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She’d scratched out or maybe and written: Uh-oh, I hear Sharon calling my name. He’s leaving now and I want to make sure this letter gets into the post today. Write soon! Love, Emma.

What was that “or maybe,” I wondered?

I looked over the photos she’d included. A few lines of description had been penned on the back of each. The first was a snapshot of two Victorian ladies standing in front of a striped tent beneath a sign that read CURIOS. On the back Emma had written: Miss Bobolink and Miss Loon started a traveling exhibit using some of Bentham’s old artefacts. Now that peculiars are freer to travel, they’ve been doing quite a business. Many of us don’t know much about our history …

The next was a photo of several adults descending a set of narrow steps to a beach and a rowboat. There’s a very nice loop on the shore of the Caspian Sea, Emma had written, and last week Nim and some of the ymbrynes went on a boating trip there. Hugh and Horace and I tagged along but stayed on the shore. We’ve all had enough of rowboats, thank you.

The last picture was of conjoined twin girls wearing giant white bows in their raven-black hair. They were seated next to each other, their hands pulling aside a bit of their shirts to reveal a section of shared torso. Carlotta and Carlita are conjoined, the back read, but that isn’t what’s most peculiar about them. Their bodies produce an adhesive glue that’s stronger than concrete when it dries. Enoch sat in some and attached his bottom to a chair for two whole days! He was so mad I thought his head would pop off. I wish you could’ve been there …

I replied right away. What did you mean by “or maybe”?

Ten days passed and I didn’t hear from her. I worried that she felt she’d gone too far in her letter; had violated our just-friends agreement and was stepping back. I wondered if she’d even sign her next letter Love, Emma, two little words I had come to depend on. After two weeks, I began to wonder if there would even be another letter.

Then the mail stopped coming altogether. I watched obsessively for the mailman, and when he didn’t show for four days, I knew something was up. My parents always got tons of catalogs and bills. I mentioned, casually as I could, that it seemed strange we hadn’t gotten any mail recently. My father mumbled something about a national holiday and changed the subject. Then I really started to worry.

The mystery was solved during the next morning’s session with Dr. Spanger, which, unusually, my parents had been invited to attend. They were tense and ashen-faced, struggling even to make small talk as we sat down. Spanger began with the usual softball questions. How had I been feeling? Any interesting dreams? I knew she was leading up to something big, and finally I couldn’t take the suspense.

“Why are my parents here?” I asked. “And why do they look like they just got back from a funeral?”

For the first time ever, Dr. Spanger’s permasmile faded. She reached into a folder on her desk and pulled out three envelopes.

They were letters from Emma. All had been opened. “We need to talk about these,” she said.

“We agreed there wouldn’t be any secrets,” my dad said. “This is bad, Jake. Very bad.”

My hands started to shake. “Those are private,” I said, struggling to control my voice. “They’re addressed to me. You shouldn’t have read them.”

What was in those letters? What had my parents seen? It was a disaster, an utter disaster.

“Who is Emma?” said Dr. Spanger. “Who is Miss Peregrine?”

“This isn’t fair!” I shouted. “You stole my private letters, and now you’re using them to ambush me!”

“Lower your voice!” my dad said. “It’s out in the open now, so just be honest, and this will be easier for all of us.”

Dr. Spanger held up a photograph, one Emma must have included in the letters. “Who are these people?”

I leaned forward to look at it. It was a picture of two older ladies in a rocking chair, one cradling the other in her lap like a baby.

“I have no idea,” I said curtly.

“There’s writing on the back,” she said. It says: ‘We’re finding new ways to help those who’ve had parts of their soul removed. Close contact seems to work miracles. After just a few hours, Miss Hornbill was like a new ymbryne.’ ”

Eyem-brine, she pronounced it.

“It’s imm-brinn,” I corrected her, unable to help myself. “The ‘i’ sounds are flat.”

“I see.” Dr. Spanger set the photo down and steepled her fingers beneath her chin. “And what is an … imm-brinn?”

In retrospect maybe it was foolish, but at the time I felt cornered, like I had no choice but to tell the truth. They had letters, they had photos, and all my flimsy stories had blown away in the wind.

“They protect us,” I said.

Dr. Spanger glanced at my parents. “All of us?”

“No. Just peculiar children.”

“Peculiar children,” Dr. Spanger repeated slowly. “And you believe you’re one of them.”

I stuck out my hand. “I’d like to have my letters now.”

“You’ll get them. But first we need to talk, okay?”

I retracted my hand and folded my arms. She was talking to me like I had an IQ of seventy.

“Now, what makes you think you’re peculiar?”

“I can see things other people can’t.”

From the corner of my eye, I saw my parents going increasingly pale. They were not taking this well.

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