“H-Henry,” I said, hating myself for stuttering. “We need to talk.”
He inclined his head, as if silently giving me permission to speak. I opened and shut my mouth, not knowing what to say. While he waited, he poured us both a cup of tea. I’d never had tea in a china cup before.
“I’m sorry,” I said. My throat was dry. “For not listening to you yesterday, I mean. I wasn’t thinking, and I didn’t think you were serious. My mom’s really sick, and I just—please. I’m here. I’ll stay. I’ll do whatever you want. Just bring Ava back.”
He sipped his tea and motioned for me to take mine. I did so with shaking hands.
“She’s seventeen,” I said, my voice growing more desperate by the word. “She shouldn’t have to miss out on her whole life just because of my stupid mistake.”
“It wasn’t your mistake.” He set his cup down and focused on me. His eyes were still the same bizarre shade of moonlight, and I squirmed under the intensity of his stare. “Your friend made her choice when she decided to jump into the river and abandon you. I do not hold you accountable for your friend’s death. You shouldn’t either.”
“You don’t understand. I didn’t know that you were serious. I didn’t get it. I didn’t know she’d really die—I thought you were kidding, or…I don’t know. Not kidding, but something. I didn’t know you could do that, and now that I do—please. She doesn’t deserve to die for making a few mistakes.”
“And you do not deserve to give up half of the rest of your life for her.”
I sighed, so frustrated that I was close to tears. What did he want from me? “You’re right, I don’t want to stay here. This place terrifies me. You terrify me. I don’t know what you are or what this place is, and the last thing I want to do is spend the rest of my life here. Maybe Ava wasn’t the greatest to me at first, but she’s my friend now. She didn’t deserve to die, and her death—it’s my fault. It should have been me, not her, and I can’t live with that. I can’t look at myself in the mirror every day knowing it’s my fault that her family has to go through the pain of losing her just like—” I stopped. Just like I was going through the pain of losing my mother. “I can’t. So if it means Ava comes back, then I’ll stay here for as long as you want, I promise. Please.”
It wasn’t exactly the speech I’d planned, but it was close enough. By the time I was through, there were tears in my eyes, and I gripped the teacup so tightly that it was a minor miracle it didn’t break.
In front of me Henry was silent, staring into his own cup of tea. I didn’t have the faintest idea what he was thinking, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to know. All that mattered was that he agreed.
“You would willingly give up six months a year for the rest of your life in order to save your friend, even after what she did to you?” There was a note of incredulity in his tone.
“What she did doesn’t deserve a death sentence,” I said. “There are a lot of people out there who loved her, and they shouldn’t have to hurt like that because of me.” And maybe knowing I’d saved her would help me hurt a little less, too.
He drummed his fingers against the armrest of the sofa, his eyes on me once again. “Kate, I do not invite just anyone into my home. Do you understand why I offered this to you?”
Because he was crazy? I shook my head.
“Because even though she had abandoned you, instead of feeling spiteful or allowing her to die, you did everything within your power—including face one of your greatest fears—to save her.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. “Wouldn’t anyone?”
“No.” His smile was weary. “Very few would even consider it. You are rare, and you intrigue me. When you declined my offer yesterday, I thought perhaps I was wrong, but by coming here today, you have only proved yourself even more worthy and capable than I could have imagined.”
I blinked, alarmed. “Worthy and capable of what?”
He ignored my question. “I will make my offer only once more. In return, I cannot give you your friend’s life back. She is gone, and I am afraid that if I returned her to her body now, she would be something unnatural, and she would never find happiness. But I promise you that as she is now, she is content.”
My chest felt hollow. “So it’s all for nothing then?”
“No.” He tilted his head, his eyes narrowing slightly. “I cannot undo what has already been done, but I can prevent.”
He stared at me, and with a rush of hope, I understood. I thought I would be the one to bring it up, but he’d done it for me.
He could stop my mother from dying.
“You—you can really do that?”
He hesitated. “Yes, I can. I cannot heal your mother, but I can keep her alive until you are ready to say goodbye. I can give you the chance to spend more time with her, and when you are ready, I will make sure it is peaceful.”
His words settled over me, enveloping me in a strange warmth. “How?” I whispered.
He shook his head. “Don’t worry yourself about that. If you agree, you have my word that I will uphold my end of our deal.”
I’d always thought I’d get to say goodbye to my mother. None of the scenarios I’d played out in my head involved her falling into a coma and slipping away without me getting to tell her I loved her one last time, and now…