“My god, she’s awful,” Carmel whispers, burying her head in my shoulder. I squeeze her softly for a moment before pulling free and walking back up the porch steps.
“Cas! Get away from there,” Carmel shouts. I know what she thinks she saw, but what I saw was Anna trying to stop. When my foot hits the porch, Anna’s face appears at the window, her teeth bared and veins standing out against white skin. She slams her hand against the glass, making it rattle. There is dark water standing in her eyes.
“Anna,” I whisper. I go to the window, but before I can put my hand up she floats away and turns, glides up the stairs, and disappears.
Carmel won’t stop chattering at me as we stomp quickly down the gravel of Anna’s unkempt driveway. She’s asking a million questions that I’m not paying attention to. All I can think is that Anna is a murderer. Yet Anna is not evil. Anna kills, but Anna doesn’t want to kill. She’s not like any other ghost I’ve faced. Sure, I’ve heard of sentient ghosts, those who seem to know that they’re dead. According to Gideon they’re strong, but rarely hostile. I don’t know what to do. Carmel grabs me by the elbow and I spin around.
“What?” I snap.
“Do you want to tell me exactly what you were doing in there?”
“Not really.” I must’ve slept longer than I thought I did—either that or I was talking to Anna longer than I thought I was, because buttery shafts of light are breaking through the low clouds in the east. The sun is gentle but feels harsh to my eyes. Something occurs to me and I blink at Carmel, realizing for the first time that she’s really here.
“You followed me,” I say. “What’re you doing here?”
She shifts her weight around awkwardly. “I couldn’t sleep. And I wanted to see if it was true, so I went over to your house and saw you leaving.”
“You wanted to see if what was true?”
She looks at me from under her lashes, like she wants me to figure it out for myself so she doesn’t have to say it out loud, but I hate that game. After a few long seconds of my annoyed silence, she breaks.
“I talked to Thomas. He says you…” She shakes her head like she feels stupid for believing it. I’m mostly feeling stupid for trusting Thomas. “He says you kill ghosts for a living. Like you’re a ghostbuster or something.”
“I’m not a ghostbuster.”
“Then what were you doing in there?”
“I was talking to Anna.”
“Talking to her? She killed Mike! She could’ve killed you!”
“No she couldn’t.” I glance up at the house. I feel strange, talking about her so close to her home. It doesn’t feel right.
“What were you talking to her about?” Carmel asks.
“Are you always so nosy?”
“What, like it was personal?” she snorts.
“Maybe it was,” I reply. I want to get out of here. I want to drop my mom’s car off and have Carmel take me to wake up Thomas. I think I’ll rip the mattress right out from under him. It’ll be fun to watch him bounce groggily on his box springs. “Listen, let’s just get away from here, okay? Follow me back to my place and we can take your car to Thomas’s. I’ll explain everything, I promise,” I add when she looks skeptical.
“Okay,” she says.
“Don’t ever call me a ghostbuster again, all right?” She smiles, and I smile back. “Just so we’re clear.”
She brushes past me to get into her car, but I grab her by the arm.
“You haven’t mentioned Thomas’s little blurt to anyone else, have you?”
She shakes her head.
“Not even Natalie or Katie?”
“I told Nat that I was meeting you so she’d cover for me if my parents called her. I told them I was staying at her place.”
“What did you tell her we were meeting for?” I ask. She gives me this resentful look. I suppose that Carmel Jones only meets boys secretly at night for romantic reasons. I run my hand roughly through my hair.
“So, what, I’m supposed to make something up at school? Like we made out?” I think I’m blinking too much. And my shoulders are stooped so I feel about half a foot shorter than she is. She stares at me, bemused.
“You’re not very good at this, are you?”
“Haven’t had a whole lot of practice, Carmel.”
She laughs. Damn, she really is pretty. No wonder Thomas spilled all my secrets. One bat of her eyelashes probably knocked him over.