The Wicked Will Rise Page 47

“Well,” he said, “we should probably find Polychrome, right? If that’s what Mombi Dearest says.”

“Yeah,” I sighed. “I guess so. Ozma should be leading us, but ever since we got in that boat, it’s like her radar’s been jammed. Something about this place is messing with her, I guess.”

“Or maybe she wasn’t bringing you to Polychrome at all,” he said. “Maybe she’s not as suggestible as Mombi thinks.”

We sat there for a minute quietly. When I looked at him, I realized he was looking at me in this intense, serious way.

“What?” I asked.

Instead of answering me, he touched my cheek softly.

“We can change things,” he said. “Forget Mombi, forget Glamora, forget the Order. We don’t need to do it for anyone else. Let’s just do it for us.”

I didn’t quite understand what he meant, and then I did. He meant that we had both been through some terrible shit, but that the credits weren’t rolling yet. There was still time for us to write ourselves a happy ending.

He leaned toward me, and I leaned in to meet him halfway.

This kiss was different than the first one. It was slower, and longer, and still awkward, but in a different way. It was a kiss that felt right.

If I hadn’t felt a persistent tugging at my sleeve, we probably could have kept going for another hour. But the tugging didn’t stop, and I broke away to see what was up. It was Ozma.

“Come on,” I groaned.

She was pointing to the line of trees, drawing my attention to a rustling in the leaves as another figure stepped into view.

“I thought you said there was no one else here,” I said to Nox.

“There wasn’t. Must be a new arrival. You ready?”

“I guess,” I said. “When am I not?”

Ready or not wasn’t the point. I was always ready. But now, this time, and especially after a kiss like that, I was nervous. I had finally been reunited with Nox, and I didn’t think I could handle losing him again.

Luckily, the stranger looked friendly as he shambled toward us. Or, if not exactly friendly, then at least like he wouldn’t be much of a threat unless you ran into his elbow in a mosh pit.

“Hey,” he shouted, looking utterly unconcerned when he spotted us. “You guys come here often?”

He was wiry but muscular at the same time, and was wearing a pair of faded black skinny jeans with a loose, tunic-like tank top that revealed his rail-thin physique.

The best way to describe him was pretty. He wasn’t just cute, or handsome, or sexy, although if you thought about it, he was all of those things, too. Mostly, though, he was just pretty, with sharp, high cheekbones, pale, deep-set eyes, and a halo of perfectly unkempt white-blond ringlets framing a chiseled, angular face. He had pillowy, apple-red lips that made me think of one of Madison Pendleton’s prized Madame Alexander dolls. Like the dolls, this guy looked like he belonged in a glass case.

“Well, well, well,” he said when he’d had the chance to really check us out. “I see you’ve got a princess on your hands.” He bowed toward Ozma. I was a little surprised he knew her, but then again, she was the rightful whatever. “Who are you guys? Is this, like, some kind of diplomatic mission?”

“Who wants to know?” Nox asked, eyeing the guy with suspicion.

“Uh . . . I do. That’s why I asked, you know?”

“I’ve been here for weeks,” Nox said. “The whole island’s been totally empty. Wanna tell us how you got here?”

If the guy noticed how hostile Nox was being, he didn’t much care. “Same as you, I figure,” he said affably. “I got lost. But I’m always lost, pretty much. Actually I kind of like being lost. When you’re lost, you don’t have to be responsible for anything. I’m Bright, by the way.”

“I’m Amy,” I said.

“Nice to meet you, Amy,” Bright said. He turned to Nox, who looked him over with one eyebrow frozen in a skeptical arch.

The two of them eyed each other carefully, sizing each other up in that way that guys do. I could have told them to just skip it. So they weren’t going to get along. Fine. Why waste time making it official?

“Is Bright your real name?” I asked, just trying to move on. Totally dumb question—I was just trying to break the tension.

“I don’t think so,” Bright said. “But who can remember?” He sighed. “My parents always said I was bright as a button. I can’t ask them, though. They’re dead. Dorothy, you know. Whatever.” He swatted a careless hand at the air. I couldn’t tell if he was sad, bored, or just really, really spacey. If he was the kind of guy who got lost on the regular and couldn’t remember what his real name was, it was probably the latter.

His eyes lit up as he spotted something on the ground.

“Ah! Here it is. Been looking all over for this. Knew it had to be around here somewhere.”

Bright knelt to the ground and plucked up a cigarette case made from some kind of metal that I couldn’t identify. In the few seconds it took him to pick it up, flip it open, and pull out a cigarette, the case must have changed colors at least six times in the light.

He shoved it into his pocket and lit up with a heavy silver lighter, inhaling deeply before letting out a thick puff of smoke that I waved away without thinking about it.

I wasn’t actually trying to be rude. It was just a habit from the long, ongoing battle I’d had with my mother about smoking in our tiny trailer without bothering to crack a window.

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