Radiance, p.1
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         Part #1 of Riley Bloom series by Alyson Noel
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Radiance


  Radiance

  a novel by

  alyson noël

  St. Martin’s Griffin

  New York

  Contents

  Title

  Copyright

  Dedication

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  To Jean Feiwel, for making this possible—

  thank you, thank you, thank you!

  A SQUARE FISH BOOK

  An Imprint of Macmillan

  RADIANCE. Copyright © 2010 by Alyson Noël, LLC. All rights reserved.

  Distributed in Canada by H.B. Fenn and Company Ltd. Printed in July 2010 in the United States of America by R. R. Donnelley & Sons Company, Harrisonburg, Virginia. For information, address Square Fish, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

  Square Fish and the Square Fish logo are trademarks of Macmillan and are used by St. Martin’s Press under license from Macmillan.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Noël, Alyson.

  Radiance. Book 1 / Alyson Noël. — 1st ed.

  p. cm.

  Summary: After crossing the bridge into the afterlife, a place called Here where the time is always Now, Riley’s existence continues in much the same way as when she was alive until she is given the job of Soul Catcher and, together with her teacher Bodhi, returns to earth for her first assignment, a ghost called the Radiant Boy who has been haunting an English castle for centuries and resisted all previous attempts to get him across the bridge.

  ISBN: 978-0-312-62917-5

  [1. Future life—Fiction. 2. Ghosts—Fiction. 3. Dead—Fiction.] I. Title.

  PZ7.N67185Rad 2010 [Fic]—dc22 2010015840

  Cover photographs: bridge © Hiroshi Watanabe/Gallerystock; girl © Betsie Van der Meer/Getty Images; dog © Radius Images/Jupiterimages; field © plainpicture/Maskot

  Square Fish logo designed by Filomena Tuosto

  Book design by Susan Walsh

  First Edition: 2010

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  www.squarefishbooks.com

  “I may be dead, but I’m still pretty.”

  —buffy the vampire slayer

  1

  Most people think that death is the end.

  The end of life—of good times—the end of, well, pretty much everything.

  But those people are wrong.

  Dead wrong.

  And I should know. I died almost a year ago.

  2

  The weirdest part about dying is that nothing really changed.

  I mean, you’d expect a big change, right? Because dying—well, let’s face it, it’s pretty dramatic stuff. They write songs about it, books and screenplays too. Heck, it’s even a major theme on Saturday morning cartoons. But the thing is, it’s nothing like you see on TV.

  Nothing at all.

  Take me for instance. I’m living, er, make that dead proof that it really isn’t so different. Or at least not at first. And at least not in a bad way like you probably think.

  Because the truth is, the moment I died I actually felt more alive than ever. I could jump higher—run faster—I could even walk through walls if I wanted. And that’s pretty much what gave it away.

  The walking-through-walls part.

  Since it’s not like I could do that sort of thing before, so that’s how I knew something was up.

  Something serious.

  But up until then, it all just seemed like a really cool side trip. Like my dad just decided to take a sudden turn none of us were expecting.

  One moment he was cruising down a curving highway, while I was singing along to my iPod with my dog Buttercup resting his head on my lap, doing my best to tune out my bossy older sister Ever who practically lived to torment me. And the next thing I knew, we were somewhere else entirely.

  No longer on the highway, no longer in Oregon, we’d somehow landed smack dab in the middle of this beautiful shimmering field full of pulsating trees and flowers that shivered. And when my parents went one way and my sister went another, I just stood there, head swiveling like crazy, unsure who to follow.

  Part of me urging, “Cross the bridge with Mom and Dad and Buttercup—they know what’s best!”

  While the other part insisted, “Don’t be such a goody-good—if Ever sees something awesome and you miss out, you’ll regret it forever!”

  And by the time I finally decided to go after my sister, I’d taken so long she was already gone.

  Just—disappeared.

  Straight into the shimmering mist.

  Right back to the earth plane.

  And that’s how I ended up stuck. Stuck between worlds.

  Until I found my way Here.

  That’s what they call it, “Here.”

  And if you’re dumb enough to ask what time it is, they’ll say, “Now.”

  Probably because there’s no time Here, which means everything happens, well, in the moment it happens, which is always just—Now.

  So, I guess you could say I live in the Here & Now.

  Which, strangely, isn’t so different from where I lived before back in Eugene, Oregon.

  Aside from there being no time. And of course, that bit about being able to walk through walls and stuff.

  But other than that, and the fact that I can manifest anything I want—stuff like houses and cars and clothes, even animals and beaches, simply by imagining it—it’s all pretty much the same.

  My parents are Here. My grandparents too. Even my sweet yellow Lab Buttercup made it. And even though we can live anywhere we could ever conceivably want, in any kind of house we could ever truly desire, the funny thing is that my new neighborhood is pretty much an exact replica of my old neighborhood back in Oregon.

  Everything identical, all the way down to the clothes that hang in my closet, the socks that are stuffed in my drawers, and the posters that are taped to my walls. The only thing that’s different, the only thing that kind of bugs me, is all the other houses around us are empty. Mostly due to the fact that all my old neighbors and friends are alive and well and back in the earth plane (well, for now anyway!). But still, other than that, it’s exactly like I remember it.

  Exactly like I wished it.

  I just wish I had some friends to enjoy it with.

  3

  When I woke up this morning—oh, that’s another thing—you probably thought I didn’t need to sleep, right? Well, at first, that’s what I thought too. But as my parents explained it to me, we are, in a sense, more alive than ever, made up of energy in its purest form. And after a long day of creating and manifesting and, well, whatever else people choose to do Here, the energy requires a little downtime, a little shut-eye, in order to rest, recuperate, and regenerate—which, again, is no different from life on the earth plane.

  So anyway, when I woke up this morning with Buttercup wagging his tail and licking my face, despite the fact that it’s a pretty nice way to wake, that didn’t stop me from pushing him away, pulling the blanket over my head, and rolling over so that my back was facing him. My eyelids squinched together as tightly as they would go, and I tried to find my way back to my dream as Buttercup continued to whimper and whine and paw at me.

  And just as I was abo
ut to push him away yet again, that’s when I remembered:

  Buttercup was excited for me.

  Everyone was excited for me.

  From the moment I got Here, I’d pretty much kept myself busy with getting adjusted to my new life, getting reacquainted with my family, and basically trying to learn how things are done in this place. And now that I was settled, it was time for my first day of school (yes, we have school Here—it’s not all cloud lounging and harp playing, you know), and since everyone was acting so excited about it, it became my job to act excited too.

  Excited enough to get out of bed, get myself ready, and take the time to manifest something cool to wear, so I could, well, according to my parents anyway, head off to a place where I’d:

  “Meet some new friends, learn some new things, and in no time at all find myself picking up right smack where I left off back home!”

  And no matter how much I doubted that, no matter how much I was willing to bet just about anything that there was no way that would turn out to be even remotely true, I just smiled and went along with it. Wanting them to think I was as eager for the moment as they clearly were.

  Not wanting them to know just how much I missed my old life back home. Missed it so much it was like a constant ache in my middle. And how I was pretty dang sure that this school, no matter how cool they claimed it to be, could never compete with the one I’d left behind.

  So after enjoying a little breakfast with my mom and dad (and no, we don’t really need to eat anymore, but would you give up the taste of Lucky Charms if you didn’t have to?), I set off. At first dressed in a typical private-school uniform of white blouse, plaid skirt, blue blazer, white socks, and cool shoes, since I always wanted to go to a school that required that, but then halfway there I changed my mind and swapped it for some skinny jeans, ballet flats, and a soft, fuzzy blue cardigan I wore over a white tank top featuring the logo of my favorite band.

  Seriously, manifesting is really that easy—or at least it is Here. You just think of anything you want, anything at all, picture it really clearly in your head—et voilà—just like that, it’s yours!

  So anyway, I kept going like that, switching back and forth, forth and back, between the two looks. Taking two steps forward as a private-school girl, and another two dressed as an extremely stylish twelve-year-old girl. Figuring I’d stick with whatever ensemble I was wearing by the time I reached campus, knowing I could always change it in an instant if it turned out to be the wrong choice.

  But then, somewhere along the way, I saw it.

  The Viewing Room.

  The place my parents had warned me about.

  Insisting it would lead to no good. That I would only become obsessed yet again just when I needed to focus my energies on moving on, settling in, and accepting the fact that, like it or not, I am now an official resident of the Here & Now. Claiming it was high time I turn my back on my old life and concentrate on embracing my afterlife.

  “You lingered on the earth plane long enough,” my dad said, giving me his usual compassionate yet concerned look.

  While my mom looked on, eyes narrowed, arms crossed, not fooled by my claims of mere mild curiosity for a second. “Your sister has her own lessons to learn, her own destiny to fulfill, and it’s not your place to interfere,” she’d said, refusing to budge or even try to see my side of things.

  But even though their intentions were good, the thing is, they didn’t know my sister nearly as well as I did. Didn’t realize she needed me in a way they could never even begin to comprehend. Besides, if it’s true that there’s no time, then it’s not like I could be late for school, right? So really, what’s the worst that could happen?

  With my mind fully made up, I took a little detour and ducked inside, snatching a ticket from the dispenser on the wall before taking my place in a very long line. Surrounded by a whole gang of gray hairs gushing on and on about the grandkids they couldn’t wait to look in on, until my number finally flashed on the overhead screen and I marched straight into the recently vacated cubicle, closed the curtain behind me, settled onto the hard, metal stool, and punched in my desired location, carefully scanning the screen until I found her.

  Ever.

  My sister.

  My blond-haired, blue-eyed, teenaged sister who looks an awful lot like me except for our noses. She was lucky enough to get our mom’s perfectly straight nose—while I got my dad’s, er, stubbier one.

  “A nose with character,” my dad liked to say. “There’s not another one like it, not anywhere—except on your face!” Always chasing it with one of those nostril tweaks that never failed to make me laugh.

  But even though I watched for what felt like a pretty long time, I couldn’t say I saw all that much. Or at least nothing important anyway. Nothing that could be considered heart stopping (and no, my heart doesn’t really beat anymore, it’s just a figure of speech). Basically what I saw was a girl just going through the motions, trying really hard to make everyone around her think she was a perfectly normal person, living a perfectly normal life, when the truth is, I knew for a fact that she was anything but.

  Still, I couldn’t stop looking. Couldn’t stop that old feeling from overtaking me again.

  The one where my heart felt as though it would swell so big I was sure it would burst wide-open and blow a big hole right through my chest.

  The one where my throat went all hot and lumpy, where my eyes started to sting, and I was filled with such longing, such overwhelming yearning, I was willing to do anything to go back.

  Back to the earth plane.

  Back to where I truly belonged.

  Because the truth is, as hard as I’d been trying to put on a brave face and make everyone think I was adjusting just fine and really learning to love my new life Here—the fact is, I wasn’t.

  I wasn’t adjusting.

  I wasn’t learning to love much of anything.

  Not. At. All.

  In fact, given the opportunity, I would’ve done anything to locate that bridge again so I could sprint right across it without once looking back.

  I’d do anything to go back home, to my real home, and live alongside my sister again.

  And it didn’t take a whole lot of screen time to know that Ever felt pretty much the same way. Because not only did she miss me, it was pretty clear she needed me as much as I needed her.

  And that’s all I needed to go on to know I’d done the right thing.

  That’s all I needed to see to not feel the least bit bad for going against my parents’ wishes and sneaking into the Viewing Room.

  Because the truth is, I felt justified.

  Sometimes you just have to act on your own.

  Sometimes you have to do what you know inside to be right.

  4

  After watching for what seemed like a while, I gave up my stall to some middle-aged guy with one of those curlicue mustaches that you see way more in cartoons than real life, vacated the Viewing Room, and arrived at school dressed in the plaid skirt, white blouse, and blue blazer, and decided to just go with it barring some sort of major, catastrophic, fashion-related embarrassment.

  Happy to see I wasn’t the only one wearing a uniform, that plenty of other kids were wearing them too. Though there were also kids dressed in saris and kimonos and all sorts of really cool, international wear, with pretty much every ethnicity present and accounted for. And that’s when it hit me—the full scope of what was really happening Here.

  I was finally the exchange student I always wanted to be.

  When the soft, tingling sound of wind chimes trilled through the air, everyone started heading in the same general direction, and since I had no idea what to do, or where I was expected to be, I followed.

  Merging into the throng of students as we made our way down a beautifully landscaped path filled with all sorts of exotic flowers, plants, and trees, over a small bridge that spanned the biggest, most amazing koi pond I’d ever seen, and into some building that looked ju
st like the pictures I’d seen of the Parthenon in Greece, except this one wasn’t all old and crumbly with missing columns and stuff. This particular version was made of marble so shiny, white, and pristine it looked as though it had been built that very same day.

  We made our way up the stairs and took our places on a long marble bench. Squeezing in next to a girl in a royal blue and bright yellow cheerleading uniform on one side, as a boy in a long beige cotton tunic, matching cotton pants, and old leather sandals squeezed in on my other. And I was just about to turn to him, eager to strike up a conversation and ask him where he was from and how long he’d been dead, when this old dude with long, sparkly, golden-colored hair (yes, it actually sparkled—I’m not making that up) in a long, shimmering robe that was so long it puddled around his feet and dragged on the floor behind him like a bridal train, sort of glided into the room as everyone rose from their seats.

  Everyone but me, that is.

  Because the thing is—seeing him standing there before us like that, well, I was a little taken aback.

  Not to mention choked up.

  I mean, even though I figured I’d been Here for probably what amounted to a week (I kept track of time by how many times I went to sleep, counting one for each day), I’d yet to see the Big Guy, otherwise known in these parts as The One.

  But apparently I still hadn’t, because cheerleader girl sitting next to me grabbed hold of my jacket and continued to yank on my sleeve until we were standing shoulder to shoulder, her mind hissing at mine: What’re ya doin’, mate? You better stand up so Perseus can count you!

  “Perseus?” I looked at her, not realizing I’d spoken out loud until the dorky guy with the greasy hair and nerd glasses sitting right in front of me turned and thought: Shhh!

  I clamped my lips shut and stared straight ahead, feeling as though that Perseus dude was looking right at me, but then, after gazing around a bit, I realized he was. But not just at me, he was pretty much looking at everyone, conducting a sort of mental roll call it seemed, which probably explained why everyone was on their best behavior.

 
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