“Like a playdate?”
That would have been the proper course of action, had their previous playdate gone well. But with Hannah being so bossy and Maggie so shy, they didn’t gel as much as they should—or could—have. To truly bond, they needed something more than another half-hearted game of hide-and-seek.
“I was thinking more like a sleepover,” I said.
“Both girls?” Jess said. “Don’t you think Petra’s a little old for that?”
“Not if we pay her to babysit. She could watch Maggie and Hannah, and we, my dear, could have a proper date night.”
I kissed her shoulder again. Then the nape of her neck.
Jess melted against me. “When you put it that way, how’s a girl supposed to say no?”
“Great,” I said, drawing her tighter against me. “I’ll call Elsa tomorrow.”
The matter was settled. Maggie was going to have her first sleepover.
It turned out to be a decision all three of us would later come to regret.
In the evening, I get a text from Allie.
Just checking in. How’s the house?
It has potential, I write back.
Allie responds with a thumbs-up emoji, and No ghosts, I presume.
But there’s lots about the place that doesn’t sit well with me. The person standing behind the house last night, for instance. Or the chandelier that magically turned itself on. That one had me so spooked that I called Dane to ask if he’d been in the house while I was gone. He swore he hadn’t.
Then there’s everything Brian Prince told me, which has prompted me to sit in the kitchen with a copy of the Book and my father’s Polaroids lined up on the table like place settings. I flip through the Book, looking for hints Brian might be onto something, even though his insinuation that my father engaged in some kind of improper relationship with Petra is both wrong and, frankly, gross.
Not long after my mother married Carl, my father and I took a trip to Paris. I hadn’t wanted to go. I had just turned fourteen, an age at which no girl wants to be seen with one of her parents. But I knew my father hadn’t reacted well to my mother’s decision to remarry and that he needed the trip more than I did.
We departed a few months before I finally stopped asking questions about the Book, knowing I’d never get a straight answer. I asked about it only once during the trip—another one of my sneak attacks, this time in front of the Mona Lisa—and received my father’s stock answer. That’s why one of the things I remember most about the trip, other than croque monsieurs and a dreamy, flirty café waiter named Jean-Paul, was a rare moment of honesty during an evening picnic in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.
“Do you think you’ll ever get remarried like Mom?” I asked.
My dad chewed thoughtfully on a piece of baguette. “Probably not.”
“Because your mother is the only woman I’ve ever loved.”
“Do you still love her?”
“As a matter of fact, I do,” my father said.
“Then why did you get divorced?”
“Sometimes, Mags, a couple can go through something so terrible that not even love can fix it.”
He went quiet after that, stretching out on the grass and watching the sun sink lower behind the Eiffel Tower. Even though I knew he was referring to the Book, I dared not ask him about it. He’d already let his guard down. I didn’t want to push it.
Maybe if I had, I finally would have received an honest answer.
I put down the Book and grab the Polaroids, paying extra attention to the ones that feature Petra. At first glance, they’re innocent. Just a teenage girl being herself. But creepier undertones emerge the longer I look at them. In the picture taken in the kitchen, neither Petra nor my mother acknowledges the photographer’s presence, giving the image an uncomfortable, voyeuristic feel. A photo snapped before the subject realized someone was there.
Worse still is the picture of the sleepover. Petra is front and center. So much so that Hannah and I might as well have not even been there. Unlike the kitchen shot, Petra knows she’s being photographed—and she likes it. Her hands-on-hip, one-leg-bent pose is something a forties pinup would strike. It almost looks like she was flirting with the photographer, which in this case had to have been my father.
I slap the photos facedown on the table, disappointed with myself for giving in to gossip.
Behind me, one of the bells on the wall rings.
A single, resounding toll.
The sound jolts me from my chair, which overturns and slams to the floor. I push myself against the table, its edge pressing into the small of my back as I scan the bells. The kitchen is silent save for the sound of my heart—an audible drumroll coming from deep in my chest.
I want to believe I heard nothing. That it was one of those weird auditory blips everyone experiences. Like ringing in the ears. Or when you think you hear your name being called in a crowd and it ends up just being random noise.
But my pounding heart tells me I’m not imagining things.
One of those bells just rang.
Which leads me to a single, undeniable fact—someone else is inside the house.
I edge around the table, never taking my eyes off the bells, just in case one of them rings again. Moving backward, I reach the counter, my hands blindly sliding along its surface until I find what I’m looking for.