My hands close around the heavy drape, twisting it into a thick cord.
About the same thickness as a neck.
I drop my hands to my sides and wipe them on my trousers like someone might see my thoughts on my palms. Someone like Dr. Gatsbro. I wonder just how much he really knows about me.
I look out the window. From the second floor, Dr. Gatsbro is a speck on the lawn. The girl I’m supposed to know stands a few yards away from him. I watch him talking to her. She ignores him like he is nothing more than vapor. I don’t know if it’s deliberate, or if her mind is trapped, like mine often is, in another dark lifetime that won’t let me go. There’s a lot I don’t understand about her, at least the way she is now, and though I’m a head taller and at least fifty pounds heavier than she is, I’m afraid of her. What is it? Something in her eyes? But I’m not sure I can trust my own eyes yet. Even my hands frighten me. Does Dr. Gatsbro know this too? He seems to know everything.
I turn away, looking at a wall of ancient bound books, and another wall covered with artifacts that reach back to some primordial age. Dr. Gatsbro is a collector. Are we part of his collection? Like stolen paintings that can’t be shown to anyone? Only for private viewing? His estate is miles from anywhere, and we have never been beyond its gates.
He has spent the last year teaching us, helping us, explaining to us, testing us. But some things in this world are unexplainable. Maybe that’s where he made his mistake, especially with us. Three months ago, he stopped being teacher and became prey. At least for her. I fear for him. I fear for me.
I return to the window to see if they’re coming. It’s time for our morning appointment. They’re closer to the house now, but Dr. Gatsbro is still yards from her. I try to read his lips, a skill I never had before, but his hand cups his chin and blocks my view.
Her back is to me. Her head tilts in one direction, and then slowly in the other, like she’s weighing a thought. She suddenly whirls and looks straight up at the window. At me. She smiles, her eyes as cold as ice. Her lips purse together in a kiss, and I feel their frost on my cheek.
I cannot turn away, though I know that would be the safest thing to do. I cannot turn away because she has an advantage over me. I cannot turn away for a reason she knows too well.
Because I love her.
She is all I have left.
I force my legs to move. To step away from the window. One step. Another. The last thing I see is her head toss back as she laughs. I fall backward into Dr. Gatsbro’s chair, running my hands over the arms, listening to the quiet rasp of skin on leather, listening to his antique clock tick, listening to the squeak of the chair as I rock, and finally, listening to their footsteps on the stairs—his, heavy and shuffling; hers, like a cat, following stealthily behind.
“Locke, you’re here. Good.” Dr. Gatsbro crosses the room, and I relinquish his seat to him. He sits down, and I listen to the whoosh of air that leaves the chair under his weight, like the breath has been snuffed from it. “Sorry if we kept you waiting. We lost track of time out in the garden. Isn’t that right, Kara?”
She looks at me, her eyes narrowing to slits, her hair a shiny black curtain barely sweeping her shoulders. Her lips are perfect, red as they have always been, red as I remember, but the smile behind them is not the same.
“That’s right, Doc,” she answers. “Time got away from us.”
“Shall we begin, then?” Dr. Gatsbro asks.
I think she already has.
Text copyright © 2011 by Mary E. Pearson