When Vicky stumbles into the kitchen that morning, both her brothers are already awake. Rob's always been an early riser, but there was light coming from under John's bedroom door well after midnight last night. When he glances at her, there are shadows around his eyes.
Rob looks at her, too, and immediately says, "You dreamed about her again, didn't you?"
"Is there any coffee?" Vicky takes the cup he hands her, and drains half of it with a tremendous swallow. "Thanks. I did, yeah,"
"I think you should tell someone," says John. "Dr. Gregory or Charles Wallace or someone."
Vicky sighs. "I notice you don't suggest I tell Mother and Dad." Or Adam, she doesn't need to add.
"Nope. It might take me a while, but eventually I do learn." John smiles wearily. "I mean it, Vic. Losing half your night's sleep to this thing isn't doing you any favors."
Vicky raises her eyebrows at him, but doesn't make the obvious reply. It's been hard enough to persuade her practical, science-minded brother that her recurring dream is something more than the ordinary stress of her college exams and living in New York. Convincing him that he doesn’t need to memorize everything that has ever been written about astrophysics, especially not by staying up all night to do it, is beyond her right now.
"Here." Rob's been fiddling with the ancient toaster on the countertop, and now he hands her a plate with two slices of buttered toast. "John's right. This is the kind of thing Professor Murry knows about."
If explaining her dream to John had been nearly impossible, explaining it to Rob had been like telling him a story he'd always known. Rob is almost twelve now, and the baby roundness has disappeared from his face, but his eyes are still wide and open like a little kid's.
He had been six years old when their grandfather had told them the story of Charles Wallace Murry and his sister Meg and their tesseract. John and Suzy had thought it was fiction. Vicky herself had assumed it was allegory or metaphor or something equally obscure. She'd even thought Grandfather might be complimenting her fourteen-year-old self by expecting her to grasp it without being told.
Rob had simply accepted it, simply accepted that human beings could travel in time and speak to each other in their minds while they did it.
Two years later, when Canon Tallis had brought his colleague Professor Murry to their grandfather's funeral, Rob had been the first to believe that this was the same Charles Wallace Murry from the story. He'd asked if Charles Wallace could take him to ride a unicorn. Well, he'd been little.
He's not little now, though. Rob's not little any more, and Suzy is almost a stranger, and Grandfather has been gone for three years. And her big brother is a grown man but he's not old enough for those circles under his eyes, and Vicky dreams when she's awake sometimes, and everything is tilted and temporary and wrong.
Rob is entirely correct. This is, without question, the kind of thing Charles Wallace would understand.
There is a girl, there is a red-haired girl. She shows up in Vicky's dreams. Not in the middle of what's happening, only walking through it.
Sometimes she is looking up at the stars, the red-haired girl. Sometimes there's a book in her hand and her eyes are glued to its pages. She is always traveling on her way to something, and everything else gets out of her way. Before she even sees it, it's moved.
In Vicky's dreams, the red-haired girl is passing through a train station. She is crossing under a tree in Harvard Yard. She is on a sidewalk in a city Vicky's never seen. She is walking along the beach near Grandfather's cove.
Vicky doesn't know what color the girl's eyes are. She has never once looked up.
Seeing her, every time she sees her, Vicky feels as though she has lost something impossibly precious. No, not lost exactly. As if she has held a butterfly in her hand, and then let it go, and she can't move until she knows whether it will come back to her or fly away forever.
Sitting in the sunlit kitchen, Vicky remembers clear blue eyes, wide open like Rob's even though Charles Wallace must be at least thirty, and she thinks: Charles Wallace is the butterfly.
The rest of that day passes quietly. Their parents and their sister will be arriving tomorrow night, after Suzy's final exams are finished. Vicky's own exams ended the day before yesterday, and John's complex mixture of undergraduate and graduate degree coursework doesn't have anything so mundane as exams.
There are ordinary things to be done, things that are unrelated to sleep or dreams or the lack of them. Vicky lives in the second-floor apartment her family occupied during the year they lived in New York. Emily Gregory, whose father owns the building, lives downstairs when she's home, and Vicky airs out the downstairs apartment and dusts it whenever Emily's on tour.
Making up all the beds in both apartments with fresh sheets, and laying out clean lavender-scented towels in all the bathrooms, is calming. John goes out before lunch and still hasn't come back by sunset, which is less so.
Shortly after dark, Vicky decides she and Rob have finished everything that can reasonably be considered a necessary task in either apartment. Rob builds a fire in the upstairs living room's fireplace and settles into one of the big armchairs with The Sword in the Stone. He re-reads it at least once a year.
Vicky fishes out her Complete Works Of Shakespeare and sits on the end of the couch closest to Rob's chair. She's taking an intensive course in the histories next semester, and she hasn't read any of them yet.
The book falls open in her hands to the scene between Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that she'd studied for a different class. Bad dreams, and the dream that is ambition. But Hamlet was mad. Or wanted people to think he was.
Vicky shudders and opens to the beginning of Henry V. The opening speech, praying for inspiration and the gift of storytelling, suits her much better. The print is small, though, and after the Prologue the words begin to swim in front of her eyes.
"You've read that same page four times," Rob informs her.
"At least four," Vicky uncrumples the ribbon bookmark and winds it around her fingers. "And I still have no idea what's going on. Well, I mean, I do, but I feel like reading the summary is cheating, somehow. We're reading parts of this one out loud in class. It'll make more sense then."
"Ask Mother, when she gets here. Maybe she'll read it with you." Rob puts down his own book, walks to the window, looks out over the darkened streets. "Did John say where he was going?"
"Nope." Vicky shuts the book and goes into the kitchen to see about dinner.
"Well, where do you think he'd go?" persists Rob, following her. "I mean, it's cold out. He can't just be walking around all day. Does he know anyone around here?"
"Adam," Vicky says before she can stop herself. She has avoided saying it for so long it's begun to feel like a superstition, but now when she needs it his name falls from her lips as if she'd been talking to him yesterday. "He knows Adam lives here, or his parents do."
Rob doesn't ask whether Adam himself is in New York right now. He knows, as John knows, that Vicky has not heard from Adam Eddington for nearly four months.
She still doesn't know what happened.
They have been friends for three years now, Vicky and Adam, ever since the summer her grandfather died. Their friendship has consisted largely of letters and phone calls, punctuated by the occasional visit (usually in the company of her family or his great-aunt) and one entirely improbable adventure on a semester abroad in Antarctica.
On the one hand, they've never yet been anything that she could call more than friends--all right, some dates, yes, a kiss here and there, but nothing anyone would consider serious.
On the other hand, no one else has really held her attention since she met him. (Apart from Zachary, but Zachary doesn't count. It would require superpowers to ignore Zachary.)
Six months ago, when Vicky first started dreaming of the red-haired girl, she told Adam all about it, as a matter of course. When you and another person have swum with dolphins, spoken to each other (and the dolphins) without speech, and rescued each other from an attempted kidnapping on an iceberg, a discussion of a recurring dream shouldn't cause that other person to bat an eyelash.
And, in truth, for a few weeks, Adam and his eyelashes had seemed undisturbed. Or, at least, his letters had arrived as usual. His phone calls had been infrequent, but it had been the middle of the summer and a busy time for marine biologists.
Then there had been one last postcard--"Unexpected travel opportunity. It may be a while before I write again. Take care of Aunt Serena for me." And then there had been nothing.
Vicky and Rob eat chicken noodle soup and grilled cheese sandwiches for supper, playing one of Rob's favorite Bach records while they wash the dishes. John hasn't come back by the time they're finished.
Sitting in the dimly lit kitchen, Vicky remembers evenings like this at home in Connecticut, years ago, dinner and dishes and homework with their mother's record player in the background, and she thinks: unexpected travel isn't an opportunity unless you're already looking for a reason to leave.
If she's dreaming when the phone rings, she doesn't remember it. Vicky only knows that one minute she's asleep and the next minute she's running out of her room to pick up the phone in the bedroom next door. "Hello? Mother?" Who else would call at this hour but her parents, and why else but that something awful has happened?
The voice on the other end is a firm light tenor that she shouldn't recognize as easily as she does. "Vicky. It's Charles Wallace Murry. I need you to listen carefully."
She's awake now, completely awake. "I'm listening."
"All right. I've been working for several days now on something in particular. I can't tell you what it is, so please don't ask."
"I won't." Vicky knows that Charles Wallace and his parents occasionally consult for, among others, the U.S. government. If he can't talk about what he's doing, it's probably classified.
"Thank you. To begin with, your elder brother has been with me all day."
"Excuse me?" Vicky barely manages not to shriek What?!! in his ear, the way she would have with Suzy. "Are you telling me John went up to Boston today?"
"No, of course not." Charles Wallace sounds impatient, something she's never heard before. "I'm working out of a borrowed lab at Columbia this semester. I've seen you half a dozen times, you know, walking to your classes. But that's not important now. What's important is that my niece has been helping me with," he pauses, "I suppose I have to call it an experiment."
"Okay. John and your niece were helping you today on an experiment."
"Yes. I should never have let her. She told me what happened last year, I should have made her stay away, her and John..." Charles Wallace's voice trails off. Vicky understands, suddenly, that he is terribly worried.
"Professor Murry, what's happened to John?"
"Nothing at all's happened to John." Charles Wallace sounds indignant. "It's Polly. My niece. Last year she was accidentally caught in a tesseract, you understand what that is?"
Vicky doesn't, not really. "Sure." She understands that it's somewhere in between science and magic, and that it means moving in both time and space, and that ordinary people can't do it. If Charles Wallace and his sister could tesser, it stands to reason that the ability to do it might be genetic and that this Polly can tesser too. Can travel. Unexpected opportunity.
"...Zachary," Charles Wallace is saying.
Vicky yanks her attention back sharply. "Sorry, Professor, what was that?"
"You must listen, Victoria, this is very important." Indignant again. "In the same way that Zachary Grey's bout with rheumatic fever permanently affected his heart, Polly's experience with the tesseract has permanently affected her ability to remain anchored to her own time and place."
"Zachary." The apartment is chilly. Vicky pulls the quilt off the big bed--this is the room her parents had shared when they lived here--and wraps it tightly around herself. "Professor--Charles--I'm listening, I really am, but how do you know Zachary?"
“Brightest and best of the stars of the morning," says Charles Wallace, as though it's an answer. Then, in a more normal tone, "Zachary has come to the attention of many people. He'll be dealt with. What's important now is that we find Polly."
"Find? You mean she's missing?"
"I mean," says Charles Wallace, too calmly, "that about an hour ago, in the middle of a rather heated argument, Polly walked out of my lab and hasn't come back. Which, given her temporal instability, means she may have wandered very far indeed. John went to look for her, and he told me to call you if he hadn't returned within the hour."
Vicky has no idea which of her many questions should come next, only that every second she spends trying to figure it out will be wasted time. Before she can speak, there's a frantic pounding on the front door of the apartment.
"I think they're here," she tells Charles Wallace, and hangs up. Apologies will have to come later.
Rob has reached the door before she has, but hasn't opened it. He remembers their year in New York as well as she does. He looks up at her uncertainly, and she puts a hand on his shoulder.
"Who is it?" How did they get past the building's front door, why doesn't this door have a tiny lens to look through. How did they get here, how did any of them get here.
"Vicky, it's John. Open up, quick."
Vicky hesitates, but Rob doesn't. "Something's wrong." He turns both locks, one with each hand, jerks the chain away, and flings the door open.
John looks like he's been running a long way. He has clearly been half-carrying the tall, thin girl that is leaning on his shoulder and wrapped in his jacket. Falling over her face, hiding it from view, is a tangled mass of flame-red hair.
"Someone followed me. Not now. Before," gasps John. "Before I found her." The gasp turns into a harsh cough as he stumbles through the door, dragging the girl with him. Rob darts forward and gets his shoulder under her other arm, steering her and John to the couch. Vicky shuts the door behind them and locks it, moving automatically.
"Here," she hears herself say. "It's much too cold out." She unwraps the quilt from around her shoulders and drapes it over the girl. The red-haired girl. The red-haired girl who is now looking up at Vicky with wide, clear blue eyes that are open like a child's.
There is a girl, there is a red-headed girl, and she has been walking through Vicky's dreams on her way to somewhere else, and she is now shivering uncontrollably in Vicky's living room.
"Rob, can you find some more blankets?" John sits on the couch beside the girl and tucks the quilt around her tightly. "She was out there for almost an hour. Vicky, this is Polly O'Keefe."
"Professor Murry's niece," adds the girl. Polly.
Rob comes back with more quilts and hands them to Vicky. "I'm going to make some tea. The kind that won't keep you awake." He starts for the kitchen, then turns back to look at Polly. "You're the girl who's been in Vicky's dreams, aren't you?"
"Afraid so." Polly is still shivering. John puts an arm around her and looks up at Vicky as if daring her to say something. Vicky doesn't. She keeps one quilt for herself, drops the rest of the quilts on John's lap, and lets him handle it from there.
She is still trying to frame her next question when the doorbell rings.
"Charles Wallace?" Polly's eyes aren't focusing properly.
"He was on the phone with me when you knocked. He couldn't get here so quickly..." Vicky's voice trails off. For a person who traveled via tesseract, a few blocks of New York City wouldn't present a problem.
"I was followed. I told you." John sounds angry, but not at her. "Don't open the door."
Vicky sees a quick picture, an image from outside of herself. A sunny beach, a quiet ocean. Footprints and handprints on the sand, as if someone has been turning cartwheels and standing on his head.
And then she's running, running down the stairs to the front door of the building, trailing the quilt behind her, knowing she could trip over it and not caring.
She finds all the locks in the dark, opens the door, and Adam tumbles into her arms.
Eventually, one or the other of them needs to breathe, and the kiss drifts from deep undertow to gentle waves on the shore and then floats away. They stand there in the dark front hall for a while, just holding each other, the quilt wrapping over their arms and falling around their feet. Gradually, Vicky realizes that Adam is muttering something against her hair: sorry sorry sorry...
"You..." she says into his shoulder once, and then stops.
Finally, she lets go. "Come on. Rob's making tea."
They go up the stairs silently, hand-in-hand in the dark. When they pass through the door at the top, into the lighted living room, she tries to drop his hand, but he holds on.
"Adam," says Polly, wrapped in John's arms and a nest of blankets. "Oh, Adam. I'm so glad to see you."
"Were you following me?" John scowls at him. "No, wait, don't answer that. What the hell do you mean by disappearing for months without telling anyone?"
Rob comes in then with two steaming mugs of tea and hands them to Polly and John. Only after they're holding the hot liquid securely does he run over to Adam and hug him fiercely. Adam looks bemused, possibly at the fact that Rob’s now as tall as Vicky.
"Will someone please tell me what is going on?" Vicky is trying to keep her voice calm, she really is, but she is sleepy and chilled and very close to having had quite enough.
"Wait, wait, not without me. Sit down," says Rob, and goes back into the kitchen. When Adam and Vicky are settled in the big armchairs with their own cups of tea, Rob sits on the floor at Polly's feet and says, "Okay, now you can tell us."
"Thanks." Adam smiles briefly. "I'm really glad to see you again, Rob. All of you." His gaze comes up to take in John and Polly and, finally, Vicky.
"Six months ago," Adam begins, still looking at Vicky, "you told me you had started dreaming of a girl with red hair. At first, I didn't think anything about it. Or, I guess I thought you had read a book about a redhead or something. Something ordinary like that."
"It's my fault." Polly's voice is very quiet. She's pale, paler than even a redhead would normally be, but her eyes look more alert. "I was trying to find Adam. And I kept getting lost."
"Which is why you should have come to me first."
Vicky looks up quickly at the sound of the voice in the doorway. She hadn't heard the doorbell, hadn't heard anyone coming up the stairs. But then, of course, she wouldn't.
"I would have helped you," says Charles Wallace Murry, standing on the threshold of Vicky's apartment. "We would have found a way."
"I thought you knew what I was doing. After all, you seem to have known everything else." Polly's voice is angry, not cold anger but the passionate fury of a child who has been betrayed by someone she loves. "All this time, and you never said a word."
"I couldn't." Charles Wallace looks exhausted. "May I come in?"
"Yes, of course." Vicky remembers, finally, that these are guests in her apartment, and that she owes this particular guest an apology. "I'm so sorry about the phone. Let me take your coat. Please--" She waves at the armchair she'd been sitting in. When she comes back from hanging Charles Wallace's coat on the coat tree, Adam catches her hand and pulls her to perch on the arm of his chair instead.
"Polly," Charles Wallace is saying. "I'm allowed to use my judgment as far as what to tell you, in nearly every case, but some things are still outside of my control."
"Yes, we know." John sounds as far past the end of his rope as Vicky feels. "You've mentioned that several times."
Rob looks at him. "Is that why you didn't call to say you wouldn't be home for supper?"
"I didn't know I was going to be gone so long, until I got there," admits John. He glances over at Charles Wallace. "Can I...?" At Charles Wallace's nod, John continues. "There's a project I've been assigned to. Some of it's being done at MIT, but some of it's being done--"
"Wherever I happen to be," Charles Wallace finishes. "The contributions from the lab at MIT will become public fairly soon, actually, but not mine."
"That sounds complicated." Rob is frowning a bit. "How are you going to be able to explain some of it without explaining the rest?"
"We're still working on that part." Vicky glances at John's tense face, and understands suddenly: the late nights studying, the circles under his eyes, his accelerated graduation and seemingly random mixture of classwork. Whatever her brother is working on, it's closer to Charles Wallace's world than to hers."Rob." Charles Wallace's voice is serious. "Blame me, if you have to. Keeping secrets isn't in John's nature, and I think you know that."
"Yes." Polly's eyes are cold when she looks at her uncle, not a betrayed child but something else. "Maybe you should have thought of that before you asked it of him. At least I'm used to it."
She looks at Vicky. "Charles can't apologize. He never learned how. But I can, and I'm sorry. If I weren't so stupid, none of this might have happened."
"Stop that." John shakes her, very gently. "Cards on the table, Vic. Polly and I have both been working with Charles Wallace for the last few months, mostly at MIT but sometimes in one of the labs here. What we're doing...I thought the dreams were a side effect of Polly's work on the experiment, so I couldn't tell you. And then she told me it was a side effect of her trying to find Adam. But what she was doing to find him was part of what led to the experiment, so I couldn't tell you that either."
"No. No, I suppose you couldn't." Vicky would like to be angry at John, but he looks so exhausted. Keeping secrets really never has sat well with John. It had taken him a long time to learn that most college students don't tell their parents everything, and he had mostly gotten around it by telling everything to Adam instead. Adam and his sudden disappearance have their own responsibility for John's sleepless nights.
As if reading her mind, John shifts his gaze from Vicky to Adam. "You. Do you know how many frantic phone calls I got from your parents? Where on earth have you been?"
(For some reason, Polly glances quickly at Charles Wallace, who shakes his head. It happens so quickly Vicky's not sure anyone else sees it.)
Adam appears to be interested in his fingernails. "I had a standing invite to visit Molly Dubois' lab in Maine." Vicky remembers the series of articles on tidepools that had fascinated him two summers ago, written by a particularly articulate biologist who'd quoted The Tempest in her essay about starfish.
"I hear they have telephones in Maine," persists John. "And post offices. What gives?"
"Aunt Serena knew where I was."
"That's not an answer."
"All right." Adam sighs. "I panicked, is that what you want to hear? I thought something I'd gotten dragged into was coming back to bite me, and all I could think of was that I couldn't stand it if it bit anyone else." He looks at Polly with an expression Vicky hasn't seen on his face before. If she had to name it, she'd call it pleading, and it doesn't belong there, not on Adam.
"Pol, can you tell this part?" He says it not as though he's asking will you, but are you able to, can you stand it.
"Yes." Polly answers, too, as if she's saying yes, that's too heavy for you, let me lift it instead. She pushes herself away from John a bit, sitting up straighter, and begins, "Adam and I last saw each other six years ago, when he came to visit my father's lab for a few months."
Adam has told Vicky about the summer he spent on Gaea studying with the famous marine biologist Dr. Calvin O'Keefe, the mysteries and impossibly tangled drama that had snared him, the incredible experience of swimming with dolphins for the first time. Vicky knows, and knows that John knows, about the girl Adam shouldn't have trusted, and the young man named Joshua who'd died saving Adam's life.
As Polly continues, it becomes clearer why Adam had left her and her siblings out of his accounts of that summer. For one thing, based on her deliberate vagueness about her father's science experiments, whatever he was working on is either still classified or went catastrophically wrong. Or both.
For another thing, the people who were trying to steal her father’s experiments have not (so far as anyone knows) stopped trying. They were caught but not arrested, they’re presumably still alive, and there’s no reason to think they’ve forgotten about this particular loose end.
Leaning against Adam’s shoulder, feeling the tension in him, Vicky understands at last that the events of that summer had not just terrified him but had marked him--the word 'maimed' floats through her mind, and she turns away from it and its implication of permanent damage. There is a part of him that hasn’t recovered yet, that's all, some small frozen core of distress that’s with him still.
Besides the story of the summer on Gaea, Polly also gives them a short explanation of her experiences with the tesseract the year before. This part of her story involves Zachary, and her brief description of his behavior draws matching scowls from both of Vicky's brothers.
(Vicky notes that Rob's posture, leaning against Polly's knees, has gone from childishly sleepy to protective. Maybe even possessive. He's not yet twelve, and Polly must be close to Vicky's own age, but the age difference won't always matter as much as it does now. If John doesn't move quickly, his little brother is apt to steal his girl out from under his nose.)
"We thought I was free of the tesseract after it closed." Polly's voice is hoarse, and she sips her tea. "And then, six months ago, I found something out, something Adam needed to know. And I started waking up with memories of places I hadn't gone to.""The beach near my grandfather's house," Vicky tells her. "And a city, I don't know where it was--"
"Vienna, I think." Polly smiles faintly.
"You traveled," says Charles Wallace quietly. "You wanted to find Adam, and you thought it would be too dangerous to call attention to him by looking for him the normal way, so you tried to call to him the way you called to the dolphins."
"I didn't know." Polly's smile is gone. "It had worked before. I didn't know it'd be affected by what had happened with the tesseract."
"And this is why we don't do unsupervised experiments with space and time," John tells her. His voice is slightly teasing, but Charles Wallace's face is stony.
"This isn't a joke, either of you. Polly, you know better. Why didn't you ask for my help?"
Polly sighs. "I told you. I thought you knew I was doing it. You knew what I'd done with the dolphins." Her voice sounds strange. Vicky gathers that the thing about the unsupervised experiments has come up before.
Rob, however, looks up into Polly's face, wide eyes meeting wide eyes, and says gently, "But that's not it. You found out something else. It's been hurting you and you found out that he could have made it stop and he didn't."
"Yes. No." Polly closes her eyes. "It wasn't like that. I--Look. I don't, I don't know why I can do it, talk to dolphins or get stuck in a tesseract or any of it. And then I found out about Josh, and I thought, maybe that's why, maybe that's what it's for. But I don't know because it's all secret and no one's allowed to tell me anything!"
John wraps his hands around both of hers. "Sssh. What did you find out, Pol?"
Charles Wallace answers. "Canon Tallis received clearance to tell her that Joshua Archer is still alive."
They toss explanations back and forth, far into the night, first Polly and John, then Charles Wallace, then Polly again.
"It's a little like a radio channel," suggests Rob, leaning now on Charles Wallace's chair and completely fascinated. "You and Polly and Adam all swam with dolphins, and talked to them, so when Polly tried to talk to Adam like that, you heard it too."
This produces only inarticulate spluttering, both from John's end of the couch and from Charles Wallace. Then Rob demands to be told how it works, and the arguments go on.
At some point, Adam puts his arms around Vicky and slides her gently from the arm of the chair to sit across his lap. She sits there, leaning her head against his shoulder and listening to her brothers ask questions and feeling very, very safe.
“I wanted to tell you everything,” Adam whispers, under the sound of the arguments. He’s wearing a thick cable-knit sweater, dark grey like his eyes. It occurs to Vicky that the smell of damp wool is going to be somewhat distracting, from now on. They have never sat so close for so long, and it’s giving her a feeling like she’s ticklish all over her skin.
“Why didn’t you?” she whispers back.
His arms tighten around her. “It was dangerous.”
“More dangerous than Antarctica?”
“I didn’t know about Antarctica until it was too late. Vicky--” Adam tips his head back a little so he can look at her properly. “Vicky, I would never, ever have let you go on that trip if I’d known what was going to happen.” He looks like he’s afraid she won’t believe him.
This is not a conversation she wants to have, not here, not now. She’s vaguely aware that she should be angry that he’s kept so much from her. And that he’s trying to protect her. And, to be fair, later on, she’ll probably be very angry indeed.
Right now, though, Vicky can’t seem to summon up any feelings except a vast relief that Adam has come back. It’s as though there was a nagging, whining, buzz in her ears that she didn’t notice until someone switched it off and left her in blessed silence."Aunt Serena called me at Molly's lab a few days ago," Adam continues. "She told me in no uncertain terms that I'd been hiding long enough, and it was time I came back to face it, even if explaining myself was more frightening than whatever I'd run away from."
Vicky smiles. Adam's nonagenarian Aunt Serena adores them both, Vicky and Adam, and makes no secret of what she hopes lies ahead for them. Despite her elegant manners, Aunt Serena has never been above using the privilege of the very elderly to speak bluntly if she thinks either of them needs to hear it.
"I caught a ride to New York with one of Molly's brothers, and he let me stay at his place last night. I needed a little more time before I faced my family. Either of my families." He brushes his lips quickly against her forehead. "Don't laugh, but I spent most of today wandering around Columbia and trying to figure out who'd be less likely to read me the riot act, my mother or John."
Despite herself, Vicky can't help a faint giggle. "Well, I think you got your answer. So it wasn't you who followed him here from Charles Wallace's lab?"
"No." Adam sounds grim, even in a whisper. "There was a woman sitting in a car outside the lab all day. When John came out of the building, she followed him. And I followed her." He glances across the room. "She had red hair. I didn't see her face, Vic, but she had red hair. I lost her, going around a corner, and when I got there I only saw John and Polly."
Vicky remembers Charles Wallace saying that Polly isn't completely anchored to here and now. Just how badly does Polly want to find answers? This isn't a pretty butterfly that she wants to hold, travel isn't an unexpected opportunity, this is Charles Wallace's world, this is something else.
The other four have fallen silent while they were whispering. She feels her face heat at the thought that they’re all watching her, her and Adam, and she hides her gaze in his shoulder.
“Tell us about Joshua,” says Rob suddenly. He’s looking at Polly, but it’s Adam who speaks.
“I got a letter eight months ago.” His voice rumbles under Vicky’s ear. “It was in code. There was a--never mind. Something Joshua and I had talked about, the first time we met. Part of the letter was from him, and part of it was from Canon Tallis. It took me forever to figure out what it said. Cryptography’s not my thing.”
“Eight months,” says John thoughtfully. “Vicky started getting,” he pauses, “visits, from Polly, six months ago, give or take, right? And told you right away?”
“I didn’t know what it meant at first, though,” Adam continues. His voice sounds normal now, as though he's describing something he's seen in a movie. “Without knowing who the letter was from, or what it said, I had no reason to connect Vicky’s redhead with Polly. Took me weeks to sort that out.”
“And that would be when you vanished off the face of the earth.” Polly’s voice is flat. “So that when I eventually found you, I wouldn’t lead whoever was after Josh straight to whoever you were trying to protect. Honestly, Adam, how could you think I could be so stupid?”
Rob unwinds from Charles Wallace’s chair and crowds onto the couch next to Polly, sandwiching her between himself and John. “What did the letter say, Adam?”
Adam glances at Charles Wallace. “Some of it was private, and I can’t tell you. The rest of it said that Josh was alive and had been working on,” he pauses, “dealing with some of the things that happened that summer. “
“Father Tom told me.” Seeing John’s confusion, Polly elaborates. “Canon Tallis. He’s my godfather, and it’s his fault I’m named Polyhymnia. He told me that agreeing to help counterfeit Joshua’s death,” her voice cracks a little, “is one of the things he’ll have to answer for if he stands before the face of God.
“The only thing that made him agree to it at all, was that he couldn’t see any other way to insure my family’s safety. And yours.” She looks over at Adam. “It broke his heart to keep it from us. And for six years now, he’s been trying to find some way to let us know Josh was still alive.”
“I know.” Adam sighs. “I know. I’m trying not to be angry with him.”
Polly nods and goes on. “He told me that enough time had passed, and enough progress had been made, that he thought it would be safe for me to know the truth. He didn’t dare risk contacting you, though, and he asked me to find you and tell you.”
John smiles at her. “I imagine he thought you’d do it face to face, if a letter was too dangerous. Not dolphin radio, or whatever it is.”
“Kything.” Charles Wallace has been silent throughout their explanations, and his voice sounds slightly rough from disuse. “We called it kything. Meg and I did it when we were children, and Calvin--Polly’s father. When Calvin saw Polly calling the dolphins, we knew the gift had been passed along.”
“How long have you known? About Josh, I mean?” asks Polly.
Charles Wallace glances down at his hands. “Since the beginning.”
Vicky is looking at him, just then, and she thinks she might be the only one who sees the soft expression, not quite a smile, that fleetingly crosses his face. It’s the first time she’s seen him look entirely human.
She looks around her, at her brothers and their redheaded girl anchored between them, at the brilliant and lonely man in the armchair across from her who might someday be less lonely, at the scratchy grey wool of Adam’s sweater and his arms around her.
Sitting in her living room, lit by the stars and the moon, Vicky sees the multitude of roads opening before her and thinks: Not all who wander are lost.