Everything is broken, dilapidated. The windows boarded up. The lawns overgrown and iced over. The winter bite looks fresh in the air, and it casts a gloom over the scene in a way that says this all might be different in another season. Who knows.
Warner stops the tank.
He climbs out and walks over to our door, just in case anyone is still out here, and makes it seem as though he’s opening it for a specific reason. To check the interior. To examine a problem.
It doesn’t matter.
Kenji jumps out first, and Warner seems to be able to tell that he’s gone.
I reach for Warner’s hand, because I know he can’t see me. His fingers immediately tighten around mine. His eyes are focused on the floor.
“It’s going to be okay,” I tell him. “Okay?”
“Yes,” he says. “I’m sure you’re right.”
I hesitate. “Will you be back soon?”
“Yes,” he whispers. “I’ll return for you in exactly two hours. Will that be sufficient time?”
“Good. I’ll meet you back here, then. In this exact location.”
He says nothing for a second. Then, “Okay.”
I squeeze his hand.
He smiles at the ground.
I stand up and he shifts to the side, allowing me room to get by. I touch him as I move past, just briefly. Just as a reminder. That I’m here for him.
He flinches, startled, and steps back.
And then he climbs into the tank, and leaves.
Warner is late.
Kenji and I had a semisuccessful session, one that consisted mainly of us arguing over where we were standing and what we were looking at. We’re going to have to come up with much better signals next time, because trying to coordinate a training session between two invisible people is a lot more difficult than it sounds. Which is saying a lot.
So now we’re tired and slightly disappointed, having accomplished little in the way of progress, and we’re standing in exactly the same place Warner dropped us off.
And Warner is late.
This is unusual for many reasons. The first of which is that Warner is never late. Not for anything. And the second is that if he were going to be late, it definitely wouldn’t be for something like this. This situation is far too dangerous to be casual about. He wouldn’t have taken it lightly. I know he wouldn’t have.
So I’m pacing.
“I’m sure it’s fine,” Kenji is saying to me. “He probably just got hung up doing whatever it is he’s doing. You know, commandering and shit.”
“Commandering is not a word.”
“It has letters, doesn’t it? Sounds like a word to me.”
I’m too nervous to banter right now.
Kenji sighs. I hear him stomp his feet against the cold. “He’ll be here.”
“I don’t feel right, Kenji.”
“I don’t feel right, either,” he says. “I’m hungry as hell.”
“Warner wouldn’t be late. It’s not like him to be late.”
“How would you know?” Kenji shoots back. “You’ve known him for how long, exactly? Five months? And you think you know him so well? Maybe he’s in a secret jazz club where he sings a cappella and wears sparkly vests and thinks it’s cool to do the cancan.”
“Warner wouldn’t wear sparkly vests,” I snap.
“But you think he’d be down with the cancan.”
“Kenji, I love you, I really do, but right now I’m so anxious, and I feel so sick, that the more you speak, the more I want to kill you.”
“Don’t talk sexy to me, J.”
I huff, irritated. God, I’m so worried. “What time is it?”
“This isn’t right. We should go find him.”
“We don’t even know where he is.”
“I do,” I say. “I know where he is.”
“Do you remember where we met Anderson for the first time?” I ask him. “Do you remember how to get back to Sycamore Street?”
“Yeah . . . ,” Kenji says slowly. “Why?”
“He’s about two streets down from there.”
“Um. What the hell? Why is he down there?”
“Will you go with me?” I ask, nervous. “Please? Now?”
“Okay,” he says, unconvinced. “But only because I’m curious. And because it’s cold as hell out here and I need to move my legs before I freeze to death.”
“Thank you,” I say. “Where are you?”
We follow the sounds of each other’s voices until we bump right into one another. Kenji slips his arm into mine. We huddle together against the cold.
He leads the way.
This is it.
The robin’s-egg-blue house. The one I woke up in. The one Warner lived in. The one his mother is stored in. We’re standing in front of it and it looks exactly as it did the last two times I was here. Beautiful and terrifying. Wind chimes whipping back and forth.
“Why the hell would Warner be here?” Kenji asks. “What is this place?”
“I can’t really tell you,” I say to him.
“Because it’s not my secret to tell.”
Kenji is silent a moment. “So what do you want me to do?”
“Can you wait here?” I ask him. “Will I be able to stay invisible if I go inside? Or will I get out of range?”
Kenji sighs. “I don’t know. You can definitely try. I’ve never tried to do this from outside a house before.” He hesitates. “But if you’re going to go in without me, can you please hurry the hell up? I’m already freezing my ass off.”
“Yes. I promise. I’ll be fast. I just want to make sure he’s all right—or that he’s even in here. Because if he’s not inside, he might be waiting for us back at the drop-off.”
“And all of this will have been a huge waste of time.”
“I’m sorry,” I say to him. “I’m really sorry. But I just have to make sure.”
“Go,” he says. “Go and come back fast.”
“Okay,” I whisper. “Thank you.”