And she had her claws sunk deep into this town. She’d walked in Nadia’s house, spoken to her defenseless, unknowing father.
She was using Mateo.
Nadia looked up at Mateo; obviously he understood at least some of what she was thinking. “That can’t be the same Elizabeth.”
“With dark enough magic, anything is possible,” she repeated.
“But I remember growing up with her! Baking cookies. Climbing trees.”
“Do you?” Elizabeth had suggested that people forgot what she wanted them to forget; maybe they also remembered what she wanted them to remember. Nadia asked, “What trees did you climb? Where? Were they in her yard? The park?”
“I—I don’t know. Why would I know that? Nobody remembers everything from when they were five.”
“What about the cookies? What kind of cookies were they?”
Mateo frowned. He was trying to remember, the effort written on his face, but the memories were empty of details. “What does that matter?”
Nadia leaned forward, very close; this would be hard for him to accept—Elizabeth was someone he thought was one of his only friends in a harsh world. But he had to understand. “Of all the memories you have of Elizabeth, are any of them bad? Did you ever, I don’t know, fight over LEGOs? Did she ever puke on an amusement-park ride? Did she fall down and scratch her knees? If you’ve been friends your whole life, then you’d remember something about her that wasn’t perfect. Nobody’s perfect all the time. But if the memories are fake—if they’re just pretty pictures she put in your head—then they’ll all be ideal. And blank. And meaningless.”
It was heartbreaking to see how hard Mateo worked to come up with one memory, just one, that was imperfect enough to be genuine. He found nothing.
Instead he said, very slowly, “She always asks me about my dreams.”
“You mean your visions—the ones that tell you the future.”
Mateo nodded. “I thought she asked because she cared. But she doesn’t, does she? She knows the curse is real?”
“Worse than that.” Nadia hated to say the next, but it was written there in Goodwife Hale’s spidery handwriting. “It says—it says that she cursed George Cabot and all his line so that she might know the future without suffering the consequences.”
Mateo said something so obscene Nadia had never before heard it spoken out loud. “You’re telling me Elizabeth cursed my ancestor. My Elizabeth.”
“That’s what it says.”
“So she cursed all of us. Every one of the Cabots. Right down to me.”
“Elizabeth did this to me. She pretended to be my friend, but she did this to me. And—Mom—” He swallowed hard. “Do you know how many years I’ve been angry at Mom for rowing out into the ocean? And it wasn’t her fault. None of it. It was all Elizabeth.”
Mateo’s voice cracked, and Nadia remembered what he’d told her about his mother rowing out into the ocean to drown herself, leaving her young son behind. She’d done that because she’d been driven to insanity and despair, all so Elizabeth Pike could cheat time and fate yet again. Now the anger he’d felt toward his mother was cracking apart, leaving only the pain.
He turned away, hugging his knees to his chest. Yet she glimpsed the firelight glinting off one tear tracing down his cheek. He wouldn’t want to be seen crying; guys usually didn’t. Nadia longed to comfort him, but what could she say? She couldn’t think of anything that didn’t sound empty or stupid. This was about his mother being driven crazy and killed by the person he’d believed loved him. No words could make that seem any less horrible than it was.
Instead, she leaned against Mateo—her back to his back, so he had his privacy but knew she was here, that she hurt for him. After a moment, he let his head lean back onto her shoulder, but Nadia knew better than to touch him in any other way. Maybe it was enough just to be near.
On the far wall, the firelight cast the shadows of the two of them together, as though they were one person with two faces, one looking forward and one toward the past.
Finally, his voice hoarse, Mateo said, “That’s why Elizabeth asks me about the dreams. She’s using the curse to see the future without having to go crazy herself.”
“Right.” Nadia hated adding this, but better for him to hear the whole thing at once. He’d been lied to so horribly; she wouldn’t hide the truth from him any longer. “I’d be willing to bet that pretty much every memory you have of Elizabeth is fake. She wouldn’t have had any reason to pay attention to you until you started having the dreams. Anything you remember that goes back further—it probably isn’t real.”
“None of it,” he whispered. “I thought she was the only person besides my dad who cared about me. But there wasn’t anybody. Not in all this time.” His whole body went tense, like he was guarding himself against remembered pain.
Nadia had to turn to him then. “You have … friends now. You have us. You know that, right?”
What she really wanted to say was, You have me.
It was a long moment before Mateo met her eyes.
The betrayal there, the desolation, was almost more than Nadia could bear to see. How could he endure feeling it?
Only then did she realize how much of that betrayal—that anger—was for her.
He asked, “Is this what witchcraft is? One big trick you people play on the world?”