“Alright,” said Anny, “what’s going on?”
“Whaddya mean?” said Kit.
“I thought something was off,” she began. “As soon as you started talking, I knew something wasn’t right.” She eyed him suspiciously. “You know too much.”
“Pff!” He shook his head. “First time I’ve been accused of that! Still don’t get what you mean, though.”
“I mean that something’s up! You always seem to know what I’m thinking. Like, literally what I’m thinking. How do you do that?”
He laughed. “You’re just super-duper easy to read.”
“No,” she said. “I’m not. I know I’m not. I should know, everyone’s been telling me since I was a kid.” She leaned in closer. “And you’ve been making a few slips. Exactly when did I tell you that my last name was Greene?”
His smile vanished. Yes, he made that mistake when he had introduced her to Davey. “It was, uh… I mean, it’s in the note. The one that Bellator gave me.”
“Really?” She held up the letter in her hand. “Did he write that part in invisible ink?”
He gasped and grabbed at the note, missing his mark as she flicked it away. “How did you get that? It was–”
“In your back pocket. Seriously, it was begging to be stolen. Besides, I needed to know what Bellator told you. So no more games.” She crossed her arms. “What’s going on?”
Irritated at being outmaneuvered, he looked down at his feet, up at the ceiling, and then released a heavy sigh. “Okay,” he said, thrusting a hand down the collar of his shirt. “Not like it makes a big difference or anything. But keep it a secret, eh?”
“Keep what a secret?” she said, watching him remove a small object from under his t-shirt.
It was a necklace of some sort, a yellow crystal that looked to Anny like an oversized piece of rock candy. Only, it couldn’t be candy. Kit held it with a firm grip, and as his eyes met hers once again, the crystal glowed a deep crimson.
“What is it?” she whispered.
“It’s a hyrthstone,” he said. “I can use it to read people’s minds.”
Her jaw dropped. “Shut up!” She didn’t know whether to be shocked or insulted. “Do you think I’m stupid? You really think I’d believe some weird cliché like that?”
“Nope,” he said, removing the necklace. “Not until you’ve tried it yourself.”
She shifted her weight uncomfortably. “Oh no, I don’t think that’s…” But it was already around her neck. Kit tried to grab her shirt, to let the crystal fall against the skin of her chest, but she slapped him away. “Hands off! Let me do it myself.”
“Fine!” He raised his hands to the ceiling. “Have it your way. But it has to be touching your skin. Just let it sit there for a second and listen.”
This was a trick, a practical joke. He was making fun of her, he probably thought she was stupid. But then she heard a voice.
So? Is it working? Can you hear me?
She stared at him, eyes wide. His lips weren’t moving.
If you can hear me, call me a moron.
“You’re a moron.”
He clapped his hands and laughed. “It’s cool, eh? But it doesn’t always work. Some people can’t use it. And some people can only see stuff instead of hearing thoughts.” He popped his lips. “It’s pretty finicky. Can I have it back now?”
She pulled off the necklace and held it out to him. “Yeah, take it. It’s kind of creepy.” Reading someone else’s thoughts wasn’t as fun as she thought it would be. Her hands trembled as she held them out in front of her. “I felt like… I was you, for a moment.”
“Oh yeah?” He raised an eyebrow as he pulled the necklace over his head. “That’s a new one. Never goes that far when I wear it.” He let it slip down past his collar to where it had rested before. Anny only noticed now the faint red glow through his shirt. “Are we good, then? Can we go eat?”
“Yeah…” She didn’t like that he had put the necklace back on, that he could read her mind whenever he felt like it. Then again, it wasn’t like she felt protective about her thoughts. She was usually outspoken. In any case, she noticed the red glow was already fading. It seemed that Kit didn’t use his mind-reading power constantly. A small comfort, at least. She followed him back into the hallway, on their way to the table. Kam left his room as well, lumbering down the staircase with the other two right behind him.
When they arrived at the kitchen, their mother was already standing at the table, hands on her hips. “What took you so long? Usually you boys are in the kitchen an hour before the food’s ready!”
Kit took his place. “Sorry, Mother dear. I was just giving Anny the tour.”
Anny came and sat down next to him. Her stomach growled as she eyed the big pot of chili on the table. The growling was a little louder than she would have liked, but no one seemed to notice. Or care.
“Here you go, Anny,” said Kit’s mother, taking a bowl and filling it to the brim with the steaming chili.
“Thank you, Mrs… I mean, I’m sorry, but I didn’t–”
“Ophelia,” she said, handing her the full bowl. “Just call me Ophelia, honey.”
Kit snickered. “Okay, Ophelia honey.”
She took the ladle from the chili and bopped him on the head.
“Ow!” he exclaimed. “You got chili in my hair!”
“And now you’ll have hair in your chili,” she said, filling his bowl. “You still haven’t told me why you’re here, rather than out and about. I thought you had the night off.”
“I did,” he said, mopping up the chili with a napkin. “But Lavinia cornered me in the Market. Looks like the twins dropped out for the night and I gotta take their place.”
She took Kam’s bowl next. “That woman… She works you too hard, is what I think.” She set the bowl down again. “You barely get any time off at all these days.”
“But that’s a good sign, isn’t it? Means I’m moving on up the pyramid.”
“But you’re hardly ever at home,” she said, filling her own bowl. “You go out, work all night long, and then collapse in your room until it starts all over again.” She reached out and stroked his hair. “I’ve been missing my little fox.”
He swatted her hand away. “You could come and watch me perform, y’know. If you miss me that much.”
“Ah, I wouldn’t want to embarrass you,” she said. “And the club is not exactly my cup of tea.”
“That’s what I thought,” he said, turning his attention towards the food. “In any case, I gotta get goin’. Club’s already open.” He started shoveling in the spoonfuls.
Anny watched as everyone else started eating and joined in. “Oh!” she exclaimed. “This is really spicy!”
“Is it too hot for you?” said Ophelia. “The boys like it spicy, but I could always–”
“Oh no, I like it!” she said. “My parents hate spicy food, so we never eat it.” She took another large spoonful, realising how hungry she was. When was the last time she had eaten? “This is really good, thank you!”
“You’re very welcome,” said Ophelia.
“Thanks,” said the boys in unison.
The four of them worked away at the food, each having a second helping after they had finished the first bowl. Except for Kit, that is. He pushed his bowl away after finishing and said, “Can’t shovel up too much. Gotta keep lean for tonight.”
Ophelia tried to give him more, but it was no use. His eyes were on the clock, and just as soon as Anny had eaten her fill, he was up and running.
“Let’s go!” he said. “Show starts in an hour.”
Anny downed a glass of water and hurried to follow him. She had never been to a club before.
But instead of running to the first floor, Kit made for his bedroom. “C’mon,” he said, “we have to get you some clothes.”
She followed him up the stairs. “What’s wrong with what I’m wearing now?” Remarkably, she was still wearing his baseball cap, along with a plain t-shirt and jeans.
“This is the Ace of Clubs,” he said. “You gotta look sharp, ’specially if you show up with me.”
“Oh, I see,” she scoffed. “You don’t want me to embarrass you?”
“Something like that.”
Upon entering his room, Kit made for the clothes rack. He pulled out a silver blazer and tossed it over.
“Here,” he said. “Put that on.”
“This?” she said, examining the shiny material. “It looks like something from a sci-fi!”
“Just put it on,” he muttered, groping through a box by his bed.
“But I’ll look stupid!”
“No such thing as lookin’ stupid.” He pulled out a pair of steampunk goggles from the box before taking the hat off her head. “And put these on.”
“This is crazy!” she said, looking at the strange accessories. “What are you wearing?”
“My stuff’s at the club,” he said. “Now hurry up, I don’t want to miss the opening. I want to see who’s doing it tonight.”
Grudgingly, she pulled on the blazer. He laughed as she moved on to the goggles.
“No, silly!” he said, loosening the goggles so they sat on her head. “You don’t put them over your eyes, they’re supposed to sit on top!”
“This makes no sense at all!” Frustrated, she turned to face the long mirror on the wall behind her. And she was surprised to find that the blazer complemented her hair. The goggles didn’t look half-bad either.
Kit strode over to the window and opened it as wide as he could. To Anny’s amazement, he crawled onto the roof.
“C’mon,” he said, poking his head back inside, “this way’s faster. Plus, we don’t have to walk by Mr. Mustelini again.”
She stuck her head through the window, surprised to see a walkway on the third floor. Across the next few buildings there was also a ladder that led to the ground. That’s where they were headed, no doubt.
“Here.” He crouched in front of the open window and offered her a hand.
But she pushed it away. “I don’t need help,” she said, pulling herself through. “I’m fine on my own.”
Only for an instant, a strange expression passed over his face. He seemed sad, or irritated. Or maybe both. But Anny had barely caught it, and he turned away right after.
He stopped, already halfway to the ladder, and turned around.
Feeling the weight of his gaze, she looked down at her feet, only to look back up out of stubbornness. “I don’t…” She hesitated. “I don’t like feeling stupid.”
He stared at her, his face blank.
“And I don’t like it when people make me feel stupid.”
He seemed to understand. “Do I make you feel stupid?”
Again, she struggled to keep his gaze. “Sometimes. But just because I don’t know anything about goblins and stuff doesn’t make me stupid.”
His eyes widened the slightest bit, surprised to hear her say it.
She rubbed her arm uncomfortably. “So, I’m sorry. I mean, if I seem like a jerk sometimes. I’m not trying to be, you know, mean or anything. I just don’t–”
“I don’t think you’re mean,” he said. “I think you’re cool.”
She frowned. “Really?”
“Yeah.” That goofy smile reappeared on his face, the strange expression was gone. “We better get goin’, or we’re gonna be late for sure.” He turned back towards the ladder and marched across the walkway. Clearly, he wasn’t afraid of heights. “Got that backstage pass handy?”
She felt her jean pocket for the ticket that Davey had given her. “Yup!” Now that she had got that apology off her chest, she could hardly contain her excitement! Not only was she going to a club, but she also had a backstage pass.
I hope this place isn’t trashy, she thought.
“It’s not,” said Kit.