The girl danced alone in the moonlight. Brett Noland stood behind a tree watching her, mesmerized. His watch dial glowed 1:00 a.m. When he'd left the cabin where his mother lay asleep to walk and think and figure out how he was going to accept all that had happened in the past month, he hadn't expected to see another living soul. Then he'd rounded a curve in the trail and seen a girl with long, dark hair twirling, swirling, spinning in an open field under the light of the bright full moon.
She wore a long ballerina skirt and held a filmy scarf that fluttered behind her like gossamer wings. There was no music that Brett could hear, only the sound of her graceful leaps in the tall grass. He wasn't sure if he should go back the way he came or wait until she left. The last thing he wanted was for her to catch him. It wasn't right to spy on people, but for the moment he felt glued to the ground.
She ran across the field, jumping and turning in the air like a gazelle. She slipped into the shadows of some trees. Brett held his breath, waiting for her to emerge into the field. She did not. He blinked, listened to the sound of the blood rushing in his ears. Where was she? She had seemed to disappear into thin air. Brett exhaled slowly and, feeling shaken, wondered if she had been there in the first place.
Maybe he'd imagined her. He'd felt stressed and hassled lately. So maybe the girl had only been a figment of an overactive imagination. The idea depressed him. On top of everything else, now he might be going nuts.
"Why are you spying on me?"
Her voice came from behind him, startling Brett so badly that he yelped. Whipping around, he saw her standing in the center of the trail, blocking his escape. "I--I wasn't spying," he said, his voice raspy, his heart pounding. "I was walking. I saw you. I didn't mean for you to see me."
"Then you shouldn't wear watches with glow-in-the-dark dials." She gestured to his wrist.
He covered the watch self-consciously, feeling foolish, and turned to face her more fully. "You do this often?" he asked, trying to regain his composure. "Dance under the moon?"
"Are you a reporter?"
"No . . . I'm Brett Noland. Who are you?"
She studied him, tipping her head to one side. Moonlight flecked her hair. "Shayla," she said.
She stepped forward, and he saw that she was tall, almost as tall as he was, which, according to his mother, was shorter than his father had been. When he'd had a father. "I just moved here," Brett blurted out when Shayla brushed past him to return to the open field.
"I didn't think you looked like a regular."
"What do regulars look like?" He followed her, suddenly not wanting to be alone. The girl intrigued him.
"Where are you from?" she asked.
"Key West, Florida."
She stopped. "Did you live near the sea?"
"Key West is almost surrounded by the sea, so yeah, I lived near it."
"Is it beautiful in the sunlight?"
Brett thought it a very odd question but decided to humor her. "Well, yes. But why--"
"Different from the sea up here, isn't it?"
"Everything's different up here, including the sea," he said bitterly. He and his mother had moved to the coastal town of Harden, Massachusetts, two weeks before. She'd taken a new job with a small seafood manufacturing plant, telling Brett it was time for a change, and no amount of begging her not to move had changed her mind. She kept telling him it was a big promotion, more money, a better opportunity. "And we'll be living closer to Boston Children's Hospital than we do to Miami Children's Hospital," she'd added, as if that would justify totally uprooting his life.
Brett hated his new location, a backwater town that squatted between the hills and woods to the west and the craggy shoreline of the ocean to the east. Industry consisted of fisheries that stunk of salt brine and fish processing. One of those fisheries had hired his mother to manage the office and product shipments. In the Keys, the ocean was pale green, warm and spiked with the smells of exotic flowers and tropical breezes. Here the coast was lined with rocks, not soft white sand. It was harsh, wild, unfriendly.
"You don't sound too happy to be here," Shayla said.
"I wanted to stay in Key West. I'll be a senior, and I wanted to finish school with my friends, but Mom took a new job, and I lost out."
"You live here?"
"All my life."
"So what's school like?"
"I don't go to school."
Her answer caught him off guard. "Are you homeschooled?"
"I go to school on the Internet. And sometimes a homebound teacher comes over and spends time with me."
He was taken aback. Homebound teachers only came to help sick kids. He knew that for a fact. Shayla looked normal, better than normal. "Do you live around here?"
"Beyond the woods. How about you?"
"Mom's renting a cabin." He motioned behind him, feeling awkward. Shayla wasn't forthcoming with information, and Brett didn't have much experience with girls. He was usually shy around them, perplexed and mystified by their capricious natures.
Shayla held the chiffon scarf across her eyes and peered up at the moon. "Pretty, isn't it?"
"Yes," he said, meaning both the moon and her. Now that he was closer, he saw that she really was pretty. Her hair fell straight and sleek almost to her waist. Her eyes were almond shaped and in the pale light looked like clear glass. He wondered what color they might be. "Did you sneak out to meet someone?"
"Do you ever answer a question straight out?"
She laughed, and he thought that made her even prettier. "So tell me, Brett Noland, what did you think when you saw me dancing in the moonlight? Did you think I was crazy?"
"Are you?" Two could play her game of double questions.
"No." She threw the scarf into the air, and they both watched it flutter downward. "To both questions," she said. "I'm not crazy and I'm not meeting anyone."
"You just like to run around in the moonlight?"
He wanted to put her on the defensive. "I know--you're Titania."
"The fairy queen from Midsummer Night's Dream? Is that who you think I am?"
He was shocked that she had instantly known the character from Shakespeare's play. He read constantly, especially the classics, but knew few his age who did the same. "A druid then," he said.
"I don't worship trees," Shayla said with a toss of her head.
"You're a sprite."
"I'm too tall for a pixie."
"Some think so."
A shiver shot up his spine. This experience was turning surreal.
"Are you out of guesses?" she asked, making him feel undereducated, as if he'd forgotten some major category.
"I'm thinking," he said, racking his brain for another class of mythical beings who showed up only at night. He snapped his fingers. "Werewolves! No, wait--you don't have enough body hair to be a werewolf."
Again she laughed. "I think only men can be werewolves."
"You're right." He searched his memory, warming to the game they were playing. "Ah . . . I know, vampires come out at night. Are you a vampire?"
She looked straight at him and he felt his heart race crazily. The moon glowed along her hair, lit her face. Her skin was the color of sand, her eyes luminous, hypnotic pools. "Yes," she said. "I am."From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from How Do I Love Thee by Lurlene McDaniel. Copyright © 2001 by Lurlene McDaniel. Excerpted by permission of Laurel Leaf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.