Ava watched me closely, waiting for me to speak, and I knew there was no way I could lie my way out of this. Even if they did think I was crazy, the need to tell someone, to understand what had happened was overwhelming. I took a deep breath, kissed my sanity goodbye, and I told them everything.
Once I was done, Ava stared at me, her eyes shining. “Oh, Kate—you really jumped into the river to save me?”
I shrugged, and before I knew it, she wrapped her arms around me and buried her face in my neck. The hug lasted for nearly half a minute, things growing more awkward with each second that passed. Finally she let me go, although her hands were still on my shoulders.
“That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for me. When I tried to tell Dylan…” She bit her lip. “He laughed at me and told me to stop making stuff up.”
At the jock table, Dylan sat surrounded by his friends, laughing loudly. Next to me, Ava looked crushed. “So you broke up with him?” I said.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said, picking at her sandwich. “He’ll be begging to get back together with me in a week. What about Henry? You really promised him anything? What did he want?”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw James look up.
“I’m not really sure,” I said. “He asked if I knew about the myth of Persephone, and he told me the autumn equinox was in two weeks. He said once I read about her, I’d know what he wanted me to do. I’ve heard it before, but I don’t get what that has to do with anything—”
Across the table, James dug through his backpack, tossing heavy books and binders onto the table. They landed with a thud, and half the cafeteria looked at us. I ducked my head, amazed as I tried to figure out how all of it fit into his bag, but finally he yanked out a thick book I recognized as our English text. He flipped it open seemingly at random, but when I craned my neck to see what he’d turned to, I saw it wasn’t random at all.
“This is the story of Persephone,” he said, pointing to a picture of a girl emerging from a cave. A woman stood on the grass, her arms open wide in greeting. “Queen of the Underworld.”
“The Underworld?” said Ava, leaning over to get a better look. “Which one?”
James gave her a look that could’ve withered a plant. “The one where the dead go. Tartarus? The Elysian Fields?”
“Greek mythology,” I said, turning the page. “See this guy?” I pointed to a dark-haired man half covered in shadow. “He’s Hades, God of the Underworld. Ruler of the dead.”
“Like Satan,” said James.
“No, not like Satan,” said Ava. There was a hint of anger in her voice, but James either didn’t notice or didn’t care. “Satan’s Christian, and the Underworld isn’t hell. Hades isn’t a demon. He’s just…some guy who was put in charge of dealing with the souls of the dead. He sorts them out and stuff.”
I stared at her. “I thought you didn’t know anything about this?”
She shrugged and looked down at the book. “Might’ve heard a few things before.”
“He kidnapped her,” said James in a voice so low it sent a shiver down my spine. “She was playing in a field, and he dragged her down to the Underworld with him to be his wife. She refused to eat, and while her mother, Demeter, appealed to Zeus—king of the gods—the world grew cold. Eventually Zeus made Hades give Persephone back, but by then she’d eaten a few seeds, and he insisted that it meant she had to spend part of the year with him. So whenever she’s with him as his wife, winter comes. It’s the myth that explained the seasons to the Greeks.”
The temperature felt as if it’d dropped twenty degrees. A horrible thought crossed my mind, and I stared at James, trying to figure out if the implications of the deal I’d made with Henry were even remotely possible.
Ava, on the other hand, snorted. Loudly. “So he was lonely. It doesn’t make him a bad guy—you don’t know if she wanted to go down there with him. She might have, y’know.”
I ignored her and looked at James. “Do you think Henry’s going to try the same thing on me?”
“That’s ridiculous,” said Ava, rolling her eyes. “If he was going to kidnap you, he’d have already done it, right? It’s not like he didn’t have the chance when we were in the woods.”
“I don’t know,” said James. “It’s possible. Maybe he’s waiting for the autumn equinox to do it. It’s just a few weeks away, at the end of September.” He stared at me, blue eyes so wide I wondered if they were going to fall out of his head. “What if he wants you to stay with him during the winter?”
“He can’t really expect me to drop everything and move in for a while,” I said uncertainly. “Or permanently.”
“He might not ask,” said James. “What happens then?”
Silence settled between the three of us, with only the buzz of the cafeteria around us. Finally I straightened my shoulders and said with as much conviction as I could, “Then I’ll kick his ass and the police will arrest him. End of story.”
But it wasn’t the end, because none of us were mentioning what had happened on the bank of the river. He’d somehow brought Ava back from the dead, and I didn’t know how to explain it.
James slammed the book shut, and I jumped.
“Maybe so,” said James, “but it doesn’t change the fact that you agreed to marry a complete stranger.”