Page 27

 Sarah Rees Brennan

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“Oh, is that all?”
Kami stared, and caught the wry twist of Jared’s smile.
“I just wish I had the questions,” he said. “I’ve never felt any need to talk to someone about things that counted, to find out what was wrong. You were the only one who ever mattered, and I always knew.”
“And now?”
He stopped walking, turned, and faced her. “You’re still the only one who matters. And I have to learn how to ask you. So here it is: I don’t care if you don’t have the answers. I only want you to talk to me.”
Kami looked up at him and he backed up a step. She was angry for a moment, before she saw that he was holding out his hand to her.
She reached out, and when she laid her hand in his she saw him make a visible effort to control the start away from her. He closed his fingers over hers, and helped her up the couple of steps until she was perched on a stile. Jared sat on one of the steps and looked up at her. There was another of those hesitations he always betrayed, then he leaned back deliberately, shoulder pressed against her knees. She felt a little shiver run through both of them.
Talk to me, he’d said. Kami took a deep breath.
“My father found out about the magic,” she said. “He found out about my mother lying to him, about all the lies she ever told, and he’s so angry with her. I don’t know if he’s going to forgive her. And if he doesn’t—God, it feels ridiculous to say this when an evil sorcerer wants the town to choose a sacrifice in two weeks. People’s parents split up all the time. But I feel like if he doesn’t forgive her, the world is going to end.”
“I’m sure he’ll forgive her,” Jared said.
“He said that she had told so many lies he didn’t know how to begin trusting her again.” The words hung trembling in the cold air. Kami wished that she could come up with a reason that Dad was sure to forgive Mum. She had been able to forgive Mum for every lie she had told, but every kid knew their parents lied to them a little, trying to protect them from the truth of the world. Dad and Mum were meant to be equals. Kami was just starting to discover how terrible the thought of being lied to was: Jared had only been able to lie to her for a couple of months.
“He’ll find a way,” Jared said. “There’s always a way. If he loves her, then he’ll do anything to stay with her.”
“What if he doesn’t love her anymore?” Kami whispered. Once she had gotten that out, she was able to tell Jared everything else—what they had said to each other, how scared Tomo and Ten had been, seeing her father in the graveyard today—detailing every crack in her breaking world.
Jared listened, his eyes fixed on her face. “It might be a good sign, that he’s so angry,” Jared said eventually. “Not—if he was lashing out because of that,” he said carefully. Kami’s grip on his hand tightened. “Just because he’s angry doesn’t mean he’s stopped loving her.”
He hesitated, then added, “The day after you broke the link, I smashed all the mirrors in my rooms at Aurimere. Bedroom, bathroom. One in the hall.” He glanced away from her, as if a little embarrassed, and then immediately back. “I didn’t say that to make you feel worse. It’s just that you’re the only emotional frame of reference I have.”
“Why would you do that?”
“I had to break something,” Jared said. “And I was—I was so sick of myself, thinking about what I’d said to you, thinking about who I was, someone you didn’t want.”
“That is not what I decided,” Kami told him fiercely. “Is that why Lillian threw you out of the house?”
Jared hesitated.
“Come on, I told you all my screwed-up family stuff,” Kami said. “You have to tell me things too. You have to talk to me as well: that’s how this friends thing works.”
Jared’s fingers flexed as if he was about to let go of her hand, but Kami kept her grip firm.
“Aunt Lillian asked me to be the heir of Aurimere,” he said. “Be the sorcerer guardian of Sorry-in-the-Vale, I guess, like she is. Apparently any Lynburn can be chosen for the job by the current incumbent.”
The inside of Kami’s mouth was cold. This was because it had fallen open. “What?” she asked, and started to laugh. “What? Your aunt says, ‘Please take this magnificent mansion, please be prince of all you survey,’ and you say, ‘How dare you suggest such a thing to me! Moving to the tavern! Jared out!’ Why?”
A smile played around Jared’s mouth. “Because she can’t have been serious.”
“Why wouldn’t she be serious?” Kami asked. “I mean, I get that you wanted to be fair to Ash, but were you not even tempted?”
Jared looked genuinely puzzled at the thought, as if he was wondering what in the world he was supposed to be tempted by.
“Unearthly power,” Kami reminded him. “Untold riches. Great big mansion. Lord of all you survey.”
“I knew you wouldn’t care about any of that,” Jared said. “So what good was it to me?”
Kami had no answer to that question. In fact, she had no idea how to respond to that. Eventually, she said, “What I want isn’t the most important thing.”
“It’s the only important thing,” Jared answered. “I mean—I know it’s crazy. I tell myself that. The world doesn’t turn on what you want. I tell myself that but I don’t believe it, not really. I know you wanted me to see things differently once the link was broken, but I can’t. It is always about you for me.” He smiled that wry little twist of a smile again. “Which is why I have made this conversation that should be about you all about my feelings.”
“I asked you about them,” Kami said. “Jared, you have to stop acting like you don’t count for anything now that the link is cut.”
He said nothing, just sitting there, still smiling that little smile.
“You leaving Aurimere was pretty noble,” Kami elaborated. “I mean, nuts, but noble. It wasn’t fair to Ash, you wouldn’t be used to punish anyone—not that I think that was Lillian’s motivation—and you’re out. You don’t just turn her down; you leave home to make your point. Not to mention all the attempts to save Sorry-in-the-Vale single-handedly. You’re like a honey badger.”
“I’m like a what?” Jared started to laugh. “No, I’m not. That’s ridiculous.”
“Honey badgers are badass,” Kami argued. “The honey badger is the most hardcore of all the animals. They break into beehives and they get stung all over. Not because they have to. Just because they think bees are super tasty. Also they have been known to bite the heads off puff adders, collapse from the venom, and wake up from their comas going ‘Hey there, delicious snake.’ That’s how honey badgers roll.”
“ ‘Honey badger’ is not a badass name,” Jared pointed out. “ ‘Death ray badger’ is a badass name.”
Kami hit him on the shoulder without even thinking about it. “Remember when I said you were worthwhile? I meant that. But I didn’t mean you had no flaws. You have many flaws. And one of them is not taking awesome compliments well.”
“Also, you mentioned being nuts.”
Kami smiled. “That I don’t really mind.”
He sat on the stile steps and looked up at her. The day was dying now, the sky darkening from blue to gray, the ground from silver to shadows. There was only color at the point where the two met, in a leaf-green, rose-smudged horizon. She was struck as she had been before by how much he, a city boy born and bred, seemed part of Sorry-in-the-Vale, eyes like moonlight on the Crying Pools, gold hair turned to shadow and his scar turned to silver.
“I think your parents will work this out,” he said. “But if they don’t, you’ll be okay. I know you. You’ll have all the answers in the end, because you always keep searching.”
“I know you too,” said Kami. “If you decided you did want Aurimere, I think Aurimere would be lucky to have you.”
If Lillian was the one who got to do the choosing, and not Rob: if Sorry-in-the-Vale was not taken away from them all. If Lillian succeeded. If Henry managed to bring help. Kami shivered.
“I’m sorry. I feel stupid that I keep running to you. I don’t want to be dependent on you. I don’t want to be dependent on anyone. I want to be able to handle myself.”
“Being able to depend on someone doesn’t mean you’re dependent on them,” Jared said. “I mean, I think. I wouldn’t know myself, obviously.”
“I do believe someone promised me a hot drink and hasn’t delivered yet,” Kami said.
Jared stood up, steeled himself, and lifted her from the stile, hands on her waist, swinging her down as if she was light. Kami caught at his jacket and found herself laughing again, laughing up into his face, with that rush of feeling that they were in tune again.
She could kiss him now. The thought flashed into her mind like electricity, lighting every nerve ending with an impulse to act. She could use her grip on his jacket to push herself onto her tiptoes and pull his head down to hers.
Only every time he had touched her today, he’d had to brace himself as if for an ordeal, Kami thought. And he had been doing more than kissing Holly.
Kami remembered when she herself had flinched from physical contact with Jared. He had been only in her mind and nowhere else for so long, it had been strange that he existed in the outside world at all. The fact that he was there to be touched was almost frightening.
She had grown used to it, become familiar enough with his face that she could match up his expressions and feelings, until it had become the one face she wanted to see every day. She wanted him to be real, and touching him had become something she wanted to do.
She’d gotten over the first reaction, but he hadn’t, and that might be because he didn’t want to. Maybe, Kami thought, he could barely touch her because what he wanted was for her to be back in his head, linked and safe and beloved, and not there to touch at all.
She didn’t know what he wanted. She didn’t even know what she wanted, not for certain.
“Thanks,” Kami told him, and let go of his jacket. They started to walk to the pub, close but not touching, and she continued: “Do you miss your family?”
“Uh, no,” said Jared. “On account of all the evil.”
“I meant your family at Aurimere,” Kami said. “They miss you. Your aunt asked me to ask you back. You haven’t seemed happy since you left. Do you miss them?”
“My aunt the ice queen and my cousin the bunny killer?” Jared asked. “That family. Do I miss them?”
“Yes,” said Kami.
“Maybe,” said Jared. “I’m not sure.”
“This is just a suggestion, but I was thinking that maybe other people should matter to you. I think that it would be good for you. You could be good for them too.”
Jared nodded, a little thoughtfully. She wondered if he was thinking about Holly.
He was wrong about what he’d said. She wasn’t going to have all the answers, because there was one question she did not dare ask. Because she wanted to keep him more than she wanted answers: he was the one exception to all the rules she had, and she could not ask him if he didn’t like touching her because he wished she was not real. They were friends again, and perhaps that was all they should be.
The kiss had happened, though.
“You said,” she said slowly, “that what I wanted was the most important thing. But I don’t want you to do things because I want them. I want you to do what you want. So . . . what is it that you want?” she asked him.
He was silent for the space of a few breaths, long enough for her to begin to hope, and then he said, “I want the link back. More than anything in the world.”