"I liked," Rest chirped in Laserdream's voice via the flakes she'd left on my shirt. "Fun!"

I chuckled softly, finding her cheer infectious as it often was. "I'm glad you enjoyed it." Of course, she was almost always cheerful, especially when she had new sounds to eat (which, admittedly, was almost constantly happening while she was out). That said, her cheerfulness wasn't exactly unwelcome, and I'd found it especially nice with the way the past week had been.

I banked slightly, adjusting my flight path so it would eventually be taking me vaguely homeward. It wouldn't do to point anyone potentially watching me towards my home by just flying straight there, after all.

My thoughts drifted to the case of money inside me, floating by the nails I'd put through the soles of my feet. I had no idea what I'd do with it, aside from let it sit. But even without a use in mind that wouldn't attract attention I didn't want, I still felt it'd been worth it to go out tonight. It had, as Rest so enthusiastically said, been fun, even if it got a little awkward toward the end. I'd really needed the chance to blow off some steam after the past week.

It had been a little over a week since my, ah, visit to the PRT HQ, and since then school had been unusually uneventful; Emma and the others hadn't said a word to me the entire time. Sophia in particular hadn't even come near me. The most I'd been getting from her was a quick glare every now and then before she'd return to acting like I didn't exist. There were a few instances of their lackeys and hangers-on trying something, but they were always rather minor in the scope of things, nothing I hadn't heard before.

Some people might've thought I'd be happy for the reprieve, but all the situation did was make me more and more tense. Memories would come to me unbidden, reminding me of previous lulls in their bullying, and the incidents that inevitably followed. Incidents like...

"Taylor?"

The voice, seemingly formed from the sounds of footsteps and gentle waves, could only have come from Rest. "Yes?" I replied, grateful for the interruption.

"When home, read book more, could you?"

I muffled a giggle. Only Rest could make shifting sand sound hopeful. "Of course, Rest."

"Yay!"

I was almost certain that most of the reason Rest wanted me to read aloud to her was so she could eat my words. However, we'd found that while when reading to the girls I did so in whatever language it was that I seemed to use with them, when I read aloud without any of them in view or thinking about them I used what was presumably English. Or, at least, that's what I gathered from what my friends said, given that I couldn't tell the difference.

In any case, when we'd we'd brought up the language issue with Rest following the reading revelation, she'd come up with the idea of me reading in both languages. Then, she'd try to use the words she'd eaten to puzzle out English, then teach Aria and Melody.

The obvious issue was that I wouldn't be able to gauge her progress. But, well... it felt nice, letting them out so I could read to them while we all cuddled together. I didn't want it to end.

.o.o.o.

As it turned out, our reading for the night was brought to an end by the sudden, surprising sound of water rushing through pipes.

I jerked in surprise then looked at the clock.[i] 'Oh wow, it's late. Or early, rather.'[/i] Strangely, I didn't really feel like I'd just pulled an all-nighter. But then, with my body the way it was, why should I be surprised?

"Sorry, girls," I said softly. "Looks like we'll have to stop for now, since it's morning."

"Aww..." Aria sighed from a few mouths. "Are you sure?"

"Yes, Aria," I replied. "I'm sorry, but I have to go to school." Silently, I hoped that my lack of sleep wouldn't affect me too much.

.o.o.o.

It didn't.

With how my body had changed, there were no outward signs of tiredness to be seen, nor internal ones felt. During one of my classes I pondered this, and came to the conclusion that I could sleep, but didn't need to. Well, either that or I could just go longer before needing sleep.

My day was going pretty decent, all told, with only a couple instances of teasing by random students whose names I did not know. That is, it went well until lunchtime.

"Taylor?" Melody said as I entered the bathroom I had chosen as my hiding spot, "Someone is coming, and quickly!"

Rapid footsteps could be heard approaching me. "What?" I turned to see Emma, Madison, and a number of their lackeys behind me, pink-cheeked and breathing hard from running. They grinned, almost shark-like, and as I almost involuntarily stepped back they followed, herding me into the bathroom.

"Taylor? What is going on? Your emotions... And theirs..." Melody pauses for a moment. "They are your tormentors, are they not?"

"What!?" Aria sputtered with indignation. "Let me at them, Taylor! I'll protect you!"

"No!" I hissed under my breath, even as I felt my teeth – well, Aria's, since I'd take my own mouth out again – start to lengthen into serrated fangs. As quickly as I could, I set about restoring them to 'normal'.

Emma and the others had paused when Aria spoke, but all too soon Madison was the first to recover. "Talking to yourself, eh, Taylor? And was that even English? Geez, when did you become such a basket case?"

Emma smirked and started to slowly walk around me, and my gaze followed. "Oh, come on, Taylor," she said as she saw my expression. The smugness was masked by the most obviously fake concern I had ever seen from her. She reached out as if to give me a friendly pat on the shoulder. "We're worried about you, Taylor. You've been acting strange lately, and you're so pale, like, like a corpse, almost."

"Is that what that smell is?" one of the flunkies quipped, giggling and pinching her nose. I smothered the twinge of irritation in its crib as I shrugged out of the way of Emma's hand.

"Maybe," Emma continued, "but it's not a corpse's fault if it stinks, that's just the way things are." She looked at me, her smile sickening in its sweetness. "But with you walking around like that, why, it makes us so concerned, makes us want to help!"

"It fits, though," yet another lackey piped up. "She was socially dead before, and now she's actually dead!" Murmured approval could be heard from the others as I grit my re-sharpening teeth.

I glared at Emma, not responding to her bait. Instead, I glanced behind me, looking for an escape route.

"Why do I care?" she said, voicing my unasked question. "Why, Taylor, have you forgotten? I'm your best friend, since forever! I just want what's best for you, for us."

I stared at her, surprised by the audacity it took for her to say that. "Bullshit," I said without thinking. "I don't make friends with petty monsters like you."

Emma's mouth opened, then closed, her expression rather odd before becoming a slightly forced smirk. "A monster, am I?" she said. Then, with the mostly-suppressed air of one who'd rather save a particular trick for later, but couldn't, "At least I didn't get my own mother killed, though I suppose you had the decency to cry for a week afterward."

My mouth fell open as I stared at her, that awful smirk twisting her features. Then, Emma's expression froze. "Oh," she murmured faintly after a moment. "Oh, dear."

Almost instantly, before I even realized what was happening, I was wrestling with Aria for control of a blade-tipped tendril. I quickly managed to reel it back in and close my mouth, but not before it had managed to leave a hair-thin crimson line on her cheek and slice off a few locks of hair.

Clamping my mouth shut, I turned and ran, pushing past the confused girls trying to bar my way. I didn't stop running until I was far from Winslow, and even then it wasn't long before I was flying, automatically heading in the direction of the Graveyard.