Blue Lily, Lily Blue Page 18

“I was here.” He had spent the first hour after coming home lying on his face. A small percentage of medieval bodies were buried such; historians thought they were the graves of suicides or witches, though really, historians were such Guesser McGuessers, him the biggest of them all.

“You didn’t answer when I called!”

“It doesn’t change the fact that I was here.”

“Was I supposed to come look for you on the car? Why are you even out here?”

“I’m having a creative block,” Greenmantle said.

“About what?”

He rolled over to face her. She stood beside the car, wearing a dress that looked like it would take a wearying number of steps to remove. She was also holding a small animal with a jeweled collar. It had no hair apart from a long, silky tuft that grew from its head, the precise same shade of blond that Piper sported.

“What is that?” Greenmantle asked. He deeply suspected it was the physical manifestation of his bad mood.


He sat up. The rental car sighed noisily. “Is it a cat? A rodent? What species, pray?”

“Otho is a Chinese crested.”

“Chinese crested what?”

“Don’t be a dick.”

Because Greenmantle had humans to pant and follow him around with mindless fidelity, he had never felt the urge to get a dog, but when he was younger, he had sometimes imagined acquiring a canine with a fringey tail and legs. The kind that picked up ducks, whatever kind that was. Otho looked as if ducks might pick him up instead. “Is it going to get bigger? Or grow hair? Where did it come from?”

“I ordered it.”

“From the Internet?”

Piper rolled her eyes at his innocence. “Why is it you’re having a creative block again?”

“I need to find Mr. Gray’s psychic girlfriend, but it turns out no one knows where she is. She disappeared right when he screwed me over.” Greenmantle slid off the car. Carefully. He was stiff from his aerial burial. “How am I supposed to destroy what he needs when it’s already gone? They reported her missing and everything. I stole the report and it said that apparently she told her family she was ‘underground.’ ”

He had not stolen the report. He had paid someone to steal the report. But the story sounded better with him as the hero.

Piper said, “Underground? Psychic? That is relevant to my interests.”


“While you were out frittering, I did things,” she said. “Follow me.”

She led him through the garage and through a door that he had been unaware existed and up into the house itself. The stairs emerged in the hallway by the bedroom. She asked, “Didn’t you read any of Mr. Gray’s reports?”

He stared at her to indicate that he didn’t understand the question.

She said, slowly, as if he was an idiot, “When he was here looking for this stupid thing for you. Did you read what he wrote back to you? About tracking it?”

“Oh, those. Of course not.”

“Then why did you ask him to send them? There were a million.”

“I just wanted him to feel busy and watched. There’s nothing like paperwork to make a man feel oppressed. Why?”

Piper opened a closet door to reveal a collection of parcels branded with shipping labels bearing her name. Presumably Otho had arrived in one of them. “I read them in the bath. Then I read those other reports from the other barely literate thugs you hired. And then I read the news.”

Greenmantle didn’t care for the concept of her reading the Gray Man’s letters while naked. He opened one box and peered inside. “What are these?”

“Knee pads,” she said, and put them on to demonstrate. She was obnoxiously pleased with herself. “That horrible man talked about these underground psychic energy lines here that were interfering with his search because they were so strong. I thought, stronger is better. I thought, I would like to see whatever this is that is so strong because I am bored out of my mind. And how hard can they be to find? So I ordered these things.”

“Knee pads?”

“I’m not interested in cracking a patella while wandering around underground. Doesn’t it seem to you, Colin, like the Gray Man’s crazy psychic bimbo might be in the same place as these crazy psychic lines? Lucky for you, I bought some knee pads for you, too.”

He was so impressed with her ingenuity. He should not have been, really, because Piper was a very ingenious creature. It was just that she didn’t normally use her powers for good, and when she did, they usually weren’t pointed at him. It was just, he hadn’t thought she really liked him.

Because she was so saucily pleased with herself, he didn’t have the heart to tell her that he would have rather paid someone else to go underground to look for the Gray Man’s girlfriend. And the dress, it turned out, had a hidden zipper, and came off very easily. Piper left the knee pads on.

Afterward, Greenmantle realized he had forgotten the dog was there, which seemed vaguely distasteful.

“So you’re going to be a spelunker,” he said.

“I don’t know what that means.”

“Cavewoman. In the most basic linguistic sense, you’re going to be a cavewoman.”

“Whatever. You’re coming with me.”


Blue was not so much a terrible driver as a terrified one. Because she had not, as Jesse Dittley pointed out, eaten her greens, she had to adjust the seat as close to the pedals as possible. She clutched the steering wheel with the grace of a performing bear. Everything on the dash shouted for her attention. Lights? Speed! Air on face? Air on feet! Fuel-oil-engine! Strange bacon symbol?

She drove very slowly.

The worst part of her terror was how angry it made her. There was nothing about the process of driving that seemed confusing or unfair to her. She’d aced her driver’s test. She knew what everything apart from the bacon symbol did. Road signs never perplexed; right of way was logical. She was a champion yielder. Give her forty minutes and she could parallel park the Fox Way Ford in any place you liked.

But she could never forget that she was a tiny pilot in a several-thousand-pound weapon.

“It’s just because you haven’t practiced enough,” Noah said generously, but he was gripping the door handle in a way that seemed redundant for the already dead.

Of course she hadn’t practiced enough. There was only one car at 300 Fox Way, and so it was in high demand. Blue could bike to school, work, and Monmouth Manufacturing, so the car generally fell to people who worked outside of the house or were running errands. At her current rate of practice-acquisition, Blue imagined she would be comfortable behind the wheel of a car sometime in her forties.

This afternoon, however, she’d managed to stake a claim on the car for a few hours. Noah was her only companion on this field trip: Gansey had some raven boy activity, Adam was working or sleeping off work, and Ronan had vanished into the ether as per usual.

They were headed to Jesse Dittley’s.

“We are going so slow,” Noah said, craning his neck to observe the inevitable queue behind them. “I think I just saw a tricycle pass us.”


After a protracted journey, Blue pulled into Jesse Dittley’s rutted driveway. The farm looked less mystical in the sun, less gloomy and cursed, and more grubby and rusted. Engaging the parking brake (“We’re not even on a hill!” protested Noah), she got out, and headed onto the porch. She pounded on the door.

It took a few attempts before he opened it. When he did, she was shocked by the height of him again. He was wearing another white tank top, or perhaps it was the same one. Their height difference made it difficult to discern his expression.

“OH, YOU.”

“Yep,” Blue reported. “Here is my bargain: You let us explore your cave, and I’ll clean up your yard. I have good credentials.”

He leaned and she stretched and he accepted the business cards she’d made and cut herself to convince old ladies in her neighborhood to pay her for putting in bedding plants. While he read it, she studied his face and his body, searching for signs of underlying illness, some preexisting condition that might strike him down later. Something besides a cursed cave. She saw nothing but height, and more height.


“Every yard can use some flowers,” Blue replied.

“DAMN STRAIGHT.” He shut the door in her face.

Noah, who had been standing unobserved beside her, said, “Is that what you meant to happen?”

It wasn’t, but before she had a chance to formulate her next plan, he re-opened the door, but this time he was wearing some camouflage-printed rubber boots. He stepped out onto the porch.




“I’m super fast.”

He stepped off the stairs and surveyed the yard. It was hard to tell if he was analyzing if Blue could accomplish it in an afternoon or contemplating if he would miss the ruin once it was gone.


Blue followed his gaze to a rusted brown truck that she’d mistaken for yet more junk.

“Great,” she said, and meant it. It would save her time if she didn’t have to slowly drive the car to the dump four times. “So, it’s a deal?”


She gave him a thumbs-up. “Okay, then. I’m going to get to work. Time’s wasting.”

Jesse sort of seemed to look at Noah, but then his eyes slid off and back to Blue. He opened his mouth, and for a moment, she thought he had seen Noah and was going to say something about him, but in the end, he just said, “I’M PUTTING WATER ON THE PORCH FOR YOU. MIND THE DOGS DON’T DRINK IT.”

There were no dogs in evidence, but it was possible they were hiding behind one of the discarded sofas in the yard. In any case, she was touched by the gesture.

“Thanks,” she said. “That’s kind of you.”

This gratitude apparently gave Jesse the confidence he needed to say what he’d been thinking before. Scratching his chest, he squinted at her in her shredded T-shirt and bleached jeans and combat boots.


“It’s forced perspective. It’s because you ate your greens. I’m larger than I look to you. Do you have a chain saw?”


“No. Sofas.”

While he went looking for a chain saw within his house, Blue pulled on her gloves and got to work. She did the easy bits first, picking up bits of scrap metal the size of puppies and cracked plastic buckets with weeds growing through them. Then she dragged timbers with nails jutting from them and broken sinks with rainwater film in their basins. When Jesse Dittley appeared with a chain saw, she produced oversized rose-tinted sunglasses from the car to serve as eye protection and began to hack the larger things in the yard into more manageable pieces.

“MIND SNAKES,” Jesse Dittley warned from the porch as she paused to catch her breath. Blue didn’t understand what he meant until he gestured toward the weeds around the porch with an ominous shake of his hand.

“I get along with snakes,” Blue said. Most animals weren’t dangerous if you knew how to give them safety margins. She dragged the back of her hand over her sweaty forehead and accepted the glass of water he gave her. “You don’t have to babysit me, you know. I can manage this.”


She tipped her head back to look at him. “How do you reckon?”


Blue was flattered, but she said sternly, “All ants can carry ten times their own weight, can’t they? Normal ants?”


“Are you trying to say I’m a better sort of ant?”

Jesse Dittley blustered. “DRINK YOUR WATER.”

He retreated indoors. With a grin, Blue got back to work. Noah mucked about in the trunk of the car; she’d put a few bags of mulch and some bedding plants in there, and some more in the backseat. He pulled a bag of mulch out halfway, tore it, and exploded wood chips across the driveway.


“Noah,” Blue said.

“I know.” He began to painstakingly pick up each sliver of mulch as she continued tidying the junk.

It was hard work, but satisfying, a little like vacuuming. It was nice to be able to see the effect right away. Blue was good at sweating and ignoring singeing muscles.

As the sun lowered, the yard darkened, and the sparse trees seemed closer. She couldn’t help but feel watched in their presence. Most of this, she knew, was because of Cabeswater. She would never forget the sound of a tree speaking, or that day when she’d discovered that intelligent, alien creatures completely surrounded her. These trees were probably just ordinary trees.

Only she wasn’t sure anymore if there was such a thing as an ordinary tree. Perhaps in Cabeswater they were able to be heard because of the ley line. Perhaps out here, trees were robbed of their voices.

But I am a battery, she thought. She considered how she’d pulled the plug on Noah before. She wondered if it was possible to do it the other way.

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