“He’s very proud of Jamie,” I say as I look down at my dirty hands.
No one is proud of me.
“How was your flight?” he asks, his tone so conversational that he might as well be talking about the weather, inquiring about my health.
Then I realize that, no, that is the last thing he would ever ask about. Even small talk is a minefield now, so I just shrug and say, “My flight was fine.”
“Eleanor tells me you don’t like your room.”
I cut my eyes at the woman. “I didn’t say that,” I lie.
“She’s dead, Grace. She’s not going to need it.”
Some people would call my grandfather callous, unfeeling. Cold. In truth, he’s none of those things. And he’s all of those things.
“Your momma would want you to have her old room,” he goes on, and I see the soft, gooey center of his diplomatic shell. “She was happy here. You’ll be happy here. You’ve got to let her go, Gracie.”
Let her go. The words jolt me to a stop. I spin on him.
“You think I don’t know she’s gone?” I shout. “I was there, remember? I watched her die. And now you’re telling me to let her go? No. You don’t get to stroll back into my life and tell me how to deal with anything. Not now. Not after three years.”
Grandpa shakes his head. “That was your father’s doing. When he and your brother came for the funeral … we had words. After that, he didn’t want you and Jamie to come visit for a while.”
“Planes only go one direction?”
“Your father felt that it might be best if you had some space, because …”
He trails off then, but I recognize the silence that follows.
“Because I went crazy,” I fill in. “It’s okay, Grandpa. You can say it.”
“Because you were having a hard time.”
“So that’s the term we’re using now.” For some reason, I have to laugh. “How … diplomatic.”
“Grace,” Ms. Chancellor says, her voice a warning.
“Do you want to hear about the fire?” I ask him, ignoring her. “I was there. I remember everything,” I say, but I don’t elaborate. I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid. There are words I have stricken from my vocabulary completely.
I know it’s no use, and so I do not mention the man I saw — the one who didn’t appear on a single surveillance camera and wasn’t seen by any other witness. It’s no use to talk about the scar that was on his face — the one that was so clichéd and manically sinister that everyone assumed my mind had pulled him straight from central casting.
I don’t tell my grandfather that my mother’s antique store was ransacked. I don’t say that when the building burst into flames, it sounded like a bomb.
These are the things I never say to anyone anymore. Not because I don’t want to say them — I want to scream them. But these are the things that no one else can bear to hear.
“It was an accident, Grace. Your mother died in a terrible, tragic accident.” His voice cracks. Tears well in his eyes.
“I’m not crazy.” My voice stays steady. My eyes don’t tear up. For one split second I feel victorious. But I haven’t won a thing.
“Go to bed, Gracie.” He steps through the embassy gates, past the marines who are constantly standing guard. “You’ve had a long flight and a long day. Tomorrow will be longer. Lots to do.”
“Good night, dear,” Ms. Chancellor tells me, the lecture over.
I don’t say anything back. I just shuffle, dirty and cold, toward the doors.
I can sleep anywhere. Planes. Trains. Sofas. Lawn chairs. Call it the upside to life as an army brat. Never having a home means, I guess, that everywhere is your home. There is absolutely no place I’m anxious to return to. But this is different.
I’m not trying to fall asleep in someplace new; I’m in a place that’s old. And that’s why I find myself lying in my mother’s bed, staring up at the pink canopy overhead and studying the shadows that dance across the walls as the wind blows through the limbs of the tree outside my window. When at last I fall asleep, I dream I’m trapped, my wrists bound. I toss and turn. Even my subconscious wants to figure out a way to break free.
The voice is soft in my head. I think for a moment that Alexei has invaded my dream, so I turn over, mumble some insult.
“Hey,” the voice says louder.
And then a hand lands on my bare shoulder. I don’t even bother waking, not really. My brother goes to West Point. My father is an Army Ranger. Asleep Me can handle this.
Still groggy, I roll over and grab the hand. And before I’m even off the bed, the boy is on the floor. When I finally find myself fully awake, I’m standing over him.
“Grace!” he half yells, half whispers.
“Tell me why I shouldn’t kill you.”
My hair is falling into my eyes. The old T-shirt I’m wearing is about three sizes too big and hangs off of me weirdly, leaving one shoulder bare. I probably look as freaky as I feel. And I’m glad for it.
I wrench the boy’s hand farther back, holding his thumb with my other hand.
“I can break it.”
But the boy doesn’t scream. He doesn’t cry out. He just looks up at me. And smiles.
“Hi, Grace. I’m Noah,” he says. “I’m here to be your best friend.”
I’ve never lived anywhere long enough to have a best friend before. Maybe that’s why I let him off the floor and don’t protest while he fumbles around my room in the dark.
“Come on. Get dressed,” he tells me. “We have to go.”
“Go where?” I ask. “Who are you? Am I going to regret not breaking your hand? Because it’s not too late. I can still totally break your hand.”
“I know you can.” He looks at the piles of clothes, grabs whatever is lying on top, and throws it at me. “Here. Put this on.”
“That’s a duffle bag.”
“Okay. Then put on something else. But that’s a really nice bag. It would really bring out your” — he gestures to me oddly with his hands — “personality.”
It’s kind of funny. He’s kind of funny. But I don’t laugh. Instead, I ease closer and ask again, “Who. Are. You?”