Her hand was almost constantly in the air during class. Gavin watched Delilah’s skinny arm wave back and forth, as she volunteered to answer her seventh question in forty minutes. She’ll speak enough for both of us, he thought. He imagined them in a quick montage of scenarios—at the grocery store, buying a car, walking through the park together—and wondered how that would work over time, if he would start to feel more a part of her world, or if she would always just grab his hand and pull him along in her determined, tiny wake.
For once he was thinking of a relationship in the abstract unit of time, not in a finite unit as small as classes or kisses. He’d never really thought about how to integrate a person into his life long-term, and Gavin’s thoughts immediately turned to her question yesterday: Do you think it will be weird to live somewhere else?
He’d never actually considered the alternative. He’d always assumed he’d be in the house forever.
• • •
Their shoes crunched on the dried leaves as they walked across the lawn to their favorite tree.
Gavin looked at her profile and, as always, wondered what she was thinking. “Why do you talk in class so much?”
As soon as the words were out, he heard how critical they sounded. It was the kind of thing he would have said to another girl like Cornelia, or Tabitha, and she would have said, Gavin, that’s super-rude. He would mumble an apology and wonder why they didn’t just give him the benefit of the doubt. It’s not like they were dealing with Dhaval Reddy—Mr. Social—or Tanner Jones—Mr. Jock. They had chosen the weird guy for a reason and then expected him to act typical.
But apparently Delilah didn’t expect this. She shrugged, completely unfazed by his tone. “My school—my old school—was pretty strict about participation. It just became part of the routine. This school just lets you sit there and not say anything.”
And thank God for that, he thought. “Do you miss Saint Benedict’s?”
She chewed her lip while she considered this. “Yes and no.”
Briefly he pondered which part was yes and which was no, but he put himself in her situation and figured if she was comparing this mess of a school to a fancy East Coast academy, she probably missed most things. Hopefully, the one thing she didn’t miss was that he wouldn’t have been at Saint Ben’s.
She sat on the grass and opened her lunch bag, popping a grape in her mouth. She chewed, thinking, and Gavin sat beside her, slanting his body toward hers, kissing the side of her head before opening his own lunch.
“There are a lot more students here,” she said. “People care more about what they’re wearing, but in a really silly way. Like, they want to look messy and take a lot of time to do it. We didn’t care as much about that, and when given the option of free dress, we all just wore whatever we slept in.”
Gavin’s thoughts slipped away to something dark and silky and very, very tiny. He ran his hand up her arm, to her neck, to pull her in for a kiss.
“Not like that,” she said, smiling against his lips.
• • •
He tried to see House the way she might have the day before. It had stayed so still for her initially—almost as if it were holding its collective breath—but he’d been so absorbed in Delilah’s reaction he hadn’t given it much thought. And her reaction had been completely unexpected. He’d been sincere when he said he’d never had a girl over before, but he had to imagine that if he had, they would have kept their arms tucked closer to their bodies than Delilah. She’d reached out, touched Walls and Couch, even Stiff Chair.
As always, Delilah was fearless. Maybe even foolhardy.
Gavin pulled up short, staring at the soft pastel wallpaper of Hallway and wondering where that thought had come from. If he trusted House, why shouldn’t she? Why should she come in with trepidation? Was there something about House to fear?
With this burst of thoughts, he walked faster down the hall to the upstairs bathroom—the only functional bathroom in House and also the only room Gavin had never thought was alive. It was his sanctuary, and the one place in House he realized he felt safe thinking whatever he wanted.
See? That bothered him too. His thoughts were his own everywhere, weren’t they? In any room he entered he could think about anything he wanted, whether it was Delilah naked and waiting for him on his bed, or any number of flittering images that entered his mind—seeing himself in college, laughing with a family, sailing in the middle of the ocean—and were gone as quickly as they’d appeared, and no person or object would even know. His thoughts were his and had always been. Hadn’t they?
For the first time in his life Gavin truly wondered if his reality were accurate. Every object in House could move, could feel, could think. But each lacked muscles, flowing blood, and a brain to process it all. Why wouldn’t House be able to hear his thoughts? What else could House do that he had never considered?
Before Gavin could trip his way down the tangle of worries and thoughts that led to the dreaded question—where did I come from?—he heard the sound of a small fist against the front door.
He wasn’t expecting a package or a grocery delivery, and nobody ever, ever just dropped by. The knock came again.
Through the thick oak of the door, Delilah’s voice sounded tinny and frail, when in reality and despite her size, her voice was low and scratchy, as if she’d grown up screaming everything and had only recently decided to tone it down. Gavin opened the front door and grinned. “What brings you here, Miss Blue?”
She shrugged, slipping past him as if she owned the place and dropping her bag on the floor. “My hot boyfriend.”
Gavin looked around the room in mock surprise. “He’s here too?”
The corners of her eyes turned up as she smiled. “Yes! Could you get him for me? He’s short and burly and never stops talking. Just my type.”
Gavin bent to kiss her forehead. “Sorry it took so long. I wasn’t expecting anyone. It took me a second to realize someone was at the door. People don’t stop by here.”
“And now you can’t say that ever again.” She brushed her fingers across his chest as she walked past him and into the dining room. Delilah ran a hand over the top of Piano, and then with fingers from both hands pressed lightly into a few keys, playing a middle C chord.
“Oh boy,” Gavin mumbled under his breath. As predicted, Piano held the notes far longer than Delilah’s fingers lingered, the sound of C, E, and G in harmony filling the cavernous room.
“Wow, it has good reverb. Or whatever it’s called on a piano,” she said, starting to walk deeper into the room.
“Piano is. . . ,” Gavin started and then trailed off, knowing what was coming anyway.
But as soon as she asked, Piano played another chord, C-sharp major. And then, after a pause, another, D major. Piano made its way through the majors: E-flat, E, F, F-sharp, G, A-flat, A, B-flat, and finally ended with a lingering, pointed B.
Delilah, who had turned back when the notes began, stood frozen, staring down at the keys. “I don’t actually play the piano. Is it expecting me to do that, too?”
“It’s teaching you.” And on cue, Piano played the C-sharp major chord again and then paused. The room cooled impatiently as Delilah’s hesitation endured. Gavin could remember this exact routine over and over from when he was six. He hadn’t been allowed upstairs that night until he’d mastered every chord through the majors.
“Does it know I don’t play?”
Gavin laughed. “I think it assumes you don’t, because you didn’t put the right fingers down.”
Delilah pressed her fingers down on the keys—her index, middle, and pinky—but no sound came out of the instrument.
“Wrong fingers,” Gavin offered. He wished there’d been someone there to give him that prompt. That had been the longest part of learning to play: where to put his fingers, how to move them along the scales.
“Cripes, Gavin, is this like Pitfall!? I have to finish this thing before I can see the rest of the house?”
He stared at her, confused. “Pitfall?”
She looked over her shoulder at him and grimaced. “Sorry. It’s a video game. My dad has an old Atari. Turns out before he turned into a cardboard-cutout dad, he was a geek.”
With a wry smile, Gavin stepped closer and correctly positioned her fingers. “Who knew?” He’d never even seen her father, but from what she’d said about him—very little, to be honest—Gavin had a hard time imagining he’d ever done anything besides silently eat dinner and watch the news.
Beneath his hands, her fingers were warm and long for her height, as if she were a puppy and would soon see a growth spurt. Gavin liked all of the ways otherwise-small Delilah was surprisingly big. He realized his fingers were running up and down her arm and stepped back to let her learn.
“Stay close like that,” she said quietly, still staring down at the keys.
He returned to her, aligning his front against her back, and she leaned her head against his chest as she let Piano teach her. She laughed every now and then, made goofy sounds when she messed up or little shouts of victory every time Piano moved on to a new chord. It seemed like she was having fun, and the lights brightened and the room warmed to perfect, and Oven began baking something so the entire house smelled like warm sugar and chocolate. Gavin kissed her hair and wondered if House had the ability to freeze time and hold this moment in reverb for an entire week.
His heart seemed to grow three sizes too big for his body when Delilah looked over her shoulder at him, lips all ripe fruit and teasing and her smile a little dangerous. He was pretty sure he didn’t want to have sex inside House, but in the moment, he could probably be convinced.
But instead of stretching and kissing him, she asked, “Do you know how to dance?”
He shook his head, both relieved and disappointed.
“That’s okay,” she said, turning in his arms. “I do.”