Cairo, November 1946
It’s not the first time that she’s looked at her brother and thought I need to fix this, but it’s the first time she’s come quite so close to saying it out loud.
From her vantage point at the doorway of the drawing room, where she and Rick are doing their very best to look like they’re not watching, she stares incredulously as Jonathan makes a stellar attempt to ruin his own life.
At the other end of the room, Jonathan and Ardeth sit in front of the unlit fireplace. As usual, they’re locked in some sort of debate without any intellectual merit at all.
It's an almost weekly ritual at this point. They turn up together, and spend the whole evening dancing around each other, goading each other, trying to provoke the other into noticing them, and instead managing to provoke an enormous headache right between Evy's eyes.
“I don’t think you understand,” says Jonathan, leaning back in his chair and sloshing his tumbler of whisky around as he gesticulates fervently. “Dead people don’t need bracelets, do they?”
In the chair opposite him, Ardeth frowns, arms folded. His temples are threaded through with silver these days, and although Evy is perfectly happy with Rick, thank you very much, she has to admit that she’s never found it hard to understand what Jonathan sees in Ardeth. She finds it a little trickier to work out what Ardeth might see in her brother, although she supposes he’s not entirely bad looking, from an objective standpoint.
“That isn’t the point, and you know it isn’t,” says Ardeth.
“Then what is the point, dear chap?” asks Jonathan. “Elucidate.” He draws the word out slowly, almost lasciviously, although Evy’s fairly sure that he’s just trying to enunciate through three fingers of whisky.
“You don’t need bracelets either!” says Ardeth. “It’s theft. It doesn’t matter that the person is dead. It’s still their bracelet. And when has someone being dead ever stopped them from chasing after you? You’re the last person who should use someone being dead as an excuse. You know better than anyone that dead people don’t always stay dead.”
“Oh, pish and posh,” scoffs Jonathan. “Dead people only chase after me because they can't resist my charms, and you know it.”
Rick looks at Evy.
Evy looks at Rick.
Rick takes a step back.
“No,” he says, holding his hands up. “No, no, no. Absolutely not. Not in a million years. Don’t even think about it.”
Evy bats her eyelashes. “Rick.”
“We have to!” she hisses.
“No, we don’t.” She raises an eyebrow, and he shrugs. “We don’t! He’s a big boy. He can take care of it himself.”
“Oh, because he’s doing such a fine job of taking care of it,” she scoffs. “It isn’t going to end, Rick! Can you honestly tell me that you’re willing to put up with another twenty years of—of whatever that is?”
Rick snorts. “They’re not that bad.”
Wordlessly, Evy looks back over at Jonathan and Ardeth.
“If you think about it, I'm doing them a favour. Jewellery never looks quite right on dead people,” Jonathan is saying, flicking his wrist in comic disdain. A drop of whisky lurches forcefully from his glass and lands on Ardeth’s thigh, and Jonathan leans forward to pat it dry with his jacket sleeve. “Terribly sorry, old boy. I get a bit animated after a finger or two of the good stuff.”
Ardeth’s eyes are very, very wide indeed.
“Jesus, you’re right,” says Rick.
“I’ll get my notebook,” says Evy.
Cairo, January 1947
Evy slaps a copy of the conference programme down on the desk in front of Jonathan, and he nearly jumps clean out of his chair.
“My God, Evy,” he says, hand spread over his heart. “Are you trying to kill me? Warn a chap before you do loud things with sheaths of paper in his immediate vicinity.”
He puts aside the novel he’s been writing for the past six years, picks up the conference paper instead, and studies it with thinly veiled interest.
“If I were trying to kill you, you wouldn’t even know about it until you figured it out from beyond the grave,” Evy sniffs. “I’m inviting you and Ardeth to the conference, and you’re both going to come with me, or I shall be very cross indeed.”
Jonathan frowns. “I’m deeply flattered at your heartfelt demands, dear sister, but why? They aren’t usually family affairs. Besides, it’s more Alex’s thing than mine, really. Although I suppose he’s still in Rome, so it’s a bit of a commute.”
“Dr Faruk is giving a talk on the Medjai tribes near Thebes and how they fit into his frankly reductive view of the pharaonic power structure,” Evy explains, having rehearsed her lines thirty or so times in the mirror that morning whilst brushing her teeth. “I’d rather thought that Ardeth would like to see what complete and utter piffle he manages to come out with this time.”
“Ah,” says Jonathan, knowingly. “Dr Faruk.”
“It’s just a professional rivalry, Jonathan. Nothing scandalous, so you can stop doing that thing with your eyebrows any time you like.”
Jonathan does not stop doing that thing with his eyebrows. “You threw a copy of his book out of the window in the middle of his presentation and called him a vile charlatan.”
Evy feels herself blush. “There were four obvious errors in the book’s title alone. What was I supposed to do?”
“It landed in a drain.”
“Yes, well.” She clears her throat. “Best place for it.”
“I don’t disagree,” he says. “I’m simply wondering what my role is in all of this. After all, you’ve proven yourself perfectly capable of thoroughly, albeit deservedly, humiliating the poor man in front of his peers all by yourself over the years. What am I, moral support? A getaway driver?”
“It’s taking place in Alexandria, you ninny,” she says, pointing at the relevant part of the programme. “I rather thought you’d appreciate a weekend on the coast, possibly get a little more writing done on that blasted book of yours, take a nice dip in the sea, but if you’d rather not—”
She makes as though to take the programme back, and Jonathan yanks it out of her reach, smooths it out where he’s crumpled it. “Alexandria, hmm?” he muses. “Well. I suppose I have been working particularly hard lately. A weekend off would do me the world of good.”
Evy rolls her eyes. “If anyone deserves it, Jonathan, it’s you,” she says, and means it.
Alexandria, February 1947
The four of them arrive at the hotel halfway through the afternoon, and Evy can almost feel her blood thrumming with the excitement of putting her grand plan into action.
At last, it’s going to be over. All those years of walking into a room to find Jonathan and Ardeth already there, and having to practically wade through the tension between them like some sort of primordial hormone soup. Two decades of rolling her eyes as Jonathan picks pointless fights with Ardeth just to make him lose his carefully controlled temper, because even Evy can admit that Ardeth in the throes of a particularly good argument is a sight to behold. Centuries of biting her tongue every time Ardeth touches Jonathan on the elbow to get his attention, making Jonathan so flustered that he temporarily lost the power of speech.
She and Rick had stayed up until long past midnight that fateful November night, jotting down and scratching out their plots and schemes into the pages of one of Evy’s old notebooks. They’d finally settled on their current plan, which Rick had dubbed ‘Operation Trojan Horse’ in a classical allusion that had made him beam so proudly that Evy had thrown the notebook aside and jumped on him immediately.
And now it’s time. Ardeth and Rick linger in the foyer of the hotel, Rick carrying Evy’s luggage and Ardeth carrying Jonathan’s—he’s packed the most of them by far, and Ardeth’s stoic composure is slightly rumpled by the faint sheen of sweat on his brow, although he hasn’t complained once—as Evy approaches the check-in desk, Jonathan in tow. She clears her throat to get the attention of the hotel clerk, a pale man who looks simultaneously forty-five and thirteen, and who’s currently doing an excellent impression of not hearing her at all.
“Excuse me,” she says, and when the clerk continues writing in the logbook, she lifts herself up on tiptoes, raises her voice. “Excuse me—”
“Gosh, we’d better find somewhere else to spend our vast inheritance,” says Jonathan loudly, and in less time than it takes for Evy to realise what he’s playing at, the clerk is at their beck and call.
Evy really, really hates the world sometimes.
“I’d like to check in, please,” she says, beaming disarmingly at the clerk, imagining him getting trapped underground with a recently resurrected mummy and immediately feeling much better about things. “I booked the rooms under the name Evelyn O’Connell.”
“Certainly, madam,” he says, checking the logbook. “You reserved two doubles. Correct?”
Next to her, Evy hears Jonathan clear his throat to interject.
“Yes, that’s right,” she says loudly, drowning out his protests. “Two doubles. Thank you.”
The clerk eyes the two of them, then looks over at Ardeth and Rick, and frowns.
“And who’s sharing with who?”
Damn it. She hadn’t thought of that.
Luckily, Jonathan’s always been rather good at smooth talking.
“We’d be happy to explain,” he says. “I’ll be sharing with my dear sister here, and her husband will be with his brother.” The clerk raises an eyebrow, clearly unconvinced at the familial similarities between Rick and Ardeth. “Spiritually speaking,” Jonathan adds. “Brothers-in-arms, you know. All that heroic war stuff.”
Still a little uncertain, the clerk hands over the keys to Jonathan, and Jonathan fixes him with what Evy knows to be his most winning smile.
“Thank you,” says Jonathan, doffing an imaginary cap.
They head back over to the other two, and Jonathan hands one room key to Ardeth and the other to Evy.
“For the benefit of the clerk, you’re in with O’Connell,” says Evy to Ardeth. “But only when the clerk’s in earshot.”
“Oh, my friends,” says Ardeth. “You shouldn’t have!”
Well, that’s unexpected. She hadn’t expected him to be quite so outwardly overjoyed. She’d thought it would take much more persuasion to get him and Jonathan to stop dancing around whatever this is, had half expected them to blow up and start a shouting match right here in the foyer.
Maybe there wasn’t any need for all this subterfuge after all. Perhaps they only ever needed the smallest nudge.
She beams at Ardeth, filled with hope for a new harmony between the four of them, an end to Jonathan deliberately wearing blue shirts to bring out his eyes whenever Ardeth is around. “It was noth—”
“O’Connell and I have much to talk about, it’s true,” Ardeth continues, voice sage but eyes shining with pure joy, and Evy’s heart sinks right down to her toes. “We have had very little time to simply sit and discuss all things Medjai. Ever since I agreed to live away from my people, I’ve missed such talks. Now, we have all night to share our stories. How did you know this is what I needed?”
“Just a hunch,” says Rick weakly.
Beside Ardeth, Jonathan makes a choking sort of squeak which may or may not be a deeply strangled giggle. Evy digs her nails into her palms.
“Well,” she says, trying very hard to keep her voice even. “We’ll see you for dinner, then.”
“See you,” says Rick, managing to sound only slightly forlorn.
They each head off to their separate rooms on opposite sides of the hotel, and Evy wonders how she could have played that differently. She’d thought she’d made it clear enough that she’d be sharing with Rick, and that they’d just had to fudge it a bit so that the clerk didn’t get suspicious, but then again, perhaps something got lost in translation.
There’s always next time. Or, she thinks, tomorrow night. It is, after all, a two day conference.
“I’m taking the side nearest the window,” says Jonathan, as they approach their room. “I’d like to be as close to the traffic noise as possible, try to drown out your thunderous snoring.”
Evy cuffs him with her handbag. “I do not snore!”
“Is that what Rick tells you? Ah, l’amour. You sound like a foghorn being thrown down a spiral staircase.”
He deftly dodges another swing of her handbag and unlocks the door, having unsurprisingly pickpocketed the key, and flings himself face-first down on the bed, groaning in delight at the soft mattress. Evy follows him into the room, gingerly toeing the door shut and locking it, sitting at the end of the bed.
“I didn’t actually expect to be sharing with you, you know,” she says.
“I thought as much,” he says into the pillow. He rolls over, crosses his arms over his chest, and stares at her. “So why did you book two doubles? You must have known that Ardeth and I could hardly share a room without getting arrested. Come along, now. At least he and Rick have those bloody tattoos in common if anyone asks.”
“There was a deal, if you must know,” she lies. “I could book two doubles and get all the meals included. I didn’t think.”
“If you’re so strapped for cash that you’re unable to resist the lure of a free meal, then perhaps you could recoup your losses by selling that hideous handbag,” he says, and this time he’s not quick enough to dodge it.
They have a riotously fun time, as it happens. Evy had quite forgotten just what jolly good fun Jonathan can be sometimes, and it does her good to be reminded, she thinks, to remember all those evenings after their parents died, when she would pad down the hallway in her nightgown and crawl into Jonathan’s bed, and he would regale her with absolutely ludicrous tales of him and his friends getting into implausible drunken scrapes.
They’re so much older now. Jonathan’s hair is more grey than dark these days, and Evy has to wear glasses for more than just reading, but it feels exactly the same, somehow. Evy pulls the bedsheets all the way up to her chin and Jonathan sits at the end of the bed—not cross-legged, of course, although he does attempt it for a good ten seconds before moaning about his knees—and tells Evy some bizarre story about the time he quintuple-crossed a business contact in Memphis and nearly lost a finger for the privilege.
The next morning, they join Rick and Ardeth for breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant. All four of them have dark circles under their eyes, and Ardeth is smiling so widely that it almost hurts to look at him. Jonathan keeps surreptitiously adding more coffee to Ardeth’s cup when he’s not looking. Rick eats five boiled eggs, and Evy steals his last Danish pastry.
At the conference, Dr Faruk gives his presentation on the Medjai’s pharaonic role as an archaic sort of police force, and when he’s finished, Ardeth delivers a fifteen minute rebuttal to every single one of his points without even pausing for breath. Jonathan spends the entirety of Ardeth’s impassioned diatribe staring up at him with a look of complete wonder, and drags them all out for dinner after the conference to celebrate, where he drinks a frankly inadvisable quantity of red wine and gradually migrates further and further from his own seat until he’s half sitting on Ardeth's lap. Evy orders more wine for the table, and Rick raises his eyebrows, but doesn’t stop her.
Jonathan crashes into bed alongside Evy like a stone, and only tells her that he hates her and her stupid conference four times the next morning.
When she thinks about it, she finds it hard to think of it as a total failure after all.
Still. Onto Plan B.
Cairo, April 1947
“Jonathan,” says Evy, putting down her dessert spoon and fixing her brother with what she hopes is an open, honest look. “I rather think this mousse calls for a proper dessert wine, don’t you? How about the Château d'Yquem that you bought us for Christmas last year?”
“I suppose you want me to go and fetch it,” he says, archly.
“Well, yes,” she agrees. “If you’d be so kind. I can’t quite remember what it looks like. It’ll take me an age to find.”
He sighs, rolling his eyes in a frankly unwarranted theatrical manner, and Ardeth laughs quietly from the other end of the table.
“Is it in the wine cellar?” asks Jonathan, and Evy nods. Jonathan stands up, looking for all the world like Evy has asked him to flay himself for their entertainment. “I still can’t believe you’ve made enough money from talking to people about mummies to buy a house with a wine cellar,” he mutters. “I don’t even have a wine cellar, and my cellar is the one with the most wine in it.”
“I think that makes it a wine cellar,” retorts Evy, and Jonathan, ever a man of grace and decorum, ruffles her hair roughly in retaliation as he leaves.
“I wouldn’t know what I was looking for either,” offers Ardeth. “I don’t know how he remembers all the names of them. He tried to make me guess the difference between two types of wine once, and when I said that they tasted the same to me, he went very red and spent half an hour explaining to me about grapes. He was very passionate about it.”
Evy resists the urge to throw the remnants of her Sémillon Sauvignon Blanc over him.
“I didn’t think you drank,” says Rick.
“I didn’t swallow,” says Ardeth, shrugging.
Evy’s hand shakes around her wine glass. Rick deftly plucks it from her glass and sets it down on the table in front of him, and she smooths out the tablecloth to give her shaking hand something to do besides knocking Ardeth’s head against a brick wall.
Twenty years of this nonsense. She’s raised an actual human child to adulthood in the interim, and nothing’s changed for Jonathan and Ardeth.
The week after they’d all first returned from Hamunaptra, Jonathan had spent the entire time staring at Rick and Evy as they held hands and professed their love for one another, and he’d moped like a professional sulk until Ardeth turned up out of the blue, as dashing as ever, and Jonathan had beamed so widely that Evy half thought his face might break in two, and she was glad of it, because it was, after all, so much better that than his heart.
The day Alex was born, Jonathan had continually referred to himself as ‘Alex’s favourite uncle,’ and when Rick had finally asked Jonathan who, exactly, Alex’s other, less favoured uncle might be, Jonathan had frowned as if the answer were staring Rick plain in the face, and said, “Ardeth, of course.”
His 40th birthday, he’d kept mournfully referring to himself as a haggard, ancient old man, a horse that should be taken out and shot, put out of his misery in the face of the yawning chasm of time and wrinkles, until Rick had reminded him that Ardeth was even older than him and he certainly wasn’t a useless old man, was he, and Jonathan had perked right up.
And now, Ardeth is sat at their dining table, talking about Jonathan’s passion for wine, of all things, as if wine is the reason Jonathan spends half his time smiling dopily and the other half sighing wistfully next to open windows like a parody of a Byronic hero.
Rick clears his throat, pointedly, and she’s drawn back into the present, remembering the next part of their carefully considered plan.
“Oh, curses,” she hisses, smacking her forehead with the heel of her palm. “I forgot to ask him to bring the mints. I’m sorry, I’m a complete idiot.”
Rick shrugs, and eats another spoonful of mousse. “I’m not chasing after him,” he says. “I don’t even like dessert wine. Or mints.”
It is, of course, a blatant lie. For a moment, Evy is worried that the subject of their nefarious plot will remember that Rick spent half of Christmas Day last year pilfering mints and pretending not to know why the box was gradually emptying as the day wore on.
Ardeth, who apparently has a less sharp memory than she’d feared, smiles at her benevolently. “I could go and tell him, if you like?”
He really is a saint, she thinks, and for a second she feels almost guilty about pulling the wool so thoroughly over his eyes. “Would you mind ever so?” she says, feigning great relief. “He’ll be fuming if I send him down again.”
“It’s not a bother,” says Ardeth, and he pulls out his chair, stands up, and goes to find Jonathan.
When he’s gone, Rick fixes Evy with a determined look. “This time,” he says. “This is the one. This is the day we finally make them get their shit together.”
“It has to be,” agrees Evy. “Or I’m selling the house and moving to Switzerland.”
It’s Rick who follows Ardeth down the hallway, having had rather a lot of experience at sneaking around and following people he really oughtn’t follow. Evy waits at the dinner table, alone now, heart racing. If this plan fails, then it’s back to the drawing board.
Rick comes back after about five minutes, and settles into the chair next to Evy with a very satisfied grin. “Done.”
“You’re sure he didn’t hear you?”
He scoffs. “Hon, please. Give me some credit.”
“And the door’s definitely locked? They’re thoroughly trapped?”
“Like flies in honey.”
“Thank goodness for that.” She looks at Rick, and he grins at her. “How long should we give them, do you think?”
He makes a show of looking at his watch. “Well, it’s been building for twenty years, so I reckon they’ll need at least two hours. Maybe three. If he gets that passionate about wine tasting—”
“Finish that sentence and I’ll tell Alex that you’re the one who put his favourite teddy through the wash back in ‘29.” She shudders, and pushes her bowl of chocolate mousse away. “Thank you for that. You’ve thoroughly put me off eating.”
He takes something small out of his pocket and offers it to her. “Mint?”
After two hours, in which Evy and Rick manage to negotiate a truce on the subject of mints, Evy decides that they’ve given it long enough. Both men are in their late forties, after all.
“Time to face the music,” she says, and they head over to the wine cellar.
Except when they get there, there’s no music to face at all. Only a wide open door.
Rick’s eyes widen. “I’m telling you, it was locked—”
“It can’t have been!”
“It was! I checked!”
“Well, it certainly isn’t now.”
“I can see that, I’m not blind—”
“This is a disaster.” She rests her head in her hands and tries to think. “If they’re not here, then where are they?”
“How am I supposed to—”
“What are you two scoundrels up to?” asks Jonathan, tone conversational, hands stuffed in his trouser pockets in a thoroughly insouciant fashion.
Evy and Rick straighten in tandem.
“Nothing,” says Evy.
“What she said,” says Rick.
Jonathan raises his eyebrows. He’s never been able to raise one in the way Evy can, but he somehow manages to use it to his advantage, imbuing his gesture with double the suspicion.
“I’m really not an idiot, you know,” he says, and Evy’s stomach twists. “I know exactly what you’re doing.”
“Jonathan,” she starts, and sighs. “It’s really not what it looks like.”
“Oh, but it is.” He fixes them with an unimpressed glare. “We found the Château d'Yquem—and really, Evy, must you keep it so near the door?—and by the time we got back to the dining room, you’d buggered off, and we rather thought we’d better leave you to it.” He removes his left hand from his pocket and gestures at the cupboard. “If you’re still looking to sneak away and have your way with each other, and congratulations to the two of you if you are, then that’s the best place for it. Mind the door, though. The lock seems awfully sticky.”
With that, he leaves.
Evy and Rick look at one another.
“Well,” says Rick. “Might as well salvage what we can from this experience, right?”
She doesn’t give up, of course.
Evy O’Connell is many things—librarian, Egyptologist, collector of various tomes on cuneiform—but she’s never been a quitter.
Thebes, June 1947
Rick gingerly opens the door to the tomb, and Evy crosses her fingers. It has to be this time.
It has to be.
“You guys decent in there?” calls Rick. “Sorry we left you down here, we thought you’d left.”
There’s no answer to Rick’s bald-faced lie.
Surely, Evy thinks, they’re scrambling to put their clothes back on after being caught in flagrante delicto.
There’s simply no alternative. She never thought she’d be praying to catch her brother in the act.
Fingers still crossed, she ventures further into the tomb, torch in hand.
“Hello?” she calls. “Ardeth? Jonathan?”
She rounds the corner to the final chamber, hoping beyond measure that her plan has worked, that they've talked it out, that they've clasped one another in their arms and—
Jonathan and Ardeth are sat on the floor on their folded coats, lamp lit in the corner, a deck of cards spread out on the dusty ground between them.
“Oh, were you calling us, old mum?” says Jonathan, looking up at her. “Terribly sorry. We must’ve got caught up. Rather an exciting game, you see.” Triumphantly, he spreads out the two remaining cards in his hands. “Go fish.”
Ardeth sighs, takes a card from the pile on the floor, and adds it to the huge number already in his hand.
“Unlucky,” says Jonathan.
“Very,” says Evy, and grips the torch so hard that it shoots out of her hand and clatters onto the floor, plunging them into darkness.
Cairo, July 1947
“What I don’t understand,” slurs Jonathan, as Rick pours yet more bourbon into his glass, “is why… just why, to be very, very honest with you. And I’m not honest! A lot. Not a lot. Not like him.”
He sighs, slumps forward across the bar, and Rick nudges him. “Why don’t you just tell him?”
Jonathan doesn’t say anything.
Rick sighs. “Surely it’s time, pal. He might like to hear it.”
Jonathan continues to say nothing.
“You can ignore me all you like, buddy. Doesn’t make it any less true. You’re pining like a Christmas tree. You gotta be brave and just talk to him. I know it's tough. I've been there. But it's worth it, you know? It really is.”
Jonathan retains his steadfast silence.
Rick frowns. “Jonathan?”
Slowly, Jonathan’s shoulders rise and fall, and a truly deafening snore erupts from his mouth.
“Oh, for the love of—”
Luxor, August 1947
“Phew,” says Jonathan, brushing dust off his trousers as he leans against Ardeth, arm around his waist to steady him. “Things got rather hairy back there, didn’t they?”
“I wouldn’t know,” says Ardeth, one eyebrow raised. “You’d already dispatched the whole cult when your sister sent me down there.”
“Yes, well. What’s that saying about teaching an old dog new tricks? Absolute piffle. Learnt the words to the ritual, didn’t I?” Jonathan grins at Ardeth, who rolls his eyes good-naturedly. “Ever so sorry to ruin your opportunity to perform a dashing rescue, old boy.” He turns to Evy. “And you! You could have told me that there was an evil cult performing their blasted ritual in the same tomb as the famous golden bracelet of Amenhotep III!”
Evy grits her teeth. She’d meant to hide Jonathan’s revolver, but he’d clearly got there first.
“My mistake,” she says.
Cairo, November 1947
Her breaking point, when it comes, is thoroughly justified, she thinks. The four of them are sat in Jonathan’s small front parlour, trying to work out the details of their next excavation near Memphis. Ardeth, having by far the best handwriting out of all of them, has taken charge of plotting the route on the map.
Unfortunately, this means that he’s also in charge of the pen, which is a rather spiffy new biro that Evy picked up from the museum stationery cupboard, and therefore not an implement Ardeth is particularly familiar with, being rather an archaic sort of person who still insists on using a fountain pen that Jonathan gave him several years ago.
It’s not really his fault that he’s managed to get a smear of blue ink down his cheek, right near his mouth, but it certainly doesn’t help matters.
“We could take the train,” Ardeth says, “it will be much faster than—”
“I’m sorry,” says Jonathan, putting a hand on Ardeth’s shoulder and cutting him off mid-sentence. “I hate to be rude, dear chap, but you’ve got—just there.”
He gestures towards the same area by his own mouth. Ardeth frowns, and rubs at his cheek. It doesn’t budge.
Something dark and furious begins to roil deep in Evy’s chest.
“Did I get it?”
“Not quite. Here.” Jonathan licks this thumb and rubs the corner of Ardeth’s mouth, gently, tenderly, and Ardeth smiles a small, soft smile at the care he’s taking.
And Evy’s had it. She’s quite simply reached the end of her tether.
“Oh, that is it,” she says. Rick puts his hand on her knee in an attempt to calm her, but she bats him off. “I’ve had it! It’s gone too far! I simply can’t take any more.”
Jonathan looks at Ardeth, then at Evy. “I’m utterly lost,” he says.
“Me too,” says Ardeth.
Rick swallows hard. “The thing is,” he says, and then he stops. “Jesus.”
“Years!” she cries. “Years of my life, trying to get you two idiots to open your blasted eyes and look at each other, and bloody well do something about it, and this is what you do instead? Sit there and—and yearn? I can’t fathom it! I can’t bear it! I’ve done everything—everything!—and nothing’s worked!”
“Oh,” says Jonathan, frowning, and then his eyes widen. “Oh! Is that what you’ve been doing?”
“Yes!” she cries, throwing her hands up in frustration. “Obviously! What else did you think I was up to?”
“Well, to tell you the truth, I thought perhaps you were about to tell me that you and Rick were moving to Switzerland or something.”
It feels like the whole world is on fire inside Evy’s skull.
“Look,” says Jonathan, and then he falls silent. He looks at Ardeth, who shrugs. “You’ll laugh about this in years to come,” says Jonathan, “but we bloody well did something about it right after Hamunaptra.”
Evy gazes serenely at Jonathan. “I beg your pardon?”
“It’s really quite funny,” says Jonathan. “The sort of thing that we’ll be telling jokes about this time next year—”
“Do you mean to tell me,” she says, numbed by a blessed sort of calm, “that you have been together for twenty years, and you never told me?”
“Now hang on,” says Jonathan. “Never told you? What the devil are you talking about? I thought you bloody knew!”
“Knew?” she cries. “How could I have known? You didn’t say anything!”
“Why would I?” he asks, pointedly. “Did you, at any point in the last twenty years, feel the need to come up to me and say ‘hullo, Jonathan, just letting you know that I’m in a romantic relationship with Rick’? No, you jolly well didn’t. You didn’t have to. I have eyes, so I noticed. We didn’t tell you, not because we were hiding anything from you, but precisely because we weren’t hiding anything!”
“But you didn’t make it obvious, did you?”
“Evy,” says Jonathan. “My dear, sweet sister. You know I think terribly highly of your intellect, but did you not just see me tenderly rub my own saliva into his face?”
“Well,” she says, scrabbling around for something else to try and explain how, exactly, she’s got this so very, very wrong. “You never hold hands.”
“We most certainly do.”
“You never kiss!” she counters.
“Not in front of you, perhaps,” says Ardeth. “Privacy is important to us both.”
“We were at your house all last evening,” Jonathan says to Evy. “I was sitting in the chair opposite Ardeth, and I had my feet in his lap, and he was giving me a foot massage. Whatever did you think was going on?”
“You told him your feet hurt,” says Evy. “I thought you were just using it as an excuse for him to give you a foot massage.”
“Of course I was!” says Jonathan, exasperated, and Ardeth snorts. “Because I knew he’d give me one! Because he’s fallen for it hundreds of times over the past two decades!”
“That’s what you think,” says Ardeth.
“Evy,” says Jonathan again. “Let me put it to you like this.” He looks at Rick, who’s turned almost sheet-white. “Would you give me a foot massage if I told you that my feet hurt?”
“Uh,” says Rick, eyes darting between Jonathan and Evy. “Is this a trick question?”
“Not even slightly.”
“Then no. Sorry.”
“My point exactly.” Apparently satisfied that he’s made himself clear, Jonathan settles back in his chair.
Evy opens her mouth, then closes it again.
And, like being submerged in a bath of cold water, it hits her. A thousand blurry memories come suddenly into sharp focus, as though she’s been staring at a painting too long in the dark and someone’s turned on the light.
Ardeth doesn’t drink, but he can order for Jonathan off a bar menu, and Jonathan beams like he’s just fought a battle in his name every time he gets it right, which is, she realises, every single time.
Jonathan doesn’t even read the newspaper these days, but he buys it just so that Ardeth can do the crossword, and takes a perverse sort of joy in trying to give him the wrong answers to all the clues. She’d always just taken it as a typical example of Jonathan trying to rile Ardeth up to get his attention, but Ardeth never gets riled up by it, does he? He seems more amused than anything else, and never falls for it.
Ardeth, without fail, holds the door open for Jonathan before going through himself; she’s always taken it as a sign of Medjai hospitality, but then again, when she thinks about it further, he doesn’t always do it for anyone else, does he? What does she really know about his culture beyond what she’s assumed?
Jonathan pines wistfully whenever Ardeth goes off to do whatever he does as a Medjai, sleeping over at Rick and Evy’s house because he’s used to having someone else around. She’d always thought that Ardeth just used Jonathan’s house as somewhere to stay when he wasn’t with the other Medjai, but why had she thought that? If she’d looked closer, even for a moment or two, would she have noticed that Ardeth’s things were all over Jonathan’s house? Little trinkets he’s picked up on various trips, knick-knacks that she’d always taken as a sign of gratitude to Jonathan for letting him stay, but which, on reflection, are so clearly a sign of him putting down roots?
“I’m sorry,” she says, and means it. “Really. You’re right. I should have known, and I’m sorry.”
“Yes, well,” says Jonathan, and then the four of them sit in silence, and Evy knows that it’s her fault, but she has absolutely no idea what to say.
It’s Rick who breaks it first.
“Does this mean that you went to town on each other in our wine cellar after all?” he asks.
Jonathan turns a shade of red that can only be described as crimson, and Ardeth laughs so hard that he knocks the map onto the floor.
She finds Ardeth later, as Rick is pulling on his coat in the foyer downstairs and arguing good-naturedly with Jonathan about the difference between snipers and sharpshooters. Ardeth is in Jonathan’s—their, she corrects herself—study, straightening some of Jonathan’s books on the shelf above his desk.
She stands in the doorway and clears her throat, and Ardeth turns to look at her expectantly, books still in hand.
“I wanted to apologise,” she says.
“It’s not necessary.”
“No, it is.” She draws a deep breath in, and steps further into the room. “Jonathan was right. I should have seen it, but I wasn’t looking, and that’s my fault entirely. I’ve been a complete and utter rotter, to tell you the truth.”
“I didn’t mind,” says Ardeth, putting down the pile of books he’s holding. “I knew what you were doing.”
This is news to Evy. She blinks, opens her mouth, closes it again. What can she say to that?
And if he knew, then why didn't Jonathan?
He nods. “You were quite obvious. It seems that astute powers of observation don't exactly run in the Carnahan family.”
“I can’t argue with that,” she says. “But why didn’t you tell Jonathan, if you knew what Rick and I were up to?”
Ardeth glances over to the door behind Evy. “You won’t tell him I said this?”
He lowers his voice. “I sensed that you were due a conversation about it, and there were things that both of you needed to say. Your brother, he’s very good at showing what he means, and at saying what he doesn’t. He’s not quite so good at saying what he means.”
“You know,” she says, “I think you’re possibly the smartest one out of the four of us.”
The corners of his lips quirk into a smile. “There was also the fact that you kept finding excuses to lock us in confined spaces together, and I didn’t see the need to interfere.”
She takes a moment to absorb that information.
“You know,” says Evy. “You do have your own wine cellar.”
Cairo, December 1947
The next time Jonathan and Ardeth come to Evy and Rick’s house for dinner, Ardeth hands a bottle of wine to Evy at the door.
“From the wine cellar,” he tells her, and she tries very hard not to laugh.
Jonathan spends the first hour excitedly telling Evy about some hare-brained scheme he’s concocted at the museum, who have agreed to employ him one day a week to root out the numerous forgeries they’ve got on display. The more animated he gets, the closer he leans to Evy, until he’s practically sprawled across Ardeth in the seat next to him.
They get through the whole bottle of wine, and then another one, and then Jonathan suggests that they open up the whisky, and they get through half of that, too.
After dinner, Rick solemnly offers everyone a mint, and only Ardeth takes one. Jonathan eats half of Ardeth’s mint, and then the other half.
When they retire to the drawing room, Jonathan complains loudly that he must have a stone in his shoe, and Ardeth rolls his eyes, pulls Jonathan’s feet into his lap, takes off his shoes, and proceeds to rub his feet. Jonathan looks as though he’s just pulled off the heist of the century. Rick asks Evy to rub his feet too, and she pinches his arm in response, and plops her feet into his lap instead.
In many ways, it’s the most bizarre evening she’s had in a long while, and yet, in all the ways that matter, absolutely nothing’s changed.