The Power (Chapter Two)

"You've told the story your way," Adam said. "Some of it's been close to the truth, and some of it's been just plain lies. But none of it happened exactly the way you told it."

He looked around the Circle again. "I don't care what you think of me," he said, "but there's somebody else involved here. And she" – he glanced at Cassie, just long enough for her to see his blue-gray eyes, still shining like silver –  "doesn't deserve to be put through this, especially not tonight."

A few of the coven members, notably Laurel and Melanie, looked away, slightly ashamed. But the rest simply stared, angry and mistrustful.

"So what's your side of the story?" Deborah said, scowling. Her expression said she felt she'd been taken in, and she didn't like it.

"First of all, it wasn't like that when Cassie and I met. It wasn't love at first sight . . ." Adam faltered for a moment, looking into the distance. He shook his head. "It wasn't love. She helped me, she saved me from four outsider guys with a gun. The witch-hunting kind of outsiders." He looked hard at Chris and Doug Henderson.

"But she didn't know – " Deborah began.

"She didn't know what I was, then. She didn't know what she was. Witches were something out of fairy tales to her. Cassie helped me just because I needed help. These guys were after me, and she stashed me in a boat and sent them all off running in the wrong direction down the beach. They tried to get her to tell where I was, they even hurt her, but she didn't give me up."

There was a silence. Deborah, who admired physical bravery above all other qualities, looked quizzical, her scowl smoothing out a little.

Faye, though, was squirming like a fish trying to get off a hook, and her expression was unpleasant. "How sweet. The brave heroine. So you just couldn't resist fooling around with her."

"Don't be a jerk, Faye," Adam said, giving Faye's arm a little shake. "I didn't do anything with her. We just – " He shook his head again. "I told her 'thank you.' I wanted her to know that I wouldn't forget what she'd done – remember, at the time I still thought she was an outsider, and I'd never known an outsider who did anything like that for one of us. She was just this nice outsider girl; sort of quiet and pretty, and I wanted to say 'thanks.' But when I was looking at her I suddenly felt – as if we were connected somehow. It sounds stupid now, maybe, but I could almost see this connection…"

"The silver cord," Cassie whispered. Her eyes were full, and she wasn't aware she'd spoken aloud until she saw faces swing toward her.

Melanie's eyebrows went up and Diana looked startled too, maybe just at hearing Cassie break the silence she'd kept so long. Suzan's rosebud lips were pursed into an O.

"Yeah, I guess that was what it looked like," Adam was saying, staring off into the distance again. "I don't know – it was just this confused impression. But I did feel grateful to her, and I would have liked her for a friend – how about that, an outsider friend?" There were murmurs of amusement and unbelief. "And," Adam said, looking straight at Diana, "that's why I gave her the chalcedony rose you gave me."

No murmurs this time. Grim silence.

"It was a token of friendship, a way to repay a debt," Adam said. "I figured if she ever got in trouble, I could sense it through the crystal and maybe do something to help. So I gave it to her – and that was all I did." He looked at Faye defiantly, and then even more defiantly around the group. "Except – yeah, right – I did kiss her. I kissed her hand."

Laurel blinked. The Henderson brothers looked at Adam sideways, as if to say he was crazy but they guessed it was his own business what bits of girls he kissed. Faye tried to look scornful, but it didn't come off very well.

"Then I left the Cape," Adam said. "I didn't see Cassie again until I came back up here for Kori's initiation – which turned out to be Cassie's initiation. But there's one other important thing. In all the time I talked to Cassie I never told her who I was or where I was from. I never told her my name. So whatever she came up here and did – whatever poems she wrote, Faye –  she didn't know who I was. She didn't know Diana and I were together. Not until that night when I showed up on the beach."

"So I suppose that's a good reason for pretending you didn't know each other, for sneaking around behind everybody's back and meeting each other," Faye said, on the offensive again.

"You don't know what you're talking about," Adam said tightly, looking as if he'd like to shake Faye again. "We didn't sneak anywhere. The first time we ever talked alone was the night the skull ceremony in Diana's garage went wrong. Yeah, that night on the bluff when your little spies saw us, Faye. But d'you know what Cassie said to me in our first conversation alone since we'd met? She said she was in love with me – and that she knew it was wrong. Ever since she'd found out it was wrong, ever since she realized that I wasn't just some guy on the beach, but Diana's boyfriend, she'd been fighting against it. She'd even taken an oath – a blood oath – not to ever show anybody, by word or look or deed, how she felt about me. She didn't want Diana to find out and feel bad, or feel sorry for her. Does that sound like somebody who's trying to sneak around?"

The Circle looked back at him. Soberly, Melanie said, "Let me get this right. You're saying there's nothing at all to Faye's accusations?"

Adam swallowed. "No," he said quietly. "That's not what I'm saying. That night on the bluff . . ." He stopped and swallowed again, and then his voice hardened. "1 can't explain what happened, except that it was my fault, not Cassie's. She did everything she could to avoid me, to keep out of my way. But once we were alone we were drawn together." He looked at Diana without flinching, although the pain was evident in his face. "I'm not proud of myself, but I never meant to hurt you. And Cassie is completely innocent. The only reason she was speaking to me at all that night was that she wanted to give me back the chalcedony rose –  so I could give it back to you. In all of this, she's never been anything but honest and honorable. No matter what it cost her." He stopped and his mouth turned grim. "If I'd known she was being blackmailed by this snake – "

"I beg your pardon," Faye interrupted, golden eyes flashing dangerously.

Adam returned the look, just as dangerous. "That's what it was, wasn't it, Faye? Blackmail. Your little spies saw us that night – when we were saying good-bye, and swearing never to see each other alone again, and you decided to make the most of it. I knew there was something going on with you and Cassie after that, but I could never figure out what it was. Cassie was scared to death all of a sudden, but why she didn't just come to me and tell me what you were up to . . ." His voice trailed off and he looked toward Cassie.

Cassie shook her head mutely. How could she explain? "I didn't want you caught up in it too," she said in a voice scarcely above a whisper. "I was afraid you'd tell Diana, and Faye said if Diana found out…"

"What?" Adam said. When Cassie shook her head again he gave Faye's arm a little shake. "What, Faye? If Diana found out it would kill her? Wreck the coven? Is that what you told Cassie?"

Faye smirked. "If I did, it was only the truth, wasn't it? As things turned out." She wrenched away from Adam.

"So you used her love for Diana against her. You blackmailed her to make her help you find the skull, right? I'll bet it took some persuading."

Adam was only guessing, but his guess was dead on target. Cassie found herself nodding. "I found out where it was – "

"But how?" Diana interrupted, blurting it, speaking for the first time directly to Cassie. Cassie looked into the clear green eyes with the tears hanging on the dark lashes and spoke directly back.

"I did what Faye said," she said tremulously. "First I looked in the walnut cabinet – remember when I stayed overnight and you woke up with me in the room? When the skull wasn't there I thought I'd have to give up, but then I had a dream. It made me remember something I'd seen in your Book of Shadows, about purifying an evil object by burying it in sand. So I went and searched the beach and finally found the skull under that ring of stones."

Cassie paused, looking at Faye, her voice growing stronger. "Once I had my hands on it, though, I realized I couldn't give it to Faye. I just couldn't. But she had followed me and she took it anyway."

Cassie took a deep breath, making herself meet Diana's eyes again, her own eyes begging Diana to understand. "I know I shouldn't have let her have it. I should have stood up to her, then and afterward, but I was weak and stupid. I'm sorry now – I wish I'd just come and told you in the beginning, but I was so afraid you'd be hurt…" Tears were choking her voice now, and making her vision blur. "And as for what Adam said – about it all being his fault – you have to know that isn't true. It was my fault, and at the Halloween dance I tried to make him kiss me, because I was so upset by then and I thought that nothing really mattered, since I was evil anyway."

There was wetness on Diana's cheeks, but now she looked taken aback. "Since what?'

"Since I was evil," Cassie said, hearing the terrible, stark truth in the simple words. "Since I was responsible for killing Jeffrey Lovejoy." The entire coven stared at her, appalled. "Wait a minute," Melanie said. "Run that by me one more time."

"Whenever anybody used the skull, it released dark energy, which went out and killed somebody," Cassie said carefully and clearly. "Faye and I were the ones who used the skull before Jeffrey was killed. If it wasn't for me, she couldn't have used it, and Jeffrey would still be alive. So, you see, I'm responsible."

Animation was returning to Diana's eyes. "But you didn't know," she said.

Cassie shook her head fiercely. "That's no excuse. There's no excuse for any of it – not even for doing worse things because I thought I was evil anyway and what did it matter? It did matter. I listened to Faye and I let her bully me." And I kept the hematite, she thought, but there was no point in getting into that. She shrugged, blinking more tears away. "I even let her make me vote for her for leader. I'm sorry, Diana – I'm so sorry. I don't know why I did it."

"I do," Diana said shakily. "Adam said it already – you were scared."

Cassie nodded. All the words she'd held back for so long were pouring out. "Once I started doing things for her, I couldn't stop. She had more and more to blackmail me with. Everything just went more and more wrong and I didn't know how to get out of it . . ." Cassie's voice broke. She saw Faye, lip curled, step forward and try to say something, and she saw Adam shut her up with a single glance. Then she turned and saw Diana's eyes.

They were as luminous as peridot crystals held up to the light, liquid with unshed tears, but also with – something else. It was a look Cassie had never expected to see again, especially not directed at her. A look of pain, yes, but also of forgiveness and longing. A look of love.

Something broke inside Cassie, something hard and tight that had been growing since she had started to deceive Diana. She took a stumbling step forward.

Then she and Diana were in each others' arms, both crying, both holding on with all their strength.

"I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry for everything," Cassie sobbed.

It seemed a long time before Diana drew back, and when she did she stepped away from the group, turning to look into the darkness. Cassie wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand. The moon, hanging low on the horizon, shone like old gold on Diana's hair.

There was absolute silence except for the distant roar and crash of waves on the beach. The entire group stood motionless, as if waiting for something that none of them could quite define.

At last Diana turned back to them. "I think we've all heard enough," she said. "I think I understand, maybe not everything, but most of it. Listen, everybody, because I don't want to say this again."

Everyone was quiet, their faces turned toward Diana expectantly. Cassie had the distinct feeling that a judgement was about to be rendered. Diana looked like a priestess or a princess, tall and pale, but resolute. There was a strange dignity about her, an aura of greatness and of certainty that belied the pain in her eyes.

I'm waiting to hear my punishment, Cassie thought. Whatever it was, she deserved it. She glanced at Adam and saw he was waiting too. His expression asked no favors, but Cassie knew what he must be feeling underneath it. They both stood before Diana, connected by their crime, glad to have it in the open at last.

"1 don't want anybody to discuss what's happened tonight again," Diana said, her voice soft and distinct. "Not ever. Once I've finished talking we'll all consider the subject closed." She looked at Adam, not quite meeting his eyes. "I think," she said slowly, "that I know how it must have been for you. These things happen sometimes. I forgive you. And as for you, Cassie – you're even less to blame. There was no way for you to have known. I don't blame either of you. All I ask – "

Cassie drew a shuddering breath and broke in. She couldn't hold back any longer.

"Diana," she said, "I want you to know something. All this time, underneath, I've been angry and jealous because Adam belonged to you and not me. Even up until tonight. But all that's changed now – truly. Now all I want is for you and Adam to be happy. Nothing is more important to me than you – and the promise I made." For an instant it crossed Cassie's mind to wonder if Adam were less important, but she shoved the thought away and spoke earnestly, with utter conviction. "Adam and I – we both made that promise. If you'll just give us another chance to keep it – just one more chance …"

Diana was opening her mouth, but Cassie went on before she could speak.

"Please, Diana. You've got to know that you can trust me – that you can trust us. You've got to let us prove that."

There was a slight pause, then Diana said, "Yes. Yes – you're right." She took a deep breath and let it out, looking at Adam almost tentatively. "Well, then, what if – if we just forget all about this for a while? Just – wipe the slate clean?"

A muscle in Adam's jaw jerked. Silently, he took the hand Diana extended toward him.

Diana held her other hand out to Cassie. Cassie took it and held on tightly to the slim, cold fingers. She wanted to laugh and cry at once. Instead she just gave Diana a wobbly smile. Looking at Adam she saw that he was trying to smile too, although his eyes were dark as storm clouds over the ocean.

"And that's it?" Faye exploded. "Everything's all right now, all sweetness and light? Everybody loves everybody and you're all going home holding hands?"

"Yes," Adam snapped, giving her a hard look. "As for the last, anyway. We're going home – it's past time for that."

"Cassie needs to rest," Diana agreed. The blank helplessness had left her entirely, and although she looked more fragile than Cassie had ever seen her before, she also looked determined. "We all need that."

"And we need to call a doctor – or somebody," Deborah said unexpectedly. She inclined her head toward Number Twelve. "Cassie's grandma . . ."

"Whose side are you on?" Faye snarled. Deborah just gave her a cool look.

Diana's fingers tightened on Cassie's. "Yes. You're right, we'll call Dr. Stern – and Cassie can come home with me."

Faye gave a short bark of laughter, but nobody laughed with her. Even the Henderson brothers were serious, their slanted eyes thoughtful. Suzan twisted a lock of strawberry-blond hair around her fingers, looking at Cassie's and Diana's intertwined hands. Laurel nodded encouragingly when Cassie glanced at her, and Melanie's cool gray eyes shone with quiet approval. Sean chewed his lip, looking uncertainly from one member of the group to another.

But it was Nick's expression that surprised Cassie most. His face, usually so unemotional, was clearly strained, as if there were some violent struggle going on beneath the surface.

There was no time to think about him now, though. No time even to think about Faye, who was seething uselessly, her plans to fracture the coven in ruins. Melanie was speaking.

"Do you want to go by my house first, Cassie? Great-aunt Constance is looking after your mom, and if you want to see her …"

Cassie nodded eagerly. It seemed like a hundred years since she had seen her mother, since she had been inside that room filled with red light, looking at her mother's glassy, empty eyes. Surely her mother would be all right by now; surely she would be able to tell Cassie what had happened.

But when the three of them, Melanie, Cassie, and Diana, who hadn't let go of Cassie's hand on the short drive to Number Four, went into the house, Cassie's heart sank. Melanie's great-aunt, a thin-lipped woman with severe eyes, led them silently into a downstairs guest room. One look at the ghostly figure on the bed sent chills of dismay through Cassie's bloodstream.

"Mom?" she whispered, knowing already there would be no answer.

God, her mother looked young. Even younger than she normally did, frighteningly young, unnaturally so. It was as if it weren't Cassie's mother on the bed there at all, but some little girl with dark hair and big haunted black eyes that vaguely resembled Mrs. Blake's. A stranger.

Not someone who was going to be of help to Cassie.

"It's okay, Mom," Cassie whispered, stepping away from Diana to put a hand on her mother's shoulder. "Everything's going to be all right. You'll see. You're going to be just fine."

Her throat ached, and then she felt Diana gently leading her away.

"You've both been through enough," Melanie said once they were outside again. "Let us take care of things with the doctor – and the police, if they have to come. You and Cassie get some sleep."

The rest of the coven was waiting in the street, and they nodded in agreement when Melanie said this. Cassie looked at Diana, who nodded too.

"Okay," Cassie said. It came out faint and slightly hoarse and she realized how tired she was – bone-tired. At the same time she was light-headed, and the entire scene in front of her was assuming a dreamlike quality. It was just too strange to be standing out here in the wee hours of the morning, knowing that her grandmother was dead and her mother was in shock, and that she didn't have a house to go back to. Yet there were no adults on the street, no commotion, only the members of the Circle and an eerie stillness. Come to think of it, why weren't there any parents out here? Surely some of them must have heard what was going on.

But the houses on Crowhaven Road remained shuttered and silent. On the way to Melanie's house, Cassie thought she'd seen a light go off in Suzan's house and a curtain whisk back at the Henderson's. If any adults were awake, they weren't getting involved.

We're on our own, Cassie thought. But Diana was beside her, and she could see Adam's tall form silhouetted against the headlights of the coven's parked cars. A sort of strength flowed into Cassie just at their nearness.

"We've got to talk tomorrow," she said. "There's a lot I've got to tell you – all of you. Things my grandmother told me right before . . . before she died."

"We can meet at lunchtime on the beach – " Diana began, but Faye's throaty voice cut her off.

"No, we can't. I'm the one who decides where the meetings are now, or had you forgotten?"

Faye's head was thrown back proudly, the silver crescent-moon diadem gleaming against the midnight-black of her hair. Diana opened her mouth, then shut it again.

"All right," Adam said with deceptive calmness, stepping out of the glare of headlights to stand by Faye. "You're the leader. So lead. Where do we meet?"

Faye's eyes narrowed. "At the old science building. But – "

"Fine." Adam didn't wait for her to finish; he turned his back on her. "I'll drive you home," he said to Diana and Cassie.

Faye looked furious, but the three of them were already moving away. "By the way, Diana – happy birthday," she called spitefully after them.

Diana didn't answer.