She was so brave. He counted seventeen stitches on her face alone, but when she opened her eyes and saw him, it wasn’t panic in her expression or fear. It was relief.
She sat up slowly, looking around, and finally took in his outfit: a cotton gown.
“We’re in the hospital,” he explained. “They brought us here after. . . well.”
Although his memory of the past day and a half was a turbulent mix of images mostly fragmented by shock and horror, Gavin did remember it took a lot of calm, whispered assurances to separate him and Delilah last night after they’d put his mother in an ambulance and driven away. The way he clung to Delilah was one of the few things his mind pulled from the chaos of the flashing lights, the reporters, the madness of discovery.
He remembered begging the paramedic to let him stay with Delilah in the ambulance.
He remembered after an hour of confusion, of policemen and firemen and paramedics swarming the block, the woman—Gayle—brought there specifically for him, to handle him. It sank in for everyone around the same time: Gavin had always believed he’d been there alone. But he hadn’t: His mother had been trapped there, kept barely alive in a secret room just beside his.
Gayle held him, promising him over and over that no one was taking Delilah away from him.
He might have felt a little mortified over his hysteria if he still didn’t feel the tickle of it in his chest and all along his spine.
But eventually, with Gayle’s gentle assurances and Delilah’s parents standing shell-shocked and mute in the background, Gavin had let them tend to his shattered arm while they loaded an unconscious Delilah into a separate ambulance.
“After all that, I passed out?” she asked, looking horrified.
A small smile curved his mouth. “I’d say it was the best time to pass out. I’m actually going to thank you for not passing out sooner.”
“Are you okay?” She reached for him, pulling him close, shaking violently as it seemed to come back to her. That jerking recollection had happened to him, too, this morning, waking under a haze of sedatives that weren’t strong enough to make him forget. “Gavin, oh my God.”
Her arms shook, and he knew she was sore and bruised from swinging the ax, from the fragments of House that rained down on her for God knows how long while she tried to get to him and, later, his mother.
Holding on to her, he told her what he could remember: that he thought police arrived only a minute or so after the strange silence hit. That they’d initially handcuffed Dhaval and Vani, questioned Gavin, but despite their skepticism, there wasn’t much doubt that something truly supernatural had happened. The house was virtually crumbling. Furniture was embedded in walls, in trees outside. Fires had started in tiny discrete pockets. And, most horribly, there was his badly malnourished mother whom no one had seen in nearly seventeen years. Apparently, Gavin had been so terrified when he’d seen her under the police lights that he had been unable to stop screaming for several minutes.
The town, the state, and soon the entire world would know what had happened last night at the Patchwork House.
Gavin didn’t think he had more tears, but he did after all. He had tears and bewildered words and more grief than he knew what to do with.
Delilah held him, careful not to jostle his casted arm, speaking quietly about their life together after this, the love she felt for him and what they’d managed to do together. He knew she was right: This was how it had to happen, if not yesterday than at some point in the future, because whatever was in House—whatever had raised him, loved him, sequestered him, and eventually tortured him—had also locked his mother up his entire life, simply so that it could keep Gavin all to itself.
But even now it was hard to forget a time when it wasn’t so very terrible.
Gavin pressed his lips to her neck, screwing his eyes closed. The air felt completely empty, unburdened from the weight of the spirits that had tracked him his whole life. Past this moment of shock, and anguish, with her arms around his neck, he could truly breathe for the first time in what felt like forever.
• • •
Delilah curled into his side, running a warm hand over his ribs and up his neck, into his hair. Beneath them, the blankets bunched on the mats they’d put on the floor of the music room. They hardly ever had time alone lately, but here in their secret fortress, when the clock hovered between two and three in the morning, and where they were so close together Delilah’s warm bare skin slid over his every time she breathed, he could forget the frenzy of the past two weeks.
“Puget Sound,” she said, kissing his chin.
He looked down into her wide blue eyes. “Why there and not Northwestern? Or Harvard?”
They had their pick, after all. After the Silence, as Gavin and Delilah thought of it—or after the Falling of Patchwork House, as everyone else did—they were the darlings of the world’s media. Even with the blistering attention of the press, there were some perks. Donations, for one. A full ride to any college, for another. And the new, warm concern of a million strangers. Gavin had gone from having no parents to having a planet full of them, including one birth mother who would be released from the hospital in a matter of days.
He saw her every day, spent hours sitting by her bed and reading her books, playing her music, telling stories of things he did when he’d left the house and she couldn’t hear him moving around. The house had let her watch him sleep; let her listen when he practiced Piano. It had brought her out, in a trance, when it needed a signature, a parent to send away the school official, Social Services, and once, the police. But her memories were fragmented and—worse—her guilt was consuming. Gavin worked frantically to reassure her in his time with her that his life had been good.
He had been cherished, actually.
Every day she seemed to believe him a little more; she’d seen it with her own eyes, after all. Yesterday she’d even smiled.
At length, Delilah admitted, “I think I want to be near water.”
It seemed to be such a specific request, but he could understand it. Nothing could be more different from the landlocked suburbia of Morton than an archipelago of islands and water going on forever.
“Just like that?”
He smiled, kissing her jaw. “Just like that.”
“Will Hilary be able to come?”
He blinked away and shrugged. His mother was a mess physically, but emotionally, too, she was broken. “I know she’ll be near us eventually. I don’t know if she’ll be able to right away.” He knew Delilah heard the implied, unspoken message: We’ll bring her to us as soon as she’s ready. I’m not staying in Morton a day longer than I have to.
“Hmm?” He pulled back to look down at her, and his heart tripped a little inside his throat at the determined look in her eyes. Gavin didn’t think it was possible to keep feeling more, but he did. More admiration and lust and gratitude and adoration. At least for now his world still felt tiny; other than his stranger-mother, Delilah was his only person, but she was such a consuming presence he only really wanted her near him while the shock ebbed and the reality of this new, odd life took shape.
“I love you,” she said simply.
“I love you, too.”
“We can do this, you know?” She ran a soft fingertip over a scratch on his cheek that had nearly healed and then slowly rubbed his lower lip, distracting him. “Eventually people will forget about us. Your mom will be better. She’ll find a way to be okay. Maybe not for a while, but after we graduate, it’s going to be what we wanted. College in a new town, just us. Living in an apartment together.”
He bent, kissing her as he rolled her to her back, hovering above. Her legs slid up his sides, her hair spread out beneath her, and while he loved the image of the future she described, he couldn’t deny how much he appreciated this view, too.
“You mean someday we’ll do this on a real bed?” he asked, giving her the smile she liked, the hungry one that made her eyes go unfocused and her cheeks heat.
She nodded, dazed, but it was almost impossible for either of them to imagine, he knew. It wasn’t easy to process all of this. Their lives would never be normal after what had happened.
He kissed her with his smiling mouth. He didn’t need normal. He didn’t even know normal, and she’d never seemed to want it anyway.