My heart skittered as I followed his gaze to the upstairs window. But the curtains were drawn; no movement anywhere. “See what?”
“I thought I saw something. A flash of white.” He cleared his throat. “Sorry I’m being a dope. I’m not that great at stress.”
Ian suddenly materialized at the car window, startling me so much that I flung my arm into Rowan’s chest, hitting him with a dull thud.
“Oof,” he wheezed.
“Sorry, Rowan,” I said. This was not an isolated incident. Startled Addie equaled flailing Addie. Once, during a particularly intense cinematic moment, I’d showered an entire row of moviegoers with popcorn. Now I had my snacks doled out to me at movies.
Ian crossed his arms, reveling in a self-satisfied smile. “Why are you so jumpy? I told you, no one’s here.”
I looked at the house again. I couldn’t shake the feeling that we were being watched. “Can we get out of here? This place creeps me out.”
Ian shook his head. “The windows back there are too high. I need you to come with me so I can lift you up.”
Instinct told me to hijack the car and get us out of there, but reason told me to go along with Ian’s plan and get it over with. Also, I liked the fact that he was asking me for help. It felt pre-Cubby. “Let’s just make it quick.”
Ian dragged me around back. The back lawn was carefully maintained, with a wall of well-tamed rosebushes. Wind rippled through the trees, making a low shrieking noise. “I think it’s that one,” he said, pointing to a large window.
“Let’s check.” He knelt down so I could climb onto his shoulders, then wobbled to a stand. I leaned in, careful not to touch the spotless window. “Impressive,” I said. “You found the Red Room on the first try.”
“I did? What does it look like?” He bobbed around happily, and I had to grab his hair to keep from falling off.
“It looks . . . red.” Heavy red drapes drooped down to the oxblood carpet, tufted sofas and chairs rounding out the remaining hues of red. Even the portrait over the mantel depicted a redhead holding an armful of poppies.
He handed me his phone, but between the glare and my proximity, all I could see in the image was my own reflection. “Can you move to the right? The glare is really bad over here.”
Ian moved, stumbling on a garden hose but catching his balance quickly. This time the image was perfect. I took a stream of photos, capturing as many angles as I could. “These are going to turn out great.”
“Addie, thank you so much. This is really great of you!” The excitement in his voice narrowed the chasm between us.
“I read your articles,” I said, holding tightly to the small bridge between us.
The swaying underneath me immediately stopped, and his shoulders tensed. My opinion still mattered to him. “And?”
“They were incredible,” I said simply. “Really, really incredible. You’re meant to write about music.”
He squeezed my ankle. “Thanks, Addie. That means a lot. I’ve wanted to show you for a long time, but at first it was nice to keep it secret, because it was less pressure. And then this summer . . .” He hesitated.
A long, clunky silence filled the air, and I suddenly felt desperate to keep the camaraderie going. I missed the easy parts of our friendship.
“Ian, maybe you’re right. Maybe I should tell Mom.” The words ran out of my mouth faster than I could catch them. Oh, no. Why had I just said that?
“Really?” Ian’s voice bounced off the house, his relief heavy as an anchor. “You have no idea how happy I am to hear you say that. Telling Mom is the right thing. That’s what being an adult is, you know? You have to own up to your mistakes.”
Mistakes. I felt myself bristle at the word. But I couldn’t afford to get angry; I needed to focus on letting him down gently. “Ian, listen . . .” I steadied my fingertips on the glass and took a deep breath. But before I could speak, something caught my eye and I looked up. A woman stood at the glass, a vein bulging in her pale forehead, her face as close as my reflection. Her mouth stretched open in a wordless howl.
“Aaaaaah!” The scream ripped out of me and I hurled my body backward.
“Addie!” Ian tried to catch me, swiveling back and forth. I lost my balance and fell onto my back, hitting my head on something solid. A rock? Black polka dots invaded my vision.
“Addie, are you okay? Why did you scream?” Ian stood over me, his eyes tight with panic.
“Because—” My brain felt too confused to explain.
Suddenly, the porch door slammed, bringing me back to coherence. “Brutus, Marshall, get them!” The sound of scrambling erupted across the patio, followed quickly by barking.
“Addie, we have to run!” Ian yanked me to my feet, dragging me behind him as he charged for the car.
Rowan’s phone was pressed to his ear, and his eyes widened when he saw us. “What happened? What—?”
“Just drive!” Ian stuffed me in headfirst, then jumped in behind me, and Rowan dropped his phone, tearing down the drive as two of the largest dogs I had ever seen threw themselves at our back tires.
Even though the dogs stopped dead at the edge of the property, Rowan spent the next ten minutes driving like a madman, swerving through lanes and overtaking every car he possibly could.
My hands would not stop shaking. Seeing the woman in the window reminded me of a game I’d played in elementary school called Bloody Mary. A group of us would turn off all the lights in the girl’s bathroom and then chant BLOO-DY MAR-Y into the mirror in hopes that her ghost would appear. Nothing scary ever happened except for the occasional appearance of the crabby old janitor who came in to shoo us out. I’d always wondered what I’d do if a face actually appeared, and now I knew: crumple into a ball and wait for Ian to rescue me.
“Follow my finger,” Ian commanded, moving his index finger left to right. “Do you feel dizzy? Nauseated?”
“Ian.” I slapped his hand away. He was running through concussion protocol. All the student athletes had been required to attend a meeting on it back in March.
“What about sensitivity to light?” Ian shined his cell phone flashlight directly in my eyes, and I quickly blocked the brightness with my hands.
“Ian! Forget a concussion. You’re going to blind me.” I pushed him back into the front seat and carefully touched the back of my head. “It hurts, but it’s just a bump.” I winced, feeling the goose egg already forming. “No concussion.”
“Good.” Ian nodded, pointing to his black eye. “Call it even?”
I shrugged, and Clover flew over a bump and soared through the air.
“She didn’t see me, right?” Rowan kept saying. “We’re positive that woman did not see me?” His phone had been ringing ever since he’d dropped it, and he stuck his hands down between the seats, groping around.
“Rowan, how would she have seen you? You were in the car the whole time,” Ian said cheerfully. At least he was happy; he had his photos to keep him going. “Addie, these are incredible.”
I knew his sunniness wasn’t just about my excellent photo-taking skills—it was about what I’d said right before diving into the flower bed. Maybe I should tell Mom. What had possessed me to say that? It was only going to make things worse. I carefully touched the back of my head, wincing again.
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