A Lesson in Thorns (Thornchapel #1)(9)

“Becket doesn’t live here, obviously,” Auden says, wandering over to the window. “His church is in Bellever. But he comes here quite a bit since I came back.”

“When was that?” I ask, curious. “When you came back, I mean?”

I wonder if he’s felt the same pull to Thornchapel I have, if he even could, since I suspect part of my fascination with the place stems from its distance from my life, its inaccessibility. It would always be a mystery to me, this hovering dream just out of waking reach. But I wasn’t a Guest, I wasn’t tied to the place as Auden was. It wasn’t mine.

“After I buried my father in the St. Brigid’s graveyard,” Auden says after a minute, his eyes on the rain-soaked forest outside the windows.

Well, shit. I feel idiotic for not having thought of that, especially after I’d only just talked to the cab driver about it. I make a pointless gesture with my hands—not that he can see it, since he’s still looking outside. “I’m sorry about your father.”

“I’m not,” he bites off.


He scrubs his hands through his hair and blows out a breath. “I’m sorry. That was churlish of me, especially given what happened to your mother. What I should say is that we had a complicated relationship and none of that complication was resolved at the time of his death.”

“But your own mother . . .” I say, then stop, wishing I could take it back. It’s another consequence of my half-dreaming brain. Sometimes the words escape me before I can think them through.

“She drank herself to death,” Auden says, finally turning to face me. “If you were wondering.”

She drank herself to death. My father had told me when she’d died a few years ago, but I hadn’t known . . . I’d only known that Auden’s father had written to my father, and that when my father read the letter, he’d been angrier than I’d ever seen him. He’d burned the letter and gotten drunk and told me I was never, ever allowed to return to Thornchapel, not as an adult, not as an old woman, not ever.

“Anyway,” Auden says. “My father dying only meant I was an orphan in truth rather than in spirit. A mere formality.”

“Oh Auden,” I say, because I can’t help it, because it’s what I would say to anyone. No matter how handsome and sad and angry they look framed by a medieval window.

He sighs and I see him reaching for his mask again, the one that makes it so easy for me not to fall in love with him. “At any rate, we were talking about my little house party. After he died, I felt like I needed to . . . I don’t know, erase all my memories of him, I guess. I sold off the townhouse, donated all his things. I thought I’d find a way to blot out Thornchapel too because I hate this place, I hate it so much, but when I walked in the front door, I—”

Auden breaks off, as if he isn’t sure what he was or what he felt. He blinks at me for a moment, as if I’ll have the answer.

I don’t, but strangely, I wish I did. Or maybe I just wish I knew the question better.

“Well, regardless,” he says, shaking off whatever thoughts he’d been having, “I began to think maybe I couldn’t sell it. Maybe I should tear it down. Burn it and salt the earth where it stood.”

His voice is just a touch too wry, a bit too self-deprecating, for it to be hyperbole, which means he’s telling the truth. He really did want to burn Thornchapel to the ground. It’s almost like hearing blasphemy, and I’m surprised at how horrified the thought makes me.

“But then,” he continues, “I just couldn’t. I just couldn’t. I don’t know why. I still don’t.”

He gives me a helpless kind of smile, as if I’d blame him for not destroying his ancient family home.

“I suppose you know I just finished my master’s in architecture?” he asks.

I make a vague nod, not wanting to admit exactly how Drunk Librarian I’d gone on him before I came here.

“Well, I’d just taken a job with a firm, and I had the idea—why not hire myself? Why not get my practical experience working on someplace that belongs to me? My boss agreed so long as I keep up my work on my other projects, and so now I’m here.” He waves a careless hand. “Playing architect to a place I might still hate.”


More helpless smiling. “I guess I’m hoping I’ll figure it out by the end.”

“And the others?” I ask.

“Will they figure it out—Oh! Why are they here, you mean. Well, Rebecca is a couple years older, I think you remember, and our resident genius. She’s already got a global reputation as a landscape architect.”

“You’re going to redesign the gardens,” I realize.

“Rebecca is going to redesign the gardens,” Auden clarifies, “and I don’t really care what she does to them. Whatever it is, it’ll be good because she’s good, and it will be different. It won’t be the same as it was when, well . . . you know.”

“As that summer?”

He nods.

I chew on my lip. The thought of the cloistered English gardens being demolished, with their tousled riots of flowers and statues of veiled women and hidden benches . . . the thought of the maze being demolished . . .

My head snaps back up. “You’re not going to do anything with the thorn chapel, are you?”

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