Megan Hart: Switch

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Switch

MEGAN HART

To my trusted crit partners, you know who you are.

To my family, for your support and love.

To my readers—without you, I'd have no success. Thank

you.

I don't write books without music. My thanks to the artists

and musicians who make it possible for me to sit at my

computer day after day and make worlds and the people

who populate them. Please support their work through

legal sources.

Don McLean, "Empty Chairs"; Joaquin Phoenix and

Reese Witherspoon, "It Ain't Me, Babe"; Joshua Radin,

"Closer"; Justin King, "Same Mistakes"; Lifehouse,

"Whatever It Takes"; Meredith Brooks, "What Would

Happen"; Rufus Wainwright, "Halelujah"; Sarah Bareiles,

"Gravity"; Schuyler Fisk, "Lying to You"; She Wants Revenge, "These Things"; Tim Curry, "S.O.S."

Contents

Title Page

Dedication

Author's Note

Chapter 01

Chapter 02

Chapter 03

Chapter 04

Chapter 05

Chapter 06

Chapter 07

Chapter 08

Chapter 09

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 01

Sometimes, you look back.

He was coming out. I was going in. We moved by each

other, ships passing without fanfare the way hundreds of

strangers pass every day. The moment didn't last longer

than it took to see a bush of dark, messy hair and a flash

of dark eyes. I registered his clothes first, the khaki cargo

pants and a long-sleeved black T-shirt. Then his height and

the breadth of his shoulders. I became aware of him in the

span of a few seconds the way men and women have of

noticing each other, and I swiveled on the pointed toe of

my kitten-heel pumps and folowed him with my gaze until

the door of the Speckled Toad closed behind me.

"Want me to wait?"

"Huh?" I looked at Kira, who'd gone ahead of me. "For what?"

"For you to go back after the dude who just gave you

whiplash." She smirked and gestured, but I couldn't see

him anymore, not even through the glass.

I'd known Kira since tenth grade, when we bonded over

our mutual love for a senior boy named Todd Browning.

We'd had a lot in common back then. Bad hair, miserable

taste in clothes and a fondness for too much black

eyeliner. We'd been friends back then, but I wasn't sure

what to cal her now.

I turned toward the center of the shop. "Shut up. I barely

noticed him."

"If you say so." Kira tended to drift, and now she

wandered toward a shelf of knickknacks that were nothing

like anything I'd ever buy. She lifted one, a stuffed frog

holding a heart in its feet. The heart had MOM

embroidered on it in sparkly letters. "What about this?"

"Nice bling. But no, on so many levels. I do have half a

mind to get her one of these, though." I turned to a shelf of

porcelain clowns.

"Jesus. She'd hate one of those. I dare you to buy it." Kira snorted laughter.

I laughed, too. I was trying to find a birthday present for

my father's wife. The woman wouldn't own her real age

and insisted every birthday be celebrated as her "twenty-

and insisted every birthday be celebrated as her "twenty-

ninth" along with the appropriate coy smirks, but she sure

didn't mind raking in the loot. Nothing I bought would

impress her, and yet I was unrelentingly determined to buy

her something perfect.

"If they weren't so expensive, I might think about it. She

colects that Limoges stuff. Who knows? She might realy

dig a ceramic clown." I touched the umbrela of one

tightrope-balancing monstrosity.

Kira had met Stela a handful of times and neither had

been impressed with the other. "Yeah, right. I'm going to

check out the magazines."

I murmured a reply and kept up my search. Miriam Levy,

the owner of the Speckled Toad, stocks an array of

decora tive items, but that wasn't realy why I was there. I

could have gone anyplace to find Stela a present. Hel,

she'd have loved a gift card to Neiman Marcus, even if

she'd have sniffed at the amount I could afford. I didn't

come to Miriam's shop for the porcelain clowns, or even

because it was a convenient half a block from Riverview

Manor, where I lived.

No. I came to Miriam's shop for the paper.

No. I came to Miriam's shop for the paper.

Parchment, hand-cut greeting cards, notebooks, pads of

exquisite, delicate paper thin as tissue, stationery meant for

fountain pens and thick, sturdy cardboard capable of

enduring any torture. Paper in al colors and sizes, each

individualy perfect and unique, just right for writing love

notes and breakup letters and condolences and poetry,

with not a single box of plain white computer printer paper

to be found. Miriam won't stock anything so plebian.

I have a bit of a stationery fetish. I colect paper, pens,

note cards. Set me loose in an office-supply store and I

can spend more hours and money than most women can

drop on shoes. I love the way good ink smels on

expensive paper. I love the way a heavy, linen note card

feels in my fingers. Most of al, I love the way a blank

sheet of paper looks when it's waiting to be written on.

Anything can happen in those moments before you put pen

to paper.

The best part about the Speckled Toad is that Miriam sels

her paper by the sheet as wel as by the package and the

ream. My colection of papers includes some of creamy

linen with watermarks, some handmade from flower pulp,

some note cards scissored into scherenschnitte scenes. I

some note cards scissored into scherenschnitte scenes. I

have pens of every color and weight, most of them

inexpensive but with something—the ink or the color—that

appealed to me. I've colected my paper and my pens for

years from antique shops, close-out bins, thrift shops.

Discovering the Speckled Toad was like finding my own

personal nirvana.

I always intend to use what I buy for something important.

Worthwhile. Love letters written with a pen that curves

into my palm just so and tied with crimson ribbon, sealed

with scarlet wax. I buy them, I love them, but I hardly ever

write on them. Even anonymous love letters need a

recipient…and I didn't have a lover.

Then again, who writes anymore? Cel phones, instant

messaging and the Internet have made letter writing

obsolete, or nearly so. There's something powerful,

though, about a handwritten note. Something personal and

aching to be profound. Something more than a half-

scribbled grocery list or a scrawled signature on a

premade greeting card. Something I would probably never

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