I rose on still unsteady legs to walk over and shake Mr. Grave’s hand.The doctor simply stared over my head, seeming to notice neither my hand, nor me standing there in front of him.This was explained when Frank said to me scornfully, a second later, “He can’t see you. He’s blind.”“Oh,” I said, feeling mortified. I hadn’t noticed until that point that Mr. Grave’s eyes had a milky-white sheen to them, and that he’d never once looked directly at anyone who was speaking. “I’m so sorry.”“Don’t be,” Mr. Graves said, managing to find my hand anyway and give it a squeeze. “It’s not your fault.”“Actually, it could have been,” Frank said. “It was a Fury that-““Frank, the young lady said she’d like to see the captain. Why don’t you go fetch him?” Mr. Graves snapped. To me, he said, “Miss Oliviera, I do apologize. It’s been quite some time since these fellows have been in the company of a young lady.”“Speak for yourself, old man,” Frank said. He came to his feet with sudden alacrity. “Why don’t I just take her to the captain?”“I hardly think that’s a good idea,” Mr. Liu muttered, into his teacup.“His orders were if she showed up, we were to bring her straight to him,” Frank said.Mr. Graves’s face expressed the exact dismay I felt upon being reminded of this. “Just go and fetch the captain, Frank. Or young Henry can do it.”“What?” Henry cried, looking stricken. “I don’t want to go down there. All those dead people. And I’m the one who always gets stuck handing out the blankets-““It’s not important,” I said quickly. Blankets? What blankets? What on earth as Henry talking about? “I’ll just wait until John comes back-““See?” Henry looked triumphant. “I told you. She’s not the one.”“It doesn’t matter,” Frank said, impatiently. “Either way, we’re stick with her.”This wasn’t a very nice thing to hear about yourself-that people thought of you as someone they were stuck with. Not that I hadn’t been thinking the very same thing about them…and not that I didn’t share Henry’s fear that I wasn’t Queen-of-the-Underworld material.
It had only two points of egress, the door to the hallway from which I’d just entered, and against which I’d been pinned-and now leaned against for support-and the other to the stable yard where a man dressed all in black leather had shoved John’s dog, and where I was assuming John kept his horse, Alastor, another creature from the Underworld who hated my guts.He was going to have to get in line, though. The boy who’d pulled Typhon off me was standing a few feet away, next to the wooden plank table that ran down the center of the room, staring at me with a look that suggested he disliked me even more than the dog had. It was difficult not to notice the size of his bare biceps-not as large as John’s, but still impressive-since he’d folded his arms across his chest, and this had caused the muscles to bulge. The fact that they were circled in vicious-looking rings of black tattooed thorns did even more to draw attention to them. It was hard to figure out if that was why he was so much more noticeable than anyone else in the room, or if it was because he was what my friend Kayla would have called smokin’ hot, despite a jagged scar that ran down one side of his forehead, through a dark brow, and halfway to the center of his left jaw. Whoever had wielded that knife had thankfully-for him-spared his dark eye.Not so thankfully for me, however, since he was able to use both eyes to give me a deathlike stare.“Um,” I said, finally feeling the blood flow returning to my limbs. “You might want to think about getting that dog neutered.”The boy with the thorn tattoos sneered. “I’m guessing she’ll be wanting to get us all neutered,” he said.
You mentioned earlier that if I wanted to help, Miss Oliviera, I should save the lectures, and help,” Mr. Smith said as he sprayed. “Perhaps that’s exactly what Fates do.”I shook my head, bewildered. “I’m sorry?”“Perhaps Fates are people like us…ordinary souls who’ve found themselves caught up in the battle between good and evil, and have chosen to take a stand and help do what’s right.” Mr. Smith was lecturing again, but this time the speech seemed to be directed at John, too. His tone was kindly, however. “Maybe that’s why John’s fingerprints aren’t in the Isla Heusos Police Department database, and why no one will find his footsteps here. Small things that take just a moment to do, yes, but that could add up, in the end, to make an enormous difference to someone. What do you say to that, Miss Oliviera?”“I…I don’t know,” I said. I was confused. I supposed he was right, though. This could certainly explain how John was able to drift like a ghost in and out of the Isla Heusos Cemetery-and my various schools-leaving behind no trace, except rumors and the faintest images on video, and broken padlocks and chains.
You say that about everything,” I complained, trailing after him. “Everything is a long story, too long to tell me. I suppose after two hundred years, or whatever, things get a little convoluted, but can’t you paraphrase? How do you know the Rectors?”When we rounded the corner, it became apparent there wouldn’t be time for any stories at all, paraphrased or not. Not because the gray clouds that were hanging so threateningly overhead had burst open, the way I was half expecting them to, but because the family we’d seen earlier, along with Mr. Smith and the people holding the clipboards, were climbing into their various vehicles in the parking lot right in front of us.It shouldn’t have been a big deal. We were just an ordinary young couple, taking a late afternoon stroll through the cemetery.I’d forgotten that, due to the “vandalism” that had occurred there earlier in the week, the cemetery gates (which John had kicked apart in a fit of temper) had been ordered locked twenty-four hours a day by the chief of police.So it kind of was a big deal.Still, that didn’t explain why one of the women-the grandmother, if her gray hair was any indication-took one look at my face, made the sign of the cross, cried, “Dios mio!” then passed out cold right in front of us.
On top of the good was a hideously ugly bronze statue in the modern style. The statue was of a couple, dressed in togas, wrapped in an embrace. Cupped in their hands was a piece of fruit. I couldn’t be sure, because realism did not appear to be the artist’s specialty, but it looked to me like a pomegranate.“Good God,” Frank, who’d trailed after us, said when he saw the statue. “Rector’s even sicker than any of us thought. I’ve never wished I was blind before, like Graves, but I do now, because then I’d never have to look at that again.”“Frank,” John said, his gaze on my face. “Be quiet.”“But what do they do in here?” Frank wanted to know. “Have picnics with their dead relatives and admire their ugly art?
Of course it’s real, you bloody git,” Frank said to the young man behind the fruit cart, who had apparently questioned the legitimacy of this form of currency. “That’s a genuine piece of eight. I could buy your whole cart with it.”Great, I thought, sarcastically. John and his crew were doing an excellent job of blending in.Kayla appeared to be thinking along similar lines, since she asked, “Where are those guys from, anyway?”“Here,” I assured her.“Really?” She looked skeptical. The fruit vendor had apparently decided the piece of eight was authentic, and was surrendering more fruit on a stick than Henry could carry. “Because I’d have remembered seeing him around here. And I don’t want to get into some whole long-distance thing. Those never work out.”I smiled, meeting John’s gaze.“Oh,” I said, “you never know.
He said only, “Bad people. Some very bad people.”Uncle Chris’s mouth flattened into a small, thin line. Then he nodded crisply. He knew all about bad people. John was speaking in a language he understood.“Is it drugs?” Uncle Chris asked, in a hushed voice.I looked at John, in his black jeans and T-shirt, with his long dark hair, and studded leather wristbands. I could see why Uncle Chris had asked. To someone of his generation, it would have to be either drugs, or…well, a rock band.John gave me a barely perceptible shake of his head. No, his eyes begged me. Don’t.“Yes,” I said, glancing back at Uncle Chris. “It’s drugs.”John’s gaze instantly rolled towards the sky.“Piercey,” Uncle Chris said, exhaling gustily and dragging a hand through his hair. “We talked about this. I thought you were the one I didn’t have to worry about.”We had talked about something along those lines, I remembered, outside this very house, the night before Jade was killed. But it had been about Uncle Chris giving me driving lessons. I didn’t recall drugs being mentioned.“Well,” I said. “Things are a little messed up right now. That’s why we’re here. I wanted to make sure Alex is okay.”“Alex?” Uncle Chris threw me a look of alarm. “Don’t tell me Alex is doing drugs.”I could see now why John had been against lying about the drugs thing. I’d thought it would simplify things. But it was only making them worse.“He’s not,” I said quickly. If Alex got out of all this alive, he was going to kill me.
Her name is Hope?” John asked, the corners of his mouth beginning to tug upwards.“No.” I bristled, thinking he was making fun of me. Then I realized I’d been caught. “Well, all right…so what if it is? I’m not going to name her after some depressing aspect of the Underworld like you do all your pets. I looked up the name Alastor. That was the name of one of the death horses that drew Hades’s chariot. And Typhon?” I glanced at the dog, cavorting in and out of the waves, seemingly oblivious of the cold. “I can only imagine, but I’m sure it means something equally unpleasant.”“Typhon was the father of all monsters,” John said. He’d given up trying to suppress his grin. “The deadliest of all the creatures in Greek mythology.”“Nice,” I said sarcastically. “Well, I prefer to name my pets something that reminds me there’s-““Hope?” His grin broadened.“Very funny.” True, I’d admitted to him that I was inexperienced. But I didn’t have to prove it by acting like I was twelve.
We can take things as slowly as you want, but you know it’s too late now to change your mind, Pierce,” he said, in a warning tone.“Of course,” I said. I could see I had approached this all wrong. Where, when you actually needed one, was one of those annoying women’s magazines with advice on how to handle your man? Although that advice probably didn’t apply to death deities. “Because the Furies are after me. And I promised you that I wouldn’t try to escape. That isn’t what I was-““No,” he said, with an abrupt shake of his head. “The Furies have no part in this. It doesn’t matter anymore whether or not you try to escape.” He was pacing the length of the room. A muscle had begun to twitch wildly in the side of his jaw. “I thought you knew. I thought you understood. Haven’t you read Homer?”Not again. Mr. Smith was obsessed with this Homer person, too.“No, John,” I said, with forced patience. “I’m afraid we don’t have time to study the ancient Greek poets in school anymore because we have so much stuff to learn that happened since you died, such as the Civil War and the Holocaust and making files in Excel-““Well, considering what they had to say about the Fates,” John interrupted, impatiently, “Homer might possibly have been of more use to you.”“The Fates?” The Fates were something I dimly remembered having been mentioned in the section we’d studied on Greek mythology. They were busybodies who presided over everyone’s destiny. “What did Homer have to say about them?”John dragged a hand through his hair. For some reason, he wouldn’t meet my gaze. “The Fates decreed that anyone who ate or drank in the realm of the dead had to remain there for all eternity.”I stared at him. “Right,” I said. “Only if they are pomegranate seeds, like Persephone. The fruit of the dead.”He stopped pacing suddenly and lifted his gaze to mine. His eyes seemed to burn through to my soul.“Pomegranate seeds are what Persephone happened to eat while she was in the Underworld,” he said. “That’s why they call them the fruit of the dead. But the rule is any food or drink.”A strange feeling of numbness had begun to spread across my body. My mouth became too dry for me to speak.“However you feel about me, Pierce,” he went on, relentlessly, “you’re stuck here with me for the rest of eternity.
I was about to order Chinese when I looked out the window and saw you. Hey, do you two want to stay? We’re getting moo shu.”It was so like Uncle Chris to go from wanting to beat John up one minute, to inviting him for moo shu the next.“Uh, maybe,” I said. I pointed to the French doors, looking questioningly at John. He nodded. “Let’s see how it goes, okay, Uncle Chris?”“That’d be good,” Uncle Chris said. “We could talk all this out.”John followed me inside, Uncle Chris trailing behind us, his expression curious rather than suspicious.“I hate it when families fight,” Uncle Chris was saying. “It makes it so uncomfortable…”I suppose I should have counted it lucky that it had been Uncle Chris, and not some other adult, I’d run into first at home. I wasn’t sure if it was because of all the years he’d sent out of mainstream society-he still had no idea how to text, or what Google was-or if his personality was really this childlike.
Why not?” I asked, letting my tears spill over. It was easy to cry. All I had to do was look at Alex’s limp body, and the tears came effortlessly. “You were happy enough to do it to me.”There was a beat. Then John said cautiously, “What do you mean?”“The consequences, John?” I let out a bitter laugh. “Persephone wasn’t doomed to stay in the Underworld because she ate a pomegranate. She was doomed to stay there because she did with Hades what we did last night. That’s what the pomegranate symbolizes, right?”John stared, speechless. But I could tell I was right by the color that slowly started to suffuse his cheeks…and the fact that he didn’t try to contradict me.And of course the fact that the whole thing was spelled out right in front of me by the statue Hope was sitting on. I didn’t get why the Rectors were so obsessed by the myth of Persephone that they’d put a statue of it in their mausoleum, but it was clear enough they were involved in an underworld of one kind or another.“Don’t worry,” I said, lowering my voice because I didn’t want Frank to overhear. “I don’t blame you. You asked me if I was sure, despite the consequences. I said I was. But I thought by consequences you meant a baby, and I already knew that could never happen. I guess Mr. Smith must have told you last night that he found out the pomegranate symbolized something completely different than babies or death-““Pierce.” John grasped my hand. His fingers were like ice, but his voice and his gaze had an urgency that was anything but cold. “That isn’t why I did it. I love you. I’ve always loved you, because you’re good…you’re so good, you make me want to be good, too. But that’s the problem, Pierce. I’m not good. And I’ve always been afraid that when you find out the truth about me, you’d run away again-“I sucked in my breath to tell him for the millionth time that this wasn’t true, but he cut me off, not allowing me to speak until he’d had his say.“Then you almost died yesterday,” he went on, “and it was my fault. I wanted to show you how much I loved you, and things…things went further than I expected. But you didn’t stop me”-his silver eyes blazed, as if daring me to deny what he was saying-“even though I told you we could slow down if you wanted to.”“I know,” I said softly, dropping my gaze to look down at our joined fingers. We’d each kept a hand on Alex. “I know you did.”“I don’t want to lose you again,” he said fiercely. “I lost you once and I couldn’t bear it. I won’t go through that again. I…I know I did the wrong thing. But it didn’t feel wrong at the time.”I raised my gaze to his. “You’re right about that, at least,” I said.“So am I forgiven?” he asked.I hesitated, confused by the myriad of emotions I was feeling. John had known. He’d known the whole time we had been together the night before that he was forever sealing my destiny to his.Of course, he’d thought I’d known, too. He’d asked if I was sure it was what I wanted, despite the consequences. I might have misunderstood what those consequences were, but I’d been very adamant in my response. I’d said yes. And I’d meant it.“Excuse me,” called Frank’s voice from the opposite wall of vaults. “But you might want to take a look at the boy.”John and I both glanced down. Beneath the hands we’d left on Alex, he’d come back to life.
It kind of freaked me out. Because I don’t know if I’m ready for that kind of thing yet.” Or maybe the problem was that I wasn’t prepared for how ready I was…“Ready for-?” He broke off, and then frowned as if it had all become clear. “Wait.” He dropped his arms from around my waist and took a step away from me. “You think I spent the night wit you?”“Didn’t you?” I blinked back at him. “There’s only the one bed. And…well, you were in it when I woke up.”Thunder boomed overhead. It wasn’t as loud as the violent cracks that had occurred in my dream. Although the rumbles were long enough-and intense enough-that the silverware on the table began to make an eerie tinkling sound.And my bird, who’d been calmly cleaning herself on the back of my chair, suddenly took off, seeing shelter on the highest bookshelf against the far wall.I realized I’d just insulted my host, and no joke was going to get me out of it this time.“For your information, Pierce,” John said, his tone almost disturbingly calm-but his eyes flashed the same shade as the stone around my neck, which had gone the color of the metal studs at his wrists-“I spent most of last night on the couch. Until one point early this morning, when I heard you call my name. You were crying in your sleep.”The salt water I’d tasted on my lips. Not due to rain from a violent hurricane, but from the tears I’d shed, watching him die in front of me.“Oh,” I said uncomfortably. “John, I’m so-“It turned out he wasn’t finished.“I put my arms around you to try to comfort you, because I know what this place can be like, at least at first. It’s not exactly hell, but it’s the next closest place to it. You wouldn’t let go of me. You held on to me like you were drowning, and I was your only lifeline.”I swallowed, astonished at how close he’d come to describing my dream…except it had been the other way around. I’d been his lifeline; only he’d let go of me, sacrificing himself so that I could live.“Right,” I said. “Of course. I’m sorry.” I couldn’t believe how stupid I’d been, especially since my mother had always worried so much about my talking in my sleep. On the other hand, I had been upfront with him about my lack of experience when it came to men. “But this is good, see?” I reached out to take his hand. “I told you I could never hate you-“He pulled his hand away, exactly like in my dream. Well, not exactly, because he wasn’t being sucked from my grasp by a giant ocean swell. Instead, he’d dropped my fingers because he was leaving to go sort the souls of the dead.“You will,” he assured me, bitterly. “You’re already regretting your decision to-what was it you called it? Oh, right-cohabitate with me.”“No,” I insisted. “I’m not. All I said was that I want to take things more slowly-“That had nothing to do with him-it had to do with me and my fear of not being able to control myself when he was kissing me. It was too humiliating to admit that out loud, however.
Local Girl Missing, Feared Dead.Beneath it was a photo of me-my most recent school photo.“Oh, no.” My heart filling with dread, I took the paper from Mr. Smith’s hands. “Couldn’t they have found a better picture?”Mr. Smith looked at me sharply. “Miss Oliviera,” he said, his gray eyebrows lowered. “I realize it’s all the rage with you young people today to toss off flippant one-liners so you can get your own reality television shows. But I highly doubt MTV will be coming down to Isla Huesos to film you in the Underworld. So that can’t be all you have to say about this.”He was right, of course. Though I couldn’t say what I really wanted to, because John was in the room, and I didn’t want to make him feel worse than he already did.But what I wanted to do was burst into tears.“Is that about Pierce?” John looked uneasy. Outside, thunder rumbled again. This time, it sounded even closer than before.“Yes, of course, it is, John,” Mr. Smith said. There was something strange about his voice. He sounded almost as if he were mad at John. Only why would he be? John had done the right thing. He’d explained about the Furies. “What did you expect? Have you gotten to the part about the reward your father is offering for information leading to your safe return, Miss Oliviera?”My gaze flicked down the page. I wanted to throw up.“One million dollars?” My dad’s company, one of the largest providers in the world of products and services to the oil, gas, and military industries, was valued at several hundred times that. “That cheapskate.”This was all so very, very bad.“One million dollars is a lot of money to most people.” Mr. Smith said, with a strong emphasis on most people. He still had that odd note in his voice. “Though I recognize that money may mean little to a resident of the Underworld. So I’d caution you to use judiciousness, wherever it is that you’re going, as there are many people on this island who’ll be more than willing to turn you in for only a small portion of that reward money. I don’t suppose I might ask where you’re going? Or suggest that you pay a call on your mother, who is beside herself with worry?”“That’s a good idea,” I said. Why hadn’t I thought of it? I felt much better already. I could straighten out this whole thing with a single conversation. “I should call my mom-“Both Mr. Smith’s cry of alarm and the fact that John grabbed me by the wrist as I was reaching into my book bag for my cell phone stopped me from making calls of any sort.“You can’t use you phone,” Mr. Smith said. “The police-and your father-are surely waiting for you to do just that. They’ll triangulate on the signal from the closest cell tower, and find you.” When I stared at him for his use of the word triangulate, Mr. Smith shook his head and said, “My partner, Patrick, is obsessed with Law & Order reruns.
But who cooks it?" I asked, imaging an underground kitchen staffed by tiny, invisible chefs. "Who serves it?""I don't know," he said, with a disinterested shrug.I couldn't help laughing. "John, food magically appears here three times a day, and you don't know where it comes from? You've been here for almost two hundred years. Haven't you ever tried to find out?"He shot me a sarcastic look of his own. "Of course. I have theories. I think it's part of the compensation for the job I do, since there isn't any pay. But there's room and board. Anything I've ever wanted or needed badly enough usually appears, eventually. For instance"-he sent one of those knee-melting smiles in my direction-"you."I swallowed. The smile made it astonishingly hard to follow the conversation, even though I was the one who'd started it. "Compensation from whom?"He shrugged again. It was clear this was something he didn't care to discuss. "I have passengers waiting. For now, here." He lifted the lid of a platter. "I highly recommend these."I don't know what I expected to see when I looked down...a big platter of pomegranates? Of course that wasn't it at all."Waffles?
Why did we come back this way instead of popping up somewhere less…cramped?” I asked, substituting the word cramped for creepy. I was trying not to feel weirded out that I was in my boyfriend’s crypt. It was only a building, after all.A very unpleasant one.“This is a portal,” he said, as if that explained everything.“A what?”“A portal,” John whispered. “A direct link from here to the Underworld. That’s why you don’t feel dizzy this time.”I hadn’t even noticed, but he was right. I didn’t feel sick, for once, though we’d just jumped between astral planes.“This is a doorway through which the souls of the departed enter the world of the dead after they pass,” John explained softly. “The doorway closes behind the dead once they enter. They can never leave again-““Unless they escape,” I interrupted. Because this was what had happened to me. He glanced down at me with a teasing smile. “Unless I choose to let them escape,” he said, “because they seem to want their mothers so badly.”“That was two years ago,” I reminded him. I shouldn’t have mentioned the thing that morning about being inexperienced with men, even if it was technically true. He was never going to let me help him if he always thought of me as someone he had to protect. “And do I have to remind you that you didn’t let me escape, I-““Shhh.” He held up a hand. “Someone’s coming.
Well,” I said, trying to keep my tone light as I walked over to put my arms around his neck, though I had to stand on my toes to do so. “That wasn’t so bad, was it? You told me something about yourself that I didn’t know before-that you didn’t, er, care for your family, except for your mother. But that didn’t make me hate you…it made me love you a bit more, because now I know we have even more in common.”He stared down at him, a wary look in his eyes. “If you knew the truth,” he said, “you wouldn’t be saying that. You’d be running.”“Where would I go?” I asked, with a laugh I hoped didn’t sound as nervous to him as it did to me. “You bolted all the doors, remember? Now, since you shared something I didn’t know about you, may I share something you don’t know about me?”Those dark eyebrows rose as he pulled me close. “I can’t even begin to imagine what this could be.”“It’s just,” I said, “that I’m a little worried about rushing into this consort thing…especially the cohabitation part.”“Cohabitation?” he echoed. He was clearly unfamiliar with the word.“Cohabitation means living together,” I explained, feeling my cheeks heat up. “Like married people.”“You said last night that these days no one your age thinks of getting married,” he said, holding me even closer and suddenly looking much more eager to stick around for the conversation, even though I heard the marina horn blow again. “And that your father would never approve it. But if you’ve changed your mind, I’m sure I could convince Mr. Smith to perform the ceremony-““No,” I said hastily. Of course Mr. Smith was somehow authorized to marry people in the state of Florida. Why not? I decided not to think about that right now, or how John had come across this piece of information. “That isn’t what I meant. My mom would kill me if I got married before I graduated from high school.”Not, of course, that my mom was going to know about any of this. Which was probably just as well, since her head would explode at the idea of my moving in with a guy before I’d even applied to college, let alone at the fact that I most likely wasn’t going to college. Not that there was any school that would have accepted me with my grades, not to mention my disciplinary record.“What I meant was that maybe we should take it more slowly,” I explained. “The past couple years, while all my friends were going out with boys, I was home, trying to figure out how this necklace you gave me worked. I wasn’t exactly dating.”“Pierce,” he said. He wore a slightly quizzical expression on his face. “Is this the thing you think I didn’t know about you? Because for one thing, I do know it, and for another, I don’t understand why you think I’d have a problem with it.”I’d forgotten he’d been born in the eighteen hundreds, when the only time proper ladies and gentlemen ever spent together before they were married was at heavily chaperoned balls…and that for most of the past two centuries, he’d been hanging out in a cemetery.Did he even know that these days, a lot of people hooked up on first dates, or that the average age at which girls-and boys as well-lost their virginity in the United States was seventeen…my age?Apparently not.“What I’m trying to say,” I said, my cheeks burning brighter, “is that I’m not very experienced with men. So this morning when I woke up and found you in bed beside me, while it was really, super nice-don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it very much-it kind of freaked me out. Because I don’t know if I’m ready for that kind of thing yet.” Or maybe the problem was that I wasn’t prepared for how ready I was…
So I got to witness firsthand how those metal links got broken. The muscles in his upper arms pumped to the size of grapefruits, and the fabric of the T-shirt tightened around them almost to tearing…Then the metal gave way with a musical twang, and the chain snaked noisily from the grate, falling to the rain-softened earth with a clunk.“By all means,” John said, brushing his hands together in a self-satisfied way, “let’s call Mr. Smith.”I ducked my head, hiding my blushing cheeks by pretending to be busy putting my cell phone back in my bag. Encouraging his occasional lapses into less than civilized behavior seemed like a bad idea, so I didn’t let on how extremely attractive I’d found what he’d just done.“You know,” I remarked coolly, “I’m already your girlfriend. You don’t have to show off your superhuman strength for me.”John looked as if he didn’t for one minute believe my disinterest. He opened the grate for me with a gentlemanly bow. “Let’s go find your cousin,” he said. “I’d like to be home in time for supper. Where’s the coffin?”“It’s at my mom’s house,” I said.“What?” That deflated his self-satisfaction like a pin through a balloon. He stood stock-still outside the door to his crypt, the word HAYDEN carved in bold capital letters above his head. “What’s it doing there?”“Seth Rector and his girlfriend and their friends asked me if they could build it in my mom’s garage,” I said. “They said it was the last place anyone would look.”John shook his head slowly. “Rector,” he said, grinding out the word. “I should have known.”I threw him a wide-eyed glance. “You know Seth Rector?”“Not Seth,” he said, darkly.
That’s not all they ever show,” John said. “They show your heart’s desire…what you most want to see-or who-at the time you’re looking.”“Then mine must be broken,” I said. It made sense. Why wouldn’t mine be broken? I was broken, too. Or at least I hadn’t felt normal in a long time.“Yours isn’t broken,” John said. “Considering it’s a mobile device from earth, and no mobile device from earth has ever functioned in the Underworld before, I don’t quite understand…yet.” He was looking at me speculatively. “But it did exactly what ours do. You were worried about your family, so what you were shown was your heart’s desire: the one member of your family who’s in immediate danger, and needs your-““Wait a minute,” I interrupted. Something dawned on me. “Was that how you always knew when I was in trouble and needed help? Like that day at school, with Mr. Mueller? And at the jeweler’s that time? Because I was the one you most wanted to see when you looked down into your-““Oh, look,” John said, seeming infinitely relieved by the interruption. “Here comes Frank.”Frank was sauntering over. “Found him,” he said, with casual nonchalance.My heart gave a swoop. Only something as monumental as my cousin finally being located could distract me from the discovery that all those times my boyfriend had rescued me from mortal peril, it had been because he’d been spying on me from the Underworld via a handheld device seemingly operated by the Fates.
I know you,” he added, helping to arrange the blanket over my shoulders. “You won’t drop the subject until I agree to check on your cousin, so I’ll do it. But only under one condition.”“John,” I said, whirling around to clutch his arm again.“Don’t get too excited,” he warned. “You haven’t heard the condition.”“Oh,” I said, eagerly. “Whatever it is, I’ll do it. Thank you. Alex has never had a very good life-his mother ran away when he was a baby, and his dad spent most of his life in jail…But, John, what is all this?” I swept my free hand out to indicate the people remaining on the dock, waiting for the boat John had said was arriving soon. I’d noticed some of them had blankets like the one he’d wrapped around me. “A new customer service initiative?”John looked surprised at my change of topic…then uncomfortable. He stooped to reach for the driftwood Typhon had dashed up to drop at his feet. “I don’t know what you mean,” he said, stiffly.“You’re giving blankets away to keep them warm while they wait. When did this start happening?”“You mentioned some things when you were here the last time….” He avoided meeting my gaze by tossing the stick for his dog. “They stayed with me.”My eyes widened. “Things I said?”“About how I should treat the people who end up here.” He paused at the approach of a wave-though it was yards off-and made quite a production of moving me, and my delicate slippers, out of its path. “So I decided to make a few changes.”It felt as if one of the kind of flowers I liked-a wild daisy, perhaps-had suddenly blossomed inside my heart.“Oh, John,” I said, and rose onto my toes to kiss his cheek.He looked more than a little surprised by the kiss. I thought I might actually have seen some color come into his cheeks.“What was that for?” he asked.“Henry said nothing was the same after I left. I assumed he meant everything was much worse. I couldn’t imagine it was the opposite, that things were better.”John’s discomfort at having been caught doing something kind-instead of reckless or violet-was sweet.“Henry talks too much,” he muttered. “But I’m glad you like it. Not that it hasn’t been a lot of added work. I’ll admit it’s cut down on the complaints, though, and even the fighting amongst our rowdier passengers. So you were right. Your suggestions helped.”I beamed up at him.Keeper of the dead. That’s how Mr. Smith, the cemetery sexton, had referred to John once, and that’s what he was. Although the title “protector of the dead” seemed more applicable.It was totally silly how much hope I was filled with by the fact that he’d remembered something I’d said so long ago-like maybe this whole consort thing might work out after all.I gasped a moment later when there was a sudden rush of white feathers, and the bird he’d given me emerged from the grizzly gray fog seeming to engulf the whole beach, plopping down onto the sand beside us with a disgruntled little humph.“Oh, Hope,” I said, dashing tears of laughter from my eyes. Apparently I had only to feel the emotion, and she showed up. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to leave you behind. It was his fault, you know.” I pointed at John. The bird ignored us both, poking around in the flotsam washed ashore by the waves, looking, as always, for something to eat.“Her name is Hope?” John asked, the corners of his mouth beginning to tug upwards.“No.” I bristled, thinking he was making fun of me. Then I realized I’d been caught. “Well, all right…so what if it is? I’m not going to name her after some depressing aspect of the Underworld like you do all your pets. I looked up the name Alastor. That was the name of one of the death horses that drew Hades’s chariot. And Typhon?” I glanced at the dog, cavorting in and out of the waves, seemingly oblivious of the cold. “I can only imagine, but I’m sure it means something equally unpleasant.