“It’s not mind reading. It’s just . . . if he were lying, I’d know. I feel sure of that.” And I did.
The French-speaking guide had taken our group almost out of earshot. With a sigh, Cairo said, “Okay, I’m going ahead. Catch up when you can. And if anything weird happens . . . scream even louder than you did last time.”
“All right.” We tangled pinky fingers for just a moment, a quick sign of solidarity we hadn’t shared since we were eight years old. Then Cairo walked off without a backward look. I knew it was his way of saying he trusted my judgment. The question was, did I trust my own?
I turned back to Giovanni, who still stood there, hopeful and sweet. He was so beautiful—big, dark eyes, long eyelashes, dimpled chin—that only one question came to mind: “How is it that you never kissed a girl?”
It turned out to be possible to blush after death. Giovanni flushed so that the catacomb around us seemed to turn a soft shade of pink. “Did not always look like this.”
“What do you mean?” I shouldered my cloth bag and tried to stay focused. I hadn’t brought my shawl this time, and I shivered slightly in the underground chill. “Did you . . . change or something? After you died?”
“After death, we look like we are meant to look. Not always in life.”
I began to understand. This wish of his wasn’t only about kissing a girl; this was about making up for the life he lost—not after he died, but before. “Show me.”
Giovanni didn’t want to, I could tell, but he obeyed. His beautiful face seemed to melt, the skin along the left side of his jaw crinkling and turning a vivid, meaty red. A burn scar, I realized. Giovanni’s fall on the catacomb steps wasn’t the first terrible accident he’d been in.
It wasn’t so horrible, really—just a line along one side of his face—but I could imagine what most girls would’ve said about it. What Audrey would have said. If Giovanni had lived to be a little older, he might have met a girl mature enough to look past his scar and see the gentle, beautiful guy beneath. But he didn’t make it.
“You see me now,” he said, ashamed.
“I see you now.” I stepped closer to Giovanni and put one hand to his face. I couldn’t actually touch him—or so it seemed to me—but when my fingers appeared to brush his face, his lips parted slightly as though he could feel it. “I see all of you.”
I lifted my face to his and closed my eyes. I felt his kiss not as a touch, but as a glow—warmth spreading through me, making me aware of my blood and my pulse, of everything that separated the living and the dead. For one moment, I knew more than ever before what it meant to be alive.
The kiss’s end was like the snuffing of a candle—a little less light and heat in the world.
When I opened my eyes, Giovanni was beaming at me, his face whole and perfect once more, and slightly transparent now. “Thank you,” he said.
“Is that enough?” I still couldn’t believe that he wanted nothing more than one kiss.
Giovanni shook his head as he faded even further. “Nothing is enough. Nothing makes up for it. But . . . is something. Something beautiful.”
“You’re beautiful,” I said, and he must have known that I meant it, because the last of him I could see was his smile.
I caught up to the French tour group, and Cairo and I managed to get a taxi to the hotel more than an hour before the others were due back from the Castel Sant’ Angelo. We ordered a couple of coffees from the café downstairs and drank them in his hotel room, which had a view of the street below—crowded with little cars and motor scooters, both more tourists and just Roman people trying to get on with their day.
“We have to tell Mom and Dad about this, don’t we?” I said.
Cairo sipped his cappuccino. “I think they already know.”
“How could they know?”
“Ever since this started happening to me—I know we tried to hide it from Mom and Dad, but I always suspected they knew. Almost like they were waiting to see what would happen, you know? To see what I’d make of it.”
“How would they guess you were hearing people’s thoughts?”
He gave me a look. “They got married three weeks after they met, Ravenna. I always wondered about that, and now I believe we see the reason. You don’t think they recognized something special in each other? Something unique? Just consider it. Everything they’ve discovered—stuff they found where nobody else even knew to look—and the way Dad’s books all seem to be written like he was really there?”
Cairo was making some wild leaps—but I wasn’t sure he was wrong about our parents. If they possessed these powers, did that mean Cairo and I had inherited them?
My mind was full of so many things, too many for me to discuss them with my brother before our friends returned and we were once again surrounded by other voices, other thoughts. So I said the most important thing first: “I shouldn’t have turned on you like that last night, Cairo. I’m really sorry.”
“Thanks for saying that. But I mean it, Ravenna. I get why you didn’t believe me. Why you were angry. You thought I was leaving you, didn’t you?”
“No such luck.” My brother grinned at me over the rim of his paper coffee cup. “No matter how weird it gets from now on . . . we’re in it together.”
Scenic Route by Carrie Ryan (#ulink_e7c47bd3-7519-5b28-8329-0af23e322cf1)
here should we go next?” Margie sets the large atlas on the table, smoothing her hand over the worn cover. Her younger sister, Sally, shifts to her knees on the bench to get a better view.
“Mississippi?” Sally asks, tucking dirty-blond hair behind her ears.
Margie shrugs and fiddles with pages, swollen after getting wet in the rain. “Too hot right now. Besides, we’ll be coming from the west here, under Canada. That’s where we left off planning yesterday.”
“Page fifty-seven, then,” Sally says, leaning her elbows on the table.
Margie rolls her eyes as she flips through, letting the atlas open almost on its own volition. “You know, I really don’t get your fascination with West Virginia.”
“It looks pretty,” Sally says, tracing her small fingers around the counties.
Neither girl has been there. Neither knows anything about it other than the contours on the map and the teaser entries from the guidebooks stacked along the front wall under the window.
Margie pulls the light closer and checks over her shoulder outside. It’s full dusk, the summer days stretching late and dying slow. Greasy smoke chokes up from the lantern—almost all their oil is dirty, and dark patches stain the ceiling over the kitchen table from their evenings cramped over the atlas.
“So maybe we come in on the interstate here,” Sally says, “but I think it would be more fun if we did the smaller roads after that. More scenic and probably less crowded.”
Margie pushes a notebook across the table, sifting through the pages until she finds where they’d left off the night before. “You start writing it all down, Sal. I’m just going to check outside real quick.”
Sally looks up at her sister then. It’s almost silent in the cabin, just the sputter of the flame and the two girls breathing. “Why?”
“One last sweep before bed.” Margie tries to keep her voice from fluttering.
“You already did the last sweep,” Sally points out. A sliver of hair hangs limp and heavy across the side of her face, throwing her eyes into shadow.
Margie doesn’t want to tell her that something outside keeps making her look up. It’s the feeling on the back of her neck, like the tension before a thunderstorm—that quality of light spreading a sense of dread somewhere in your body left over from before humanity knew such things as language and science.
“Here.” Margie squats by the small stack of books against the wall and flips through for the right one. “You figure out where you want to stop for dinner and if there’s any sightseeing you want to do. Plan it all out, and I’ll be right back.” Margie sets the Visitor’s Guide to West Virginia on the table and picks up the shotgun before stepping outside.
When she looks back, her little sister still kneels on the bench by the table. Her finger’s stuck on that map, pointing at something too far away, which probably doesn’t exist anymore anyway.
Margie never mentions to Sally that sometimes she just has to get away from the tightness of it all. In the beginning, just after the change time, she’d hated the outside, hated to leave the comfort of four walls and a roof, but now it makes her feel trapped. She’s always judging the escape routes, figuring distance and the time it would take to cover it.
Their newest cabin sits on top of a mountain that’s steep enough to keep the monsters away. There’s a deep well, a gun cabinet stashed with crates of ammunition, a cistern of fuel oil, and a pantry brimming with canned food—enough to make Margie think that perhaps they have a shot at surviving all of this so long as it’s just the two of them. They’ve lived here for most of the summer, so that now the fear’s just a low humming noise in the background, like the sound of bees around a blackberry patch.
The first thing she did after Sally and she moved in, other than tossing the bodies over the cliff, was cut down all the rhododendron and laurel. She piled it in a circle partway down the mountain and in the gaps she strung old cans and bottles on twine to rattle if anyone—living or dead—came near.