“Are you sure you’re okay?” Grace asks me for the millionth time.
I’m propped up in dad’s recliner, trying to get comfortable. I’ll be here for a couple days, confined to this chair. I grimace at the pain in my abdomen.
“I’m fine,” I huff. “I’m just sore, and annoyed. People are coming to kill me and I can’t leave this fucking chair. I really need to be looking for mom’s book. There’s got to be something in it that can help us decide what to do.”
“I’m sorry,” she says sheepishly. All she’s been doing recently is apologizing to me. “I can go to the attic and look for the book. Maybe she’s stashed it up there. If dad has never found it, then it has to be hidden really well.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” I sigh. “And I’m not sure we have very much time before the next murderous witch shows up at our door.”
“Well, I’ve just placed some larger wards,” Gabe assures us as he walks through the front door. “They’ll last longer, and they’re a fraction stronger. If they don’t already know where you are, they won’t be able to find you.”
He walks over to me and places a kiss gently to the top of my head.
“I’ll be in the attic,” Grace announces and runs up the stairs in the blink of an eye.
“What’s in the attic?” Gabe asks, sitting on the arm of the chair.
“Hopefully my mom’s spellbook.”
He nods thoughtfully, but doesn’t comment on Grace’s search.
“I’m glad you’re okay,” he whispers into my hair, his arms winding carefully around me. It feels nice, and something tugs at my heart at the pain evident in his voice.
“Me too,” I tell him softly.
“I was so worried about you. And all of us were so stupid and got ourselves kicked out. It was hell not being able to see you.”
“I missed you, too,” I say with a small, uneasy smile.
Being back at home has not clarified my feelings for Gabe in the slightest. Neither has August returning to Australia. I don’t want to admit it, but I’m miserable with him gone... but I’m comforted with Gabe by my side. It makes absolutely no sense. To top it all off, Grace seems unaffected by Auggie’s absence. She talks about missing him, but something about it seems... fake, almost? Like she’s doing her best to put up a good front. Unconvincingly. Of course, maybe she’s just mad at him.
I mean, he did sort of just take off.
Emma informed me that he hadn’t told anyone of his travel plans, he simply just hopped on a plane and headed home. He’d called Grace after the fact and told her where he was. I’m not even sure if they’ve been in contact.
It still seems rather odd to be.
“You know that I’ll do anything to protect you, right?” He asks gently. “You know that you don’t have to worry?”
“I’d feel better if August were here,” I say, noticing a moment too late that I’ve said it aloud. Seeing his hurt expression, I quickly backtrack. “It just felt safer knowing I had so many people looking out for me.”
He narrows his eyes suspiciously, but squeezes my hand reassuringly. “You have me and Max, and obviously Grace and Emma. We’d do anything for you. And August...” he sighs. “I don’t know what August is doing. Grace says that he’s just tying up some loose ends, but I don’t know. It just seems odd.”
I just shrug, trying to seem uninterested. However, Gabe seems to read my mind.
“Loose ends mostly meaning subletting his apartment, and figuring out what to do with his dog. Apparently the dog actually belongs to his neighbor or something, and he kind of just strays and goes on trips across the globe with people. I don’t know. Seems fishy, but I can’t think of what else he’d be doing.”
I laugh aloud at the idea of a dog so personable that he just tags along with people on international trips. Gabe laughs with me.
“The dog is actually a lot like August. So friendly that you just can’t resist being his friend...” he trails off sadly and then looks at me with a very serious expression. “Holly, I can understand why you felt drawn to August. He has that personality, so I don’t blame you, but you are with me right? I’m not still sharing you with him, am I? He and Grace are happy now, and that’s what was supposed to happen.”
I swallow hard and nod at him. “I’m with you,” I assure him.
I can’t help wondering if I am, though. Am I completely with him? Do I still believe that I’m meant to be with his older brother?
I tilt my head up and press my lips softly against his, desperate for confirmation that Gabe is the one. He kisses me back eagerly, a smile on his lips.
Someone clears their throat and we pull apart.
“Don’t let us interrupt,” Emma says sarcastically, Max next to her with his arm slung around her shoulders.
I feel a pang of jealousy at how easy it is for them. They never had to wonder if they were meant for each other. Emma resisted for all of two days before the magic binding them together caused her to cave to his advances.
What must that be like? To just look at Gabe and know? How do I get that?
“It’s not like I can really go anywhere else,” I retort.
She smiles at me. “I’m glad you’re home. It was weird being here without you and mom.”
“I’m glad I’m home, too. Hopefully I can be done with hospitals for a very long time.”
“I found it!” Grace yells, running down the stairs, taking them two at a time. She’s carrying a thick leather book in her hands. She plops it down on the coffee table with a thud, dust flying up around it. “The Devereaux Book of Spells and Family History.”
“How do you know that’s what it is?” Emma asks, peeking at it nervously. “The title isn’t even in English.”
“It’s not?” Grace asks, running her fingers over the cover. “It looks like English to me.”
“Definitely not English,” Max quips. “The book must be yours.”
“What?” Grace asks, confused.
“You’re the keeper of the book,” Gabe explains. “A family book always chooses someone that it belongs to. They’re very fickle things.”
I’m not sure how to feel about this information. He’s referring to the book as if it’s alive.
“Weird,” Grace says slowly, opening the book curiously. We’re all quiet as she examines it. “This is amazing... am I the only one who can read it?”
“Not always,” Max says. “It just depends on what it is that’s being read. Some things are just meant for you, oh wise one,” he teases.
Grace rolls her eyes at him and Emma giggles.
She looks at me now. “I’ll start reading this now. Maybe there’s something in it that can help us.”
“Don’t get your hopes up,” Gabe warns. “Ideally we’ll find what we need, but there may not be the answer to our problems in there.”
We both nod solemnly.
Grace’s phone goes off and she looks at it as Max and Emma head upstairs.
“Hey!” I croak, feeling a surge of parental panic. “Your door stays open!”
Emma laughs. “Yes, mom.”
Gabe chuckles and pulls his fingers through my hair.
“Change of plans,” Grace sighs. “I’ve got to go to the airport.”
“What for?” Gabe asks, tensing.
“August is home.”