A Lesson in Thorns (Thornchapel #1)(11)

Auden holds up a hand. “Say no more. And actually, I insist you take a nap before I refresh your memory about the layout of the house. The bathroom is just down the hall—apologies for that in advance, you’ll be sharing with Rebecca when she’s staying here, but she’s here even less than me, so hopefully it won’t be too inconvenient.”

“I don’t mind sharing,” I say foggily, going to sit on the bed. “I just . . . one moment.”

I have a long blink. I know these blinks. It means sleep is creeping up on me too fast for me to stop it, and my head is drooping as I fade . . .

My head snaps up and Auden is next to me, helping me lie down.

“Are you okay?” he asks, clearly concerned.

“Fine,” I mumble. “Just need a moment.”

“Take as long as you need,” he says, and I feel warm, blunt fingertips brushing the hair from my forehead.

It’s the last thing I remember before sleep closes over me like water, and I’m lost.

Chapter 3

My father always used to joke that I dreamed on my feet, but when I was sixteen, we discovered that I was quite literally dreaming on my feet. After a series of unspeakably boring and uncomfortable studies, I was diagnosed with narcolepsy without cataplexy—which is just fancy medical talk for saying that a part of my brain eats itself, and as a consequence, I am a very, very sleepy person.

And also I dream too many dreams.

When I wake up from my nap, there’s a scream balled in my throat, but I can’t remember why. Just something about the thorn chapel and Auden and there was a knife maybe, and sparks spitting from a fire.

A fire burning against the night.

I press the heels of my palms against my eyes and take a deep breath. I dream like this all the time and have ever since I can remember. And sometimes I have waking dreams, as I’m falling asleep or waking up, so vivid that when I claw free from them, I burst immediately into tears.

This is nothing new, Poe.

But it was so real, so urgent, and I can almost still smell the smoke burning my nostrils and hear Auden’s razored breaths as he stood at a door in the thorn chapel . . .

No, that can’t be right. There’s no door in the chapel ruins.

Just a dream thing.

Right. Just a dream thing.

I sit up and feel the relief only a narcoleptic can feel when I check my watch. I’ve only slept an hour or so, which sounds like a lot, but I’ve been known to lie down for a nap and wake up the next morning, so I’m calling it a win, even though I know I’ll feel a little sheepish going downstairs. That’s the thing about naps. Everyone knows what you’ve done, and there’s something that feels lazy about it, shameful, even though I don’t have a choice about my brain cannibalizing its own proteins, and really, everyone sleeps.

I decide to take some extra time, since that hot tea waiting for me is already cold and they’ll need to make a fresh pot anyway . . . and if I have to make the nap walk of shame, I think I’ll feel better doing it with clean hair and fresh clothes. I grab new clothes and underthings, and my travel-sized toiletries—I’ll need to head into Thorncombe soon to stock up for real—and strike out for the bathroom I’ll share with Rebecca.

The dream still clings to the corners of my mind as I find the bathroom and familiarize myself with all the light switches and shower workings. It bothers me as I scrub my skin and wash my hair. And when I finish up and stow my dirty laundry back in my room, it’s still the only thing I can think of.

Just a dream thing, Poe. Just bad brain chemistry.

It better be.

In between pulling on fresh clothes, I text my ex-girlfriend that I’m here, and after a moment’s hesitation, I finally text my dad.

Me: I made it here safely. Love you.

He responds right away—like he’s been keeping his phone close—but the answer is short, the meaning clear.

Dad: It’s not too late to come back.

I don’t reply. We fought bitterly enough about me coming here when I took the job, and I don’t see how either of us can have anything new to say. I close my eyes and remind myself of how pointless it would be to fight about it again.

“You can’t go,” he begged. “You promised you wouldn’t.”

“Dad, they’re paying me to go. To do a job I’d do for free if I could.”

He’d leaned over his kitchen counter then, his hands balled in fists and his posture that of a broken man. “It’s too dangerous. Your mom and I—we learned the hard way how dangerous it is. She’d want me to keep you safe now.”

“But the note she sent—”

“She didn’t send it, Poe, she couldn’t have!” he exploded. “She’s dead or she’s forgotten about us in some new life, and she’s not sending you notes in Latin!”

His words stung. They stung enough that I had to sit down on a kitchen chair and stare at the floor for a minute.

“Poe,” he said after a minute. “I’m sorry. You must know that this hurts for me too.”

“You never had a service for her,” I whispered. “You never tried to have her declared dead, even though you could have. Why not, if you don’t still secretly hope she’s alive?”

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