That was completely untrue. I am so nervous! I have also taken to clinging to my blog like a security blanket.
SARAH: I must make another book recommendations post!
DURHAM LASS: Don't you have packages to send out?
SARAH: ... MAYBE. I haven't made a post about my FAMILY in a while. People may want an update!
DURHAM LASS: Sweet as it is for you to want to blacken your relatives' names on the world wide web...
SARAH: Perhaps a post about writing a second book or my first year of being a published author or-
DURHAM LASS: Don't you have your third book to edit?
SARAH: ... MAYBE. But I must show people my Indonesian cover!
Here is my Indonesian cover. Shiny purple!
But also it is the tenth of May, and the tenth means cookie time! And this is the very last time I will put up a cookie for the Demon's Covenant because the book is coming out in a week and I do my first event on Thursday and oh my gosh I hope people will like it and...
... Feeling fine! Totally fine! Why do you ask?
But I couldn't decide whether people might like a Nick cookie, an Alan cookie, a cookie with a new character, or WHAT. So I noodled about until I decided that two cookies was the answer.
“Hello,” her mother said, going for the fridge. Mae waved her coffee cup in greeting and watched as Annabel drew out a packet of lettuce leaves that had turned brown and dispirited.
“Oh dear,” she said. “Thai food all right by you?”
“I’ll be honest: I wasn’t going to eat salad either way.”
Annabel nodded with just a hint of pain. She and Mae had gone back and forth on this a thousand times, and Mae had made it extremely clear that she cared more about eating cheese sandwiches today than being skinny when she was forty. “Is James home? I’ll ask him what he wants.”
“Yeah. Um, he has a friend from school with him. They’re studying.”
Mae realized what an enormous tactical error that had been when she saw her mother’s face light up.
“A friend?” she asked. “Jamie?”
“Yeah,” said Mae, getting up very quickly and almost spilling her coffee in the process. “Look, maybe you shouldn’t—”
“A girl or a boy?” Annabel asked, and went for the stairs.
She was much too fast for a woman in six-inch heels, Mae thought, and dashed after her.
“A boy,” she called after Annabel’s swiftly ascending back, stricken with horror at the very idea of her mother opening Jamie’s bedroom door expecting a studious young lady, possibly in a blouse and spectacles, and finding Nick Ryves.
“He must stay for dinner,” Annabel said with determination, doing a wickedly fast turn on the landing and heading for the second set of stairs. “I’m so glad that James is getting on better at school. I couldn’t think what to do. He said he didn’t want to move schools.”
“I didn’t know you wanted him to change schools!” Mae shouted after her. Annabel was outside Jamie’s door now, and Mae wasn’t going to reach her in time. Disaster was inevitable.
“How do you move so fast?”
“All my shoes are designer,” Annabel informed her. “Quality always tells,” she added as she opened the door.
“‘There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well,’” Jamie read out, doing what Mae thought was supposed to be an upper-class Victorian lady’s voice. He sounded as if someone was choking him to death with bonnet ribbons.
He was sitting on the window seat, feet up on a chair.
Nick was sitting on Jamie’s bed. Only the lamp in Jamie’s room was on, a yellow pool of light stopping short at Nick’s feet, throwing tiny yellow shards of light into the dark hollows of his eyes. He was turning his magic knife over and over in his hands, the rough carvings glinting in the light.
“Mavis and I were wondering if your friend wanted to stay for dinner,” Annabel said in a voice that lacked all conviction, but also belonged to a woman so dismayed she had no idea what else to offer.
Nick lifted an eyebrow. “Mavis?”
“Shut up,” Mae told him.
“All right,” said Nick. “Mavis.”
Annabel was going to do damage to her manicure, hanging on to the doorknob like that. Jamie got up from the window seat and went and stood between Nick and Annabel, hovering a little uncertainly but with clear protective intent.
“Sure, Mum,” he said. “Everyone likes food. Um, so where’s the menu?”
Annabel kept sneaking peeks at Nick over Jamie’s shoulder, as if to verify the full horror of the situation. Nick did not look especially surprised that someone’s mother was clearly appalled by him.
“Yes,” Annabel said, her voice distant because she was obviously trying to place herself in an alternate universe, one where her son did not entertain knife-wielding delinquents in his bedroom. “I’ll go find it. The menu. So we can choose what to eat.”
She turned away and, very carefully, closed the door behind her. Then she began to descend the stairs. Despite the high-quality designer shoes, she was tottering a little.
“You two must get these tastes from your father,” she said as Mae drew level with her. “I was never in the least drawn to the dangerous type. Even in college!”
“Dad dated dangerous guys in college?” Mae asked. “I had no idea.”
In A Totally Different Scene, Elsewhere In the Book
“Do you mean—you’re not scared for yourself. He’d never—”
“I’m not scared of being hurt,” Alan said quietly. “I’m scared of what he’ll do. He could tear himself apart or tear the world apart, and next to those two choices what happens to
me doesn’t matter at all.”
“Hey,” Mae said sharply, and reached out and touched the hand that hung by his side. “It matters.”
He gave her a beautiful smile then, brilliant and surprised, which broke her heart a little because nobody should look startled that there was someone in the world who cared if they lived or died.
“I can’t offer up Nick to help Jamie,” said Alan. “I have to draw a line for him.”
“Since he found out,” Mae murmured.
“Since always,” Alan told her sharply. “This hasn’t been the right sort of life for him, hasn’t been a life where he could have the things I want for him, where he could learn—”
“How to be human?”
“Kindness,” Alan said.
Mae was getting all her questions wrong today. She fell silent, and they went under the low tunnel through St. Stephen’s Church into the heart of the shopping center.
“I did try to keep him from the worst of it,” Alan continued.
“When there was a particularly nasty kill to be made. When it was going to be torture, and death was going to be slow.”
Mae couldn’t quite believe they were having this conversation, strolling around the environs of the Princesshay shopping center. Hemmed in by neon-lit shop fronts and the stones of St. Stephen’s, its walls worn down by twelve centuries, there were the remains of old almshouse. They hadn’t been allowed to tear it down when they built the shopping center. Alan stooped and studied a plaque.
“You had to do it instead,” Mae said, her voice wobbling in the cool air. She wrapped her arms around herself.
“I was glad to do it,” Alan said. “I can help Jamie some other way.”
“We can help Jamie,” said Mae, and Alan nodded, accepting the correction in his turn. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked. I didn’t understand.” She took a deep breath.
“You and Nick,” she went on. “You’re not getting on, are you? When I called, there was that storm. Did something bad happen? Did he do something?”
Alan drew in a slow breath that answered her even before he spoke. “Mae,” he said. “Do you want me to lie to you?”
He put a hand up to his face, fingers smoothing away the worried line between his brows. Soon it would be etched there, Mae thought, and no hand could erase it. Least of all his own.
“No,” Mae breathed. “No, I don’t want that.”
Alan took a detour inside the almshouse ruins, roofless and with only part of the walls remaining. The nameless government types who hadn’t allowed the almshouse to be torn down had allowed glass doors to be built in the places doors would have been inside the almshouse, doors in the shape of glass windows and filled with artificial light. Suspended in the glass were fragments of Roman pottery lined up alongside old cola cans, and Alan was looking at those rather than her when he said, “You’d believe me if I did lie to you.”
“So tell me something true. Did you never want anything for yourself?”
Alan looked at her then.
“Yes,” he said. “One or two things.”
Mae looked down and kicked an eight-hundred-year-old wall.
She glanced up at the sound of movement and saw that Alan had circled so there was a glass door between them, lights captured in the glass casting an aquamarine glow on his face. He looked as though he was underwater, pale and otherworldly, his palm against the glass as if he was reaching out a hand to drag her down.
“I always thought those doors were kind of silly,” Mae said at random, trying to make this moment not serious, make it not matter.
“Really?” Alan asked, fingers light on the glass, touching carefully, as if he had one of the artifacts in his hands. “I like them. I like the idea that the past and the present are always tangled together, making us who we are.”
“Clearly the bright lights distracted me from the deep symbolism,” Mae said, and smiled at him.
He smiled back at her, the same smile as when she’d told him it mattered if he was hurt, surprised and sweet.
“After we go to Celeste Drake tomorrow, after Jamie is safe,” he began, and paused. “I thought Nick and I might stay here in Exeter.” He traced the shape of a broken cup with musician’s hands. “I was wondering what you were doing Saturday night.”
It was such an ordinary thing to say, such an overwhelmingly normal way to ask someone out after a conversation about demons and sacrifice, that it struck Mae speechless.
Alan watched her behind the door of light, his eyes dark serious blue. He waited patiently for her to answer.
“I don’t know. Does a rave sound like your idea of a good time?”
“It might,” Alan answered, lowering his eyes. His eyelashes sparked gold in the fluorescent lights. “If you were there.”