“Jake, Jake, ohmygod, my little Jake,” my mother cried.
“It’s him, it’s really him,” my father said. “We were so worried, we were so worried …”
How long had I been gone? A week? Something like that, though it seemed like an eternity.
“Where were you?” my mother said. “What were you doing?”
The hug broke but still I couldn’t get a word in.
“Why did you run away like that?” my father demanded. “What were you thinking, Jacob?”
“You gave me gray hairs!” my mother said, then threw her arms around me a second time.
My dad looked me over. “Where are your clothes? What’s this you’re wearing?”
I was still in my black adventure clothes. Oops. They’d be easier to explain than nineteenth-century clothes, though, and thankfully Mother Dust had healed all the cuts on my face …
“Jacob, say something!” my father demanded.
“I’m really, really sorry,” I said. “I would never have put you through this if I could’ve helped it, but everything’s okay now. Things are going to be fine. You won’t understand, and that’s okay, too. I love you guys.”
“You’re right about one thing,” my dad said. “We don’t understand. At all.”
“But it’s not okay,” said my mom. “You will give us an explanation.”
“We’ll need one, too,” said a police officer who’d been standing by. “And a drug test.”
Things were slipping beyond my control. It was time to pull the rip cord.
“I’ll tell you everything,” I said, “but first I’d like you to meet a friend of mine. Mom, Dad, this is Miss Peregrine.”
I saw my dad’s eyes go to Miss P, then to Emma. He must’ve recognized her, because he looked like he’d seen a ghost. But it was okay—he would forget soon enough.
“Pleased to make your acquaintance,” said Miss Peregrine, shaking both my parents’ hands. “You have a terrific son, just a topnotch boy. Not only is Jacob a perfect gentleman, he’s even more talented than his grandfather.”
“His grandfather?” said my dad. “How do you …”
“Who is this bizarre woman?” my mother said. “How do you know our son?”
Miss Peregrine gripped their hands and stared deeply into their eyes. “Alma Peregrine, Alma LeFay Peregrine. Now, I understand you’ve had a dreadful time here in the British Isles. Just an awful trip. I think it would be best for everyone involved if you just forgot it ever happened. Don’t you agree?”
“Yes,” my mother said, a faraway look in her eyes.
“I agree,” said my father, sounding slightly hypnotized.
Miss Peregrine had paused their brains.
“Fantastic, wonderful,” she said. “Now cast your eyes upon this, please.” She let go of their hands and drew a long, blue-spotted falcon feather from her pocket. And then a hot wave of guilt flashed through me, and I stopped her.
“Wait,” I said. “I don’t think I want you to do it, after all.”
“Are you sure?” She looked a bit disappointed. “It could get very complicated for you.”
“It feels like cheating,” I said.
“Then what will you tell them?” Emma asked.
“I don’t know yet. But it doesn’t seem right to just … wipe their brains.”
If telling them the truth was selfish, it seemed doubly so to simply erase the need for an explanation. And what about the police? My extended family? My parents’ friends? Surely they all knew I’d been missing, and for my parents to forget what had happened … it would’ve been a mess.
“That’s up to you,” said Miss Peregrine. “But I think it would be wise to at least let me wipe the past two or three minutes, so they’ll forget Miss Bloom and me.”
“Well … okay,” I said. “So long as they don’t lose the English language along with it.”
“I’m very precise,” said Miss Peregrine.
“What’s all this about wiping brains?” said the police officer. “Who are you?”
“Alma Peregrine,” said Miss Peregrine, rushing over to shake his hand. “Alma Peregrine, Alma LeFay Peregrine.”
The officer’s head dropped, and he was suddenly fascinated by a spot on the floor.
“I can think of a few wights you might’ve done that to,” said Emma.
“Unfortunately, it only works on the pliable minds of normals,” Miss Peregrine said. “Speaking of which.” She held up the feather.
“Wait,” I said. “Before you do.” I put out my hand for her to shake. “Thank you for everything. I’m really going to miss you, Miss Peregrine.”
Miss Peregrine ignored my hand and hugged me. “The feeling is mutual, Mr. Portman. And I’m the one who should be thanking you. If it hadn’t been for your and Miss Bloom’s heroism …”
“Well,” I said, “if it hadn’t been for you saving my grandfather all those years ago …”
She smiled. “Let’s call it even.”
There was one goodbye left. The hardest one. I put my arms around Emma, and she squeezed back ferociously.
“Can we write to each other?” she said.
“Are you sure you want to?”