and pampered when Laurel said, "I'll take care of your nails."

"What are you using?" Cassie asked trustingly.

"Witch-hazel infusion and Chanel Flamme Rose polish," Laurel replied, and they both giggled.

"Don't jolt my hand," Suzan said crossly. "Now suck in your cheeks like a fish. Stop laughing. You've got great cheekbones, I'm just going to bring them out a little. Now go like this; I'm going to put Roseglow on your lips."

When at last she sat back to survey her work, the other girls gathered around, even Deborah.

"And finally," Suzan said, "just a drop of magnet perfume here, and here, and here." She touched the hollow of Cassie's throat, her earlobes, and her wrists with something that smelled wild and exotic and wonderful.

"What is it?" Cassie asked.

"Mignonette, tuberose, and ylang-ylang," Suzan said. "It makes you irresistible. And I should know."

Alarm lanced through Cassie suddenly, but before she had time to think, Laurel was turning her, loosening the towel around her neck. "Wait, don't look until you've got your shoes on…. Now!" Laurel said jubilantly. "Look at that!"

Cassie opened her eyes and drew in her breath. Then, scarcely knowing what she was doing, she moved closer to the full-length mirror, to the lovely stranger reflected there. She could hardly resist reaching out to touch the glass with her fingertips.

The girl in the mirror had fine, light-brown hair waving softly back from her face. The highlights shimmered when Cassie moved her head, so it must be her-but it couldn't be, Cassie thought. Her eyes didn't have that dreamy, mysterious aura. Her skin didn't have that dewy glow, and she didn't blush that way, to bring out her cheekbones. And her lips definitely didn't have that breathless ready-to-be-kissed look.

"It's the lipstick," Suzan explained. "Don't smudge it."

"It's possible," said Melanie, "that you've gone too far, Suzan."

"Do you like the dress?" Laurel asked. "It's the perfect length, just short enough, but still romantic."

The girl in the mirror, the one with the delicate bones and the swan's neck, turned from side to side. The dress was silvery and shimmering, like yards of starlight, and it made Cassie feel like a princess. Suzan's shoes, appropriately, looked like glass slippers.

"Oh, thank you!" Cassie said, whirling to look at the other girls. "I mean-I don't know how to say thank you. I mean-I finally look like a witch!"

They burst into laughter, except Deborah, who threw a disgusted glance at the ceiling. Cassie hugged Laurel, and then, impulsively, hugged Suzan, too.

"Well, you are a witch," Suzan said reasonably. "I'll show you how to do it yourself if you want."

Cassie felt something like humility. She'd thought Suzan was just an airhead, but it wasn't true. Suzan loved beauty and was generous about sharing it with other people. Cassie smiled into the china-blue eyes and felt as if she'd unexpectedly made a new friend.

"Wait, we almost forgot!" Melanie said. "You can't go to a dance without a single crystal to your name." She rummaged in her canvas bag, and then said, "Here, this will be perfect; it was my great-grandmother's." She held up a necklace: a thin chain with a teardrop of clear quartz. Cassie took it lovingly and fastened it around her neck, admiring the way it lay in the hollow of her throat. Then she hugged Melanie, too.

From downstairs a doorbell chimed faintly, and, closer, a male voice shouted, "For crying out loud! Are you going to get that, Suzan?"

"It's one of the guys!" Suzan said, thrown into a tizzy. "And we're not ready. You're the only one dressed, Cassie; run and get it before Dad has a fit."

"Hello, Mr. Whittier; sorry, Mr. Whittier," Cassie gasped as she hurried downstairs. It wasn't until she was at the door that she thought, Oh, please, please, please, let it be any one of the others. Don't let it be him. Please.

Adam was standing there when she opened the door.

He was wearing a wry smile, appropriate for a guy who's been commandeered at the last minute into escorting his girl's best friend to a dance. The smile disappeared instantly when he saw Cassie.

For a long moment he simply stared at her. Her own elated smile faded, and they stood gazing at each other.

Adam swallowed hard, started to say something, then gave up and stood silent again.

Cassie was hearing Suzan's words: It'll make you irresistible. Oh, what had she done?

"We'll call it off," she said, and her voice was as soft as when she'd told Faye about the dark energy. "We'll tell Diana I got sick too-"

"We can't," he said, equally soft, but very intense. "Nobody would believe it, and besides…" The wry smile made an attempt at reappearing. "It would be a shame for you to miss Homecoming. You look…" He paused. "Nice."

"So do you," Cassie said, and tried to come up with an ironic smile of her own. She had the feeling it turned out wobbly.

Cassie took another breath, but at that moment she heard a voice from the second floor.

"Here," Laurel said, leaning over the balustrade to toss Cassie a tiny beaded purse. "Get her to the dance, Adam; that way she'll have a chance at some guys who're available." And, from the bedroom, Suzan called, "But not too many, Cassie-leave some for us!"

"I'll try to fend a few of them off," Adam called back, and Cassie felt her racing pulse calm a little. They had their parts down now. It was like acting in a play, and all Cassie had to do was remember her role. She felt sure Adam could handle his … well, almost sure. Something in his sea-dark eyes sent thin chills up her spine.

"Let's go," Adam said, and Cassie took a deep breath and stepped with him outside into the night.