Jane unlimited, p.5
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       Jane, Unlimited, p.5

           Kristin Cashore
 

  “Who was the queen?”

  “Not me,” says Ivy.

  She leads Jane down the stairs to the receiving hall, then into the single most enormous room Jane has ever seen inside a private house. “What is this?” Jane asks, trying not to squeak. “The throne room?”

  Ivy makes a little heh sound and says, “The ballroom. But now you’ve got me trying to decide which room Octavian would choose as his throne room. Probably the library.”

  Jane is barely listening. Deep and high-ceilinged, the ballroom shines with burnished dark mahogany wood. “The Thrashes have balls?”

  “The galas are basically balls,” Ivy says. “People dressing up and dancing waltzes in fancy rooms, et cetera.” Then she leads Jane through a doorway into another long room, bright with chandeliers and containing a table that could seat thirty. Four people, two men and two women, are assembled at the far end, their voices sharp, cutting across one another. Kiran isn’t there.

  As Ivy leads Jane toward them, Jane asks, “Will you eat with us?”

  “No,” says Ivy. “I eat in the kitchen.” But she seems to interpret something in Jane’s expression, something Jane herself probably couldn’t articulate, for she takes Jane’s arm above the elbow and squeezes it, then touches one of the empty chairs so Jane will know the right place to sit. Then, flashing her another small, wicked grin, she pushes through a swinging door beyond the table.

  Jane sits down. No one seems to notice her. She tries to blend in and absorb the rapid-fire conversation, which appears to be an argument about a family they all know personally.

  “You don’t seriously think they did something bad to their own kids?” says an English-sounding black woman who has a heart-shaped face and short, curly dark hair. A shimmering star sits in each of her earlobes, maybe made of tiny, sparkling diamonds? She’s next to Philip Okada, the germophobe from the attic. She’s wearing a lot of foundation and eye shadow.

  “No, I’m only saying they’ve clearly flipped out,” says the other woman, white, rosy-cheeked, with honey-brown hair and two rows of pearls at her throat. She’s got an American accent and a deep voice. “People do unpredictable, bad things when they flip out, so how can we know what they’ve done, really?”

  “Is that a medical term?” Philip Okada asks her, teasing. “To ‘flip out’?”

  “Philip,” says the pearl-necklace lady forcefully. “The Panzavecchias are our friends. They left their lab one day and held up a bank. Why would they choose to do that?”

  “Well,” says the star-earring lady beside Philip, “you’ve heard the rumors about Giuseppe’s gambling problem and the Mafia.”

  “Okay, but have any of you ever known Giuseppe Panzavecchia to so much as bet on a dog race?” says pearl necklace.

  “But people hide habits when they become problems,” says star earrings. “We might not know what Giuseppe’s really like.”

  “But we do know what he’s like,” says pearl necklace. “Don’t we? All Giuseppe ever does is brag about his kids. I mean, have you heard him talk about Grace and her amazing mnemonic memory devices? Grace is a little eight-year-old computer. Giuseppe could just die of pride. Maybe I’ll believe he’s got a touch of a gambling problem somewhere that he’s hiding from everyone. But to choose to get mixed up with the Sicilian Mafia when his life revolves around those three little kids? Why should we believe that? Just because he has an Italian name? It’s offensive.”

  “Do you have another theory, then?” asks star earrings.

  “No,” says pearl necklace. “I only reject that the Panzavecchias chose an affiliation with organized crime. Either something else we haven’t thought of is going on, or they both inhaled some toxic gas in that lab of theirs and flipped out.”

  Mrs. Vanders pushes through the swinging door, making Jane jump. Laden with serving plates and bowls and followed by Ivy, she glares at Jane in a way that makes Jane feel guilty, instantly, before she’s even had time to consider what she might be guilty of. As she delivers to the table what looks like a giant pot roast, roasted vegetables, and an enormous pear salad, then exits abruptly through the swinging door, Jane struggles to assimilate all that’s happening—for she knows the name Panzavecchia. Not personally, like these people, but from the news.

  It’s been headline news for a few days, in fact, maybe a week. Victoria and Giuseppe Panzavecchia, married microbiologists from two wealthy New York families, left their university lab in Manhattan at lunch one day; made a bank robbery attempt that failed when a particularly courageous bank teller challenged them to produce weapons they didn’t have; ran from the bank; rounded the corner; and promptly vanished into the ether. At practically the same moment, their daughter, Grace, went missing from her private school, and their sons, little Christopher and Baby Leo, were snatched from the arms of their nanny in Central Park. Baby Leo was ill. The nanny had only just noticed spots forming on his skin when he’d been taken.

  The news has also reported that Giuseppe had been warned by the Mafia that if he didn’t pay his gambling debts, his family would be made to disappear. And now they have.

  All these people at this table know the Panzavecchias? Do all rich New Yorkers know one another? The whole story seems suddenly absurd, in the very moment it becomes real. It sounds like some silly mobster movie. But if these people know the Panzavecchias, then Grace and little Christopher are real. Baby Leo is a real baby. Their lives changed suddenly, crazily, in one day. Just like Jane’s did the day her parents died in a plane crash when she was a baby. And the day she got the call about Aunt Magnolia.

  Jane realizes now that Kiran and Mrs. Vanders’s comment about bank robbers, in the car on the way up to the house, had been a Panzavecchia joke.

  “You all know the Panzavecchias?” she says aloud, then immediately regrets it, because now everyone is looking at her and she can hear the naïve wonder in her own voice.

  “We do,” says the pearl-necklace lady crisply. “I’m Lucy,” she says, holding out a hand. “Lucy St. George. Ravi’s girlfriend, so to speak.”

  “I’m Janie,” she says, shaking Lucy’s hand awkwardly, and adding, unsure that it’s even true, “Kiran’s friend.”

  “I met Janie earlier,” Philip Okada announces to the table. “Upstairs. Janie, this is my wife, Phoebe.”

  Star-earring lady holds out a perfectly manicured hand, nails turquoise. “Nice to meet you,” she says.

  “And I’m Colin,” says the fourth person, reaching a long arm toward Jane. Kiran’s boyfriend. Jane supposes she was expecting someone boring, or bland, or generically rich-looking. But he’s a skinny, pale guy with sandy hair, gentle eyes, and a soft scattering of freckles that make him look young, sweet.

  Heels strike on the wooden floor and Kiran strides into the room. At the sight of her familiar, irritable face, something in Jane’s chest loosens.

  She slumps into the chair between Jane and Lucy. “Sorry,” she says shortly. “Phone call with bad reception. It’s raining frogs. What are we talking about? Janie, did you meet everyone?”

  “We were very polite and introduced ourselves, sweetheart,” says Colin.

  Kiran doesn’t look at Colin or indicate that she’s heard. “Do you have everything you need?” she asks Jane. “Is everyone being nice to you?”

  “I’m fine,” says Jane.

  “And how are you, Kiran?” asks Phoebe Okada. “What are you doing these days?”

  “Is that code for ‘Do you have a job yet?’” asks Kiran.

  Phoebe raises one perfectly groomed eyebrow. “Why? Do you have a job?”

  “I think you know the answer to that.”

  “Don’t you speak a lot of languages, Kiran?” says Philip Okada. “You could help Colin when his work takes him abroad. Don’t you sell to a lot of foreigners, Colin?”

  Kiran speaks distinctly to the salt shaker she holds in her hand. “You
want me to join my boyfriend on his work trips. So I can make it my life’s purpose to help him with his work.”

  “He didn’t mean it that way, Kiran,” says Phoebe. “It would just be nice for you to have something to do.”

  “Everyone wants to tell me what to do,” says Kiran.

  Philip’s wife smoothes her expression, looking carefully neutral. Her makeup seems hard, masklike; Jane gets the feeling that tapping on her face would sound like hail hitting a window. Beside her, Philip seems limited to a small range of friendly expressions. The more belligerent Kiran becomes, the more unoffended he looks. They’re false, Jane realizes. They’re pretending at something.

  “Kiran will be ready for the right work, when it presents itself,” Colin says firmly. “And she’ll be brilliant at it.”

  Kiran doesn’t look at Colin. Her shoulders remain hard and straight. “Does anyone know when Ravi’s coming?” she asks.

  “Tonight, late,” says Lucy St. George. “He texted me this afternoon. He had an auction in Providence, then headed to the Hamptons on his bike. He said someone was picking him up there.”

  “Someone? Patrick?” says Kiran.

  “I think so.”

  Jane is boggled at the notion of Ravi bicycling from Providence to the Hamptons. It must be a hundred miles at the least.

  “And where are you from, Janie?” Phoebe asks. “What kind of people are your parents?”

  Jane is caught unawares. What kind of people are my parents? “Dead,” she says. “Yours?”

  “Oh, I’m sorry,” says Phoebe. “My parents run a refrigeration corporation in Portsmouth, in the south of England. Did you grow up in an orphanage?”

  “Did you grow up in a refrigerator?”

  This surprises a choked laugh out of Kiran. Jane flushes, shocked at herself, but Phoebe merely focuses imperturbably on her salad. When she drops a slice of pear onto the table, Philip says “Oops,” picks it up with his fingers, and feeds it to her, in plain view of everyone. It’s slightly embarrassing. Not to mention that he’s a very strange germophobe.

  “My mother’s sister adopted me,” Jane tells Lucy St. George and Colin, since they seem more . . . genuine. “My parents died when I was too young to remember them. My aunt taught marine biology at the college where Kiran went. She was also an underwater photographer and a conservationist.”

  “Is your aunt retired?” asks Colin.

  “Colin!” says Kiran with sudden indignation.

  “What?”

  “You’re being intrusive! Leave her alone!”

  “I’m sorry,” says Colin, honestly confused. “Did I say something bad?”

  “It’s okay,” Jane says, embarrassed by Kiran’s burst of protectiveness. “She died, in December, in an expedition to Antarctica. She was going to photograph humpback whales.”

  “Oh,” Colin says. “That’s awful. I’m sorry.”

  “I tutored Janie in writing,” Kiran says, “when she was in high school and I was in college.”

  “Christ,” Colin says. “You’re a child.”

  If only, Jane thinks. If I were still a child, I’d be having dinner with Aunt Magnolia right now, instead of with these people. On special nights, they would eat at the diner in town. Aunt Magnolia had owned a beautiful long coat, a dark, iridescent purple with a lining that shifted from silver to gold depending on the light. She’d often left it unbuttoned, knowing that Jane loved the glimpses of the secret shimmer inside. It had made Aunt Magnolia look like some of her own photographs of squids in the deep. It had made her look like outer space.

  “Has anyone spoken to my mother?” Kiran asks, which strikes Jane as a strange question for her to ask this group. Kiran’s mother divorced Octavian Thrash IV a long time ago.

  “You mean your mother, or your stepmother?” Colin asks her. “Charlotte,” he explains, looking at Jane.

  “My own mother, of course,” Kiran says. “Why? Have you seen Charlotte?”

  “Of course not, sweetie. I would’ve told you if I’d seen her,” Colin responds, which makes no sense to Jane. The wedding was recent and Charlotte, Octavian’s new wife, lives in this house. Where is she, anyway? Where is Octavian? Don’t they eat dinner? The air is moving against Jane’s eardrums. Whispering a word? Has someone at the table whispered “Charlotte”? Kiran absently rubs one of her ears and Jane does the same, then notices herself mirroring Kiran. She wonders, Isn’t that kind of peculiar?

  Then she forgets.

  “My mother is a scientist too, like Janie’s aunt,” Kiran says to Phoebe, “as I think you know. A theoretical physicist. She could tell you things about the universe that would show you how small you are. And my stepmother is an interior designer who always worked for a living before she married my father, and she’s damn good at it. Remember whose house you’re in, if you’re going to be snotty to my friends.”

  There is a pause. “Kiran,” Colin says, “would you please pass me the salt?”

  It’s the first time Jane has seen Kiran and Colin look into each other’s faces since the dinner began. Colin wears the expression of a man determined not to frighten a trapped creature. Kiran looks as if she might throw the salt at his face. She hands it to him silently.

  Jane feels a bump against her leg and spends the rest of the meal passing tidbits down to Jasper.

  * * *

  Later that night, a sound wakes Jane, pulls her out of a dream about Baby Leo Panzavecchia. He’s wailing, he’s feverish. His angelic face is covered with angry welts and pustules; he’s dying. “Silly Baby Leo,” Jane mutters. “Everyone gets chicken pox. You’re not going to die.”

  Through her bedroom window, the moon gleams low in the sky, a slice of orange. The storm is over. What woke her? The house has made a noise, like an annoyed grumble at being pulled out of its repose. Or did that noise come from Jane herself? It’s hard to tell.

  It’s past four, which is unfortunate, because Jane can never fall asleep again once she’s awake. When she was little, Aunt Magnolia would stroke her hair, telling her to pretend that her lungs were a jellyfish, slowly swelling and emptying as they moved through underwater space. “Your body is a microcosm of the ocean,” she’d used to say. Jane would fall asleep with Aunt Magnolia’s hand in her hair, imagining herself the entire ocean, vast and quiet.

  Now Jane sleeps with a blue wool hat of Aunt Magnolia’s that she’d unfailingly packed on her polar expeditions but left behind on that last Antarctic trip. This hat has only ever known Aunt Magnolia alive and well. It’s scratchy and springy. Jane reaches around under the covers for it, finds it, balls it up, pulls it close to her face, and breathes. Jellyfish are ancient creatures. Jane can be ancient and silent too.

  No. Sleep is impossible. Pushing out of bed, Jane finds a hoodie to wear over her Doctor Who pajamas. What is this house like, she wonders, in the middle of the night?

  Her curiosity outweighs her trepidation.

  As she steps out of her rooms, she decides that the house is making protesting noises. Rumbles and groans, and something unplaceable, like the underwater echo of the laughter of children. But after all, a large old house would make strange noises, so she dismisses it. And she doesn’t notice herself cringing as the sound hurts the back of her teeth. She doesn’t feel her breath catching.

  Motion-sensor spotlights hit each painting, one by one, as Jane progresses down the corridor toward the atrium, then turn off again once she’s passed. Forgetting about Captain Polepants, she trips over his head. Softly swearing, she continues on.

  The house’s grumbles give way to actual human voices, distant and angry. Someone is having an argument in the courtyard. Jane begins to notice the scent of a pipe. Cautiously, she moves into one of the balustered archways and peers down.

  A young man in black leather gesticulates with a motorcycle helmet at an older man, maybe in his fifties, who wears a si
lk, paisley bathrobe and bites down on the pipe Jane smelled. Their coloring is different, the elder man is white and the younger is brown, but Jane can see the father-son resemblance in the way their faces flash with anger. She can hear it in their voices. This is Octavian Thrash IV and Kiran’s twin brother, Ravi, who, Jane now realizes, did not ride a bicycle today from Providence to the Hamptons.

  “Silly boy,” Octavian is saying. “Of course I didn’t sell your fishy.”

  “Why do you do that?” Ravi says in disgust. “Why do you make a point of talking to me like I’m a child?”

  “Stop behaving like a pollywog and I’ll stop treating you like one,” Octavian says. “Waking Patrick up in the middle of the morning to fetch you. Waking me up with your indignation when you get here and a sculpture’s not where you’ve left it.”

  “Excuse me for being concerned about a missing Brancusi. And I didn’t wake Patrick up,” Ravi says. “He met me for a drink on the mainland and it got late, as it always does with Patrick. I didn’t wake you up either. You’re a creature of the night.”

  “Not an excuse for you to stumble in drunk and raving.”

  “I’m not drunk,” Ravi says distinctly. “And I merely want to know why the Brancusi fish isn’t in the receiving hall. No, forget that—I want to know why you don’t care it’s not in the receiving hall. You understand the piece I’m talking about? The one Ivy used to build an underwater kingdom for out of Play-Doh? You let her keep it in her bedroom for weeks, surrounded by Loch Ness Monster LEGOs.”

  “I know the piece,” says Octavian wearily.

  “Jesus, Dad, it’s worth millions. It was your own acquisition! Where the hell is it?”

  “I expect Mrs. Vanders thought it would look better somewhere else,” Octavian says. “Or maybe she’s studying it for provenance. Between you and Vanny, it’s a wonder there’s any art left in the house. She made me return a seventeenth-century tapestry to some old geezer in Fort Lauderdale.”

  “Right,” says Ravi testily. “Because she figured out it was Nazi plunder, acquired by your esteemed grandfather during the Holocaust. How dare she.”

 
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KRISTIN CASHORE SERIES:

Graceling Realm

 


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