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It was so strange to Kami, how little she could read him. It was like coming to a door that she had always run through before, to find it locked and barred.
“Why did you leave Aurimere?” Kami asked, her voice small.
“My aunt Lillian made me an offer I had to refuse,” said Jared. He looked forbidding.
Kami knew that expression, and remembered the feeling that used to go with it: he was unhappy. “So you ran away from home,” she said. “To become a tavern wench.”
“I’m not a tavern wench,” said Jared. “That’s not a job.” His voice was slightly less stern than before, as if he was taken aback.
“It sounds like you’re a tavern wench,” Kami told him. “Fleeing persecution, you have to take up a menial occupation to keep body and soul together. But at least it’s honest work, though as you labor, many predatory customers make advances and offer indignities.”
“One can only hope,” Jared responded.
Encouraged, Kami reached out a hand: Jared flinched away. He always did that. Kami didn’t know why she kept forgetting. “Jared. You realize the Wrights only agreed because you’re a Lynburn and they’re frightened of you.”
A muscle in Jared’s jaw twitched. “What do you want me to do?”
“Jared,” she said again, her voice softer. “If you needed help, you could have come to me. Don’t you know that?”
Jared gave her that new look, winter-gray and cold, as if he hated her. “I wouldn’t come to you for anything. Not for any reason.”
That stopped her. Jared turned away and opened the door to go back inside.
“Wait,” said Kami. She didn’t have the chance to force her voice steady, and it was humiliatingly obvious she was on the point of tears. “If that’s how you feel, why set my branch on fire last night?” It was a dumb question. No matter how little he cared about her now, Jared was hardly going to let her die. She braced herself to hear as much.
Jared stared at the door. “I thought you would like a weapon better than a rescue,” he told her, and ducked inside.
Kami had to stay outside, because that did make her cry. If he still knew her that well, then how much he hated her hurt even more. He seemed like such a stranger, to the point where she wondered if it had been the link she loved, and never him at all. If she had never loved him, if it had all been the link, this shouldn’t hurt.
She should be able to cut him out of her life, the same way he had her.
Kami blotted her tears fiercely on her sleeve and went inside to collect her schoolbag. She did not spare Jared another glance.
* * *
After school Kami found her father making chocolate pasta in the kitchen. At this time of day, her mother was usually still working at Claire’s, the bakery and restaurant she owned, so her father tended to make dinner, but dinner rarely looked like this. “How is my best girl?” her father asked.
Kami observed the concoction in the pan. “Considering moving out of home.”
“I can’t say you’re not being provoked,” said Dad, and stirred in more chocolate. “But it is Ten’s revolting favorite, he’s been sick, and we’re having it for dinner, because eating the disgusting things a family member mysteriously craves is part of love and togetherness, and because I am lazy and have no clean pans to make other food.”
“That is such a touching sentiment,” said Kami. “It gets me. Right here.”
Her father laughed, then saw her expression and stopped. “Speaking of moving out of home,” he said, “I couldn’t help hearing about the Lynburn boy.”
“He’s got nothing to do with me,” Kami said. “He wants nothing to do with me,” she added. Her throat went tight. “We were never dating. I wish you’d get that dumb idea out of your head.”
Kami’s father was pretty easygoing, but he would not normally have been okay with Kami talking to him like that. Just now his black eyes were watching her, a little narrowed and more than a little concerned. He reached out and rested his knuckles against her cheek. “I can’t help it, the dumb ideas, they just come to me,” he said, voice tender. “You all right?”
Kami closed her eyes for a minute. “Yeah.” She opened her eyes. “Do I have chocolate on my face?”
“You do,” said Dad. “It’s all over. Total mess. Sorry about that. Go wash your face, and maybe go up and say hey to Ten afterward. He seems bummed about missing the Scarecrow Trials.”
Kami hadn’t realized that she’d been hoping maybe, when she came home, Dad would have seen something like Rusty had. Something that would make him believe if she told him about magic. Something that would stop Mum lying.
“Did all of you miss the trials?” Kami asked.
“Ten got sick when your mum had already left, so Tomo and I had to stay in,” said Dad. “Did you have fun? I hear there were vandals.”
“Yes, Dad, vandalism is always fun.”
“It is the way I used to do it,” Dad informed her. “I was a true artiste.”
“I’m sure,” said Kami, and went upstairs to wash her face. She felt better with the chocolate and any last trace of tears gone, and was able to go into Ten’s room smiling, ducking the model airplanes he had hung up around the place.
Kami stopped smiling when she reached her little brother’s bed. Ten was sitting up, arms around his knees. Both knees and arms were covered with his spaceship-patterned sheet. He was always serious, their Ten, the only one of the three Glass children who did not look Japanese, the introvert who was scared of people and had a love of encyclopedias. His face looked white and pinched. Behind his glasses, his eyes were huge and dark.
“Kami,” he said, on a quick raspy breath, as if he’d only just been able to let it out.
“Hey, little man,” Kami responded, and sat down on the bed. “I heard you’ve been sick.”
Ten huddled further into his bedclothes, like an animal burrowing into a hole. He looked very small. Kami felt a pang of protectiveness. She reached out to touch his shoulder and offer comfort, trying not to baby him. She could still cuddle Tomo, when she could catch him, but Ten was ten—unfortunate though that was, name-wise, this year—and had made it clear that he was too grown-up for hugs from anyone but Dad.
To Kami’s surprise, Ten immediately shuffled his bed-clothes toward her and curled into her side. Kami laid her freshly washed cheek against his hair. “Ten,” she murmured. “You must feel really bad.”
Ten whispered, “I’m not sick.”
Kami paused in the act of stroking his thin, pajama-clad back and felt him quail against her. She made a determined effort and resumed stroking, keeping her hands and voice steady and gentle. “What do you mean?”
“I was never sick,” Ten confessed in a low, reluctant voice, trying to lean into and shrink away from Kami at the same time. “Mum asked me to pretend to be sick, so we would all stay inside for the Scarecrow Trials.”
Mum had done a lot, had done the spell that linked Jared and Kami together, to prevent Dad from finding out about magic. But Kami would not have thought she’d do this.
“I see,” said Kami, and tried not to sound upset or scared. She kept her arm tight around Ten.
“I thought maybe it would be all right to tell you,” Ten whispered.
“It was,” Kami said with all the conviction she could muster. “It was absolutely all right. You did absolutely the right thing. I’ll talk to Mum and work this out. Don’t worry.” She rocked her little brother, and made him a promise she hoped she could keep. “I’ll take care of everything.”
THE LYNBURN WAY
For all night long I dreamed of you:
I woke and prayed against my will,
Then slept to dream of you again.
Kami had not been sure Lillian would agree to meet, but she did. Ash carried word back that his mother would come to their planning session against Rob Lynburn’s sorcerers that night. Kami dressed up for a business meeting, in a ruffled black dress that came with a silvery-gray waistcoat and a skinny tie, but she was still incredulous as she and Angela made their way to the Water Rising.
The private parlor in the Water Rising had been made considerably smaller to accommodate the pool table in the adjoining room, and a little dark corridor now lay between the doors. This meant she, Rusty, and Angela almost ran into Holly, who was lurking outside the parlor.
“Hi, Angie!” Holly said, then hastily transferred her attention elsewhere. “Kami, Rusty. I’m glad you guys are here. The Lynburns are all in the parlor being terrifying.”
Kami pushed open the door to reveal the parlor of terror. The room was crammed with jostling furniture and what looked like a jumble of things the Wrights had decided didn’t go in the bar. All three Lynburns were still wearing their jackets and scarves, as if they couldn’t wait to leave. It struck Kami as especially crazy that Jared had his leather jacket on, since he lived here now. She supposed now that he’d run away to live in a bar, bad fashion decisions were the least of his worries.
Jared was slouching against the low windowsill and smirking, seldom a good sign. Ash was sitting in a high horse-hair armchair, which of course he made look like a throne. Lillian Lynburn was standing at the ornate Victorian fireplace that dominated the furthest wall, looking extremely displeased to be there. She looked even more displeased when she saw Kami.
Holly slipped past Kami, and Kami saw Jared’s and Holly’s eyes meet. Jared’s smirk looked slightly more pleasant for a moment, and he jerked his head in her direction. Holly went over and joined him, perching on the window seat so her curls were brushing his shoulder. Jared and Holly had always gotten along. The idea of them as a couple had occurred to Kami before. It just hadn’t hurt like it did now.
She’d never be beautiful like Holly or Angela. She knew that.
“A Prescott,” Lillian said, eyeing Holly with disfavor. “Bad blood. At least there’s some magical talent in that family, but they do not tend to be trustworthy.”
“I trust Holly,” Kami snapped, angry with herself as well as Lillian. “We’ve all got to stick together and trust each other. We’re a team.”
“A team,” Lillian repeated, disdain overflowing in all directions. “So on this team we have, besides a Prescott, the former source who is now entirely useless.”
“You’ll be surprised,” Kami informed her. She took a few steps to the cracked black leather sofa and sat on it. Rusty and Angela sat down on either side of her.
Lillian ignored this. “And two complete strangers who I believe are newcomers to Sorry-in-the-Vale.”
Angela said nothing, but curled her upper lip at Lillian. In a disdain-off, Kami knew where she would have put her money.
Rusty smiled. “We haven’t been introduced, have we? I’m Rusty. Enchanté.”
Kami glanced at him and mouthed, “Enchanté?”
Rusty just grinned at her.
“Rusty is a dog’s name,” Lillian remarked in her most quelling voice.
“It’s Russell Montgomery the Third, actually,” said Rusty, still grinning. He leaned back against the sofa, putting his arm behind Kami’s head. “But I’d be obliged if you keep that bit of information to yourself.”
“I don’t imagine any of us cares enough to remember,” Jared said.
Kami shot him a furious look, but he refused to meet her eyes.
Rusty grinned at him too. “They call me Rusty because I have a fetching red glint in my lustrous dark hair.”
“Yes, all right,” Kami said, intervening before Lillian could actually expire from annoyance at their feet. “We may be straying off topic.”