The House

Chapter 8

Him

Gavin lay on Bed that night, long legs stretched nearly to the footboard. He was getting too old for this room, but he’d been here since he was seven and had finally decided to move out of the nursery. Here, blue wallpaper lined the walls and model airplanes hung from wire, twisting errantly from the ceiling above.

He’d gone through an aviator phase when he was twelve, right after watching a documentary about the Wright Brothers on Television. He could still remember how he’d talked about the program for weeks and how content House seemed to just listen. He’d jabbered endlessly about wing warping and gliders, and it had seemed to understand, the flowers in Parlor Painting nodding encouragingly each time he paused to take a breath.

He remembered how boxes of books on aeronautics and aerospace engineering had magically appeared on the porch—silently ordered, silently delivered—how encyclopedias had found their way onto Table near Bed. He’d pored through volume after volume, read countless biographies, even found plans on building models to scale. But no maps. Not a single atlas or globe to be found. It was the first inkling Gavin had that although House provided him with everything he’d ever thought to want or need, it might be trying to keep him from the one thing he’d never really paid much attention to in the first place: the outside world.

As he usually did when these sorts of thoughts occurred to him, Gavin shuffled it to the back of his mind, along with all other equally unpleasant things. This was the only life he’d ever known, after all. And hadn’t he always been happy? Or at the very least, content? He’d always reasoned that everyone lived their lives in one type of box or another; his was just a bit more oddly shaped than the rest.

And now Delilah wanted to come here.

Gavin had no idea what to make of this, having never been wanted so sincerely—and so fiercely—before in his life. Other girls had been curious, maybe using him to explore their own borders of what felt safe and what felt dangerous, but with Delilah it always seemed clear that if either of them was to be handled carefully, it wasn’t him. She was like a firecracker standing too close to a match: all potential energy, still wrapped up so neatly. He wanted to watch her explode.

Hell, he was the match. He wanted to make her explode.

He squeezed his eyes shut and let out a frustrated sigh, saying, “You’re too small,” to Bed.

Almost as soon as the words were out, a great metallic groan rang through the room. Bed trembled, springs creaked, and the scraping of metal against metal rattled all around him.

Gavin waited calmly as Bed stretched beneath him, growing more than a foot beyond its original length and several feet wider. Sometimes he wondered if House realized he’d grown at all, or if everything inside still imagined him as the tiny boy they’d raised.

“Better,” he said. “Thanks.”

Gavin looked around then, eyeing the sky-colored paper, the childish clouds on the ceiling. He couldn’t let Delilah see this.

“I think maybe a redecoration is in order.” He paused, wondering what would be an acceptable substitute. How did seventeen-year-old boys decorate their rooms, anyway? “More black,” he finished, satisfied that this would at least be a step in the right direction.

The room cooled, and House rumbled deep within its foundation, a gentle admonishment.

But Gavin ignored this, heaving himself off Bed and crossing the room. He peered out to where the sun hung low in the sky, its golden fingers just visible behind the rooftops of houses in the distance.

The yard sprawled out beneath him, a kaleidoscope of blossoms still visible beneath the thin layer of frost. Delilah had known about the apples, but Gavin wondered what she would think when she saw roses blooming in January or a garden full of vegetables still thriving in the throes of winter.

She’d seemed completely unruffled by his secret earlier, at school, but it was one thing to accept the idea of a house living and breathing and growing all around you and quite another to actually see it. How would she react to Ferns that picked themselves up, settling beneath whichever Window had the best view of the sun? Or Lamp, who followed him from room to room because there weren’t actual light switches on any of the walls? Or Hall Table, who was one of the few pieces of furniture that never moved during the day but creaked as it prowled through the halls in the middle of the night?

She wanted to come here to see the sideshow that was his life. A part of him worried she’d see the fire burning that nobody ever tended, or Grandfather Clock that told him exactly what he was late for, and she would run out the gate and never speak to him again.

But another, darker part of him worried that she wouldn’t. That perhaps Delilah Blue was every bit as brave as she appeared, and would stay. And it was this possibility that frightened him more than all the others combined, because Gavin was fairly certain that once Delilah walked through the front door, he’d never want her to leave.

• • •

Gavin took the long way to school, still not sure what he would say the next time Delilah asked to go home with him. He trudged through the slush as he considered this. She would, he knew. It was just a question of whether he’d even get one word out before she asked again.

She was waiting near the front entrance, her bag in a forgotten heap at her feet. Gavin spotted her long before she spotted him, his gaze moving from her braided hair down to legs that peeked from beneath the bloom of her pleated skirt.

Gavin didn’t know a lot about girls, but he knew enough. He knew that when most girls wore things like that, they hoped to drive boys crazy. But it didn’t take a genius to know that by wearing what she considered to be a boring uniform, Delilah was completely clueless about what she was doing to him, or to any other boy for that matter. She just didn’t think much about clothes. But the innocent slip of leg below the knee, all wrapped in knitted tights and boots, was enough to make him wonder about the parts of her he couldn’t see.

She blinked over to him just as he crossed the street. Delilah’s eyes widened, a smile lighting up her face, and the twist in his stomach was back, even tighter than before.

“Hi, Delilah,” he said, trying to swallow the crack in his voice.

“Hi, Gavin,” she said back, gray-green eyes moving over every one of his features. “Finish your paper on Poe?”

“I did. You?”

Delilah pivoted and began walking toward the school. “I did, but it took forever.”

“Why? You probably already covered Poe in freshman year at Saint Benedict’s.” They climbed the steps, and Gavin held open the door, breathing in her apple-blossom scent as she passed.

“I still had to do a lot of research.”

He looked over at her, wondering about her mysterious little smile. “I’m sure you just forgot some of the smaller details.”

“Or maybe there are just too many distractions in my English class,” she said.

Gavin considered this, taking in her teasing expression. “Well, Mr. Harrington is very distracting,” he said with a small grin.

“We could be distracted at your house,” she said in a whisper. “I’m sure you’d make an excellent tutor.”

He swallowed and blinked away, but just as easily as he’d turned awkward, Delilah laughed, reaching out to take his hand in hers. She lifted the edge of his sleeve and stared down at the black ink there, the words he’d written just this morning:

She takes your voice and leaves you howling at the moon.

“What is that?”

He tugged his sleeve down and blinked behind her, to where several students watched their interaction with interest. “It’s from a song I love.”

They stopped when they reached Delilah’s locker. “Are you sure about this?” he asked finally. “The house is a lot to take in.” He looked around them again, then back at her. “Being with me is a lot to take in, as well.”

Her eyes flamed, and she stretched up on her toes, her lips almost touching the shell of his ear. The halls were a whirlwind of activity, but none of it seemed to matter to either of them.

“I’m sure.”