A Lesson in Thorns (Thornchapel #1)(3)

But he didn’t need to be somewhere else. He knew that, even if he didn’t know how he knew that.

Thornchapel was right. Proserpina and St. Sebastian fighting over the flower crown in front of him felt right.

It was only him that felt wrong.

“This is not how weddings work,” Becket accused. “St. Sebastian, stop it. Give back the flower crown.”

“No,” said St. Sebastian.

“You have to because three people can’t kiss, only two can,” Delphine said knowledgeably.

“There’s going to be kissing?” Proserpina said, suddenly sounding very, very awake.

“That’s stupid,” Rebecca said back to Delphine. “Three people can kiss. All six of us could kiss if we wanted.”

“Yes, there is kissing,” Becket said to Proserpina, with the grave tones of one who knows these things.

“We don’t have to kiss,” Auden said quietly to his bride.

“Well, I want to,” St. Sebastian declared, which surprised absolutely no one.

Becket pinched his nose, looking exactly like an exasperated grown-up. “No one asked you.”

Delphine was still fighting with Rebecca, and she wrinkled her nose, which was one of those things that made her look even prettier than normal. “At the same time? It wouldn’t work.”

“You don’t know everything, you know—”

Every moment of Auden’s unmet destiny bit his skin and punctured his heart, and every second he stood still was a jagged clamp around his throat.

He had—he had to do—



Wounds and dying and fires burning against the night—

Sparks hissing as he was brought back to life—

He seized both Proserpina and St. Sebastian and pulled them both to his mouth just as lightning cracked across the sky.

A kiss.

A kiss that was almost a bruise, almost a bite, and how he wanted both, he wanted kissing and bruising and holding and biting—and he wanted to shelter them from the rain and force them to kneel in the mud too, and he didn’t know what it meant or why it was happening or even why they were letting him yank them close.

It was awkward and bumping, and Proserpina had sucked in a stunned breath as St. Sebastian had shuddered, but yet when they stumbled apart to the deafening thunder and the shocked stares of the other three, Auden couldn’t bring himself to be ashamed.

He could only feel like he wanted to do it again.

Rain began slicing down before any of the six could find the right words, and there was more lightning and more wind, and within fifteen seconds, it became evident that they’d have to run back to the house. Which they did, and after the long time it took, they were soaked to the bone and shivering, and then they were all roundly reprimanded by the parents, who were not impressed with their refusal to talk about what they’d been doing or where they’d been.

The rain continued for another week and well into the week after that, and by that point, the thorn chapel had become something like a myth or a shared dream and it slipped into the realm of reverence and dares and distance. They instead explored the house and the nearby village of Thorncombe and swam in the indoor pool and put on plays in the attic. Delphine and Rebecca fought, and Becket was an insufferable know-it-all, and St. Sebastian wandered in and out, and Proserpina dreamed.

And Auden was still everything inside of himself, unbearably everything, every single thing he’d been at the altar when he’d needed to kiss St. Sebastian and Proserpina and maybe bite them too.

Then the summer term ended.

Or rather, their parents left their strange house party to return to their real lives. Proserpina and Becket went back to America, and Delphine and Rebecca went back to London. St. Sebastian, whose mother hadn’t been at the house but who lived in the village, and so he’d injected himself into their play, returned to life in a grimy semi with a tired parent and cupboards of expired food.

And Auden left too, even though Thornchapel was his. His parents whisked him back to the Chelsea townhouse, back to real life and boring parties and their fighting and their restlessness and their pain. He was not the same boy they’d brought to Devon, but they didn’t notice, or if they did notice, they ascribed it to the usual pre-teen malcontent that often afflicts boys at that age. Soon enough, he was sent off to school, where he burned with all the things he didn’t understand about himself. And though he was popular and well-liked, though he excelled in every imaginable way, he burned alone.

Thornchapel was alone too, though it had yet to burn.

There were a few scattered visits, but they were short, and never did Auden have the courage to return to the altar alone, although it haunted his thoughts constantly. Somehow, it became the place that he could blame for everything—for his parents’ fractured marriage, for his father’s treatment of him, for his needs and his uncertainty and his torment. And his blame shifted to hate, and the hate spread from the altar to the chapel to the grounds and the entire house itself. Until the house’s thorns and his thorns became one and the same, and he knew if he could defeat one, then he could be free of the other.

And yet he still longed for it. He still dreamed of it as it was on the day of the wedding, and he still dreamed of his friends, of Rebecca and Delphine, whom he saw often in the waking world, but never in the same unfettered, near-wild environment they’d had that summer. He dreamed of Becket, too, clever and annoying, and St. Sebastian, whom he’d once kissed as torn flower petals and rain dropped onto their faces.

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