Hourglass Page 23

“I wish to make an observation,” Ranulf said.

Exasperated, Lucas said, “You’re not the only one cramping up in this backseat, okay?”

Ranulf replied, “That was not the observation.”

“Go ahead,” I said. Nobody would change my mind.

But then Ranulf said, “Are you not wearing an obsidian pendant?”

I put my hand around the antique pendant my parents had given me this past Christmas. An obsidian teardrop dangled from an ornate chain of copper that had gone green. At the time I’d thought the necklace simply a thoughtful gift, a reflection of my interest in vintage clothes. However, Mrs. Bethany had informed me later that obsidian was one of the many minerals and metals that repelled wraiths.

In other words, it could help keep me safe. Since she’d told me that, I’d never taken the pendant off, not even to bathe. I’d almost forgotten about it.

“The obsidian gives me some protection,” I admitted, “but I don’t know how much or for how long.”

“I promise you, this ghost isn’t a baddie,” Vic said. “Wraith. Whatever. She’s awesome. At least, I think she’s a she.”

Lucas asked, “Have you talked to this thing? Communicated with it somehow?”

“Not exactly, but—”

“So how do you know it’s ‘awesome’?”

“The same way I know I’m being mocked,” Vic said, eyes narrowing. “I can just tell.”

I still wanted to tell Vic to back his car out of the driveway and take me and Lucas back to our hotel. Yet I knew we could only afford a few more nights there, and that only because we’d gotten a lucky deal. Vic would loan us whatever cash we needed, but I wanted to borrow as little as possible. If we couldn’t stay on his property through July and early August, we’d have to ask him for thousands. I really preferred not to do that.

My hand still clasped around the pendant, I said, “I’ll go in.”

“Bianca, don’t.” Lucas looked furious, but I put one hand on his arm to steady him.

“You and Ranulf wait out here. If you hear any screaming or the windows ice over—”

“I don’t like the sound of this,” Lucas said.

“I said if, okay?” Now that I’d made the decision, I didn’t want to sit around worrying; I wanted to do it and get it over with. “If that happens, you guys come in and help. Vic and I will try it this time. We won’t stay here if the wraith causes a problem.”

Although Lucas still looked displeased, he nodded. Vic clambered over his driver’s side door without even opening it. As I got out, I could hear Ranulf’s knees crack as he straightened his legs and gave a long sigh of relief.

Vic’s parents weren’t home, so the house was empty. Their place was gorgeous, more like something in a magazine than any real home I’d ever been in. The foyer was tiled in green marble, and a small chandelier hung from the thirty-foot ceiling. Everything smelled like furniture polish and oranges. We walked up a central staircase that was broad, white, and flowing. I could imagine Ginger Rogers dancing down those steps in a dress of ostrich feathers; certainly a movie star would belong here more than me in my cheap little sundress.

Of course, Vic didn’t quite seem to belong here either—and this was his house. I wondered if his carefree goofiness was maybe his way of rebelling against the perfect order his parents had established.

“She only shows up in the attic,” he said, as we walked along the parquet hallway upstairs. The paintings on the wall looked old. “That’s her special place, I think.”

“You actually see her?”

“Like a figure in a sheet or something? Nah. You just know she’s there. And every once in a while—Well, we’ll try it. Don’t want to get your hopes up.”

My one hope at that moment was not to get freeze-dried by a wraith. Silently thanking my parents for the pendant, I watched as Vic opened the door to the attic stairs and started to climb. I took a couple of deep breaths before I followed him.

The Woodsons’ attic was the only messy part of the house. The clutter was nicer than in most attics, I suspected. A blue-and-white Chinese vase sat on a dusty desk as wide as a bed and probably almost a hundred years old. A dressmaker’s dummy wore a jacket of yellowing lace and an old Edwardian ladies’ hat still jaunty with plumes. The Persian rug underfoot looked genuine, at least to my uneducated eye. Although the air smelled musty, it was a nice sort of musty, like old books.

“I like it up here,” Vic said. His face was more serious than usual. “This is probably my favorite place in the whole house.”

“This is where you feel comfortable.”

“You get it, huh?”

I smiled at him. “Yeah, I get it.”

“Okay, let’s just sit down here and see if she shows.”

We sat cross-legged on the Persian rug and waited. My nerves reacted to every creak of the wood, and I kept looking nervously at the one small window behind the dressmaker’s dummy. The panes hadn’t frosted over.

“I’m going to give you the cash, instead of Lucas,” Vic said as he played with the shoelaces of his Chucks. “I’ve got about six hundred dollars on hand—and you’re taking it all. Usually I’d have more, but I just bought a new Stratocaster.” He hung his head. “I feel stupid, blowing that much money on a guitar I can hardly play. If I’d known you guys were going to need it—”

“You couldn’t have known. Besides, it’s your money to spend however you want. It’s good of you to share it with us.” I frowned, momentarily distracted from the suspense of waiting for the ghost. “Why give it to me instead of Lucas?”

“Because Lucas would probably refuse to take more than a hundred or so. Sometimes he’s too proud to admit he needs help.”

“We’re not proud.” I remembered jumping the subway turnstile with some embarrassment. “We’re way too screwed for that.”

“Lucas is always going to have a pride thing going on. Always. You’re the reasonable one.”

My lips twitched. “I wish I could tell him you said that.”

“He knows,” Vic said. “The two of you make a good team.”

I remembered the night before and felt my cheeks turn pink. “Yeah,” I said softly. “We do.”

A grin spread across Vic’s face, and for one horrified second I thought he’d somehow been able to tell what I was thinking. But that wasn’t why he was smiling. “Do you feel it?”

The chill in the air swept around me. I hugged myself. “Yeah. I do.”

No ice crystals formed. No frost carved out faces against the window. Nothing visible appeared. I simply knew that a second ago, Vic and I had been alone. Now something was with us. Someone.

At first, I was confused. Why wasn’t this as violent and scary as the other ghostly manifestations I’d seen? Wraiths didn’t gently creep into the corners of rooms; they stabbed their way in with blades of ice. That was the way it had always happened at Evernight Academy—

Wait. The school had been specially built to repel ghosts; the iron and copper the wraiths despised were built into the school’s walls and beams. Although the wraiths had been able to force their way in, that had been difficult for them. Were the bizarre manifestations of ghostly power I’d seen before—the frozen stalactites and rippling blue-green light—evidence of that struggle? Maybe in a place like this, an ordinary house, the wraiths didn’t create effects so dramatic.

“Hey there,” Vic said cheerfully. “This is my friend Bianca. She’s going to hang out in the wine cellar for a while with Lucas, also a friend. They’re fantastic; you’re going to love them.” He could have been introducing us at a party. “They were just kind of nervous, because Binks here has had some ghost issues before. But nothing personal, okay? I wanted to make sure you guys would be cool.”

There was no reply, of course. It seemed to me that the light was a little brighter in that corner of the room, maybe a little bluer, but the difference was almost too subtle to discern.

Then I saw her.

Not with my eyes—not that kind of sight. It was more like when a memory comes back to you so powerfully that you can’t even see what’s in front of you any longer, because the images in your head are so vivid. The wraith was in my mind, the same one from my dreams—one of those I had seen at Evernight Academy last year. Was that Vic’s ghost? Another? Her short, pale hair seemed almost white, and her face was sharp.

You might as well stay, she said. Not like it matters.

Then the vision was over. Startled, I blinked my eyes a few times, trying to center myself. “Whoa.”

“What happened?” Vic looked around the room, like he might be able to see something. “You went all spacey for a few seconds there. Is everything okay?”

What had the wraith meant by that message? I already knew that I didn’t understand her very well.

Yet I didn’t feel the same kind of fright I’d known after every other encounter with a wraith. This one had shown no signs of hostility, hadn’t made any demands like stop or ours or anything like that. Either she liked Vic as much as he liked her and would leave us alone for his sake, or my obsidian pendant was a definite safeguard.

As Vic carefully studied my face, he said, “Well?”

I smiled. “We can stay.”

For a little while, at least, Lucas and I had a home.

Vic drove us back to our hotel. Before he and Ranulf left, Vic made a discreet trip to the ATM and gave me the six hundred dollars he’d promised, a wad of bills I stuffed inside my purse. We had the keys and code to turn off the security system in the wine cellar, and once we had jobs, Lucas and I would be able to save money. Before they left, I hugged Vic tighter than I had hugged almost anybody else in my life.

Then it was time for me to face the music.

Lucas hadn’t smiled once on the way home. He talked some with Vic and Ranulf, thanking Vic for giving us a place to stay, but it was like I was invisible. He’d held on to his temper while we took care of business, but now his mood was darkening.

We rode up the hotel elevator in silence, the tension around us weighing heavier by the moment. In my mind, I kept seeing Eduardo’s death at Mrs. Bethany’s hands over and over again, and hearing that sickening crack.

When we entered our room, I expected Lucas to begin shouting at me right away, but he didn’t. Instead he went into the bathroom and washed his face and hands, scrubbing hard, as though he felt dirty.

As he dried off with a towel, the suspense got to me. “Say something,” I said. “Anything. Scream at me if you have to. Just—don’t stay quiet like that.”

“What do you want me to say? I told you not to use e-mail? We both know that, and we both know you ignored me.”

“You didn’t say why.” He glared at me then, and I realized how weak I had to sound. “That’s not an excuse. I realize that—”

“I told you months ago that we had to watch out for e-mail being traced! Did you think I didn’t e-mail you last year just because I didn’t feel like it? Why wasn’t that alone enough to tell you that was a good reason?”

“You’re shouting at me!”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I wouldn’t want to overreact to something as insignificant as people getting killed.”

It hit me then, the full weight of what I’d done, in a way it hadn’t since the night of Mrs. Bethany’s attack. I smelled the smoke and remembered the screams. In my mind’s eye, I saw Mrs. Bethany viciously twist Eduardo’s neck and the light fade from his eyes as he fell down dead.

I ran from the hotel room, tears stinging my eyes. I couldn’t face Lucas’s anger at that moment, even though I deserved it. My own guilt had come crashing down, punishing me more horribly than he or anyone else could. I had to be alone, to cry it out for myself, but where could I go?

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