Cassie let him lead her to the garden where they seated themselves in a quiet spot among the rose bushes on the chaise lounge that Bethany had lain on earlier in the day.
Galahad tried to take her hand, but she wouldn’t let him. “So tell me what they’re saying.”
“Not they. Just Leila. David told her…” she paused, unsure whether to say the words. Here in the stillness of the garden, it was just too silly to think he could’ve been….
“Told her what?” he said, this time with an edge in his voice.
“That you were a Kevork.”
“You killed people.”
Galahad hesitated before answering. “Is that what David said?”
“He didn’t have to. Everyone knows that’s what the KDS was about.”
“So he wasn’t specific.”
“Should he have been?”
He took her hand again and this time didn’t let her pull away. “I can’t excuse my past because there is no excuse. But that wasn’t who I wanted to be.”
“Then why did you do it?”
“It started with me being stupid enough to take my parents to the hospital.”
Over the next half hour, Galahad told her his story, starting with how his parents died in the overcrowded wards and how he struggled to find someone to release them to him for burial. “I didn’t want them thrown into the pits,” he said. “But it was a madhouse and no one would release them to me. I met David outside the morgue. He was just some kid I had sometimes seen in the halls at school. We didn’t really know each other, but he was having the same problem and we teamed up because we were mad as hell.”
In their anger and frustration, they walked the streets, plotting what, if anything, could be done. When they came upon a pub being ransacked by a group of teenagers, they joined in. “It was a way to take the edge off. It makes no sense when I look back at it now. Fighting and drinking weren’t how we coped in my family. But at the time….”
Cassie edged closer. “I think we all had those moments when totally crazy stuff made perfect sense.”
“You can’t think straight when everything around you is falling apart,” Galahad went on. “It’s no excuse for what we did next, but those kids tearing the pub apart were Kevorks and they said if we’d help them, they’d help us get our parents’ bodies so we could have a proper funeral.”
Galahad looked away. “We killed a few people at the morgue, but it did no good. We never found my parents or David’s.”
She squeezed his hand. “I’m sorry.”
“So we drank some more so we wouldn’t have to feel anything and kept on with the Kevorks. What was there to go home to? Whatever we needed, we took. Whoever tried to stop us, we stopped them.” He shook his head at the memory. “I spent most of those weeks drunk or under the influence of other things. There weren’t many Pharms yet and we got all kinds of pills from the pharmacies we raided. I don’t even know half of what I took. Blue pills, yellow pills, white ones…made no difference. The only thing that mattered was that I didn’t have to feel anything.”
“Who wouldn’t want the pain to go away?”
“There were better ways to do it. I took the easy way out.”
“But not forever,” Cassie said. “You stopped.”
“Yes.” He frowned in the darkness. “But not until after a lot of things happened. Things I don’t even remember.”
“So why did you quit?”
“Paul. I came out of a blackout one day and there he was. He says he found me wandering alone on a bridge, acting like I was going to jump. He brought me here to the hotel. I was sick coming off the drugs and alcohol, but Paul sat with me the whole time, reminding me who I had been and who I was capable of being again.”
“I’m surprised he didn’t just read the Bible to you.”
“He did that, too. But he mostly just talked. He saved my life, which is why even though he’s gotten a little crazy on this Jesus thing, I still stick by him.”
In the silence that followed, the moon came out from behind a patch of cloud and the wind rustled the branches of the rose bushes. Somewhere far below, kids on the street shouted at each other.
“Is that all?” Cassie said.
“Isn’t that enough?”
He drew her toward him with his good arm and this time Cassie snuggled into his lap, leaning against his chest where she could hear the strong, steady beat of his heart. As he closed his arms around her, she wondered why she had resisted this before and wished it could be like this forever—just the two of them, safe in a peaceful place, free of worries about dirt, disease, armed killers and where to find their next meal.
“Do you forgive me?” he asked.
“There’s nothing to forgive you for.” She pressed herself against him, wishing there were some way to crawl inside his skin so they could be together like this always. “We don’t have to apologize for being human.”
Galahad pushed her away, but it was only so he could see her face in the moonlight and find her lips with his.
* * *
When they went back inside, it was with a sense that something momentous had happened, even though their kisses had been cut short by Galahad’s gesture of annoyance at his injured arm. “I’m sorry. It hurts and it distracts me. You deserve to be kissed right.”
“You can kiss me any way you want.” Nevertheless, she let him walk her to her room. She had thrown her arms around his neck for a final kiss good night when a shadow at the end of the hall caught their attention. As one, they turned to see someone in black slip out of a room. The intruder was slim and androgynous, with hands and face painted gray and eyes ringed with black like a raccoon.
“Hey!” Galahad shouted.
The shadow turned to him, startled, then took off running. Cassie and Galahad tried to follow, but the shadow was faster and ran to an open hall window. By the time they got there and could investigate the knotted rope tied to a radiator post, the shadow had shimmied down the side of the building and two figures in black were running down the street.
“Thing One and Thing Two,” Galahad said.
“What were they doing here?”
“No telling,” he said, “But it can’t be good.” He guided Cassie back to her door. He bent to kiss her, but this time it was a distracted brush of his lips over hers. “Go to bed. I need to tell Alex about this.”
“I’ll go with you.”
“No. Let an injured guy feel useful, okay?”
Cassie went into her room, confused and frustrated that the earlier glow of their kisses in the garden had been ruined by the mysterious intruder. As she fumbled in the dark for her flashlight, a voice startled her and she nearly leaped out of her skin.
“Can’t you be a little quiet?”
Cassie took a deep breath, trying to calm the pounding of her heart. “Well,” she told Leila, “How was I supposed to know you’d be spending the night in your own bed for once?”
EXCERPT FROM CASSIE’S JOURNAL:
We had a security breach tonight. What a commotion! After Galahad told Alex and Mundo, the whole third floor became chaos with guards going room to room asking questions and checking for signs of further trouble. Leila was pissed since she was trying to get some sleep for once, and there was Zach, stomping around our room, looking under and behind things as if we had been invaded by a tribe of gnomes that might still be hiding somewhere. Finally Julilla came and dragged him away, apologizing for his behavior, which makes me think he was just looking for something to start a rumor about.
When the ruckus died down it seemed that Doc’s room was the only one broken into and the only thing missing was his father’s old e-planner. I’m not sure why Thing One and Thing Two would want it, since the batteries are dead and it held only sentimental value, but Doc was pretty upset. Some of us suggested maybe it hadn’t been stolen at all and was just lost. He agreed that this was possible, but I think he was lying so everyone could go back to bed.
Before I went back to my room, I saw Julilla at the window that Thing Two (or Thing One—I can’t tell them apart) had jumped out of. She was examining the rope and some marks on the windowsill. Then she leaned out the window, feeling around the edges. She looked down at what could be seen of the street below, then stood there frowning. I could almost see the thoughts adding up in her mind. Then she ran down the hall and caught up to Alex and I watched them turn the corner together.
As I was closing my door I heard footsteps again. I looked out and it was Galahad, trying to move quietly and keeping his light covered. He went into the stairwell and I chased after him, wanting to know where he had been during all the commotion and if he had learned anything more about what happened. But like the other night, once I got to the stairwell I heard his footsteps going up to the unused floors. After the things he told me and the way he kissed me in the garden tonight, I was almost confident enough to call after him. But in the end, I didn’t. If he has any other secrets, I don’t think I want to know what they are because it might be too depressing.