I took a seat at the table. Dad looked down at me for a long moment, and I wasn’t sure if he trusted me or not. Then he went to the sink and splashed water on his face. When he’d toweled off and turned around again, he seemed to have decided it was a lot less trouble to trust me.
“You sure we don’t need to call Dr. Golan again?” he asked. “Have a nice long talk?”
“If you want to. But I’m okay.”
“This is exactly why I didn’t want you hanging out with those rapper guys,” he said, because he needed to close with something sufficiently parental for it to count as a proper talking-to.
“You were right about them, Dad,” I said, though secretly I couldn’t believe either of them was capable of it. Worm and Dylan talked tough, but that was all.
Dad sat down across from me. He looked tired. “I’d still like to know how someone manages to get a sunburn on a day like this.”
Right. The sunburn. “Guess I’m pretty sensitive,” I said.
“You can say that again,” he said dryly.
He let me go, and I went to take a shower and thought about Emma. Then I brushed my teeth and thought about Emma and washed my face and thought about Emma. After that I went to my room and took the apple she’d given me out of my pocket and set it on the nightstand, and then, as if to reassure myself she still existed, I got out my phone and looked through the pictures of her I’d taken that afternoon. I was still looking when I heard my father go to bed in the next room, and still looking when the gennies kicked off and my lamp went out, and when there was no light anywhere but her face on my little screen, I lay there in the dark, still looking.
Hoping to duck another lecture, I got up early and set out before Dad was awake. I slipped a note under his door and went to grab Emma’s apple, but it wasn’t on my nightstand where I’d left it. A thorough search of the floor uncovered a lot of dust bunnies and one leathery thing the size of a golf ball. I was starting to wonder if someone had swiped it when I realized that the leathery thing was the apple. At some point during the night it had gone profoundly bad, spoiling like I’ve never seen fruit spoil. It looked as though it had spent a year locked in a food dehydrator. When I tried to pick it up it crumbled in my hand like a clump of soil.
Puzzled, I shrugged it off and went out. It was pissing rain but I soon left gray skies behind for the reliable sun of the loop. This time, however, there were no pretty girls waiting for me on the other side of the cairn—or anyone, for that matter. I tried not to be too disappointed, but I was, a little.
As soon as I got to the house I started looking for Emma, but Miss Peregrine intercepted me before I’d even made it past the front hall.
“A word, Mr. Portman,” she said, and led me into the privacy of the kitchen, still fragrant from the rich breakfast I’d missed. I felt like I’d been summoned to the principal’s office.
Miss Peregrine propped herself against the giant cooking range. “Are you enjoying your time with us?” she said.
I told her I was, very much.
“That’s good,” she replied, and then her smile vanished. “I understand you had a pleasant afternoon with some of my wards yesterday. And a lively discussion as well.”
“It was great. They’re all really nice.” I was trying to keep things light, but I could tell she was winding me up for something.
“Tell me,” she said, “how would you describe the nature of your discussion?”
I tried to remember. “I don’t know … we talked about lots of things. How things are here. How they are where I’m from.”
“Where you’re from.”
“And do you think it’s wise to discuss events in the future with children from the past?”
“Children? Is that really how you think of them?” I regretted saying this even as the words were passing my lips.
“It is how they regard themselves as well,” she said testily. “What would you call them?”
Given her mood, it wasn’t a subtlety I was prepared to argue. “Children, I guess.”
“Indeed. Now, as I was saying,” she said, emphasizing her words with little cleaver-chops of her hand on the range, “do you think it’s wise to discuss the future with children from the past?”
I decided to go out on a limb. “No?”
“Ah, but apparently you do! I know this because last night at dinner we were treated by Hugh to a fascinating disquisition on the wonders of twenty-first-century telecommunications technology.” Her voice dripped with sarcasm. “Did you know that when you send a letter in the twenty-first century, it can be received almost instantaneously?”
“I think you’re talking about e-mail.”
“Well, Hugh knew all about it.”
“I don’t understand,” I said. “Is that a problem?”
She unleaned herself from the range and took a limping step toward me. Even though she was a full foot shorter than I was, she still managed to be intimidating.
“As an ymbryne, it is my sworn duty to keep those children safe and above all that means keeping them here—in the loop—on this island.”
“Yours is a world they can never be part of, Mr. Portman. So what’s the use in filling their heads with grand talk about the exotic wonders of the future? Now you’ve got half the children begging for a jet-airplane trip to America and the other half dreaming of the day when they can own a telephone-computer like yours.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize.”
“This is their home. I have tried to make it as fine a place as I could. But the plain fact is they cannot leave, and I’d appreciate it if you didn’t make them want to.”
“But why can’t they?”
She narrowed her eyes at me for a moment and then shook her head. “Forgive me. I continue to underestimate the breadth of your ignorance.” Miss Peregrine, who seemed to be constitutionally incapable of idleness, took a saucepan from the stove top and began scouring it with a steel brush. I wondered if she was ignoring my question or simply weighing how best to dumb down the answer.
When the pan was clean she clapped it back on the stove and said, “They cannot linger in your world, Mr. Portman, because in a short time they would grow old and die.”
“What do you mean, die?”
“I’m not certain how I can be more direct. They’ll die, Jacob.” She spoke tersely, as if wishing to put the topic behind us as quickly as possible. “It may appear to you that we’ve found a way to cheat death, but it’s an illusion. If the children loiter too long on your side of the loop, all the many years from which they have abstained will descend upon them at once, in a matter of hours.”