Steadfast

Page 13

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Verlaine just kept looking down at her podcast equipment; apparently the phone app was just for backup. “Is his body dead or alive? Like, after a couple of weeks, will he get sort of—zombie-esque?”

“I don’t know. But I doubt it.” Nadia watched the way the Prasads kept talking to the thing they thought was their son. She was repulsed to see the evident love his mother felt being poured out to a demon, a servant of the One Beneath, who was actually using her child’s corpse to do Elizabeth’s bidding. “It’s sick. It’s wrong. I can’t even stand it.”

“Uh-oh—that sounds bad,” said Faye Walsh as she took her seat a few chairs down in the front row; she was chic as ever in a white trench coat and large hoop earrings. Nadia realized she must have looked stricken, because Ms. Walsh held up her hands. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to eavesdrop.”

Which was probably the truth. But Faye Walsh was one of those guidance counselors who expected to actually counsel, who wanted you to pour out your soul before you took the college brochures. She was already “concerned” about Nadia because of Mom’s vanishing act; the last thing Nadia wanted to do was attract even more of her attention. And while Ms. Walsh might not be trying to pry, she was sitting so close that there was no way she couldn’t hear.

Flustered, Verlaine said, “I, uh, what was that? Sorry. AV equipment gets all, um, tangled, with the cords, and then I lose track of things.” Her eyes widened as if to say, Sorry that wasn’t more believable.

Of the ninety thousand things Nadia had to worry about, was even one of them completely normal? There had to be something she could say that would sound like a completely ordinary problem. She blurted out, “I can’t believe my dad’s already thinking about dating again.”

“Ewww.” Verlaine wrinkled her nose. “Really?”

“Yeah, really. Well, maybe really. Apparently an old friend of his in New York—female friend—tried to ask him out while they were there. Nothing happened, but still, he must be thinking about it.”

“Even if he’s not, they’ll be after him soon.” Verlaine nodded, like she’d seen it coming all along. “Every single, divorced, or widowed woman in Captive’s Sound between the ages of twenty-five and fifty probably already has him in her sights. They’re just trying to figure out the line between ‘too soon’ and ‘too late.’”

“But why? There have to be other single men in town.”

“First of all, not so much, seeing how small Captive’s Sound is. And second, your dad’s hot.”

Nadia made a face. “Oh, gross, Verlaine.”

“I don’t mean hot hot. I mean dad hot. Listen.” Verlaine started counting off points on her fingers. “He hasn’t gotten fat, he still has his hair, he has a job, and it seems like he looks in the mirror when he gets dressed in the morning. After forty, that’s all hot is.”

Okay, that was disturbing. Before Nadia could think any more about it, mercifully, the meeting began with the banging of a gavel. A half dozen people seemed to make up the city council—including Mr. Prasad, which was probably why his family was here. All of them seemed grumpy in the extreme, though Nadia couldn’t blame them once the questions got going.

“Why wasn’t there a fire extinguisher in the haunted house?”

“Well, if there was an extinguisher, why didn’t anyone use it? Isn’t that someone’s job?”

“First the roads start collapsing from the sinkholes, and now this? What exactly is the city council spending the infrastructure funds on? We demand an audit!”

“All I know is my salary pays for the fire department of this city, and if the fire department can’t find a damn three-story house ablaze in the middle of town in less than twenty minutes, they’ve got a problem!”

“For once,” Verlaine whispered, “this is almost interesting.”

Almost—but the novelty wore off fast. Within a few minutes, Nadia was back to staring over her shoulder at Asa—at the demon—with the woman who believed she was his mother.

She was just so loving. So much so that any real kid of hers would have been annoyed. Mrs. Prasad kept petting his arm, glancing over at him, smiling . . .

Mom had acted that way with Nadia and Cole sometimes—when Cole had gotten done singing a song with the rest of his kindergarten class at their “graduation” ceremony, or when Nadia had managed to cast a really tough spell that day but Mom couldn’t say anything directly because Dad and Cole were around. Instead she just did that thing Mrs. Prasad was doing now, radiating pride, so much that you almost hated it but didn’t really.

All at once Nadia couldn’t stand it any longer. It was wrong—beyond wrong—for Asa to sit there soaking up love he didn’t deserve. He was working for Jeremy’s murderer. This was sickening, and it couldn’t go on any longer.

She has to know, Nadia thought, looking at Mrs. Prasad. She has to at least understand that something’s seriously wrong with her son. I want her to look at him and see that something’s not right.

So. A spell of revelation.

Never taking her eyes from Mrs. Prasad, Nadia’s fingers found the pearl charm on her bracelet. For a moment she wished Mateo were here with her instead of on shift at La Catrina; still, she shouldn’t need a Steadfast’s power for this. It was a stronger revelation spell than she’d ever used before. She’d never had the emotional ingredients for it until now.

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