His eyes widened and he shrank away. “It’s … uh … I think you’d better ask your mother …”
She was curled in the passenger seat with her hands blocking her eyes.
I said, “Mom?”
“Go away,” she said. “Just go away, all of you!”
Miss Peregrine leaned down. “Mrs. Portman, look at me, please.”
Mom peeked through her fingers. “You aren’t really there. I had too much wine at dinner, that’s all.”
“We’re quite real, I assure you. And this may be hard to believe now, but we’re all going to be friends.”
My mom turned away. “Frank, change the channel. I don’t like this show.”
“Okay, honey,” my dad said. “Son, I think I’d better, um … um …” and then he shut his eyes, shook his head, and rolled up the window.
“Are you sure this isn’t going to melt their brains?” I asked Miss Peregrine.
“They’ll come around,” she replied. “Some take longer than others.”
* * *
We walked back toward my house in a group, the moon bright and rising, the hot night alive with wind and cicadas. Bronwyn pushed the dead car along behind us, my family still in it. I walked hand in hand with Emma, my mind reeling from all that had happened.
“One thing I don’t understand,” I said. “How did you get here? And so quickly?”
I tried to picture a girl with a mouth in the back of her head and a boy with bees buzzing around him getting through airport security. And Millard: had they snuck him onto an airplane? How did they even get passports?
“We got lucky,” Emma said. “One of Bentham’s rooms led to a loop just a hundred miles from here.”
“Some appalling swamp,” Miss Peregrine said. “Crocodiles and knee-deep muck. No idea what my brother wanted with the place. Anyhow, from there I managed to effect our exit into the present, and then it was just a matter of catching two buses and walking three and one-half miles. The whole trip took less than a day. Needless to say, we’re tired and parched from our journey.”
We had arrived on my front porch. Miss Peregrine looked at me expectantly.
“Right! There are sodas in the fridge, I think …”
I fumbled the key into door and opened it.
“Hospitality, Mr. Portman, hospitality!” Miss Peregrine said, breezing past me into the house. “Leave your shoes outside, children, we’re not in Devil’s Acre anymore!”
I stood holding the door as they tramped inside, muddy shoes and all.
“Yes, this will do nicely!” I heard Miss Peregrine say. “Where’s the kitchen?”
“What should I do with the car?” Bronwyn said, still standing at its rear bumper. “And, uh … the normals?”
“Could you put them in the garage?” I said. “And maybe keep an eye on them for a minute or two?”
She looked at Emma and me, then smiled. “Sure thing.”
I found the garage door opener and hit the button. Bronwyn rolled the car and my dazed parents inside, and then Emma and I were left alone on the front porch.
“You’re sure it’s okay that we stay?” Emma said.
“It’ll be tricky with my family,” I said. “But Miss P seems to think we can make it work.”
“I meant, is it okay with you. The way we left things was …”
“Are you kidding? I’m so happy you’re here, I can hardly speak.”
“Okay. You’re smiling, so I suppose I believe you.”
Smiling? I was grinning like a fool.
Emma took a step toward me. I slipped my arms around her. We held each other, my cheek pressed to her forehead.
“I never wanted to lose you,” she whispered. “But I didn’t see a way around it. A clean break seemed easier than losing you in slow motion.”
“You don’t have to explain. I understand.”
“Anyway, maybe we don’t have to, now. Be just friends. If you don’t want to.”
“Maybe it’s a good idea, though,” I said. “Just for a while.”
“Oh,” she said quickly, disappointed. “Sure …”
“No, what I mean is …” I pulled away gently, looking at her. “Now that we have time, we can go slow. I could ask you out to the movies … we could go for walks … you know, like normal people do.”
She shrugged. “I don’t know too much about what normal people do.”
“It’s not complicated,” I said. “You taught me how to be peculiar. Maybe now I can teach you how to be normal. Well, as normal as I know how to be.”
She was quiet for a moment. Then she laughed. “Sure, Jacob. I think that sounds nice.” She took my hand, leaned toward me, and kissed me on the cheek. “Now that we have time.”
And it occurred to me, standing there, just breathing with her, quiet settling around us, that those might be the three most beautiful words in the English language.
We have time.