Cynthia stilled. For a second, she and Kalil just stood there, waiting for Art to appear from underneath the shade of the tree. After approximately two minutes of this, all the tension was out of the air and it was like counting down to ten over and over again because nothing happened when they reached one.
“Art?” Kalil called. “You can come out now, buddy.”
“No, I’m fine here.”
Another pause. Another awkward minute. Cynthia cast a sidelong glance at Kalil, her mismatched earrings clacking against her neck. Is he okay? She mouthed at him.
“Nobody is out here,” Kalil said.
“I said I’m fine,” Art said. Kalil exchanged a helpless look with Cynthia. “I don’t want to risk anything. You learn someone is trying to kill you and you start to be pretty paranoid.”
Kalil sighed. “Fine. Cynthia and I will just have to talk about the classified details of your attempted murder in broad daylight, in loud voices so you can hear us.”
Kalil rolled his eyes. Cynthia stifled a laugh, eyes bright underneath her messy hair. That was her, back to being floatless and ethereal when it became clear that there was no immediate danger.
The problem was though, there could be. What with the mystery of the mouse, and Cynthia’s aunt, and that mouse tattoo peeking out from Cynthia’s collarbone. Somehow, it all seemed to be connected to the people trying to kill Art.
Maybe they were only step siblings, but nobody wanted their family to get hurt.
That was what made this situation all the more bizarre, though. Kalil hadn’t told Cynthia they were coming towards Art, and yet she’d known. Maybe she knew everything else, too.
“I don’t know why I’m acting like this is all so normal,” Kalil said in a burst of startling clarity. There was Cynthia, who he hadn’t talked to in ages, whose family was so odd that they’d made the town paper, who was raising her eyebrows with a smile curling her lips.
“Nothing is normal, is it?” Cynthia said smoothly.
Kalil’s mind went blank. It was all he could do to say, “It’s almost as if someone is writing this section of the highly mismatched narrative at four am on a Sunday after not finding time to write all week.”
“That’s highly specific, Kalil.”
That was true.
“I have a big imagination.”
“You do, don’t you?” Cynthia’s eyes narrowed, as if measuring something in Kalil’s words.
If this was the sort of story where people turned against each other, maybe she would be measuring the truth against Kalil’s words. But Kalil was only a passenger, and the rest of this crazy plot was the boat carrying them to shore.
And still, Kalil needed Cynthia for the most important part — the mystery of the mouse lady, and the only person who could lead them straight to it.
That, after all, was why Kalil and Cynthia were staring intensely at each other. As intensely as Cynthia could, seeming like she was hardly in the world at all.
“Can you guys be normal again?” Art’s voice floated from under the tree. “What are we doing about this? Am I going to be murdered?”
Kalil jolted back to reality. Well, as much as this was reality.
“Cynthia.” Kalil mustered all the seriousness he could. “We need you to take us to the mouse lady. To your aunt. She’s the only one who can help us solve this mystery and save my step brother.”
Frace is frace