Before I could even begin to think up an explanation for why Casper Holloway, the boy who disappeared three years ago, was standing in my living room, Casper grabbed my wrist and slapped my hand onto the railing of the staircase that led up to the second story of my house. Then he slipped out from under my arm and slipped back into the entry hall, diving into the open coat closet and disappearing behind the rows of jackets. I almost laughed at the sight, but soon realized that I was pretty unstable on my own two feet. I made a mental note to thank Casper and clutched onto the staircase railing for dear life.
Mom appeared at the door of the basement, a frown etched on her face.
“Leonora?” she asked again, spotting me at the base of the stairs.
“Yeah, mom?” I replied, trying to sound casual while I angled my legs away from her so she wouldn’t see the raw, bloody skin on my knees.
“I thought you were downstairs,” she said, jabbing her thumb over her shoulder at the door leading down to the basement.
“I went upstairs to, um, look for my biology notebook,” I said.
That wasn’t a complete lie; I had gone upstairs to find my notebook.
Before I snuck out to chase a kid for a half a mile.
But that was totally irrelevant.
“Did you find it?” she asked, walking further into the living room and looked down at Ben, who had fallen asleep on the couch.
My notebook was still sitting on my bed, where I had dropped it.
“Um, no,” I said slowly, “but I just remembered where I left it!”
My mother rolled her eyes at me.
“How you find anything in that room, I don’t know,” she mumbled, then cleared her throat, “I’m going to go finish putting away the dishes. Do me a favor and carry Ben up to his room?”
“Sure,” I replied.
Only then did I remember that I couldn’t walk.
I watched my mother disappear around the corner and waited until I heard the hum of the kitchen sink and the clanking of porcelain dishes to turn back towards the coat closet.
“Come on!” I hissed quietly.
Casper’s mop of disheveled brown hair emerged first, followed by the rest of his body. He tumbled out into the entry hall and looked up at me, smiling ever so slightly at the fact that we had just avoided certain death.
“Go get Ben,” I told him, pointing at the boy balled up on the couch.
Casper nodded and dropped his backpack beside the coat closet, shoving it back so it was hidden. He took a step into the living room, but then stopped when his eyes landed on Ben. Casper’s lips parted and his eyes went wide.
“What is it?” I asked.
“He’s so big,” Casper mumbled.
I was about to laugh and point out that Ben was the smallest kid in his class when I remembered that Casper hadn’t seen him in three years. Of course Ben looked big to him; he had grown nearly a foot taller. I stared at Casper for a moment, watching the emotions flicker through his bright hazel eyes, before I remembered that my mother was in the kitchen and could walk in at any moment.
“Hurry up!” I told him.
Casper blinked, snapping out of his daze, and walked over to the couch. He lifted Ben up into his arms as if he weighed no more than a sack of flower. Ben let out a grunt, and for a second I was afraid that he would wake up. But luckily he just buried his face in Casper’s shoulder and continued snoring.
“Let’s go,” Casper mouthed.
I nodded at him, turned, and took one step up the stairs. A shot of pain ran up my leg as I put my weight down on my right ankle, and I collapsed against the railing, cursing under my breath. Casper was at my side instantly, hooking one arm around my waist as he supported Ben in the other. I tried not to grunt as Casper and I hurried up the stairs as fast as we could manage.
By the time we reached the top of the stairs, I was sweating.
“Where’s his room?” Casper whispered, nodding his head down at Ben.
“Over there,” I panted, pointing at the door down the hall.
Casper nodded and hurried towards the bedroom. He reemerged a moment later, this time without Ben. Together, Casper and I walked over to my bedroom. I grimaced, silently praying that by some miracle, my room had magically become clean. Casper pushed open the door…