After a couple of minutes, I realized with a start that the trees and bushes were forming themselves into a multitude of enclosures, like they were the giant, living walls of a cubicle farm. The tallest of the trees bent over each of the enclosures, forming roofs.
“Cool,” I murmured, forgetting for a moment to be weirded out.
I wandered through the crowd until I found my dad and my friends. Servants were unloading wagons, carrying luggage and crates into the enclosures. Others were tending to the horses, while still others were setting up what looked like an open-air kitchen.
“If Henry can manage all this,” I said to my dad, “why did he have to invite himself and the rest of us to stay over at someone’s house last night?”
“I’m sure you can guess the answer to that,” he responded drily, and he was right. Commandeering someone’s house like that had been a power play, something Henry did just to show that he could. What a jerk! And because the Fae were completely fixated on their archaic class structure, they just had to take it.
Eventually, a servant came for us and led us to a cluster of tree-lined enclosures, informing us that once again, Kimber and I, and Ethan and Keane would be sharing “rooms.” I doubt Henry’s people planned it that way, but Finn decided to join Ethan and Keane, which seemed positively forward of him. I immediately suspected he was worried about what kind of trouble the two of them might get into if left unsupervised.
When Kimber and I entered our “room,” it was to find our luggage already delivered, suitcases stacked neatly in the corner. There were two feather mattresses on simple wooden frames, and there was a wooden folding table, complete with a basket of fruit, a pitcher of some dark liquid I suspected was wine, and a couple of silver goblets. Considering we were basically camping in the forest, this looked suspiciously like the Ritz. Not that I was complaining, mind you. My body was just as sore after hours in the wagon as it was after hours on horseback, and, to tell the truth, I was still seriously shaken up by the Bogle attack. I collapsed onto the bed, heedless of the fact that I stank of horse with a hint of dead Bogle. Kimber stood in the doorway for a moment, then said, “Be back in a few,” before slipping out.
“Where are you—” I started to ask, but she was already gone. I was too tired to get up and see what she was up to. Instead, I closed my eyes and tried hard not to think.
* * *
I had almost fallen asleep when I heard the sound of footsteps approaching. I cracked my eyes open and saw that Kimber had returned, carrying two ceramic mugs and an earthenware pitcher from which wisps of steam rose. I sniffed the air as I propped myself up on my elbows and caught a whiff of a familiar scent.
“Hot posset?” I asked, my mouth automatically watering. I’d never even heard of hot posset before I came to Avalon, and now it was nearing chocolate at the top of my list of best comfort foods ever.
Kimber looked very proud of herself as she filled both mugs to the brim. “I figured we could use it after everything that happened today.”
I forgot my exhaustion as I wrapped my hands around the mug Kimber handed me. “Where did you get hot posset?”
“From the kitchen,” she answered simply.
Ask a stupid question …
I sniffed at my mug before taking a sip, and the smell of whiskey practically made my eyes water. “Geez, Kimber, how much booze is in this?” She knew I wasn’t a big fan of alcohol, so she usually used only a touch of whiskey for flavor when making hot posset for me. Except when she took it upon herself to prescribe “extra-strength,” that is.
Kimber took a sip of her posset, then gave a satisfied sigh before answering. “Just enough.”
I rolled my eyes but didn’t have the energy to protest. I blew lightly on the surface of my posset, then took an incautiously large sip. Not only did I burn my tongue, but that sip kept burning all the way down my throat and into my belly. No doubt about it, this was the extra-strength version. I drank it anyway.
The second sip burned less than the first, and the third less than that. The flavor was rich and heady—no skim milk here—and I started to relax almost in spite of myself. Until I thought about my mom, sitting at home enjoying similar beverages in much higher quantities. My heart squeezed in my chest, and the sudden sense of loss made me feel hollow inside. I’d had Sober Mom for a grand total of about four weeks, and thanks to Titania and her “invitation,” that was all gone now.
“What’s wrong?” Kimber asked, sitting on the bed across from me.
I forced a little laugh. “After everything that happened today, you have to ask?”
But Kimber was coming to know me uncomfortably well. “It’s not that,” she said, not a trace of doubt in her voice.
Kimber knew about my mom’s drinking problem—she was the only person I’d ever told—but that didn’t mean I liked to talk about it. I’d considered my mom my shameful secret for so long and was so used to covering up for her that it was always my first instinct to avoid the subject. I took another couple swallows of posset without answering, hoping Kimber would decide to change the subject. But she doesn’t give up that easy.
“I noticed some tension between you and your mom when we left yesterday,” she said.
I froze with my mug halfway to my mouth. Damn. She was much too observant—and much too understanding—for my own good. I might have thought she wouldn’t have caught the connection between the alcoholic beverage I was drinking and the alcoholic mother I’d publicly given the cold shoulder to yesterday, but no, not Kimber.