The House

Chapter 4

Him

Gavin heard a yelp, the sound of something scratching outside, and ran to the window, fighting with Curtain. “Just let me see!” he shouted, somehow knowing what had just happened.

He saw only the bottom of Delilah’s shoes as she hurled herself over the side fence. Thin coils of vine reached for her feet. He pounded at the window, and the tendrils shrank back, limp and contrite.

He hadn’t confronted her earlier, when he knew she was following him, because he didn’t imagine even fearless Delilah would have the guts to climb the fence. Before he could think better of it, he was out the door, pushing through Gate and chasing her down the street. “Delilah!”

She froze, turning to face him with a blush that could have set his mouth on fire. “I’m sorry! I just. . .” She blinked, shrugging as if she’d lost her words. “I just wanted to know if you still lived here.”

“I do,” he answered, confusion giving way to another feeling entirely when she met his eyes. Hers were green, and she had a dusting of freckles across her nose. He should have been focused on the fact that Delilah absolutely did not belong there. He should feel protectiveness for House welling inside him instead of the odd urge to pull Delilah closer. Nobody had ever dared scale the fence that surrounded House before, and certainly no one had dared to get this close in years. This was completely new territory for Gavin, talking to another person while House silently vibrated behind him.

He doubted Delilah could feel it from where she stood, but he could.

But with her so close, Gavin had to work to keep his attention from her mouth: It was soft and pink, with a top lip as full as the bottom. It was a mouth made for trouble, lips to be caught between teeth. Over the past six years, and with only tiny glimpses of her from afar when she was home over school breaks, he’d imagined how she might be growing up and, recently, that involved some interest in what it might feel like to finally kiss Delilah Blue. Standing here on the sidewalk in front of his house, he was closer to her than he’d ever been.

“Don’t follow me home,” he said as gently as he could. “Please, Delilah, don’t ever follow me home again.”

“I was curious,” she admitted, adding, “Then with the gate. . . I just wanted to know you were okay.” Her jaw had set with a familiar twist of protectiveness.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” Gavin asked, eyes not quite meeting hers.

Delilah shifted her weight to peek at House behind him, as if the question alone might send it rising up from its foundation. “People talk about this place,” she said.

“People talk about you,” he replied.

“People don’t think I’m haunted.”

“Bet you wouldn’t be insulted even if they did.” He hadn’t missed the things she doodled in the margins of her English book.

“No, I wouldn’t.” They stood at an impasse for a moment before she added, “Is it haunted?”

“Do you think it is?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” she said, and he could tell that she really didn’t. “I might not know exactly why it looks the way it does, but I’m not blind, Gavin. Look at it.”

He didn’t need to turn and look at his house; he knew it better than anyone in the world. “I like that you wanted to make sure I’m okay, Delilah. I promise I am. Please, don’t do this again.” That wasn’t at all what he wanted to say, but he knew it was for the best. Delilah couldn’t come this close again, and she definitely couldn’t come inside.

Her eyes narrowed, and for a minute she looked fierce and determined. He couldn’t stop the smile that spread across his face. For a heartbeat, he hoped she would shove him, because it looked like she wanted to, and he’d always wanted to know how such a forceful touch would feel. Delilah looked at him a beat longer and then turned and walked away.

Gavin didn’t know what to expect from Delilah the next day. He’d always known the rumors about his house, how it was haunted, or the site of the gristly murder of his entire family or—his personal favorite—the unofficial headquarters for all of Kansas’s satanic rituals. He didn’t know if anyone actually believed any of the stories, but even if they didn’t, the terrible possibilities kept people away from the place.

Except Delilah. She’d followed him, not turning from the gate like everyone else. And even when Gavin had caught up to her on the sidewalk, she’d looked more embarrassed to have been caught than terrified from having been grabbed by a plant on his fence. She didn’t seem to be scared at all. Did he want her to be?

Gavin had never been particularly good at reading people, and he gave up pretty early on, after inviting a friend over on the weekend and watching him run away screaming that the house was full of ghosts. Gavin had endured questions and looks and taunting for a week afterward, but it stopped abruptly after Delilah beat up the two worst bullies on the playground. She was promptly shipped off to Catholic school eight states away. Gavin had been tall and stringy at eleven, all daddy-longlegs limbs with too-long hair and pale skin, odd even to the kindest eye. But after Delilah—the prettiest and toughest girl at school—had stood up for him, the bullying had stopped. People ignored him, sure, but at least they left him alone. He’d wished he had a way to thank her.

So that night, after she’d walked off and left Gavin a little stunned on the sidewalk, he went back inside and found the dusty box in the back of Closet, where he’d stored his old papers and drawings. Buried in the crumpled mess was the note from six years ago, written in the scrawling hand of the wild and protective Delilah.

I don’t want you to hide. I like you.

Gavin read it over and over, trying to puzzle out what it meant to be liked, and if—even then—she meant it a certain way.

He didn’t sleep well and was up before dawn, eating breakfast in the backyard, where it was quieter and he could think in relative peace. He had plenty of thoughts about girls, about their lips and their necks and their hands and all kinds of other parts. But he had never had such fascination with a mind before, because as tiny as she was, Delilah was ferocious. What a pair they must make standing beside each other. Her fire so huge it spilled out of her and onto the pavement. His entire world so small she couldn’t even see it with him looming over her.

• • •

As much as Gavin liked Delilah’s face, he liked sitting behind her in English even more. She didn’t dare turn and look at him the next morning, but he could feel every bit of her attention focused behind her, toward him.

She was so wispy, such a slip of a girl. Gavin imagined laying her on her side on the grass and playing notes up and down her skin.

“Mr. Timothy?”

His eyes blinked to focus, and he realized Mr. Harrington was staring at him. “Yes, sir?”

“We’re covering Poe this week, Gavin. And I’ve asked you which of his works you chose to read and discuss with us. Unless, of course, you were hoping to be able to read and discuss Miss Blue’s thoughts instead?”

Gavin felt a smile spread across his face. “I should be so lucky. But no, I’m happy to discuss ‘The Oval Portrait.’”

Finally Delilah had an excuse to turn around and look at him. Her eyes were wide and burning with curiosity. She wouldn’t follow him home again—he was pretty sure she would listen to what he’d said the day before—but she wasn’t nearly done with him either.

Share your love