Alison Hendrix had bigger problems than Sarah’s dreams. For starters, her new home. These days, she lived in a tiny room in her father’s apartment. The entire place had that smell of very old houses – plaster must and timber dust and forgotten flowers. Charlie Hendrix had provided the furnishings: an IKEA bedframe and mattress, a wardrobe from a garage sale, a pastel rug for the floor and matching pink curtains – Alison’s favourite part of the room. It was far humbler than her houseproud mother’s tidy suburban setup, but Alison woke up each morning free of sly insults and impressively backhanded compliments, and every day she spent away from her mother’s roof loosened the pinched muscles in her neck.
Her biggest worry now was whether her father could get custody of Oscar and Gemma. Alison missed, more than anything, the sound of their raucous voices in the house, and the responsibility of directing them from one activity to another, finding their drawings scattered where they weren’t supposed to be and pretending that her heart was in it when she scolded them for it.
And then there were the three part-time jobs that paid her Aglionby tuition. She crammed in the work hours now to afford a more leisurely fall when school started. She’d spent just two hours at the easiest of the jobs — her mother’s soap shop — and now, even though she was off, she was ruined for anything else.
Sticky and sore and, above all else, tired, always tired. Moving out had freed Alison of many hours in her mother’s company, but it had made her shifts at Bubbles more unbearable than ever. Once again Alison wished dearly for an end to the compromises she was forced to make.
The bathroom at Monmouth Incorporated was cold. Rachel was glad of the hot water running over her. From inside the shower, Rachel caught a half-image of herself in the mirror and startled. For a moment something about her own reflection had seemed wrong. Her wide eyes and pointed face stared back at her, troubled but not unusual.
And just like that, she was thinking of Cabeswater again. Some days she felt she didn’t think of anything else. She hadn’t owned many things in her life that she had gotten for herself, properly, without being given them, but now she did: this bargain. It had been a little over a month since she’d offered her sacrifice to Cabeswater in order to wake the ley line. The entire ritual felt swimmy and surreal in her mind, like she’d been watching herself perform it on a television screen. Rachel had gone fully prepared to make a sacrifice. But she wasn’t quite sure how the specific one she’d eventually made had come to her: I will be your hands. I will be your eyes.
So far, nothing had happened, not really. Which was almost worse. She was a patient with a diagnosis she couldn’t understand.
In the shower, Rachel scratched a thumbnail across her summer-browned skin. The line of her nail went from white to angry red in a moment, and as she studied it, it struck her that there was something odd about the flow of the water across her skin. As if it was in slow-motion. She followed the stream of water up to the showerhead and spent a full minute watching it sputter from the metal. Her thoughts were a confusion of translucent drops clinging to metal and rain trembling off green leaves.
There was nothing odd about the water. There were no leaves. She needed to get more sleep.
Some nights Rachel lured herself to sleep by imagining how she would word the favour for Glendower. She needed to get the words exactly right. Now she rolled the phrases around her mouth, desperately reaching for one that would comfort her. Ordinarily, words would tumble and lull through her mind, but this time, all she could think was Fix me.
Suddenly, she caught another image.
Right after she did, she thought, What does that mean? One couldn’t catch an image. And she certainly hadn’t done it more than once. But the sensation lingered, an idea that she had glimpsed, or felt, or remembered some movement at the corner of her eye. A snapshot captured just behind her eyes.
She had a strange, disconcerting feeling that she couldn’t trust her senses. Like she was tasting an image or smelling a feeling or touching a sound. It was the same as a few moments before, the idea that she’d glimpsed a slightly wrong reflection of herself.
Rachel climbed out of the shower. She dried and dressed herself quickly, hands shaking.
Then she caught another image.