“Doctors?” Isobel asked. What was that supposed to mean?

He rose, using one of the shelves to help him pull himself to his feet. “Go on now,” he said. “We’re closed.”


“I said we’re closed!” he growled, waving his arms at her as though she were an alley cat he could frighten away. “Now get out!”


“I said go!”

She bit back her questions and pushed through the door just before he could reach her. She stumbled out onto the sidewalk as he flipped the OPEN sign to the CLOSED side. The lights inside the shop went out with a snap, and his dark brown eye lingered on her a second longer before he slipped backward into the shadows.

“What the heck happened in there?”

Isobel turned to find Gwen standing on the curb right next to the Cougar, a folded slip of paper held ceremoniously between both hands. Without asking, Isobel already knew that Gwen had pulled the paper from the glove compartment of Varen’s car.

“He thinks Bruce knows something,” Isobel said.

She kept her eyes steady on that white slip as she wrapped her arms around her middle. Dusk had already begun to settle over the street, causing the lamps to glow brighter and the bite in the air to grow stronger. Isobel hugged herself tightly, shuddering as she wondered what the paper held. At the same time, she wished she wouldn’t have to find out.


“About Varen?”

Isobel nodded once.

She’d already decided not to tell Gwen about the secret room beneath the stairs, or the foreboding message Bruce had asked her to relay. Both of those things felt off-limits, knowledge meant for Varen only. More things to be added to her growing list of isolating secrets.

“His dad is convinced that he’s still around somewhere,” Isobel said. “Hiding. But . . .” She shook her head. “I can’t understand why. He has to know someone would have reported seeing him by now.”

“Um,” Gwen said. Her eyes flitted to the ground and then to the side. She pressed her lips together and stepped forward, holding the paper out to Isobel. “Hope you don’t mind. I sort of read it already.”

Isobel took the slip. She unfolded it, revealing a handwritten message to Varen from his father, the brief sentences formed with sharp and slanted lettering.

You think it’s funny to walk out in front of my car? You almost drove me straight into the fountain last night. You could have been killed.

It’s time to stop playing morbid games. No more vanishing acts.

Come home. Now.

A brisk wind rattled the paper in her hand.

Isobel glanced up in time to see Gwen quiver, her teeth chattering. “You—you said you saw him too . . . didn’t you? As in, not dreaming?” Gwen asked.

“Yeah,” Isobel murmured, turning to stare at her reflection in the car window. “Twice.”


Dissemble No More

At the first red light they came to, Gwen took the opportunity to raise her hand to her lips and bite her fingernails. Even though the noise it made was loud, like popcorn popping, it could do nothing to distract Isobel from the whirlwind jumble of her thoughts, from the inconceivable notion that since his disappearance, someone else, someone besides her, had seen Varen in waking life.

According to his note, Varen’s father had almost run him over just last night. Yet Isobel already knew that reflections could not stroll out in front of moving cars.

Was it possible that Mr. Nethers had only thought he’d seen his son?

Maybe, Isobel speculated, he’d been drinking right before.

But Varen’s father had been so adamant in the bookshop. His words with Bruce had been as fierce and sure as his clenched fists. And the way he’d stomped up into the attic, so furious and so certain he would find what and who he’d come looking for.

I don’t believe in ghosts, he’d said.

The declaration made her wonder if Varen’s father had uttered that statement more for his own benefit than for Bruce’s. Had it been self-reassurance? Or denial . . .?

The traffic light flicked to green.

Gwen stopped biting her nails. She stalled for a moment. Then, putting on her turn signal, she shifted the car into gear, hit the gas pedal, and swerved to the left.

“Hey!” Isobel gripped the dashboard. “Where are we going?”

Gwen didn’t answer. Instead she steered the Cadillac into the right-hand lane and, swerving a second time, left the road for a parking lot.

“Why are we turning here?” Isobel asked. Leaning forward, she craned her neck to peer up at the enormous burger-shaped sign stationed on its post high overhead. It glowed like a beacon.

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