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“I know,” said Oliver, and he laughed a little. “And it’s too bad, really. Under any other circumstances I think we’d actually have a nice time in the land of Left. I mean—I know better than to believe anything good can come of Furthermore, I really do, but they’re just so terribly nice to us here. I’ll feel bad leaving them, especially as they’ve waited fifty-six years for a visitor.” He shook his head. “I can already picture Paramint’s grief-stricken face.”

“Me too,” Alice said quietly. “I was thinking the same thing earlier. And I don’t think they could ever want to eat us, do you? Don’t you think they’re the good ones?”

Oliver nodded. “I read Paramint’s heart when we first arrived here, and do you know what his greatest secret was? His greatest wish?”

Alice thought she could guess, but she let Oliver tell her anyway.

“He wanted to be able to open that door,” said Oliver. “His greatest, most secret, most ardent wish was to have a visitor come to the village of Left.”

“Oh, now I feel awful,” said Alice. “But what choice do we have?”

“I know. We must forge ahead. After all,” Oliver said, “we belong in Ferenwood, not Furthermore,” and this made Alice smile.

“And while I do love a good adventure,” Oliver went on, “I’m very much looking forward to going home. I think I’ve had enough of Furthermore to last me a good long while.”

“Me too,” Alice said. “Me too.” She dropped her eyes and touched the only bangles she had left. “But I want Father to come home, too. I don’t want to go back without him.”

Oliver nodded, just once, and said, “I know.”

“What about you?” Alice asked him, perking up. “What do you miss the most about home?”

“Me?” Oliver said, surprised. He tilted his head like he’d never considered it before. “Oh, I don’t know. Perhaps the comforts of not nearly dying every day.”

Alice laughed and said, “Really, though—are you close to your parents? Don’t they miss you while you’re gone?”

“I don’t think so.” Oliver shrugged. “I’m not sure. I don’t really know my parents, and I’m not sure they really know me.”

“What do you mean?”

“My talent”—Oliver sighed—“is both a blessing and a burden. I learned from a very young age how to manipulate my parents into doing exactly what I wanted—into being the kind of parents I wanted them to be.

“I only discovered many years later that a five-year-old’s idea of the perfect parent is far from ideal. But by then it was too late. When I stopped interfering and let them take over, they couldn’t remember how. They barely even knew me—I’d taken away the most critical years of our life together. They could hardly remember how I’d grown up. And the problem wasn’t with just my parents. I’d done it with everyone.

“I never really meant to,” Oliver said quietly. “I was just so little—I couldn’t understand the consequences of my actions. It was when my father got sick with the fluke that I realized how frail he was—and that one day I would lose him. I was sorry I’d never given him a chance to teach me what he knew. To be my father the way he’d wanted to be.” Oliver laughed a sad, humorless laugh. “I’d single-handedly destroyed every important relationship in my life by the time I was ten years old.” He hesitated, then said, “I have no idea what kind of parents I would’ve had if I hadn’t changed them so early on.”

Alice drew in a deep, shaky breath.

“Oh, Oliver,” she said, and took his hand. “That’s just the saddest story I’ve ever heard.”

“Sometimes,” Oliver said, “I feel like my entire life is just a story I tell myself. A lie atop a lie; nipping and tucking at people until they’re exactly what I want.” He sighed. “I hate it.”

“Well,” said Alice. “Why don’t you stop?”

“Stop what?” said Oliver.

“Stop changing everyone,” she said. “Stop manipulating people. I know it won’t change the past, but it’ll certainly change the future. It’s not too late to get to know your parents.”

“I suppose it’s not,” said Oliver, but he was very quiet now.

“But you don’t want to?”

Oliver shook his head. “It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s just—I don’t know,” he said quietly. “I’m afraid.”

“Of what?” said Alice.

“Don’t you see?” Oliver closed his eyes. “No one would like me if I didn’t trick them into it.” And then he looked at her, really looked at her. “That’s why I was so terrible to you in middlecare,” he said. “It wasn’t because I thought you were ugly. I didn’t think that at all. It was because I knew you didn’t like me, and I couldn’t convince you not to. I didn’t understand then why my persuasion wouldn’t work on you—I didn’t know about your ever-binding promise—and it scared me. Here was the one person in all of Ferenwood who wasn’t swayed by my lies, and she didn’t like me. It confirmed all my fears: If I let people be themselves, they’d all abandon me. My parents wouldn’t love me.”

“But, Oliver,” she said, squeezing his hand, “I didn’t like you because you were one of the most sincerely rude people I’d ever met. You were arrogant and unkind and a horrible, raging skyhole.”

Oliver groaned and got up to leave.

“Wait!” she said quickly, grabbing his tunic. “There’s more, I promise.”

Oliver shot her a hard look.