At first, when I see her standing along the ramparts, I think she’s a ghost. A Visiting.
She’s pale and wearing a flowy white dress, and her white hair is unbound and flying around her head . . . But everybody else has come through the Veil wearing whatever it is they died in – not stereotypical ghost clothes.
I don’t recognize the white lady on the ramparts as Agatha until she startles and turns to me. She must have heard me summon my blade. I immediately stow it when I see that it’s her.
“Oh,” I say. “Hey. I thought you were studying.”
I don’t feel angry with her anymore. Now that we’re standing out in the cool air, and I’ve had time to clear my head.
“I was studying,” she says. “Then I felt like taking a walk.” “Me, too.” I’m lying again.
I swear I don’t normally lie and keep secrets from my friends like this. It’s just – I can’t tell them I’m out here looking for Baz. I mean, I never want to talk to Agatha about Baz, for obvious reasons, and Penelope just doesn’t want to hear it.
After our fifth year, Penny decided I wasn’t allowed to talk about Baz unless he presents a clear and present danger.
“You can’t just whinge about him every time he gets on your nerves, Simon. That would mean nonstop whinging.”
“Why can’t I? You complain about your roommate.” “Not constantly,” she said.
“How about this – you can talk to me about Baz when he presents a clear and present danger. And, beyond that: up to but no more than ten percent of our total conversation.”
“I’m not going to do maths every time I talk to you about Baz.” “Then err on the side of not whinging about him constantly.”
She still has no patience for it, even though I was completely right about Baz that year – he was up to something. Even beyond his usual skulking around, being a vampire.
That spring, Baz slipped a pebble into my satchel that was supposed to eat my voice. (A magician can’t do magic without words.) (Usually.)
He did it during class.
But then Phillipa picked up my bag before I did – she had such a crush on me then. The pebble sucked up her squeaky little voice. She squeaked monstrously when it happened, like a lifetime of words was being ripped from her.
I know Baz put that pebble in my pocket. I saw it in his eyes when Phillipa went mute – the horror.
Phillipa got sent home. The Mage told me that she’d get her voice back, that it wasn’t permanent, but she never came back to Watford.
I wonder if Baz still feels guilty. Now he’s gone, too.
When I notice Agatha again, she’s trembling. I unbutton my grey duffle coat, sliding the horn buttons through the cord loops. “Here,” I say, sliding it off.
“No,” she says. “I’m fine.”
I hold it out to her anyway.
“No, it’s okay. No – Simon. Keep your coat.”
My arms drop. It doesn’t seem right to put the coat back on, so I fold it over one arm.
I don’t know what else to say.
This is already the most time that Agatha and I have been alone, since the start of the term. I haven’t even kissed her since we’ve been back. I should probably kiss her . . .
I reach out and take her hand – but I must move too quickly because she seems surprised. Her hand jerks open, and something falls out. I kneel, picking it up before it blows away.
It’s a handkerchief.
I know that it’s Baz’s handkerchief before I even see his initials embroidered in the corner, next to the Pitch coat of arms (flames, the moon, three falcons).
I know it’s his because he’s the only person I’ve ever met who carries old-fashioned handkerchiefs. He dropped one on my bed, sarcastically, when we were in first year, the first time he made me cry.
Agatha tries to pull the linen from my hand, but I don’t let go. I snap it away from her.
“What is this?” I ask, holding it up. (We both know what it is.) “Are you – are you waiting for him? Are you meeting him here? Is he coming?”
Her eyes are wide and glossy. “No. Of course not.”
“How can you say ‘of course not’ when you’re up here, obviously thinking about him, holding his handkerchief.”
She folds her arms. “You don’t know what I’m thinking about.”
“You’re right, I don’t, Agatha. I really don’t. Is this where you come every night? When you tell us you’re studying?”
“Simon . . .”
“Answer me!” It comes out an order. It comes out drenched in magic, which shouldn’t even be possible – because those aren’t magic words; that isn’t a spell. The spell for forcing honesty is “The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” And it’s such an advanced spell, I’ve never managed it. But I see the compulsion in Agatha’s face. “No,” I say, pushing magic into my voice. “You don’t have to!”
Her face falls from compulsion to disgust. She backs away from me.
“I didn’t mean to do that,” I say. “Agatha. I didn’t. But you
–” I throw my arms up – “what are you doing here?”
“What if I am waiting for Baz?” she spits out, like she knows it will shock me stupid. It does.
“Why would you?”
She folds her arms and turns back to the stone wall. “I don’t know, Simon.”
“Are you waiting for him?”
The wind is in her hair, making it whip out behind her. “No,”
she says. “Not waiting. I’ve no reason to believe he’s coming.” “But you want him to.”
“What’s wrong with you, Agatha?” I’m trying to control my temper now. “He’s a monster. An actual monster.”
“We’re all monsters,” she says. She means that I am.
I try to tamp down the anger coiling up my legs. “Did you cheat on me? With Baz? Are you with him now?”
“Do you want to be?”
She sighs, and leans forward on the rough stones. “I don’t know.”
“Don’t you want to say anything else to me? Like, ‘I’m sorry’? Don’t you want to fix this?”
She looks back at me, over her shoulder. “Fix what, Simon
– our relationship?” She turns to face me again. “What is our relationship? Is it just me being there when you need a date to the ball? And crying for joy every time you come back from the dead? Because I’ll still do that for you. I can still do all that. Even if we’re not together.”
Her perfect pink chin is thrust forward and trembling. His arms are still crossed.
“You’re my girl, Agatha,” I say. “No. Penelope’s your girl.” “You’re my—”
Her arms fall. “What Simon, what am I?”
I clench my hands in my hair and gnash my teeth. “You’re my future!”
Agatha’s face is contorted and wet with tears. Still lovely
though. “Am I supposed to want that?” she asks. “I want it.”
“You just want a happy ending.” “Merlin, Agatha, don’t you?”
“No! I don’t! I want to be someone’s right now, Simon, not their happily ever after. I don’t want to be the prize at the end. The thing you get if you beat all the bosses.”
“You’re twisting everything. You’re making it ugly.” She shrugs again. “Maybe.”
“Agatha . . .” I hold my hand out to her. The one that isn’t holding Baz’s handkerchief. “We can fix this.”
“Probably,” she says. “But I don’t want to.” I can’t think of what more to say.
Agatha can’t leave me. She can’t leave me for him. Oh, he’d love that – he’d love to have that over me. Damn it all, he isn’t even here to have that over me.
“I love you, Agatha,” I say, believing that might work. Those words are practically magic. I say them again: “I love you.”
Agatha closes her eyes against the sight of me. She turns her face away. “I love you, too, Simon. I think that’s why I went along with this for so long.”
“You don’t mean that,” I say.
“I do,” she says. “Please don’t fight me.” “You can’t leave me for him.”
She looks back at me one more time. “I’m not leaving you for Baz, Simon. He’s gone. I just don’t want to be with you anymore. I don’t want to ride off into the sunset with you . . . That’s not my happy anything.”
I don’t argue with her.
I don’t stay out on the ramparts.
My cheeks are hot and itchy, and that’s always a bad sign.
I run past Agatha to the stairs, and run down them so quickly that I miss a few and keep leaping down to the next landing.
And then I’m just sort of floating down the stairs. Falling without actually falling.
I’ve never done that before, and it’s weird.
I make a note to tell Penny, then a note not to tell her, but I run toward the Cloisters anyway because I don’t want to go back to my empty room, and the drawbridge is up, and I don’t know where else to go.
I stand under Penny’s window and think about how I could just call her if the Mage hadn’t banned mobile phones at Watford two years ago.
I still feel hot.
I try to shake some of the magic off, and a few sparks catch on the dry leaves beneath me. I stamp them out.
I wonder if Agatha is still up on the ramparts – I still can’t believe she’d say what she said. For a moment, I wonder if she’s been possessed. But her eyes weren’t all black. (Were her eyes all black? It was too dark to see.)
She can’t leave me like this. She can’t leave me. We were settled. We were sorted.
We were endgame. (If I get an endgame.) (You have to pretend that you get an endgame. You have to carry on like you will, otherwise you can’t carry on at all.)
Agatha’s parents like me. They might even love me. Her dad calls me “son.” Not like “I think of you as my son,” but like, “How are you, son?” Like I’m a son. The sort of guy who could be someone’s son.
And her mother says I’m handsome. That’s really all her mum ever says to me. “Don’t you look handsome, Simon.”
What would she say to Baz? “Don’t you look handsome, Basil. Please don’t slaughter my family with your hideous fangs.”
Agatha’s father, Dr. Wellbelove, hates the Pitches. He says they’re cruel and elitist. That they tried to keep his grandfather out of Watford because of a lisp.
Merlin, I can’t – I just. I can’t.
I lean back against a tree and put my hands on my thighs, letting my head fall forward and my magic course through me. When I look down at my legs, it’s like I’ve got no boundary. Like I’m blurred at the edges.
I have to fix this. With Agatha.
I’ll say whatever she wants me to say. I’ll kill Baz, so that he isn’t an option.
I’ll tell her, I’ll change her mind – how can she say that there’s no such thing as happy endings? That’s all I’ve ever been working toward. The happy ending is when things are going to begin for me.
I have to fix this.
“All right there, Simon?” It’s Rhys. He’s coming up along the path from the library in his wheelchair.
I look up. “All right. Heya.” I’m not all right. My face is flushed, and I think I’m crying. Do my edges look blurred to him? He hurries past me.
I let Rhys get a head start, then follow him back to Mummers
I should sleep this off . . .
I’ll make sure that I power down – that I’m not going to set my bed on fire – then I’ll sleep it off.
And, tomorrow, I’ll fix it.