Jane unlimited, p.21
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       Jane, Unlimited, p.21

           Kristin Cashore
 

  This is impossible. Jane is laughing again. There is no way for her to recognize the person Ivy is describing, a person who salvaged submarines full of nuclear missiles, full of secret information, full of the bloated corpses of drowned soldiers. Aunt Magnolia took pictures of beautiful animals. She was trying to save the oceans. “That’s enough.”

  “Okay,” Ivy says. “I only ever met her a couple times. She had a great wardrobe, and sort of a steady, reassuring temperament. She seemed—eccentric, but also practical, no-nonsense. Kind of like you.”

  Ivy’s words make Jane wish, suddenly, for a mirror. She wants to find the parts of her face that are like Aunt Magnolia’s. “Was the Antarctica trip actually a spy trip?”

  “As far as we know,” Ivy says, “Magnolia was really going to Antarctica to take pictures of penguins and whales.”

  Is it better or worse, Jane wonders, that she died as a nature photographer, not as a spy?

  “You know not to trust anyone in the house, right?” Ivy says. “Especially don’t get involved with that guy who’s pretending to be a cleaner, the one who calls himself Ji-hoon. He could be dangerous.”

  “He actually is a cleaner,” Jane says. “I mean, he is cleaning things, whatever else he’s doing.”

  Ivy smiles slightly. “I still wouldn’t trust him. Even to clean.”

  “Why is he so dangerous, anyway?” Jane asks. “Who is he?”

  “Mrs. Vanders would strangle me if I told you.”

  “Is he, like, armed?”

  “Oh, no question he’s armed,” Ivy says. “He wants to get to Grace. She has something he wants.”

  “Grace!” Jane says, thinking of the girl, huddled up and crying, angry. Small. “What could Grace possibly have that armed people want?”

  Ivy hesitates. “She’s got something in her mind. Information.”

  In Jane’s own mind, something stirs. “Grace has an amazing memory,” she says. “She uses mnemonic devices. Her father is very proud of it.”

  “Yes.” Ivy starts to say something more, then stops with a frustrated sigh. Strands of hair have escaped her messy knot and her shoulders seem hunched and tight. “I want to tell you everything,” she says. “I’m sorry, Janie. I just can’t.”

  Jane wants to reach out and push a strand of hair out of Ivy’s eyes. She wants to touch her shoulder; she wants to understand.

  She doesn’t touch Ivy, but Ivy’s eyes do touch hers once, shyly.

  “I have to go,” Ivy says. “I’ll leave dinner outside your door in a little bit. I’ll tell Kiran you’re not feeling well, if that would help.”

  “Okay.”

  After Ivy leaves, Jane goes back to her morning room.

  Tu Reviens is making noises. Hums of water, breaths of heat; settling moans. Jasper wanders blearily into the room and comes to lean against Jane’s feet. “This house makes a lot of weird sounds,” she says to him. “Don’t you think?”

  A wail begins, so distant and so faint, so mixed with the strange, metallic banging of the heater that Jane would assume it was just a trick of wind or water if she didn’t know it was probably Christopher Panzavecchia, age two, somewhere in the house.

  She goes once to the window, peeking down at Ji-hoon. He washes the glass, slowly, like someone giving the house a backrub to help it fall asleep.

  Jane tries a deep, jellyfish breath, but she can’t do it. Even the jellyfish feels like a lie.

  * * *

  The house wakes her from a dream about—what is it? A man who’s stolen Baby Leo Panzavecchia and it’s more terrible than even the newscasters realize, because the man is infected with smallpox, and now Baby Leo is too. He’ll pass it on to Grace and Christopher, to Espions Sans Frontières, to the Sicilian Mafia, and to the fishes, because Baby Leo sleeps with the fishes.

  The dream shifts as Jane leaves it behind, as dreams do. She flails around in a fit of itching, calling for Aunt Magnolia, who saves itchy, underwater babies, it’s part of her spy work, and then she’s awake, Aunt Magnolia’s scratchy wool hat pressed against her sweaty neck.

  Jane is in her bed in Tu Reviens. A warm basset hound snoozes at her feet. The clock beside her bed glows the time: 5:08 a.m. She breathes through a spinning panic, remembering that in the weeks before that last Antarctic trip, Aunt Magnolia had been unusually distracted. She’d left a burner on one day after heating some soup, unheard-of for Aunt Magnolia. More than once, Jane had caught her staring into a book she clearly hadn’t been reading, because she’d never turned a page. And then there was the night Jane had woken to find her awake, the night Aunt Magnolia had made her promise to come here if invited.

  The day Aunt Magnolia had left, Jane went into her own bedroom and discovered the hat sitting in the middle of her bed. Aunt Magnolia always took that hat with her to cold places. But that time she’d left it behind, for Jane to find. Why?

  Why do dreams make us wake with questions that have nothing to do with the dreams?

  Under the covers, Jasper crawls around until his head is resting against her elbow. Jane listens to his steady breathing, wondering if maybe Jasper breaths are even better than jellyfish breaths.

  * * *

  The day dawns yellow and green. Jane hasn’t really succeeded in falling back asleep. Finally she slips out of bed, quietly, so as not to disturb Jasper. She goes to the morning room and peers out the window.

  A figure approaches the house from the ramble: Colin Mack, dressed all in black. He seems in a hurry, glancing over his shoulder more than once. It’s a little strange; does he think he’s being pursued? Why is he out there? Surely not everyone in the house is a spy? She watches him enter the house through the door that leads to the swimming pool.

  When she turns back to face the room, the ruined umbrella on the floor undoes her. Its broken pieces are angled such that she can see purple fabric with the merest glimpse of a silver-gold interior. It creates a shimmer in her mind, the way a bright light will create a memory of itself that lingers inside a person’s eyelids, then fades. A momentary ghost of Aunt Magnolia.

  “Aunt Magnolia?” Jane says out loud.

  She’d always responded swiftly when Jane had called her, putting aside her own concerns whenever Jane had said her name. Those moments had been real.

  Gently, Jane lowers her butt to the floor, her head leaning back against the window glass. The umbrella is a trick, nothing more.

  * * *

  Apparently Jane is allowed to attend breakfast when the time arrives, because no one tries to stop her. The route to the banquet hall passes through the ballroom. She keeps close to the walls and tries to avoid the team of women cleaning the ballroom floor.

  No one is at breakfast, and no one seems to be serving, either. A carafe of coffee sits at the far end of the long table next to fruit, cold cereal, milk, sugar, and a pot of congealed oatmeal. She pours herself some cornflakes and eats quickly. Then it’s back to the receiving hall, which is swarming with people. She’s not sure where to go next, really, until she sees Jasper on the second-story bridge. He’s sitting contentedly on his rump, his nose poking through the balusters, and Jane thinks that maybe he has the right idea. She climbs to him. “I guess you’ve witnessed a lot of gala mornings, haven’t you, Jasper?”

  The hullabaloo below begins to make more sense. The people resolve themselves into separate currents: cleaners and caterers and musicians. Patrick and Ivy, zooming across the hall or up and down the stairs at random intervals, no doubt doing spy stuff. Do they ever even do any housework at all? Who knows. Mrs. Vanders herself does not zoom. Mrs. Vanders stands like a rock in the center of the receiving hall, the currents swerving gracefully around her. She barely speaks, as if she’s controlling the action with her eyeballs.

  Kiran comes along the bridge and stops on the other side of Jasper, yawning. Yet another person who has no idea what’s going on in her own
house. Don’t make me have to lie to you, thinks Jane.

  “Morning,” Kiran says with half a smile. Her hair is pulled back into a ponytail and Jane thinks maybe she’s not wearing any makeup yet. “Getting the bird’s-eye view?”

  “It makes more sense from up here,” Jane says.

  “Are you feeling better?”

  “Yeah, I’m lots better today.”

  Kiran leans her elbows on the railing. “When we were little,” she says, “these were our favorite days of the year. I used to love standing here with Patrick, watching all the people. Ivy was tiny then; she would hold my hand and stare, her eyes big as saucers. Ravi loved getting in everyone’s way.”

  “How? What would he do?”

  “Mainly he would slow everyone down by insisting on carrying things himself, and having really bad ideas about where everything should go.” Kiran flicks her ponytail over her shoulder, half smiling. “I’m sure he thought he was helping.”

  “And he was allowed to do that?”

  Kiran shrugs. “Not if Mr. or Mrs. Vanders or Octavian caught him at it, but they were always running around like crazy themselves. Ravi knew how to avoid them. He was a charming little autocrat. It was . . . educational to watch how people responded to him.”

  “Educational?”

  “A lesson in class,” Kiran says. “Probably also sex, and certainly age and race. What does a white, female string quartet do when a little half-Bengali rich boy whose white daddy owns the house tells them to set their stage up someplace really stupid, like the middle of one of the staircases?”

  “I don’t know,” Jane says. “What?”

  “It was generally one of three things,” Kiran says. “Ignore him; stall until a Vanders or Octavian came through and shut him up; or do what he said while shooting him hateful looks. In that particular case, they ignored him, and when he started howling, they kept ignoring him, and finally Octavian came in and carried him away on one shoulder, kicking and screaming for Mum. Who of course didn’t come, because she was working.”

  “What would Octavian do next?” Jane says. “Spank him?”

  “Probably go bowling with him,” Kiran says, “while having a man-to-man talk about respect for other people.”

  Jane supposes it’s the sort of approach Aunt Magnolia might have taken, if they’d had a private bowling alley. “That sounds kind of nice.”

  “Ravi and I have had a lot of character-building conversations while bowling,” Kiran says with a wistful sort of amusement. Jane finds herself studying Kiran. Her eyes are too bright and she’s blinking. Jane wonders, how much sleep did Kiran get last night? Did Colin share her bed? Has Patrick ever shared Kiran’s bed, lying to her when he has to get up suddenly to take care of some spy emergency?

  “What about Ivy and Patrick?” Jane ventures. “Would Octavian give them talkings-to too?”

  “Oh, no. They got their lectures from their parents, and from Mr. and Mrs. Vanders.”

  “I see,” Jane says. I’ll bet they did. “Would Patrick tell you about the lectures he got?”

  “He used to,” Kiran says. “Then he stopped.”

  “Stopped?”

  At that moment, Ravi sweeps into the hall below with wet hair and an air of injured righteousness. Coming to a halt before Mrs. Vanders, he speaks in a voice that booms into all the high spaces.

  “I’ve invited the New York State Police, the FBI, and Interpol to the gala,” Ravi announces. “I’ve given them the run of the house.”

  Jane’s stomach drops. This is her fault. “You’ve what?” cries Mrs. Vanders.

  “The New York State police, the FBI, and—”

  “To the gala? Have you completely lost your gourd?”

  “Why shouldn’t I?” says Ravi. “It’s my Brancusi and my Vermeer! It’s my house! It’s my party!”

  “It’s your father’s Brancusi and your father’s Vermeer!” says Mrs. Vanders. “It’s your father’s house and your father’s party!”

  “My father is a ghost,” Ravi says. “He wouldn’t care if we built a bonfire in the courtyard with his art. If he’s stopped caring, that leaves me to care double.”

  “I’m already in touch with the police,” says Mrs. Vanders. “They are already investigating, discreetly.”

  “Where? Why haven’t I seen them?”

  Patrick has walked onto the bridge and is standing beside Kiran. He rests his forearms casually on the banister, as Kiran is doing. Kiran doesn’t look at him or even acknowledge him, but Jane senses a new tension in her. Their shoulders are touching.

  Jane stiffens when Ivy arrives on the other side and stands beside her.

  “What a fun party it’ll be for everyone,” says Mrs. Vanders acidly, “with the FBI and Interpol asking all the guests rude questions.”

  “Why should it bother anyone who isn’t an art thief?” Ravi demands. “Honestly, Vanny, I could almost think you don’t care.”

  “Damn you, Ravi,” says Mrs. Vanders. “You know I care, it’s my job to care. I only wish you’d had the consideration to ask me whether inviting law enforcement to the gala might create undue strain for all the people your family has hired to guarantee that the guests of your gala have fun. That’s our job too, you know. You’ve made things more difficult for me and Mr. V, Patrick, Ivy, Cook, all the staff, because your single-mindedness makes you thoughtless.”

  Mrs. Vanders raises her eyes then, to Jane, and pins Jane with the same accusation. Heat suffuses her. Grace Panzavecchia is going to be discovered by someone who shouldn’t discover her, and it’ll be her doing.

  “Hey,” Ivy murmurs beside Jane. “Don’t worry. You did nothing I wouldn’t have done.”

  “I wasn’t looking for reassurance,” Jane says, suddenly resentful of Ivy, who has no right to be reading her mind.

  “It’s our job,” Ivy says. “We’ll deal with it.”

  “You do that.”

  Kiran has been quiet on Jane’s other side. Jane has no idea if she’s overheard this conversation, or what she’d make of it if she did.

  “Good morning, Ivy-bean,” Kiran says across Jane, to Ivy, ignoring Patrick.

  “Hi, Kir,” says Ivy, her eyes bleary behind her glasses.

  “Want to go bowling?” Kiran asks.

  It takes Jane a moment to realize the question is meant for her, not Ivy. “Me?” she says. “Okay, sure.”

  Kiran takes Jane’s wrist and leads her away, carefully skirting Patrick. “Come on,” she says. “The bowling alley will be the only quiet room in the house.”

  * * *

  There is, of course, nothing quiet about throwing weighted balls onto a maple floor. But the initial crash, the deep rumble of the rolling ball, and the high-pitched, plasticky explosion of pins are the punctuation to a mostly uninterrupted silence between Jane and Kiran.

  Kiran stalks to the foul line, throws a loud strike, and spins back, grim-faced, and Jane registers that she’s been angry this entire time. Kiran was angry when she walked into the campus bookstore back home. Imagine how angry she’d be if she knew the truth, Jane thinks. She’d bowl a perfect game.

  Jane slips her fingers into a ball. “The gala’s soon,” she says, hoping it might get Kiran talking.

  “Maybe that’ll interrupt the boredom,” Kiran says.

  “Do you always come home when there’s a gala?”

  “Pretty often,” Kiran says. “I might make three out of four most years. It’s sort of a family tradition. Octavian always gives me a special invitation call about it, or anyway, he used to.”

  “He stopped?”

  “I doubt Octavian’s raised a phone to his ear since my stepmother left. He’s depressed.”

  Jane strides toward the foul line and releases the ball with a satisfying thud. Idly, she watches its progress toward the pins, six of which go flying. “You did
tell me Patrick was the one who invited you this time.”

  “Right,” says Kiran. “With all those vague noises about wanting to confess something.”

  “He still hasn’t confessed anything?”

  “Nothing,” Kiran says.

  Jane’s ball pops onto the ball return. “What do you think he wanted to say?”

  “Who knows?” Kiran says. “It’s typical, really; it’s his specialty. He expects the people who love him to be clairvoyant. Can you imagine loving someone like that? Someone who’s not going to help you understand him?”

  “I—yes,” Jane says.

  “The problem is,” says Kiran, “I’ve seen a different Patrick. I’ve seen two or three different Patricks, and they’re different from my Patrick.”

  Jane’s next ball misses her remaining pins entirely. “Yes, well, people have many sides.”

  “My Patrick is secretive,” Kiran says. “Pointlessly secretive.” Then she flings her ball down the lane, barely waiting for the pins to reset. As her ball eviscerates the pins, she says, “They’re not all secretive like that.”

  “All men?” Jane says, a bit lost.

  “All the Patricks,” Kiran says. “I’ve seen a Patrick married to a Kiran. They’re happy together. That Patrick isn’t secretive. I’ve asked her.”

  “I’m confused,” Jane says. “Are you talking about ideas of you and Patrick that you’ve imagined?”

  Kiran lets out a short, impatient sigh. “Yeah,” she says. “Something like that.”

  “But the real Patrick is secretive.”

  “Like you wouldn’t believe,” Kiran says. “It’s ridiculous, the questions he won’t answer. ‘What did you do last evening, Patrick?’ ‘Why are you running around the house shining flashlights into all the closets, Patrick?’ ‘Where were you that time you disappeared for three days, Patrick?’ I mean, I respect his privacy. But it’s not like the questions I ask are nosy. We grew up together. I’m his friend. I don’t even need to know! I trust his reasons are good ones, whatever stupid thing he’s doing. But it’s hard that he doesn’t trust me.”

 

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KRISTIN CASHORE SERIES:

Graceling Realm

 


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