“I hope so, too,” I said, and meant it.
“Oh, Jacob, may we come and visit you?” begged Claire. “I’ve always wanted to see America.”
I didn’t have the heart to explain why it wasn’t possible. “Of course you can,” I said. “I’d love that.”
Sharon rapped his staff on the side of the boat. “All aboard!”
Reluctantly I climbed in, and then Emma and Miss Peregrine boarded, too. They had insisted on staying with me until I met my parents, and I hadn’t put up a fight. It would be easier to say goodbye in stages.
Sharon unmoored the boat and we pushed off. Our friends waved and called to us as we floated away. I waved back, but it hurt too much to watch them recede, so I half closed my eyes until the current had taken us around a bend in the Ditch, and they were gone.
None of us felt like talking. In silence we watched the sagging buildings and rickety bridges pass. After a while we came to the crossover, were sucked rudely through the same underpass by which we’d entered, and spat out the other side into a muggy, modern afternoon. The crumbling tenements of Devil’s Acre were gone, glass-fronted condos and shining office towers risen up in their place. A motorboat buzzed past.
The sounds of a busy, preoccupied present-day filtered in. A car alarm. A cell phone ringing. Jangly pop music. We passed a fancy canal-side restaurant, but thanks to Sharon’s enchantment, the diners on the patio didn’t see us as we floated by. If they had, I wondered what they would’ve thought of us: two teenagers in black, a woman in Victorian formalwear, and Sharon in his Grim Reaper cloak, poling us out of the underworld. Who knows—maybe the modern world was so jaded that no one would have batted an eye.
My parents were another story, though—and now that we were back in the present, just what that story would be was starting to concern me. They already thought I’d lost my mind, or gotten into hard drugs. I’d be lucky if they didn’t ship me off to a mental hospital. Even if they didn’t, I’d be doing damage control for years. They would never trust me again.
But it was my struggle, and I would find a way to deal with it. The easiest thing for me would be to tell them the truth—but again, I couldn’t. My parents would never understand this part of my life, and to try and force them to could land them in a mental hospital.
My dad already knew more about the peculiar children than was good for him. He’d met them all on Cairnholm, though he’d thought he was dreaming. Then Emma had left him that letter and a photo of herself with my grandfather. As if that weren’t bad enough, over the phone I’d actually told my dad I was peculiar. That had been a mistake, I realized, and selfish. And now here I was heading to meet them with Emma and Miss Peregrine at my side.
“On second thought,” I said, turning to them in the boat, “Maybe you shouldn’t come with me.”
“Why not?” Emma said. “We won’t age forward that quickly …”
“I don’t think my parents should see me with you. This is all going to be hard enough to explain as it is.”
“I’ve given some thought to this,” said Miss Peregrine.
“To what? My parents?”
“Yes. I can help you with them, if you like.”
“One of an ymbryne’s myriad duties is dealing with normals who become problematically curious about us, or otherwise troublesome. We have ways of making them uncurious, of making them forget they’ve seen certain things.”
“Did you know about this?” I asked Emma.
“Sure. If it wasn’t for the wipe, peculiars would be in the news every other day.”
“So it … wipes people’s memories?”
“It’s more a selective cherry-picking of certain inconvenient recollections,” said Miss Peregrine. “It’s quite painless and has no side effects. Still, it may strike you as extreme. I leave it to your discretion.”
“Okay,” I said.
“Okay what?” said Emma.
“Okay, please do the memory wipe thing to my parents. That sounds amazing. And while you’re at it, there was this time when I was twelve that I crashed my mom’s car into the garage door …”
“Let’s not get carried away, Mr. Portman.”
“Just kidding,” I said, though I’d only sort of been. Either way, I was hugely relieved. Now I wouldn’t have to spend the rest of my adolescence apologizing for the time I ran away, made my parents think I was dead, and nearly ruined their lives forever. Which was nice.
Sharon dropped us off at the same dark, rat-infested under-jetty where we’d first met him. Stepping off his boat there gave me a twinge of bittersweet nostalgia. I may have been terrified and filthy and in various exotic forms of pain every second of the last several days, but I would probably never have an adventure like this again. I would miss it—not so much the trials I’d endured as the person I’d been while I endured them. There was an iron will inside me, I knew that now, and I hoped I could hang on to it even as my life grew softer.
“So long,” Sharon said. “I’m glad I met you, despite all the endless trouble you caused me.”
“Yeah, me too.” We shook hands. “It’s been interesting.”
“Wait here for us,” Miss Peregrine said to him. “Miss Bloom and I will be back within an hour or two.”
Finding my parents turned out to be easy. It would’ve been even easier if I’d still had my phone, but as it was, all we had to do was report to a police station. I was a known missing person, and within half an hour of giving an officer my name and sitting down on a bench to wait, my mother and father arrived. They were wearing rumpled clothes that had clearly been slept in, my mother’s normally perfect makeup was a mess, my dad had a three-day beard, and they were both holding stacks of MISSING posters with my face on them. I felt instantly and comprehensively awful for what I’d put them through. But as I tried to apologize, they dropped the posters and wrapped me in a two-way hug, and my words were lost in the folds of my dad’s sweater.