Cairo folded his arms. “Do you honestly believe that?”
“Can’t you tell?” I retorted. If he wanted me to take him seriously as Mr. Mind Reader, he was going to have to offer more proof.
“When I can hear thoughts, I can hear all of them. When I can’t, I can’t,” he said. He was bouncing on his heels, energized by the possibilities. “I can’t turn it on or off, but lately I’ve started thinking there might be a pattern—but I’m not sure yet. Enough of that. Back to you. Ravenna, do you really think what happened to you was as simple as heatstroke?”
“No,” I admitted. “But I need to understand what’s going on before we try to diagnose ourselves because of a vision I saw in the catacombs.”
He checked the time on his phone. “If we cab it out there, we can get to the catacombs and back before the others return to the hotel.”
Breaking Mrs. Weaver’s rules didn’t bother me nearly as much as seeing Giovanni again. When I looked into my brother’s eyes, I could see that he understood my fear.
I said, “I don’t know why he appeared to me. What Giovanni wants.”
“Neither do I. What was he saying to you?”
“Ordinary stuff.” I shrugged. “Actually, I thought he was flirting with me. But I guess he was just excited that someone could see him finally.” It had been nice, thinking some hot Italian guy was into me. I should’ve known something was up.
“Well, we’ll go back. I’ll be with you. I can’t see the dead— not yet, anyway—but you won’t be alone. And you can figure out for sure whether or not this is real.”
“Thanks.” It came out in a small voice.
Cairo gave me a look. “If this had happened to you first, instead of me? I wouldn’t have believed you either. So stop feeling guilty. We have bigger things to deal with.”
When we returned to the catacombs in the early afternoon, the summer sun had intensified until even the roads seemed to sizzle. Although trees grew on the grounds outside the tombs, shade didn’t help much. My skin felt grimy with sweat. For a while we stood around where I’d first seen Giovanni that morning, but nobody appeared except a gaggle of blue-habited nuns awaiting their own tour.
“Maybe it doesn’t happen every time,” I said. “Maybe I can’t predict when it happens.”
“Possibly.” Cairo wasn’t ready to give up. “We should go back to the last place you saw him.”
Nobody could walk down into the catacombs without being on a guided tour, so we had to buy more tickets. The seller said crisply, “The next English-language tour is in just over one hour.”
Too long, I thought, to give us time to explore the catacombs and yet get us back to the hotel on time. “What’s the very next tour?”
“French, in five minutes.”
“We speak French,” I said. “Deux billets, s’il vous plaît.”
As we walked toward the gathering spot for the tour, Cairo said, “You wouldn’t have admitted that yesterday.”
“I wouldn’t have admitted a lot of things yesterday.” My long-cherished desire to look and act normal had so obviously died that there was nothing to do but let it go. If I could see the dead, “normal” was never going to happen.
We arranged ourselves at the end of the French tour. For the first little while, nothing appeared out of the ordinary—but as we descended the uneven stone steps toward the chamber where Giovanni had walked through the wall, my heartbeat quickened. It wasn’t just nerves; it was like my body knew he was near.
When I walked back in, Giovanni stood there, as if he’d been waiting for me the whole time.
He looked so relieved to see me. Almost on the verge of tears. I thought I might cry too. Giovanni was more beautiful to me now than he was before—now, when I knew what he was, when he ought to have terrified me. But there was nothing scary about him. He was simply someone who had died—something that happened to everyone, eventually.
He was the proof that I was sane.
And he was the proof that Cairo and I really were twins of the soul and always would be.
“You have come back,” he said.
“Yeah. Sorry I panicked.”
“He’s here?” Cairo whispered to me, looking around wildly in pretty much every direction but the right one.
“You can’t see him?”
Cairo shook his head. Whatever powers he possessed, they weren’t like mine. Just as I had zero ability to read other people’s thoughts. Our gifts were unique. Our own.
Giovanni looked even sadder. “You have told someone about me? He is . . . boyfriend?”
“Cairo’s my brother. He’s just trying to help.” Glancing behind me to see if the French tourists were paying any attention to the muttering teenagers in the back—which, fortunately, they weren’t—I took a deep breath. “Giovanni, I’m not sure how to ask this, but . . . you’re definitely dead, right?”
He nodded, unconcerned; it was old news to him. “My school came here. I fell. My neck, it broke.”
Maybe his clothes came across so 1970s because that was when he died. “Do you think you were pushed? Did someone murder you?”
“What? No. Not possible.” Giovanni seemed utterly sure about this. “Rain was falling. The steps were wet all over. My feet went”—he made a hand motion that resembled the Nike swoosh.
“He says he wasn’t murdered,” I whispered to Cairo, who shrugged. The only other sounds were the increasingly distant patter of the tour guide and the shuffling feet of French tourists walking away. I turned back to Giovanni. “Then why are you still here? I always thought . . . if spirits stuck around on earth, it was because they had some kind of unfinished business here.” But what did I know? It had been only stupid TV shows and horror movies to me until a few hours earlier.
Yet Giovanni nodded. “One thing I never did on earth. One thing I always wanted to do.”
Maybe he needed me to find his mother and tell her he loved her. Maybe I had to search for some long-lost friend. Or get revenge. Was I willing to get revenge for Giovanni for something that happened decades before I’d been born? Carefully, I said, “What’s that?”
Bashfully, Giovanni said, “Never I kiss a beautiful girl. Never any girl, actually.”
For a long moment, I thought I must have gone crazy after all. He couldn’t have said that, could he? “You’ve hung around on earth for thirty years or so because you didn’t want to go to heaven without kissing a girl?”
“You have got to be kidding me,” Cairo whispered. I elbowed him sharply in the side; mockery wasn’t going to help us.
Giovanni said, “I want this very badly. Please—maybe you would—maybe? You are most beautiful girl.”
I didn’t especially want my first kiss to be from a dead guy. If this was a sign of how my love life would go from then on, my already low expectations were going to have to drop even lower.
And yet . . . it was such a simple request. He wanted it so badly. He thought I was beautiful. He was so gorgeous; if I hadn’t realized he was dead, I would have kissed him for certain. And Giovanni would always be the first guy who had ever flirted with me.
The tour group had moved significantly ahead of us now, but we could still hear them—still catch up if we had to, without getting lost down here. I told Cairo, “Can you give us a second?”
“For what? So you can kiss him?” To my surprise, Cairo— who’d been so unflappable through all of this—looked disgusted. “You don’t know what that will do. He might, I don’t know . . . suck your soul out.”
“I don’t think it works that way.” How it worked, I wasn’t sure, but I felt convinced that Giovanni wasn’t trying to hurt me. “Remember how you know that Michael’s always interested in Audrey’s feet? That’s how I know Giovanni isn’t trying to hurt me.”
Cairo considered this. “You can read his mind?”
Giovanni said, “Tell him I will not hurt your soul.”