My Soul to Keep Page 59

“I need to sit,” I suggested, irritated when the hand I wrapped around his arm went right through his flesh this time. “Cafeteria?” I whispered, shoving my hands into my pockets.

Tod huffed, already heading down the hall. “The coffee tastes like swamp water tonight, but sure.” He led me down the long hallway and around two corners, then through the double doors into an outdated but functional cafeteria dotted with old square tables and cheap ’70s-style, vinyl-covered chairs. “You know, you’re lucky you caught me here. My shift ended at midnight, and if I weren’t filling in for a friend, you’d be out of luck.”

Yeah, right. I passed by the stack of trays and pulled a bottle of Coke from a refrigerated shelf. After his shift, Tod would have had nothing to do but hang around and spy on either me or Nash. He was almost always around, whether we needed—or wanted—him or not. At least, he had been until Addison died.

But all I said, as I dug a five from my pocket to pay for my soda, was, “You have a friend?”

Tod scowled. “Well, I wouldn’t call him a friend according to the traditional definition, but in the sense that he imposes on me constantly and isn’t afraid to point out my flaws, I’d say he qualifies.”

“Sounds more like a cousin.” I picked the table farthest from the food line and sank into a chair against the wall. Tod sat on my left, where he could see the rest of the room.

“Okay, spit it out.” His chair squealed against the floor as he scooted toward the table, and I realized that he was now fully corporeal and visible to everyone in the room—and probably had been since we’d come through the doors.

“What’s Nash caught up in?” His brows were low and his voice was deep, but he didn’t sound surprised. He’d known something was wrong. Maybe he’d known longer than I had.

“Demon’s Breath,” I whispered, to keep from being overheard. “He’s been hooked for about a month, but last week a couple of his teammates got mixed up in it without knowing what they were taking. Doug found Nash’s red balloon and now he’s dead, and Scott’s strapped to a bed in the mental health unit. Did you already know about that? And now Nash is stuck in the Netherworld, and it may be a setup, but even if it is, we have to get him out!”

“Whoa, take a breath!” Tod reached for my hand across the table, physically unclenching my fingers so he could squeeze them, and I was surprised by his warmth. Weren’t dead guys supposed to be cold to the touch? Or was that only in the movies? “Nash is taking Demon’s Breath?”

“Yeah, but it gets a lot worse than that.”

“So I gathered.” His gaze strayed to the bandage forming a lump beneath my sleeve. “But none of the rest of that made any sense.”

“I know.” I wiped unshed tears from my eyes with the back of my free hand, and lowered my voice when I noticed the custodian staring at me. “It’s all messed up, and Alec says we only have one chance to get Nash back, but I’m not going to cross over until I know for sure that Nash is there.”

Tod’s eyes widened, thick blond boy-lashes nearly touching his eyebrows. “Okay, I need you to slow down and start over.” He leaned back in his chair and brushed a stray, pale ringlet from his forehead. I nodded, and he forced a smile. “First of all, what does Nash have to do with the Fuller kid’s unscheduled reaping?”

I took a deep breath and forced my throat to relax, though it felt hot and sore from holding back tears. “Demon’s Breath—the dealer calls it frost—is sold in black party balloons. Except for Nash’s. His are red.” I clenched my hands together on the cracked, faded tabletop and looked into Tod’s bright blue eyes, somehow undulled by death. “Doug found Nash’s balloon and took a hit, but Nash’s concentration is too strong for humans. Or something like that. Then Doug started convulsing, and I started screaming, so Nash put me and Emma in my car—though, actually, it’s a rental—and told us to go. He was supposed to call us with an update, but he never did. Then this guy named Alec possessed Emma and said his boss has Nash in the Netherworld, and that if I want him back, I have to help him cross back into our world.”

“Wait…” Tod held both hands out to slow me down. “You have to help who cross over? Nash or Alec?”

“Alec. Well, both of them, really. But Alec won’t help me find Nash unless I promise to bring him back with us.”

“Who’s Alec?”

“I have no idea.” I shrugged helplessly. “He just…showed up tonight, talking through Emma’s mouth. He says he’s human, but he lives in the Netherworld. But humans don’t live in the Netherworld. They can’t, right? It doesn’t make any sense.”

Tod sighed. “It might, if you weren’t saying it so fast.”

“Sorry. But I have to be back in half an hour.” My mouth was so dry I could barely talk, so I opened my soda and drained half of it. I’d definitely need the caffeine, since I obviously wasn’t going to get any sleep for the third night in a row. “Alec says he’s a proxy for Avari, who’s holding Nash in the Netherworld. Have you ever heard of a proxy?”

Tod nodded slowly. Bleakly. “They’re like assistants you can snack on. If you’re a hellion. But they’re rare, because humans don’t hold up very well in the Netherworld, and eventually they’ll wear out. It sounds like this hellion is looking to upgrade. With Nash.”

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