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Let me tell you what was happening.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” asked Holly.
“I am not going to tell lies in The Nosy Parker,” said Kami.
Ash was staring at the pictures on his computer screen with the fixed gaze of someone who was not seeing anything, and had been doing so since at least seven on this Monday morning, when Kami had arrived, coming straight from Angela’s house to school. Holly, who had arrived at eight, was looking extremely doubtful about her gallant leader’s dedication to truth.
“So you’re going to say that evil sorcerers made the scarecrows come to life and attack us?” asked Holly. “Won’t that make everyone think we’re—I don’t want to sound harsh here, but—completely and hopelessly insane?”
“No, no, no,” said Kami. “A journalist has to make editorial decisions. Nobody can report everything. If you try, you’ll only end up giving people false impressions. Like the one you mentioned about people thinking I was completely insane.”
“Oh yeah,” Holly said. “False. Totally.”
Kami waved this aside with a sweep of her hand. “So one must judiciously edit reality in order to convey to people the, if you will, soul of the truth. The true truth.”
Holly did not look entirely convinced by this brilliant logic. “So, uh, what are you going to write?”
“That the confusion of last night, by which I mean the regrettable incident that spoiled one of the cherished traditions of our town, is thought to be due to the actions of a group of malcontents who clearly do not honor said traditions, or understand the real spirit of Sorry-in-the-Vale. We, and by ‘we’ the humble writer hopes she can include all the readers of this article, can only hope that the people of Sorry-in-the-Vale will soon drive this evil-minded faction away.”
“Wow,” said Holly, looking gratifyingly impressed. “So anyone who knows the truth will read it and know you’re basically spitting in Rob Lynburn’s face. Aren’t you worried he’ll take revenge?”
Kami was about to tell Holly that she knew no fear in the pursuit of justice, when Ash tore his eyes away from his computer and spoke.
“Like my father’s going to care about what a teenage girl writes in a school newspaper,” he sneered.
Kami waited a beat too long to respond to him, and realized that she had been waiting for the usual reassurance that Jared would send her any time she ever felt unsure. She’d always thought she had so much more confidence in herself than this. Well, she had to learn more confidence. She had to rely on herself now.
“The truth is never stupid,” she said, trying not to wonder if she sounded stupid. “Every act of defiance counts. Every call to arms that people hear matters. I believe that. And your father is a proud guy. He won’t like anyone calling him names, even in a school newspaper article written by a teenage girl. And I take petty but huge satisfaction from that.”
People don’t talk much about that sort of thing around here. And they would never write it down. Someone had told her that once. Everyone in this town was hiding things, so nobody knew enough, and everyone was scared.
Kami was not going to be part of that.
“He’s not going to read it,” Ash protested. “We have to do something else. We have to do something big: we have to stop him.”
“Someone’s going to read this,” Kami said. “It’s worthwhile. But yes, we have to do other things as well, and I have ideas about what. I just think we should talk about them when we’re all together. We’ve got Rusty on our side now too. You go to your mother, and to—Jared. Tell them we all need to talk. Tell them I’ve got a plan.”
Kami tried to say Jared’s name as if she could not have cared less. She couldn’t do it, could not stop the catch in her voice before she got out his name. She felt a wash of humiliation go through her when Ash rose and left without a word.
There was no comfort for her in her mind. She had to swallow pain down and pretend. “What’s wrong with him?” She was certain that her casual tone did not sound very convincing. But Holly only looked distressed.
“Well,” Holly said. “Well—it’s probably Jared.”
Before, she had always known if Jared was all right. Now anything could happen to him and she wouldn’t know.
Kami looked up at Holly and said, painfully, “What’s happened to Jared?”
Holly looked so sorry for her.
“What’s happened?” Kami demanded, and her voice shook. “Tell me.”
“Nothing,” said Holly. “I mean, he’s all right, Kami. I promise you. It’s just that I imagine Ash is upset that Jared left home.”
“Left home?” Kami asked. “Left Aurimere?”
Holly looked alarmed, possibly because Kami sounded slightly hysterical. “Yes. It’s all over school,” she added, which did nothing to help Kami away from the path of hysteria.
Kami grasped the edge of her desk, and used it to stand up. “Where did he go?”
* * *
She was running too fast and completely against school rules when she almost sent Amber Green, a girl she sometimes sat beside in English class, flying down the school steps. Kami grabbed Amber by the scarf and prevented her own arrest for haste-motivated manslaughter.
“Sorry, so sorry, but I can’t stop,” Kami said. “I promise to bring some of Mum’s cookies to school and share them with you. Don’t think of it as a present. Think of it as a bribe for your silence.”
“Don’t bother,” said Amber.
Kami blinked. “Ah, I see. Making a hard bargain for some caramel squares. I have to admire your tactics.”
“Were you working on your little newspaper?” Amber sneered.
“Uh,” Kami said, stunned for a moment because Amber had never spoken to her like this before in their lives. “Uh, ‘little,’ really? Like, you’re literally belittling the newspaper? Not going with anything more imaginative than that? Sure, I was working on my little newspaper. Good luck trying to make me feel small.”
She made a move to go past Amber, but Amber’s hand shot out and grabbed her wrist. Her grip was tight enough to let Kami know she really meant it.
“Rob says he doesn’t want any more of your pathetic li”—Amber swallowed the word, and Kami felt an obscure sense of satisfaction—“your pathetic stories about him in the paper.”
“I’ve been considering this new headline,” said Kami, “but I’m worried it’s a little juvenile. Tell me what you think. ‘Rob Lynburn Is Not the Boss of Me.’ Yes? No? I guess he’s the boss of you.”
Amber’s eyes narrowed: green sparking in the hazel, like something stirring in the woods.
“Cease loitering on the steps, girls,” Ms. Dollard, their headmistress, said sharply as she walked up to them. She gave Amber a push between the shoulder blades.
Amber jumped almost as if she had received a tiny electric shock. Actually, exactly as if she had received a tiny electric shock.
“Don’t bother the other students, Amber,” Ms. Dollard added.
Amber glanced at Ms. Dollard, at Kami, then all around. Her shoulders were hunched: she looked afraid. “But what am I supposed to tell him?” she hissed.
“Tell him thanks,” said Kami. “Now I know another one of the sorcerers on his side.”
Amber recoiled at the word, as if Kami had waved a cross in front of a vampire, as if all the sorcerers of Sorry-in-the-Vale thought their secrets would never, ever be told. Kami noticed Ms. Dollard flinched too.
Amber glared at Kami and scurried up the steps into the school. Kami turned back to her headmistress.
“So . . .” She tried to think of the best way to phrase Are you a minion of evil? If so, please don’t give me detention! “Whose side are you on?”
“I like to think of myself as a free agent,” Ms. Dollard said.
“Well,” said Kami, “consider our side. Just say no to human sacrifice! Excuse me, I have to go.”
“Kami!” Ms. Dollard called as Kami darted away. Kami walked backward and waved, but kept going. “Kami, school is starting now!”
“Um,” Kami yelled back. “I’m really sorry! I have to, um, go get something of mine. It’s in the pub!”
Now that she had told her headmistress that she was skipping school to go to the pub, she felt it was well past time to flee.
* * *
Kami had been to the Water Rising dozens of times. She had gone to the Sunday carvery with her parents, and been given her first real drink there at fourteen by an indulgent Martha Wright. Kami was used to strolling up the gentle slope of the High Street and having the white-painted Tudor building come slowly into view, with its black latticework and the shutters open.
She was not used to throwing herself through the door in search of a lunatic. Kami stared wildly around the dim interior of the pub. The wood of the rafters in the ceiling and the top of the bar was old, and so were some of the regular customers sitting at the bar. It was Kami’s impression that there were fewer customers than usual. The ones who were there looked distinctly apprehensive.
Fred and Martha Wright, who owned the Water Rising, were both standing behind the bar. They looked terrified as well.
This situation had “impossibly crazy,” which was to say Jared, written all over it.
“Don’t panic,” Kami told Martha. “I will handle this. Is it all right if I leave my schoolbag on this stool?”
Martha nodded, though she looked very dubious about Kami’s handling abilities. Kami put her schoolbag down, cheered by seeing a copy of The Nosy Parker lying on the bar, and headed into the next room, ducking her head to avoid bags of dried herbs hanging from the doorframe.
There were a couple of elderly women sitting at a table. One had an empty glass. Jared had just gotten hold of it. The lady clung to it for a moment, but Jared seemed set on taking it away. Kami had never seen anyone clear tables in a menacing fashion before.
“Jared,” she said, and he gave her an unfriendly look over his shoulder. “Jared, I need a word.”
“I’m working,” Jared said curtly. “You done with that?” he asked the other lady. He sounded as if he was demanding her money or her life rather than a glass.
She mutely surrendered a half-full glass of gin and tonic.
“I severely doubt she is done with it,” Kami said. “Give it back to her right now.”
“I’m done with it,” the lady said in a low voice. “Honestly.”
“I’m going to have to insist on a word,” Kami said.
Jared set down the drink. “Be right back.” He turned away from the table, to what appeared to be the ladies’ intense relief, and came toward Kami.
“Let’s talk outside,” she said, and heard the hateful new uncertainty in her voice.
Once outside, the November wind cut through her blouse. She stood on the doorstep and hugged herself, sorry that she had forgotten her jacket. Jared in his thin T-shirt gave no indication that he felt anything but annoyed.
“You should be in school,” he remarked.
“So should you!” said Kami. “You’re the one who’s a year behind! You absolutely cannot afford this kind of academic recklessness.”
“Fred Wright called the school and got me the day off so I could learn the work,” Jared said.
“Which brings me to my first and most important question: What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“Working,” Jared said. “I asked the Wrights if I could work in the pub for room and board. They agreed.”
“You’re seventeen! This is not only ridiculous, it’s super illegal.”
“It’s possibly not the most super illegal thing a Lynburn has done this week,” Jared pointed out.