“Or,” I said, “if the Julie out there had a completely different problem which was worse.”
Tara broke in before I could continue or Travis could reply. “I think you both made good points. Julie’s powerful, and we don’t know what she’ll want to do because she doesn’t have the same history as our universe’s Julie. We’ll need to be careful on the way out. Does anybody have earplugs?”
Samita furrowed her brows, concentrating, and then started to talk. “I could have blocked out the sound around us, but I don’t have any idea where to get the materials I’d need.”
Tara smiled. “I’m sure I could help. We’d have to—”
“Leave,” Rod said, “and then we’d have to walk around deaf all day. I remember that spell. You used it when we ran into the banshee, remember?”
Samita held up her hand. “I know you didn’t like it, but it worked.”
I let go of my menu. “I’ll handle it. She won’t try to control me if she doesn’t know I’m there. I’ll turn invisible and see what she’s doing.”
Someone said something, but everyone’s voices faded into nothing when I turned intangible and floated through the wall.
It felt cold, but it always felt cold when I phased out. It felt colder the deeper into what Grandpa called “phase state” I got. It wasn’t an uncomfortable cold, more of a pleasant coolness. When I was out of phase, it felt natural.
At the same time, color drained out of the world around me. Sure, that might have been explained by going through a wall, but not really. Now everywhere around me looked like a lightly tinted black and white film.
Well, except for me. I was completely in color—blue jeans, black top, and my black “purse” looked exactly like they did normally.
In a second I’d floated through the wall, and hung above the grassy area outside the restaurant. The benches, and the river lay below me. All I had to do was find Julie—
“Guest,” said a low voice that could almost have been a growl. Unlike the voices of the people below me, it wasn’t distorted.
I wasn’t alone.
Turning toward the voice, I began to pull up my arms as Lee had taught me, ready to attack, ready to defend—even though it would have been totally, utterly useless in this fight.
The restaurant had two of those strange looking lion statues on either side of the entrance. One of them floated through the air toward me. It made a regular, deep rumbling noise that didn’t quite sound like a growl.
Oh God, it was laughing at me.
“Guest,” it said, “I mean you no harm. In fact, so long as your party remains in the restaurant, I will protect you at all costs. Please relax. You should have no need to use your training.”
It made a snorting noise.
Maybe I’d have been annoyed if I thought I had any chance of fighting it off.
“Thank you,” I said, trying to keep my voice level. “I don’t want to offend you, but my friends and I were afraid that an alternate version of someone we knew might have recognized us.”
It nodded slowly. “You speak of the one you call ‘Julie.’ She is no longer on our grounds. If she should return, we will escort her away from the premises and warn you.”
“Thank you.” I began to float back toward the wall I’d phased through.
“Wait,” the lion bounded over to me, its stone legs moving as well as any live animal I’d seen.
In a low, growling voice, it said, “I’d like to give you some advice.”
“Please do,” I said. Because when guardian spirits ask you if you’d like advice, you say yes.
“Be very careful of which room you return to. If you return to any other private room than your own, I will have to remove you.”
I nodded. “I’ll remember that.”
“Please do,” it said. “My other word of advice is that you watch how deeply you venture into the in-between spaces. In this place, the distance between the worlds is quite thin. You might float into another.”
“Thank you. I assure you that I’ll do my best to avoid that.”
“Excellent.” The lion turned, and in an instant stood next to the entrance of the restaurant again.
I turned back toward the room, trying to remember which section of the wall to plunge through.
Then it flickered, and for a second I could see Travis and the others dimly.
“Thanks,” I muttered, flew through the wall, and faded into the normal world.
Travis started. “I hate it when you do that.” He paused. “Are you okay?”
“Pretty good,” I said, “considering that I just got schooled by a statue.”