Conan O’Brien cracked a bad joke on TV. The audience’s responding laughter was shrill, harpy-like, almost screaming. Hannah wanted to throw the remote through the screen. But late night programming was the only thing had kept her son quiet lately, and she couldn’t afford to replace the television, so she only dug her fingernails into her palm, gritted her teeth, and tolerated it.
Spring in Half Moon Bay smelled like saltwater and seaweed. The steely ocean rippled outside her window, unsettled by a coming storm, and the wind was just on the wrong side of cold. Hannah didn’t close the guest house’s window. She hadn’t been in Hell for months, but she still hungered for cool, moist air.
Another joke, more shrill laughter. Her nails dug into her hand.
“What do you want for dinner?” she asked.
Nathaniel didn’t respond.
She stepped into the kitchen. In the refrigerator, she had an open box of baking soda, half a liter of milk, a few slices of bread. The coven would have plenty of food if she wanted it—they were only a phone call away. But admitting that they had run through Hannah’s paltry savings was more than she could handle.
Hannah braced her hands on the granite counter and let her head hang between her shoulders. She could see a sliver of the television through the doorway. Conan O’Brien was dancing. The audience roared, but Nathaniel’s expression never changed. He had spent all night, every night, sitting in that same position. The couch had all but molded around his body now.
Zoning out was still better than what he had been doing with his days.
The phone rang, startling Hannah.
“Phone, Mom,” Nathaniel said without looking up.
A corded handset was mounted next to the refrigerator. She pulled it around to the dining room. The table was covered in books, papers, stones, crystals, pens, candles—everything a growing witch needed to cast magic.
She pressed the phone to her ear. “Hello?”
“It’s me, Hannah,” replied a man, whose voice she recognized.
She let out a breath that she hadn’t realized she was holding. Hannah hadn’t heard from James Faulkner, her former fiancé and father of her son, since she had left him in the City of Dis last December. After so long without word, she had started to think he must have been dead.
There was a time that Hannah had fantasized about James getting killed—the times when she was trapped at home with Nathaniel when he was a raging toddler, and James was off saving the world. But Nathaniel wasn’t a child anymore. He was an almost-teenaged witch who was drawing runes in his own blood. The idea of losing James—maybe the only witch powerful enough to control Nathaniel—had been haunting her for weeks.
“Where are you?” she asked in a low voice, gripping the receiver in both hands until the plastic creaked. “I thought you were going to contact us as soon as you got back.”
“You need to meet me at Pamela’s old house in one week. We’re going to go to the Haven.”
Hannah glanced at the wall calendar. Below the picture of an ocean sunrise, Nathaniel had been crossing off days. One week would be the end of the month.
Swallowing down the last vestiges of her shriveled pride, Hannah asked, “Could you meet us here instead?”
“I won’t be available for another week.”
“Because,” James said. “I’m about to be arrested by the Union.”
The phone slipped an inch before Hannah realized that her fingers had gone slack. She caught it, put it back up to her ear, leaned around the doorway. Nathaniel was still transfixed. She whispered anyway. “Arrested? For what?”
“That’s not important. They won’t keep me for long. My parents have agreed to hide you, and they won’t tell Landon you’ve returned. Don’t worry about it.”
“I’m not worried about it for me. I’m worrying for Nathaniel.”
He sighed. “Yes. I am, too.”
The silence between them carried a lifetime of secrets. Hannah had a thousand questions, but nothing to say—not over the phone. She didn’t even know where to begin. Thoughts of archangels, conspiracies, and deicide vanished as quickly as they occurred to her. She shut her eyes. Pressed her forehead against the wall.
“Here’s the thing, James: I don’t have any money left. I can’t afford to go to Colorado.” It was physically painful to confess that aloud. “And don’t tell me to ask the coven here for help.”
“I wasn’t planning on it. It’s not necessary anyway—I’ve added you to my bank account. You’ll be able to withdraw whatever you need from the local branch. But move quickly; my transactions are likely to be monitored, and they’ll be looking for you.”
“Who?” she asked.
James gave a low, mirthless chuckle. “Everyone.”
“This week is going to be bad. Isn’t it?”
“Very bad. But after that, you’ll be safe. You and Nathaniel. You’ll never have to worry again—not about money, your safety, or any covens. I promise you that.”
“You’ve made promises before,” Hannah said. The laughter from the living room abruptly stopped as Nathaniel turned off the TV. She was out of time for questions. “I’ll see you in Colorado.”
She hung up the phone.