My mom sighs and goes back to chopping. “Is she a nice girl?”
As usual, she’s fixating on the wrong part of the news.
“I don’t like the idea of you using these girls all the time.”
I laugh and jump up on the countertop to sit beside her. I steal a strawberry. “You make it sound so dirty.”
“Using for a noble purpose is still using.”
“I’ve never broken any hearts, Mom.”
She clucks her tongue. “You’ve never been in love, either, Cas.”
A conversation about love with my mother is worse than the talk that involves birds and bees, so I mumble something around my sandwich and duck out of the kitchen. I don’t appreciate the implication that I’m going to hurt someone. Doesn’t she think I’m careful? Doesn’t she know the trouble I go to in order to keep people at arm’s length?
I chew harder and try not to get myself worked up. She’s just being a mom, after all. Still, all these years of me not bringing friends home should give her a clue.
But now’s not the time to be thinking of this. These are complications I don’t need. It’ll happen, sometime, I’m sure. Or maybe not. Because no one should get caught up in this, and I can’t imagine ever being finished. There will always be more dead, and the dead will always kill.
* * *
Carmel picks me up a little after nine. She looks great, in some kind of strappy pink top and a short khaki skirt. Her blond hair hangs loose between her shoulders. I should smile. I should say something nice, but I find myself holding back. My mother’s words are interfering with my job.
Carmel drives a silver Audi that’s a couple of years old, and it hugs the curves as we flash past strange street signs that look like Charlie Brown’s t-shirt, and others proclaiming that apparently a moose is going to attack the car. It’s getting close to dusk and the light is turning orange; the humidity in the air is breaking and the wind is strong as a hand against my face. I want to hang my entire head out of the window like a dog. As we leave the city behind my ears prick backward, listening for her—for Anna—wondering if she can feel me moving away.
I can feel her there, mingled into the mud of a hundred other ghosts, some shuffling and harmless, others full of rage. I can’t imagine what it is to be dead; it’s a strange idea to me, having known so many ghosts. It’s still a mystery. I don’t quite understand why some people stay and others don’t. I wonder where those who leave have gone. I wonder if the ones that I kill go to the same place.
Carmel’s asking me about my classes and about my old school. I flop out some vague answers. The scenery has become instantly rural, and we pass through a town where half of the buildings are molded out and falling down. There are vehicles parked in yards, caked with years of rust. It reminds me of places that I’ve been before and it occurs to me that I’ve been through too many places; that there might be nothing new anymore.
“You drink, right?” Carmel asks me.
“Yeah, sure.” I don’t, not really. I’ve never had the opportunity to get into the habit.
“Cool. There’s always bottles, but somebody usually manages to get a keg set up in the back of their truck.” She hits her turn signal and pulls off the road into a park. I can hear the ominous rush of the falls from somewhere behind the trees. The drive went fast; I didn’t pay attention to much of it. I was too busy thinking about the dead, and about one dead girl in particular, wearing a beautiful dress, stained red with her own blood.
* * *
The party goes as parties go. I’m introduced to a multitude of faces that I’ll try to connect to names later and fail. The girls are all giggly and eager to impress the others in attendance. The guys have grouped together and left the majority of their cerebrums in their cars. I’ve made it through two beers; this third one I’ve been holding for the better part of an hour. It’s pretty boring.
The Edge of the World doesn’t feel like the edge of anything, unless you take it literally. We’re all gathered along the sides of the falls, strings of people standing witness to the passing of brown water over black rocks. There isn’t really that much water to speak of. I heard someone say that it was a dry summer. Still, the gorge that the water has cut over time is awesome, a sheer drop on both sides, and in the center of the falls there is a towering rock formation that I would like to climb, if only I had better shoes.
I want to get Carmel alone, but since we got here, Mike Andover has been interrupting her at every opportunity and trying to stare me down so forcefully that it’s like being hypnotized. And every time we get him to go away, Carmel’s friends Natalie and Katie appear, looking at me expectantly. I’m not even sure which is which—they’re both brunettes and they have extremely similar features, right down to matching hair clip things. I feel myself smiling a lot, and I have this odd urge to be witty and clever. The pressure is pulsing at my temples. Every time I say something they giggle, look at each other for permission to laugh, and look back at me again, waiting for my next zinger. God, living people are irritating.