I forced a small smile. “That would be nice,” I said. “To—to be your friend.”
“You are my friend,” he said, and I said nothing. Friends. Just friends—nothing more. I tried to feel relieved, to remind myself that I hadn’t wanted any of this to begin with, but all I could feel was mind-numbing hurt.
He said he would love me, and I believed him. But it would never be in the way I wanted. I didn’t know when I’d decided I wanted more—maybe the moment I’d kissed him at Christmas, or when I’d lost Ava all over again and couldn’t bear to lose anyone else—but all I knew was that I did. It was something he could never give me, and that hurt more than I could stand.
Most of February slipped by in the same monotonous pattern as before. I took my meals alone, and I had classes with Irene nearly every day. After that first exam, she never gave me another test again, although whether it was because she’d never intended on it or because Henry had asked her not to, I didn’t know.
The one thing that was not monotonous was my time with Henry. Our conversation in the Underworld had been a silent turning point, and while spending the evenings with him was always the best part of my day, there was an underlying hurt now that I couldn’t justify. He’d laid out what he wanted, and I knew I had to respect that. I couldn’t have him, but with each evening that passed, I felt myself falling deeper and deeper for him, spiraling downward into a place where the word love was synonymous with pain.
Every look, every touch, every brush of his lips, as innocent as they may have been—how could he say he only wanted friendship when he was treating me like his partner? When he wanted me to be his wife? I didn’t understand it, and as time passed, I grew more confused. I didn’t know what this sort of love felt like, but by the time winter started to come to an end, with the exception of my mother, I felt closer to him than I had to anyone in my life. It hurt to be away from him, but sometimes, when he told me stories of his life before me, his life with Persephone, it was agony to be with him. Still, our friendship was so strong that it felt like the most natural thing in the world. There was no one I’d have rather spent my time with, no matter how much it hurt.
Finally, despite there still being so many tests remaining, it was March, the last month I was required to stay in Eden Manor. On one hand, I was reluctantly excited at the thought of getting to leave and seeing the world again; on the other, I knew what was waiting for me when I left. If I were lucky, I would have one last day to sit by my mother’s side and talk to her, whether or not she could really hear me. Then, once I’d said my goodbyes, she would die. I began to prepare myself for that reality, though I struggled with it as I always had. How was I ever supposed to tell her goodbye?
A few days into the month, Henry met with the council. I wasn’t allowed to go—didn’t want to go and face James—and I busied myself with entertaining Pogo in the green-and-gold drawing room while he was gone. I suspected it had something to do with my tests and how they’d seemed to stop in the months that followed Christmas, but I hadn’t asked him before he’d left. The only thing I was certain of anymore was that no girl had gotten as far as I had, and with each day that passed, the danger grew. Unless it really had been James who’d killed all those girls—and as angry as I was with him, I refused to believe he was capable of murder—whoever had done it was still out there, waiting for the right time.
“Do you think he’ll grow much bigger?” said Calliope as we waited for Henry to return, and she scratched Pogo’s pink belly. His tongue lolled out to the side, and he seemed to be enjoying himself.
“Doubt it,” I said. “He hasn’t really grown much lately.”
“Are you going to take him with you when you leave?”
I shrugged. “Maybe. I haven’t decided. He’d probably like it here better, wouldn’t he?”
Before she could respond, the doors opened and a chill fell over the room. Calliope scrambled to her feet, still awkwardly holding Pogo, and I twisted around to see who was there. Henry stood framed in the doorway, anger rolling off of him in waves.
“I—I have to go,” said Calliope, shoving Pogo in my arms and rushing out of the room. As she passed Henry, she gave him a strange, lingering look, though she didn’t say anything to him.
Several tense seconds passed before Henry finally spoke. “I need you to stop eating.”
Cuddling Pogo to my chest, I sat down on one of the couches. “Why? I like eating. Eating’s sort of important to staying alive, y’know, and unlike the rest of you, that’s something I happen to be.”
“You do not need to eat here.” Henry closed the door and moved toward me, but he didn’t sit down. “It is unnecessary, and you must adapt.”
Slowly I set Pogo down, and he at least had sense enough to run behind the couch. I, on the other hand, stupidly stayed put. “I like eating. I’m not overweight, and I don’t see what the big deal is.”
Henry’s eyes were a stormy shade of gray that made me shiver. “What about Calliope?”
“What about her?”
“Every time you sit down to a meal, you put her in jeopardy.”
I stared at him. “That’s a horrible thing for you to use against me. What am I supposed to say to that?”
“It is true,” he said harshly. “And I would prefer that you say it is enough incentive to make you stop eating.”