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Dark Souls 7
“You can’t have anything that costs over five pounds,” he muttered.
“But I really wanted to try the Yorkshire cream tea….”
“God, Miranda — everything’s not always about you! Can you see Sally?”
“She’s walking toward us,” said Miranda sulkily. Sally was far too pretty for Rob, she decided. Even in the old-fashioned waitress uniform, Sally looked attractive. She had lovely skin — creamy white, with pale pink cheeks. This must be what people meant when they talked about an English rose.
“Good afternoon,” she said, with a beaming smile. “What a nice surprise, seeing you here!”
“Miranda really wanted to come,” Rob lied, all nonchalant. “So I said I’d bring her along.”
“That’s so kind of you,” said Sally, lifting her order pad. “I was hoping you’d stop by. This is my very last shift here. I’ve had to resign. I’m needed at the White Boar in the afternoons as well, not just in the evenings.”
“That sucks.” Rob looked crestfallen. He was never going to have a chance to see Sally now, Miranda realized. She was going to be working at the inn day and night.
“Maybe,” Sally said, “if you’re not too busy later on, you could come by and give my dad a hand with the barrels? Only if you don’t mind, of course.”
“No problem at all.” Rob grinned.
“Thanks so much.” Sally grinned back. These two were starting to make Miranda feel sick. “So, sir and madam, may I bring you something to drink while you read the menu? Or maybe you’d like to look at the cake trolley?”
“No need.” Rob slapped his menu onto the table. “We’d like two hot chocolates and a plate of those peek — I mean, pikelets. To share. Thanks.”
“Hey!” complained Miranda after Sally bounced away. “I hadn’t decided yet. Did you just order the cheapest thing on the menu?”
“Maybe,” said Rob, looking over his shoulder, “we should swap seats so I can see her when she walks by.”
“Whatever,” Miranda grumbled, getting up anyway and stepping over Rob’s long legs.
“Thanks, Dormouse.” He slithered around into her chair, still grinning like a fool. Miranda hadn’t seen him smile like that for a long time. “I owe you one.”
“You owe me at least ten,” she told him. She pulled Tales of Old York out of her coat pocket, and the book fell open to the page she’d been reading last night, the chapter on the shambles and the ghost of the apprentice garroted by his cruel master.
“Rob …” she started.
“What?” He was distracted, peering around her — at Sally, probably.
“I hate it when people say ‘nothing’ when they obviously were about to say something. It’s really annoying.”
“I was just wondering if … if you’ve ever thought about things like ghosts.” Miranda’s throat was dry, and her stomach was twisting itself into knots. She just wanted Rob to hear her out.
“Things like ghosts?” he asked, still not looking at her. “Like werewolves and vampires? I don’t mind zombies, but you know I can’t get into all that other girly stuff about a love that never dies and who’s on Team English-Wussy-Guy versus Team American-Big-Jaw —”
“I’m not talking about that,” interrupted Miranda. She toyed with the table’s small vase of flowers. Maybe trying to discuss her secret with Rob was a mistake. The problem was, she had nobody to talk to anymore. The other girls at school were no replacement for Jenna, and her parents didn’t count, because they were busy and worried too much and would probably send her off to see yet another doctor type who wanted to talk about stuff like coping mechanisms and “working through your grief.”
Finally, Miranda made herself say it. “I mean — what would you say if I told you that I — I think I can see ghosts?”
“What?” Rob wasn’t really interested, she could tell. He was just filling in time until Sally came back. “Like that movie, you mean? You know — ‘I see dead people.’ That kid was dead, you know. Or was it Bruce Willis who was dead? It was confusing.”
“Forget I said anything,” said Miranda, irritated now. This was a waste of time. She might have known that Rob wouldn’t listen, wouldn’t even try to understand. She picked up her book and held it up in front of her face.
“Hey,” he said, flicking her book and leaning closer. “Tell me.”
Miranda put the book down. It was now or never, she thought.
“The night Jenna — the night of the … accident,” she began, stumbling over her words.
Rob stared at her, his eyes muddy with pain, and Miranda wished she’d kept quiet. They never talked about the accident. Rob had been driving that night, and he blamed himself — that’s what Peggy had told her. He thought he should have reacted more quickly, sped up or braked — something, anything. He thought he should have saved Jenna.
“What about it,” he said softly. Miranda swallowed, trying to summon the courage to continue.
“I saw her … her ghost,” she said at last. “I think it was her ghost. Yeah, it was. I saw her … I don’t know how to explain it. I saw her leave her body behind and walk away.”
Rob stared down at the table, tracing one finger along a pale swirl of marble.
“You’re saying you saw Jenna get out of the car and walk away?”
“Not exactly.” Miranda felt confused. What had she seen? Jenna walking into the field, even though her crushed body was still trapped in the car. “I mean, I saw her and felt her walk by me.”
“You were in shock.”
“I know, and I thought that maybe I imagined it. That’s why I never said anything to anyone. But then — the thing is, I keep seeing them. In Iowa. Here. On the street. At Clifford’s Tower. In the …”
Miranda was about to say “in the attic across the street” but changed her mind. She didn’t want Rob staked out at her window — or, even worse, insisting on swapping rooms.
Rob raised his eyes to meet hers. He looked so sad, she thought, so wounded. She shouldn’t have brought the accident up again.
“It’s just your overactive imagination,” he said. His eyes were hardening; his voice was cold. “It’s just one of the ways some people react to all this … stuff. That’s what one of those doctors told me. Some people are in denial about losing someone close to them, and they start imagining they can see them, or talk to them, or contact them in the spirit world or something.”
“That’s not what I’m saying!” Miranda raised her voice without meaning to. “I don’t think I can talk to Jenna. I only saw her that one time. But I can see other ghosts. On Saturday afternoon, one of them spoke to me — this little girl.”
“What the —” Rob shook his head.
“Here we go!” Sally appeared, sliding big white cups of hot chocolate onto the table. “I’ll bring a selection of jams for your pikelets. They’ll be out in just a moment.”
“Thanks,” said Rob, flashing her a weak smile. He looked grateful for the interruption. When Sally had gone, he picked up a teaspoon and started slowly stirring the chocolate flakes into the frothy cream, not looking at Miranda.
“You have to believe me,” she pleaded. “I’m not making this up. I don’t know why I can see ghosts right now, but I just can. Someone said to me that maybe Jenna wanted to say good-bye.”
“Who’ve you been talking to about this?” Rob hissed, banging the teaspoon on the side of the cup.
“Nobody you know.” Miranda felt miserable. She couldn’t say a word to Rob about Nick, that was obvious. If he didn’t want to hear about ghosts, he wouldn’t want to hear about someone who possibly planned to take her on some kind of private ghost tour.
“Just don’t say any of this crazy stuff to Mom and Dad, okay?” Rob looked annoyed now. Accusing. “They’re trying to have a nice time this week, and the last thing they need is you whining about seeing dead people. They’ll get all worried and it’ll ruin everything. This family trip thing is a big deal for them. They’
re trying to forget about … what happened. Just for a week, they’re trying to forget, okay? I’m trying to forget. You should, too.”
Miranda’s eyes prickled with tears.
“This isn’t about what happened,” she hissed. “Maybe I’ve been able to see ghosts for years but I never realized it.”
“Everything is about what happened,” Rob said. He sucked his spoon clean and clanged it onto the table. “But this week I’m pretending that I’m not a psycho who can’t get into cars without freaking out, and you’re pretending you’re not a psycho who can’t climb a staircase without freaking out, and we’re all pretending that we’re a normal family. Okay?”
Miranda said nothing. She didn’t want to make a fool of herself by crying in public, especially now that Sally was leaning over them again, arranging white china jam pots in the center of the table.
“Tales of Old York?” Sally said, glancing at Miranda’s book. She set out plates, lining up shining cutlery and small triangles of pristine white napkin. “That sounds interesting. You should have a proper tour of the White Boar, you know. Part of the building dates back to the thirteenth century, and an archaeologist told us once that some of the stones in the cellar may have been part of the old Roman road. You can come over with Rob later on, if you like.”
“I have to be somewhere,” Miranda blurted. Did Rob look suspicious, or was that just her imagination?
“Another time, then,” Sally said, smiling, and Miranda did her best to smile back.
“Where are you going, anyway?” Rob gave her a sour look. Miranda didn’t reply. She wasn’t going to tell him about meeting Nick by the green door on Petergate. She wasn’t going to tell him anything ever again if he was going to act in such a belligerent way. She thought he’d be the one person who wouldn’t dismiss all this as fantasy, but she was wrong.
Both Rob and Sally were looking at her expectantly, so she had to say something.
“City walls,” she mumbled. “Just for a walk.”
Sally glanced at her thin silver wristwatch.
“You better hurry,” she said. “They start closing the walls at dusk, and in the wintertime that’s … well, it’s now.”
“I should go, then,” Miranda said, cramming Tales of Old York back into her bag. She was out of her chair before Rob could say a word. He looked startled and grumpy, but Miranda didn’t care. Nick may have seemed a little weird, but he didn’t mock and berate her. He believed her.
Sally was right. Dusk sounded like a mysterious and romantic time of day, but the sign on the city walls told Miranda otherwise. As far as the City of York was concerned, dusk in December began at half past three in the afternoon.
Miranda found Bootham Bar, one of the city’s old fortified entrances, without a problem; they’d passed it on the taxi ride from the train station — just days ago, though it already felt like weeks. But she couldn’t see a green door anywhere. Miranda paced back and forth, confused. Maybe there was no green door. Maybe Nick never intended to meet her this afternoon, and the meeting place he’d told her didn’t exist. Maybe he was going to meet her, and then take her somewhere quiet and murder her. She really didn’t know what was making her heart beat so fast — anticipation at seeing Nick, anxiety that he wouldn’t show up, or fear.
She couldn’t just stand there like an idiot, so Miranda walked through Bootham Bar toward the steps up onto the wall. The roads were much busier outside the medieval walls; York suddenly felt like a modern city again, with trucks lumbering through intersections and people impatiently leaning on their car horns. Nick was nowhere in sight. It was only when Miranda turned around to retrace her footsteps that she saw it. The green door was right there, practically set into the city walls, impossible to see from Petergate itself. The door was the darkest of greens, almost black. It had a brass knocker but no bell of any kind. On the doorstep, Miranda hesitated, wondering if she was too early. Wondering if it was too late to change her mind.
“Hey,” said a voice behind her.
She swung around, not really surprised to see Nick standing there. He seemed to have a habit of popping up out of nowhere. At least he was almost smiling at her now, his face softer, less hostile, than it had appeared Saturday morning. Still pale, of course. His face looked as though it were chiseled from chalk.
“Is this … where you live?” she asked shyly, gesturing at the green door.
“Where I’m staying.” His voice was gruff. “Come on. We should get onto the walls.”
“Aren’t they about to close?”
“Don’t worry. It’ll be twenty minutes before they’re sweeping this stretch, and by then we’ll have jumped off.”
Miranda didn’t like the sound of “jumped off” at all: The walls looked way too high for any jumping — and why, exactly, did they have to jump anywhere? But even a semi-smiling Nick made her feel nervous, and before she could get another word out, he was hustling her through a squeaky barred gate and onto the stairs.
Within moments they were up on the city walls. On one side, there were the rooftops of the houses along Gillygate. On the other, across lush lawns streaked with the shadows of trees, sat York Minster, the last of the afternoon light catching its intricate ivory carvings and stained-glass windows.
“This was a Roman road,” Nick told her, pointing back to Bootham Bar. “The Romans had their own gatehouse here. Roman legions marched north out of the city this way, up to Hadrian’s Wall.”
“You know a lot about York,” she said, running her hand along the golden stone of the battlements. It was a lame thing to say, but it was all Miranda could think of right now. It was a whole lot better than “are you planning to kill me?”
“Like I said, I grew up here. I moved away. But you don’t forget things.”
“When you moved away, where did you go?”
“Here and there. London, mostly. I’ve only been back for a week or two.”
“Oh.” Miranda wished her heart would stop beating so fast. Her voice sounded squeaky. “Does your family still live here?”
“No.” He was walking more quickly now, his black boots clomping along the stone walkway. “I’m leaving on Monday.”
“So are we,” Miranda called after him, hurrying to catch up. “Where are you going?”
“Anywhere but here,” Nick said, his voice dark, and he stalked away, his black coat flapping in the wind.
Nick finally slowed his pace and walked down a set of steps that led into a stark garden. Miranda followed him. All the flower beds were dug over, and the trees were spindly and bare. The lawns here backed onto a jumble of old buildings that crowded around the towering Minster. Miranda still had no idea where they were going. She opened her mouth to ask and then closed it again. She had to trust him. But part of her wondered what she was doing, if this was remotely safe.
Nick jumped over the low, locked gate in one easy movement: He was very agile for someone so tall. He reached out a hand for Miranda, but she hesitated before taking it. His grip was firm; the skin felt cold and a little rough. Miranda felt herself blushing, though she knew there was nothing romantic about this. Nick was just hauling Miranda over the gate, steadying her when her boots slipped on the damp ironwork. There was no reason to feel this flustered. Even so, Miranda was relieved when he dropped her hand, and at the second gate, she scrambled over without his help.
Hand holding was something surreptitious that happened when (before the accident) she had gone with some boy from school to the movies — clammy, tentative, under cover of darkness. Nick was nothing like those boys, and not just because he was older, and English. Miranda knew what to expect from the boys at school. Nick was still an enigma.
In a few confident strides he crossed the grass and ducked into the shadow of a high brick wall. Miranda scampered along behind him.
“Keep low,” he said to her over his shoulder. He stopped next to the wall of what might be a shed, and crouched down.
are we going?” Miranda asked, crouching alongside him, trying not to sound as nervous as she felt. She hoped they weren’t going to break in somewhere. Getting arrested would definitely fall into the “ruining the family vacation” category.
“The Treasurer’s House.” Nick peered around the corner of the shed. “The courtyard. The place is closed for the winter right now; otherwise we’d be able to walk right up. They’re doing renovations, too, building work. We should wait here a little while, until it gets darker. All right?”
“Okay,” said Miranda. It wasn’t okay, really. They weren’t supposed to be here. It was cold and the ground was damp. The sky looked heavy, ready to burst with sleet or snow. The city walls were about to close for the night. The only people passing by up there were an old lady walking a yappy terrier and a jogger thudding past toward Bootham Bar.
“Here,” Nick said, maneuvering until his back was against the wall, and then spreading the tails of his long coat out around him before he slid down. “Sit on a bit of this.”
Miranda hesitated. She didn’t want to get damp grass all over her butt, but if she complied with Nick’s request, they’d be sitting very close together. Uncomfortably close. Nick was looking away, gazing up at the stretch of city wall, and Miranda slowly, awkwardly sat down next to him. Their shoulders and arms were brushing now. There wasn’t anything she could do about it.
“What are we going to see at the Treasurer’s House?” she asked him, desperate to fill the silence.
“Not see. Hear,” he said. She waited for him to explain, but he was still staring up at the walls.
Miranda tried to take the conversation in a more normal direction. “Did you grow up near here or, you know, in the suburbs?” Her knee touched Nick’s and she jerked it away, embarrassed.
“Here in town. Various houses. My mother liked to move.”
“But she doesn’t live here now, right?”
“She buggered off.” Nick’s voice betrayed no emotion. “Not long after I ran away. Moved to Spain. Didn’t surprise me. I didn’t really care.”