“Oh.” I bit my lip. “What’s the Underworld like?”
“All in good time,” he said, reaching over to briefly set his hand over mine. His palm was warm, and I fought the urge to shiver at his touch. “What about you? What do you enjoy doing with your time?”
I shrugged. “I like reading. And drawing, though I’m not very good at it. Mom and I used to garden together, and she taught me how to play cards.” I eyed him. “Do you know how to play?”
“I’m adequate at a few games, though I do not know if they are still popular.”
“Maybe we could play something sometime,” I said. “If you’re going to be in here every night, I mean.”
He nodded. “That would be pleasant.”
We fell into silence again. He looked comfortable, lounging on the bed as if he’d done it a hundred times before. For all I knew, he had, but I didn’t want to think about that. I wasn’t the first, but I would be the last. Rejecting him wouldn’t do either of us any good—my heart thudded loudly in protest at the thought—and since I was stuck here for six months, I had no intention of getting on his bad side. I was, however, exhausted.
I grappled with myself for several seconds, going back and forth between what was right and what I wanted. I should’ve talked to him, asked him more questions, gotten to know him, but all I wanted to do was to sleep—which I would never get to do if he stayed, even if he didn’t make a sound. No matter what he said about duties and expectations, that kind of anxiety wasn’t going to go away overnight.
“Henry,” I said softly. He’d gone back to reading his book, but in an instant his eyes were on me. “Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m really tired.”
He stood, taking his book with him. Instead of looking angry or hurt, however, his expression was as neutral as always. “It has been a long day for both of us.”
“Thanks.” I gave him a grateful smile, hoping that’d smooth over any wrinkles I wasn’t sensing.
“Of course.” He walked to the door. “Good night, Kate.”
It was such a small thing, but the hint of affection in his voice made my cheeks warm. “’Night,” I said, hoping he couldn’t see my blush from across the room.
“So you like him.” It wasn’t a question, and I glared at my grinning mother as we sat on a bench, watching joggers and people walking their dogs pass.
“I didn’t say that,” I said, slouching. Beside me my mother sat poised, as if she were dining with royalty instead of spending the morning in Central Park. “I just—don’t want him to die, that’s all. No one else should have to die because of me.”
“No one has died because of you,” she said, running her fingers through my hair and brushing it out of my eyes. “Even if you don’t pass, it won’t be your fault. As long as you do your best, everything will be all right.”
“But how can I do my best when I don’t even know what the tests are?” I shoved my hands between my knees. “How am I supposed to do this?”
She wrapped her arm around my shoulders. “Everyone believes in you except for you, Kate,” she said gently. “Maybe that should tell you something.”
Even if everyone believed in me, that didn’t mean they were right, and it didn’t mean I would succeed. All it meant was that on top of everything else, I had to worry about disappointing them, too. Or in Henry’s case, forcing him into early retirement from his entire existence.
“But you do like him, don’t you?” said my mother after several minutes passed. I craned my neck to look up at her, surprised to see real concern on her face.
“He’s nice,” I said warily, wondering where she was going with this. “I think we could be friends.”
“Do you think he’s cute?”
I rolled my eyes. “He’s a god, Mom. Of course he’s cute.”
A wry smile spread across her face. “It’s about time you admitted that he’s a god.”
I shrugged and looked away. “Kind of hard to pretend otherwise now. But he’s nice, so I guess as long as he doesn’t try to turn me into a pile of ash, I could get used to it.”
“Good.” She hugged me and gave me a kiss on the temple. “I’m glad you like him. He could be good for you, and you shouldn’t be alone.”
I sighed inwardly, not bothering to correct her. If it made her happy to think I liked Henry like that, then so be it. She deserved a little happiness before I became such a disappointment.
I expected the days in Eden Manor to drag, but instead their repetition made them go by quickly. Calliope and Ella helped me get ready in the morning; Ava always sat on the edge of my bed, talking animatedly about her latest conquest. After a few short weeks of dating the guard, Xander, she’d moved on.
“His name’s Theo,” she said, so excited that she could hardly sit still. “He’s gorgeous and tall and smart, and he says I have the prettiest eyes he’s ever seen.”
In the mirror, I saw Ella’s expression harden. “Stay away from him,” she snapped. I tried to turn around so I could see them both, but Calliope held my shoulders down, not yet finished with my hair.
“Why?” said Ava haughtily. “Is he your boyfriend?”
Ella narrowed her eyes. “He’s my twin.”
I sighed. If I had to put up with this for the next five months, I was going to do something drastic.