Saturday, November 11
Dawn was very disappointed that her friends had managed to actually get Alice’s full story without her present. When Roe managed to get in touch with Otis Atkins, she insisted that they all had to be there when Alice got to speak to him. Link had given Otis Roe’s phone number, and Roe had given Otis the basics of the situation, but they needed him to talk to Alice himself. Between his schedule, Lin’s, and everyone’s classes, it had taken them a few weeks to schedule something.
Finally, though, they all crowded into Annie’s room one more time and watched Lin sit in the chair and brace herself. She waited a moment, then frowned, her eyebrows drawing together quizzically. Dawn would have thought it was Alice who was confused, except this still seemed to be Lin’s expression. Was Alice somehow failing to show up?
Lin’s eyebrows lifted. “It’s okay,” she said softly. “I came here today to help you. I won’t come into this building unless it’s to help you.”
Then she gasped, closing her eyes, and when they opened again it was Alice who looked through them. She looked around. “Is it time? Really?”
“It’s time,” Annie said, smiling.
Roe took out her phone and dialed, setting it to speaker so they could all hear it ring. Then a male voice on the other side said, “Hello? Roe?”
“Hi, Mr. Atkins,” Roe said. “We have someone who wants to talk to you. Will you identify yourself?”
“Yes, of course. My name is Otis Atkins. I’m named after my grandfather, who was named after his father. I have an aunt named Alice Norburn. She was named after her great-aunt, Alice Atkins, who died while she was attending Chatoyant College.”
Alice gave another gasp and began to cry. “I’m Alice Atkins.”
“I know,” Otis said. “It’s amazing to be able to speak to you. I wish my grandfather could be here to witness this.”
“Your father is my brother Otis’s son?”
“Yes. He never knew you, of course, but he grew up hearing stories of his brilliant aunt.”
Alice cried harder. “I’m not brilliant. If I was, I wouldn’t have… I would have found a way to learn the spell I needed, instead of having it blow up in my face. I would have returned to help my family.”
Dawn felt sorry for Alice in her obvious difficulty of thinking of herself as dead. It made sense—she was here and talking to them, wasn’t she? And yet, of course, if she weren’t dead, she wouldn’t be a ghost forced to possess a medium in order to communicate. From what Dawn had learned about attitudes toward death in her sociology class, she couldn’t be sure that she wouldn’t feel the same way as Alice after she died. Though, of course, she hoped she wouldn’t be forced to become a ghost.
“But from what my grandfather told me, Otis was very proud of you,” Otis said. “He was so impressed that you had worked hard enough to be able to go to college, and to not even have to pay for it. He never went to college himself, but you inspired him to work hard. Do you remember where he was working when you went to college?”
“Yes, of course. He was an assistant at Nickelson’s Shoe Store.”
“Well, that store went on to be the Atkins Shoe Store.” Otis’s voice was warm.
Alice swallowed hard. “Really?”
“Yes. My great-grandfather owned that store. My grandfather turned it into a franchise—seven stores throughout the state. My father inherited the franchise and ran it well, but decided to send me to college. To the same college you attended. I learned so much here, but I never imagined that the ghost I heard about, haunting the girls’ dorm—Mary Thomas was all girls then—was actually my great-aunt.”
“So my family… they did all right without me?”
“Yes, from what I know. Otis worked hard all his life, but his children never wanted for anything. I don’t know exactly what happened with your sister Grace, but she married and had seven children, so I assume she was happy, too.”
Alice gave a watery chuckle, but her tears seemed to have stopped. “Grace always doted on children. I’m glad she got what she wanted. What about my father?”
“I’m afraid I don’t know. My grandfather never spoke about his own grandfather. But the family didn’t fall into ruin. All his descendants have happy lives.”
“Your life is happy?”
“Very much so. I retired a few years ago from my job as a lawyer. My father sold the shoe stores, and the money was divided between my three daughters. I have two grandchildren now and another on the way. Maybe if it’s a girl, I’ll ask them to name her Alice.”
“Oh, no, you don’t have to do that,” Alice said quickly. “I’m so happy to hear you’re all doing well. It’s… it’s all I could ever ask for.”
“Would you like me to come visit you?” Otis asked. “Perhaps when the students here are on a break?”
“I… no. You don’t have to do that.” It was plain from Alice’s face that she didn’t like the idea of her great-grandnephew visiting her. Dawn agreed that it was a strange thought. If she had lived, they would have never met unless she had lived a very long time indeed. “You won’t be able to see me, after all, and I can’t ask for any more of this medium’s time.”
“Oh. Yes, that makes sense. Still, it’s good to know that you’re there.”
“Thank you so much for speaking to me, Otis,” Alice said.
“Thank you for speaking to me,” he said.
“Can I ask a question?” Corrie put in.
“Certainly,” Otis said politely.
“When you went here, you heard stories about the ghost, right? How come you never investigated?”
“I, well—“ He gave a little cough. “I did, once. A friend and I, along with our girlfriends, who were living in Mary Thomas, tried to have a little seance. But the ghost tipped over our candles. Nearly set Mary Lou’s dress aflame.”
Alice’s hands flew to her mouth. “Oh, I’m so sorry.”
“No worries. I didn’t think much of it, really. I didn’t know who you were, and you obviously didn’t know who I was.”
“No, I… suppose not.”
There was a moment of silence. Then Roe spoke. “Mr. Atkins, do you have anything else to say to Alice?”
“Ah, just that she should feel free to get in touch with me at any time. You have my phone number?”
“Yes, I do. And Alice knows how to get in touch with me. Thank you.”
“Goodbye, Otis,” Alice whispered. She covered her face with her hands for a moment, then when the hands lowered, it was Lin’s face looking out at them once more.
Once they had explained the whole story to Dawn, Annie yawned, covering her mouth unsuccessfully with her hand. “Well, now that we’ve accomplished that,” she said, “I think I’m going to go have the sleep of someone with a very light conscience.”
“That sounds good,” Corrie said. “Sleep well.” But she wasn’t looking at Annie. She looked at Edie and raised her eyebrows very pointedly.
Edie swallowed. If she didn’t do it now, she would never live it down. “I’ll come with you.”
“Oh,” Annie said, her cheeks going pink. “Yeah, okay.”
“I need to call Link,” Roe said, following them out of the room. None of them spoke on the walk back to Mary Thomas. Even after they parted with Roe, Edie stayed silent; she didn’t want to say this in the hall where anyone could hear them.
Once they reached Annie’s room, Annie sat on her bed and looked at Edie expectantly. Edie took a deep breath and sat on Annie’s chair. She couldn’t make this more intimate by sitting on the bed.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I can’t give you the answer you want, so the answer has to be no. I don’t want to make you keep waiting.”
Annie looked down. “I can’t say I’m surprised.”
“I’m sorry,” Edie said again.
“It’s okay.” Annie lifted her head with what looked like an effort. “I’d rather a clear ‘no’ now than going on a date with you only to find out that you were just doing it because you felt bad, not because you liked me.”
“I wouldn’t do that to you!”
“I know.” Annie smiled. “I trust you.”
Edie lowered her head, embarrassed. “I wish I could give you a yes. You deserve to be loved. But I… I’m not ready, I guess. I don’t think you’re anything like Leila, but I can’t help thinking about her anyway.”
“Yeah, that makes sense. She really betrayed you. Was she your first girlfriend?”
“Yeah. I had crushes in high school, but… nothing ever came of any of them.” Edie shook her head. She didn’t want to think about those, either.
“What about you?”
“I’ve never actually dated anyone.” Annie sighed. “I had the same experiences in high school. I even joined my school’s Pride organization because I had a crush on the president, but I don’t think she ever really noticed me.”
Edie’s eyes widened. “You had a Pride organization? I’m jealous. My school never had anything like that. I was the only out lesbian there. There were a couple of gay guys, too, but things didn’t go well for them.”
“Things didn’t always go well for the Pride folks at my school,” Annie said. “But I guess we were a little more open-minded. We organized a couple of protests and stuff. I don’t think anything ever came of it.”
“I don’t know if I’ve ever asked this. How did you end up at Chatoyant College?”
“Oh, my family has always gone here. Haven’t I mentioned that? My parents met here, and three of my grandparents went here. My cousin Jack graduated a few years ago. Almost everyone in my family knows how to do magic.”
“Oh wow, you never said anything about that! So you knew what you were getting into.”
Annie shook her head. “None of them said anything about the faeries. Well, to be fair, when I went home for Thanksgiving last year I asked if they knew why the woods are off-limits, and if they’d heard about anything weird happening, stuff like that. None of them seemed to know what I was talking about, and this summer when I told them all about the faeries coming out, they were all shocked.” She laughed. “I don’t know if my mom has gotten over her favorite professor being a faerie yet.”
Edie grinned. “Which was her favorite professor?”
“Unbelievably, Professor Rook! It sounds like he gets a lot more interesting when you get into the higher levels of magic. My mom has always talked about how much she loved his Extending Life class.”
“Wow. What was it like to grow up with magic?”
Annie shrugged. “It didn’t seem very different to me. My parents and grandparents always looked younger than my classmates’ parents and grandparents. There was that one time in elementary school that I had two friends over and we all climbed onto the same branch of a tree. It broke, but because my mom was watching, none of us got hurt—not even a scrape or a bruise.”
“Didn’t their parents think that was weird?”
“I don’t remember,” Annie said. “I don’t even know if they told their parents. I probably wouldn’t have, if I’d done something stupid and almost gotten hurt. I do know my mom yelled at us.”
Edie nodded. “I probably wouldn’t have told my parents, either.” She took a deep breath and sat back in the chair. She still felt bad about not being able to give Annie the answer that she deserved, but it was really nice to be able to sit and talk with her so naturally. She was glad she hadn’t broken their friendship.
Edie raised her eyebrows and looked at Corrie. Was she thinking what Edie was now thinking? If Alice could learn what she did wrong with her spell, maybe she would be able to stop haunting Annie.
“Corrie, do you think Lin would be okay with it if Alice used her body to leave?” Corrie said.
Roe nodded. “If she doesn’t like it, she can just expel her, remember.”
“Is that what happened?” Alice touched her shoulder. “This is a medium… yes, I remember learning about them. That makes sense. I didn’t like being shoved out… but when the space returned, I had to enter. It was half a compulsion, half desperation to make someone actually understand me.”
Edie bit her lip. No wonder Lin didn’t like being around ghosts, if they were even in part compelled to enter her body and use it. That fit with what they had seen, too. If Alice had been given free choice as to whether to possess Lin—well, the ghost they had tried to communicate with a few weeks ago wouldn’t have done it, not when she could just continue scaring people.
“Do you want to try it?” Annie asked. “If you want to stay in the building, that’s perfectly understandable. You’re safe here. But you’re safe out on campus, too. The worst that will happen to you is Lin—the medium—expelling you again.”
Alice took a deep, shuddering breath. “Let’s try it. What do I have to lose?”
She stood and took a step forward. She seemed unsteady on her feet, and Roe held an arm out. Alice took the arm and balanced herself, then moved forward to the door.
Edie quickly got up to follow, as did Annie and Corrie. They made an odd little procession as Alice, moving like a decrepit old woman, walked down the hall on Roe’s arm, with the other three following close behind.
Alice stumbled on the steps, but by the time she’d reached the bottom, she seemed to have regained her balance. By the time they reached the front door, she hardly seemed to need Roe’s arm anymore. She reached out for the handle, but pulled her hand back, hesitating.
“Here,” Annie said. She stepped forward and opened the door.
Alice let go of Roe’s arm and took a step through the door. Her right side, then her left, moved out into the reddish light of the setting sun. She turned to face them, smiling, her hands spread wide. “Here I am.”
Edie couldn’t help grinning. It was a surprisingly beautiful sight. But suddenly Alice gasped, put her hand to her forehead—and then she was Lin again.
“What happened?” asked Annie, running forward. “Did she get pulled back into the building?”
“No,” Lin said, shaking her head and taking a step back. Roe held her hand out, but Lin made a gesture as though to ward her off, and Roe stepped back as well. “I expelled her. I was tired of it. I didn’t want to be moved around.”
“I’m sorry,” Corrie said, walking out of the building as well. Edie followed. “I thought it was worth a try, and that you would expel her if you didn’t like it.”
“And I did,” Lin said, holding her hand out now to stop Corrie. She took a deep breath. “It’s all right. I felt the ghost use my body to stand up, and I chose to let it happen. It just went far enough. I’m going now. I’ll talk to you later, Roe.”
They watched in silence for a moment as Lin walked away, then glanced at each other uncertainly. “Well, it doesn’t sound like she hates you for dragging her into this,” Annie said to Roe.
Roe grinned. “No, I guess not. At least she learned something!”
“I wonder if Alice will talk to us now,” Corrie said thoughtfully. “I mean, using tarot cards or something. We might not have to go through Lin.”
“Let’s try it,” Edie said.
Corrie looked around. “Do you think she’s out here still?”
“If she’s not, then she’s probably back in my room,” Annie said. “And I have tarot cards there. Let’s see… didn’t you say she did some knocking when you were first trying to talk to her?”
“That’s right,” Corrie said. “Alice, if you can hear us, please knock on the door once.”
They were silent for a moment. All Edie could hear was someone shrieking with laughter on the other side of the building.
“Back inside, then,” Annie said, leading the way.
They headed back in to Annie’s room and shut the door. “Alice,” Annie said clearly, “if you can hear us, please knock once.”
They were silent. This time Edie heard a very distinct knock. They all grinned at each other.
“Alice,” Corrie said, “if you know any other way to communicate with us, please knock once.”
This time they were answered with silence. Annie rummaged through her drawer and came out with a box of tarot cards. She shook the cards out into her hand and spread them onto the bed. “Alice, if you can, please pick out a tarot card to communicate with us.”
The cards rustled, as though in a strong breeze. Several of them flipped over, and then they sprayed in every direction—similar to how they had swirled the first time Corrie had tried to communicate with the ghost, but without as much force, so even though a few of them hit Annie, they fell down harmlessly.
Edie took a deep breath. “Alice, are you frustrated? Please knock once for yes, twice for no.”
There was a knock. Edie nodded. “You’re having trouble controlling the cards?”
“That’s what I thought,” Edie said. “This must be very frustrating for you. I’m sorry. We’ll try to come up with another way to communicate with you.”
There was a pause, then another knock, and the girls all laughed.
“Alice, while we’re thinking, do you want to try one other small thing?” Corrie asked. She paused, but there was no response. “I was thinking that you could follow us to our dorm—me and Edie, that is.” She gestured at Edie. “If you are able to leave the building without the medium, you can let us know once we’re there, and then we’ll know you can move around campus on your own.”
Edie held her breath for a moment. Alice knocked. She grinned.
“Great!” Corrie said. “Let’s go!”
She led the way back down the stairs and out of the building; Annie and Roe came with them, too, plainly curious. They didn’t go quickly, in case Alice couldn’t move quickly without a body. Inside Sayer, they went up the stairs and into Corrie and Edie’s room.
Dawn looked up from her desk when they entered. “Hey, there you are,” she said. “Where have you been?”
“Shh,” Edie said.
Corrie closed the door carefully behind them and looked around. “Alice?” she said. “Are you here?”
For a moment Edie thought they had failed. Then there was a knock.
Edie and Annie cheered. Corrie and Roe high-fived. Dawn stared at all of them. “What the heck did I miss?”
Edie looked at Corrie, and all of them started to laugh.
Edie had no idea what kind of spell Alice could be talking about, and she didn’t want to interrupt to ask. It must have been ritual magic; maybe Annie would understand it.
“I lit the candles—I used fire magic to light them all at once. Do you know how to do that?”
“Yes,” Annie said. “I’ve learned elemental magic. I don’t know any spells like the one you’re describing, but that makes sense, since I’m only in my second year.”
Alice looked down. “Yes, it would be too advanced for you.”
“What did it do?”
“What did it do?” Alice’s voice grew sharp. “It was intended to reveal to me the paths to other worlds. Each color of agate should have risen up into a bright ribbon to follow, and at the end of each I should have found the door to a certain world. Blue for heaven, black for hell. I cannot tell what the other colors should have been.”
Edie’s breath caught in her throat and she clutched her notebook tightly. If she had known this spell, would it have shown her the way to Faerie? She had looked so long—had the knowledge been with Alice all along?
It didn’t matter now, though. If Leila was there again, she didn’t want Edie following her. And it sounded as though the spell hadn’t worked for Alice, so it probably would not have worked for Edie, either.
“That’s not what happened,” Annie prompted her.
“No,” Alice said. “I pulled the power to myself in the center of the circle, as the spell indicated, and then pushed it back out to the edges of the circle. But it backfired on me. I remember… I remember great pain.” Her voice faltered. “And the next thing I remember, my room was clean and empty, not mine any longer, and I could not communicate with anyone. I don’t even know how long it has been.”
“What year was that?” Annie asked softly.
“It’s been more than a hundred years.”
“I thought as much.”
“It’s not your fault,” Corrie said. “We’ve found books with bad instructions for spells, too.”
Alice shook her head. “I overreached. I asked for too much. I…” She reached out into the air, as though she could grasp whatever it was she had been trying to reach for. “I thought I was ready for my time here to end, but I was not. I had not learned what I needed to learn.” She shook her head, then dropped her hand back into her lap. “If I had simply waited, perhaps I would have been too late for my father, perhaps not. And now I will never know what happened to my family.”
“I think we can help with that,” Edie said, lifting her head. They didn’t have Professor Strega anymore to help track down family members—but Alice’s family were all humans. They didn’t need a faerie with special knowledge to track down secretive faeries. If they could get on a genealogy site, or find any living relatives of Alice Atkins, they could probably get more of her family’s story.
“We can look for living relatives today. Did you have… well, I guess you wouldn’t have known him, since he wasn’t been born, but we found an Otis Atkins who went to Chatoyant College in 1965.”
Alice gasped, putting her hand to her mouth. “Otis is—was—my brother’s name.”
“So if this Otis was named after his grandfather, or if the name was passed down, then he’s probably a relative,” Corrie said. She turned and grinned at Edie. “Good thinking!”
“We’ll try to find him,” Edie said, “or any other living relatives you might have. Can you tell me your other family members’ names? Or where they lived?”
“It would probably help to know what years they were born,” Annie added.
“Otis was born in 1861,” Alice said in a faraway voice. “Our sister Grace was born in 1867.” She told them the names of their father and mother, uncles and aunts and cousins, and Edie wrote it all down carefully. It seemed to take her more time to remember the locations where they had lived, but she said they were all fairly close together in the next state to the south. Edie hoped they were still in that area. That would make it easier to track down anyone who remembered Alice.
“Does this help?” Annie asked.
“Yes… thank you.” Alice bowed her head for a moment, then lifted it again. “You have given me some hope. I have never had hope before.”
“I have another question, if it’s not too difficult,” Corrie said.
“Please. You have helped so much, I can hardly begrudge you another question.”
Corrie took a deep breath. “Are you able to leave this building?”
Alice looked slightly taken aback. “I do not know. I have never tried.”
“Really? Never?” Edie asked. “You were never so upset you tried to get out of the building?”
Alice frowned and put her fingers to her temple. “I… I can’t be sure. There are so many things that don’t seem to match. Memories that stop and start before they should.”
“Is there anywhere you would go, if you could leave?” Annie asked.
Alice nodded. “If I could leave, I would go to my family… but I do not know where they are now, of course.”
“I wonder if you can leave the building but not the campus,” Corrie said. “If you could leave campus, you would probably have done that way at the beginning of this and gone to your family. Is there anywhere else on campus you would go?”
“No… not that I can think of. Perhaps to the library, to see if there are any books that would explain to me exactly what I did wrong.”
Wednesday, October 18
Edie truly meant to talk to Annie, but it wasn’t easy to get her alone. They didn’t have any classes together, and when they met for meals, they were always with their other friends. With the ghost hanging around, Edie didn’t want to just show up at Annie’s dorm room, so she hoped that the opportunity would come up naturally.
However, it didn’t come up before Wednesday, when Lin met them for dinner to say that she was ready to work with the ghost again. No one wanted to take any more breaks than they had to from talking to the ghost, so after dinner they all headed to Annie’s room. Corrie had suggested waiting for Dawn to finish her shift at work, but Lin didn’t want to stay up that late. Corrie tried calling Dawn to see if she had any updates about the newspapers she’d been looking at, but she didn’t answer—no surprise, if she was working—and they decided it would be okay if they didn’t wait for her.
Lin set herself up in the same way as the last two times and, as before, it was easy to see once the ghost entered her. Alice looked around with wide eyes. “You’re here again. You really want to talk to me?”
“We’ve wanted to talk to you for a while,” Annie said. “A lot of people have.” They’d all agreed to let her be the one to talk to the ghost unless it was necessary for someone else to say something; she seemed to have the best way with Alice, upsetting her the least.
“I didn’t know that.”
“A few weeks ago, my friends tried to talk to you,” Annie said, speaking slowly and carefully, as though thinking through her words as she came up with them. “You seemed to get really upset. You threw their cards at them and, when they followed you out into the hall, you made an illusion so they thought they were going to fall through the floor.”
“I—“ Alice covered her face with her hands. “I’m so ashamed.”
“It’s okay,” Annie said gently. “You can tell us about it. We won’t judge you.”
“You won’t be angry?”
“Definitely not.” Annie looked around at the others.
“No, I won’t be angry,” Edie said. Corrie and Roe agreed with her.
Alice lowered her hands into her lap and twisted her fingers together. “I used to try to talk to people. But they couldn’t hear me, or they couldn’t understand me. There didn’t seem to be any way to make them understand me. This is the first time I’ve been able to have a real conversation with someone. This…” She waved one hand in front of her face. “I don’t know what is happening right now, but I’m grateful that it is. But I started to get really upset when people tried to talk to me, because I couldn’t, and I’m so angry with myself.” Her last few words were half-lost in a wail.
“That’s perfectly understandable,” Annie said. “It must be stressful to be unable to talk to people when you just want them to understand you.”
“That’s not it,” Alice said. “I’m angry with myself for messing up. I reached too far. I wanted more than I was ready for, and I lost everything.”
Edie was pretty sure Alice was referring to how she had died—but she couldn’t be certain. In their last two conversations, Alice had seemed to get upset at the idea that she was dead, so Edie didn’t even know if she understood that she was a ghost. But what did she think was going on, if she couldn’t accept the idea that she was dead?
“I ruined everything for my family,” Alice continued bleakly. “And I can’t do anything to fix it.”
“What happened?” Annie asked. The whole room seemed hushed. “Maybe we can help you fix it.”
“You can’t reverse the process. You can’t…” Alice put her head in her hands. “I know there’s no magic that does that.”
Maybe she did understand that she was dead, but couldn’t bring herself to say it. Edie hoped Annie would be able to keep talking around it. It was a little confusing.
Annie shook her head. “I know that. But maybe we can help you fix the mistake you made.”
“How can anyone do that?”
“I don’t know, but I have no chance of figuring it out if I don’t know what happened.”
“All right. All right.” Alice seemed to shake herself, straightening up. “I needed to graduate. I needed to do a final project. I had to prove myself to the magic professors, to show them that I knew everything I needed to know. I found a spell in a book that I thought would be perfect, but of course I had to test it myself and be sure I understood all the parts before I could perform it in front of them.”
“That makes sense,” Annie said.
Alice nodded. “So I gathered all the components in my room, here.” She gestured at the room. “Juniper branches, candles, agate and amethyst crystals. I arranged them in the prescribed circle.”
“I wonder if any of the faerie professors who are currently here knew her,” Corrie said. “If she worked with the professors, then they would have known her. At least the magic professors. I could ask Professor Lal.”
“I thought we weren’t going to talk to them. What would you say if she asked why you’re asking about a long-dead student?” Annie asked.
Corrie shook her head. “I’ll think of something. Knowing she was a magic student makes it more important to talk to them. Edie, have you talked to Derwen?”
Edie shook her head. “I haven’t seen her. We don’t hang out as much anymore.” She was privately a little relieved. She liked Derwen, but spending a lot of time with her was, well… it was a lot.
“Okay, I’ll look up the Mary Thomas scholarship,” Dawn said. “Edie will talk to Derwen. Corrie will talk to Lal. Annie will think of more questions, because she’s good at asking questions. And Roe… I guess your job is just to be the go-between with Lin.”
Roe grinned. “I like this division of labor.”
“See you guys later, then.” Dawn headed out the door, Corrie right behind her. Edie hurried to follow them.
Corrie glanced back at her on the stairs with a grin. “You aren’t going to stay behind and chat with Annie?”
Edie swallowed, her throat suddenly feeling tight. Corrie’s grin faded, and the three of them were quiet on the walk back to their dorm room.
That ended as soon as they shut the door to their room. “What is going on with you and Annie?” Corrie asked, putting her hand on Edie’s shoulder in a comforting manner.
“We don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to,” Dawn said.
Edie shook her head. “No, I…” She sighed and sat down on her bed. “Maybe I should talk about it. I don’t know what to say. Annie asked me out—“
“Yes!” Corrie interrupted.
“But I haven’t given her an answer, and I don’t know what answer to give,” Edie finished.
Dawn pulled out Edie’s desk chair and sat on it. “How long ago was this?”
“It was…” Edie tried to think, then sighed. “Over a month ago. I know, I’m awful.”
“You’re not awful,” Corrie said. “You’re just confused. Is this about Leila?”
“Yes. No? I don’t know. I keep thinking about Leila, but it’s not like I think Annie is going to treat me the way Leila did.”
“You didn’t think Leila was going to treat you the way that she did, either,” Dawn pointed out.
Edie nodded, her mouth twisting into a half-smile at the mirroring of her own thoughts earlier. “But it’s silly, right? I just fell into a relationship with Leila without knowing anything about her first. Annie is obviously different.”
“Do you like her?” Corrie asked. “I mean, as more than a friend?”
“I don’t know,” Edie said miserably, hiding her face in her hands. “I want to.”
“If you want to, then you don’t,” Corrie said.
“Then you should probably say no,” Dawn said.
“I thought you guys were going to tell me to date her,” Edie said.
“Well, obviously I think you two should date. But if you’re not all in for it, it doesn’t make sense.” Corrie touched Edie’s shoulder again. “You know her well enough by now to know whether you’re into her, so you don’t have to date her to figure that out. And she’s liked you for so long, you don’t want to get things started unless you’re ready for something serious.”
There was a lump in Edie’s throat again as she remembered how clear and serious Annie had been about her feelings. She swallowed and nodded. “So you think I should say no.”
“I hate saying it!” Corrie threw her hands in the air.
Dawn smiled and pushed Corrie a little. “But despite what we may have been hoping, the most important thing is to do what’s best for both of you. And yeah, it’s probably best if you say no. You don’t want to keep her waiting for an answer that may never come.”
Edie put her elbows on her knees and rested her forehead on her fists. “I wanted to tell her yes. I wanted to make her happy.”
“Better to make her sad now and get it over with than stretch it out,” Dawn said.
“I agree with Dawn,” Corrie said. “Even if you do decide someday that you want to date her—I’m not ruling it out—you don’t want her to be waiting around for you to change your mind. You should both be living your own lives.”
Edie lifted her head to wrinkle her nose at Corrie. “How are you this obsessed with me dating Annie?”
“You’re perfect for each other!”
Dawn rolled her eyes. “Until now she’s only had me to talk to about it. I admit, I kind of thought you two were meant to be together for a while. But I think the fact that you didn’t immediately say yes to her proves that this is not the time. The time may come, or it may never come, and that’s okay.”
Corrie put her arm around Edie’s waist and rested her head on her shoulder. “I’m sorry if I’m stressing you out. You’re making a smart decision. I’m the one suggesting dumb decisions. But dumb decisions seem to work out for me. Look at Charlie.”
“I think that was a smart decision.” Edie tilted her head so it rested gently on Corrie’s. She decided not to mention the arguably dumb decision Corrie had made in dating her ex, Paul, who had turned into a stalker. “You’re right. Thanks for talking through this with me. Now I just have to break the news to Annie.”
“That, you’re on your own for,” Dawn said.
“It would just be mean to bring my other friends to tell her that,” Edie said. “Even if I was giving her a different answer.”
She actually felt a little bit better now that she’d made the decision. She had probably known that this was going to have to be her answer all along—maybe Annie had even known it, too, but hadn’t wanted to push her. She’d just been trying to find a way to change her answer. Now that she’d given up on forcing herself to do something she knew was wrong, she felt relieved.
She just had to actually give that answer to Annie. She was dreading it a little, but she would get it over with soon. Whenever she could find a few minutes alone with Annie, she would do it.
Edie hurried to take a seat; Dawn, the last to enter, hastily pulled the door shut behind them. Lin had adopted the same tense, stiff posture she’d had yesterday when the ghost entered her. This time it had happened much more quickly, though. Could it be that the ghost actually wanted to talk to them?
“Alice,” Annie said. “Thank you for returning to speak to us again.”
Alice turned her head and nodded at Annie. “What do you want?”
“That’s our question for you,” Corrie said.
“But we can take our time to figure that out,” Annie said quickly. “We want to know more about you. You lived—you live here in this dorm room. What is the dorm called?”
“Mary Thomas,” Alice said. “Just like the scholarship.”
Edie raised her eyebrows and wrote that down—she was glad she always carried a notebook with her. She’d never heard of a Mary Thomas scholarship.
“Are you here on that scholarship?” Annie asked.
“Yes.” Alice swallowed and looked down at my hands. “I was lucky to find this place. My family—I want to support them, make life easier for them. If I can learn magic, then I’m sure I can find a way to make money.”
“It will definitely help,” Dawn said. “That’s a great idea. My aunt knows magic and it helps her support herself as a single woman.”
Edie wondered if, like Pru, Alice had gone through a doomed romance with a faerie. Or just a doomed romance with a human student, like the story Sam had told—though, now that she thought about it, there was nothing in that story that made it impossible that the ghost’s lover had been a faerie. He had refused to marry her, even though they loved each other, like Tom had refused to be with Pru.
Was Annie trying to find out whether Sam’s story was true? It certainly matched so far. She was a scholarship student trying to make life better for her family.
“Thank you,” Alice said, but her voice was soft and she looked down at her hands, twisting her fingers.
“Is that what you want to do?” Edie asked. “Support yourself as a single woman?”
“There isn’t anyone you want to marry?”
“Me?” Alice looked up, shaking her head. “No, no. I’m much too focused on my work. I don’t have the time to get to know any men.”
At least she wasn’t getting upset. Edie realized belatedly that it had been a risky question—if she had truly killed herself over a man, thinking of him would likely be distressing. But it seemed that Sam’s story wasn’t quite accurate.
Annie seemed to want to press the point. “Not even a fellow student? You haven’t worked with any young men in your magic classes?”
“I suppose.” Alice shrugged. “I’m friendly with some of the others. But we don’t really speak outside of class. Sometimes I work with the professors. I have been working with them recently, since there’s a big project I want to do.”
“Tell us about that,” Annie said. “Is it an independent study?”
“Yes, it’s the last thing I need to do before graduating,” Alice said. “I need to graduate and return home—my father is ill. The professors agreed that I could graduate early if I was able to prove my mastery of the magical disciplines, but…” Her voice faded.
“Yes?” Annie pressed her. “Tell us about that. It sounds very difficult. How do you prove your mastery? It’s more than taking an exam?”
“No… no…” Alice’s voice was faint. Suddenly Lin went limp again, though this time she didn’t collapse like she had yesterday, but caught herself on the sides of the chair.
She pushed herself upright, smiling faintly. “Sorry if that was a bad time to end the conversation,” she said. “The ghost was getting distressed again, and I didn’t want to risk it freaking out like yesterday.”
“That’s okay,” Roe said. “We don’t want you to overtax yourself. Thank you again for helping. It looks like you’re dealing with it well.”
Lin stood up and stretched, her smile widening. “It’s so freeing to know that I can eject a ghost anytime I want to. Doing it a second time proved that it wasn’t just a fluke. I hope I can keep them out when I don’t want them, too, though I won’t test it with this ghost until we’re done. Do you guys want to try another session later?”
“Yes,” Annie said quickly. “If you don’t mind. We still haven’t figured out how she died or why she’s haunting… or, crap, when she lived. I got distracted with the scholarship conversation. I was going to ask her what year she thought it was.”
“Next time,” Lin said. “I’ll be in touch. Right now I’m going to go have a nap.” She opened the door and left quietly.
“Well, that was a lot more illuminating than our last session,” Edie said, looking down at her notes. “We’ll have to see what we can find out about this Mary Thomas scholarship.”
“That might help us narrow down the timeline, too, if it only existed for a little while,” Dawn said. “Then we won’t have to ask her about the year. Though I guess we should still ask her about Otis Atkins.” They hadn’t been able to find Alice Atkins in the yearbooks at all. They’d come to the conclusion that since the first yearbook they could find was from 1910, she must have lived earlier than that; there was certainly plenty of Chatoyant College history to go through.
Sunday, October 15
Edie was not sure she was entirely awake, but Corrie had dragged her and Dawn to breakfast anyway. She’d done an extra long run and was starving, and somehow couldn’t bring herself to eat alone. She’d promised to let Edie sit down while she got breakfast for both of them.
So she was confused when the person who sat down across from her with a bowl of cereal and a huge smile was not Corrie, but Roe. Annie sat down next to her with her own bowl of cereal, also looking cheerful. Edie blinked blearily at them.
“Are Corrie and Dawn coming, too?” Roe asked.
“Um, yeah,” Edie said. “They’re just getting breakfast.”
“Are you okay?” Annie asked, peering at her.
Edie tried unsuccessfully to suppress a yawn. She covered her mouth. “Corrie made me get up,” she said. “I guess I was up late reading.”
“Must have been a good book.”
Edie nodded, but before she could tell Annie about the fantasy novel she was reading, Corrie and Dawn returned. Corrie had two plates and put one down in front of Edie. “I figured chocolate chip banana bread would cheer you up.”
“And a glass of milk,” Dawn added, putting it next to the plate.
Edie grinned and picked up her fork. “I guess that’s worth getting up in the morning for.” Just the smell of the banana bread made her feel a little more awake.
“Hi, guys!” Corrie said to Roe and Annie as she and Dawn sat down. “I didn’t know you were joining us.”
“We’re just glad you’re here,” Roe said, grinning widely again. “Guess what?”
Dawn stopped with her fork in her omelette. “Did you find something about Alice Atkins?”
“Better,” Roe said. “Lin wants to help some more. She said after a good night’s sleep she actually wants to face a ghost again. She’ll try to let this session be longer, but she’s mostly looking forward to being able to expel the ghost when she wants to, so we have to try not to upset the ghost like we did yesterday.”
“That’s great!” Corrie said.
Between the food and the good news, Edie was starting to feel human. She took a swig of milk to wash down the banana bread. “I guess we have to try not to ask the ghost about being dead again. When are we meeting Lin?”
“I’m supposed to call her when we’re done having breakfast and she’ll meet us in Mary Thomas,” Roe said.
“So hurry up,” Annie said with a laugh. She’d already shoveled down her bowl of cereal.
“I’ll do my best, but it’s hard not to slow down and savor this banana bread,” Edie said, taking another forkful.
“I’ll help it go faster.” Annie leaned forward with her spoon and scooped off a piece of Edie’s second slice of banana bread. They all laughed, but Edie thought she saw Corrie and Dawn give each other a significant look.
The banana bread became a lump in Edie’s throat and she looked down at her plate, working hard to swallow. She still owed Annie an answer, and she hadn’t exactly been spending a lot of time thinking about it. She’d been distracted by school and the ghost… and every time she tried to think about giving Annie an answer, any answer, her brain shied away from it. She didn’t want to tell her no and hurt her. But she found it hard to tell her yes when every time she noticed a new tree that was starting to change the colors of its leaves, she thought of Leila and how she’d vanished at the end of last fall.
She didn’t think she was afraid the same thing would happen with Annie. Her friend had been around since the beginning of their freshman year, and—barring the time she had been kidnapped by faeries—had never shown any signs of disappearing, and she was certainly never dishonest. Unlike Leila.
But there was the undeniable fact that Edie had never thought Leila was hiding anything, being dishonest, or likely to disappear, until she actually did.
She ate as much banana bread as she could manage. She was the last to finish breakfast, and they all gathered up their dishes and returned them to the dishwashing area. As they walked out of the dining hall, Roe made a phone call, and by the time they reached Mary Thomas, Lin was waiting for them in the front hall.
Annie smiled at her. “Thanks for doing this again.”
Lin nodded. “I’m excited but I’m also pretty nervous, so let’s get started as quickly as possible.”
“Do you think the ghost will actually return?” Corrie asked Lin as they climbed the stairs. “What if she’s mad about the way you kicked her out?”
“I don’t know,” Lin said. “I’ve never been able to do that before, so this is all new territory to me. How was the haunting last night?”
“It was actually fine,” Annie said. “I slept through the night.”
“Me, too,” Roe said. “But I guess that doesn’t mean she wasn’t out bothering other people.”
“It doesn’t seem likely that she got so upset that she left the building,” Dawn said.
“If she hadn’t gotten that mad before,” Annie said, taking out her key and unlocking her door, “then I doubt it’s even possible.” Edie shivered.
“I don’t think they can leave the buildings or locations they’re tied to,” Lin said, going in and sitting down on Annie’s desk chair again. “I guess that’s one of the problems with being a ghost. You’re trapped. Oh—I think she’s here.”