Steadfast

Page 49

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She glanced over her shoulder to see whether any of the nurses were coming; they’d just been here taking care of everybody’s catheters—so gross—which meant nobody else should walk in for a few minutes. That was all Kendall needed. From her tote bag she pulled a packet of cleansing face wipes and her makeup bag.

“Here you go,” she whispered as she carefully washed Riley’s face, wiping around the tubes. “That’s better, huh?”

Foundation and mascara would be overkill, definitely. But moisturizer had to be a good thing, healthy for the skin, and this one was tinted for just a touch of coverage. Kendall pursed her lips as she brushed the lightest bit of shadow onto Riley’s eyelids, then a little blush onto her cheeks.

She finished by dabbing cherry lip balm on Riley’s mouth. “There. You look so much better. You could go out like this, totally. Well, not your hair, which is, like, seriously unfortunate, but tomorrow I can at least bring in some dry shampoo.”

Riley didn’t look so scary any longer. She looked like herself—the girl who had ruled their high school while still being nice to everybody. Kendall wasn’t as nice as Riley, and she knew it; someday, though, she hoped she might be.

For a moment she remembered sitting on the lid of the commode, opening her eyes wide as her big sister brushed mascara onto her lashes for the first time. But that just made her want to cry, and Kendall was sick of crying. Instead she patted Riley’s hand and said, “I’ll get some nail polish in here, too, because you’re way overdue for a mani-pedi.”

Kendall’s head jerked upright as she heard voices in the corridor. Not normal nurse voices talking about ccs of fluid or whatever—people shouting. People who were afraid.

She went to the door of the hospital room to see half the staff hurrying down the hallway. Everyone was yelling stuff like multiple incoming and everyone to the ER stat and so obviously something very, very bad was going down. It was like a cliffhanger on Grey’s Anatomy. Kendall wondered whether a plane had crashed outside of town or a gunman had shot up a store or something. That was the kind of thing it always was on Grey’s.

Elizabeth Pike was hanging around, too, but that wasn’t so weird. Kendall had seen her around before. Maybe she volunteered here or something.

Then as two nurses went past her, one of them stopped in her tracks. The other one looked back in confusion. “Diana? Diana, are you okay?”

The first nurse staggered against the wall, then slumped to the floor—and that black stuff was all over her, the same stuff that had choked Riley, the exact same thing happening again.

“Somebody help!” said the nurse now leaning over the fallen Diana. “We’ve got another one right here!”

Another one. She said another one. That meant the people coming into the ER—

Kendall looked back at the hospital room where her sister lay, between the other two patients, and realized they were only the first three. Only the beginning.

Faye Walsh was technically supposed to be in her office from eight thirty to three thirty every single day, but in reality, if she didn’t have a student appointment, a fifteen-minute coffee run was okay with the principal, particularly if Faye brought a latte back for her.

The barista held up a cardboard cup and called, “I have a macchiato here for Larissa.”

While the woman in front of her went to get her coffee, Faye pulled out her smartphone, just to double-check her schedule. If she could clear a half hour this afternoon, she’d try again to meet with Nadia Caldani. That conversation was overdue.

Someone near her gasped, and Faye glanced up to see the woman who’d just collected her coffee swooning to the ground, spilling coffee in every direction. But another puddle began to spread outward—the black, burning fluid she’d seen in her office a few days before.

The barista called 9-1-1; a few people bent down to try and help. Faye took a couple of steps backward and, unobtrusively as possible, used her phone to snap a picture.

It was important to document this, to get proof.

She had to be on the lookout for any evidence of witchcraft.

17

WHEN VERLAINE HAD LEFT THE HOSPITAL THE DAY before, it had been a place too quiet and mournful for her to bear.

Now it was bedlam.

At least a hundred people, maybe more, had crowded into the ER waiting room; everyone was demanding answers about their loved ones or this “mystery illness,” and nobody had any answers to give.

Well, not any answers the crowd was going to get, anyway. The people who knew the truth could be counted on one hand, and included two witches and a demon. Verlaine figured that wasn’t what anybody out there wanted to hear.

She and Nadia had managed to find a slightly less crowded corridor where they could at least hear each other talk. “Elizabeth can’t have been everywhere in town at once,” Verlaine said while they huddled near the vending machines. “Could she? Is there some kind of . . . time-turner spell?”

“Like I wouldn’t be using that every single day if there were. And enough with the Harry Potter stuff, okay?” Nadia leaned against the wall, weary as though she were the one who hadn’t slept. “I doubt Elizabeth made it to every single scene. But she would have made it to a lot of them.”

“Has she completed that disgusting symbol thing she’s burning into her flesh?” Verlaine supported tattoos, piercings, and other body modifications on general artistic principles, but actually using them to summon the forces of darkness was going too far.

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