The Wicked Will Rise Page 37

“Do you think Glinda was right?” Pete asked. “That the Order wants to restore Ozma to her real self? I can see why they would, I guess. She’s the queen; putting her back in power is a step toward getting rid of Dorothy. But what happens to me when Ozma gets better? Does that mean I’ll be trapped in there for good, like I was before Dorothy came back? What if, this time, I just stop existing?”

“No!” I blurted. “It’s Glinda, remember? You can’t trust a word she says. She’s just trying to get in your head. She wants you to go running to her so she can send you straight back to Dorothy.”

“I guess,” he said, but he sounded doubtful. “But how do you know for sure?”

“Because she lies,” I said. “That’s what she does.”

As I said it, I found myself wondering if I was really being honest. With Pete, with myself. I mean, yeah, I knew I was right about Glinda—she was a nasty, manipulative piece of work, willing to play on any insecurity she could think of to worm her way in. On the other hand, that didn’t always mean she was lying, and until this moment, I hadn’t considered any of the questions Pete was asking. It was hard not to wonder if there was something to what he was saying.

“It will be fine,” I reassured him, trying not to feel guilty about it.

“You won’t let them do that, though, right? You’ll watch out for me?” Pete searched me as if he could sense every one of my doubts.

“Of course,” I said. I wanted to mean it.

“Look, I know Glinda’s a liar,” Pete said. “But part of what she said was true, you know. About what a waste it is, and how much it sucks. I’ve already missed out on so much. You have no idea how good you have it.”

“Oh, sure,” I said. “I’m really lucky. Just look at me, living the good life here.”

There was a slight, warm breeze, and it ruffled Pete’s hair. He gave me a wistful frown with a million responses wrapped in it. Among them: girl, please and you really have no clue.

“I never stop appreciating it,” he said, tilting his chin into the sun and closing his eyes to soak it in. “Just being able to stand outside like this and breathe the air. You should remember it, too. Think of all the things you’ve already gotten to do; all the things you’ll still get to do. Okay, so maybe things could be better. But you have this life that’s just sitting there, waiting for you to take it. It could be worse.”

I realized too late how selfish I must seem. “You’re right,” I said, standing up, too. “I’m sorry.” As I placed my own dish aside and watched it disappear like his, it occurred to me to wonder where it had disappeared to. Had it gone off into some magical dishwashing dimension to be cleaned or had it just ceased to exist? The more I learned about magic, the more questions I had about it, but for now, I put them out of my head. I took Pete’s hand.

We both just stood there, looking out at everything Oz had to offer. For all the evil that was part of this place, there was so much that was good about it, too. Despite everything, Oz was a place of light and magic, and we had found our way to the center of it.

I don’t know where the next thing came from. I guess it was just something about the wildflowers all around us in the meadow and the mountains off in the distance. The breeze, the sun, the unexpected, unreasonable feeling that everything was going to be okay. Maybe it was what Pete had said about appreciating everything you had in the moment that you had it, or maybe it was the fact that I had no idea where the future was going to lead. What was I waiting for anymore? Why had I ever waited for anything?

Okay, so maybe I was just wired from the first caffeine I’d had in months. Whatever it was, I was just kind of like, oh, screw it.

So I kissed him. Because why not?

Pete’s skin smelled like sandalwood and soap. His lips were soft. His eyes widened in surprise as he pulled away.

My cheeks began to flush. Crap. “I’m sorry,” I said, backing away in embarrassment.

“No, it’s fine,” he said. “It’s just . . .” Out of nowhere, he started laughing.

“I . . . I just thought,” I stuttered. “I mean, uh, I guess I just thought, you know . . . since you said you’d never . . .”

“Amy,” he said. He collapsed back into the grass and pushed his hair from his face with a manic and astonished grin, like he sort of couldn’t believe it. When he laughed again, I started to feel a little insulted. “Well, I don’t think it was that ridiculous,” I said.

He just laughed harder. “No, it’s not that. It would be totally nice to kiss someone. It would be nice to kiss you, if things were different. But I don’t want to kiss someone just to kiss them, you know? I’m probably not going to get too many chances, see? It’s like, when I do it, I want to make it count. I guess I just thought you knew.”

“Wait,” I said. “Knew what?”

“Listen. I get you. You’re trouble. If I were into girls, I’d be so into you. But I’m not. Even girls as awesome as you.”

“You mean . . .” I’m pretty sure gears were visibly turning in my head.

Pete shrugged. “I guess,” he said. “I mean, I don’t know, but basically.”

“Oh,” I said.

Okay, so I was kind of dumbstruck. The idea that Pete was gay just wasn’t something I’d ever considered as a possibility. “I don’t know why I thought you knew. I mean, it’s not like I told you or anything. There’s no reason you should have known.”

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