“We need a place to stay.”
“We don’t need a place that talks to us.”
“Better than a place that bites us. Or a place where the other people stab us.” They were keeping their voices at a low hiss, hoping that Bethseda was busily distracted talking to Sana and her children about her garden.
“What’s to say she won’t start biting?”
“I don’t think this is like Hansel and Gretel, Clare.” Tobias flopped into the far-too-comfortable armchair in his room- his room! and sighed in exasperation. “Running water. Food. A door that locks. A bed all to yourself.”
“What’s the point of a lock when the house is alive?” Clare shook her head. “I mean, she says she’s not like those monsters…”
“Come on, Clare, you know we’re not that different.” That, he barely mouthed out loud.
“We are NOT like those things!” Clare didn’t have a quiet setting, not when she was upset. “I’m not!” she insisted, her hands clenching into fists. Tobias imagined what those hands looked like, under her Mask, and hurriedly crossed the room to force her hands open. Small lines of blood dripped down her fingers.
“So maybe neither is she.” He wrapped his already-stained handkerchief around one of Clare’s hands, and patted at the other one with a tissue. “What do we know about any of that?”
“The monsters came and turned everyone crazy. Crazy enough that a talking house sounds sane. What else do we need to know?” She batted his hands away. “What else do we even need to think about?”
“What we are. What she is. What it has to do with the monsters.” He shrugged, as always on the defensive when it came to Clare and… what they were. Whatever they were.
“Look. Dodger told us what we were. He told us to hide from the monsters. What else do we need to know?”
“Everything?” He stood to pace. Maybe he could think better that way.
“Well, I know that we’re not hiding very well from the monsters inside a talking house.” She stood up. “Come on. I’m leaving.”
“Look, don’t you want to know if we even can leave?”
“Clare, what I really want is a warm meal and a bed to sleep in. If she’s not going to let me leave, well, at least I’m not dying cold in an alleyway. Which in my book puts this place one hundred percent above any other place we’ve stayed in the last three years.” He stood anyway. Once she got her mind on something, there was no stopping her.
“I don’t like feeling trapped, Toby.” She threw the rest of her clothes into her backpack. “You know that. It’s why we didn’t stay in that shelter.”
“In any of the first seven shelters we had as an option. The eighth and ninth had the creepy people and the tenth had fleas. Clare, we’re down to sleeping in doorways – or this house. I like this better.”
A knock at the door startled both of them. “Excuse me,” the house’s voice called. “Perhaps I can be of assistance.”
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