“And how do you suggest I do that?” I said, not meaning to snap, but it slipped out anyway. I immediately felt guilty, and I slouched toward her. She scooted over, making room for me on the bench, and I sat down next to her.
“Any way you can,” she said, pushing a lock of hair out of my eyes. “If you want to do this for him, then it isn’t going to be easy. It won’t be easy passing the rest of the tests, but it won’t be easy giving him a reason to continue, either.”
I frowned, racking my mind for the umpteenth time in the past few weeks, trying to come up with something, but nothing came. My one flash of brilliance had gone into his Christmas present, and even that was a risk.
“You are being careful though, aren’t you?” said my mother, concern etched into her features. “I don’t want anything to happen to you, and if what he says is true and there is a danger out there—”
“I’m fine,” I said. “Really. No one’s tried to off me yet, I promise. And if I can’t convince Henry it’s worth sticking around, then they might as well kill me anyway.”
“Don’t talk like that. I don’t care what happens in the next three months, but you will not give up, do you understand me?”
She spoke so fiercely that it startled me, and I straightened up on the bench. “I’m not going to give up,” I said. “But if Henry won’t even try, then he’ll die, and you—” And my mother would die as well. I knew it was inevitable, but I wasn’t ready to say goodbye yet. I still had three more months until the spring equinox, and I intended on soaking in every moment of our time together. I wasn’t going to let Henry get in the way of that.
“No matter what happens to me or to Henry, you will keep going,” said my mother, though in a gentler voice. “Neither one of us is worth giving up like that, and if you do, you’ll be no better than Henry. But I know you are, all right?”
I nodded mutely. If I had my mother’s strength and certainty, I was positive it wouldn’t be so hard to convince Henry of the same. “Maybe you should talk to him. Bet he’d listen to you.”
“He probably would.” Something flickered in her eyes, something I didn’t understand. “But that’s your job, sweetie, and I know you can do it.”
It was either that or let everyone around me die. “I hope you’re right.”
She gave me a noisy kiss on the cheek. “I’m always right.”
Before either of us could say another word, the sky darkened, and I looked up, confused. When I turned to my mother to ask what was happening, she was gone, replaced by the last person I wanted to see.
“What the hell are you doing here?” I jumped to my feet. “What’d you do with my mom?”
“It’s all right,” he said, standing with me. I hurried down the path, searching for my mother, but he easily kept up. “Kate—listen. Your mother’s safe. I want to talk to you.”
“So you hijacked the only time I get to spend with my mother?” I turned around, and he stopped dead in his tracks, inches away from me. “Just because you’re some kind of god doesn’t give you the right to do this. I told you to stay away from me.”
“I know.” He stuck his hands in his pockets, and the look on his face was so pitiful that I momentarily forgot he was the bad guy. “I just need a few minutes, and I promise everything will go back to normal. Please.”
I sighed irritably. “Fine. You get five minutes.”
“More than enough.” He grinned, but when all I did was stare, his smile slowly faded. “I’m not the one trying to kill you.”
I blinked, taken aback. That was the last thing I’d expected him to say. “You’re the most logical choice,” I said slowly. “Deny it all you want, but I’d be stupid to take you at your word without a shred of proof.”
He tilted his head in a strange, almost archaic kind of nod. It was a jarring reminder of who and what he was. “I wouldn’t ask you to. But if you’d like, you can ask Henry. I’ve never been involved in the testing process for obvious reasons. You’re my friend, and I’d never hurt you.”
“Is that why I’ve survived so long?” I said waspishly. “Because we’re friends?”
His expression darkened. “I told you, I’m not the killer. You should know me well enough for that.”
“Lately it doesn’t seem like I know you at all,” I snapped, and he at least had the decency to look sheepish.
“You’ve survived so long because everyone’s gone to extraordinary measures to keep you safe,” he said. “The guards, the escorts, the food tasters—you have no idea how closely you’re being watched.”
A shiver ran down my spine. “After a century, you people really have no idea who’s doing this? I thought gods were supposed to be omniscient.”
He laughed, but it was hollow. “Wouldn’t that be nice? It’d solve a whole host of problems. But no, we’re not. We’ve followed leads, changed out the staff, interrogated everyone involved, but nothing’s come up. Henry’s even gone down to the Underworld to interview the girls who were murdered, but they never saw it coming.”
I frowned. As difficult as me being in danger was for Henry, I couldn’t imagine how much it must’ve hurt him to talk to the girls who had died because of this. Whom he undoubtedly thought had died because of him.