“Can I come?”
Mariel raised an eyebrow, studying her. “You’re not eating your ice cream.”
Mariel snatched the ice cream cup from Eris’s hand and ripped off the lid, then stuck a red-painted nail in and took a bite with her finger. “Mmm. Chocolate–key lime. Excellent choice. And yes,” she said as Eris opened her mouth again, “you can come. But if you do, there’s no ducking out early. Also, no drinking the wine.”
“So it is a party,” Eris said triumphantly.
Mariel just laughed again, saying nothing.
* * *
“You brought me to church?” Eris hissed, standing outside the hulking carved wooden doors of the Cathedral of St. Paul. “You do know it’s Friday, right?”
“My mom works weekends, so we always go Friday night instead of Sunday morning.” Mariel turned to Eris. “You can head home, if you want.”
Eris hesitated. They weren’t far. She’d never even noticed this church, but it was barely ten blocks from their street. “No,” she decided.
“No leaving early,” Mariel reminded her, and pushed on the heavy door, which swung inward. She dipped her hand in the holy water next to the entrance. When Eris passed the marble font without taking any, Mariel sighed, and turned to rub a few droplets from her thumb onto Eris’s forehead. Eris stood absolutely still.
She followed Mariel down a side aisle and into a pew, where a middle-aged couple with dark hair and a boy who looked about twelve were already seated. Mariel’s parents and brother, Eris guessed. Mariel whispered something that Eris couldn’t hear, gesturing at her. They all smiled and nodded at her, then faced forward as the choir began to sing.
Eris looked around, curious. It was cool and dim inside, most of the light blazing in from the stained-glass windows that lined the walls. Eris knew they weren’t anywhere near a side of the Tower, so these must be false windows, lit up from behind with solar lamps. The ceiling arced high overhead, taking up all of the next floor and maybe even some of the 105th. Stone statues of people in robes and halos lined the walls.
Belatedly Eris realized everyone was kneeling. She hurried to follow, sliding down onto the cushioned kneeler. They all began chanting something she didn’t know the words to. She looked over at Mariel. “Just pray,” Mariel whispered. So Eris closed her eyes and let the unfamiliar words wash over her.
For the rest of the service she followed the movements of the congregation: sitting, kneeling, standing, sitting again; humming along with the songs and sitting quietly during the prayers. The choir was enchanting, their voices mingling with the piano recordings to weave a kind of temporary magic over her. Eris felt soothed, almost peaceful. Her mind wandered. She thought about her parents—what they’d been like when they met, when her mom was just a young model who left her career for an older man, and her dad fresh off his second divorce. She let herself imagine her birth father; where he was now, what traits they shared.
She looked over at Mariel’s family, the four of them holding hands, and found herself hoping that everything would turn out all right for them. And for her own twisted, broken family too. Maybe that’s all that praying was, she thought, just wishing good outcomes on other people.
The priest said something and everyone was suddenly on their feet, shaking hands, murmuring good wishes to one another. It was utterly foreign to Eris, this idea of touching people you didn’t even know. But it was nice too—being someplace where no one judged her, or cared about her history, or even knew her name. After she’d shaken hands with Mariel’s family and the entire pew in front of them, Eris finally turned to Mariel. “Peace be with you,” she whispered, her voice a little scratchy.
“And with your spirit,” Mariel said in return, clasping Eris’s hand.
As they sat back down, Mariel didn’t quite let go. Instead she ran her hand along Eris’s arm to intertwine their fingers. Eris said nothing, just looked straight ahead, but her hand was tightly interlaced with Mariel’s. She gave Mariel a little squeeze, and after a moment, Mariel squeezed her back.
They sat quietly holding hands for the rest of the service.
* * *
When mass ended, Eris followed Mariel’s family as they joined the other churchgoers streaming out. After the calm peacefulness within the church, the world outside suddenly felt loud and overcrowded. Eris jumped a little as a medical hover, its siren wailing, swerved angrily past.
“Thanks for letting me come to church with you,” Eris said. Mariel just nodded.
“Eris,” Mariel’s mom said, breaking the silence. “Tell me about yourself. What brought you and your family to Baneberry Lane?”
Eris shot Mariel a glance, surprised that the other girl hadn’t shared any of this. “My family is going through some stuff,” she admitted. “It’s actually just me and my mom down here. My parents are splitting up.” It was easier each time she said that, she realized. Maybe eventually she would be able to say it without wanting to cry.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Mariel’s mom said, and surprised Eris by giving her a hug. Eris had never been hugged by anyone else’s parents before, not even Avery’s. “Do you and your mom want to come over for dinner?” she asked as they stepped up to her apartment.