“Interesting.” Malory shifted her load of books as they turned the corner. “How come the Weird Twins didn’t think of that?”
“I figure they did. See, first you have to say it’s all real.”
Dana shrugged. “We’ve all got money in the bank, and we’re walking along with a load of books on Celtic myths. That’s real enough for me.”
“If it’s all real, then Malory can only find the first key. Even if the other two were right in front of her, she wouldn’t find them. And we wouldn’t either, not before it’s our turn to look.”
Dana stopped, angling her head as she studied Zoe. “Do you really believe all this?”
Zoe flushed but gave a careless shrug. “I’d like to. It’s so fantastic and important. I’ve never done anything fantastic or important.” She looked up at the narrow three-story Victorian painted a soft slate blue with creamy gingerbread trim. “Is this your brother’s house? I’ve always thought it was so pretty.”
“He’s been fixing it up bit by bit. Kind of a hobby.”
They started up the brick walk. The grass was green and trim on either side,
but it needed flowers, Malory thought. Color and shape and texture. And an old bench on the porch, next to a big copper pot full of interesting sticks and grasses.
The house looked lonely without them, like a perfectly attractive woman, she thought, who’d been stood up for a date.
Dana took out a key, unlocked the door. “The best I can say about the inside is it’ll be quiet.” She stepped in, and her voice echoed. “And private.”
The foyer was empty but for a few boxes shoved into a corner. The stairway leading up was a lovely, fanciful curve with a griffin head as its newel post.
The foyer spilled into a parlor, where the walls were painted a rich, shady-river green that went well with the warm honey-toned pine of the floor. But the walls, like the yard, were naked.
There was a huge sofa in the middle of the floor, the sort that shouted to Malory, A man bought me! Despite the fact that some of the green in it matched the walls, it was a hideous plaid, clunky of style and too large for the charm potential of the room.
Some sort of crate stood in as a table.
There were more boxes, one of which sat on the hearth of a delightful little fireplace with an ornately carved mantel that she could envision dressing up with a fabulous painting.
“So . . .” Zoe turned in a circle. “I guess he’s just moving in.”
“Oh, yeah. For the last year and a half.” Dana laid her books on the crate.
“He’s lived here for over a year?” It hurt, simply hurt Malory’s heart. “And his single piece of furniture is this really ugly couch?”
“Hey, you should’ve seen his room at home. At least this is neat. Anyway, he’s got some halfway decent stuff upstairs. That’s where he lives. There’s probably not any food, but there’ll be coffee, beer, Coke. Anybody?”
“Diet Coke?” Malory asked.
Dana sneered. “He’s a guy.”
“Right. I’ll live dangerously and have the real thing.”
“Coke’s fine,” Zoe agreed.
“Coming up. Go ahead and sit. The couch is an eyesore but it’s comfortable.”
“All this wonderful space wasted,” Malory decided, “on a man who would actually pay money for something like this.” She dropped down on the couch. “Okay, it’s comfortable. But it’s still ugly.”
“Can you imagine living in a place like this?” Zoe turned a quick circle. “It’s like a doll’s house. Well, a really big doll’s house, but just as sweet. I’d spend all my free time playing with it, hunting for treasures to put in it, fussing with paint and fabric.”
“So would I.” Malory tilted her head. At her very best, she thought, she would never look as hip and exotic as Zoe managed to do in simple jeans and a cotton shirt. And she’d done the math, calculating how old Zoe had been when she’d had her baby. At that same age, Malory had been shopping for the perfect prom dress and preparing for college.
And yet, here they were, together in a largely empty room of a stranger’s house and having nearly identical thoughts.
“It’s strange how much we have in common. Strange, too, that we live in a relatively small town and never met before last night.”