“How was it?” Mom asked.
Joseph shrugged. “Kind of sad.”
“How come?” Dad’s forehead creased.
“I felt bad for the animals.”
My turn. “Did Noah go with you?” I didn’t honestly care. I just wanted to know the answer to my real question without actually having to ask it or call him. Namely, where was he now, and was he coming back?
“Nope, but he’ll be over in an hour,” Daniel said. “Mom, can he stay for dinner?” He winked at me behind my mother’s back.
Thank you, Daniel.
“How come you ask her and not me?” my dad asked.
“Dad, can Noah stay for dinner?”
He cleared his throat. “Doesn’t his own family want to spend some time with him?”
Daniel made a face. “I don’t think so, actually.”
“Who wants cookies?” Mom asked. I caught the look she exchanged with my father as she opened the oven and the smell of heaven filled the kitchen.
My dad sighed. “It’s fine with me,” he said, and handed me his cell. “Go call him.”
I backed slowly out of the kitchen, then raced to my bedroom. I dialed Noah’s number.
His voice was warm and rich and home and my eyes closed in relief at the sound of it. “Hi,” I said. “I’m supposed to tell you that you’re invited for dinner.”
“But . . .?”
“Something happened.” I kept my voice low. “How soon can you get here?”
“I’m getting in the car right now.”
“Plan to spend the night.”
AN HOUR LATER, NOAH STILL HADN’T SHOWN. I was restless and didn’t want to be in my tainted room.
Daniel caught me lurking in the living room, pretending to read one of my parents’ books from college I had found in the garage. I was waiting for Noah, but there was no need to be obvious.
“What goes on, little sister?”
“Nothing,” I said, staring at the yellowed page.
Daniel walked over to me and took my book in his hands. Flipped it right side up.
“You had one heck of a day,” he said softly.
“I’ve had better,” I said. “And worse.”
“You want to talk about it?”
I did, but I couldn’t. Not to him. I shook my head and clenched my teeth to hold back the ache in my throat.
He sat in the squashy black-and-gold-patterned armchair opposite me. “Don’t worry about the key, by the way,” he said casually.
I looked up from the book. “What key?”
“My house key?” He raised an eyebrow. “The one that was on my key ring you took without permission? The one I asked you about when you were in the . . . while you were away?”
“Your key was missing,” I said slowly.
“That is what I’ve been attempting to communicate, yes. But Dad had it copied today, so no big. Why’d you take it off the ring, though?”
But I wasn’t listening to him anymore. I was thinking about the pictures taken with my camera. The doll on my desk, taken from its box. The writing on my mirror.
The doors locked from the inside.
I didn’t take Daniel’s house key. Jude did. That was how he came and went without breaking in, and he could do it whenever he wanted now. The thought tore at my mind and the horror must have shown on my face because Daniel asked if I was okay.
The way he asked, like all he wanted to do in the world was help me, nearly broke me down. He was my big brother; he helped me with everything, and I so wished I could have his help with this. Daniel was the smartest person I knew—if only I could have his brain on my side.
But then this expression settled over his face. Tentative. Unsure. Like he didn’t know what to say to me. Like I was freaking him out.
It snuffed out whatever spark of hope I might have had. “Yeah,” I said with a tiny smile. “I don’t remember about the key.” I shrugged sheepishly. “Sorry.”
I hated lying to him, but after I did, Daniel visibly relaxed and that made me want to cry. Daniel cocked his head. “Are you sure you don’t want to talk?”
No. “Yeah,” I said.
“Suit yourself,” he said lightly, and returned to his notebook. Then he began to write. Loudly.
And started to hum. I snapped my book shut.
“Am I bothering you?” he asked innocently.
“Good.” He went back to his scribbling, scratching his pencil furiously against the paper, flipping pages of his book with an unparalleled level of noise.
He was clearly not going to let me stew in solitude. I gave up. “What are you writing?”
“The self-referential passages in Don Quixote.”
“You’re on spring break.”
“It’s due next week,” he said, then looked up. “And it amuses me.”
I rolled my eyes. “Only you would find homework amusing.”
“Cervantes comments on the narrative within the narrative itself. I think it’s funny.”
“Hmm,” I said, and reopened my book. Right side up, this time.
“What are you not-reading?” he asked.
I tossed my book over to him in answer.
“The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner: Written by Himself, by James Hogg? Never heard of it.”
“That’s not something I hear often.” And despite everything, it brought a smile to my lips.
“Indeed,” he said, studying the book. He turned it over, then started reading the summary on the back. “‘Part gothic novel, part psychological mystery, part metafiction, part satire, part case study of totalitarian thought, Memoirs explores early psychological theories of double consciousness, blah blah blah, predestination theory, blah blah blah—James Hogg’s masterpiece is a psychological study of the power of evil, a terrifying picture of the devil’s subtle conquest of a self-righteous man.’” He made a face. “Where’d you find this?”
“In the garage. It looked interesting.”
“Yes, you’re clearly riveted.” He stood up and handed it back to me. “But that’s not what you should be reading.”
“No. Don’t move.” He disappeared into his bedroom and returned a minute later, carrying a book. He handed it to me.