With the Bramley family grieving in separate corners of their home, Kitty sets out to find the psychic who read Nikki his fate. Instead she finds Roan, an enigmatic boy posing as a medium who belongs to the Life and Death Parade -- a group of supposed charlatans that explore, and exploit, the thin veil between this world and the next. A group whose members include the psychic . . . and Kitty's late mother.
Desperate to learn more about the group and their connection to Nikki, Kitty convinces Roan to return to the Bramley house with her and secures a position for him within the household. Roan quickly ingratiates himself with the Bramleys, and soon enough it seems like everyone is ready to move on. Kitty, however, increasingly suspects Roan knows more about Nikki than he's letting on. And when they finally locate the Life and Death Parade, and the psychic who made that fateful prophecy to Nikki, Kitty uncovers a secret about Roan that changes everything.
From rising star Eliza Wass comes a sophisticated, mesmerizing meditation on the depths of grief and the magic of faith. After all, it only works if you believe it.
|Publisher:||Little, Brown Books for Young Readers|
|Sold by:||Hachette Digital, Inc.|
|File size:||900 KB|
|Age Range:||14 - 17 Years|
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The Start of Summer party was a fairy-lit affair in the back garden of a historic estate. They had a pony ride for the kids, a lighted shooting range for the teens, and a bar for the adults — so they basically covered all the bases of good, old-fashioned country living. I hid at a table up the lawn away from everything, to stop people asking me to refill their glasses.
"Ah, here you are." Nikki and Macklin appeared, carrying drinks. Nikki set his cane down against the table and flipped a chair around, so he was sitting backward. I had a fundamental inability to understand people who flipped their chairs around, so I blinked at him for a while in confusion as he sipped his peach-colored drink. Macklin took the seat beside him.
"What have you been up to?" I said. "Have you found anyone to bear you a son?" Macklin tugged at his collar and gazed off into the party.
"It's just the usual suspects," Nikki said, stretching back in his chair. "Not that either of us is looking." I avoided Nikki's meaningful look. I hated when boys looked meaningfully at me — I could never figure out what they meant by it.
I scanned the party. Excessive abuse of fairy lights meant you couldn't see the actual stars. All the guests seemed to have been invited for their reluctance to question reality and the unshakable belief that heels could be worn on grass.
Nikki leaned over my shoulder. "Should we just leave?"
"We can't just leave," Macklin said.
"Why not?" Nikki had a hopelessly encouraging smile — curved at the ends so he looked like the Joker's angelic little brother.
"Because we're already here."
"Well, we don't have to stay here," Nikki said, reaching across the table to steal Macklin's drink.
"Dad will be angry if we leave." Macklin adjusted the sprig of white orchid in his coat pocket. His black hair fell over his eyes in a curtain. His style was very dandy-in-distress.
"Dad's always angry," Nikki said, finishing off Macklin's drink. "I think he rather enjoys it. What do you say, Kitty? I have a plan and everything. I'll nick one of the rifles and create a diversion, and you and Macklin can race away on a pony."
I grinned. "And you'll join us in three to five when they let you out of prison?"
"Better make it five to ten. I may need to create a diversion in prison."
I let my eyes drift through the crowd until they landed on Lord and Lady Bramley. I sighed. "It's nearly over. Anyway, I don't think you'd survive prison."
Nikki, sensing the shift in my mood, moved closer to distract me. "I actually came over here to tell you something rather exciting. Remember that party I went to last week? The one with the snakes?"
"The funeral." Macklin wrinkled his nose. "The one you said was actually a funeral."
"Well, she's here." Nikki sat back, like his words should have some great effect on us.
"Who's here?" Macklin said.
"The woman from the party. The psychic, didn't I tell you? She's a sort of legend. Apparently she's never been wrong. I've seen her boat parked up just over the hill" — he pointed — "along the canal. I really wanted to talk to her, at the party, but she wasn't doing readings that night."
"Why did you want to talk to her?" I said.
"To know my future. Obviously."
"In your case, darling, it's whatever you want it to be," I said. "I don't know if you're aware, but you were sort of born with everything."
"That's not true," he said, and this time I couldn't avoid catching his meaningful gaze, his backward chair creeping closer. I liked Nikki, but sometimes I felt mean about it. I felt like I shouldn't corroborate a world that gave people like him everything they wanted and people like me nothing more than the opportunity to be another thing that people like him got.
I swallowed and then shrugged. "Go on, then. See the psychic if you want to. Ask her what we're having for supper tomorrow."
Nikki sighed in a long, drawn-out way, like he had actually been holding his breath all evening, and then he dismounted his backward chair. "I'll ask her what we're having for supper this time next year. That'll really test her mettle."
* * *
I explored the periphery of the party, chasing a stone wall to where the garden met the canal. I walked the towpath, the thin wisp of a trail along the waterway. The water was murky, but sometimes you could see underneath the surface the things people left behind: a corroded chair, the sparkle of silver that could be a coin or a gum wrapper, an open book — pages spread beneath the rusty, blood-colored water.
"What are you doing?" I felt Nikki's breath over my shoulder.
"I'm trying to figure out if that book is worth rescuing," I said, crouched down above the water. I couldn't make out the title headers.
"Any book is worth rescuing." He sat down on the edge of the canal. Nikki had knee surgery last winter after he fell off a horse during his cowboy phase, and even though he'd recovered, he still carried a Victorian cane. He stabbed it into the water, upsetting the book so it disappeared, buried in a cloud of mulch. "Where did it go?" He bent forward. "Magic." He grinned up at me.
"I thought you were going to the psychic," I said.
"I was, but I got distracted." Nikki very often got distracted.
"There was this very beautiful girl walking along the canal." He offered his elbow so I could help him up.
"Oh yeah, which way did she go?"
His arms circled my waist on the pretense of finding his balance. "It's all right. I've found her." His cane dropped and rolled along the path.
"Nik-ki." My head developed a mind of its own and fell into his chest. "Someone might see us."
"I don't care. I love you. I've always loved you. I don't care what anyone else thinks."
"Of course you don't." We were rocking back and forth somehow; it was making me dizzy. Nikki and I had been dancing around something for as long as I could remember, but lately the dance had become tighter, more uncomfortable. Nothing had ever happened between us, but when I looked into his eyes I could see my future: a marriage, a castle on a hill. I could see him buying me flowers after an argument ten years from now. And it wasn't that I didn't want it — I wanted it badly — but it scared me. "You're the one with all the power."
"You're so wrong." He removed his hands from my waist, pouted like he was actually the boy who never got what he wanted. "You know, it is rather trying, that you only love me when no one else is around." He bent over to pick up his cane. "I don't mean to be a bore, but I do rather think sometimes —" He stopped, sucking in all his breath. Nikki rarely was anything but impossibly nice to me, which unfortunately often made me treat him worse. I was desperate to know what he really thought.
"What? What do you rather think?"
His clear blue eyes looked dead into mine. "That you're actually embarrassed by me."
And I couldn't say anything, because he was right. But it wasn't just him; it was the whole idea of love that embarrassed me. Wouldn't I look stupid, walking arm in arm with Nikki through a party? Wouldn't I look weak and naive, to be with someone who had all the power when I had none?
Nikki kept his eyes down for a while, straightening his coat. "Anyway." He cleared his throat. "The psychic's just up there." He pointed to a canal boat moored on the water. Blue spirit bottles hung along the roof. A paper sign was posted in the window: Psychic, but only if you BELIEVE it. "Will you come with me?" Nikki rubbed the back of his neck. "To tell you the truth, I'm sort of scared to go alone."
A lump rose in my throat, because that was exactly what I loved about Nikki. He was never, ever afraid to be vulnerable. And that made him the bravest person I knew. "Yeah. Of course I'll go with you."
We started along the towpath side by side. I took his hand at the last moment, right before he'd have to drop it to get on the boat. Another paper sign was posted above the deck: Come in! We're expecting you.
"Ha." I pointed it out. "I guess she must be the real thing."
"You know, it is okay to believe in something," he said.
"And what exactly am I supposed to believe in?"
He gazed out past the canal, toward the skyline, considering. "You have options: the world, other people, yourself ..."
I tossed my shoulders. "I don't believe in any of those things."
"Me?" He squeezed my hand.
I swallowed my heart to keep it from overflowing. "All right. I guess I believe in you. But don't tell anyone." I helped him onto the deck and followed him into the boat.
* * *
The narrow boat was like a home crammed into a hallway. The furniture was shifted at odd angles to fit. Heavily scented amber bottles lined the walls, rotted fruit hung in net baskets from the ceiling. Along the far wall, a candlelit altar glowed. Stones and crystals interspersed with prescription drugs and final notice bills covered every surface. I had to pile on Nikki to avoid knocking things over. He had no one to help him do the same.
"Bugger." A crash. "Rubbish." Another.
I laughed into his shoulder. "Perhaps you should stop moving."
"Who's there?" a voice called from the back of the boat. She didn't seem to be expecting us, which was already one knock against her.
"Shouldn't you know?" I called back. The boat stank of frankincense and Febreze.
"None of that," Nikki said. "This is terribly serious." Another crash. "Bugger." He called out, "Sorry, we're here to see the Future; is she in?" I punched his shoulder.
The lights snapped on with an electric buzz, spotlighting a woman in the doorway. She had good psychic hair, curled and wild like a poor man's Cassandra. "What are you doing here?"
"Shouldn't you know that as well?"
Nikki elbowed me quiet. "I saw you at that party. Last week. Or the week before. I want to know my future. Am I going to be rich? Still?"
The psychic cocked her hair. "If you've come here to make jokes, you can go out the way you came in."
Nikki's smile dropped. I could almost see it slide down his neck as his throat bobbed. He stepped forward, away from me. "I promise not to joke." I doubted he could keep that promise, but he seemed determined. "And I'll pay you, of course." He pulled out a wad of bills.
She put a hand up. "I don't touch the money."
Nikki set the money on a table painted with a black snake and a white snake twisted together. I wondered what it symbolized. Something about good and evil, maybe.
The psychic slipped easily through the debris and put the kettle on. "Are you sure you want to know?" She jingled when she spun around, although she didn't seem to be wearing jewelry. "You seem, maybe, like the type of person who doesn't want to know. Nothing they tell you can change your future, you understand? The things they will tell you are set in stone."
I opened my mouth to argue, but Nikki spoke first. "I want to know."
The kettle screamed. The psychic poured two cups of tea. "Sit down."
Nikki sat, knocking a raven's skull and two candles to the floor. "Sorry." He set his cane down; it vanished like a chameleon.
"I don't see how things could be set in stone." I put my hand on Nikki's shoulder. "Surely your telling us will affect a change. If he left now, things would turn out differently."
"Who are you?" Her eyebrows were painted on, and they dove down when she looked at me. "Has anyone ever told you that you look like a saint?" "She looks like a goddess," Nikki countered.
"I'm just his friend."
"Well, his friend: he won't leave."
"You don't know that."
"I don't know anything. They know. He will stay. You will leave."
I laughed in surprise. "I beg your pardon?"
Nikki pulled me onto his lap, rested his head on my shoulder. "She has to stay. She goes where I go."
"No." The psychic folded her arms.
"Let's just go." I tugged Nikki's arm. His eyes had a blank, mirrorlike quality sometimes so all I could see was myself looking back. I leaned close, whispered in his ear, "Come on, Nikki. Don't you want to prove her wrong?" He took my hand, kissed my knuckle. "Why don't you go check Macklin's all right? I don't know how long he can survive outside his new car."
"Nikki, come on, this is silly." I couldn't breathe properly. The scented oils seemed to coat the back of my throat, my tongue, my teeth. The windows were covered with black curtains, like it was always after dark. The wood floors were stained with dirt. If this woman was so good at predicting the future, why didn't she sail down to Ascot and win enough money to hire a cleaner? "Please, let's just go."
He pulled me close, his pleading breath along my neck. "Just let me, Kitty. I know you don't like this sort of thing, but I do. It's just words. It's not going to hurt me."
I sighed. "But you'll believe it." Nikki, for all his loveliness, had a dangerous permeability about his brain. Whatever the psychic said, he would believe — not forever, but until the next thing came along — the way he dressed like a cowboy after watching a Western, or walked with a limp when he carried his cane. If she told him something bad, he would believe it. He might even go so far as to make it happen. "It's not real. You know that, right?"
He kissed my cheek, then he lifted me to my feet. "Tell Macklin she predicted I'll get his car in the end."
The psychic slithered forward. Set the teacups on the table. I sighed and squeezed Nikki's shoulder.
"What a load of rubbish," I muttered, and I left him on the boat.
Macklin was still at the table, waiting for Nikki to return and give him directions. He had taken out his car keys and was spinning them around his finger.
"The psychic wouldn't let me stay." I took a seat across from him.
"Of course she wouldn't," Macklin said. "That's how those people operate. Much easier to convince someone when they're alone and vulnerable."
"I'm afraid Nikki is going to believe what she says."
"Of course he will."
"What if she says something bad?"
He exhaled slowly. "That's not what they do; they say good things so you come back to them."
"What do you think they're talking about?"
"Knowing Nikki, they're talking about Nikki."
"I don't believe in the future." It was hard to believe in the future when you were a third generation orphan, living with a family your mum once worked for. I knew that I was incredibly lucky the Bramleys had taken me in when my mum died, but my future was beyond the scope of any psychic.
"I'm going to collect classic cars," Macklin said. For his eighteenth birthday, he had been given a 1960 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud II convertible belonging to his grandfather. It was an insanely rare and expensive car. It also made Nikki insanely jealous, which made it even more valuable to Macklin.
"That's not a job," I said.
"Who said anything about a job?" Macklin made a face.
"I don't understand this obsession with wanting things," I said, raising my voice so he might know I was on my soapbox. "Wanting to be famous or wanting to be rich. Nothing ever lasts. I mean, look at the castle."
Macklin's head popped up. "What are you trying to say?"
I suspected I had gone too far. It wasn't very wise to insult the privilege of a family you lived with, although that rarely seemed to stop me. "It's just that ... it's too much house for one family. And you have to run tours to make money. Nothing lasts forever, not even Bramley money. You might have to get a job one day."
He scoffed. "Don't be ridiculous."
"I want to do something important. I want to make a difference."
"You're quite good at archery." This was what they called the English sense of humor.
Excerpted from "The Life and Death Parade"
Copyright © 2018 Eliza Wass.
Excerpted by permission of Disney Book Group.
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