The House

Chapter 14

Her

Delilah didn’t sleep much that night, afraid to close her eyes and find herself in the same nightmare. She’d had nightmares before, but this one was different. It felt real. So real.

She was crabby at breakfast, earning a reproachful look from both of her parents. She spilled milk as she poured it into her hot cereal, stubbed her toe on the table leg, and got caught rolling her eyes when her mother began discussing the long hair on the new male bagger down at the grocery store.

“Mom, his long hair doesn’t make him a criminal.”

Belinda Blue snorted, pulling her tea bag from her cup after a single, weak dunk. “I want this town to be what it used to be. Quiet, clean, and safe.”

It was Delilah’s turn to snort. “It is those things, Mom. A hippie bagger doesn’t change that. Maybe it’s good that we have someone here now who’s from Portland, Oregon. Maybe it will open our eyes a little.”

Her mother paused, planting a fist on her hip. “What do you want, Delilah? You want life to always be one adventure after another? Why can’t you be happy here? Why do you always need adrenaline and wildness and things you can’t predict?”

Delilah felt her smile straighten. So this was how her mother saw her: reckless, unpredictable, and rebellious simply because she’d stood up for a boy six years ago and didn’t mind long hair on a bagger. The impression couldn’t possibly come from anything else; her mother hardly knew her. “No, Mom. I just want life to be interesting.”

“Well,” her father mumbled from behind his paper, “whether your life is interesting or ordinary, you still have to live it.”

Delilah felt strange and bent out of shape, annoyed at her inability to shake off a silly nightmare.

Because that’s what it had to be, she decided, not wanting to recount the horrific images and sounds that played over and over in her head, but wanting to find some thread that didn’t fit, any detail that would reassure her that nothing had really happened.

Gavin’s house is good, she repeated to herself while walking to school. His house is good and loves him; it would never do anything to hurt me. It’s just protective, like a mama bear protecting its cub. Like any new person in his life, I have to prove myself.

He was waiting for her at their tree when she turned the corner, a sketchbook open in his lap, head down, fingers smudging some part of his drawing. It was the same book Delilah had been looking at before she’d fallen asleep. She had to push down a visible shudder.

She crossed the grass toward him, the thin layer of icy snow crunching beneath the soles of her boots.

He looked up, nose and cheeks pink from the cold, and smiled at her. “Hey,” he said simply, pushing himself to his feet.

Delilah smiled back at him, reaching out to take his hand, warm and wrapped in thick brown gloves.

“Sleep okay?” he asked, a trace of worry in his voice.

Delilah shrugged, noncommittal, and they moved hand in hand toward the school. “What were you drawing?” she asked, nodding to the notebook he’d tucked under his other arm.

“Oh,” he said, taking it out and opening it to a page near the back. “It’s a weird one.”

Delilah looked down at the familiar ivory paper, at the smudgy fingerprints along the edges. She felt her face grow pale, counted out the time in her heartbeat.

Gavin had been sketching a spider. The same spiders from her. . . dream.

“What is that?” she asked, feeling her heart make its way to her throat.

Running a hand through his hair, Gavin peered down at it. “I don’t know, really. Just popped in my head, I guess. Like I said: weird.”

Delilah closed the book and took his hand again. “Come on. We’ll be late.”

• • •

Delilah’s headache still lingered from that morning.

She could feel Gavin watching her all through class, his gaze heated and pressing against her skin. For once she was grateful for the long lecture that day, boring as it was, because it gave her the perfect excuse to stay quiet, to try to sort out the tornado of questions in her head.

She tried to work out how Gavin could have known about the spiders, right down to the thick, hairy legs, the stripe of red along their round, brown backs. She ran her fingers over the insides of her wrists, looking for marks like the ones she’d felt cut into her by the blankets, but found nothing but the faint blue streak of veins beneath her skin. Intellectually, she knew it was just a coincidence, but why did it feel so strange? For a brief, terrifying moment she wondered if the house could have seen her dream, but pushed it away just as quickly, realizing how insane that sounded.

Delilah looked down to where a crumpled piece of paper had been tossed to her desk. She pulled it into her lap, glancing up to the teacher before opening it.

Are you ok?

A quick glance over her shoulder, and her eyes were met by Gavin’s. He nodded toward the note, motioning for her to answer it.

Just tired. Didn’t sleep much.

Mr. Harrington turned his back to the class as he began writing that night’s homework on the board, and she slid the note back to Gavin. She didn’t have long to wait. The note, paper creased and folded haphazardly, landed in front of her again.

Come over after school. I want to draw you.

She nearly choked on her gum. Draw her? A quick glance over her shoulder and she was met with Gavin’s eyes, dark and serious. He motioned to the paper again.

Delilah bent down over her desk, face hot, the dream conveniently pushed to the back of her mind and obscured by a rush of heat. Gavin wanted to sketch her, like a real artist. The idea unleashed a cloud of butterflies in her stomach.

She swallowed, picking up her pencil with shaky hands, and wrote a single word:

Okay.

It was just a dream, after all.

• • •

The walk back to Gavin’s house seemed longer than usual. Gavin held her hand the whole way, his little finger drawing the simplest, yet most distracting, circles against her palm.

“I’m home,” Gavin called out as he stepped into the house, and when she followed him inside the door, Delilah pulled up short.

She felt as if the day before must have changed something in her. She was almost positive she’d never stepped foot in this house before.

The late-winter sun streamed in through the curtains just the same as it had before, and the trees gleamed emerald and green from the backyard. The fire stoked itself and burned brighter for Gavin, the room warming all around them. But the human eye is amazing at finding straight lines, and Delilah could tell at once that every angle was slightly skewed. Some were soft and sloped, others rigid but oblique. Nothing came together at right angles or with any standard metric. Doors tilted slightly or had one square corner, one rounded, much as Delilah knew her left foot had always been slightly longer than her right.

It was as if before the house had stood straight, paying attention, on its best behavior. Here she saw it as it was: an aberration, come together all wrong, with walls pushed together in wavy lines here, in sharp edges there.

The thunk of Gavin’s backpack hitting the floor pulled Delilah out of her thoughts, and she blinked hard, looking away from the crooked walls and up at Gavin’s relaxed smile. Behind him, the stems of a plant hanging near the front door began to sway gently, its leaves turning upward, leaning toward him.

“It’s happy to see you,” Delilah noted flatly, handing her jacket to Gavin with slightly shaking hands. She’d made the observation before, but somehow, this time, the house’s reactions to Gavin felt syrupy, and—Delilah hated to admit it—pointed. As if it were reminding her what it had said the day before: But he’s ours.

He looked around for a moment and shrugged. “Yeah.”

They walked through the living room and into the bright kitchen. Gavin reached into the refrigerator to grab a pitcher of milk, setting it down next to a plate of cookies on the table.

The chair next to Delilah slid back, its feet barely making a sound against the wood floor. She sat down gingerly, almost as if she expected it to be pulled from beneath her at any moment. “So this is just waiting for you every day?” she asked.

Gavin poured milk into the two waiting glasses. “Pretty much. Or a sandwich.”

Delilah took a cookie, finding it still warm. “Crazy,” she said.

Gavin laughed and took the seat next to her, tossing an entire cookie into his mouth, saying, “I guess so,” around it.

“And it’s just always been that way?”

“For as long as I can remember, yeah.” Gavin stood and they made their way into the dining room, where he pulled a pad of paper from a stack near the door. “I think I’ll draw you in here, by Piano,” he said, more to himself than to anyone else. “This room has the best light.”

Delilah had to focus on not becoming distracted by the sight of him with his sketchbook, the way his fingers looked with the dark piece of charcoal clenched between them. He sat down next to her again and flipped to a blank page. “Look at me,” he said, voice quiet and a little scratchy, sounding like his short fingernails might feel if he dragged them slowly down her bare back.

Blinking up to his face, Delilah felt her heart squeeze, wringing tightly.

“You’re so pretty,” he said to her mouth, and then he looked down, starting his drawing with the simple bow of her bottom lip.

Her “Thanks” came out tight and nearly silent.

“Wonder how I got such a pretty girlfriend,” he murmured, looking up to study her again before starting to draw the heart-shaped outline of her face.

The room cooled in a silent rush, but Gavin didn’t seem to notice, and Delilah had to wonder whether it was her imagination. Stop it, she told herself. Don’t be a baby.

“I know you had a friend over that one time, when we were eleven. Just before I was sent away. But how many people have you had over here your whole life?” she asked, looking out the kitchen window. She felt like the trees were all leaning in close to get a look inside. Purple figs and red cherries blocked the late-afternoon sun.

Gavin shrugged, scratching his cheek with a charcoal-covered fingertip. It left a soft bruise of black on his skin, and Delilah reached forward, wiping it away just as he said, “Maybe two other people.”

“And it was weird?” She could see how it would be weird now. She could barely see how it would feel normal. For a tight pulse, Delilah wanted the delirious, giddy thrill to return. She wanted to be enamored with the house again.

But Gavin didn’t answer aloud. He just nodded, lost in drawing the determined point of her chin.

“And you’re never lonely?”

This time she knew it wasn’t her imagination when the room grew cold. Even Gavin looked up at the ceiling, at the walls, saying with quiet emphasis, “Sometimes for people but not for company.”

The room warmed again. But it was as if her brain were on a roll and her mouth couldn’t slow down the momentum: “So what does happen when you leave?”

Gavin stopped with a cookie perched at the edge of his mouth. “Leave?”

She nodded, wary of the way the walls seemed to be slowly pressing in. But it was as if she’d loosened a boulder and no longer had control over the course it would take crashing down the hill. She felt a little reckless, a little angry. Maybe her mother was right after all.

“What do you mean?” he asked, his eyes widening slightly as if to warn her.

“Well, this is our last year of high school,” she said. Delilah blinked up to the window and swallowed, gathering courage to finish her thought. There was some tightness inside her, an itch to make the point. Maybe to provoke and see if she really was imagining things. Even though the itch was chased with an uneasy chill, she couldn’t help herself: “What happens next year? Where will you live when you’re at college or when you get married or whatever?”

This time the room cooled so quickly her breath puffed out like a cloud of smoke in front of her.

Gavin’s brows drew together, and he looked up toward the ceiling again, his eyes narrowing at the chandelier that had started to sway above their heads. Abruptly, a great crack sounded through the entire house, and the walls of the kitchen began to pulse and throb, the house shaking so violently that Delilah braced a hand over each of her ears to muffle the sound.

“What’s happening?” she shouted, looking around wildly.

“I. . . I’m not sure!” Gavin stood from his chair, and it toppled over behind him. “Stop it,” he yelled. “She didn’t mean anything!”

Delilah pushed herself from the table and began walking backward. “Gavin! What’s going on?”

His eyes were wide and dark, his pupils so large they eclipsed the slightly lighter brown of his irises. “I think you better go,” he shouted above the noise. “It’s just upset. I need to talk to it.”

The rug rolled beneath her feet, causing her to stumble, and she gripped the edge of the piano for balance. It shook her off, but Delilah managed to right herself again. The ceiling began to heave, and Delilah didn’t need to be told twice. She ran instinctively for the door.

The handle wouldn’t turn under her wildly shaking hand, and she stood there, madly rattling the knob until Gavin’s hand wrapped around hers, gently prying it away.

He opened it easily enough, and with his house rocking all around him, Delilah raced out the door.

• • •

She didn’t stop running until she was almost home, until the sun had fallen behind the houses and the light posts had flickered to life up and down the empty street. She pressed her back against the trunk of a large tree and looked back the way she’d come. The sidewalk behind her was empty, but it didn’t feel abandoned. The street had an eerie feeling of fullness, as if the awareness of the house had somehow followed her all the way here.

Delilah closed her eyes and tried to still her shaking hands. Her lungs burned with each gulp of icy air. Her heart was pounding; her breath pushed from her chest in heavy gasps.

Gavin hadn’t followed her. She began to pace up and down the sidewalk, occasionally glancing back in the direction of his house. Where was he? Why hadn’t he followed her? Wasn’t he scared? Wasn’t he worried? Hadn’t he seen the way the walls had bowed and shook, like someone taking a deep breath before bellowing out in rage?

She wondered briefly if she should go back for him, but her feet felt planted to the spot like they were encased in cement. She didn’t want to go back, but she couldn’t leave him there, either.

She’d left her coat at Gavin’s house but had luckily kept her phone with her. She heard Gavin’s familiar text tone from the front pocket of her skirt and fumbled to reach it. Her fingers were cold and numb, and she almost dropped it twice in her haste to read his message.

I’m ok, but it won’t let me out. I promise I’ll see you tomorrow. House is just upset, and I need to calm it down. I’m sorry.

Delilah wasn’t sure what to do. Did she leave him there to fend for himself? Should she call someone? Who would she tell? Her parents? The police? As if he could read her mind, a second message appeared on the screen.

Don’t worry about me, Delilah. House loves me. I’m safe.