"I miss my mom," John says, and Rodney frowns at him. He always looks sad when John says stuff like that.
Rodney says, "It's just us now," and reaches for John's hand. They're sitting at the top of the stairs because they can sit wherever they want; there's no one to tell John he's in the way. He likes that, no one telling him what to do, but the house is so empty. It feels bigger with all the furniture gone.
It was big and empty like this when they moved in. Bigger, even, 'cause he was only four and now he is eight. Well, eight and a half, more like eight and three-quarters, really. In a few months, he could say nine, but he isn't counting anymore.
When he was four, it took a long time to climb the stairs. Two flights up to his bedroom. Thirty-two stairs. Now he can run up them quickly--now he doesn't need to run at all--but it used to take a long time. He liked them, though, even then.
When they first moved here, he didn't play with Rodney very much. Well, more like Rodney didn't play with him. Rodney was seven, which seemed really grown up to John then. Seven seems kind of babyish now, but he doesn't tell Rodney that.
He liked to watch Rodney work, though. Rodney was always building stuff or doing experiments. When stuff went missing, it usually turned up in Rodney's lab. The lab is pretty cool, mostly because it's kind of a secret room. Also because it's in the attic, and John likes the attic, even the not-secret-room parts.
The Christmas right before he turned six, Uncle Andrew gave John an erector set. It could make ten different things if you followed the instructions and more if you didn't. He liked building airplanes best, and sometimes spaceships. He emptied out the big wooden toybox in his room, not the one for shared toys in the playroom, but the one that was just his and not Davey's. He turned it on its side and used Lego towers to hold the lid up and made it into a hangar for the planes.
John called it his workshop, and Rodney approved of that. Rodney never played with anything. He was always Working On A Project, even if the project was Star Wars Legos. Rodney said he used to have Legos, but not ones like these. He said he built a Millennium Falcon once with no instructions or special pieces.
Every day after school Rodney was there, and sometimes at night, too. Davey's room was just on the other side of the playroom and Davey had to sleep with the door open and the lamp in the playroom on, so they couldn't make too much noise. And John's mom and dad's room was right underneath, too, which meant no thumping.
So at night they read under the covers. John had a lot of books Rodney had never read, like Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket and One Piece and Naruto, and Rodney read them all because he reads everything For Research. John's favorite is One Piece, which is way better than Pirates of the Caribbean, even though he likes Captain Jack Sparrow, too. Maybe a new family will move in with a boy or a girl who likes One Piece, because even though John hid all of the ones he has so far in Rodney's lab, he wants to know what happens to Luffy and the Straw Hat Pirates.
He wishes they could be reading under the covers now, but they don't have covers or a flashlight or a bed. They don't really need blankets, but he wishes he'd thought to keep one anyway, just to have. He wishes he had kept his blue blanket, the one that's so soft and worn. Maybe Davey has it now or maybe they threw it out because of the holes, even though it's still a good blankey.
John blinks real fast to keep from crying. He is almost nine, and anyway it's stupid to cry.
"What if someone moves in and finds our stuff?"
"They won't," Rodney says.
"I found it."
"Nuh-uh," Rodney says. "I showed it to you. And besides, grown-ups never look around up there."
"What if they, um, re..." John frowns, trying to think of the word his mom used. What they're going to do to the new house. "Remodel. What if they knock down the walls and stuff?"
Rodney gives him a look like he's so stupid. "They can't do that."
"How can you be sure?"
"It's a top secret research facility."
"I'm not talking about pretend!" John says, and jumps down the stairs. Sometimes Rodney is such a baby. He can't believe he ever thought seven was grown up.
Outside on the lawn, he stands in front of the For Sale sign and glares at it. He picks up a rock from the flower bed and throws it as hard as he can, making the sign swing back and forth. Mr. Nguyen is watering his lawn next door and looks over, but he doesn't see John.
Around the side of the house is a stain on the driveway. John wonders what the people who move in will think it is or if the lady selling the house will tell them. That might make them not want to move in, though, and what if no one ever moves in and it's just him and Rodney forever?
When his dad first said they were going to move, John yelled and called him a liar. He didn't tell Rodney for a long time, not until they were starting to pack and he couldn't not tell him anymore. He said Rodney could come with them, but he knew that wasn't true. Rodney couldn't even come as far as across the street and now John can't either. He can go into the Nguyens' yard and the Robertsons' on the other side. He can even go a little bit into their living room and watch TV when it's on, but Mr. and Mrs. Robertson are old and only watch dumb shows, and he can't go all the way to the TV or even reach the remote. John misses Shark Week and Mythbusters and Spongebob and Clone Wars.
He misses a lot of things.
At least he has Rodney. Rodney didn't have anybody for a long time before John. That's why he wouldn't talk to John when he found out they were moving. After John said maybe Rodney could come with them, even though he knew it wasn't true, Rodney went away and stayed away until John thought maybe he was gone for good. Rodney always went away when they fought, but never for long. Then it was the night before they were going to move and Rodney finally came back, all sulky and sad, and that's when John said if you can't go with us, then I'm staying here.
He had a plan already. He'd been thinking about it while Rodney was gone. He looked it up on the internet even, to make sure their house was tall enough, and when Rodney said it's not gonna work, John said don't worry, he said I did my research.
The attic doesn't have any windows, so John waited until everyone was asleep and climbed out his bedroom window and used the big tree by the side of the house to get up on the roof. John is good at climbing, though he doesn't need to climb to get up high anymore now, and when he got up on the roof, Rodney was waiting for him and Rodney said what if it doesn't work? and John stood right at the edge and squeezed his eyes shut and bent forward like he was up on the high dive and all the way down he heard John John John.
He goes back to the top of the stairs where Rodney is still waiting and he says, "Come on, let's go back to the lab." Rodney's hand is not warm or sweaty like hands should feel, but it is solid and nice. They have to stick together now. "We have work to do."