The Shadow Society Page 38

’’I\m fine.’’

She sat down next to me on the sofa and pulled me into a big hug. ’’What happened to you?’’

’’I...’’ My voice was muffled against her soft shoulder. I thought about how easy things would be if I didn\ answer that question honestly. If I told some crazy horror story about being held captive for two months. I could pick up right where Marsha last saw me, assaulted in her own living room. I was kidnapped, I could tell her.

I vanished? No, I didn\ vanish. Your eyes tricked you, I\d tell her.

She would believe me.

I\d fool Marsha, and then maybe I could move back in like nothing had happened.

No.

I put my arms around her. Marsha wasn\ a fool, and I couldn\ bear to make her into one. If I lied to her and she took me back, she wouldn\ be sharing her home with me. She\d be living with a stranger. When you\ e a stranger to people you care about, you become a stranger to yourself.

I said, ’’You\ e not going to believe me ’’

That made her mad. She pulled away. ’’Don\ give me that. Do you have any idea what I\ve been through these past two months? I have been going out of my mind.’’

I cowered, sinking into the corner of the sofa. ’’Well ’’

’’Don\ \well\ me, young lady. I want answers, and I want them now.’’

Jims and Raphael came back through the door and plunked more grocery bags on the table. ’’I think that\s it,’’ said Raphael.

’’Hey,’’ said Lily, looking between Marsha and me, ’’why don\ the rest of us get some takeout for lunch? We\ll get Thai food.’’

’’Or I could cook,’’ I said, a bit desperate at the thought of them leaving me alone with Marsha. ’’There are groceries.’’

’’No,’’ said Lily. ’’I want Thai. We\ll get your usual. Pad thai with extra lime and peanuts, right?’’

’’Yes, but ’’

’’Come on, guys,’’ she said to the others.

’’You\ e all in big trouble,’’ Marsha told them. ’’Your parents ’’

They looked at each other with dread.

’’ are going to ground you within an inch of your lives.’’

’’Just so long as they don\ spank me,’’ said Jims. ’’I hate it when they do that. I only like getting spanked by ’’

’’We\ll be back.’’ Lily grabbed Jims and then all of them were gone, the front door banging behind them.

It was hard to face Marsha, so I looked around her house at the water-stained carpet where the fish tank had been, that ridiculous raccoon painting. I fumbled into my pocket and pulled out the silver bird spoon. ’’I got this for you.’’ I offered it to her. ’’Now your collection\s complete.’’

Marsha stared down at the spoon, at the word ’’Alaska’’ inscribed in cursive letters across the bowl, and the bird perched on the handle. ’’I don\ understand,’’ she said. ’’Have you been in Alaska?’’

’’No, I ’’

’’That\s not the willow ptarmigan. That\s not the Alaskan state bird. I don\ know what kind of bird that is.’’

Of course.

I had clung to this spoon for weeks like it was a talisman, some magical object that would win Marsha\s heart and make her keep me forever. And of course Conn\s Alaska hadn\ chosen the same state bird.

Hopeless. This was hopeless. I couldn\ explain to Marsha. She would believe a lie, but she\d never understand the truth. I dropped the spoon, stood woodenly, and began to walk toward the front door.

’’Darcy Jones, you get your little butt right back here!’’

I stopped.

’’You owe me an explanation.’’

I did. I owed her more than that. So I told her the truth, because that was all I had to give her.

Though I might have toned down some of the Conn-related stuff.

She interrupted me once, to ask me to ghost and manifest in front of her. I did, and she was only a little freaked out, I guess because the last time she saw me vanish things were more dramatic. When I finished telling her everything that had happened since she\d thrown the kitchen knife, there was a long silence.

’’Well.’’ She let out a big breath, and her hands flopped to her sides. ’’I see I have my work cut out for me.’’

’’What do you mean?’’

’’I am going to have to lie until the cows come home. To the DCFS, the police ’’ She caught me staring. ’’No one would let a crazy person be a foster parent, and if I told the truth I\d sound like a nutcase, wouldn\ I? I suppose you could prove that you\ e not human, but you\ e better off keeping that to yourself.’’

’’Doesn\ it bother you ... what I am?’’

’’Darcy.’’ She gave me a firm look. ’’I have always known exactly what you are. You are a good girl.’’

A feeling bubbled up inside. ’’Does that mean you\ e not kicking me out?’’

’’Kicking you out would get in the way of punishing you, which is exactly what I\m going to do once I figure out how many chores I need done around the house.’’

I couldn\ help it. I laughed. ’’You know, getting kidnapped wasn\ really my fault ’’

’’Zip it. You could have come home a lot earlier, and you know it.’’

Then Marsha, having learned that there was another dimension and that her foster kid wasn\ exactly human, did what I should have guessed she\d do. She began unpacking the groceries. I helped, putting everything where I knew it should go.

When I opened a cabinet to put away some sugar plum herbal tea, I paused. I pulled out the Lapsang souchong tea tin and turned to Marsha. She saw what I held and stopped unpacking.

’’I know what\s inside,’’ I said. ’’I found the money months ago, back at the start of school. I wasn\ looking for it. It was an accident. But I\ve been thinking ... I could help you. I could help you save up, whatever you\ e saving for. I\ve got some money from the coffeehouse, and if I can get my old job back I ’’

’’Darcy,’’ she interrupted.

’’Please let me. Please. You don\ have to tell me what it\s for, but ’’

’’Darcy.’’ She took my hands and held them tight around the tea tin. ’’You\ e going to go to a good college.’’

’’What?’’ I looked down at my hands and her hands. Then I understood. The label on the tin began to wobble, and the letters got fat and watery. Tears spilled from my eyes.

I sobbed, and Marsha\s arms were around me, and I couldn\ believe how lucky I was, how good it was, to have a home.

She held me until I got to the hiccupy end of my tears. ’’Look at you,’’ she said. ’’You\ e a mess. You don\ want your friends to see you looking like that, do you? Go on, wash up.’’ She shooed me toward the bathroom, and I went.

Some people\s eyes change color when they cry, but not mine. I splashed cold water on my face and patted it dry with one of Marsha\s purple hand towels, looking at myself in the mirror. My skin had gotten red and puffy, but my eyes blinked back at me, black as ever. Steady and unchanging.

I happened to glance at the plaque hanging over the toilet: Desiderata. I began reading it again for the millionth time, and stopped when I reached a certain line:

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars. You have a right to be here.

Those words were like brushstrokes inside me, painting a picture. A portrait.

It was a portrait of myself.

I looked in the mirror. This is me, I thought.

I smiled.

’’Darcy,’’ Marsha called. I heard the front door opening, and footsteps, and the high and low voices of Lily, Jims, Raphael, and Taylor. ’’Your friends are back.’’

’’I\m coming!’’

* * *

WE TORE INTO THE THAI FOOD, and the sunlight from the living room windows stretched and lengthened and faded. The sun was going down early, as it always does during winter in the Midwest. It was almost dark when there was a knock at the door.

One by one, everyone in the room turned to me.

They knew who it was. I knew who it was. My entire body did. My pulse quivered.

There was a second knock, but no one said anything. It was as if we were afraid to speak.

Except Jims.

’’Look, Darcy.’’ He dropped his white fork into an empty take-out carton. ’’I\m not going to list the ways in which I don\ like your boyfriend.’’

’’He\s not ’’

’’ all I\m going to say is that I don\ think you two are going to traipse off into the sunset and have fat, happy babies.’’

’’Jims.’’

’’But that\s not what everyone wants. The question is: what do you want?’’

I took a shallow breath. It didn\ seem like my lungs were working properly. Or the rest of me. Certainly not my heart.

I stood and opened the door.

Conn.

’’Hi,’’ I said.

He was framed by the deepening sky. Night was falling around him in smudges of lilac and gray. ’’I came as soon as I could,’’ he said.

’’Oh. Um.’’ I glanced back at the warm yellows of the brightly lit living room, at Marsha and my friends. ’’Do you want to come inside?’’

’’No. I mean, I\d rather talk to you out here.’’ His face was arranged into my least favorite expression. The completely unreadable one.

I didn\ bother to get my coat. I stepped outside, and we walked to the edge of the driveway. He stood in the dry gutter and I stood on the curb. That way he wasn\ so much taller than me.

’’There was a lot to mop up after the fire,’’ Conn said. ’’I decided to listen to what you told me, the night you came over to my place. That I could do some good if I stayed in the IBI. That\s what I want to do.’’

I had a hard time responding. ’’Good.’’

’’But that meant I couldn\ leave the crime scene. There was a search for Meridian, Orion, and the others that didn\ go anywhere and then there was Fitzgerald, and the mayor, and...’’ He trailed off, looking at me searchingly. ’’What\s wrong? I said I would come later. I thought you wanted me to.’’

’’I did. I do.’’

’’Really?’’

It occurred to me that it might always be like this with Conn. I might always be searching for my courage. But I said what I wanted to say. ’’Very much.’’

He let out a nervous breath. ’’You looked so ... strange.’’

’’So did you. And I felt strange. You said you\d see me later, but I didn\ know how much later, like weeks, or months, or years ’’

’’Darcy,’’ he chided, ’’when I said that, the only kind of later I wanted was a second later. A millisecond later. A nanosecond. Faster than the speed of light.’’

’’Oh.’’ I smiled.

He studied me through the darkness. ’’You\ve been crying.’’

’’Happy tears.’’

Conn\s hand lifted my chin, and he gently kissed my eyes. I shivered.

He began unbuttoning his coat. ’’You\ e cold.’’

’’Not really.’’

Conn pulled me inside his coat and wrapped it and his arms around me. I pressed my cheek against his chest, burrowing into the cocoon we made together. ’’You know,’’ I said, ’’there is such a thing as a long-distance relationship.’’

’’And an interdimensional one?’’

’’I think it could work.’’

’’I think so, too.’’

I pulled away and looked at him. I don\ think I had ever seen pure joy on his face before. I saw it then.

He chuckled. ’’I\m a little disappointed. I hoped you were going to ask me again what I said to the Shades. How I convinced them not to fight.’’

’’Slightly off topic, but all right. Tell me, Conn. What did you say?’’

He gazed down at me, and his eyes were the color of heavy weather. ’’That I love you.’’

When I kissed him, his mouth tasted like warm rain. My heart crashed, and I knew that this would not be easy. It never would be easy. It would be rough and stormy.

And beautiful. Beautiful, too.

Like a tornado spinning down from the clouds.

I know. Most girls want their skies to be sunny.

But I\m not most girls.


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