The Shades of Northwood, Book 2
When she has to traverse the barrier between worlds in order to save her friend, who is dying, Katie does so instinctively. Beyond that wall though, there are things, and they are things she definitely does not wish to know about. However, she locks them away and carries on. Carries on being okay that is. She learns however that safeguarding one friend might mean the death of another... And that's positively not okay.
"I'm so proud of you, Katie."
Mr Cartwright stood in the corner of the open car door and held his arms out for a hug. Katie only hesitated for a moment before going to him, knowing her friends were crowding the front window and watching her. It didn't matter though, Katie loved her parents and she wasn't planning to cover it up to save face.
"It can't have been easy to race when you hardly know the place and we didn't mean to come and put more pressure on you."
"Dad, you couldn't."
"We were trying to be supportive," Mom defended from the passenger seat of their Fiesta. "We tried to call but when we couldn't get through..."
"Flat battery," she explained quickly. Lainy had fielded a call on the house phone and told them to come up. "I've loved having you up here today. I just wish you didn't have to go so soon." There must be a guesthouse or something around here somewhere.
"We should really start getting back for Dan. Mrs Ricci won't have her forever."
Katie rolled her eyes. Even she used to get sick of her little sister after a couple of hours and looking after her when she was ill... her former neighbour deserved a medal. "It's a long drive. Make sure you stop for a rest."
"When is the daughter supposed to take care of the parents?"
"Dad, I mean it. It's getting dark and the lights aren't that great around her." She had actually surprised herself by telling her own parents to take care. It had been just under two weeks ago when they had said that to her before leaving her in this old house and driving off. Taking care of herself had become natural over recent times so it wasn't too much of a leap to extend that to the people she cared about. Moving/ to a new town to share a house with a bunch of strangers had been a huge step and one none of them had expected Katie to take for at least two more years. But take it she had and her housemates had hardly stopped gushing about how well she was getting on.
"Honey, you're coping okay aren't you?" asked Mom. It was a mother's job to worry about her children and even leaving home couldn't erase that instinct. It made it worse because Katie was no longer under her watchful eye. "Because there's still time to come home."
I am home. This was the only place she had felt like she belonged for months. A few months ago, something had happened to her old city and she no longer felt safe walking the streets she had learnt to ride a bike down, sleeping in the room she'd been born in, even reading in the library before it closed. Too many dark places, too many corners bad people could hide behind. It had stopped feeling like home. "I'm fine," she didn't quite lie. "I told you, this was the fresh start I needed."
"Mom, I can't come back with you. College starts Monday and I'm really looking forward to it. I have friends, I'm not starving and I'm wearing clean clothes. The survival of the family name is assured."
Her father lifted his eyebrows so high they almost flew off his face. Uh-oh. Katie had not meant to say that.
"Not like that!" she promised her father, counting herself as the luckiest girl alive that the comment had completely blown over her mom. "Just 'cos I can look after myself now doesn't mean I can do it for a little living thing too. Remember the flour baby thing at school?" Not something anyone was likely to forget. The cookies had been delicious though.
"I'll cancel the Christmas puppy then," he grinned and gave her one final squeeze before getting into the car and giving the ignition a few violent twists. It choked a couple of times and then turned over, not sounding very happy about it. "We should get going."
"Oh, honey," her Mom piped up, looking up from the street map on the new satnav. "We meant to ask. The letter from the police... anything we need to worry about?"
It took a few moments to remember exactly what letter she was talking about. Katie could imagine the blank look she was wearing but she honestly couldn't - oh Christ, how had she forgotten about that?
"No, nothing. Just wanted the new address."
"It's the worst thing in the world to have happened, Katie. Please tell us if anything changes."
"I will. But I'm fine. Honestly." Katie tacked a smile onto the end and hoped her mother believed it more than she did. But her parents wanted to rush home to look after the sick daughter they still had at home. "I just want to look forward. Which-" she glanced pointedly at her watch and tapped the luminous dial at her father. "You need to be doing now. Thanks for a great day. Now, go!" And it had been a good day. Well, if great meant exhausting in this universe. She'd come 12th in her race this morning and second in the Under 18 group - which was amazing in itself, considering just getting to the start line had been only a distant possibility - then her parents had taken her to the shopping centre to buy a new laptop and then a greasy chemical takeaway. Back home to meet her friends, set up the new computer and then eat a huge house meal before hanging her old cloudburst curtains and then saying goodbye. Katie wondered if she might not fall asleep standing up.
"Love you, honey!"
"You're really gonna make me say it."
"Not leaving until you do!" Only the car was already halfway down the road, coughing and growling like all motor vehicles seemed to do in Northwood. The few that made it in town anyway.
"I love you!" she called after them, hoping that they were too far away to hear and close enough to do so. Teens never liked to tell their parents they loved them but somehow Katie didn't feel like the average teenager any more.
"Be good!" one of them shouted. Mom, probably.
Behind her, Katie heard the front door open and heavy soles stomped out to stop next to her. A hand extended itself and she grabbed for it, twisting her fingers in. Not a word passed between them but Katie closed her eyes, breathing deep of this familiar smell - old leather and straw and something she had decided was the stench of death - turning her head to one side and resting her cheek on his shoulder, watching her family leave once more and imagining the look on Dad's face. Mom was probably trying to calm him down right now, and convince him not to turn the car around and save his baby girl from this... this man. She grinned and let herself relax against this hard body beside her. Even though she had not looked around once, Katie knew who she was leaning on. Jack. He was the only person who could make her feel this safe - safe enough to let her guard down.
"How do you do it?"
When the car was out of sight, Jack curled his arm around her face and stroked her cheeks. "Keep smiling."
She straightened and looked him straight in the eyes. "Do I look like I'm smiling?"
It depended which part of Katie you looked at. Her mouth was smiling but it didn't touch her eyes. In fact, if you looked closely there were tears glistening in the corners of her brown eyes. "You look happy and sad all at the same time."
"That's actually not a bad description. Is confused available?"
"I'm confused if it helps."
Katie shook her head and went to sit on the low wall that edged the front garden. Or the three square feet of gravel and grass she liked to call it. "You're the reason I'm confused, Jack. I mean, how can you be here? Last time I saw you, you were dying. Scrap that - you were dead. I cried over your body and you were dead."
"You can't kill a ghost. Well, I guess you can but we come right on back."
"I watched that man flay you alive!"
"I started healing the minute you got him away from me, Lady Katie."
"You heal fast then. There's not a mark on you."