You people. He didn’t see any difference between her and a servant of the One Beneath.
“A witch isn’t the same thing as a Sorceress—”
“Stop it! I don’t want to hear anything else about the—the First Laws or what a Steadfast is or any of it!” Mateo sprang to his feet. “Whatever it is you do, it’s part of what screwed over my whole life before I was even born.”
“Mateo—Mateo, I’m sorry—”
“For someone who’s so sorry to hurt me, you’ve done a really good job of dragging me and Verlaine into it. Who else’s life are you going to ruin?”
That wasn’t fair. It wasn’t.
Whether that was true or not, the worst part was—Nadia didn’t blame Mateo for being angry.
Why would anybody trust a witch, any witch, after learning this?
“I should go,” she said quietly.
“Yeah. You should.”
Mateo gave her a ride home, the same way he would have before, but he never spoke one word to her, not once the entire time. As he drove away, she wondered whether he ever would again.
Verlaine had suspected that something was up for Nadia and Mateo tonight. What she didn’t know was whether it was a magical something, in which case she felt kind of left out and would consider going all the way to annoyed, or a dating something, in which case, fine, she could get all the details from Nadia tomorrow.
She sighed as she rolled back on her bed. After years and years of being treated like a social pariah, Verlaine was still wrapping her head around the idea of having … okay, maybe friends was too strong a word. But they were people to hang out with. People she expected to tell her about their days, and people she found herself waiting to talk to. It was more than she’d had in far too long. So shouldn’t she be less lonely, instead of more?
But now that she could dream of not being alone—all the dreams she had about finding love, about some guy finding her, had come rushing in.
College, she’d told herself. I’ll find somebody in college. The guys won’t be such jerkwads then. They’ll be more mature. I’ll meet somebody awesome. Verlaine didn’t even know exactly what this awesome guy would be like; she imagined him looking a little like Jeremy Prasad but acting way, way nicer.
Now, though, Verlaine was done with being alone. Done with being a patient good girl. Her life had started changing, and she wanted it to change completely.
One thing at a time, she thought. Nudging her cat, Smuckers, to one side, she pulled her cell phone out from under him; it was warm and dusted with orange fur. Verlaine brushed it off, deciding that just texting Nadia to check in wouldn’t be too intrusive, even if she and Mateo were together—
—which was when the screams started outside.
Verlaine leaped up and ran for the front door, only a couple of steps ahead of her uncles in their bathrobes. “What the hell?” Uncle Dave yelled. “Are Claire and Bradford fighting again? If they damage our truck one more time, that’s it. We’re calling the cops. I don’t care whether Claire’s in anger-management therapy or not.”
“That’s more than two people out there,” Uncle Gary replied. “Maybe they got their families in on it? Man, we live near some trashy people.”
But then the ground shuddered slightly, and the three of them stared at one another. “What’s going on?” Verlaine whispered.
Uncle Dave put his arms around her protectively while Uncle Gary ran for the door. When he flung it open, Verlaine saw—not fighting neighbors, not some summer-movie disaster, but Dave’s beloved truck.
Buried halfway in the ground, tail end first.
“Oh, no, no!” Uncle Dave hugged her even tighter. “What the hell?”
Uncle Gary swore. “Not again! Not here! Dammit!”
What had happened was another sinkhole—or so they called it, though to Verlaine’s eyes it looked more like a trench than a hole. This one went beyond any of the others in town, even the one that had nearly swallowed her car. The long, curving trench cut an arc through their street, ripping out yards, the Duxburys’ garage, and unfortunately for the truck, a big chunk of their own driveway. Everybody was running around in their pajamas, looking to see what had happened to their homes and their neighbors.
“Do you have any idea what this is doing to our property values?” Uncle Gary said. Uncle Dave sighed.
Her heart fluttered faster in her chest as she remembered what it had been like when she fell into one of these herself—the whole world tilting sideways, the blank, silent terror that had made her claw at the steering wheel to keep from tumbling downward. But Verlaine forced herself to stay calm. She had a job to do here.
While Uncle Dave paced around the truck in horror and Uncle Gary called the insurance company, Verlaine went up and down the street with her phone, taking photos and footage to post on the Lightning Rod. Disaster in Captive’s Sound! That was a good headline. Here, a shot of yet another family freaking out. There, the hollowed-out street. The overall scene—
—Verlaine lowered her phone and frowned.
For some reason, every tree on the street had birds in the branches. Dozens of them. Hundreds. Lines and lines of crows peered down; a few perched on the eaves of houses or hopped around on the ground.
“Beyond Hitchcock,” she muttered.
One crow in particular hopped closer to her, cocking its head. But—what was wrong with its eyes—was it blind? They were gray, filmed over with some kind of webbing.