It was fairly quiet in the village at night, and Bel didn’t know if that was because the weather had been so poor, or if after the meeting, everyone was doing the same thing that her family had wanted to do—go home and talk it all over. The arcade was closed earlier than normal, and while Bel saw a few people down by the harbor, sipping from Styrofoam cups of tea, on the whole, it was nearly empty.
Which was a good thing, since Nolie was singing a little song under her breath.
“We’re sneaking ouuuuut,” she shisper-sand. “sneeeaaaakiiiiing ouuuuttt
“Shhh!” Bel shushed, even as she smiled, the two of them skirting around the harbor. “The ‘sneaking’ is the important bit, you nutter.”
Nolie gave an easy shrug, kicking a stray rock out of her way. “This moment needed to be commemorated in song,” she said, and then she looked over at Bel. Her smile was almost shy.
“And since we’re sneaking out and sharing secrets and stuff, I guess that means you’re not mad at me.”
Bel didn’t have time to stop—the sooner they were back, the better—but she did slow down a little.
“I thought you might be mad at me, too,” she confessed. “Or . . . not angry, I s’pose, just . . . it was . . .”
“Super awkward?” Nolie supplied, and Bel gave a tight nod.
They were moving up from the harbor, climbing a slight rise, and Nolie pointed to a little stone plinth that overlooked the water. “What’s that?” she asked, and Bel glanced over her shoulder at it.
“Hmm? Oh, just a wee plaque someone put there years ago. It’s odd. Just says In Hope of Forgiveness, but no names, no dates or anything. Always figured a sailor upset his girlfriend or summat,” Bel said, and Nolie frowned in the direction of the plaque, but nodded all the same.
They moved off the pavement and behind the village center. Bel wanted to cut across the field rather than walk up the road to her house so that she could go through the back door.
They were closer to her house now, and she glanced over at Nolie to see if she was looking at it. It wasn’t anything as nice as the house that the Institute used, or as pretty as the newer houses by the harbor, like the one Alice’s family had bought.
But if Nolie wasn’t impressed by Bel’s house, she didn’t say anything, quietly slipping through the back gate behind Bel, then tiptoeing through the back door.
To Bel’s immense relief, Al was still sitting quietly in her room when she sneaked back in, his spine rigid, his hands on his knees. He looked like he was afraid to touch anything, or even move, for fear that he’d make a noise that might lead to his discovery.
“Holy—” Nolie started, and Bel cut her off with a finger pressed against her own lips.
“Shhhhh!” she hissed. “We don’t want my parents coming up here. I’m not allowed to have boys in my room.”
“Even boys who are technically dead?” Nolie said, and Al shot her that cross look again.
“Not dead,” he said stiffly, and Nolie nodded, coming to sit down in Bel’s desk chair. “Right, I just mean that you’re not the same as a random boy from school. Magical boys who appear out of deadly fog should get a pass, is all I’m saying.”
Al’s frown deepened, and Bel waved a hand at both of them. “Nolie, he doesn’t understand anything you just said, I’d wager, and you’ll only upset him. Now both of you, hush, and I’ll be right back.”
She dashed into the hall, then crept as quietly as she could downstairs, hoping Jaime was still in the kitchen with her family. She could hear the telly on in the living room, and the running water in the bathroom that told her Mum was giving Jack his bath. She’d have to move fast to make sure no one saw her, but she could do that.
Jaime was the only person who used this bedroom now, but he used to share it with Simon, and a lot of Simon’s things were still in there. Bel knew Jaime might notice missing clothes, so she was hoping to find an old shirt and trousers that Simon had left behind.
Sure enough, there in the footlocker that Jaime had shoved under the window, Bel unearthed what she was looking for, then tiptoed back upstairs.
Al was in the exact same position that she’d left him in, and Nolie was standing a little closer. “Anyway,” she was saying as Bel walked in, “you’ll have to work some of that out on your own, but that’s my list of the top-five things of the twenty-first century. So far, I mean. We still have a long time to go.”
Al stared at her before saying, “What is a . . . Netflick?”
“Netflix,” Nolie corrected. “And it’s the best. You just—”
“Clothes!” Bel interrupted, lifting her pilfered bundle, and Al gave a little nod, clearly relieved. She’d grabbed a pair of sweatpants and an old jersey. He could deal with whatever went . . . under them himself.
Her face bright red, Bel handed the clothes to Albert, who took them with shaking hands.
“I can get you some food in a bit if you’re hungry,” she offered, and Al’s head shot up at that, dark eyes bright. He must have been really hungry. What did hundred-year-old boys eat?
“So what exactly is going on here?” Nolie asked in a low whisper. “The last time we saw Al, he was threatening to bash our brains out, and now he’s just hanging out in your room?”
Al wrung his hands. “I was hiding outside the meeting tonight and heard what’s happening. I think you might need my help.”
His accent was still thicker than Bel was used to hearing, and she got the sense that Nolie was only catching every other word, if her blinking was anything to go by.
Al shook out the jersey Bel had handed him, studying it. “What is this?”
“It’s a shirt,” Bel told him, and he gave it a look.
“There are no buttons. It looks like a dress, or a tunic you wrap a babe in.”
“We’re not giving you baby clothes, promise,” Nolie said, but Al only raised his eyebrows at that.
It was weird, Bel thought, seeing his face so expressive. She was used to him staring seriously out of his photograph at the shop, frozen. He’d looked older in the picture, too, but maybe that was just the clothes. She studied him now. Same dark eyes, same long nose and ears that were just a bit too big. A face she’d seen since forever, but not one she’d ever thought she’d see in person.
But even though he looked like just Al, said he was Al, could he actually be Al? He had to be, but at the same time, how?
“What’s wrong with the clothes I have?” he asked, and Nolie nodded at him, taking in his white shirt and dark pants.
“We don’t dress that fancy now. You look like you’re going to church. And, like, a weird one where they don’t believe in using zippers. No, trust me, you’ll like what Bel brought you more.”
Al’s brows drew together as he studied the clothes, like he wasn’t so sure about all of that.
“Can we keep him?” Nolie asked. She had one ankle crossed over the other, and was chewing on her thumb- nail, staring at Albert like he might vanish in a puff of smoke at any minute.
“He isn’t a puppy,” Bel said, nudging Nolie in the ribs as she went to stand next to her.
“I know that,” Nolie said. “But . . . Bel, this is huge. Maybe it’s not about keeping him, but hiding him.”
Albert still sat on the edge of Bel’s bed, his face pale and serious.
“Hiding me from what?”
“You’ve been gone a hundred years, Al,” Bel said as she glanced again toward the door. “People are bound to be curious. And curious people can be—”
“Dangerous,” Nolie said, her arms crossed tightly over her chest. Her bright red hair was still pulled back in a braid, but lots of it had come loose after the walk from her house.
“Scared,” Bel corrected. “People do right stupid things when they’re scared, though, so it’s just best if we hide you for a bit.”
Albert nodded slowly, taking that in. Then he lifted his face to Bel. “Why did you call me ‘Al’ ?”
Bel blinked. Had she done that? Well, that wasn’t surprising, seeing as how she’d been calling him Al since she was a wee girl, but it was a bit embarrassing to actually say it to his face.
“It’s just what I used to call your picture,” she mumbled to Albert now, rolling her shoulders.
“Thought you looked like an ‘Al.’ “
“Al,” he repeated, as though trying out the name. And then a smile spread across his face. “People always called me Bertie, and I hated it.”
“You were right to hate it,” Nolie piped up from the door. “Bertie sounds like someone who has a TV show with puppets.”
The smile faded from Albert’s face. “I . . . didna understand any of that.”
“Don’t worry,” Bel said. “We can teach you all about the twenty-first century, and TV, and—ooh, and the internet! That’ll be fun.”
But Al looked dubious, and Bel didn’t think she was doing a very good job of convincing him that this wasn’t actually terrifying. She wondered then how she would feel, coming back to Journey’s End a hundred years from now. What would it be like? Would they have things like flying cars, and if they did, would that seem as weird to her as the TV and cell phones would to Al?
Never mind, they could worry about that later. The internet didn’t work very well out here anyway.
“For now,” Bel said, “we can find a place here to hide you for the night. Or maybe at my dad’s house? It’s big, and—”
“I canna stay with either of you,” Al said, his face turning a dull red. “Wouldn’t be proper.”
Nolie and Bel just stared at him for a second before Nolie said, “Oh, wow. He really is a hundred years old, isn’t he?”
“Technically, he’s one hundred and eleven,” Bel said. This really was Albert McLeish, last seen in 1918, and he was sitting in her bedroom, too scandalized to spend the night at either of their houses.
“So you want to go back to the caves tonight?” Nolie said, sitting back down in Bel’s chair. It creaked slightly under her, and even that little noise had Bel looking to the door anxiously, hoping her parents hadn’t heard.
“Aye,” Al said. He still had Simon’s old clothes across his legs, and Bel guessed he was waiting to change until he went back to the caves, and she was grateful for that at least. Bad enough to have a boy in her room, even a dead, magical one. A boy changing in her room? Her parents might never let her outside again.
Nolie looked over at Bel. “The Institute, maybe? That place is massive, and no one ever goes to the attic.”
Bel looked over to Al, but before he could answer, there was a knock at the door.
“Bel?” her mum called, and then all three of them watched in horror as the doorknob began to turn.
Copyright © 2016 by Rachel Hawkins. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.