“Yeah, but you live halfway up the mountain,” I said, realizing he genuinely felt bad about not being my own personal white knight. “Ethan would have called his own father before you, and I’m guessing you called Finn because he lives closer to the hotel. Right?” He nodded. “So if you’d come running to the rescue yourself, my mom would have died before you got there. You did the right thing.”

He smiled at me, but his eyes looked sad. “I know I did. That doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

I didn’t know what to say to that, but I was saved from having to figure it out by the doctor making his rounds.

epilogue

I wasn’t shocked to discover that my “secure location” turned out to be underground in Avalon’s massive tunnel system. The good news was that I had electricity, running water, phone service, and an Internet connection. The bad news was that I hated the tunnel system with a passion. I hated being without natural light. I hated the claustrophobic feeling that the ceiling might collapse on me at any moment. (Never mind that I knew perfectly well that wasn’t going to happen.) And I hated the memories of things that had happened to me underground.

After my week of being grounded was up, I was finally allowed to leave my little mini-suite, though only during the daytime, and only with a bodyguard. Still, it was amazing how free that felt after being confined for the week. It’s all a matter of perspective. I even renewed my lessons with Keane, who never once mentioned my escape attempt or my hospital stay. I wondered what that was all about.

My mom was occupying the room in Dad’s house that had once been mine. She was still not a happy camper, even after the d.t.’s had run their course. But at least she was sober and semirational.

She reminded me, though, of what my dad is capable of. I’d been reluctant to broach the subject with her, but eventually I had to ask her why she had signed over legal custody to my dad. It seemed like the last thing in the world she would do, and I halfway believed he was lying about it.

“I’m tired, honey,” Mom said when I asked. “I’d like to take a nap.”

I snorted. If that wasn’t the most pathetic attempt to avoid the subject I didn’t know what was. “I deserve to know, don’t I?” I pressed, though from long experience I knew how hard it was to get Mom to answer questions when she didn’t want to.

“I just … thought it would be best for you,” she said, but she couldn’t look me in the eye when she said it, and she couldn’t sit still, either. Her hands twitched, she squirmed in her chair, and she tapped one foot against the floor. Some of that was her desperate desire for a drink. But not all of it.

“I can always ask Dad,” I bluffed. I knew Dad would tell me the truth. I’d already established that he had no trouble with that whole brutal honesty thing, but I really wanted to hear it from my mom. If I had to keep nagging her for weeks, then so be it.

But maybe the lack of booze weakened my mom’s will, or just made maintaining the lie more trouble than it was worth. Still twitching and fidgeting, she spoke while looking just past my shoulder.

“He had Finn bring me here after he took me from the hotel,” she said. “He … wouldn’t give me anything.”

Any booze, she meant.

“I got … desperate,” she continued. “But he still wouldn’t help me. Then he brought me all these forms and asked me to sign them. He wouldn’t tell me what they were, and he wouldn’t let me read them.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “You mean you sat here and signed away your rights to me without even bothering to find out what you were signing?”

Her shoulders hunched, and her gaze dropped to the floor. “Not immediately,” she murmured. “At first, I refused. But I kept feeling worse and worse, and Seamus still wouldn’t help me.”

And I guess I was beginning to understand how Dad’s mind worked, because I figured out the rest for myself. “He said he’d give you a drink if you signed the papers,” I whispered, because if I spoke any louder my voice would crack.

Mom’s face was a picture of guilt. “I suspect it wouldn’t hold up in a U.S. court of law,” she said. “I wasn’t in my right mind when I signed it.” She grimaced. “To tell you the honest truth, I don’t even remember much of this, but my signature is on the papers, and I have no reason not to believe I signed them just as Seamus said I did.”

My jaw clenched tight and I fought against my anger. I remembered that Dad had had her declared legally incompetent. But he’d obviously taken advantage of that incompetence first. Yeah, I was mad at Mom for what she’d done—and I couldn’t help feeling hurt that she hadn’t fought for me. But a big dose of the blame fell squarely on my father’s shoulders.

When I returned to my underground suite, I decided it was time to lay to rest the pretty illusion that either my mom or my dad would take care of me with only my own best interests at heart. I’d been taking care of myself for years now, and that was the way life was going to be, whether I wanted it to be or not.

Taking care of myself in Avalon would be more … challenging than taking care of myself at home. At home, my mom’s drinking had given me the freedom to do just about whatever I wanted without having to seek parental approval. Now I had two parents to appease—and work around, if necessary.

But I had something now that I most definitely did not have before I’d come to Avalon, something I vowed to turn to my advantage: magic.