“I see you’re doing a little light reading,” I croaked, then cleared my throat as Kimber jumped and squealed, the book sliding off her lap and hitting the floor with a thump.
She put her hand to her chest and took a deep breath. “You scared the crap out of me!” she scolded.
Leave it to Kimber to get all absorbed in a book that looked like it had been printed in the 1800s. Yeah, looks could be deceiving in Faerie, but Kimber was enough of a brainiac that she read stuff like Shakespeare for pleasure.
“Sorry,” I said insincerely. “Go ahead and finish your book. I’ll just sit here quietly and wait.” To demonstrate my determination, I pushed myself up into a sitting position, and found the effort left me panting. I also noticed for the first time that someone had cleaned me up and put a flannel nightshirt on me. Oh, God, I hoped it hadn’t been the Erlking! I remembered him taking off my shoes.
“Take it easy,” Kimber said, and I blinked in surprise to find her sitting on the edge of my bed. She’d been clear across the room last time I looked.
“How did you get here so fast?” I muttered, and I sounded incoherent even to my own ears.
“You’re having a kind of magic hangover,” Kimber explained. “You’ll be sleeping and spacing out a lot for the next day or so. You must have used a buttload of magic. I’ve never seen anyone have it this bad. Not even Ethan when he’s showboated himself into exhaustion.”
I rubbed my crusty eyes, wondering how much Kimber knew about what had happened. Did she know I’d killed Henry? And how I’d killed him?
“Are you all right?” I asked her, because I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the answers to my other questions.
“In the state you’re in, you’re asking me if I’m all right?”
“Well, I had some pretty major doubts when you were captured and hauled back here!”
She made a face. “Sorry. Right. I’m fine. Everyone’s fine. They weren’t exactly nice to us, but they didn’t hurt us or anything. We were just locked up for a while is all.”
“Does ‘everyone’ include my dad and Finn?”
“Yeah, they’re fine, too.” There was something just slightly false in her tone, and it gave me a chill.
“Tell me the truth!” I demanded.
“Well, aren’t you the cranky patient?”
“Please, Kimber. Tell me what’s going on.”
“They’re fine,” she said, sounding more convincing this time. “They had a rough time of it while we were gone, but they’re fine now.”
I swallowed hard, trying not to imagine just what kind of “rough time” they’d been having. I might have hoped Titania would be at least a little attached to my dad and might not want to hurt him. After all, they’d been together more than a century, and they had a kid. But the fact that she’d been sleeping with the Erlking told me just how sentimental she was.
“You know coming after us when you could have used the brooch to get away was probably one of the stupidest moves in the history of mankind,” Kimber said. “You might want to avoid your dad for the next year or two until he’s had a chance to calm down.”
Great. I’d come back and saved everyone, and my dad was mad at me for it. Not that I was surprised, mind you. I think it’s in the parental rule book somewhere that you have to get mad at your kids if they do something dangerous, even if it’s the right thing to do and everything turns out well in the end.
“I couldn’t just run away and leave you all behind,” I said. “I couldn’t have lived with that. Maybe coming back was stupid, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat.” And I refused to feel bad about it.
Kimber winced. “I suggest you not say that to your dad. Or to Finn. Or to the boys, for that matter.”
“But my saying it doesn’t bother you?” I had a feeling that wasn’t a good thing, and the look on Kimber’s face confirmed it.
“We’ll talk when you’re all better.”
I didn’t like the sound of that. “Kimber—”
“Don’t!” she snapped. “We’re not doing this now.” She sounded really angry, but her eyes were kind of shiny, like she was about to cry.
I guess that answered my question about whether she’d forgiven me. Every secret I’d kept, I’d kept with good reason. At least, what I’d thought was a good reason at the time. Looking back, I wasn’t so sure.
“Can I at least say I’m sorry?” I asked.
“You don’t actually believe words will make it better, do you?”
No, I didn’t. I’d told too many lies for my words to have much meaning. I wanted to point out that my coming back to the palace after she and the others were captured spoke louder than any words, but I didn’t. Tears burned my eyes. Maybe I saved my friends’ lives, but that didn’t make me any less of a screw-up. I wasn’t good friend material, not when I was biologically incapable of trust and honesty.
Kimber was the only real friend I’d ever had, the only one I’d had more than the most superficial relationship with. The thought that I might lose her friendship, that I might already have lost it, hurt more than the bullet wound and the bone-deep gash on my palm combined.
My throat ached and my nose got all stuffy as I fought to contain tears. I was always reluctant to cry in front of anyone. My mom cried at the drop of a hat, using her tears as a tool to get sympathy whenever she’d done something stupid or irresponsible. She cried so that you’d rush in with reassurances and tell her everything was going to be all right, so that you’d somehow end up apologizing for being mad at her when she was the one who’d been in the wrong. I was not going to be like that.