“I just spoke to your father,” a man said. “He sounded a little upset.”
It was Dr. Golan.
I wanted to say that he and my dad could both stuff it up their asses, but I knew this situation required some tact. If I pissed Golan off now it would be the end of my trip. I couldn’t leave yet, not with so much more to learn about the peculiar children. So I played along and explained what I’d been up to—all except the kids-in-a-time-loop part—and tried to make it sound like I was coming around to the idea that there was nothing special about the island or my grandfather. It was like a mini-session over the phone.
“I hope you’re not just telling me what I want to hear,” he said. That had become his standard line. “Maybe I should come out there and check on you. I could use a little vacation. How does that sound?”
Please be joking, I prayed.
“I’m okay. Really,” I said.
“Relax, Jacob, I’m only kidding, though Lord knows I could use some time away from the office. And actually, I believe you. You do sound okay. In fact, just now I told your father that probably the best thing he could do is to give you a little breathing room and let you sort things out on your own.”
“You’ve had your parents and me hovering over you for so long. At a certain point it becomes counterproductive.”
“Well, I really appreciate that.”
He said something else I couldn’t quite hear; there was a lot of noise on his end. “It’s hard to hear you,” I said. “Are you in a mall or something?”
“The airport,” he replied. “Picking up my sister. Anyway, all I said was to enjoy yourself. Explore and don’t worry too much. I’ll see you soon, all right?”
“Thanks again, Dr. G.”
As I hung up the phone, I felt bad for having ragged on him earlier. That was twice now he’d stuck up for me when my own parents wouldn’t.
My dad was nursing a beer across the room. I stopped by his table on my way upstairs. “About tomorrow …” I said.
“Do what you want, I guess.”
“Are you sure?”
He shrugged sullenly. “Doctor’s orders.”
“I’ll be home for dinner. Promise.”
He just nodded. I left him in the bar and went up to bed.
Falling asleep, my thoughts drifted to the peculiar children and the first question they’d asked after Miss Peregrine had introduced me: Is Jacob going to stay with us? At the time I’d thought, Of course not. But why not? If I never went home, what exactly would I be missing? I pictured my cold cavernous house, my friendless town full of bad memories, the utterly unremarkable life that had been mapped out for me. It had never once occurred to me, I realized, to refuse it.
Morning brought rain and wind and fog, pessimistic weather that made it hard to believe the previous day had been anything more than a strange and wonderful dream. I wolfed down my breakfast and told my dad I was going out. He looked at me like I was nuts.
“In this? To do what?”
“To hang out with—” I started, without thinking. Then, to cover my tracks, I pretended to have a piece of food stuck in my throat. But it was too late; he’d heard me.
“Hang out with who? Not those rapper hoodlums, I hope.”
The only way out of this hole was to dig deeper. “No. You’ve probably never seen them, they live on the other side of, um, the island, and—”
“Really? I didn’t think anyone lived over there.”
“Yeah, well, just a few people. Like, sheep-tenders and whatnot. Anyway, they’re cool—they watch my back while I’m at the house.” Friends and safety: two things my dad couldn’t possibly object to.
“I want to meet them,” he said, trying to look stern. He often put on this face, an imitation of the sensible, no-nonsense dad I think he aspired to be.
“Sure thing. We’re meeting up over there, though, so another time.”
He nodded and took another bite of his breakfast.
“Be back by dinner,” he said.
“Roger Wilco, Dad.”
I practically raced to the bog. As I picked my way through its shifting muck, trying to remember the route of semi-invisible grass islands Emma had used to cross it, I worried that all I would find on the other side was more rain and a ruined house. So it was with great relief that I emerged from the cairn to find September third, 1940, just as I’d left it: the day warm and sunny and fogless, the sky a dependable blue, clouds forming shapes that seemed comfortingly familiar. Even better, Emma was there waiting for me, sitting on the edge of the mound casting stones into the bog. “About time!” she cried, jumping to her feet. “Come on, everyone’s waiting for you.”
“Ye-es,” she said with an impatient eye roll, taking my hand and pulling me after her. I sparked with excitement—not only at her touch, but at the thought of the day that lay ahead, full of endless possibility. Though in a million superficial ways it would be identical to the day before—the same breeze would blow and the same tree limbs would fall—my experience of it would be new. So would the peculiar children’s. They were the gods of this strange little heaven, and I was their guest.
We dashed across the bog and through the forest as if late for an appointment. When we reached the house, Emma led me around to the backyard, where a small wooden stage had been erected. Kids were bustling in and out of the house, carrying props, buttoning up suit jackets, and zipping into sequined dresses. Warming up was a little orchestra, made up of just an accordion, a battered trombone, and a musical saw that Horace played with a bow.
“What’s this?” I asked Emma. “Are you guys putting on a play?”
“You’ll see,” she said.
“Who’s in it?”
“What’s it about?”
She pinched me.
A whistle blew and everyone ran to claim seats in a row of folding chairs that faced the stage. Emma and I sat down just as the curtain opened, revealing a straw boater hat floating atop a gaudy red-and-white striped suit. It was only when I heard a voice did I realize that—of course—it was Millard.
“Ladieeees and gentlemen!” he crowed. “It gives me the utmost pleasure to present to you a performance like no other in history! A show of such unrivaled daring, of such accomplished magicianship, that you simply won’t believe your eyes! Good citizens, I give you Miss Peregrine and her Peculiar Children!”