“We came as soon as we heard,” said Miss Peregrine, shaking her head at my parents. “Very disappointing, but not entirely surprising.”
“We’re here to save you!” Olive crowed. “Like you saved us!”
“And I’m so glad to see you!” I said. “But don’t you have to go? You’ll start aging forward!”
“Didn’t you read my last few letters?” Emma said. “I explained everything …”
“My parents took them. That’s why they freaked out.”
“What? How awful!” She glared at my parents. “That’s stealing, you know! In any case, there’s nothing to worry about. We made an exciting discovery!”
“You mean I made an exciting discovery,” I heard Millard say. “All thanks to Perplexus. It took me days to figure out how to get him back to his loop using Bentham’s convoluted machine—during which time Perplexus should have aged forward. But he didn’t. What’s more, his gray hair even turned black again! That’s when I realized something had happened to him while he was in Abaton with us: his true age had been reset. When the ymbrynes collapsed the loop, it wound back his clock, so to speak, so that his body was exactly as old as it looked, rather than his actual age of five hundred and seventy-one.”
“And it wasn’t just Perplexus’s clock that got wound back,” Emma said excitedly, “but all of ours! Everyone who was in Abaton that day!”
“Apparently it’s a side effect of loop collapse,” Miss Peregrine said. “An extremely dangerous Fountain of Youth.”
“So this means … you won’t age forward? Ever?”
“Well, no faster than you!” Emma said, and laughed. “One day at a time!”
“That’s … amazing!” I said, overjoyed but struggling to take it all in. “Are you sure I’m not dreaming?”
“Quite sure,” said Miss Peregrine.
“Can we stay a while, Jacob?” said Claire, bouncing up to me. “You said we could come anytime!”
“I figured we’d make a holiday of it,” Miss Peregrine said before I could reply. “The children know almost nothing of the twenty-first century, and besides, this house looks much more comfortable than Bentham’s drafty old rat-trap. How many bedrooms?”
“Um … we have five, I think?”
“Yes, that’ll do. That’ll do just fine.”
“But what about my parents? And my uncles?”
She glanced at the car and waved a hand. “Your uncles can be memory-wiped with ease. As for your parents, I believe the cat’s out of the bag, as they say. They’ll have to be watched closely for a time, kept on a short leash. But if any two normals can be brought ’round to our way of seeing things, it’s the parents of the great Jacob Portman.”
“And the son and daughter-in-law of the great Abraham Portman!” said Emma.
“You … you knew my father?” my dad said timidly, peeping at us from the car window.
“I loved him like a son,” said Miss Peregrine. “As I do Jacob.”
Dad blinked, then slowly nodded, but I don’t think he understood.
“They’re going to stay with us for a while,” I said. “Okay?”
His eyes widened and he shrank away. “It’s … uh … I think you’d better ask your mother …”
She was curled in the passenger seat with her hands blocking her eyes.
I said, “Mom?”
“Go away,” she said. “Just go away, all of you!”
Miss Peregrine leaned down. “Mrs. Portman, look at me, please.”
Mom peeked through her fingers. “You aren’t really there. I had too much wine at dinner, that’s all.”
“We’re quite real, I assure you. And this may be hard to believe now, but we’re all going to be friends.”
My mom turned away. “Frank, change the channel. I don’t like this show.”
“Okay, honey,” my dad said. “Son, I think I’d better, um … um …” and then he shut his eyes, shook his head, and rolled up the window.
“Are you sure this isn’t going to melt their brains?” I asked Miss Peregrine.
“They’ll come around,” she replied. “Some take longer than others.”
* * *
We walked back toward my house in a group, the moon bright and rising, the hot night alive with wind and cicadas. Bronwyn pushed the dead car along behind us, my family still in it. I walked hand in hand with Emma, my mind reeling from all that had happened.
“One thing I don’t understand,” I said. “How did you get here? And so quickly?”
I tried to picture a girl with a mouth in the back of her head and a boy with bees buzzing around him getting through airport security. And Millard: had they snuck him onto an airplane? How did they even get passports?
“We got lucky,” Emma said. “One of Bentham’s rooms led to a loop just a hundred miles from here.”
“Some appalling swamp,” Miss Peregrine said. “Crocodiles and knee-deep muck. No idea what my brother wanted with the place. Anyhow, from there I managed to effect our exit into the present, and then it was just a matter of catching two buses and walking three and one-half miles. The whole trip took less than a day. Needless to say, we’re tired and parched from our journey.”