"I guess it is."
"Maybe you should look where you ended up. Where you are now."
"Here, you mean? Do you think it could be here, in this house?"
"Maybe, or somewhere else important to you. Someplace you had, or will have, that moment of truth. That decision."
"All right." Thoughtfully, Zoe nodded. "I'll try to focus on that for a while. I'll work here while Simon's with Brad."
"Brad has Simon?" Dana echoed. "That's the other thing." She shot Dana a baffled look. "We're coming back and I said something about picking him up from school, bringing him back here with me—trying to work out how I was going to manage this and that, and Brad says he'll pick him up. Saying no, that's all right, doesn't make a damn bit of difference. He'll pick him up at school, take him to HomeMakers for a bit, then over to his place, as it appears they've made some arrangement to play video baseball anyway. And why don't I just do whatever I have to do, and he'll drop Simon home about eight. Oh, and don't worry about dinner," she added with an airy wave of her hand. "They'll order pizza."
"Is that a problem?" Malory asked.
"Not a problem so much. It sure won't be for Simon, and I could use the time. But I just don't want to start depending on somebody. It's just another way to get into trouble. I don't want to start depending on him. I don't want to be in love with him. I don't want that, and I can't seem to help it."
With a sigh, she rested her head on Malory's knee. "What am I going to do?"
Malory stroked her hair. "Whatever comes next."
Zoe stayed behind after her friends had gone home. She wanted to feel the building around her, the way she'd felt the woods the day before. What had it been about this house that had pulled her?
She'd been the one to find it. She'd been the one to crunch the numbers, even though a part of her hadn't believed she could make it work.
Still, despite the doubts, despite the odds, she'd pursued it, had plotted out in her head what had been a kind of fantasy at first. A kind of hope that had become her reality.
She'd been the first one of the three of them to walk through it, to begin to see what could be done. How it could be done. To stake a claim, she supposed, as she trailed her fingers over the wall in the central hall of the second floor.
Hadn't she stood here while the realtor had been yammering away about potential and commercial value and interest rates and known this was the place to build her future? She'd seen the dull beige walls, the chipped molding, the dusty windows, and had envisioned color and light and possibilities, if only she dared risk it.
Didn't that make it a moment of truth?
The house was one more thing that had drawn her together with Malory and Dana, that had made them a unit. Just as the quest united them. As they were each a key. Interlocked in the search for those answers to yesterday and tomorrow. Kane had come here, to tempt and threaten both of her friends. Would he come here to tempt and threaten her? Her fear of him was a living thing that beat inside her.
She stood at the top of the stairs, looking down at the door. She had only to walk down the steps, go through that door, and step back into a world she understood and recognized and, to some extent, controlled.
Cars driving by on the street, people passing on the sidewalk. Ordinary life, going its ordinary way.
Inside she was alone, just as she'd been alone in the woods. Just as she was alone every night when she turned off the lamp beside her bed and laid her head on the pillow.
Those were her choices, and she couldn't fear what she had chosen to do with her life.
She turned away from the steps, turned away from the door and the world outside it, and walked the silent hall of what she'd claimed as hers.
Ice skated along her skin as she approached the door to the attic. They'd all avoided going up there since Malory's experience. Nor did they talk about it. It was a portion of the house that had ceased to exist for them, one they had— in a very real way—surrendered.
Wasn't it time to take it back? If the house was to be theirs, completely theirs, they couldn't pretend a part of it didn't exist.
Malory had reached her decisive moment there, and had won. Yet they had deserted this field as if they'd suffered a loss.
It was time to change that.
She reached out, turned the knob. Opened the door. It helped to flick the switch—an ordinary, everyday act. The light was more comforting than the dark, and that was human. But she walked up, struggling not to bolt when the stairs creaked under her weight.
Dust tickled her nose, and she could see it spin in motes in the shaft of light from the bare bulb. The place needed a good cleaning, and among the abandoned items the previous tenants had left behind, there was considerable trash that could be turned to treasures.
A dresser that needed to be stripped or painted, lamps without shades, a rocking chair with a broken runner, boxes gathering dust, books gathering mildew.