Chapter One

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The first time the lake tried to take me, I was six. I can't remember all of it, just the sensation of being pulled under and the chill of water folding around me as I submerged. One would think that nearly drowning would have traumatized me away from the water, but the memory isn't particularly frightening.

It should be, but it isn't.

Staring at the lake, I couldn't help wondering how I ever believed in magic, especially a magical lake. There was nothing remarkable about the wide, black surface, not anymore. With the gray light of storm clouds overhead, I couldn't even see Granite Peak reflected in the water. There was only the dark, rippling waves lapping at its banks and the dull glimmer of daylight across its surface.

Snow clung to the evergreens ringing the lake and a wintry wind pushed through the trees of Morgan's Park. It made a pretty sight, but I wouldn't have called it magical. A cluster of mushrooms crowded the base of a pine tree at my right, but there were no sprites or fairies crawling over them.

A year ago, I might have drawn them that way, etching them into my private notebook with tiny doors and quaint windows as decoration. But my book was hidden away at home, untouched in months.

It went away with the magic.

Snagging a pebble from the dirt, I turned it in my fingers, feeling the bite of early winter pulse through its smooth surface. It was flat and round, perfect for skipping. With a flick of my wrist, I sent the stone soaring, watching as it skipped over the water twice before sinking. It made a hallow sort of sound as it disappeared beneath the surface and I stared after it for a long while, wondering again at how dull the world seemed.

Granite Peak stood vigil on the horizon, as unmoving as mother's gravestone and I frowned up at it, fighting back a scream. I wanted to scream a lot these days. I was pretty sure people would understand, given the circumstances. They would smile that infuriatingly compassionate way they all did since the day she got sick and tell me it was all right.

Which was a lie because Mom was dead, and nothing would ever be all right again.

Our pastor said it was normal to have questions after a loss, but the only question ringing through my mind was how?

How could she be gone?

How could this happen to us?

How were we supposed to move forward from here?

My phone buzzed and I pulled it from my pocket, scrolling through the alerts; two voicemails and five missed text messages. The voicemails would be from Josh, my stepdad, so I ignored them, skimming through the messages instead. And, of course, four of the five messages were from good old Josh Campbell too. It seemed there was no getting around the guy today.

The fifth message was from Jake, my only remaining friend, and I opened it to see the contents. "Who's the old guy at your door?"

Fury ignited in my gut and I typed; "That's my dad."

The shock of seeing my biological father again was wearing off, replaced by an urgent desire to hit something. Anything would do, but I was pretty sure I'd be happiest ramming a fist into Mason Hamilton's face.

Jake responded quicker than usual; "Want me to run him off?"

Imagining all the ways Jake might insult Mason away, I smiled and typed; "No thanks."

"He looks like a car salesman from the seventies. Who wears tan jackets anymore?"

Huffing a laugh, I started a response but was interrupted by the sound of footsteps crunching through leaves. It didn't take a genius to realize Josh had probably been looking for me a while, but it was still a surprise. I thought I would have an hour before being forced into another fight, so I did my best to breathe.

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