“Crowley, Snow, was that when you joined the cast of Annie?”
“There are still places like that. Orphanages. You wouldn’t know.”
“Quite right,” Baz said. “My mother didn’t choose to leave me.”
“If your family is so grand, why are you celebrating Christmas with me?”
“I wouldn’t call this a celebration.”
Simon focused again on the rabbit. Maybe there was something hidden in it. Maybe if he squinted. Or if he looked at it in a mirror. Agatha had a magic mirror; it would tell you if something was amiss. Like if you had spinach in your teeth or something hanging from your nose. When Simon looked at it, it always asked him who he was kidding. “It’s just jealous,” Agatha would say. “It thinks I give you too much attention.”
“It was my choice,” Baz said, breaking the silence. “I didn’t want to go home for Christmas.” He leaned back onto the floor, an arm’s length from Simon. When Simon glanced over, Baz was staring up at the painted stars.
“Were you here?” Simon asked, watching the light from the fire play across Baz’s strong features. His nose was all wrong, Simon had always thought. It started too high, with a soft bump between Baz’s eyebrows. If Simon looked at Baz’s face for too long, he always wanted to reach up and tug his nose down. Not that that would work. It was just a feeling.
“Was I here when?” Baz asked.
“When they attacked your mother.”
“They attacked the nursery,” Baz said, as if he were explaining it to the moon. “Vampires can’t have children, you know—they have to turn them. They thought if they turned magical children, they’d be twice as dangerous.”
They would be, Simon thought, his stomach flopping fearfully. Vampires were already nearly invulnerable; a vampire who could do magic …
“My mother came to protect us.”
“To protect you,” Simon said.
“She threw fire at the vampires,” Baz said. “They went up like flash paper.”
“How did she die?”
“There were just too many of them.” He was still talking to the sky, but his eyes were closed.
“Did the vampires turn any of the children?”
“Yes.” It was like a puff of smoke escaping from Baz’s lips.
Simon didn’t know what to say. He thought it might be worse, in a way, to have had a mother, a powerful, loving mother, and then to lose her—than to grow up like Simon had. With nothing.
He knew what happened next in Baz’s story: After the headmaster, Baz’s mother, was killed, the Mage took over. The school changed; it had to. They weren’t just students now. They were warriors. Of course the nursery had closed. When you came to Watford, you left your childhood behind.
All right for Simon. He had nothing to lose.
But for Baz …
He lost his mother, Simon thought, and he got me instead. In a hiccup of tenderness or perhaps pity, Simon reached for Baz’s hand, fully expecting Baz to yank his arm from its socket.
But Baz’s hand was cold and limp. When Simon looked closer, he realized that the other boy was asleep.
The door flew open then, and for once, Cath thought, Reagan’s timing was perfect. Cath closed her laptop, to let Levi know she was done reading.
“Hey,” Reagan said. “Oh, hey. Christmas cups. Did you bring me a gingerbread latte?”
Cath looked down guiltily at her cup.
“I brought you an eggnog latte,” Levi said, holding it out. “And I’ve been keeping it warm in my mouth.”
“Eggnog.” Reagan wrinkled her nose, but she took it. “What are you doing here so early?”
“I thought we could study before the party,” Levi said.
“Jacob Have I Loved?”
“You’re reading Jacob Have I Loved?” Cath asked. “That’s a kids’ book.”
“Young adult literature,” he said. “It’s a great class.”
Reagan was shoving clothes in her bag. “I’m taking a shower at your place,” she said. “I’m so goddamn sick of public showers.”
Levi scooted forward on Cath’s bed and leaned an elbow on her desk. “So is that how Baz became a vampire? When the nursery was attacked?”
Cath wished he wouldn’t talk about this in front of Reagan. “You mean, for real?”
“I mean in the books.”
“There is no nursery in the books,” Cath said.
“But in your version, that’s how it happens.”
“Just in this story. Every story is a little different.”
“And other people have their versions, too?”
“Oh yeah,” she said. “There’re all these fans, and we’re all doing something different.”
“Are you the only one who writes about Baz and Simon falling in love?”
Cath laughed. “Uh, no. The entire Internet writes about Baz and Simon. If you go to Google and type in ‘Baz and Simon,’ the first search it suggests is ‘Baz and Simon in love.’”
“How many people do this?”
“Write Simon-slash-Baz? Or write Simon Snow fanfiction?”
“God, I don’t know. Thousands and thousands.”
“So, if you didn’t want the books to be over, you could just keep reading Simon Snow stories forever online.…”
“Exactly,” Cath said earnestly. She’d thought Levi must be judging her, but he got it. “If you fall in love with the World of Mages, you can just keep on living there.”
“I wouldn’t call that living,” Reagan said.
“It was a metaphor,” Levi said gently.
“I’m ready,” Reagan said. “Are you coming, Cath?”
Cath smiled tightly and shook her head.
“Are you sure?” Levi asked, lifting himself off her bed. “We could come back for you later.”
“Nah, that’s okay. See you tomorrow.”
As soon as they left, Cath headed down to eat dinner by herself.
“Maybe I’m not supposed to have a wand. Maybe I’m supposed to have a ring like you. Or a … a wrist thingy like mangy old Elspeth.”
“Oh, Simon.” Penelope frowned. “You shouldn’t call her that. She can’t help her fur—her father was the Witch King of Canus.”
“No, I know, I just…”
“It’s easier for the rest of us,” she said, soothing. “Magicians’ instruments stay in families. They’re passed from generation to generation.”
“Right,” he said, “just like magic. It doesn’t make sense, Penelope—my parents must have been magicians.”
He’d tried to talk to her about this before, and that time it had made her look just as sad.
“Simon … they couldn’t have been. Magicians would never abandon their own child. Never. Magic is too precious.”
Simon looked away from her and flicked his wand again. It felt like something dead in his hands.
“I think Elspeth’s fur is pretty,” Penelope said. “She looks soft.”
He shoved the wand into his pocket and stood up. “You just want a puppy.”
Their dad came to pick them up the day before Thanksgiving. When he pulled up in front of Pound Hall, Wren and Courtney were already sitting in the back of the Honda.
Wren and Cath usually sat in the backseat together. Their dad would complain that he felt like a cabdriver, and they’d say, “No, limo driver. Home, James.”
“Wow, look at this…,” he said when Cath sat in the front seat next to him. “Company.” She tried to smile.
Courtney and Wren were talking in the backseat—but with the radio up, Cath couldn’t hear them. Once they were on the interstate, she leaned over to her dad. “How’s Gravioli?” she asked.
“What?” He turned down the radio.
“Dad,” Wren said, “that’s our jam.”
“Sorry,” he said, shifting the volume to the backseat. “What’s that?” he asked Cath.
“Gravioli,” she said.
“Oh.” He made a face. “To hell with Gravioli. Did you know that it’s actually canned ravioli soaked in slimy brown gravy?”
“That sounds disgusting,” Cath said.
“It’s revolting,” he said. “It’s like dog food for people. Maybe that’s what we should have pitched.… ‘Do you secretly want to eat dog food? Does the smell of it make your mouth water?’”
Cath joined in, in her best announcer’s voice: “Is the only thing keeping you from eating dog food the fear that your neighbors will notice all the cans—and realize that you don’t have a dog?”
“Graaavioli,” her dad said, rounding out every vowel sound. “It’s dog food. For people.”
“You didn’t get the business,” Cath said. “I’m sorry.”
He shook his head for a little too long. “We did get it. Sometimes getting it is infinitely worse than not getting it. It was a shoot-out—six agencies. They picked us, then they rejected every good idea we had. And then, out of desperation, Kelly says in a client meeting. ‘Maybe there’s a bear who comes out of hibernation really hungry, and all it can say is Grrr. And then the bear gets a big bowl of delicious Grrravioli, and it turns into a human being.… ‘And the client just loved the idea, just f**king flipped, started shouting, ‘That’s it!’”
Cath glanced back to see if Courtney was listening. Their dad only cursed when he was talking about work. (And sometimes when he was manic.) He said that ad agencies were worse than submarines, all cussing and claustrophobia.
“So now we’re doing cartoon bears and Grrravioli,” he said.
“That sounds terrible.”
“It’s torture. We’re doing four TV spots. Four different bears turn into four different people—four, so we can cover our races. And then f**king Kelly asks if we should make the Asian guy a panda bear. And he was serious. Not only is that racist, panda bears don’t hibernate.”
“That’s what I have to say to my boss—‘It’s an interesting idea, Kelly, but panda bears don’t hibernate.’ And do you know what he says?”
Cath laughed. “Uh-uh. Tell me.”
“Don’t be so literal, Arthur.”
“Yes!” Her dad laughed, shaking his head again, too fast, too long. “Working on this client is like making my brain dig its own grave.”
“Its own grrrave-ioli,” Cath said.
He laughed again. “It’s all right,” he said, tapping the steering wheel. “It’s money. Just money.”
She knew that wasn’t true. It was never about the money with him—it was about the work. It was about coming up with the perfect idea, the most elegant solution. Her dad didn’t really care what he was selling. Tampons or tractors or dog food for people. He just wanted to find the perfect puzzle-piece idea that would be beautiful and right.
But when he found that idea, it almost always got killed. Either the client rejected it, or his boss rejected it. Or changed it. And then it was like someone had tapped straight into her dad’s heart and was draining the sap from his soul.
After they dropped Courtney off in West O, Wren slid forward in her seat and turned down the radio.
“Seat belt,” their dad said.
She sat back and buckled up again. “Is Grandma coming over tomorrow?”
“No,” he said. “She went to stay in Chicago with Aunt Lynn for a month. She wants to spend the holidays with the kids.”
“We’re kids,” Wren said.
“Not anymore. You’re sophisticated young women. Nobody wants to watch you unwrap gift cards. Hey, what time is your mom coming to get you?”
Cath turned sharply to look at her sister.
Wren was already watching Cath. “Noon,” she said guardedly. “They’re having lunch at one.”
“So we’ll eat at six? Seven? Will you save some room?”
“She’s coming to get you?” Cath asked. “She’s coming to our house?”
Their dad looked strangely at Cath—then into the mirror at Wren. “I thought you guys were gonna talk about this.”
Wren rolled her eyes and looked out the window. “I knew she’d just freak out—”
“I’m not freaking out,” Cath said, feeling her eyes start to sting. “And if I am freaking out, it’s because you’re not telling me things.”
“It’s not a big deal,” Wren said. “I’ve talked to Mom a few times on the phone, and I’m going to hang out with her for a couple hours tomorrow.”
“You talk to her for the first time in ten years, and that’s not a big deal? And you call her Mom?”
“What am I supposed to call her?”
“You’re not.” Cath turned almost completely to face the backseat, straining against the seat belt. “You’re not supposed to call her.”
She felt her dad’s hand on her knee. “Cath—”
“No,” Cath said. “Not you, too. Not after everything.”
“She’s your mother,” he said.
“That’s a technicality,” Cath said. “Why is she even bothering us?”
“She wants to get to know us,” Wren answered.
“Well, that’s bloody convenient. Now that we don’t need her anymore.”
“‘Bloody’?” Wren said. “Wotcher there, Cath, you’re slipping into Snow speak.”
Cath felt tears on her cheeks. “Why do you keep doing that?”