My eyes snapped open and I sat up straight. Beside me, Meryl groggily lifted her head off of my shoulder. The last thing I remembered was sitting on the bed talking to Meryl. I wasn’t sure what happened, but somehow Father Sebastian had materialized in my doorway. He stood there staring at us. That’s when it hit me. We must have fallen asleep.
Father Sebastian held his hand up and shook his head. “Save it. I don’t want to hear excuses.”
Meryl opened her mouth to speak, but Father Sebastian cut her off. “Just go, Meryl. I’ll deal with you later.”
My shoulders sagged as I glanced over at her. “I’m sorry.”
She touched my arm and slowly stood up. “Don’t be. I’m glad I could help you.”
Toast uncurled herself and looked put out as Meryl’s weight left the bed. Then, after a moment, she lazily yawned and watched her walk across the room. When Meryl got close, Father Sebastian stepped forward out of the doorway so she could pass. Meryl didn’t even look at him. Instead, she faced forward and studied the ground.
Once she was gone, Father Sebastian closed the door. “What am I going to do with you, Drake? Vincent will be furious when he finds out.”
“We could always keep it between us?”
He shook his head. “No, we can’t. We’re not the only ones awake. I won’t be surprised if one of the other boys sees her, and I’m sure the Sisters will. Besides, she’s got a roommate, remember? Katie has definitely noticed Meryl isn’t there.”
I sighed, “It wasn’t what it looked like.”
“Fine, you can save it for confession, if that’s what you really want.”
“Father Sebastian, she was helping me with a ghost. The target yesterday – he came back. You were busy with Father Vincent, so I asked Meryl for help.”
Father Sebastian’s face softened. “I’m sorry. You know Meryl’s way of dealing with things isn’t what we teach, though.”
“Just because she has a different way of communing with God doesn’t make her wrong. Besides, it worked. He didn’t come back last night.”
“What was she still doing in here?”
“We were talking after her ceremony and just fell asleep. Look,” I said, pointing at Toast, “we were supervised.”
Father Sebastian tried to swallow a chuckle, but failed. “All right, fine. That still doesn’t change the fact that Vincent is going to be mad and you both will probably get an earful from the Sisters. If you’re going to bother her in the middle of the night, just be more careful next time.”
I nodded. “Thanks.”
“Now, I didn’t come in here to interrupt you two. Vincent and I have a few things we need to discuss with you and Rue.”
“Have you found our next target already?”
He hesitated. “Not quite. Vincent wants to explain everything. Rue is probably already with him.”
I groaned. “Please tell me she’s not going to be in there when you tell him about Meryl and me.”
Father Sebastian looked me up and down. “There’s not anything going on between you and Rue, is there?”
Had I been drinking water, I would have spewed it all over the place. Instead, it was just air and spit. “What? No. Rue? Father Sebastian, really? You’re the one always telling me to pay attention to everything around me. You know how she is. Why would—”
“Okay, okay. I get it,” he said as he held his hands up in the air. “I didn’t think so, but I wanted to make sure. You seemed awful worried she’d find out about you and Meryl. Since you two have to work together, you need to make sure it stays platonic.”
I gave him a flat, unamused stare. “Trust me. It’s all I can do to tolerate her when I have to.”
A small smile played at the edges of Father Sebastian’s mouth. “She can be difficult, can’t she? Of course, I didn’t say that.”
I laughed. “Of course. The problem is, I’m never going to hear the end of it from her if she finds out Meryl was here last night.”
Father Sebastian shrugged. “She’s going to hear about it, regardless. You know how quickly things like that spread around here.”
“Believe me. I know.”
“Come on,” he said. “They’re waiting for us.”
I nodded and followed him out into the hallway. The sun was already up and streamed in through the windows. Immediately, I noticed all of the other bedroom doors were open. My heart sank. I hadn’t even thought about what would happen if anyone else saw Meryl leave my room.
As we walked past each door, I realized that none of the other boys were around. I hoped that meant they hadn’t seen Meryl, but I knew better. Father Sebastian was right. Meryl and I wouldn’t hear the end of it. Had the other guys not been so jealous of my friendship with her, it might not have been such a bad thing. Unfortunately, they were just going to hate me even more.
As we neared Father Vincent’s office, my heart continued to sink. I glanced around and desperately tried to come up with some excuse I could use to delay the inevitable, even if for just a moment, but nothing came to mind. Then, before I knew it, we arrived. The door was shut, but Father Sebastian quickly opened it and stepped inside. I took a deep breath and forced myself to follow him.
Inside, Father Vincent sat behind his large, wooden desk. His hair looked hastily combed and he had bags under his eyes. I doubted he had slept at all, which wasn’t a good sign. Rue, of course, sat across from him but stared at us as we entered. “We thought you got lost,” she said as I closed the door behind us.
I looked at Father Sebastian. “Vincent,” he said. “Can Drake and I have a word with you?”
Father Vincent arched an eyebrow. “What? Can’t it wait until after we’re done here? You and I still have a lot of work to do.”
Father Sebastian slowly shook his head. “We’ll probably be hearing from the Sisters before long. It’s better we talk to you right now.”
“What is it?” Father Vincent asked with a disgruntled sigh.
I noticed Father Sebastian glance at Rue, but we both knew trying to make her leave would be futile. She’d just eavesdrop from outside. “I found Meryl in Drake’s room this morning,” he said.
Father Vincent scowled. “What?”
“They were both fully clothed and fell asleep sitting up with the cat. Drake assures me nothing happened; he and Meryl just talked.”
I could have hugged Father Sebastian for not mentioning my ghost problems. Father Vincent never seemed to believe me. According to him, it was all in my head and I just needed to be strong like Rue. It was something he and Father Sebastian never agreed about.
“Right. I’m sure that’s all they did,” Father Vincent said as he shook his head.
I stepped forward and forced myself to meet his gaze. “It was, I swear.
Father Vincent glared at me and his face turned red. “Drake,” he said, quietly but with a barely controlled rage, “do you understand what we’re doing here?”
“We’re trying to stop a—”
“God’s work,” he said, interrupting me as his voice began to rise. “Why would you do something so stupid and selfish right now? None of us can afford to be distracted. Now I’ve got to deal with you, that harlot, and the Sisters. I don’t have time for this.”
Rue didn’t even try to hide her smile as Father Vincent insulted Meryl and got ready to lay into me. I grit my teeth and did my best to ignore her. “Meryl isn’t a—”
“Be quiet,” he demanded. “I don’t care what you have to say. Sebastian and I have been up all night researching this alternative energy project and we’ve still got an enormous amount of work ahead of us. Your stupid decision is going to interrupt everything.”
I made myself take a slow, steady breath. I needed to stay calm, otherwise I was just going to get into more trouble. “I’m sorry.”
“Fine, you’re sorry. That doesn’t change the fact that you’re directly interfering with the mission God has given us. I’ve told you to stay away from that – that girl,” he practically spit the word girl out, clearly wanting to say something else. “This is the last time I’m going to say it. Either you stay away from her, or I’ll make sure she stays away from you.”
I wanted to argue with Father Vincent and tell him he was wrong. He didn’t understand. How could he? He was a priest; he couldn’t have a relationship with a woman. And Rue – I wanted to punch her stupid, smiling face for enjoying every second of my misery. Instead, I did my best to push my anger aside once more. Speaking my mind would just make things worse. “Yes, sir,” I said instead.
Father Vincent shook his head. “I’ll figure out your punishment later. I’m sure the Sisters will have plenty to say.”
“Father Vincent,” Rue chimed in as she glanced at me and then back to him. “You were trying to tell us something before Drake interrupted, right?”
Some of the tension seemed to leave Father Vincent as he once more focused on the task at hand. “Yes, thank you, Rue. Unlike someone in here, Sebastian and I spent the night working to further our cause. We’ve done a lot of research, but we still have more to go. I need both of you to be ready to work as soon as we’re done. We’ll be able to narrow things down, but it will be up to you two to do the legwork out in the field.”
Rue and I nodded.
“I’m counting on the two of you,” he continued, staring at Rue for a long moment before shifting his gaze onto me. “Are you capable of handling this?”
“Yes,” I mumbled.
“No more selfish stunts, Drake. You only have one thing you need to occupy your time with, and it’s not Meryl.”
I nodded weakly. Even if Meryl and I couldn’t be together, we were still friends. Just because we were in trouble didn’t mean I was about to stop hanging out with her.
“Good,” he said, shifting his attention away from me. “Once Sebastian and I finish our research, you’ll both be busy. We intend to choose an investor for one of you to monitor and a scientist for the other. I had hoped to have the specifics figured out by tonight but, thanks to Drake’s indiscretions, it probably won’t be until tomorrow.”
“You two should rest today,” Father Sebastian said as he stepped forward and stood beside the desk to face Rue and I. “Things are about to get hectic, so breathe while you can. Drake, for you I’d suggest making the most of the next half hour or so until your punishment has been be decided on.”
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