* * *
“The athame is gone. You lost it. Where is it?”
He’s got me by the throat, strangling the answers, slamming me back into my pillow.
“Stupid, stupid, STUPID!”
I wake up swinging, popped upright in my bed like a rock ’em sock ’em robot. The room is empty. Of course it is; don’t be stupid. Using the same word on myself brings me back into the dream. I’m only half-awake. The memory of his hands on my throat is lingering. I still can’t speak. There’s too much tightness, there and in my chest. I take a deep breath, and when I exhale it comes out ragged, close to a sob. My body feels full of empty spaces where the weight of the knife should be. My heart is pounding.
Was it my father? The idea brings me back ten years, and the guilt of a kid balloons sharply in my heart. But no. It couldn’t have been. The thing in my dream had a Creole or Cajun accent, and my father grew up in accent-neutral Chicago, Illinois. It was just another dream, like the rest, and at least I know where this one came from. It doesn’t take a Freudian interpreter to realize I feel bad about losing the athame.
Tybalt jumps up onto my lap. In the scant moonlight through my window I can just make out the green oval of his irises. He puts a paw up on my chest.
“Yeah,” I say. The sound of my voice in the dark is sharp and too loud. But it sends the dream farther away. It was so vivid. I can still remember the acrid, bitter smell of something like smoke.
“Meow,” Tybalt says.
“No more sleep for Theseus Cassio,” I agree, scooping him up and heading downstairs.
When I get there, I put some coffee on and park my butt at the kitchen table. My mom has left out the jar of salt for the athame, along with clean cloths and oils to rub it and rinse it and make it new. It’s out there somewhere. I can feel it. I can feel it in the hands of someone who never should have touched it. I’m starting to think murderous thoughts about Will Rosenberg.
My mom comes down about three hours later. I’m still sitting at the table and staring at the jar as the light grows stronger in the kitchen. Once or twice my head thumped down against the wood and then bounced back up again, but I’m half a pot of coffee in now, and I feel fine. Mom is wrapped in her blue bathrobe and her hair looks comfortingly fuzzy. The sight calms me immediately, even as she glances at the empty jar of salt and puts the cover back on. What is it about the sight of your mother that makes everything fireside-warm and full of dancing Muppets?
“You stole my cat,” she says, pouring herself a cup of coffee. Tybalt must sense my unrest; he’s been circling around my feet off and on, something he usually only does to my mom.
“Here, have him back,” I say as she comes to the table. I hoist him up. He doesn’t stop hissing until she brings him down to her lap.
“No luck last night?” she asks, and nods at the empty jar.
“Not exactly,” I say. “There was some luck. Luck of both kinds.”
She sits with me and listens while I spill my guts. I tell her everything we saw, everything we learned about Anna, how I broke the curse and freed her. I end with my worst embarrassment: that I lost Dad’s athame. I can hardly look at her when I tell her that last part. She’s trying to control her expression. I don’t know if that means she’s upset that it’s gone or if it means she knows what the loss of it must’ve done to me.
“I don’t think you made a mistake, Cas,” she says gently.
“But the knife.”
“We’ll get the knife back. I’ll call that boy’s mother, if I have to.”
I groan. She just crossed the mom line from cool and comforting to Queen of Lame.
“But what you did,” she goes on. “With Anna. I don’t think it was a mistake.”
“It was my job to kill her.”
“Was it? Or was it your job to stop her?” She leans back from the table, cradling her coffee mug between her hands. “What you do—what your dad did—it was never about vengeance. Never about revenge, or tipping the scales back to even. That’s not your call.”
I rub my hand across my face. My eyes are too tired to see straight. My brain is too tired to think straight.
“But you did stop her, didn’t you, Cas?”
“Yes,” I say, but I don’t know. It happened so fast. Did I really get rid of Anna’s dark half, or did I just allow her to hide it? I shut my eyes. “I don’t know. I think so.”
My mom sighs. “Stop drinking this coffee.” She pushes my cup away. “Go back to bed. And then go to Anna and find out what she’s become.”