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Chapter Three


The day the cop came into the bookstore was the first day I had ever heard Grace complain of a headache. It probably doesn’t sound that remarkable, but since I met Grace, she had never mentioned so much as a runny nose. Also, I was something of an expert on headaches. They were a hobby of mine.

After watching Sam dance clumsily with the cop, I headed back to school, which by this stage in my life had become sort of redundant. The teachers didn’t really know what to do with me, caught as they were between my good grades and my terrible attendance record, so I got away with a lot. Our uneasy agreement basically came down to this: I’d come to class and they’d let me do what I wanted to do, as long as I didn’t corrupt the other students.

So the first thing I did when I got to Computer Arts was dutifully log in to my computer station and undutifully pull out the books I’d bought that morning. One of them was an illustrated encyclopedia of diseases — fat, dusty-smelling, and bearing a copyright of 1986. The thing was probably one of the first books The Crooked Shelf had stocked. While Mr. Grant outlined what we were supposed to be doing, I flipped through the pages, looking for the most gruesome images. There was a photograph of someone with porphyria, someone else with seborrheic dermatitis, and an image of roundworms in action that made my stomach turn over, surprising me.

Then I flipped to the M section. My fingers ran down the page to meningitis, bacterial. The back of my nose stung as I read the entire section. Causes. Symptoms. Diagnosis. Treatment. Prognosis. Mortality rate of untreated bacterial meningitis: 100 percent. Mortality rate of treated bacterial meningitis: 10 to 30 percent.

I didn’t need to look it up; I already knew the stats. I could’ve recited the whole entry. I knew more than this 1986 encyclopedia of diseases did, too, because I had read all the online journals about the newest treatments and unusual cases.

The seat next to me creaked as someone sat down; I didn’t bother to close the book as she rolled over in her chair. Grace always wore the same perfume. Or, knowing Grace, used the same shampoo.

“Isabel,” Grace said, in a relatively low voice — other students were chattering now as the project was under way. “That’s positively morbid — even for you.”

“Bite me,” I replied.

“You need therapy.” But she said it lightly.

“I’m getting it.” I looked up at her. “I’m just trying to find out how meningitis worked. I don’t think it’s morbid. Don’t you want to know how Sam’s little problem worked?”

Grace shrugged and turned back and forth in the swivelback chair, her dark blond hair falling across her flushed cheeks as she dropped her gaze to the floor. She looked uncomfortable. “It’s over now.”

“Sure,” I said.

“If you’re going to be cranky, I’m not going to sit next to you,” Grace warned. “I don’t feel good, anyway. I’d rather be home.”

“I just said ‘sure,’ ” I said. “That’s not cranky, Grace. Believe me, if you want me to bring out the inner —”

“Ladies?” Mr. Grant appeared at my shoulder and looked at my blank screen and Grace’s black one. “Last time I checked, this was a Computer Arts class, not a social hour.”

Grace looked up earnestly at him. “Do you think I could go to the nurse? My head — I think I have a sinus thing coming on or something.”

Mr. Grant looked down at her pink cheeks and pensive expression, and nodded his permission. “I want a note back from the office,” he told her, after Grace thanked him and stood up.

She didn’t say anything to me as she left, just knocked on the back of my chair with her knuckles.

“And you —” Mr. Grant said. Then he dropped his gaze down to the encyclopedia and its still-open page, and he never finished his sentence. He just nodded, as if to himself, and walked away.

I turned back to my extracurricular study of death and disease. Because no matter what Grace thought, I knew that in Mercy Falls, it’s never over.

Excerpted from LINGER © Copyright 2010 by Maggie Stiefvater. Reprinted with permission by Scholastic Paperbacks, an imprint of Scholastic Inc. All rights reserved.

by by Maggie Stiefvater

  • Genres: Romance, Supernatural
  • hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic
  • ISBN-10: 0545123283
  • ISBN-13: 9780545123280