I cleared my throat. “Why is my life ruined exactly?” They ignored me.

“I can help her,” Mr. Dawson said. “It won’t be the end for her.”

The end? Holy shit, this sounded bad.

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Dad blocked Mr. Dawson’s way as he tried to look at my shoulder.

“Let me look. I have to confirm it. It’ll only take a second. If it’s shallow or small, it won’t be enough to turn her.”

Dad stepped in Mr. Dawson’s space. “I don’t give a shit about this job. Someone hurts my girl, they pay. Understood?”

“Perfectly. No matter what this is, we will make it right.” Mr. Dawson didn’t back down, but he didn’t get mad either. He had some major cojones to stay calm while facing Dad’s anger.

“You’ve got exactly thirty seconds,” Dad said.

Mr. Dawson walked toward me. I tried to retreat, shaking. He stopped and held his hands up. “I won’t hurt you. I won’t even touch you. I promise. I’m only going to look.”

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He won’t touch me? How much did he know about me?

“It’s okay, honey.” Mom tried to get free of my grasp. For some reason I was afraid of Mr. Dawson, and he hadn’t done anything. As he walked toward me, the overhead light hit his eyes, making them glow for a split second.

Mr. Dawson hung his head and scrunched his shoulders, and the motion made me feel more comfortable. “Let’s get this over with.” I sat up with Mom’s help, and he bent toward me. I could have sworn I heard him sniff before he straightened and took a step back.

“We should talk outside,” he said to my parents. They followed him past the curtain and down the hall.

Free of his gaze, I could breathe again. But why did they leave the room? I was the one who was going to be affected by whatever he had to say. I wasn’t a child.

I could hear their voices faintly moving away from my room. Squeaky wheels turned beneath beds as they rolled down the hallway. I focused on them, but everything got too loud until I was drowning in sound. Footsteps on the floor. Beeps of the machines. Frantic murmurs of the nurses. Weeping down the hall. Every little noise filled my head.

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I plugged my ears and started to hum. I had to concentrate on my parents and Mr. Dawson. I could do this. I had years of experience blocking visions out. When I pulled my fingers from my ears, the noise had gone down to a reasonable level. Now I had to find their voices in the din.

I visualized the hallway. The sounds grew, building onto each other until I could pick out Mr. Dawson’s calm, deep voice.

“—a danger to everyone in this hospital, including you,” Mr. Dawson said. “It is essential that we—”

“Is there any cure?” Dad sounded seriously pissed off.

“We can ask my family,” Mom said. “They have to know something—”

“Please, Gabby.” Dad growled. “You know how your family is.”

If they were talking about Mom’s family, this was going to be bad.

“I don’t want to start anything with the Texas coven,” Mr. Dawson said. “The wolves that attend my school aren’t dangerous. If you go to your family, this could turn into a war.”

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There was silence. I wasn’t getting it and felt incredibly dense for missing whatever the rest of them knew.

“This is the first incident we’ve ever had, and there’s something going on here that we’re missing. If your family is what I think it is, you know what I mean. And you also know that she has to come with me,” Mr. Dawson said. “For both her safety and yours.”

“I can’t believe you did this to us, John. And I can’t believe I let you talk me into going along with it. That you exposed our children to their kind. You know who I am. Who our children are, and yet you still did this.”

“Gabby, please—”

“You can’t take Tessa,” Mom said, cutting off Dad. Her words were clipped with anger. “You don’t understand who my daughter is. Once La Alquelarre finds out, there’s no telling what they’ll do.”

What did Alquelarre mean?

“She’s part of the Texas coven?”

“She’s supposed to take it over.”

What was she talking about? What was I supposed to be doing? It didn’t matter what they were talking about. I didn’t want to go with anyone. I wanted to go home.

My heartbeat pounded in my ears. They couldn’t make me go with Mr. Dawson. I didn’t care what they said. Pain rippled along my hands. I looked down at them, and saw my nails growing longer, poking through the tips of my gloves. The seams ripped.

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