”No! My parents-my dad will be here any minute. I’m fine.” Then she shut her eyes and counted, breath held.And, blessedly, there were the sounds of Tanya moving away. Both Tanya and David calling goodbyes.Then silence.Stiffly, Gillian pulled herself upright, almost falling down when she tried to step out of the bathtub.She put on her pajamas and walked slowly out of the bathroom, moving like an old woman. She didn’t even glance at the broken mirror.She tried to be quiet going up the stairs. But just as she reached her bedroom, the door at the end of the upstairs hall swung open.Her mother was standing there, a long coat wrapped around her, fuzzy fleece-lined slippers on her feet.Her hair, a darker blond than Gillian’s, was uncombed.”What’s going on? I heard noise. Where’s your father?”Not “Whass goin’ on? Whersh your father?” But dose.”It’s not even seven yet, Mom. I got wet coming home. I’m going to bed.” The bare minimum of sentences to communicate the necessary information.Her mother frowned. “Honey-“” ‘Night, Mom.”Gillian hurried into her bedroom before her mother could ask any more questions.She fell on her bed and gathered an armful of stuffed animals in the bend of her elbow. They were solid and friendly and filled her arm. Gillian curled herself around them and bit down on plush.And now, at last, she could cry. All the hurts of her mind and body merged and she sobbed out loud, wet cheek on the velveteen head of her best bear.She wished she’d never come back. She wanted the bright meadow with the impossibly green grass, even if it had been a dream. She wanted everyone to besorry because she was dead.All her realizations about life being important were nonsense. Life was a giant hoax. She couldn’t change herself and live in a completely new direction. There was no new start. No hope.And I don’t care, she thought. I just want to die. Oh, why did I get made if it was justfor this? There’s got to be someplace I belong, something I’m meant to do that’s different. Because I don’t fit in this world, in this life. And if there isn’t something more, I’d rather be dead. I want to dream something else.She cried until she was numb and exhausted and fell into a deadly still sleepwithout knowing it.When she woke up hours later, there was a strange light in her room.Chapter 5Actually, it wasn’t the light she noticed first. It was an eerie feeling that some… presence was in her room with her.She’d had the feeling before, waking up tofeel that something had just left, maybe even in the instant it had taken her to open her eyes. And that while asleep, she’d been on the verge of some great discovery about the world, something thatwas lost as soon as she woke.But tonight, the feeling stayed. And as she stared around the room, feeling dazedand stupid and leaden, she slowly realizedthat the light was wrong.She’d forgotten to close the curtains, and moonlight was streaming into the room. Ithad the thin blue translucence of new snow. But in one corner of Gillian’s room, by the gilded Italian chest of drawers, the light seemed to have pooled. Coalesced.Concentrated. As if reflecting off a mirror.There wasn’t any mirror.Gillian sat up slowly. Her sinuses were stuffed up and her eyes felt like hard-boiled eggs. She breathed through her mouth and tried to make sense of what was in the corner.It looked like … a pillar. A misty pillar of light. And instead of fading as she woke up, it seemed to be getting brighter.An ache had taken hold of Gillian’s throat. The light was so beautiful… and almost familiar. It reminded her of the tunnel and the meadow and …Oh.She knew now.It was different to be seeing this when she wasn’t dead. Then, she’d accepted strange things the way youaccept them in dreams, without ordinary logic or disbelief interfering.But now she stared as the light got brighter and brighter, and felt her whole skin tingling and tears pooling in her eyes.She could hardly breathe. She didn’t knowwhat to do.How do you greet an angel in the ordinary world?The light continued to get brighter, just asit had in the meadow. And now she could see the shape in it, walking toward her and rushing at the same time. Still brighter-dazzling and pulsating-until she had to shut her eyes and saw red and gold after images like shooting stars.When she squinted her eyes back open, he was there.Awe caught at Gillian’s throat again. He was so beautiful that it was frightening. Face pale, with traces of the light still lingering in his features. Hair like filaments of gold. Strong shoulders, tall but graceful body,every line pure and proud and different from any human. He looked more differentnow than he had in the meadow. Against the drab and ordinary background of Gillian’s room, he burned like a torch.Gillian slid off her bed to kneel on the floor. It was an automatic reflex.”Don’t do that.” The voice was like silver fire. And then-it changed. Became somehow more ordinary, like a normal human voice. “Here, does this help?”Gillian, staring at the carpet, saw the light that was glinting off a stray safety pin fade a bit. When she tilted her eyes up, the angel looked more ordinary, too. Not as luminous. More like just an impossibly beautiful teenage guy.”I don’t want to scare you,” he said. He smiled.”Yeah,” Gillian whispered. It was all she could get out.”Are you scared?””Yeah.”The angel made a frustrated circling motion with one arm. “I can go through allthe gobbledygook:be not afraid, I mean you no harm, all that-but it’s such a waste of time, don’t you think?” He peered at her. “Aw, come on, kid, you died earlier today. Yesterday. This isn’t really all that strange in comparison.