The problem with this research is I can’t ask the most reliable sources I have. I’m forced to sneak around and talk in code, to keep Mom and Gideon in the dark. Also making things difficult is that voodoo is some disorganized shit. Everyone seems to practice it differently and analysis is damned near impossible.
I wonder about asking Gideon again, after this business with Anna is over. I’m older now, and proven. It wouldn’t be the same this time. And even as I think that, I sink farther into my tea bath. Because I still remember the feel of his hand across my cheek, and the blank fury in his eyes, and it still makes me feel like I’m seven.
* * *
After I get dressed, I call Thomas and ask him to pick me up and take me to the shop. He’s curious, but I manage to hold him at bay. These are things that I need to say to Morfran too, and I don’t want to have to say them twice.
I’m bracing myself for a lecture from my mother about missing school and some grilling about why I needed to call Gideon, which she no doubt overheard, but as I walk down the stairs I can hear voices. Two female voices. One is my mother’s. The other is Carmel’s. I tramp down the staircase and they come into view, thick as thieves. They’re sitting in the living room in adjacent chairs, leaning toward each other and chatting away with a tray of cookies between them. Once both my feet are on the ground level, they stop talking and smile at me.
“Hey, Cas,” Carmel says.
“Hey, Carmel. What are you doing here?”
She reaches around and pulls something out of her schoolbag. “I brought your assignment from bio. It’s a partner’s assignment. I thought we could do it together.”
“That was nice of her, wasn’t it, Cas?” my mother says. “You don’t want to fall behind on your third day.”
“We could get started on it now,” Carmel suggests, holding out the paper.
I walk up and take it from her, glance over it. I don’t know why it’s a partner’s assignment. It’s nothing more than finding a bunch of answers from the textbook. But she’s right. I shouldn’t fall behind. No matter what other important, lifesaving stuff I’ve got going on.
“This was really cool of you,” I say, and I mean it, even though there is some other motive at work here. Carmel doesn’t give a crap about biology. I’d be surprised if she went to class herself. Carmel got the assignment because she wanted an excuse to talk to me. She wants answers.
I glance at my mom, and she’s giving me this creepy once-over. She’s trying to see how the bruises are healing. She’ll be relieved that I called Gideon. When I came home last night I looked beaten half to death. For a second I thought she was going to lock me in my room and dunk me in rosemary oil. But my mom trusts me. She understands what I need to do. And I’m grateful to her for both of those things.
I roll up the bio assignment and tap it in my hand.
“Maybe we can work at the library,” I say to Carmel, and she shoulders her bag and smiles.
“Take one more cookie for the road, dear,” Mom says. We both take one, Carmel a bit hesitantly, and head for the door.
“You don’t have to eat it,” I say to Carmel once we’re on the porch. “Mom’s anise cookies are definitely an acquired taste.”
Carmel laughs. “I had one in there and almost couldn’t do it. They’re like dusty black jellybeans.”
I smile. “Don’t tell my mom that. She invented the recipe herself. She’s totally proud of them. They’re supposed to bring you luck or something.”
“Maybe I should eat it then.” She looks down at it for a long minute, then lifts her eyes and stares intently at my cheek. I know there’s a long streak of black bruise across the bone. “You went back to that house without us.”
“Are you crazy? You could have been killed!”
“And if we had all gone, we would all have been killed. Listen, just stick with Thomas and his grandfather. They’ll figure something out. Keep your cool.”
There’s a definite chill on the wind, an early taste of fall, twisting through my hair with ice-water fingers. As I stare up the street, I see Thomas’s Tempo puttering toward us, complete with replacement door and a Willy Wonka bumper sticker. The kid rides in style, and it makes me grin.
“Can I meet you at the library in an hour or so?” I ask Carmel.
She follows my gaze and sees Thomas coming closer.
“Absolutely not. I want to know what’s going on. If you think for a minute that I believed any of that nonsense Morfran and Thomas were trying to tell us last night … I’m not stupid, Cas. I know a diversion when I see one.”