“You should come with us,” Dwight said, motioning to Brandi. After a moment’s hesitation, she raced into the deserted house and joined them.
“Won’t Jenson be alarmed?” she asked, watching as the pool of water settled at the soles of their feet.
“Who’s Jenson?” Dwight asked, casting her a suspicious glance while closing the door.
Van raised an eyebrow. She touched his shoulder, thinking that this was all part of some game. “He’s here, right?” she insisted.
Van shook his head. “Not that I know of.”
Mute, she walked past the huge family portraits that hung on the walls in the hallway. Looking up at them Brandi caught sight of her father, his parents, a baby sister and a fierce-looking bulldog. Her sneakers squelched as she came to a complete stop and eyed them. She shifted her head, glancing at the other frames, searching for the two men who had opposed her mother in taking possession of the property. But try as she might, she couldn’t find uncle Charles or uncle Phil, anywhere. Her father’s two older brothers, they had been very persistent, going so far as to to fire the butler, a year and a few months after they had settled into their new home. She held her breath, deciding not to broach the subject as she read the sign beneath the dog, which said Pugsy.
“Unless I’m mixing you up with somebody else,” she said, scratching her head again. “This old brain must be turning into spaghetti.”
Dwight, always open for a joke, nudged her and offered her a smile. “You should try wearing a pair of glasses; they’ve been known to help.”
Brandi looked at him confused, wondering what glasses and sight had to do with a muddled brain. Speechless, she waved him away. Pulling her hair into a bun, she followed them down the narrow corridor. She passed her fingers on the edges of one of the frames, caught a trail of dust and cobwebs, then shivered, wondering why she was getting a feeling like this was a decrepit museum instead of the lively home, she had always envisioned. She pulled away.
In the lounge, Brandi discovered an ancient telephone. The one you could put your fingers through and the earpiece that almost covered your entire ear. On impulse, she gave it a twirl.
On the second go-around, the phone rang. She jumped. Alarmed that such an ancient machine could do that to her. Van grabbed the phone, listened for a few seconds and then handed it back to her. “It’s for you.”
Brandi wiped her brow with the back of her palm. “Yes.” She leaned forward, listening intently. “What can I do for you?”
“It must be strange to return home and find that everything’s helter-skelter,” the voice said.
Brandi waited, watching the two boys. Then, looking at the floor, she wondered if anyone had the power to conjure up the rain. Or to make people return to what they were in their youth. She held the phone tighter, trying to decipher the voice that by now was barely audible. “No, everything’s the same,” she lied, replacing the receiver. Turning back to Van and Dwight she acted as though nothing had changed. “Do you guys have anything to eat? Or drink?”
Van nodded. Leading the way into the kitchen’s pantry. “My mum keeps the supplies in here, in case of an emergency.” He took a handful of snacks and stepped back, giving Brandi enough time to observe the overflowing pantry and its adjoining kitchen; the contents of which barely reminded her of home. She shuffled backwards, wondering if, this was how it had been for him.
“Yeah.” Dwight opened an oreo and shoved one into his mouth. “Mrs. Van Elder is the best.”
Her brow creased as she remembered the shouting matches between her mother and the older woman. Matches that had erupted over simple things like a white baptismal gown, she had refused to remove. She cringed, remembering that afterwards, her mother was often left alone, nursing a migraine. “Right.” She nodded her head, letting the memory slip. “My mum can barely make a tuna casserole.” She opened a snack bag and wolfed down some chips. “Thank goodness for takeout,” she muttered underneath her breath.
“Takeout?” Dwight grabbed a few cans of soda as they went back into the living room. He took a seat next to her. “So, what do you do for fun?”
Brandi quieted. Waiting for the lumps in her throat to settle. “Nothing.” She wiped her eyes, afraid of being too honest. “Unless you consider me riding my bike around town and going to the movies, alone.” She lowered her head, momentarily forgetting Roger; knowing that somehow things had been better with Teresa.
Van looked at her. Frowned. “Why’s that?” he asked, as if seeing something about her, that was admirable. He opened a can of orange soda and took a sip. “You’ve got friends, right?”
Brandi averted her eyes, looking at the television set, which was turned off, before turning back to them. “No.” She fidgeted, opening a can of soda. “Not like you and Van.” She explained. “It’s just me and my mum. Have you guys been friends long?”
“It’s been a while,” Van said, grabbed a pack of chips. “We usually meet up in the summer when school’s out.” He motioned towards Dwight with his head, almost chuckling. “Dwight’s folks travel a lot.” He paused. Brandi’s thoughts ran on Roger. She wondered if that was why she hadn’t really noticed him until she had received the pendant. She held her breath, watching as they threw chips at each other. She enjoyed being in the center of the two of them.
Dwight edged his glasses farther up on his nose, appraised her. “You’re like him, aren’t you?”
Brandi nodded as Van got up and headed towards the kitchen. Holding her half-empty can, she supposed, he was going to get another, when he turned back to her. “You want anything?”
She shook her heads and they watched him go. Then Brandi turned back to Dwight. “How did you know?”
He leaned closer, pointed to the string around her neck. She inclined her head, gave the pendant’s cord a slight tug, undoing the kink that was making it partially visible. With a free hand, she pushed it down. “Does Van have one?”
“Yes.” Dwight patted her arm. “Like you, he’s getting used to it.”
She paused, fiddling with the can. “And as his guardian, do you see what he sees? Feel, what he feels?” Her eyes scrunched closer.
This time, Dwight was the one who appeared more cautious as he reached across and captured her arm. “Yes. But only if he wants me to.”
She pulled back her hand as he adjusted himself and asked her another question. “Have you found your guardian?”
“Yes,” she said, wondering how to tell him about his son. But she stopped herself, remembering Roger’s warning about the past. “Are you the reason I’m here?”
Dwight paused, looking at her. “Maybe.” He put down the pack of biscuits. The can of soda. “My folks are thinking of leaving.” He stole a glance at her. She nodded. “For good this time…I don’t know how to tell him.”
Brandi looked at him, admiring the curly black hair that reminded her of Roger’s. “It’ll be fine,” she said, squeezing his hand, almost sure that he would find a way around it, since they hadn’t been separated in the future. “Just be honest with him.”
He nodded, seeming relieved, offered her a tight-smile.
“That’s what your son is doing for me.”
“Son?” His features creased; he rubbed his eyes. “So Van and I both get married.”
“Not exactly.” She turned to look at one of the pictures on the wall, swearing that she had seen some movement.
He propped up his elbows and stared at her. “What do you mean?”
Brandi hesitated, wondering if she had already revealed too much as he edged closer. “My parents never spent much time together, after I was born.” She took a deep breath. “And they say, he ended up trapped in some future that nobody could save him from.”
Dwight frowned. Scratched his head. “You mean us.” He tore off his glasses and gave them another cleaning. “We get trapped on some sort of mission, that’ll take us away from those we love.”
Brandi kicked her backpack, feeling almost foolish. As though she had backed herself into a corner. She looked down and saw her world English book and journal. Then from under the nearby table she heard a distinctive growl. She stood up, sensing that Pugsy had already entered the sitting room, when she spotted a head.
She threw a few chips his way, jumping onto the couch as he rushed forward. He chomped on the pages, as though they were pieces of food. Bones.
Brandi screamed, Pugsy, taking this as an invitation, salivated over the few scribbled pages and continued to eat. Even as Dwight moved to the center table and whacked the dog’s butt.
“Bad Pugsy.” He whacked the center table, shook his head. “Go, Pugsy, go.” The dog barked once more and rushed out, whizzing through the doggie door. Dwight shook his head apologetically. “His bark is worse than his bite.” He took up the journal and handed it over.
Brandi took it, fingering the torn pages, as she reached out and re-captured her bag. How would she pacify Mrs. Jenkins, she wondered, when their relationship had already been strained. She glanced back at Dwight, who was already becoming hazy, as another bell dinged.