His eyes widened. “Kate—”
“I mean it.” My voice shook, but I stood firm. “Get out.”
Stunned, he stepped back and shoved his hands in his pockets. For a moment he looked like he was going to say something, but then he turned away and walked out, leaving me alone in Persephone’s bedroom.
I’d spent four years refusing to let my mother give up, and I wasn’t about to let Henry do the same. If he wouldn’t keep going for himself, then I’d come up with a way to make him keep going for me instead.
Hours later, long after the moon had risen so high in the sky that I could no longer see it from my window, I lay in bed and stared up at the ceiling. I wanted to sleep and tell my mother everything I’d learned, to ask her what I could possibly do to convince Henry to try, but I knew there was nothing she could tell me that I didn’t already know. It wasn’t up to her to fix this; I was the one who’d made the deal, and I wasn’t going to give up so easily.
In the small hours of the morning, I heard a soft knock on my door, and I buried my face in my pillow. Ava was gone when I’d crept out of Persephone’s room, and I wasn’t in the mood to tell her what had happened. I needed a day or two to figure things out for myself before the entire manor knew, too, if they didn’t already.
Even though I stayed silent, I heard the door open and shut, and soft footsteps fell against the carpet. I remained as still as possible, hoping whoever it was would go away.
I didn’t have to turn around to recognize Henry’s voice. Something thrummed inside of me, a familiar note that sent a wave of comfort through my tense body, but I still didn’t face him.
He moved so quietly that I didn’t know he was close until I felt the mattress give way. It was a long moment before he said anything. “I’m sorry.” His voice was hollow. “You shouldn’t have seen that.”
“I’m glad I did.”
“And why is that?”
I refused to answer. How was I supposed to tell him that I didn’t want him to give up? I was risking everything for him—and I would gladly do it, but I wouldn’t let it be for nothing. I couldn’t make him fight, but I would find a reason for him not to fade.
I heard Henry sigh. Forcing silence was only hurting things, so finally I said into my pillow, “Why didn’t you tell me about James earlier?”
“Because I thought you might react this way, and I wanted to keep you from this pain for as long as possible.”
“Knowing it’s him doesn’t hurt,” I said. “What hurts is that no one trusts me with anything around here.”
I felt his hand on my arm, but it only lasted for a moment. “Then I will make the effort to trust you with more. I apologize.”
His apology was hollow to my ears whether he really meant it or not. “If I pass, things are going to change, right? Life won’t be one big game of keep away from Kate anymore? Because if the answer to that is anything but a resounding yes, I don’t think I can do this.”
He brushed the back of his hand against my cheek, but it, too, only lasted a second. “Yes,” he said. “A resounding yes. It is not that I don’t trust you now. It is only that there are some things you simply cannot know yet. As frustrating as it may seem, I promise you that it is for your own good.”
For my own good. Apparently that was their go-to excuse when they did something I didn’t like. “And Persephone,” I added, glad I was turned away and couldn’t see the pain I knew was in his eyes when I said her name. “I’m not her, Henry. I can’t be her, and I can’t spend eternity trying to live up to your memory of her. I’m nobody to you right now, I get that—”
“You are not nobody,” he said with surprising strength. “Do not think that.”
“Let me finish.” I hugged my pillow tighter. “I get that I’m not her and won’t ever be. I don’t want to be her anyway, not with how badly she’s hurt you. But if this works—if I pass, I need to know that when you look at me, you’re going to see me, not just her replacement. That there’s more in this future for me than standing in the shadows while you wallow the rest of your existence away. Because if James is right and I can walk away if I want to, and if you’re doing this knowing full well that spending half of the rest of eternity with me is going to make you miserable no matter what I do, then tell me now and I’ll spare us both.”
The seconds ticked by, and Henry was silent. It was unfair that he was so willing to throw away forever when there were others out there—my mother included—who wanted to live, but couldn’t. As I stared out the window resolutely, my anger built, but short of yelling at him before he had the chance to respond, I had no release.
“I brought you a present.”
My head turned toward him a fraction of an inch before I could stop myself. “That isn’t an answer.”
“Yes, it is,” he said, and I could hear his small smile in his voice. “I would not have brought you something like this if I did not want you to stay.”
I frowned. “What kind of present is it?”
“If you roll over, you will see.”
Before I had the chance, something nudged my shoulder. Something cold, wet and very much alive.
Flipping around, I sat up and stared at the black-and-white ball of fur sitting next to me on the bed. It looked up at me with liquid eyes, its tiny tail wagging. My heart melted, all of my anger and frustration temporarily forgotten.