Chapter Twelve: Dead Fish and Deputies

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Freddie dreamed of the Hangsman again, but this time, he was not alone.

This time, he hunted with a companion. Through woods of darkness and starlight, the Hangsman's rope of flames flickered—and his partner's blade shone with fire.

The Headsman was now hunting too.

Heat pulsed against Freddie no matter how far ahead she seemed to run, and worse, she was not alone either. Mrs. Ferris stumbled alongside her, and though Freddie tried to get the old woman to run, Mrs. Ferris would never move faster than a sluggish crawl.

"Please," Freddie begged, over and over again, towing at the old woman's bony elbow. "I didn't mean to leave you behind, Mrs. Ferris. I didn't know you would get hurt. Please, if you would just move faster, then we can get away."

But Mrs. Ferris wouldn't speed up.

Not that it mattered in the end. Neither the Hangsman nor the Headsman caught up until Freddie and Mrs. Ferris were at the lakeshore, and like the night before, when Freddie turned to face them, the shadows peeled back.

And the two figures converged into one: Theo.

He held out his hand, upon which gleamed the heart. "Take it," he told Freddie. "Only you know what to do with it."

"But your grandmother knows." Freddie glanced sideways. "She told me..." Freddie's voice died.

Mrs. Ferris wasn't there anymore. The beach was empty. The night sky shone.

"You, Freddie," Theo said. "It can only be you."

"Oh." She angled back to him, frowning, and as she'd done the previous night, she cautiously accepted the heart of stone.

It beat against her fingers.

This time, though, she realized she did indeed know what to do. Still holding the heart, she stretched onto her toes.

And she kissed Theo. Like she had at the picnic tables. So hard, it left Freddie's dream-heart hammering and her dream-lips raw. And this time, when Freddie awoke drenched in sweat, it was for a completely different reason than the night before.

Her mouth, inexplicably, tasted of honey.

It took Freddie twice as long to get ready that morning. To shower. To pick out clothes (four trial outfits before she finally settled on jeans, a pistachio turtleneck to hide the hickey, and her winter coat because it was getting cold outside). She needed three tries to get her left contact onto its respective eye, and she hadn't even started to dry her hair when Divya showed up to walk to school together.

"Just go on without me," Freddie said wearily, and Divya—who had never been tardy in her entire life and was determined to graduate with an untarnished record—complied.

By the time Freddie finally reached school, after pedaling like her life depended on it, homeroom was over. Worse, her hair was a mess from the frantic ride and her stomach was grumbling from skipped cereal.

She sheepishly signed in at the front desk—this wasn't the first time she'd been late (mornings were hard, okay?)—and slunk into first period right as the bell finished ringing. She joined Divya in their usual spots in the back row, and Divya gazed at Freddie with unmasked horror. Two minutes later, when Mr. Gonzalez started talking about cosigns and tangents, a note landed on Freddie's desk.

Though it lacked Divya's usual pencil hearts and sunshines, it was still expertly folded with a little pull-tab on one side. After a quick check that Mr. Gonzalez wasn't looking (he wasn't), Freddie tugged. The note unfolded.

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