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Dark Souls

Dark Souls

Dark Souls 9


  Their mother often told them that they needed to be better listeners. Miranda just thought it was something all mothers said, with the same pained expression and tortured tone. It was probably in some parenting book, one of a list of things you should say to annoy your teenaged children, along with “take that look off your face” and “what’s that long sigh for?” and “I don’t know what happened; when you were little you were so sweet.”

  But, apparently, Peggy was right. Rob and Miranda had assumed that today’s rehearsal was at the Minster, but when they got there — dead on eleven, as agreed, racing up the side steps and through the revolving doors — they found out they were wrong.

  “No rehearsals here today,” said the cheery woman at the ticket counter, after trying to get them to cough up some outrageous amount to come in and look around. “There’s a concert tonight — the Tallis Scholars. Is that what you’re here for?”

  “Our mother is conducting Dido and Aeneas,” explained Miranda. Rob was useless, staring up at the huge stained-glass window behind their heads. Probably dreaming about his wedding to Sally, she thought.

  “Dido and Aeneas,” said the ticket seller, tracing a finger down a printout on the counter. “A staged performance of Purcell’s opera by the Spenserian Consort — yes? Conducted by Peggy Tennant.”

  “That’s our mother,” said Miranda. She didn’t want to have to buy a ticket just to get inside the Minster for a rehearsal.

  “Performance at eight P.M. on Saturday evening. Let me check my other sheet — yes, I see. There will be a rehearsal here in the Minster on Wednesday. Today’s rehearsal is in Victory Hall. Do you know where that is?”

  Back out on the wet, chilly street, Miranda clutched the map the ticket seller had given her. The route to Victory Hall — on the other side of town — was marked in squiggly blue pen. She and Rob set off at a good pace, loping through the crowded streets and squabbling, not very seriously, about the best route. Even though Miranda was the one with the map, Rob thought he had a better idea of how to get there.

  “I’ve walked around much more than you have,” Miranda argued. “You’ve spent most of your time at the White Boar. I’m surprised you’re not there now, hanging around Sally like a lovesick moron.”

  “Whatever,” said Rob, and something about the way he sounded — sheepish rather than brash — and the way he hung his head made Miranda suspicious.

  “What’s up?” she asked. “Has Sally dumped you already?”

  “No,” he said. “Nothing like that.”

  “Like what, then?”

  Rob came to a stop outside a store, his gaze fixed on something in the window. Miranda took the opportunity to check on her own reflection. The hat she was wearing was cute, she decided, even if it did make her hair go all flat. She wondered what Nick would think of it — or if he would even notice whether she looked pretty or not, let alone care.

  “Do you think Sally would like that?” Rob pointed at a mannequin dressed in a patched suede jacket. It was a charity shop, Miranda realized, its window display crammed with everything from ugly china animals to scuffed winter boots, paperback thrillers lined up against the glass. As well as the suede jacket, the mannequin was wearing a long taffeta skirt and a canary yellow wool beret. “She was saying yesterday that she’s saving all the money she earns for college, and not spending it on clothes and stuff.”

  “It’s not bad,” said Miranda. Rob had surprisingly good taste. Then again, he might just be drawn to charity-shop gear because of the price. He was nothing if not cheap.

  “Last night,” said Rob, looking at the coat in the window, not at Miranda. “Last night, Joe — that’s Sally’s dad — he took me down to the cellar to show me how to change a barrel. We weren’t down there long, but …”

  “What?” Miranda’s mind started leaping to the worst possible conclusions. “Did he threaten you or something?”

  “No!” Rob looked at her as though she were crazy. “Really, you need to just — chillax, as Dad would say.”

  “Well, what happened then?”

  “I got all — you know.” Rob stared at the window again. “It’s this really small old cellar. Ancient Roman or whatever. It’s a really tiny space. Low ceiling, steep stairs to get down there. Like some kind of cave.”

  “So you freaked out.”

  “I just couldn’t breathe. I thought my head was going to explode. I hid it pretty well, I think. Joe didn’t seem to notice anything. I just don’t want Sally to find out.”

  “Find out about …”

  “Everything. The claustrophobia. The … you know.”

  “You haven’t told her about … you know.”

  “I don’t want her to feel sorry for me. I’m tired of everyone feeling sorry for me. For us. I don’t want her to look at me the way everyone looks at me at school, like I’m some kind of special-needs case.”

  “I’m sure she wouldn’t.”

  “Really?” Rob said, his voice accusing. “You know how they all talk about us.”

  Miranda knew what he meant. Rob was the guy who was driving the car, the night that girl was killed. And what did they say about her? Was she the girl who did nothing, the girl who just sat on the side of the road without trying to help her dying friend? She’d heard the whispers. No wonder neither of them wanted to go out anymore.

  “Sally just thinks I’m a normal guy,” Rob said.

  “Well, she’s wrong about that,” Miranda joked, hoping to cheer him up. But it didn’t work. Rob just looked pensive. Miserable, even.

  “I really like her,” he said quietly. “It’s true I’ve only known her for —”

  “Five minutes.”

  “Okay. Not very long. But she’s a cool girl, even if she does have a weird accent. And she likes me, you know? For me. Not because I’m some tragic figure. The guy who killed somebody.”

  “You didn’t kill anyone,” Miranda told him, biting her lip. Her throat felt tight. “The other driver smashed into us. He killed Jenna.”

  She would not cry in the street, she told herself. She would not embarrass herself by crying in the street.

  “Yeah, well,” said Rob. He tapped the window with one finger, his breath steaming up the glass. “I think I’m going to buy Sally that jacket.”

  Miranda sniffed back an insistent tear. She didn’t want Rob to see it.

  “You do know it’s twenty pounds,” she said. “That’s like a million dollars or something in American money.”

  “Yeah,” said Rob. “I know. You’re going to have to lend me some cash.”

  The door of the shop swung open, its bell jingling. Someone was stepping out onto the pavement, clutching a big bundle of what looked like sheets and blankets. The bundle was so big, in fact, that the person could barely see where they were going.

  Where he was going, realized Miranda, with a shivery jolt of recognition. The person leaving the charity shop, lowering his cargo of blankets so he could negotiate the step down, was Nick. And he did not look happy to see her. Not happy at all.

  “Hey,” said Miranda, lifting her hand in a halfhearted wave. Nick glowered at her, clutching his lumpy bundle of secondhand bedding as though it were a child.

  “Hey,” he muttered. He shot Rob a ferocious glance, and then hurried away down Walmgate, his black coat flapping.

  “Why are you talking to random guys?” Rob wanted to know. “Just because we’re in a foreign country doesn’t mean you have to curtsy to strangers. Who do you think he is, the Earl of Emo?”

  “He’s this … this guy I know,” Miranda mumbled. She glanced down the street, watching Nick stride away. His back was poker straight, his hair spiky. He didn’t look around. “I’ve met him already, I mean.”

  “What — him?” Rob was incredulous. He stood with his arms folded, facing her. “What are you talking about, you’ve ‘met’ him?”

  “It’s a long story,” said Miranda, looking down. “Don’t make a big deal out of it. You meet people, I meet
people. Whatever.”

  “This isn’t the … oh no, please tell me this isn’t the reason you wanted to go out tonight. You’re not going out with him somewhere, are you?”

  “No,” lied Miranda, but she could see Rob didn’t believe her.

  “Miranda, trust me. That guy is a creep. Stay away from him.”

  “What do you know?” she demanded. “You’ve never even talked to him. You’re just judging him because —”

  “Because he was rude, and he looks totally weird, and he’s probably planning to sacrifice you at dawn or something. Not to mention he was carrying around his bedding like a homeless person.”

  “He’s not homeless,” said Miranda, though she wasn’t sure if this was true or not. “Look, I’m not eloping with him. He’s just showing me around.”

  “Yeah, well,” snorted Rob. “He’s not showing you anywhere, okay? I don’t like the looks of him.”

  “Please!” Miranda couldn’t stand it when Rob decided to play the role of overprotective, all-knowing older brother. “I can take care of myself.”

  “No, you can’t. You’re only sixteen.”

  “Going on seventeen.”

  “Miranda, this isn’t The Sound of Music. You don’t know anything about anything. Have you told Mom and Dad about this guy?”

  “If you even think about telling them, I’ll tell Sally about your claustrophobia. I mean it.”

  “Don’t threaten me.”

  “Don’t threaten me. You mind your business and I’ll mind mine. Okay?” Miranda glared at Rob. They stood in silence for a long moment, staring each other down.

  “I just don’t like it,” he said at last.

  “You don’t have to,” Miranda retorted. “Everything’s not always about you, Rob.”

  She stood outside the store while he went in to buy the jacket for Sally. Her heart was beating fast. Miranda hated arguing like this with Rob, especially when he was a little bit — just a tiny little bit — right. Nick had acted very strangely just now, abrupt and surly. The whole blankets-and-sheets thing was weird. But maybe they were for some of his Goth friends, or for the flat with the green door — lots of people might be staying there, and maybe they didn’t have enough heating or bedding. Nick would probably explain everything when she saw him tonight.

  At the rehearsal in Victory Hall, Miranda couldn’t focus on the music. It was all too stop-and-start anyway, because Peggy wanted the musicians and singers to keep going over certain things, and the high-pitched laugh of the woman playing the First Witch grated on Miranda’s nerves. The hall itself was dusty and cold. Rob sat three seats away, looking grumpy. Miranda wasn’t sure if he was still mad at her or if he was just annoyed to be away from Sally for five minutes. She knew he was planning to spend the rest of the afternoon “helping” at the White Boar, so at least she’d be free to meet Nick later on without any interference.

  She had some time between the rehearsal and her appointment — going to see a guy nailed to a door a thousand years ago was hardly a date — with Nick. Miranda didn’t feel like doing anything, not reading, not sleeping, not sightseeing, not shopping. She marched down Goodramgate to Monk Bar at a quarter to six, hoping that Nick might arrive early as well. Six thirty was her curfew: That didn’t give them much time.

  Tonight, Miranda was determined to ask questions. Nick might look “totally weird,” as Rob insisted, and he might be kind of spiky and intense sometimes, but unlike everybody else, he told the truth. Miranda wasn’t sure how she felt about him, exactly. She wished he was as handsome as the guy in the attic window, and as … what was the word? Charismatic, maybe. But she and Nick had some kind of bond, a shared experience of death and sadness and ghosts. He’d never met anyone he could talk to about this; that’s what he’d told her. What they had wasn’t quite friendship and it wasn’t quite romance. It was something more unique. Like a conspiracy.

  At Monk Bar, Miranda paced around, uncertain of where to wait. Nick made a big thing about seeing her first, and he was right: She never managed to spot him, even though he had such a distinctive look. But just before six, when someone on the other side of the street called her name, Miranda wasn’t relieved or excited. Her heart sank.

  It wasn’t Nick. It was her father.

  CHAPTER NINE

  Such excellent timing,” Jeff said, helping himself to more rice. “I left the museum, walked down the stairs, and there was Miranda waiting for me.”

  “That was very nice of you.” Peggy smiled at Miranda across the table. They’d been seated in the window because they were the first diners of the evening. The restaurant, the Rajah, was small, its walls swathed with vibrant red and pink saris and hung with gilt-flecked paintings of bejeweled women riding elephants. It looked, Jeff had whispered, like the inside of the bottle in I Dream of Jeannie. “You know how your father tends to get lost.”

  Miranda couldn’t think of anything to say that wasn’t a lie, so she tore off a chunk of naan bread, dunked it into the lurid orange sauce of her chicken tikka, and stuffed it in her mouth. Of course, she’d forgotten completely that the Richard III Museum was in Monk Bar. She hadn’t thought for a moment that her father would be leaving his “drinks thing,” as he called it, just as she was about to meet Nick.

  Nick. Miranda hoped he wasn’t angry with her for standing him up. What else could she have done once her father had spotted her? The whole thing was so, so annoying. Maybe she’d never see Nick again now. Wondering if that awkward encounter outside the secondhand store would be their last meeting made Miranda feel miserable.

  Luckily, nobody expected her to say much at dinner. Her mother was talking about how well rehearsals had gone today, and her father had various bad impersonations of museum workers to inflict on them. Between enormous greedy mouthfuls of lamb vindaloo, Rob was droning on about everything he was learning at the White Boar Inn, and how Sally’s father had even entrusted him with a key to the cellar. That morning, Peggy had been telling Rob not to spend all his time there, but now she and Jeff seemed delighted to hear all of Rob’s dull stories. Miranda noticed the significant looks her parents exchanged now and then, and she realized what was going on in the collective mind of the Parental Unit. After months of moping — depression, probably — Rob was suddenly a grinning chatterbox. Look how happy Rob is, they were thinking. This is such a positive experience for him. He’s getting over the accident at long last.

  That didn’t mean her parents would be thrilled about her choice of activity in York. That conversation would be a different story. “Mom, Dad, I’ve met this guy. His brother committed suicide. He was a teenage runaway and he’s as pale as a vampire. And guess what: He can see ghosts, just like me! Yesterday we jumped off the city walls and climbed fences so we could break into a building site and listen to the ghosts of Roman soldiers. And today I was planning to meet him again on the down-low so I could see the ghost of someone nailed to a door by the Vikings.”

  Yup. That conversation was a total non-starter.

  The thing was, Nick’s story was way too complex to even begin to discuss. He wasn’t just a high-school-dropout Goth. The little pieces that Miranda had learned so far were sad and odd, like his brother dying young in that terrible way, and being refused a funeral in the Minster, or Nick running away from home and losing all contact with his parents. There were so many things she didn’t know, of course. Why had he come back to York now? Why was he staying for such a short time? What had drawn Nick back to the place he’d grown up, and what was driving him away, Miranda didn’t know. He made her feel nervous, even a little afraid, though he hadn’t done anything to put her in danger. Not yet, anyway. He seemed to be in control of all these ghost encounters, not scared and confused the way she was. Why he was offering to show her things … well, that was another mystery. Maybe he was lonely, she thought. Maybe he couldn’t talk to his Goth friends about his “gift,” just as she couldn’t fathom discussing it with Bea or Cami or any of the kids at school. Perhaps he’d tri
ed to tell someone about what he could see, the way she’d tried to tell Rob yesterday, and they just didn’t want to know.

  “So, what else did you do today?” Peggy was asking, and Miranda struggled to find something plausible to say. Rob looking at her in a mean and suspicious way didn’t help.

  “Mainly … um, wandering around,” she said, trying to be as vague as possible.

  “Any shopping?”

  “We did some shopping this morning,” Rob said. He looked straight at Miranda. “In a secondhand store, near that hall place where you were rehearsing.”

  Miranda glared at him. He better not say anything about bumping into Nick. She would never forgive him. Nick was her secret. The second her parents found out she’d made friends with the Earl of Emo, as Rob called him, she’d probably be forced to spend every day page-turning for one of the singers or doing archival research for her father. She fixed her most steely gaze on Rob, willing him to shut up.

  “It was pretty lame,” he said at last, reaching for what was left of Miranda’s naan bread. “Hey, does anyone want the rest of that chicken thing? I’m starving.”

  According to Miranda’s cell phone, it was just after three in the morning. She’d woken up feeling a little sick — too much rich Indian food, she thought ruefully. In Iowa right now, it would be only nine in the evening. If she could send texts, she could see what the girls were doing, maybe. But her phone couldn’t send anything to the U.S. or receive anything, either, as she and Rob had discovered in Manchester airport. And anyway, what would the girls back home have to say? What happened on Glee that night, maybe. Who was and wasn’t going to Matt Angeli’s holiday party. Nothing that meant anything. Everything back home seemed more than thousands of miles away: It felt totally irrelevant.

  The attic bedroom was stuffy and too hot. Miranda kicked off her quilt, swung her legs out of bed and padded over to the window. She pulled back a curtain and peered out. Nothing but silence and darkness. The Christmas streetlights were out, and no stars were visible. In the attic across the street, Miranda couldn’t make out anything in the room beyond the window. It was just too dark.