The Raven Boys(2)

By: Maggie Stiefvater

Blue had never met Neeve, so she knew more about her half aunt from a cursory web search than from personal experience. Blue wasn’t sure why Neeve was coming to visit, but she knew her imminent arrival spurred a legion of whispered conversations between Maura and her two best friends, Persephone and Calla — the sort of conversations that trailed off into sipping coffee and tapping pens on the table when Blue entered the room. But Blue wasn’t particularly concerned about Neeve’s arrival; what was one more woman in a house filled to the brim with them?

Neeve finally appeared on a spring evening when the already long shadows of the mountains to the west seemed even longer than usual. When Blue opened the door for her, she thought, for a moment, that Neeve was an unfamiliar old woman, but then her eyes grew used to the stretched crimson light coming through the trees, and she saw that Neeve was barely older than her mother, which was not very old at all.

Outside, in the distance, hounds were crying. Blue was familiar enough with their voices; each fall, the Aglionby Hunt Club rode out with horses and foxhounds nearly every weekend. Blue knew what their frantic howls meant at that moment: They were on the chase.

“You’re Maura’s daughter,” Neeve said, and before Blue could answer, she added, “this is the year you’ll fall in love.”

It was freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrived.

Every year, Blue and her mother, Maura, had come to the same place, and every year it was chilly. But this year, without Maura here with her, it felt colder.

It was April 24, St. Mark’s Eve. For most people, St. Mark’s Day came and went without note. It wasn’t a school holiday. No presents were exchanged. There were no costumes or festivals. There were no St. Mark’s Day sales, no St. Mark’s Day cards in the store racks, no special television programs that aired only once a year. No one marked April 25 on their calendar. In fact, most of the living were unaware that St. Mark even had a day named in his honor.

But the dead remembered.

As Blue sat shivering on the stone wall, she reasoned that at least, at the very least, it wasn’t raining this year.

Every St. Mark’s Eve, this was where Maura and Blue drove: an isolated church so old that its name had been forgotten. The ruin was cupped in the densely wooded hills outside of Henrietta, still several miles from the mountains proper. Only the exterior walls remained; the roof and floors had long ago collapsed inside. What hadn’t rotted away was hidden under hungry vines and rancid-smelling saplings. The church was surrounded by a stone wall, broken only by a lych-gate just large enough for a coffin and its bearers. A stubborn path that seemed impervious to weeds led through to the old church door.

“Ah,” hissed Neeve, plump but strangely elegant as she sat beside Blue on the wall. Blue was struck again, as she had been struck the first time she’d met Neeve, by her oddly lovely hands. Chubby wrists led to soft, child-like palms and slender fingers with oval nails.

“Ah,” Neeve murmured again. “Tonight is a night.”

She said it like this: “Tonight is a night,” and when she did, Blue felt her skin creep a little. Blue had sat watch with her mother for the past ten St. Mark’s Eves, but tonight felt different.

Tonight was a night.

This year, for the first time, and for reasons Blue didn’t understand, Maura sent Neeve to do the church watch in her place. Her mother had asked Blue if she would go along as usual, but it wasn’t really a question. Blue had always gone; she would go this time. It was not as if she had made plans for St. Mark’s Eve. But she had to be asked. Maura had decided sometime before Blue’s birth that it was barbaric to order children about, and so Blue had grown up surrounded by imperative question marks.

Blue opened and closed her chilly fists. The top edges of her fingerless gloves were fraying; she’d done a bad job knitting them last year, but they had a certain trashy chic to them. If she hadn’t been so vain, Blue could’ve worn the boring but functional gloves she’d been given for Christmas. But she was vain, so instead she had her fraying fingerless gloves, infinitely cooler though also colder, and no one to see them but Neeve and the dead.

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