I stood there, hands clasped in front of me. Once again, I thought of Call saying, "It's okay. It's okay," as the pit closed in on him. He had given his life for mine. I had to make that count. And he'd loved Hex Hall. Believed in it, taken care of it, called it his home. The least I could do was restore it.
So when the witch looked straight at me and said, "We accept," it wasn't fear or regret or dread that shot through me. It was satisfaction.
Mom, Dad, Jenna, and Archer were all waiting for me when I came out of the ball room. Before any of them could say something, I took my parents' hands and said, "We can talk all the way home, promise. I need some alone time right now, though, okay?" Dad squeezed my hand, wrapping his other arm around Mom's waist. "Absolutely."
"Sure," Jenna said.
Archer nodded. "Do what you need to do."
I walked past them and out onto the front porch. The steps hardly creaked under my feet as I walked down onto the lawn. I moved to one of the giant oak trees, leaning against it to stare at the school.
I was still standing there when I felt a presence at my elbow. Elodie floated next to me, her red hair wavering around her face. "Hi," I said softly.
"So you're going to be the Big Boss Lady?"
I opened my mouth to make some quippy comment, but nothing came. So I just said, "Yeah. I am." She gave a little nod. "You'll be good at it. But if you ever tell anyone I said that, I'll kill you." I chuckled. "Fair enough." For a long moment, I watched her watching the house. And then, very quietly, I said, "If you're ready for me to...I don't know, set you free or whatever, I can now. At least I think I can."
Elodie turned to me, her feet hovering just off the ground. "Where would I go?"
"I don't know."
"Would you..." She trailed off, and if I hadn't known Elodie better, I would've sworn nervousness crossed her face. Then her lips moved so quickly that I couldn't make out any of the words.
"Whoa, slow down. My lip-reading skills aren't that great."
She drifted closer. "I said, if you're staying at Hex Hall, then...I want to stay, too." I blinked. "For real? You want to stay tethered to me for all eternity? Because if you think for one second I'm letting you in my body again, you've got another think coming."
"I don't want to be in your body anymore," she said, before screwing her face up. "That sounded gross. Anyway, I just want to stay here. For now."
She threw up her hands. "Because you're my friend, okay? Because helping you and your loser crew these past few weeks has been...I don't know, fun. And way more fun than I thought I could have dead."
I was weirdly touched, so I tried to keep my voice gentle when I said, "Elodie, I get that. And to be honest, the thought of you blinking out of existence makes me-" My throat closed up, so I tried to turn it into a cough before saying, "But I can't have you tethered to me forever. It's not fair to either one of us."
"Is there any way you could transfer the bond?" she asked. "All the other ghosts around this place, they're linked to the island. Could you do that for me?"
I thought about it, and my powers hummed through my veins. "Yeah, I could do that. But, Elodie, that will mean you'll be stuck here on Graymalkin Island forever. It'll just be you and whatever ghosts are still hanging around this place." Elodie vanished, and I rolled my eyes. "Oh, come on!"
But then she reappeared several feet away, on the rise of the hill that led down to the pond. Waving her arm for me to follow her, she floated out of sight.
Heaving a sigh, I climbed the hill, and as I crested the top, I had to shade my eyes against the sunlight bouncing off the water. "Wow," I said, coming to a stop as Elodie hovered next to me. "That the prettiest I've ever seen the pond look. And look, the grass doesn't look so dead over-" Whatever I'd been about to say died in my throat, and I clamped a hand over my mouth.
Call walked along the edge of the pond. Well, his ghost did, at least. He was so faint that I could barely make him out, but there was no mistaking his long, easy stride. He knelt down and ran his hand over a patch of the gray grass, and as he did, it bled back to a vivid, emerald green.
He looked over at the hill where I stood, and he lifted his hand in a little wave. I waved back, tears streaming down my face. "Can he see me?" I asked Elodie. "Or is it just you?"
"He sees you," she replied. Then, somewhat ruefully she added, "I don't think he'd give me that particular smile." Then her lips twisted into a mischievous smile. "At least not yet. I do have all eternity to make Call change his mind about me." I knew she was joking, but I was serious when I said, "Take care of him, okay?" And her face was surprisingly soft when she replied, "I will."
In the end, releasing Elodie from me and tying her to the island was a simple bit of magic. But when I felt that little chain of power between us give way, I had to admit I felt more than a little sad.
By the time Archer and Jenna found me, Elodie had vanished again. So had Cal, although the grass all around the pond was green now.
"There you are," Jenna said as she and Archer appeared at the top of the hill.
"Yeah, sorry," I said, walking to stand between them. "Had a lot on my mind."
"I bet," Archer said, wrapping an arm around my waist. "So, you told them you'd do it."
"I did. Do you think that's dumb?"
"I think it's dangerous," he said, turning me to face him. "I think you're crazy. But dangerous and crazy are two of the things I love most about you. So, no. Not dumb. Although I am disappointed that your condition for taking the job was reopening Hex Hall and not, I don't know, a Caribbean vacation with your boyfriend."
He lowered his head to kiss me, and Jenna cleared her throat. "Um, hello? Pretty sure vampire sidekick should get some kind of perk, too." Archer nudged Jenna's shoulder. "Tell you what, when we get back from the Caribbean, she can take you to Transylvania or something. How does that sound?"
She punched his arm, but there was affection in the gesture, and I suddenly wanted to cry all over again. So I stepped back from Archer and said, "Any and all vacations will have to wait until I'm done with the school year." When they both stared at me, I added, "Yeah, that's the other part.
When they reopen Hex Hall ...I'm going to stay here. Just for the rest of the year," I hurried on. "Not like, for life. And college was another part of the deal, so there's that afterward. But, I mean, we'll be able to stay in touch. There are all kinds of spells for that sort of thing." Jenna and Archer shared a look. "Why would we need to 'stay in touch'?" Jenna asked.
"Well, because...Look, I can't ask you guys to stay at Hex Hall for a whole other year. Jenna, you have Vix, and Archer, you have...Actually, what do you have?"
"You," he said firmly. "And a whole bunch of holy knights who want to kill me."
"Vix can visit," Jenna said. "And the school will be a good place now, so it's not like one more year will be torture. Although," she said, frowning,
"I will admit the place is pretty awful to look at. I don't know how we're going to fix that." Facing the pond, staring at that green, green grass, I gave a shuddery laugh. "I don't think we have to worry about the island," I said, wiping stray tears with the back of my hand. "It's being healed."
"Well, there you have it, then," Archer said. "Vix can come for a visit, the island will eventually be a heck of a lot less depressing, and I'm not leaving you ever again."
"Yeah, and we still have to deal with The Eye being...Eyeish, and me learning to be Head of the Council, which will probably involve lots of boring books and-"
Archer pressed his mouth to mine, effectively shutting me up and kissing the hell out of me. When he pulled back, he was grinning. "And you have an arrogant, screwed-up former demon hunter who is stupidly in love with you."
"And an angsty vampire who will walk into hell with you. Actually, who has walked into hell with you," Jenna added, coming around to my other side.
"And parents who love you, and who are probably making out back at the car," Archer said, and I laughed.
"So, really," Jenna said, and looped her arm through mine, "what more do you need?" I looked back and forth between them, these two people I loved so much. The breeze ruffled the tall grass around the pond, and I thought I could hear Elodie's laugh.
"Nothing," I told them, squeezing both their hands. "Nothing."