He spoke with such a matter-of-fact tone that my stomach turned inside out. I threw up what little dinner I’d eaten, the horror of the evening hitting me so hard I felt as if the wind had been knocked out of me.
Finally, once I’d finished, I turned back into a sitting position and wiped my mouth. Henry had arranged Ava so she looked as if she were sleeping, and now he was staring at me like I was some strange animal he didn’t want to scare off. I looked away.
“So she is your friend?”
I coughed weakly, struggling to keep the sob bubbling up inside of me from bursting. Was she? Of course not. “Y-yes,” I managed to say. “Why?”
I heard the rustle of fabric and opened my eyes to see Henry placing his jacket over Ava, the way people covered dead bodies. “I didn’t realize friends treated each other the way she treated you.”
“She—it was a joke.”
“You didn’t think it was very funny.”
No, I hadn’t. But it didn’t matter anymore.
“You’re afraid of the water, yet you jumped in after her, even though she was going to leave you behind.”
I stared at him. How did he know that?
“Why?” he said, and I shrugged pathetically. What did he expect me to say?
“Because,” I said. “She—she didn’t deserve to…” She didn’t deserve to die.
Henry was quiet for a long moment, and he looked at Ava’s covered body. “What would you do to have her back?”
I struggled to understand what he was saying. “Back?”
“Back in the condition she was in before she jumped in the water. Alive.”
In my panic, I already knew my answer. What would I do to have Ava back? What would I do to stop death from tightening its chokehold over the remaining shreds of my life that it hadn’t already stolen? It had marked my mother and was waiting in the wings to take her from me, inching closer every day. She might’ve been ready to give up, but I would never stop fighting for her. And like hell I was going to let it claim another victim right in front of me, especially when it was my fault Ava was here in the first place. “Anything.”
“Yes. Can you help her?” An irrational hope flared up inside of me. Maybe he was a doctor. Maybe he knew how to fix her.
“Kate…have you ever heard the story of Persephone?”
My mother loved Greek mythology, and she used to read the stories to me as a child. But what did that have to do with anything? “What? I—yes, a long time ago,” I said, bewildered. “Can you fix her? Is she—can you? Please?”
Henry stood. “Yes, if you promise me one thing.”
“Whatever you want.” I stood, too, daring to hope.
“Read the myth of Persephone again, and you will figure it out.” He took a step toward me and brushed his fingertips against my cheek. I jerked away, but my skin felt as if it were on fire where he’d touched me. He placed his hands in his pockets, untroubled by my rejection. “The autumn equinox is in two weeks. Read it, and you’ll understand.”
He stepped back, and I stood there, confused. Turning to look at Ava, I said, “But what about—”
I glanced up, and he was gone. Stumbling forward, my feet numb, I looked around wildly. “Henry? What about—”
My heart leaped into my throat. Ava. I fell to my knees next to her, too afraid to touch her, but her eyes were open and she wasn’t bleeding anymore and she was alive.
“Ava?” I gasped.
“What happened?” she said, struggling to sit up and wipe the blood from her eyes.
“You—you hit your head and…” I trailed off. And what?
Ava stumbled to her feet and swayed, but I reached out to steady her with trembling hands. “All right?” I said, dazed, and Ava nodded. I wrapped my arm around her bare waist to help keep her upright. Henry’s jacket was gone. “Let’s get you home.”
By the time I crawled into bed that night after scrubbing the blood out from underneath my fingernails, I’d almost convinced myself he wasn’t real. That seeing him today and from the car earlier that week—it’d all been my imagination. It was the only logical explanation. I’d hit my head when I jumped into the river, and in the car I’d been exhausted. Ava had been fine all along, and Henry…
Henry was just a dream.
That weekend the phone rang on the hour, nearly every hour before I unplugged it. My mother needed her rest, and after what had happened, all I wanted to do was cut myself off from the world and keep her company. I didn’t know who it was, and I didn’t care.
The freezing river hadn’t done me any favors, and I slept most of the weekend away in the rocking chair beside my mother’s bed. It was a restless sleep, littered with the same nightmares I’d been having nearly every night since coming to Eden, but now there was a new one. It went exactly as the night had gone, with Ava diving into the river and hitting her head, and me jumping into the water to save her. But when I pulled her body out of the river, it wasn’t her face I saw, pale and lifeless as blood pooled on the ground. It was mine.
I had to wear a surgical mask around my mother. I felt feverish and achy, and there was a deep cough in my chest that I couldn’t shake, but someone had to take care of her. I poured medicine down my throat hoping it’d make me feel better, and by the time Monday rolled around, I felt well enough to brave school once more.