The trip back to the Friendly Campfire was uneventful except for the harpy and the flock of carrion crows with silver eyes and golden beaks shouting prophesies—no, no, I’m making it up about the crows. And a good thing too, I couldn’t quite make out what they were saying, but I was pretty sure I heard ‘apocalyptic’ and ‘hellmouth’.
I kept glancing in my rear-view mirror—which I could see out of again, with the back of the van empty, although the window between the seat and the back was a little smudgy, like maybe a dog had been putting her nose against it—but Nilesh was always behind me. Huh. Coming back with me to make sure Serena knew about his heroism. Maybe he didn’t trust me to be generous after the little episode with my new neighbors. (I was only renting. If they really were breeding orcs I could probably break the lease and move again. Hayley would believe me about the orcs. I wasn’t sure about Sally. And then I thought about the five hundred and eighty-six book boxes. Maybe I could stick it out with the orcs.) Maybe he wanted to get his version of the little episode with the neighbors in first. Maybe he wanted to reassure me that harpy sightings in this area were really rare and I shouldn’t worry about it and prophesying carrion crows never got this far north.
We bumped a little too springily up over the curb into the Friendly Campfire parking lot. The van, not in the first flush of youth generally, maybe needed new shock absorbers. It wasn’t only the last few days, was it? I’d bucked slowly through all the potholes, really I had—especially now I had a dog to think about.
I pulled up in front of cabin number seven next to Merry and stopped. There wasn’t room for Nilesh too, who pulled into the gap between seven and cabin eight. The three large deviant vehicles together looked like a convocation of those people your mother warned you about. I climbed out of the van to admire the view better, looking around anxiously for impressionable children or easily frightened old ladies. I didn’t see any, but I saw Mike step down from Nilesh’s cab and walk toward us—that is, Merry, Sid and me. I didn’t know Mike at all well, but it seemed to me that he looked maybe a little tense, maybe a little awkward—and was he keeping his back to the Friendly Campfire office a little too deliberately?
Six-forty: JoJo would be here any minute. I’d better have a last sweep through the van for renegade dog food and deinonychus eggs. “You okay?” Mike said. He looked about as much at his ease as Sherlock Holmes at a Tarot card readers’ convention.
“I was about to ask you the same thing,” I said.
The office door banged. Mike flinched. I found myself trying not to laugh. Well, it made a change from being the spurned ex-wife. I didn’t even know if Gelasio’s floozy was pretty. As well as being smarter than Euclid and Garry Kasparov put together. Maybe he really was marrying her for her brain. Did she ever wear All Stars? Did she ever shop at Trash & Vaudeville? Was she tall or short? Fat or skinny? What did she do with her spare time? Run marathons? Write sonnets? I hadn’t wanted to know anything about her.
I didn’t want to know anything about her. I fixed my gaze firmly on Serena, who had a sort of Henry Thoreau at a cocktail party look, rather similar to the Sherlock Holmes hanging with Tarot readers look.
“Hey,” said Serena.
“Hey,” I said, and shut up. Mike was turning around like the old bounty hunter in someone else’s sights at last, wanting, as his last gesture, to see who’s going to drop him.
This was as good as a play.
“Hey,” said Mike.
They stared at each other. Pyramus and Thisbe. Hero and Leander. Buffy and Angel. Katherine Hepburn and Spencer . . . no, I wasn’t in the mood for adulterous husbands.
I had been planning to lead with the neighbors, but I didn’t have the heart. It would be like kicking a puppy because it barfed on your shoes. It had been cute a minute ago. It’ll be cute again. Next time don’t let it loose in the long grass where you can’t see what it’s up to. Next time insist on meeting the neighbors before you sign the lease. “Mike’s been carrying several thousand books up the outside stairs at Ro—at my new ho—uh.” Fortunately they weren’t paying attention to me. I couldn’t say either “Rose Manor”, which sounded like somewhere Sheila Lanchester might live, or “my house” out loud with an ordinary possessive tone and deportment. I was so lacking in normal grown-up human expertise. Maybe I could practise. “Rose Manor” was probably pushing it, but surely I could learn to say “my house.” It was just unfamiliarity. We hadn’t called the penthouse anything.
Yes we had. We’d called it “home.”
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