Chapter Eleven

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As it turned out, Yule was basically Christmas, but a few days earlier, on the winter solstice. The entire school was decked out in glittering trees and floating lights. I'd discovered there was a ballroom I'd never heard about, tucked away from everything else, magically concealed to keep students out. This space was open now, though, the large room boasting high ceilings and sparkling floors, the walls decorated with frost patterns and various baubles.

Despite my protests, I'd somehow managed to arrive at the "dress shop" just as Lilly was making her final choice in gown. She hadn't been kidding-several of the girls were there, arguing over who got to wear what. I'd quickly picked a midnight blue gown with sleeves that hung off the shoulders and called it good. It wasn't the most fanciful option, but I liked it well enough. It was only for one night, after all.

"Let me fix your hair," Lilly insisted on the night of the ball, watching as I applied some eyeshadow. "It will be so much fun!"

"Uh, sure." I laughed, rolling my eyes at her eagerness. She never seemed to have grown out of her fourteen year old excitement, despite being my own age now. Maybe we were more like ourselves from the time we died than I realized.

Dropping her tube of lip gloss on the bed, she hiked up the skirt of her bubble gum pink dress and scooted over toward me, giggling in anticipation. "This color looks beautiful on you," she remarked, grabbing a brush and beginning whatever she intended to do with me. "Tommy will like it very much, I think."

"Thank you." I blushed, thinking of Tommy and his sweet smile, and stopped applying my makeup. "Lilly?"


"What was he like? Before I died, I mean."

"Oh." She fell silent, apparently thinking as she continued to drag the comb through my hair. "Mostly the same, I guess. I didn't know then that he, you know, loved you. He spent a lot of time with you, but that was his job. It didn't seem weird or anything. He never talked about you inappropriately, if that's what you mean."

"No! I didn't think he would, I mean. I just wondered if he was . . . different." Blushing, I silently scolded myself for even bringing it up. I knew she suspected I liked him. The whole school probably did. We were like their own reality television show, playing daily for their entertainment. Will Bridge and Tommy get together? Who knows! Tune in next time . . . The fact that he was my teacher didn't seem to bother anyone. Apparently, age limits didn't matter here, not when everyone was dead and aging was a thing of the past.

"He was . . . sad, I think. He always puts on a good show, but you can see everything he's feeling in his eyes. He's not good at hiding things, at least that's my opinion. When you first came here, everyone could tell how conflicted he was over what happened. He wouldn't even talk to me about it. It was awful."

She fell silent, working through my locks, the room empty except for the two of us. As she pinned a piece back, though, she sighed, content.

"He's happy now," she said surely. "Still upset over his failures, but who isn't from time to time? He's been like a brother to me. I'm glad that he can feel some relief from everything that's happened to him. You give that to him, did you know that? I watch when you aren't looking. The way he looks at you is what I would imagine heaven to be like."

Blushing furiously, I didn't answer, not knowing what to say. I knew he still loved me. She was correct; anything he felt was right there for everyone to see. I didn't know how he could be so open without the fear of being hurt, but that was just who he was. Unabashedly himself. I greatly admired that about him.

And so, I found myself outside the ballroom, dressed the fanciest I'd ever been, my hair pinned back and up in an elegant mess of curls, and my heart beating in excitement. There was loud music pumping out into the hall, the students crowding around the doors as they flowed inside.

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