“It wasn’t that hard, really. Dess brought her GPS thingie, so we knew exactly where the car was. Close enough, anyway.”
“And you drove it all the way back to Melissa’s?”
“No way. Just to the roadside. Melissa can get it home herself. That’ll teach her not to wear a seat belt.” Jonathan smiled. Even in the blue time his dark face showed that he’d caught some sun on the trek across the runway this afternoon. “Driving back across the flats with no windshield was the worst part.” He licked his lips. “I can still taste salt.”
Jessica laughed, gazing down into the backyard, regarding the frantic progress of her father’s gardening. She felt safe sitting up here on her own roof, staying close to home tonight. “You guys didn’t see… Anathea, did you?” He shook his head. “We didn’t go over there.” The tugging pain she’d felt all day shot through Jessica once more. “Maybe we should have buried her.”
Jonathan sighed. “We didn’t have a shovel, we didn’t have time. And someone had to get Melissa to the hospital. Besides, the darkling groupies most likely took care of…”
He didn’t finish the sentence.
“Oh, I didn’t get a chance to tell you,” she said. “Rex called. Melissa was released today. Her X rays didn’t show anything. He said she’s really… in great shape.”
“Melissa, in great shape?” Jonathan laughed. “Whatever. Wonder how she’s going to explain everything to her parents.”
Jessica rubbed her arm where last night’s slither bite had turned into a purple-yellow blotch. “I don’t think Melissa has to explain things to her parents.”
“Oh, right.” Jonathan looked down.
Jessica had told him about Melissa’s powers—the truth about Rex’s father and what she’d done to Dess in the backseat of the Ford—but Jonathan didn’t seem to have taken it all in yet. He only wanted to talk about what Dess had told him about Madeleine or about rescuing Melissa’s car, not about terrible things done in the past or even the night before… or about Anathea, dead out in the desert.
“How was Dess?” she asked.
He shrugged. “She was talking about darkling-proofing Madeleine’s house. She seemed good.”
“She wasn’t good last night.” After they’d finally gotten back to Dess’s house, she’d slept, but only to have nightmares every hour, most of which had involved screaming the name of her Ada Lovelace doll for some reason.
“Well, now that she’s got a new project, she’ll be okay.”
Jessica shook her head. “You should have seen it, Jonathan. It was like Melissa…” She couldn’t say the word. “You just don’t know.”
“I do know, Jess. Melissa touched me too.”
She looked at him. “What?” A stab of something sickening went through her, a mixture of jealousy and disgust. “When? Why?”
“The night you found your talent, I had to jump with her and Rex.”
Jessica swallowed. She remembered them soaring across the desert together, into the snake pit, but she’d never realized…
“God, that’s right. I didn’t even know back then.”
“None of us did, except Rex and Melissa.”
She realized she’d pulled away and reached out again for his hand. “I’m sorry, Jonathan.”
He shuddered slightly. “Don’t be sorry for me. Be sorry for Melissa.”
“I’ll save it for Dess, actually.” She looked down into her dad’s garden again. “I wonder if she ever did anything to our parents.”
“Melissa? Nah. I doubt she’d bother with my dad. He’s never given me that much trouble.”
She nodded. “Yeah, but what about when my parents let me go to that party… just when Rex needed me there.”
“But you’re still grounded, Jessica, six nights a week, anyway.” Jonathan spread his hands. “Wouldn’t she just get you off completely?”
“Unless she was trying to be subtle.”
“Melissa? Subtle?” Jonathan laughed. “Come on. We can’t start being paranoid about every single thought in everyone’s head, you know?”
“I guess.” She sighed. “I don’t know why I’m this way. Maybe because…” She turned to him, and the tears that had been ambushing Jessica all day blurred her vision again. “I just never saw anyone die before.”
He put his arm around her. “Me neither.”
“She was about the same age as Beth when they took her.”
She shook her head, repeated the words that had been in her head for hours. “I’m sorry.”
“For crying? Don’t be. But…” Jonathan chewed his lip, which meant he didn’t want to say the wrong thing.
“Well, it was horrible what they did to Anathea, but that was fifty-three years ago, like something in an old newspaper clipping. To me, it’s like the girl we saw last night was a ghost, and we finally put her to rest.”
Jessica stared at the dark moon; it didn’t hurt her head so much these days to look at it. Maybe she was becoming more of a midnighter. “I guess that’s one way to think about her, like a ghost that’s free now.”
“And you saved Rex, so the same thing didn’t happen again.”
She squeezed his hand. “I had some help with that.”
He shook his head. “Just imagine old Grandpa Grayfoot standing there when midnight ended. Looking down at the girl he kidnapped back when he was a boy. He probably died of a heart attack.”
Jessica flinched, not wanting to imagine any such thing. She didn’t want anyone to die, she knew now. Not ever. She was glad that the other three were over at Madeleine’s tonight—Melissa hiding in the contortion to protect the secret of its location, Dess working to darkling-proof the house, Rex beginning the task of reading through its archive, adding to the lore, maybe one day finding something to keep them all safe at midnight forever.
“Sorry,” Jonathan said, having felt her pull away.
Jessica shook her head silently and looked across the street to the row of bushes where Ernesto Grayfoot had hidden with his camera. “I can’t believe it’s only been a week since my stalker showed up.”
“Yeah, really.” Jonathan laughed. “Shows how much you can get done with an extra hour every day.”
She smiled weakly. “Yeah. And what can get done to you.”
They were silent for a while, the dark moon setting before them, before Jessica got up the nerve to ask. “I don’t want to be alone, Jonathan. I keep seeing Anathea, dead, where we left her.”
He took her hand again. “I’m right here.”
“I mean tonight. Later.”
Jonathan looked up at her. “Are you sure that’s a good idea? Your parents…”
“Are sound asleep,” Jessica said. “Mom was at work all day, and Dad was digging up the backyard. He’s going to grow all our vegetables from now on, he says.”
Jonathan laughed. “Beats working, I guess. Sure, I’ll stay with you.”
“There’s just one catch.”
“Hey, no problem. I’ll sleep on the floor.”
“No, you won’t,” said Jessica softly. “The catch is… there’s someone I want you to meet.”
* * * * *
Ninety seconds before midnight ended, they alighted outside her window.
Jessica hauled herself in and extended her hand back to Jonathan. He was still limping from his slither bites and reached up to let her pull him in. But when he got inside, Jonathan stammered, “Uh… Jessica?”
“That’s the catch,” she said. “Just for a few minutes. She’s been wanting to meet you.”
“Yeah, but… are you sure this is a good idea? Me just appearing out of nowhere?”
Beth sat on the bed where Jessica had left her an hour before, hands over her eyes, an annoyed expression clearly visible on her motionless face.
“Yeah, I’m sure.” Jessica smiled. “Surprises are good for her.”
“But… won’t she wonder where I came from?”
“I already told her: Pennsylvania.” Jessica giggled. She checked her watch, excitement building in her. Maybe this was a crazy idea, but she wanted to give Beth some small measure of the blue time—Jonathan, here and now, just as midnight ended.
Jonathan stood still, looking at the open window as if contemplating a mad leap in the remaining seconds.
“Listen,” Jessica said, “I told her I had a surprise for her, and she really did want to meet you. Just for a few minutes, then she’ll go to bed.”
Finally Jonathan laughed nervously and sat down on the windowsill, one leg up as if he’d just darted through. “Okay, sure. I’m glad to meet her. Just one question.”
“What is it with you and your little sister, anyway?”
Jessica smiled. “It’s a work in progress.”
Seconds later the world shuddered. The blue light faded, and rich colors settled over everything. Her room looked alive again, set free from the arresting paleness of frozen time.
“—is so retarded,” Beth finished.
“Okay,” Jessica said. “You can look now.”
Beth dropped her hands, a resolutely unimpressed expression already fixed on her face, one that lasted about half a second.
“Jesus!” she cried, half jumping up from the bed. “Who the hell…?”
Jessica started to say something, but laughter snorted out of her instead of words. She struggled to suppress more giggles and felt her face turning red.
Jonathan smiled, holding out his hand.
“Hi, Beth, my name’s Jonathan,” he said politely. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”