My house was quiet in the mornings. I guess part of that was me getting used to living on my own—even though I had a roommate moving in, when was it, tomorrow?—it wasn’t a house filled with somebody else’s family. I was supposed to be here. And as a result, instead of voices waking me up at odd times or somebody else’s phone ringing, I opened my eyes to a blissful quiet.
It took me a moment to remember that I wasn’t actually alone. Will had propped herself up against the far wall, her legs stuck out in front of her and dishrag around her arm swapped out for a bandaid. She’d let her ponytail down last night, but there were still bobby pins strewn throughout her kinked, slightly frizzy hair.
I didn’t remember the last time I’d actually spent time with another human being that wasn’t dead or somebody on sufferance. I’d actually enjoyed myself. Which meant—
Which meant danger. Which meant I had to not let my guard down. It felt strange articulating it that clearly, but it didn’t make it any less true.
Speaking of guard—I hadn’t realized I could feel his presence, but I could tell that Gurjas was gone. I wasn’t sure where he’d gone—home, possibly, or his workplace, any or all of the places he’d hung around when he was alive. Anywhere would have been better than here, with a girl he didn’t know who was trying and failing to catch his murderer.
Still, I’d gotten used to him, even with his stony silences and his refusal to cave to anything or admit to things. Even being a Salt. There was a stubbornness to it I had to appreciate, even as much as it infuriated me that everybody was keeping secrets from me.
I got to my feet as quietly as I could and stared down at Will. I didn’t know whether or not to acknowledge the anxious lump in my throat. ‘Didn’t know’ seemed to be the theme lately. I didn’t know if I should believe her about being in danger. Lila hadn’t seemed that dangerous until my knife had ended up in Will’s arm. I couldn’t see how keeping me in the dark kept me any safer, though, and there was so much I didn’t yet understand, so much that I was trying not to second-guess into oblivion-
Me being in danger though?
Somehow, I couldn’t see Will lying about that.
Maybe I was just going soft.
I shrugged on my jean jacket. It was light outside already. I’d slept in later than usual—but that was a good thing. Whatever nightmares I’d had were groggy and clouded, unclear beyond the faint feeling of unease that I just accepted as a constant companion. Then I knelt carefully by Will and picked up the phone by her side, keeping the image of a brick wall in my head. She was asleep, but I couldn’t be too careful.
“What are you doing?”
I knew what Johara was asking, but I avoided it anyway. “I’m going out to hand out some more resumes.”
“You did most of them online.”
“Yeah, and now I’m doing some more in person.”
“You need to steal Will’s phone for that?”
I sighed, walking into the kitchen and closing the door behind me so Will wouldn’t wake up and overhear. Johara just phased through the door, glaring at me with bright eyes. “Don’t ignore me,” she snarled.
I put the phone down on the kitchen table, slumping down onto one of the battered wooden chairs, which creaked under my weight. Then I glanced up at Johara, whose eyes were sparking with disappointed rage. “She’s not telling me everything. I’m not going to follow a stranger around blindly when—”
“When you could totally betray her trust instead?”
“Do you have any better ideas?”
Jo sighed, tight curls falling over her face. She was more solid than usual today; sometimes getting angry did that to her, and right now I almost felt like I could reach forward and touch her. Her feet touched the floor. Her hair ended in points instead of slight fudges of mist. But—
But she was still dead.
“Look, you don’t have to trust her. But hear her out. You keep not letting her talk.”
“I’m letting her talk.”
“No, you’re not. You keep interrupting her or freaking out over little details. And you still haven’t told me who you were talking to the other day that freaked you out so badly, so honestly, you don’t have a whole lot of room to whine about people not telling you things!”
I could have answered her, or yelled at her, or even acknowledged that she wasn’t wrong. Instead, I picked up the pile of resumes and Will’s phone and walked away.
I didn’t respond.
“Jamal, don’t ignore me!”
I didn’t feel good about it. But I kept walking away anyway. I knew what would happen if I turned back and apologized and gave Will her phone back—I’d be up all night, wracked with paranoia I couldn’t understand, couldn’t get a hold on. This wasn’t even about Gurjas anymore. It’d become about me, and that meant I had to chase down the answers and wring their necks and make the little restless voice inside of me stop.
Basically, Jo could hate me now, or she could hate me later. Pick a door.
It’s kind of a prerequisite to be a little fucked up.
Not that door. That door was staying shut.
I left, head kept firmly down—
—which meant I rammed it firmly into the chest of the guy who was standing at the door, fist up as if he was trying to knock. “Ow!” I tottered backwards. “The fuck?”
I blinked away the little birdies from my eyes. “Nathan? I said Thursday!”
“All day, dude. Go ho—” I glanced down at the paisley suitcase he was dragging behind him. “…Really.”
“I thought it was Thursday!”
Hell no. I had what was about to be a very pissed off psychic upstairs, and I didn’t know how Will was going to react to her phone getting stolen, but I doubted it was going to be good.
“Stick that in here.” I grabbed the suitcase, shoved it against the stairs, then turned Nathan forcibly around and steered him off the porch. Then I turned around and locked the door behind me.
“Er…” Nathan peered over my shoulder, as if staring at my lock would tell him something. “Where are we going?”
I glanced down at the stack of resumes in my hand, then turned to him with an exaggerated and very fake grin. “The second half of your roommate interview! While I hand these out.”
“Resumes? I thought you were a private investigator.”
“Part time. I—Hey, I’ll ask the questions here.”
“See? You’re great at it.”
I was going to pay for this later. Either from Will, or from my sister—but either way, I’d bought myself time to get into Will’s phone and get some more answers.
Speaking of which… I glanced down at the lockscreen as I walked down the street. Lockscreens told you a lot about somebody – mine was a starry night sky, one of the defaults when I’d gotten it that had spoken to me at the time. Will’s on the other hand was some anime character, a girl with a shock of golden hair and a flaming red dress. It took me a moment to place it, then I snorted. Panty and Stocking. Of course.
I called to mind what I’d seen from Will last night. I could almost remember it. Across, then down.
I tried once. No luck. Once more. Still locked.
Across two, then diagonal—
There was a beep, and Will’s phone let me in. It opened onto a texting app, and there wasn’t anything on the screen other than the name of the contact on the top—
“Ophis?” I murmured.
“Uh, never mind.”
Then something appeared on the screen. A message.
OPHIS: You’re late.
I stared at it, uncomprehending—then yanked my notebook out of my pocket, jotting down a new word on a fresh page.
Will was reporting back to somebody.
I was right.