Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception (Page 13)

He looked at me with a weird expression I couldn’t read, then retreated to his car. In a moment, all evidence that he existed was gone, and I didn’t even have his phone number. I also didn’t even have a clue why he was gone.

Well, I had some clue. I turned back to Granna, caught between anger and loss. “Granna. Why?”

She glared at the road as if Luke’s presence lingered, and then she handed me the small present. “You should open this one.”

“I don’t want to open any presents right now.”

She smiled firmly—a humorless smile that was ironically like Luke’s—and held the package out. “Open it, please.”

Sighing, I set down the large present and took the little one from her. Tearing off the patterned blue paper, I found a little jewelry box, but when I opened it, its white satin center was empty. I looked up at Granna, quizzical.

She slid the dull ring, the one she’d shown Luke, from her finger and laid it in the box. “It was my mother’s, and her grandmother’s before. And now it’s yours. I suspected you were old enough to need it, and now I’m sure.”

No, what I needed was Luke back in the driveway and Granna to be normal for once. I looked at the ring. I didn’t like jewelry anyway, but even if I did, this ring was pretty darn ugly.

I said, my voice icy, “Uh, thanks.”

“Put it on,” Granna said. “You’ll thank me later.”

I put it on my right-hand ring finger, and Granna’s smile became genuine. “Thank you. Now, I’m going to get out of the heat and go see my frantic daughter and my scheming daughter.” She took the large package and headed indoors.

I stayed outside, staring down at the ring on my finger. I was curiously close to tears, which is how James found me five minutes later when he pulled into the driveway. Where Luke’s car had just been.

He came to me and took my arms. “What are you doing?”

“Being pushed around.”

“Let’s go inside and talk about it.”

With Delia and Mom and Granna? “Let’s not.”

As if to illustrate my point, Delia’s voice rose from the kitchen window. James glanced at the window and then back to me. “Okay. Into the shade, at least?”

I agreed and we walked into the back yard. Knees pulled up, I sat against one of the massive oaks, its broad trunk shielding me from the view of the house. James sat down in front of me, his knees nearly touching mine. For a long moment he just looked at me, serious. I was so taken aback by this side of him that I almost blurted out everything that had just happened.

But James spoke first. “I have a confession to make.”

My heart lurched. I had a horrible idea of what he was going to say, and I wanted to cover my ears. Don’t, James. You’re my best friend.

He didn’t say it. Instead, he said, “I’m a little psychic.” He paused. “You may laugh now. But only a little bit. Fifteen seconds is probably appropriate, without being rudely disbelieving.”

I didn’t laugh. “I believe you.”

“Oh. Well, that makes it easier, doesn’t it?” James glanced toward the house and pushed his fingers through his auburn hair. “Mind you, I’m not a very good psychic. But I get hunches, and they turn out right. And weird feelings when it’s going to be a weird day. Not very often. Peter says it happens to him too.” Peter was James’ older brother, on pilgrimage in California to find fame and fortune with his rock band. James idolized him, and I thought he was pretty cool, too—maybe the only other non-family member besides James that I could talk to.

James chewed his lip before continuing. “Yesterday was weird. And today was weird, too. I had a hunch I’d find you upset, so I left practice early. What’s going on?”

All of a sudden, it seemed stupid not to have told him everything from the beginning. So I told him. I left out the bits where Luke had touched me, and the feeling of Luke’s lips on my ear, but the rest I told him, as best as I could remember.

He took the key when I offered it, and the ring from my finger, and studied both. “They’re both iron. Isn’t that funny?”

“Funny ‘haha’ or funny ‘strange’?”

James handed them back. “Funny ‘occult.’”

“Ah. Funny ‘strange.’”

James looked at me sternly. “Don’t start that. I’m supposed to be the humorous one.” He watched me put the ring back on and pocket the key again. “Iron’s supposed to be a ward against evil supernatural creatures, if you’re into that magic druid crap.”

I couldn’t help goading him. “If it’s magic druid crap, why do you know about it?”

“A man should be well educated.”

“Well, Granna is into that,” I pointed out. “She’s into all that holistic/natural/spiritual stuff. Cosmic debris. She once told me the color of my aura.”

“Mine’s tartan,” James said. He took my hand in his written-upon ones and turned the ring on my finger, absently. It reminded me of Luke’s hand on mine, earlier. How can two hands feel so different? “And the clover? The one that you moved this morning? Do you still have it?”

“Thought I moved,” I corrected, and shook my head. “Yeah.” I shifted my weight so I could pull it from my pocket.

“So move it.”

I looked hard at him.

“Well, if you can’t move it, like you said, it won’t move, and you won’t have to worry about it anymore, will you? But if it does—well, then you’re a freak.” James grinned. He plucked the slightly crushed clover from my finger and set it in the sparse grass beneath the tree. “Go, go, magic clover.”

“I feel foolish.” I did. We were like two kids hunched over a Ouija board, part of us hoping for something strange to happen, proving the world a mysterious place, and the rest of us hoping desperately for nothing to happen, proving the world safe and free of monsters. I cupped my hand, like earlier that morning, making a little goal for the clover to shoot into. “Come on, clover.”

A breeze kissed the sweat on my forehead. The clover tumbled end-over-end into my hand.

James closed his eyes. “It makes me frigid when you do that.”

“It was the breeze.” It was just the breeze.

He shook his head, and opened his eyes again. “I always get cold when I get one of my weird feelings, and that just about hit glacier-cold on the weirdness chart. Do it again. You’ll see. Next to my leg, where there’s no breeze.”