Page 7

 Sarah Rees Brennan

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“It doesn’t matter,” said Kami. She let go of the doorknob and reached for him. Miraculously, he did not flinch. He let her fingertips rest against the worn leather of his sleeve.
“Listen,” Kami whispered, braver now. “I don’t care what Lillian says, or what anyone says. It doesn’t have to matter. You don’t have to hate yourself. I know you. Better than anyone. Don’t I?” She felt sinking disappointment when he uncrossed his arms and her hand fell. She was certain he was about to move farther away.
But he moved nearer. Surprise ran through Kami at that simple action, his warmth so close to her chilled body. His breath was a whisper of heat against her cheek. As she swallowed in the dark, she felt his fingers lightly touching the collar of her dress, trailing back to the nape of her neck.
Then his hand closed tight in her hair, and he pulled her in against him and kissed her. Kami arched up against him, sliding her hands up along his chest, feeling muscle move under thin cotton against her palms. She clenched her hands and held on tight to the fabric of his T-shirt, knuckles pressing into the lines of his collarbone.
She kissed him, pulling him down to her, as his fingers tugged at her tie and her body drew in closer to his with each tug. She felt the material give, the buttons pulling free so her collar drew open, and he slipped his hand just inside the warm space between her collar and her throat, his fingertips curling against her skin.
His other hand was stroking her hair, pulling at it a little too much but with a frantic attempt at gentleness. He was pressed against the wall and she was pressed against him. She was finally close again, inside a circle of warmth, his leather jacket around her and his body against hers. She was almost close enough.
The door to the pool room opened, and Kami tore herself away, throwing open the door of the parlor and hurling herself inside. She found herself blinking in the impossibly bright lights. When the dazzle cleared, she saw everyone looking at her curiously. Holly was leaning across to Angela, as if they had been talking at last, and Rusty looked as though he had just woken up from a nap.
Kami resumed her seat on the sofa in complete silence, and found out who had opened the door to the pool room as Lillian walked into the parlor. Lillian, naturally, had not a hair out of place and gave no indication that she had witnessed any torrid corridor encounters. Kami watched her walk calmly toward the mantelpiece, and jumped like a hare at a gunshot when the door opened again.
Ash walked in.
Kami had not noticed before that he was wearing a leather jacket. His was black, and looked a bit newer than Jared’s battered brown leather one, but she hadn’t been able to see colors in the shadows.
Oh no, Kami thought, surely not. Life could not be that ridiculous or that cruel. It could not be true.
Ash met her fixed stare and offered her a smile, shyer than his usual smiles. Kami forced herself to smile weakly back. It wasn’t one of her best efforts, but Ash looked pleased. He went back to his chair, glancing at her and smiling again.
Then Jared marched into the room and headed straight for the window seat. Once he was at the window, he leaned against the glass and looked out at the night.
So if Kami did the making-out mathematics, and weighed the chances of it being the guy sneaking looks and smiles at her, or the guy who was keeping up his perfect record of stonily ignoring her . . .
Kami sat stricken. She could not imagine what expression was on her face, but she saw Angela giving her an odd look out of the corner of her eye.
Rusty leaned in to her, settling his arm around her shoulders again. “Everything all right, Cambridge?” he murmured.
Kami said numbly, “Never better.”
Chapter Five
As You Wish
Jared did not look at Kami, and Lillian would not listen to her for the rest of the meeting. Kami could not face the idea of going home and confronting her mother about her lies after the Lillian Lynburn Sorcerer Appreciation Hour, so she figured she would go stay at Angela’s again tonight. She whispered the suggestion in Angela’s ear as they were getting up to go, and when Angela nodded Kami pulled her out of the room fast.
“What are you doing?” Angela complained. “Are you trying to make me jog? You know I think people who jog should be shot at midday.”
“Why at midday?” Kami asked absently.
“There’s no need to ever get up at dawn,” Angela told her. “Not even to shoot joggers. We’re going to leave my brother behind, Kami; he is one of life’s born saunterers.”
“He knows his way home,” Kami said callously. “Failing that, he’s a personable lad—some kind lady is bound to take him in and treat him well.” She was dragging Angela down the cobbled street, but she heard the door of the inn bang shut. She looked determinedly ahead, pretending she found the High Street fascinating.
“Miss Glass,” called out Lillian Lynburn. “A word?” Kami stopped and turned. She felt relieved—she was better equipped to deal with Lillian right now than either of the Lynburn boys—but she was also puzzled. “A word?” she repeated. “We were in the same room for two hours and you barely let me speak.”
“As I said, I have no interest in my fight against Rob being a team effort,” said Lillian. “I only came here because my boy asked me to—and he only asked because he knew it was what you wanted.”
“Yes,” Kami told her. “This evening was all my dreams come true. I can never get enough of people looking down their noses at me. You do it beautifully. I wish you had two noses, so that you could look at me down both.”
Lillian shut her eyes briefly, as if she hoped when she opened them she would behold a world in which people never said ridiculous things.
“I want to make a bargain with you,” she said. “You’re keen to be the intrepid girl reporter, aren’t you?”
“Golly gosh yes,” Kami replied. “Awfully keen!”
Lillian also refused to acknowledge sarcasm. “You want to do research and reconnaissance and have every little scrap of information you can dig up, as if poking your nose into things is bound to help matters. If what you want are the Aurimere records, you can have them. But they won’t do you any good.”
Kami realized that Angela was holding on to her hand, so they presented a united front.
“Why would you want to give me access to your records if you think I’ll be so useless?” Kami asked.
“I’ll give you what you want in exchange for what I want,” Lillian said. “Talk to my boy. Tell him to come home.”
“Jared?” Kami asked, disbelief making her voice come out almost soft. “You want Jared back?”
She was going to ask if that meant it had been Jared who asked Lillian to come here, and why he would do that. She was going to ask why Lillian thought Kami could persuade him. She was going to ask why Lillian wanted him back—if a person like Lillian really loved anyone, if Jared could have that much from his family.
But Lillian’s eyes narrowed as though she could read Kami’s mind and was preemptively finding all her questions offensive. “Do we have a bargain,” she asked, “or not?”
Kami did not even have to think about it. “Yes,” she said. “We do.”
Lillian needed to hear no more, and had no truck with common non-sorcerous habits like saying goodbye to people. She turned and walked up the street, toward her manor on the hill. There was still light rain falling and a wind blowing: there was a gust that blew all the raindrops aslant, and in that movement of night wind Lillian vanished.
A second later a light was shining in one of Aurimere’s windows.
* * *
Kami had always slept in Angela’s bed during sleepovers. She wondered if she was supposed to feel different now that she knew Angela liked girls. After all, she wouldn’t have shared a bed with Rusty.
It didn’t feel different. Kami wondered if she was being a bad friend even thinking about it. She certainly wasn’t worried that Angela fancied her at all, given that Angela was ridiculously good-looking and, examining the current Holly evidence, went for likewise ridiculously good-looking girls.
Still, Kami was restless, lying in the four-poster bed with the gauzy hangings. Angela thought the hangings were dumb, but Kami secretly coveted them in all their pretty, pretty princess glory. She levered herself up on one elbow and traced one of Angela’s red-flowered pillows with a finger. “Angela,” she whispered, “are you asleep?”
Angela, lying on her back with her eyes shut and her hands folded like Snow White in a glass coffin, said flatly, “Yes.”
“Because I’d like to talk about our feeeeeeeelings.”
“I wish I was dead.”
“Angela, you don’t mean that.”
“Kami, I do. And do you know why? Because then you might let me rest in peace.”
“I really wouldn’t count on that. The thing is,” Kami said, “you used to mention guys. I mean, you used to say things like you’d only date college guys. Wait, is it guys too? Because that’s fine. I mean, anything’s fine. I just want to know. I want us to be able to talk about it.”
Angela opened her eyes and looked up at Kami, her gaze dark and clear. “No,” she answered, quietly. “No, it isn’t guys. Not ever.”
“Well . . . ,” Kami said. “That’s good.”
Angela’s eyes narrowed, not sleepy now but almost angry. “Is it? Why is that good?”
“Why wouldn’t it be good? I love you,” said Kami. “And this is who you are. It would be a shame if you were any different.”
Angela turned her face away. Kami saw her throat move but could not tell if Angela was upset, angry, or something else.
“If you don’t mind my asking,” said Kami, “why pretend? With me, I mean.”
Angela kept her face turned away. “I can’t talk about stuff like that.”
Kami knew that much. Angela and Rusty’s parents, when they were there at all, talked a lot but never about anything that mattered. Rusty was able to replicate their superficial chatter and charm, and Angela rebelled against it by being spectacularly rude to almost everyone she met. But neither of them ever talked about anything that really mattered.
“You never used to either,” Angela continued after a pause, sounding accusing.
“I always had someone else to talk to,” Kami said in a low voice. “But I’m sorry if I haven’t been open with you—if I’ve made you think you can’t be open with me. . . .”
“That’s not it,” Angela said. She sat up, grabbing one of Kami’s pillows and shoving it under her own head. “I knew I could tell you. I knew you’d be supportive. I knew you’d be proactive about it and try to drag me off to g*y clubs.”
“Oh, we could totally go—” Kami began, and Angela looked appalled.
“Let me make myself clear,” Angela said. “I’m a lesbian who hates people. I don’t want to go anywhere hoping to meet someone, because the idea of mixing with a bunch of strangers makes me want to be sick. We live in a small town. My parents are awful. I just didn’t want to deal with the hassle of any of it. I thought, once I left Sorry-in-the-Vale and went to college, I’d meet someone and then I’d tell you. When it was worth telling you. I didn’t expect to meet anyone I’d like here.”
Only she had.
“I won’t tell anyone,” Kami promised. “I won’t push you into anything.”
Angela raised an eyebrow.
“I’ll try not to,” Kami amended. “I’ll try to be less pushy. I’ll just be kind of nudge-y instead.”
“Then I’ll try to talk about my feelings,” Angela said. “Maybe I will indicate that I have one feeling. Once a year.”