The House

Chapter 16

Her

For the next few weeks, their relationship felt a little homeless. Gavin didn’t want to take her back to his house, and she insisted her parents would never let the two of them set foot in the door together. So they wandered the streets of their small town, talking about favorite candies and horror novelists, about movies and giant trees. He would sometimes kiss her on these walks—small touches and the occasional sharp nibble—but Delilah was almost constantly thinking about how she could find a way to press the front of her body all along the front of his. It was a tight sort of desperation that came from liking him more with every new piece of himself he shared and also needing to know that she stood a fighting chance if he ever had to choose between her and the house.

She looked up and noticed they’d reached the place their walks always ended: her house. This was the point when, in their new routine of wandering, he would ask her a question and she would answer, stretch for his last kiss of the day, and then walk inside to stare at the wall until she could clear her mind of him enough to focus on her homework.

What his question would be each day had become a game. On the days she demanded kiss after kiss on every street corner, he would end their walk with something innocent—Do you prefer red or green grapes? But on days she was wrapped up in talking, or thinking, he would invariably reel her in with something like, Do you ever sleep bare, without a stitch of clothing on?

When he’d asked this two weeks ago, his eyes had become so black and his voice so low that Delilah’s skin caught fire and her soul slid from her body into his.

She’d finally answered, “No. But now I will.”

But one drizzly Thursday, when her house rose out of the street so abruptly, and Delilah was neither overly hungry for him nor quietly thoughtful, Gavin leaned down, licked her bottom lip before kissing it sweetly, and asked her where her parents were.

She looked up, realizing the blue Chevy wasn’t at the curb and the gold Cadillac wasn’t in the driveway, and said, “I have no idea.”

It wasn’t like the three of them had mastered the art of comfortable dinnertime discussion where future outings were shared. Her parents expected her to be home by sunset, do her homework, and wash the dishes after dinner. She expected her parents to cook and then watch the nightly news or read worn copies of romance novels. So she didn’t have a clue why both parents appeared to be gone, but nor did she waste another second. She grabbed Gavin’s hand and pulled him inside. For some unknown reason, she wanted him inside her house this time.

His fingers shook a little around hers as they walked through the living room, dining room, and kitchen. He seemed more afraid of accidentally touching anything than she had been when intentionally touching things in his house, which, to be honest, Delilah found a little funny. Nothing here would reach out and grab him, tickle him, or shudder beneath him. Nothing, that is, except Delilah herself.

He looked down at his feet as they squeaked across the floor. “Why is there plastic on your carpet?”

“My mother doesn’t like dirty feet in the house, so she put plastic down over the places people walk.”

Gavin didn’t say anything else, but his grip tightened until they reached the stairs, and he climbed up behind her as she grew hyperaware of the cloying scent: floral air freshener, cleaning chemicals, the plastic on the carpet.

Her bedroom was essentially the same as every ten-year-old girl’s room anywhere, Delilah thought. Why had her parents never updated it between her visits home? It seemed funny that they should ignore Delilah’s growth as much as Gavin’s house seemed to ignore his.

She closed the door behind them, and his long, dark form shadowed the entire room. It seemed like there was hardly space for them to move independently around each other.

“You make my room look tiny,” she said, stepping up behind him. His attention moved away from her tiny bed and seemed to linger on a collection of ceramic unicorns on a shelf on the wall. The room was cluttered with her little-girl stuff, and she wondered if, for Gavin, it felt somehow both too dull in personality and too bright in color.

Delilah thought of all the nights she’d stared at the ceiling lately, waiting for the thoughts of him to slip away so she could sleep. She’d spent so many nights in the dorms or at Nonna’s that even after being home for three months, she still felt like she was sleeping in someone else’s house.

She didn’t realize she’d been staring at her bed until Gavin said, “I don’t think I’d be able to sleep here.”

“Well, no. My father would kill you, for one, and we both wouldn’t—”

“Not what I meant,” he cut in, sounding embarrassed. “I mean, it’s just so different. At school or work it’s easy to handle being in flat, inanimate spaces. But this room feels like it should be alive. . . and it isn’t.”

“Most bedrooms aren’t alive. Someday when we’re older and we have—”

“It’s okay,” he interrupted her, shaking his head quickly. “It’ll just take some getting used to when I’m over here.”

Her brow furrowed, but she forced a small smile. The truth was, she knew it wouldn’t be easy for Gavin to ever live anywhere else, but someday he would. Whether he or the house knew it. “You know I’ll just drag you with me anyway,” she said, grinning, “so you may as well get used to houses being both this purple and this boring.”

“Delilah,” he whispered harshly, stepping close enough for her to feel the vibration of his voice in his chest. “You can’t say things like that. I know it sounds crazy, but what if it can somehow hear you even here? I don’t want it to have any reason to freak out on you again.”

She studied him, hating how dark and anxious his eyes had become. “I think you’re being paranoid.” But deep down, she didn’t. Not really. What she’d wanted was for him to agree with her, to tell her not to worry, that away from the house, they would be safe.

Gavin shrugged, but he also seemed unconvinced. “Maybe.”

Suddenly the room felt too small and colorful, as if they were standing in the heart of a wilting wildflower. She took his hand and led him back out of the house, needing air and not wanting to be home yet.

“I want to walk some more with you.” She wanted another question from him at the end of the walk, something about kissing her, or leaving this town together, or what kind of house they’d agree on. Definitely not a question about her parents’ whereabouts.

They walked, without discussion, toward the enormous park in the middle of town, with huge oak trees. She loved the idea of curling with him beneath one and reminding him that, in places like these, they were completely alone. And when she stopped in front of a tree and looked up at him, his lip snared between sharp teeth, her entire world reduced to the very simple desire to kiss him, for hours.

The groove formed by the enormous roots felt, to Delilah, a bit like sitting in the hull of a boat. She felt mildly subterranean when she lay down and tugged Gavin over her. He resisted, all long arms and forever-long torso trying to figure out how to position his body above hers.

“I’m worried I’ll crush you,” he said.

Delilah spread her arms and shifted until she was comfortable on her back. “I’m not.” In fact, she half hoped he would.

“I don’t feel like we’re alone here.” This time he whispered the words so she could barely hear him and looked back over his shoulder as if expecting to see a table, chair, or strip of spying wallpaper slithering through the grass.

“Gavin, no one is here except us. We never get to be alone; will you just come here and kiss me?”

Finally he gave in, shifting so he was over her, propped up on sharp elbows, the broad length of him making the space even darker and warmer. Gavin’s kisses were never particularly gentle—all edge and growl—but Delilah could tell he liked this angle, face to face, where he didn’t have to bend so far down or lift her from the ground. It was so new like this, and it felt wildly dangerous to be lying prone together in the middle of a public park on a school day.

The rustle of the branches overhead grew louder even though the sound of the wind seemed to disappear, and Gavin jerked above her, looking up and around them at ground level. When his lips returned to hers, it was with a new kind of determination that she didn’t quite understand, but he turned slightly desperate and she found herself grateful for whatever seemed to have flipped a switch in him.

The kisses grew deeper, touches firmer and braver, and soon he was rocking above her and she was moving up from below—chasing the same thing he was—wanting more and more and needing to stretch this moment into days. The sky seemed to have disappeared now, too, and from behind her closed lids it felt like midnight in this tiny cocoon. When she opened her eyes just to look at him, his were squeezed tightly shut and the branches just behind him somehow seemed closer than before, making their spot perfectly secluded.

Delilah closed her eyes again and smiled against Gavin’s mouth, sliding her legs up along his sides. She felt his fingers tease down her arms to wrap around her wrists and trap them beside her hips. When he did this, her need for him became heavy and tangible; the bind by his fingers caused her to dissolve into something dizzy, and incoherent, and shapeless. How did he know she would want him to be like this—demanding and capable and hungry?

But somehow the hands that pinned her were also moving up her shirt and over the soft fabric of her bra. His mouth grew hungrier, wetter on hers, with teeth and sounds. He had grown wild, but a tickling awareness pricked across Delilah’s skin, as if she had touched a bare wire.

“Gavin,” she murmured against his lips, trying to pull back and understand how he could pin her wrists while simultaneously touching her chest.

“Touch me back?” He pushed his words and breath against her lips, and when their meaning took shape in Delilah’s head—he didn’t realize she was bound at her wrists and couldn’t touch him—daylight disappeared completely, and at once she had the sense of being surrounded. Delilah opened her eyes.

The darkness wasn’t from the sun disappearing behind clouds or the simple cover of her eyelids over her eyes. It was the tree itself, bending to make a web around them of black, spindly branches that cut out the last beams of sunlight.

Dark twigs curled possessively around Gavin’s back, their edges slipping beneath the hem of his shirt, into the sleeves and around his shoulders, spiraling down his biceps. Even still, he kissed along her neck, nibbled gently on her ear. “Delilah, please don’t stop.”

Delilah dug her feet into the soft earth and tried to push out from beneath him. Swallowing a scream, she felt the thick twist of branches around her skin, pinching her. When she started to struggle in earnest, they unwound from her wrists with a slow slither. Gavin sat up more slowly, impatiently pushing the branches out from under his shirt. They slipped away, slinking as if chastened.

He knew, she thought with horror. All this time he knew the tree was moving, was crowding into his space and claiming him, and he didn’t even care.

“Why didn’t you move?” she gasped, hearing the building hysteria in her voice. “How could you stand it?”

“It’s not like I have a choice,” he said, in a bleak and unfamiliar voice. “This park, House, the school—it doesn’t matter where we try to be alone together. House will always be there. It will always see me.”

“That’s what you meant about it possessing inanimate objects. Anytime you leave the house, it can come with you, or—” Her breath caught, words tumbling out too fast. “Or in roots or power lines. You really think the house is always watching.”

He didn’t say anything, and Delilah looked away then, unable to stomach the anger and defeat on his face. She knew it wasn’t directed at her, but even so the power of it felt despairing.

He scrubbed his face with his hands, then straightened his shirt. “We’ll just have to accept that we can’t really be alone.”

The thought depressed her. She loved her time with Gavin just talking, but when she felt the way she did that day, she wanted more than just conversation. She wanted the weight of his hands on her sometimes too. “Why does the house hate me?”

“It doesn’t hate you.” He sounded tired. “It thinks you’re a threat.”

“You’re not allowed to have a girlfriend?”

He looked up at her and swallowed a laugh, his face releasing the laconic grin once more. “I’m sure House isn’t too familiar with a need for romance.”

“How can you go home? Isn’t it creepy? The way it doesn’t want you to leave lately?”

Gavin shrugged, looking down the trail for a beat before bending to help her up from where she sat. “How can you go home to your parents?” he deflected. “Isn’t it depressing?”

Delilah scowled. “Not the same.”

“You’re right, it’s not. House holds me too close. Your parents barely hold you at all. They’d send you away again if they had the money, and you know it.”

She fell silent—wounded by this truth—and Gavin shifted on his feet in front of her, his regret settling like a fog between them. “I didn’t mean that, Lilah,” he said.

Delilah looked up and his eyes seemed to darken. She loved what he’d just called her; no one had ever called her something so oddly intimate before. “I know.”

“I know this is hard, but. . . I think everyone just needs time to get used to it. It’s so new for all of us—including you,” he reminded her. “There are some things you can’t say. You can’t expect me to walk away someday from the only family I’ve ever known.”

That seemed to be the end of it. They walked silently, hand in hand, and when they reached the corner that would take them to Delilah’s house if they turned left and Gavin’s if they turned right, Delilah pulled him right.

“I’m walking you back,” she said in answer to the skeptical rise of his brow. “That’s got to earn me some bonus points, right? Returning you home?”

He smiled down at her and kissed the top of her head, and they walked until they reached the sidewalk in front of the gate. Delilah moved in carefully when it creaked open, pretending like she couldn’t feel the house vibrating just up the walkway. With a quick glance to her right, she made sure the vines were wrapped around the iron, staying right where they should be.

And maybe she really couldn’t feel the house vibrating, couldn’t feel a chill slide up under her sweater and along her spine. Maybe it was all in her imagination because Gavin stopped and pulled her close. Close in a way she wouldn’t have done if her parents were standing right beside them.

“Are you okay?” he asked, the tips of his fingers resting on the bare skin just below the hem of her sweater.

“Yes.”

“I like you a lot,” he said. She pushed up onto her toes, wanting to kiss him so thoroughly he’d have no question how much she liked him back, when the sound of scattering gravel and tires screeching pulled their attention to the driveway.

“Delilah Blue!” her father shouted.

Franklin Blue’s car came to a dusty stop halfway into Gavin’s long, pebbled drive.

Why did he have to drive down this particular street, today of all days? Delilah’s stomach twisted, watching how several tendrils of vines slid down from the fence and snaked toward the tires.

“Dad,” she said, taking a step forward.

“What on earth are you doing here? Get in the car.”

“I have to go,” she told Gavin, reluctantly pulling her hand from his.

His eyes were focused on the vines, too, brows drawn in confusion. “I’ll see you tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow,” she agreed, walking backward toward the car, eyes pleading. It had officially been the weirdest day of her life. “Good night.”

Gavin looked up at her, expression unreadable. “Night, Lilah.”