Or maybe he felt guilty for giving in and helping me fail. Even if that was the truth, it didn’t explain his absence. It hadn’t been his fault, and if I really had failed, there was no point in me staying in Eden Manor anymore. But I was still here, and that had to mean something.
I slept badly, and even my dreams with my mother brought me no comfort. I was quiet and withdrawn, and while she asked me again and again what was wrong, I couldn’t bring myself to tell her. I hated myself for it, not wanting to squander my last few weeks with her, but even if I could talk to her about it, I didn’t know what I would say. She was placing all of her hopes for my future in Henry, and I couldn’t tell her how badly I’d managed to destroy it. It would break her heart, and at least one of us deserved to be happy.
Thinking of Henry hurt, and the morning brought no reprieve. I tried to leave my bedroom, but Henry’s orders hadn’t changed: I was stuck in that room until someone Henry trusted—which seemed to be limited to himself, Nicholas and Calliope—came to pick me up. There wasn’t anywhere to go, but I hated being caged.
But wasn’t that exactly what I’d been for the past six months? The small voice in the back of my head was surprisingly bitter. Hadn’t I been caged like some sort of animal, like I belonged to him?
No. I’d walked into this willingly, and he’d made it clear I wasn’t being held against my will. It was terrible of me to even think otherwise. I wasn’t Persephone.
Calliope came to pick me up at noon, picnic basket in hand. She looked so happy that it felt like the conversation we’d had the day before never happened, and I didn’t dare bring it up. We linked arms, and while we moved through the corridors, I kept my eyes peeled for any sign of Henry. He’d always been there when I wanted him to be, but now there was no sign of him.
As we left the house, Nicholas trailed a few feet behind us. While being followed was still annoying, it was comforting to have him there; limp or not, no one could’ve been crazy enough to mess with him. Pogo also seemed fond of him as he followed him through the garden, sticking close to Nicholas instead of me.
I looked up at the sound of my name, but that was as far as I got. In an instant, Nicholas was between me and Ava, who was standing on the other side of the fountain. It was the closest I’d been to her since Christmas.
I didn’t want to ignore her, but between all that had happened with Henry, she was one more thing I couldn’t find the energy to deal with. She made me feel guilty, and I felt enough things right now without piling that on as well.
“Kate—” Ava tried to move around Nicholas, but he was massive. “Please. They wouldn’t let me into your room, and I need to—”
“Don’t you get it?” said Calliope so viciously that I stared at her, surprised. “She doesn’t want to talk to you.”
I could see Ava’s expression underneath Nicholas’s left elbow, and she looked stunned. “Kate,” she said, her eyes welling with tears. “Please. Just for a minute.”
I stood there with my feet rooted to the ground. I’d never seen her look so scared in her life, and against my better judgment, I said, “What is it?”
She looked at Nicholas and Calliope nervously. “Can we talk alone?”
Nicholas scowled. “No one is alone with her.”
“Please, Nicholas,” said Ava in such a familiar way that made me wonder if she had gotten to him as well. “I just need a moment—”
Calliope cut her off. “We’re leaving now.” Tugging at my elbow, she led me toward the forest. I didn’t fight her, though I would’ve insisted on speaking with Ava only a few days before. But someone had to have done this to Henry and me, and as much as I hated the thought, Ava had the motivation to do it. All she would’ve had to do was slip into the kitchen and spike our drinks. Maybe she’d only been trying to help, to give me and Henry a push, not realizing what the consequences would be. Or maybe she’d been trying to ruin things for me so completely that I felt as alone as she did. Neither possibility was pleasant.
As we reached the edge of the trees, I glanced over my shoulder and saw Nicholas holding Ava’s arm, stopping her from following us. She fought back, whirling around to face him and giving him a lecture I was glad I couldn’t hear. But at least she wasn’t following us.
“How embarrassing,” said Calliope, stepping gingerly over a thick root that sprung from the ground. “It must feel awful to be in her position, but that’s no excuse for acting like that.”
I dared another look. Nicholas was following us now, and Ava sat on the edge of the fountain, her shoulders slumped. She was watching me.
I snapped my head around to stare straight ahead, not looking back the rest of the hike. I was silent, trying to sort through my thoughts, but my head was still a little muddled from whatever had been in my hot chocolate. Did I have it wrong? Was it possible that she’d heard about the poison as well? Was she concerned?
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that she was the most likely suspect. After what had happened over Christmas, I couldn’t blame her for being angry with me, and I had so many things she didn’t. Life, opportunity—and at least for a day, I’d had Henry.
What was the next step? Did her jealousy give her motivation enough to try to kill me? Or had she heard about Henry’s reaction, and was that enough to satisfy her?