"Ugh! I don't believe you, Drake!"

112 3 0

On Wednesday, Aunt Addi lets Eli stay home from school. Barely.

"I want you to call," she says, hands on his shoulders, eyes staring earnestly into his. "Every hour, okay? If you don't call, I'm going to, to—" Her voice chokes.

"It's okay, Aunt Addi," Eli says. "I'll call."

"No texting," Addi adds. "I want to hear your voice." Eli nods, so she adds: "And I've got an appointment for you with Doctor Mallory, tomorrow at 3pm. It's . . . it's the earliest I could get. I'm sorry. Do you need me to come home and take you?"

"No, it's okay. I'll be fine, Aunt Addi. I promise."

Addi stares at him a moment longer, searching for some sign of . . . something. Eli isn't sure. He doesn't even know if she's found it or not when, a moment later, she pulls him tight against her. "Oh, sweetheart," she says. "I'm sorry. This wasn't supposed to happen. Not here. Not in Rosemont."

"It's okay," Eli says, because he isn't sure how else to respond. "I'll be okay."

Eli thinks about whether that's a lie or not as he listens to Aunt Addi leave for work. His fingers dance idly across his Launchpad, beats and samples of something not-yet-formed falling against each other in a jagged, unharmonious throb.

Mo "Sir Percival" Dhillon is dead. Eli didn't even know the guy's full name until he heard it yesterday at the station, yet the guy died because of Eli. Maybe not directly, but . . .

"I could've saved him," Eli tells his laptop. If he hadn't been so afraid of transforming in front of Arthur.

But he had been, and now Val is dead, a jagged hole in his chest where his heart used to be. Thinking about it—about the thick, rubbery cords of vein and artery handing from the peryton's jaw—makes Eli retch. So he doesn't. Instead, he boxes the whole incident up and shoves it to the back of his mind, in the section marked DO NOT OPEN. That section's a lot more crowded that it was a year ago.

Eli messes around doing not very much for a good hour after Addi leaves. He's set his phone to alert him at the appropriate check-in intervals, and when it buzzes he dutifully calls his aunt and has a brief, somewhat awkward conversation.

"We should have a codeword," Eli suggests.

"Any word that starts with the same letter as the hour you're calling," Aunt Addi immediately replies. "So if it's ten o'clock, say tombone or telephone. If it's eleven, it'd be elephant or egg. Like that. Any other word, and I'll know you're not okay."

"Egregious echidnas, Aunt Addi," Eli says in reply, because it's currently 8:06.

Aunt Addi laughs, and the code is set.

At 8:14, Eli leaves the house and heads to school.

He's in the halls by 8:30, melding into the crowd as people stream out of Homeroom and head to their lockers. If anyone notices he's not supposed to be in today, they don't mention it, even if he does get more furtive glances that usual. News travels fast in a small town, he supposes. Especially murder news.

He lurks around the corner from Morgan Lacroix's locker for a good five minutes like a huge creeper, trying to stay inconspicuous between a concrete pillar and a drinking fountain that's never worked since Eli arrived. When Morgan herself appears, she's dressed in all black, right down to the little lace gloves and veil-draped hat. She looks kind of ridiculous—like a network TV stereotype of a goth kid—but comes over when Eli catches her eye.

"Elias," she says, instantly moving in for a hug. "I'm so, so sorry."

Eli pats her on the back, awkwardly, before glancing around. Morgan's crew—today just as down with the black and the lace as she is—is loitering but giving their boss space. Which is why Eli says, "Arthur tell you what happened?" He keeps his voice low, obviously conspiratorial.

The Dragon of Rosemont HighWhere stories live. Discover now