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Page 23

“Don’t bother,” Helen said. “The Centurions left moldy coffee in the pot.” She gestured toward the sink, where the coffeepot was soaking.

Cristina instantly hated the Centurions even more than she had before. “Is there anything they don’t ruin?”

“They left laundry,” Mark said, coming in with his hair wet. He must have just showered. Cristina felt the immediate and uncontrollable spark of nerves in her stomach, and sat down on a counter stool. She could still see the healing weal of skin around Mark’s wrist, where the binding spell had cut him; she had one that matched. His eyes glowed in the morning sunlight, blue and gold as the heart of the ocean; she turned quickly away from looking at him and began studying a kitchen tile depicting Hector’s body being dragged around the walls of Troy. “So much laundry. Piles and piles of laundry.”

“I’ll do the laundry.” Helen had moved to the stove and was stirring a pot industriously. “I’m making oatmeal.”

“Oh,” said Mark. He met Cristina’s eyes briefly. A shared moment of oatmeal dislike passed between them.

More Blackthorns started piling into the kitchen: Ty, followed by Kit and then Dru and Tavvy. There was a babble of voices, and for a moment, things felt nearly normal. Nearly. Without Emma, she knew, the Institute would never be normal for her. Emma had been the first person she’d met in Los Angeles; Emma had befriended her instantly and without hesitation. Her introduction to L.A. had been going to all of Emma’s favorite places, her secret beaches and canyon trails; it had been driving in the car with her with the radio on and their hair down, hot dogs at Pink’s, pie at the Apple Pan at midnight.

It was hard not to feel anchorless now, an unmoored boat on the tide. But she clung to what Emma had said to her: They’ll need you. Mark will need you.

Ty grabbed a bag of potato chips off the counter and handed it to Kit, who gave him a thumbs-up. They had a way of communicating without words, almost like Emma and Julian did.

“You don’t need those,” Helen said. “I’m making oatmeal!” She pointed at the table with her spoon: She’d set it with matching bowls and even a vase with a sprig of wildflowers.

“Oh,” said Kit.

“I want pancakes,” announced Tavvy.

“We’re not staying for breakfast,” said Ty. “Kit and I are going to the beach. We’ll see you later.”

“But—” Helen began, but it was no use; they’d already left, Ty dragging Kit behind him with a firm grip on his wrist. Kit shrugged apologetically before disappearing through the door.

“I hate oatmeal,” said Dru. She sat down at the table, frowning.

“I hate oatmeal too,” said Tavvy, pushing in next to his sister. He frowned too, and for a moment the resemblance between them was almost comical.

“Well, oatmeal is what there is,” Helen said. “But I can make toast, too.”

“Not toast,” said Tavvy. “Pancakes.”

Helen shut the stove off. For a moment she stood staring down into the pot of cooling oatmeal. In a small voice, she said, “I don’t know how to make pancakes.”

Cristina got hurriedly off her stool. “Helen, let me help you make some eggs and toast,” she said.

“Julian can make pancakes,” said Tavvy.

Helen had made room for Cristina at the counter by the stove. Cristina handed over bread; as Helen loaded up the toaster, Cristina saw that her hands were shaking.

“I really don’t want eggs for breakfast,” said Dru. She picked one of the flowers out of the vase on the table and plucked off its head. Petals showered down onto the table.

“Come on, both of you,” said Mark, going over to his younger brother and sister and ruffling their hair affectionately. “We just got back. Don’t give Helen a hard time.”

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