“All right, not a million. Two. One being that Claire, Rachel, or both of them moved the piece themselves.”
“I thought Claire was doing it too—”
“The other being that perhaps you moved it yourself.”
I crossed my arms over my chest. “Why would I do that?”
Noah shrugged a shoulder. “Maybe you were upset with Rachel, and subconsciously you spelled your own name.”
I said nothing, but my expression must have been murderous because Noah drew himself up and moved on. “Anyway, there’s some fuckery afoot, clearly, but I don’t think you’re possessed.”
“For several reasons, the most obvious one being that with said fuckery happening to both of us—albeit with different manifestations—if I am not possessed, then you, too, are likely not possessed.”
I lifted my chin. “What’s your theory, then?”
“I’ve considered several.”
Noah affected a bored tone as he rattled them off. “Genetic mutation, toxic waste, radioactive isotopes, growth hormones in milk—”
“But not possession?” My eyebrows lifted. “What about reincarnation?”
“Please,” he said with amused contempt.
“Says the person who just tried to pin this on growth hormones in milk. Seriously?”
“I didn’t say they were good theories. And they’re more likely than either of yours.”
I flopped down on my back and stared at my ceiling. “Who’d have thought Daniel would be more helpful than you?”
We were both silent as rain drummed on the roof. “All right,” Noah finally said. “What else did he have to say?”
I turned my head to look at Noah. “He suggested I have a wise and mysterious figure help my character on her quest.”
“Brilliant, save for the fact that there appears to be no wise and mysterious figure. Next?”
“Wait,” I said as an idea dawned. Remembering the Ouija board from Rachel’s birthday made me remember what I did on mine. I remembered—
“Lukumi,” I said slowly.
“The priest? The Santeria priest? We’re back there, are we?”
“You sound skeptical.”
“Well, I do have doubts, yes, but I suppose I should have seen that one coming.”
“I remembered what I needed to remember, Noah. Just like he said I would.”
“Which could be explained by the placebo effect.”
I held Noah’s gaze. “I think we should look for him.”
“We did, Mara,” he said calmly. “We went back to Little Havana, and we didn’t find any answers there.”
“Exactly,” I said, leaning forward. “The shop disappeared. Something’s up with him.”
“I was curious about that myself,” Noah said, his legs stretched languidly out in front of him. “So I looked into it. Botanicas are often fly-by-night operations, because of animal cruelty issues. If proprietors think there might be a bust, they clean up and vanish. Hence the stray chickens wandering throughout Hialeah. Satisfied?”
I shook my head, growing more and more frustrated. “Why do you keep reaching for science?”
“Why do you keep reaching for magic?”
“We should look for him,” I said again, and petulantly.
“Santeria isn’t exactly the Catholic church, Mara. Asking locals, ‘Pardon me, might you have that witch doctor’s mobile number?’ is likely to prove fruitless.”
I was about to retort when Daniel pushed the door open. He looked back and forth between us.
“Uh, I was going to invite you guys out to dinner with me and Sophie, but the vibe in here’s a little intense. Everything cool?”
“Where are we going?” I asked quickly. I needed to get out of this house.
“Sophie was thinking Cuban,” Daniel said warily.
Noah and I broke into twin smiles. Then he met my eyes and said, “I know just the place.”
BEFORE WE LEFT, MY MOTHER MADE DANIEL AND Noah both swear to watch me every second and made me take my father’s cell phone too, for good measure. She would have fitted me with an ankle monitor if she could have, but I didn’t care—I was just glad to go.
We picked up Sophie on the way to the restaurant; she practically bounced into the car and kissed Daniel on the cheek. He totally blushed. She totally beamed. They were adorable together, I had to admit it.
The perfect pair talked about some concert some famous violinist was giving at the Center for Performing Arts next week, and I leaned my cheek against the cool window of Daniel’s Civic.
The drenched roads rushed by us. Street lamps cast yellow cones of light on the houses below them, which went from expensive in Sophie’s neighborhood to run-down as we neared the restaurant. At a red light, I noticed a cat watching us from the roof of someone’s parked car. When it saw me, it pulled its gums back in a hiss.
Maybe I imagined it.
The restaurant was lit with white Christmas lights outside, and the smell of frying dough invaded the damp air.
“Whatever that smell is,” Sophie said as we went inside, “that’s what I’m having.”
“Churros,” Noah said. “It’s a dessert.”
Sophie tucked her short blond hair behind her ears. “I don’t care. That smell is crazy.”
“So’s the line,” Daniel said, eyeing the assembled crowd. Dozens of people were standing, laughing, talking—all waiting for a seat.
“It’s always busy,” I said.
“You’ve been here?” Sophie asked.
“Twice.” Once on my birthday. And then the first time—the first time Noah and I went out. I smiled at the memory, just as Noah said, “I’ll be right back.”
The crowd pressed us against the bar. “Oh my God,” Sophie squealed, looking at a display of the restaurant’s green and white promotional T-shirts behind the counter. “Those are so cute.”
“You want one?” Daniel asked her.
“Would it be cheesy if I said yes?”
“Yes,” my brother said, but he was smiling.
She wrinkled her nose. “I love cheese.”
So did I, in small doses.
I discreetly inched away from them and toward the glass dessert case. I didn’t care about the food; my eyes roamed over the wall next to it, over to the fliers tacked on a giant bulletin board. That was how I first found Abel Lukumi. Maybe I’d get lucky again.