Girl of Nightmares


Page 59


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"You're the only one who was really behind me on this," I say. "Why is that?"

He shrugs. "I can't speak for the rest of them. But … she's your Anna." He shrugs again. "You care about her, you know? She's important. Look." He runs his hand roughly across his face and into his standing-up hair. "If it was-if it was Carmel, I'd want to do the same thing. And I'd expect you to help me."

"I'm sorry about Carmel," I say, and he still sort of waves it off.

"I didn't see it coming, I guess. It seems like I should have. Like I should have realized that she didn't really…" He trails off and smiles sadly. I could tell him, that it had nothing to do with him. I could tell him that Carmel loves him. But it wouldn't make things any easier, and he might not believe me.

"Anyway, so that's why I'm helping," he says, and straightens. "What? Did you think it was all about you? That you just make me so emotional?"

I laugh. The traces of the nightmare are fading from my blood. But the wooden face, and the burnt letters scrawled across it, are going to hang around for a long time.

* * *

I think the only thing Jestine does in this house is make breakfast. The smell of buttery eggs pervades the entire lower level, and when I round the corner into the kitchen there's a smorgasbord of food laid out across the table: a pot of oatmeal, eggs done two ways (scrambled and over-easy), sausage and bacon, a basket of fruit, a small stack of toast, and Gideon's entire stock of jellies (which includes the vegetable jelly they call Marmite. Disgusting).

"Are you and Gideon running a secret B&B?" I ask, and she smiles lopsidedly.

"Like he would allow so many strangers through his door. No, I just like to cook, and I like to keep him fed. But don't you sit down just yet," she says, and points a spatula at my chest. "He's in the study getting ready to leave. You should probably wish him well."

"Why? Is he in danger?"

Jestine's eyes don't give me any clues, and nothing about her flinches. My head says that I'm not supposed to like her. But I do anyway.

"Okay," I say after a second.

The study is quiet but when the door slides open he's there, behind his desk, softly opening a drawer and walking his fingers through the contents inside . He spares me only one glance, and it doesn't interrupt the deliberate and focused movement of his hands.

"You'll be leaving tomorrow," Gideon says. "I'm leaving today."

"Leaving for where?"

"The Order, of course," he replies tersely. But I knew that. I meant where, like, where on a map. But then again, he probably knew that too.

Gideon opens another drawer, and gathers up the dummy athames from their case of red velvet. He slides each one into a leather sheath, then into a silk pouch, which is tied off and tucked into his open suitcase. I hadn't even noticed it, propped up in his chair.

A weird kind of relief is unknotting muscles that had been weaving together for weeks. For months. It's the relief of having a chance, catching a glimpse of even a tiny shred of light down the pipe.

"Jestine's made breakfast," I say. "You've got time to eat before you go, don't you?"

"Not especially." His hands are shaking as he places a few folded shirts onto the top of his suitcase.

"Well-" I don't know what to say. The shaking makes me nervous. It shows his age, and the way he's leaned down over his chair while he packs isn't helping; it gives the impression of a stooped back.

"I promised your father," he whispers. "But you would have kept pressing. You don't give up. You get that from him. From both of your parents, actually."

I start to smile, but he didn't mean it as a compliment.

"Why aren't we going together?" I ask, and he looks at me from under his brows. You started this, says that look. So I won't buckle, or fidget around. I won't let him see that I'm nervous about what I'm going to step in.

"So how do we get there? Is it far?" Once they're out, the questions sound ridiculous. Like I'm expecting to get on the Tube and ride through four stations to arrive at the doorstep of an ancient druidic order. Then again, maybe that's what it is. It's the twenty-first century. Arriving to find a bunch of old dudes in brown robes would be equally weird.

"Jestine will take you," Gideon replies. "She knows the way."

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