As I Descended
She pictured it. Sitting on the lawn of their college campus, holding Lily’s hand, where anyone could see.
Next year they could finally really live.
If they could just skip the part between now and then, Maria would be perfectly, deliriously happy.
She lifted her head and kissed Lily’s lips.
Usually Maria was careful when they kissed. She knew Lily’s legs hurt more than she let on. If Maria got carried away, if she was too reckless, she might wind up hurting her somehow.
Tonight Maria forgot about being careful. They both did. Maria loved Lily so much in that moment she wanted to fuse them together until they never had to be apart again.
Their kisses were hard and fast, the mist from the shower clinging to their hair and making their skin slippery. This was the kind of kissing that didn’t stay in one place. The kind where lips and tongues and voices and breath all got mixed up.
They kissed so long they forgot what they’d been thinking. They kissed so long they forgot how to think altogether. Every word they’d spoken vanished into the steam from the shower. Nothing mattered but this feeling.
Maria loved kissing Lily more than anything. More even than the feeling of winning.
Sometimes Maria would find herself sitting in Advanced Calc at ten in the morning thinking about this feeling. About the way their bodies fit together. The sensation of Lily’s skin against her own. The way it felt when it was dark, and they were alone, and all the layers that separated them in the light—the rules and the lying and the loneliness—were gone. When it was just the two of them, connected in a way Maria had never known was possible before.
She pressed her lips into the curve of Lily’s neck, the soft place just above her collarbone, and Lily giggled, a soft giggle reserved just for moments like this. Usually, Maria was anxious to tell the world about what she had with Lily, but sometimes she was glad to have these moments all to herself.
Maria slid her arm around Lily’s waist, under her shirt, and had her bra unhooked before either of them remembered half the senior class was just on the other side of the door. Then, for a frantic minute, even though they remembered, they didn’t care.
Things might have gone further if something hadn’t slammed into the wood behind them. Both girls leaped up, remembering the knocking from last night. Lily was scrambling to fix her shirt when Ryan whispered loudly through the door, “Hey, Princess, you done hurling yet? Or can you take a break while I piss?”
Maria turned off the faucets. “You asswipe,” she hissed back. Laughter echoed from the other room.
Without the rush of water, the room seemed empty. Whatever feeling she’d had before, of something in the room with them, it was gone now.
But Maria remembered.
She remembered everything. What they’d said. What she’d agreed to do.
First, though, she had to go back out there and smile at everyone. Fake her way through the rest of the night and another three days. Pretend to still be normal.
When she was pretty sure she never had been.
ACT 2 (#ulink_e9180c6b-c1a1-5c4f-a95c-e84e947ccd9b)
in lightning (#ulink_e9180c6b-c1a1-5c4f-a95c-e84e947ccd9b)
CAN THE DEVIL SPEAK TRUE? (#ulink_911ca747-ede8-5295-ae02-5a05cae45a0d)
“Thrice to thine and thrice to mine,
And thrice again to make up nine.”
A bunch of kids from the lower school were playing jump rope on the back lawn of the main house. They had a whole line of double Dutch stations set up, each counting down to see who could jump the longest without tripping. Brandon was in a hurry—he had to catch Maria before she disappeared again—but he still had to go all the way around the twenty-plus kids. The prepubescent crowd at Acheron took their jump rope competitions very, very seriously, and their rhymes always got stuck in Brandon’s head.
“Thrice to the flame in blanket dark,
And thrice again to grieve her heart.”
Brandon tried to cut between two sets of jumpers, but the girl swinging the nearest set of ropes gave him some major stink-eye without breaking her chant. She couldn’t have been older than ten, but she was scary enough that Brandon backed off and went the long way around toward the top of the hill, where the house sat perched and looming, its white faux-marble columns gleaming despite the setting sun. On the hill beside it, the tiny family cemetery from the house’s plantation days rose up, the weathered tombstones shining bright.
“For a charm that’s strong and true,
Give what I ask. I’ll do, I’ll do, I’ll do.”
Brandon quickened his step as he came around the last group of kids and up the hill. The chanting went on, but soon he was out of earshot.
He’d spent most of dinner helping Felicia study for her ambassador test—she was applying to be one of the student ambassadors who gave campus tours, hoping it would up her chances for the Kingsley Prize when she was a senior—but all night he’d kept one eye on the door, looking for Maria. She’d promised to meet him there. But the cafeteria closing time had come and gone, and she still hadn’t shown up.
Brandon had to find her. It had been three days since the séance, or whatever you called it, and Maria had been avoiding him. The only times he’d seen her were in class, where she was always so raptly focused on note taking he couldn’t catch her eye, and that time he’d tried to talk to her in the hall. She’d acted just as weird then as she was acting now.
He reached the big house and strode across the shiny white portico, through the open back door, and straight down the hall to Maria’s room. When he knocked, though, there was no answer. He checked his phone. Nothing. This was the third time she’d promised to meet up, then ditched him without so much as a text to explain.
Brandon ran a frustrated hand through his hair and took the stairs up to the fourth floor. Maybe one of the other seniors had seen her.
As he climbed off the landing, though, he saw a familiar black ponytail bouncing toward the end of the hall ahead of him. Was that seriously her? She never came up here anymore.
“Maria?” he called. “Maria! Hey, Ree, hang on a sec.”
Maria stopped but didn’t turn around.
“Hey!” Brandon jogged the length of the hall to catch up with her. Why didn’t she look back? She had to know it was him. “Where’ve you been? We were supposed to meet at dinner, remember?”
Maria tilted her head. For a minute Brandon could’ve sworn she didn’t recognize him. She’d been acting so strange lately.
Then Maria’s face broke into her usual smile. “Crap. Hi. I’m sorry. Lily and I spaced out and missed dinner, I guess.”
“Wait, you mean you didn’t eat at all?” That wasn’t like Maria. Not during soccer season. She was the only girl Brandon knew who routinely went back for third helpings of the cafeteria’s eggplant casserole.
Maria didn’t answer. Her smile was still in place, but her eyes darted around the hall.
She was keeping a secret from him.
That wasn’t like her either. Brandon and Maria always told each other everything.
“Something’s wrong, isn’t it?” Brandon lowered his voice and stepped closer to Maria. The fourth floor of the dorm was pretty empty—most people were still at dinner, or hanging out on the front steps during these last precious hours before lights-out—but there were a couple of people milling around at the far end of the hallway. “Are you still freaked from the other night? I kind of am. I even had a dream about it. Do you think it meant—”
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