That boy could have been my father, a possibility that makes me as wobbly as the kitchen table. The feeling gets worse when Hannah finally shows me the photograph. It’s her and Petra, presumably in their bedroom. Petra sits on a bed. Next to her is a disturbingly familiar teddy bear.
A red bow tie circling its neck.
It’s the very same bear Dane and I found in my father’s office. Now it is gone. While I don’t know—and likely will never know—who took it, I can think of only two reasons it was in Baneberry Hall.
“You mentioned that Petra brought Buster that time you spent the night,” I say.
“Yes,” Hannah says. “Even though we never made it the full night.”
I’m well aware of that, thanks to the Book.
“Is there a chance Petra left it behind?” I say, hoping I’m not revealing too much. Hannah doesn’t need to know that, until a few nights ago, Buster was still inside Baneberry Hall. “Maybe it got lost.”
“She brought him home with her,” Hannah says. “I’m certain of it.”
That leaves only the other reason Buster could have been in the house. The one I’d been hoping wasn’t true.
Petra brought the bear with her because she thought she was leaving for good. Probably with my father. The idea sucks all the air from my chest.
Short of breath, there’s nothing left for me to do but stand and leave the cottage in a daze. Hannah follows me past the living room, where the television has changed from a game show to a sitcom. Forced laughter blares from the TV.
It’s not until I’m at the back door that I turn around to ask Hannah one more thing. A question prompted not just by that picture of Petra and her bear but by the memory of yesterday morning. Mister Shadow in the armoire, staring at me, creeping closer.
“You seem to remember a lot about the night you two came to Baneberry Hall for that sleepover.”
“It was pretty hard to forget.” Hannah huffs out a humorless laugh, as if she can’t believe that, with everything else going on, this is what I want to talk about. It makes perfect sense to me. She was there. She remembers. I don’t.
“The things my father wrote about that night,” I say. “That was bullshit, right?”
“I don’t think so,” Hannah says.
I study her, seeking a tell that she’s lying. She levels her gaze at me, indicating she’s dead serious.
“So, what my father wrote about that night—”
“It’s all true,” Hannah says, without a moment’s hesitation. “Every damn word.”
The day of the sleepover began like any other at Baneberry Hall.
I got out of bed without looking at the clock—there was no need—and went downstairs, where the chandelier was aglow. I flicked it off with a heavy sigh and descended to the kitchen to brew a pot of extra-strong coffee. It had become my usual morning routine.
By then, exhaustion was a fact of life at Baneberry Hall. Almost as if the house was purposefully denying me a full night’s sleep. I counteracted it as best as I could with midafternoon catnaps and going to bed early.
But on this day, there would be no napping. The afternoon was spent preparing for two extra people in the house. Grocery shopping, cleaning, and making the place look like a happy home, which it definitely wasn’t.
The whole point of having the sleepover be supervised by Petra was to give Jess and me some much-needed relaxation time alone. But when Hannah and Petra arrived bearing backpacks, sleeping bags, and a tray of cookies from their mother, I realized their presence only added to our stress. Especially when Maggie asked to speak to Jess and me alone in the middle of dinner.
“Can’t it wait?” I said. “You have guests.”
“It’s important,” Maggie told us.
The three of us went to the great room, leaving Hannah and Petra to eat their spaghetti and meatballs in awkward silence.
“This better be good,” Jess said. “It’s rude to leave your friends like that.”
Maggie’s expression was deadly serious. The cut on her cheek had healed enough that she no longer needed a bandage. Now exposed, it gave her a weathered, wizened look.
“They need to leave,” she said. “Miss Pennyface doesn’t want them here. She doesn’t like them. She’s been angry all night.” Maggie pointed to an empty corner. “See?”
“Now’s not the time for this,” Jess said. “Not with your friends here.”
“They’re not my friends.”
“But they could be,” I said in my most encouraging voice. “Just give it one night. Okay, kiddo?”
Maggie considered it, her lips a flat line as she weighed the pros and cons of friendship with Hannah.
“Okay,” she said. “But they’ll probably be mad.”
“Who’ll get mad?”
“All of the ghosts.”
She went back to the table, leaving Jess and me speechless. Maggie, however, was chattier than ever, and remained that way through the rest of dinner. And the ice-cream sundaes made for dessert. And the board games played after that. When Maggie emerged victorious after a game of Mouse Trap, she ran around the dining room cheering like she’d just won the World Cup.