Jessica Wakefield's shoulder felt as if it were going to pop out of its socket.
Forcing herself to ignore the pain, Jessica stretched her arm even farther over the edge down into the deep fissure the earthquake had split open in the ground. But still she couldn't reach the white-knuckled fingers of Alyssa Hewitt.
In any other circumstances Alyssa would have appeared to be a pretty twelve-year-old with curly red hair, but right now she didn't look pretty at all. The girl looked absolutely terrified, her chin shaking, her mouth gaping, her eyes wide with horror.Of course she looks terrified,
Jessica thought as she tried to give Alyssa a calm, reassuring smile. I feel really close to screaming hysterically myself!
Alyssa was clinging to a small, thin ledge a few feet down the fissure. Below her dangling feet was nothing but sheer drop.
"Hold on," Jessica told the girl, gritting her teeth as she renewed her efforts to grasp Alyssa's fingers. "I'll get you out of there, I promise!"
But Alyssa's fingers were starting to slip. "Help!" she squealed. "Help me!"
Jessica ordered Alyssa again.
Alyssa let out a tiny, shrill screech as one of her hands detached from the ledge.
"No!" Jessica screamed. She scooted forward on her stomach until her head and shoulders were over the edge, but Jessica couldn't reach Alyssa's remaining five clinging fingers.
Alyssa wailed again as her fingers slipped loose one by one. Four . . . three . . . two . . . For a split second just Alyssa's index finger held her from her death.This isn't happening,
Jessica thought wildly. Something will save her! She can't die!
But Alyssa's last finger let go. Her wide eyes bored directly into Jessica's, filled with horror and . . .Understanding,
Jessica thought. That was the worst part. Alyssa knew exactly what was happening to her. She was falling to her death.
As she plummeted, the little girl's huge eyes remained locked onto Jessica's. Alyssa shrieked in terror. The piercing sound ripped through Jessica like an eagle's talon.
Jessica screamed and screamed--until her lungs ran out of air.
Then she sat up in bed, covered in sweat.
It had been a dream. A nightmare. Jessica took a deep breath, trying to calm her frantic heartbeat. She stared out into the darkness of the room, feeling cold waves of despair wash over her. Of course she was having nightmares--after the earthquake Jessica feared she would never sleep in peace again.Maybe . . .,
Jessica thought with a spark of hope, maybe if Alyssa was just a nightmare, then the whole earthquake never happened. Maybe it was all an incredibly awful dream!
Jessica reached over to the nearby end table and fumbled around until she managed to find the switch on the lamp. As soon as she turned on the light, though, her tiny flicker of hope was extinguished.
She was in an ornate, opulent guest bedroom of Fowler Crest. The walls were paneled in rich mahogany, with antique brass fixtures. Across from the enormous canopy bed a giant smoky mirror covered nearly the whole wall. The carpet on the floor was the color of red wine. It was a beautiful room, but as she peered around Jessica felt misery settle in her stomach in a heavy lump. The earthquake had really happened, or she wouldn't be having nightmares in this deluxe feather bed. She'd be sleeping soundly in her own bed, in her own home.
But the Wakefields' house had been completely wrecked. And Mr. and Mrs. Fowler had kindly offered to let Jessica, her parents, and her twin sister, Elizabeth, stay at Fowler Crest until their house could be rebuilt. Whenever that would be.
Jessica had to sniffle hard to avoid being overwhelmed by tears. The earthquake had struck during her seventeenth birthday party and had flattened most of Sweet Valley. Elizabeth and her best friend, Enid Rollins, had almost been killed by downed power lines in the Wakefield backyard. Olivia Davidson and Ronnie Edwards had both died.
And despite how hard Jessica and Bryan, Alyssa's older brother, had tried to save the poor girl, there was no denying the horrible fact that Jessica had watched as Alyssa tumbled to her death.
As much as she wished it were all a bad dream, Jessica knew from the pain in her aching, bruised heart that all the horror had really happened. Jessica turned over onto her side, curling into a ball, racked with sorrow.
Worst of all was the guilt.There must have been something I could've done to save Alyssa,
Jessica told herself. I didn't try hard enough! I failed, and now a girl is dead.
Tears began to trail down Jessica's cheeks. At that moment what Jessica wanted to do was run into the guest bedroom where Elizabeth was sleeping and hug her sister until all the guilt and misery faded away. As much as she sometimes fought with her twin, Jessica realized that nobody could make her feel better than Ehzabeth.
That was part of the special bond they shared, a bond that went deeper than their extremely different personalities. Even though Jessica and Elizabeth looked incredibly similar on the outside, with their shoulder-length golden hair, eyes the color of the Pacific Ocean, and trim, athletic figures, inside they were as unlike each other as sisters could be. Elizabeth was usually far more serious, which the twins chalked up to Elizabeth being four minutes older.She's always taken care of me,
Jessica thought. I can count on her no matter what.
And Elizabeth always knew the right words to say. Best of all, she knew how to listen.
There was only one problem--Elizabeth had just been in a near fatal accident. After the earthquake Jessica had arrived at the ruined Wakefield house just as Elizabeth was regaining consciousness from her near-electrocution by downed power lines.
The memory seemed blurry as Jessica thought back, as though she were remembering it through gauze. Jessica had left Bryan Hewitt with two police officers after Alyssa had fallen to her death and had raced home to check on Elizabeth. But Jessica's senses had been numbed by shock. She vaguely recalled the tearful reunion with her parents, Elizabeth, and her brother, Steven, in the front yard, but most of her memories of that reunion seemed far away, almost as though they were happening to someone else. Even the joy of learning that Ehzabeth would be OK had been muted by the misery Jessica had felt at being so much a part of Alyssa's terrible death.
Elizabeth had been taken to the hospital but quickly released--Joshua Fowler Memorial had been jam-packed with casualties from the earthquake, and Elizabeth's injuries had turned out to be minor. The doctor had just warned Elizabeth to get lots of rest in order to allow herself to recover properly.
Which was why Jessica couldn't bother her twin now. But she needed to talk to someone.
Jessica slid out of bed. Lila's bedroom was down the hall, at the opposite end from the guest suites. Although Jessica and Lila were best friends, they didn't really have the kind of relationship where they discussed their problems . . . not really personal problems anyway. Jessica's friendship with Lila was based more on shopping, talking about guys, and gossiping about their friends at school. But Jessica was desperate. She and Lila had been through a lot together. Maybe Lila would see how much Jessica needed her now.
The wooden hallway floor felt cool and slick under Jessica's bare feet. Dim, dark yellow lights behind the baseboards came on automatically as Jessica crept down the hall, illuminating her way.
When she reached Lila's room, Jessica eased open the door and slipped inside. Lila was snoring rhythmically and actually quite loudly. As Jessica got closer to Lila's vast sleigh bed she almost allowed herself a small smile--Lila looked messier than Jessica had ever seen her. With the help of a rectangle of bright moonlight that fell over the bed, Jessica could see that Lila's usually coifed long brown hair was scrunched up and splayed across her pillow. She also had a dainty pool of drool by her mouth.
"Lila," Jessica whispered.
With a ladylike snort Lila shifted, but she didn't wake up.
"Lila!" Jessica hissed again, more urgently. She reached out and shook her friend's shoulder.
With a small gasp Lila awoke. Her big brown eyes shone like gold in the moonlight. "Jessica," she murmured sleepily, "what's the matter? What time is it?"
It was sometime after 1:30 A.M., but Lila didn't need to know that. "It's late," Jessica replied, taking a seat on the edge of Lila's soft feather bed. "I'm . . . I'm really sorry I woke you, but . . . I'm just way too messed up to sleep."
Lila sat up against the backboard of her bed and wiped her eyes. "Can this wait until morning?"
"No," Jessica repined, looking down at her hands in her lap. ...