Gansey slouched against a tree, gazing up at the dappled sunlight as it filtered through the ancient trees, watching his friends from a distance. Ronan had gone off with his mother, Chainsaw on his arm, and Noah, Adam, and Blue had sprawled out under another tree and were deep in conversation. Noah, always brighter in Cabeswater than back in the world, was laughing at something Blue had said. Blue, as always, was practically glowing with the force of her personality.
Here in this magical place, surrounded by his friends, he could almost understand the poet who found infinite space in a nutshell. The forest, and his friends, brought him as close to contentment as he could possibly be. But the contentment was only partial, because Richard Campbell Gansey III was running out of time, and he was the only one who knew it.
He had been in fifth grade when a fortune-teller at a carnival had told him that if he didn’t kiss his true love by his eighteenth birthday, he would die. He’d brushed it off, later discovered the Glendower lore, and only in visiting readers while tracking the ley line had he realized that they all said the same thing. Now, the prophecy, more than anything, was what drove his search for Glendower. After all, the Gansey family had power, influence, everything that money could buy, and Gansey himself had the charisma that had somehow netted him four best friends, but none of that could buy him what he really wanted when all he really wanted was time. What favor could he ask of Glendower, given the chance? To have the curse lifted.
The thing was, Gansey was pretty sure he was close to both—the mythical Raven King and his true love—because Cabeswater was real, and Glendower was close, and Gansey was, he could admit to himself, one hundred percent, head-over-heels, in love with Blue Sargent. He’d felt it the moment he laid eyes on her, that night at Nino’s when he’d asked her to come talk to Adam. His heart had felt lighter that night than it had in years. Of course, he’d humiliated himself and she had since forgiven him, and they had come close to kissing. They would have, if not for her curse. But how did that work, if she would kill her true love by kissing him, and he needed his true love’s kiss to stay alive?
The answer, he hoped, was that the curses would cancel each other out. But since he hadn’t told Blue about his own curse, he couldn’t ask her to try to break it. Not that she would if she didn’t want to. He remembered the first time they had met, when he had asked her to come to their table to talk to Adam. The memory of her indignation, her vehement insistence that she was not a prostitute, made him grin in spite of himself. God, but he hoped he wasn’t the arrogant son of a bitch now that he had been on that night. The sound of her laughter carried over to him, snapping him out of his thoughts, and he pulled himself up to go join his friends.
Four in the morning and he still couldn’t sleep. Tiptoeing down the hall to avoid waking his friends (for once, even Ronan was sleeping, and Gansey couldn’t help wondering what strange object he’d pull out of his dreams next), he crouched over his miniature model of Henrietta, silently tracing a finger over the ley line before setting to work on another building, a perfect scale model of 300 Fox Way.
He felt Noah before he saw him; the temperature of the room dropped, raising goosebumps on his bare forearms.
“You should tell her,” Noah stated without preamble.
“Tell what to whom?” Gansey asked, keeping his eyes on the mini-300 Fox Way’s roof gable.
“Tell Blue about whatever’s bothering you.”
“Nothing’s bothering me.”
“Like hell, Gansey. All the money in the world won’t help your poker face. Plus, of all the buildings in this town, why her house?”
There was silence as Gansey continued to tinker with the tiny building, considering how to answer. Noah finally broke it.
“Look. You like her. She likes you. It’s not a crime, you know. If you’re worried about Adam, you don’t need to be.”
“It’s not that easy. She can’t…and…” he paused, then decided to go all-in. “I can’t either. She’s not the only one with fate working against her. “
Noah just stared, and Gansey plunged on. “Look, I’ve been seeing psychics for years, and they’ve all told me the same thing. If my true love doesn’t kiss me by my eighteenth birthday, I die. If she kisses her true love, he dies. Not great odds, are they?”
There was a long silence. Noah looked shocked and horrified; Gansey studied his hands, now shaking in his lap, the miniature house discarded. He’d never told anyone about the curse before, and the telling left him feeling vulnerable. It was freeing, though, too, as it reminded him that he was just one more extraordinary boy in an entire pack of extraordinary boys—the Magician, the Greywaren, the ghost, and the cursed one. He had kept the secret so long that it seemed like the earth would crack if he ever told, but the world just kept on turning as the silence stretched out between them.
Finally, Noah spoke again in a hush. “So that’s why you need to find Glendower. It all makes so much sense now.”
Gansey nodded. “I’ve got six weeks to finish this thing, one way or another."
“You need to tell Ronan and Adam. They’ll want to help, and if the end is coming, they’ll want to know. Blue, too. The way I see it, we have six weeks to either find Glendower or make Blue kiss you.”
“You know it isn’t that easy. Blue has a curse of her own, and I’m not exactly the king of courtship when it comes to her. Remember the first time we met?”
“Yeah, but that was different. You were asking for Adam. Speaking of Adam, have you thought of asking him for help? He’s the Magician. Or have you considered asking Blue’s family for help?”
“Yeah, that’d be easy,” Gansey mumbled, desperation turning him sarcastic.
“Worth a try, though?”
“I’d rather find Glendower, and I’ve got six weeks to do it. For now, I’m going back to bed.”
For two weeks, he kept to his word. He told Ronan, Adam, and Blue about the prophecy. Blue, to her credit, did not cry. She didn’t offer to kiss him, either (but she wouldn’t, he reasoned—what good was breaking his curse if hers would do him in anyway?). Ronan had exploded into a tirade that slipped into Latin and left Chainsaw shuffling nervously on his arm. Adam had gone quiet for a long time, then brandished the tarot deck he’d inherited from Persephone, vowing to help.
And so, for two weeks, they redoubled their search for Glendower in practically every waking second that wasn’t spent in school. Gansey spent hours poring over his journals, looking for any clues he might have missed. They ventured further and further afield, chasing ever more obscure readings and legends. They spent their time in Cabeswater huddled as a group, strategizing. They got nowhere.
One month to the day before his birthday, Gansey was nearly in despair. It was nearly midnight on a Friday night under a full moon, and he sat outside Nino’s in the Pig, pensively chewing a mint leaf as he waited for Blue to finish her shift. The night air was balmy and humid, heavy with the scent of pizza grease. He saw her coming and leaned across the seat to open the passenger door, flashing her a grin as she slid in beside her.
“How was work?”
“Busy. Didn’t get my break. Want to share my yogurt?” She held up a carton and spoon.
“What kind is it?”
“Pineapple. Whatever, it’s yogurt. Fruit glop at the bottom.”
“You miss the meaning of life without the fruit glop.” He expected her to pull of the lid and dig in, but instead, she just looked at him, dead serious under the dome light.
“Gansey, I think we should go out.”
“That’s what Noah keeps saying, but it won’t end well.”
“I didn’t say we should kiss, I said we should go out. On a date. Let’s just, for a second, pretend that we’re two normal teenagers who like each other.”
“Yes. Let’s go stargaze and have a yogurt picnic.”
Gansey still wasn’t sold, but what did he have left to lose? Starting the engine of the Pig, he drove them out of Henrietta, toward one of the more remote spots he had explored with Malory. Once they were far enough out of town to make the stars more visible, he pulled off the road next to an open field.
“Are you sure you want to do this?”
She nodded fiercely. “Tomorrow, we’ll have to decide how to go on, but just for tonight, let’s be normal teenagers.”
Being a normal teenager sounded like heaven. He slid out from behind the wheel and followed her into the field. The grass was soaked with dew, dampening his socks above the Top-Siders that she would make fun of in the daylight. A few hundred feet from the Pig, she flopped down on the grass, peeling back the lid of her yogurt as he settled himself beside her.
“Sorry it’s wet. If I had known you were going to get all sentimental, I’d’ve brought a blanket. But you wanted to stargaze.”
“It’s perfect.” She took a bite of yogurt and leaned against him. “Sorry I smell like pizza.”
“You smell perfect.” And it was perfect, more perfect than any date he’d ever had that included expensive restaurants and flowers. She leaned against him as she continued to eat the yogurt in small bites, smelling of pizza grease, with the scent of 300 Fox Way—incense and herbal tea and sage and arcane knowledge—underlying it. The air was just hot enough to make the dampness of the dew refreshing rather than unpleasant, and the stars were brilliant, sparkling against a canvas of blue-black sky. He found his arm snaking around her shoulder, and instead of pulling away, she leaned into the touch.
“How old were you when you first found out about your curse?” he asked quietly. They’d never talked about this, but somehow tonight it felt natural to ask.
“I don’t even remember. That’s the thing about growing up in a house of psychics; I got readings as often as bedtime stories.”
“Did they ever make you feel bad that you aren’t like them?”
“No, not at all. If anything, it’s annoying because they always want help with things, no matter what time it is. Being the daughter of the town psychic didn’t make it easy to make friends, either, but it’s not so bad. Lots of people have it worse.” She hesitated, and then turned the question on him. “How old were you when you found out?”
“I was ten. It was summer vacation from this swanky boys’ school in Arlington. I wanted to go to this carnival, you know, the kind they set up in vacant lots with rides that look like they’re about to fall apart? My parents didn’t quite understand why, but we went anyway. There was this fortune-teller with a tarot deck, smoke and mirrors really, and she told me. I didn’t believe her. Then I started looking for Glendower, and going to readings trying to find the ley line, and they all said the same thing.”
She finished the last bite of yogurt and passed him her container and spoon. “Do your parents believe?”
“They believe enough to let me be obsessed with Glendower for six years, to send me all over the world looking. They believe me enough to let me spend a long time overseas with Malory. In a way, I think they’re glad Henrietta’s on the ley line. It’s a hick town, but at least I’m close to home, and Aglionby’s a good school. So, if the curse isn’t actually real, I’ll have enough of an education to do whatever I decide to do.”
For once, she didn’t flinch when he poked fun at Henrietta. “What do you want to do?”
“I don’t actually know. If the curse is real, I’ve got four weeks to live. But whatever’s beyond that…I just know it won’t be law or politics.” He finished the pineapple glop in three bites, then stood and offered his hand. “Thanks, Blue. This has been great, but your aunts will kill me if I don’t get you home.”
“This was great. Should we do it again?”
“Probably not, but I want to. It was great to be a normal teenager with you.”
They didn’t go stargazing again, but their relationship had shifted, and everyone knew it. He picked her up after her shifts at Nino’s. They went to movies, went for walks, did their homework together in Henrietta’s tiny public library. Blue spent nearly as much time at Monmouth Manufacturing as she did at 300 Fox Way. They held hands, snuggled on the couch watching movies, did everything a normal teenage couple would do, except kiss. Noah, Adam, and Ronan silently allowed their relationship to progress, and if Blue’s aunts had anything to say on the matter, she didn’t share it with Gansey.
They kept up the search for Glendower, but still found nothing. Gansey found it didn’t matter so much to him anymore. He wasn’t sure if he was resigned to his fate, or if his newfound…whatever this was…with Blue really took the pressure off, but whatever the case, he was calmer and happier than he’d ever thought he’d be, this close to the end of the line.
Three days before his birthday, he sat alone over the miniature model of Henrietta in the middle of the night, putting the finishing touches on the miniature of 300 Fox Way. It was the last building he’d make for his model, and he wanted it to be perfect. If nothing else, maybe Blue could have it to remember him by.
“Will you kiss her before the end?” Noah asked, suddenly appearing next to him.
“I don’t know. We haven’t talked about it. I don’t want her thinking that I died because of her, you know?”’
“But she knows about your curse now, too. And the two of you are good together.”
“I’m not going to ask her to kiss me, but I suppose if it happens, it happens,” Gansey allowed.
“Do you know what you’re doing for your last date?”
“We’re not dating, not really. But I know I want to go to Cabeswater.”
If Noah had been a living, breathing boy, his gasp would have been audible. “Gansey, we are all idiots. If you kiss her in Cabeswater, what happens? The curses could both be lifted. You’d both be free!”
“Thought of that a long time ago. Don’t know if it would work.”
“What do you have to lose at this point?”
Nothing, Gansey had to admit. He still wasn’t going to force Blue to kiss him, but he did invite her, as well as Noah, Adam, and Ronan, into Cabeswater on the day before his birthday. It might well be the last time, but no one said so. As they stood at the entrance, huddled together, Adam pulled the bag containing Persephone’s tarot deck from his pocket.
“Pick one,” he said, offering the deck to Gansey and Blue.
Blue pulled first. Page of Cups, the card that Maura had always said was hers. Nothing new there.
Gansey pulled the Lovers. “The lovers stand for relationships and union,” Blue explained.
“Fitting. You four are the best thing that ever happened to me,” Gansey whispered, a lump forming in his throat. Inwardly, he cursed himself. He hadn’t meant to get sentimental.
“Are you really that obtuse, Gansey?” Ronan snapped. “It’s obvious to the rest of the world what that means.”
Instead of answering, Gansey took Blue’s hand and led the way into Cabeswater. The ancient forest greeted them as it had many times in the past. Golden, dappled sunlight filtered through the ancient trees, air rippling with magic. The color-changing fish still swam around in their pool. As was his habit, Gansey separated himself a little from the group, but Blue refused to let go of his hand. They sank to the ground under his favorite tree, and out of habit, he put his arm around her. She snuggled in, as she had on their first “date,” and laid her head on his shoulder.
“Are you afraid?” she asked, a breathy whisper against his ear. The question sent a shiver down his spine, but it wasn’t a shiver of fear. He shook his head.
“I’m not afraid of anything.”
“Then kiss me, Blue Sargent, because no matter what, I want this to end on my terms.”
Turning his head slightly, he captured her lips with his. Momentarily startled, she kissed him back, slowly at first, then hungrily, arms around him, clasping him to her chest. Around them, the ground shook and lightning flashed across the sky, wind whipping their hair and snatching at their clothes.
If this is the end, thought Gansey, then it is exactly what I want. Kissing her felt so right, it made him giddy. They finally broke apart, breathless, but continued to hold each other, lost in the moment.
“What happens now?” Blue wondered aloud. “No one ever told me the specifics. But you didn’t die instantly, at least.”
“Blue…if I had to do it all over again, I’d die a thousand times for that kiss.” He leaned in to kiss her again, but the rustling of the trees stopped him.
Unio amatores placet corvus rex. Fregit unio amantis preces.
“The union of the Lovers is pleasing to the Raven King. The union of the lovers has broken the curses,” he translated for Blue, pulling her close to kiss her again, this time with no desperation. Now they were free to kiss as long as they liked, with no curses to bind them. Behind them, he heard the others applauding, catcalling and wolf-whistling, but he left them to it.
Time always acted strange in Cabeswater, but whether they continued to kiss for hours or minutes, he never knew. “Now you’re free to kiss whomever you want,” he murmured in her ear when they finally pulled apart again.
“The only one I want to kiss is you,” she replied, getting to her feet and pulling him up beside her. Then, hands joined, they walked into the sunshine to join the others.