Astrid wasn't sure if they should keep the house at first, and although David was happy to have her say 'they' instead of 'you' as she had been doing since the talk with Mr. Fry, he admitted to himself that in this case, perhaps he should have liked it better if someone else had made the decision. Luke was no help either; he was sitting in a chair, his expression rather distant, as if he was thinking about something very deeply indeed.
"It's a nice place, really," said Astrid, "even if it's got some rotten memories. And if we do stay, there's going to be a lot of work. I won't be able to do it all by myself."
David remembered Mrs. Thirsk. He might not know if he would like staying here any better than he would moving to the rooms Alan's mother was letting, but he was quite sure he did not want another Mrs. Thirsk. Then again, he was quite sure Astrid did not want another Mrs. Thirsk either.
"It's kind of big, too, isn't it?" Astrid sounded like she was not entirely sure. "For just the three of us?"
"How about five?" asked Luke, his voice as distant as his expression had been. "Five would be fine, wouldn't it? You've had five people live in the house before, haven't you?"
Astrid nodded slowly. "Yes, there were five of us living here before - well, before. Of course, David spent most of the time away." She looked a little bit guilty at David, who smiled to show her he did not blame her for not having stood up for him against Aunt Dot and Uncle Bernard and Cousin Ronald. "Five would be good," Astrid repeated, her voice turning uncertain as she looked at Luke.
Luke smiled at her as well. "That's settled then, isn't it?" he said, getting up out of his chair and stretching like a cat that's just taken a nap. David thought Luke was rather enjoying being all mysterious.
Astrid chuckled. "I suppose it is. If it's all right with David, too?"
"Yes." David did not know yet who Luke thought would be moving in with them, but he did not think anyone Luke wanted to live with them would be very horrible or unpleasant.
Since they had decided to keep the house after all, there were some more papers to sign and also Astrid had to tell Alan's mother they would not be taking the rooms. Alan might have been a little disappointed when David told him they would not get to be living in the same house after all, but they could still play cricket together, so any disappointment was forgotten quickly enough.
The first change Astrid made about the house was to get rid of the geraniums. David could not say he had cared for them very much, so he did not mind. Cousin Ronald had been quite proud of the geraniums, but Cousin Ronald was not here anymore.
David thought that perhaps that was why Astrid wanted the geraniums gone, just as Cousin Ronald was. It took the gardener she'd hired a whole day to pull them all out, and every now and then, David would see Astrid look through the window with an expression on her face that reminded him of the lady in the flames.
"Do you think she misses Cousin Ronald?" he asked Luke, later that evening.
Luke shrugged, as if he did not consider Astrid's feelings particularly interesting. He was doodling on the wall of David's room again, and David knew that it would be very easy to only look at the doodles and not worry about Astrid or anything at all, and simply go to sleep.
"I don't think she liked him very much," said David, ruthlessly suppressing a yawn that wanted to slip out. "So why wouldn't she be glad he's gone? Why would she be sad?"
"You don't need to worry about her leaving, you know," said Luke. "She won't."
"I know that." It had not at all occured to David that Astrid might choose to go after Cousin Ronald. Now that Luke had mentioned it, he had to admit the idea did make a kind of sense, if you assumed Astrid still liked Cousin Ronald even a tiny little bit. "I just wish she wouldn't be so ... sad."
Luke was silent for a few moments. "Well," he said at last, "if that's what you wish for, David, then consider it done."
David wanted to protest that it was hardly as simple as that, that you could not simply decide for someone else to stop being sad, but then Luke made a particularly pretty doodle and before David knew it, his eyes were falling shut and he was fast asleep.
The next morning at breakfast David kept waiting for Luke to do something to make Astrid more cheerful even if perhaps she did not want to be, but Luke only seemed interested in eating his toast with marmalade. It was very good toast, done just right.
"Are you feeling quite all right, David?" asked Astrid, looking a bit concerned.
"I'm fine," David said. Astrid did not look at all convinced. "Honestly, I am."
"Astrid? Did you have anything you wanted to do today?" Luke looked and sounded perfectly innocent. David did not understand how Astrid could not instantly become suspicious and tell Luke that yes, she had all sorts of things to do today.
Instead, she just smiled. "Not really, no. Why? Was there something you wanted to do?"
"Well," said Luke, and looked sideways at David. His face was looking mischievous now. "I thought we might get a dog," he whispered to Astrid, more than loud enough for David to overhear. "David's always wanted to have one awfully bad, you know."
Astrid looked delighted. "A dog. That's a great idea, Luke."
"You don't even know how to take care of one," David blurted out. Right after the words had left his mouth, he felt rather mean, but he told himself that he had spoken nothing less than the truth. Astrid did not know anything about how to take care of a dog, and David knew very well that you should not get a dog if you did not know how to take proper care of it.
"I can learn!" said Astrid. "Lots of people have dogs; I'm sure it's not so very complicated."
"Of course not," said Luke. "It's not complicated at all and besides, you're very smart, Astrid."
"Oh you!" said Astrid, even though she looked pleased. "David's right, though. If we get a dog, we should also get a whole lot of other things. I'd best make a list."
After she had walked off to find a pen and paper, David turned to Luke, who was smiling and seemed quite pleased with himself. "What are you doing to Astrid?"
Luke's expression turned from very pleased into very surprised. "Why, David, I'm doing nothing at all to Astrid. I'm just trying to do something nice for you. After all, you did tell me you've always wanted to get a dog. Don't you want one anymore? Astrid seems quite keen on it, but I'm sure I can change her mind if I work at it."
"I do want to get a dog," David admitted, "it's just - " and then he realized there actually was no good reason at all why he should not get a dog. If Astrid liked the idea, that was certainly no reason not to get a dog. "Thanks," he said, feeling awkward, because he did not feel very grateful to Luke at all right there and then, and he felt all the more rotten for knowing that Luke had not meant at all for David to feel miserable or unhappy.
"Don't mention it," said Luke. David could tell Luke knew David was not as happy with the prospect of getting a dog as he had probably expected him to be. Luke did not ask for an explanation though, and David knew he could not have put the reason for what he was feeling into words anyway.
Ashbury had quite a few pet shops, and all of them had dogs for sale. Big dogs and small dogs and dogs that were neither big nor small. David looked at all of them, and several times, he got to hold or pet one of them. He had a wonderful time, and Astrid appeared to be enjoying herself as well. Luke had been quiet at first, but as David's mood improved, Luke seemed to get more cheerful, too.
The morning was great fun, really, except that by the end of it, David still did not have a dog. In one shop, there was a very cute puppy with a brown fur and white spots that licked David's face when he picked it up. David was quite sure it would be impossible to find a better dog than this one, only then Luke had said to Astrid that perhaps they should get a grown-up dog, because a grown-up dog would already be trained and know not to chew on the furniture, and Astrid had nodded. So David had put down the puppy again and told himself that Luke was right.
In the next shop, David had gotten to pet a small dog with black fur that had started wagging its tail the moment it had noticed David. This dog was grown-up, so David did not think it would chew on the furtniture, only then Luke had said to Astrid that a puppy would be much more fun, and that he was sure she was smart enough to keep it from growing up thinking it was allowed to chew on the furniture and Astrid had nodded again, even though she had looked a bit like she knew Luke was up to something. Still, David had left that shop without a dog as well.
During lunch, Astrid suggested that for their last stop, they might try at the pound. David did not know that they would have more luck there than at a pet shop, but he did not mind the idea of getting to see and pet and perhaps even hold even more dogs, so he agreed readily enough.
Once they got at the pound though, he was not quite as sure. Most of the dogs here had been left by their owners, or found abandoned, or brought in by a family no longer able to take care of it. Some of the dogs barked at David when he came too close, and some did not nothing at all. None of them wagged their tails or looked like they might like for him to pet them. A few looked like they might like to bite him, and while David knew he ought not to take it personal, he could not help but feel hurt.
"Perhaps we should go back home, think about it for a bit," said Astrid.
It did not seem fair to David to have spent an entire day looking for a dog and then return home without one, but it appeared there was nothing to be done.
"How about the one over there?" said Luke, pointing.
David looked. Luke had not petted any of the dogs David had petted, or held any of the puppies. He had seemed content to watch David doing those things though, so David had thought nothing of it. Now, he wondered if perhaps Luke had been wanting David to come here and look at this particular dog all along.
The dog Luke was pointing at did not appear to be special in any way. It was lying down, possibly asleep, although David wondered how anyone would be able to sleep with this much barking going on. Its fur was reddish, a little bit like the color of Luke's hair, and it was fairly big, but not as big as some of the other dogs they had seen today. It looked a bit like a German shepherd or actually, David realized, it looked a little like a wolf.
"David?" Astrid asked.
"Yes," said David. "Let's take that one."
Luke looked very pleased, but for once, David thought it might not be at anything Luke had done but rather at something he, David, had done. The thought of having done something to make Luke happy made David rather happy as well, even though a small part of him wondered if it would really be such a good idea to take this particular dog home with them.
Even with just Luke and the dog, the backseat of the Mini was very crowded. David was in a front seat next to Astrid, who had taken the list she'd made at home out of her purse.
"We'll never be able to get all of this before the shops close," sighed Astrid.
David looked at the items on the list. "Well, we definitely need something for him to eat," he said, "and something for him to eat out of. And something for him to drink from."
"You would not want him to eat the sun, would you?" Luke joked from the backseat.
Astrid chuckled. "We definitely wouldn't want him to get that hungry. All right then, we'll get some dog food and a pair of bowls."
"Perhaps also a basket for him to sleep in?" David suggested.
"Dog food, a pair of bowls, and a sleeping basket," Astrid recited. "All right. That should be possible."
That evening, Luke came to David,s room again, to make doodles on his wall. This time though, looking at them did not seem to make him feel sleepy, the way it had done the night before.
"You said there would be five people living in this house," said David.
"If I said that then it might very well come true," said Luke, which David thought was not much of an answer at all.
"Does a dog count as a person?" David was not sure if it did, although in the case of this particular one, he rather thought it might. "Who else is going to come live here, then?"
"You'll see," said Luke. "Don't you like surprises?"
"Only when they're good ones," said David.
Luke smiled at him. "You'll like this one," he promised. "I've never met anyone who didn't like this person, so I'm sure you and Astrid will like her, too."
"Do you?" David asked, because by the way Luke was talking, it sounded to him like perhaps Luke did, in fact, not like this person all that much.
For a good while, it appeared Luke might not answer David's question, but then he laughed and said: "Of course I like her, too," which David thought sounded like it was not entirely true, except that he had never heard Luke say anything that had sounded like a lie before, even when David had known Luke had been saying something that was not true.
During the next two days, David looked at every girl or woman he met, wondering if they might be the fifth person Luke had said would be coming to live in the house. He tried not to be too obvious about it, but he could not quite help himself; he was very curious who Luke might have been talking about.
"You're not going to get a girlfriend just by looking, you know," Astrid teased him.
Luke turned and gave David a very peculiar look. David flushed. "I wasn't - " he stammered. "I was just wondering who else will come to live in the house," he said.
"Oh, that," said Astrid. "I put up a notice saying we had a room to let. Didn't I tell you?"
"No, you didn't," said David, at the same time Luke said: "Yes, you did, I remember."
David stared at Luke, who shrugged. "Perhaps you weren't paying attention at the time."
"Perhaps I didn't tell you after all," said Astrid, surprising David. "I'm sorry, David. It seemed a good idea. After all, we can't just expect someone to walk in, can we?"
"It is a good idea, rather," said David. Astrid looked relieved. "I'm just not sure if anyone will be interested."
"Oh, I got a call about the room already," said Astrid happily. "A student. I was hoping the two of you would come to lunch with me to meet her. I spoke to her on the phone yesterday and she seemed very nice."
The student's name was Victoria, although she told them all to call her 'Vicky', and David needed only a few seconds to remember why she looked so familiar and where he had seen her before.
Victoria was the girl with red hair like Luke's David had seen when all of Luke's family had shown up to make Luke tell them where he had hidden something they thought he had stolen. Luke had been right when he had claimed people liked her. Still, David thought, there was a big difference between liking someone and actually listening to them, and he rather thought that while Luke's relatives might have liked Vicky, they had rarely listened to her, if they ever had listened to her at all.
He did not blame her for having chosen to leave them and set out on her own. Much like Luke, she looked like she might be as young as David, but she told Astrid she was twenty-seven, and if she was as old as Luke, that meant she was probably much, much older, and more than old enough to make her own decisions.
David liked her, and he could tell that Astrid was taken with her, too. They agreed that Vicky would be moving in the next day, once Astrid had had the time to clear out the room Vicky was going to use.
It was only when they were riding back in the Mini that David realized Luke had hardly said anything at all to Vicky, even though she had looked at him several times.
"They came to see me sometimes, you know," said Luke, once again sitting on David's bed. It made David wonder if Luke spent any time at all in the room they had decided would be his. "They always told me I should be grateful there was at least one person who still cared about me."
David knew about being made to feel like you should be grateful, although he rather thought that Luke's situation had been entirely different from David's.
"She didn't have to, you know," Luke went on. "She could have just quit."
David considered that for a while. "I don't think that's true."
"No," Luke agreed. "They never thought very much of her, being, well, a girl and all that. They probably made her feel like she had no other choice, like they'd think even less of her if she'd stop taking care of me. They like for things to stay the same, you see."
"Actually, what I meant was that you can't just stop caring about a person from one day to another," said David. "Feelings don't work like that." Human feelings didn't, at least, although it occurred to David that perhaps it was different for people like Luke.
"How about when it's centuries and centuries?" Luke asked. "They'd probably have done something really bad to her if she'd ever tried to free me. I knew they would, so I never asked her to do anything more for me than she did. I didn't want her to get hurt because of me. I thought I was never, ever going to be free again, not until the very end, not until they'd have no other choice. And then you freed me, like it was nothing."
David felt embarrassed by the expression on Luke's face. "It was an accident." He liked to think that if he had known about Luke, he would have tried to free him without caring what anyone might do to him if he got caught, but he did not know if that was really true.
"You still did it, and I'm still very grateful to you," said Luke.
"I think I'm going to get a divorce," said Astrid at breakfast the next morning, as casual as if she was talking about getting a new dress or going to buy groceries. "What do you think, David?"
David thought that if Astrid wanted a divorce from Cousin Ronald, she should get one, and that it was really none of his business, in the sense that he did not particularly care either way. "Er," he said.
"It will mean we're not family anymore," said Astrid. "We'll just be two people living in the same house, along with two other people." From under the table came a bark. Astrid smiled, and David realized she did not even think there was anything at all strange about a dog that was able to understand anything people said, even when they were not talking to it. "Along with two other people and a dog."
"You'll still be you," said David.
"I think you should do it," said Luke. "You're much too young and pretty to stay all by yourself for the rest of your life."
"Thank you," said Astrid. "I will. I will get a divorce."
Luke smiled at her, and David almost missed Vicky walking into the kitchen. Astrid had suggested one of them might knock on her door to wake her up for breakfast earlier, but Luke had told her that Vicky would wake up by herself quickly enough.
"Good morning." Vicky spoke very softly, as if she was not at all sure whether or not she should be talking at all. It reminded David of what Luke had told him the evening before, about Luke's relatives not thinking much of Vicky simply because she was a girl. It seemed terribly old-fashioned but then, David supposed Luke's relatives were very old.
Astrid beamed at Vicky as if she were her new best friend. "Good morning. I've just decided I'm going to get a divorce."
"Oh." Vicky glanced at Luke.
"I told Astrid I think she's much too young and pretty to stay married to some criminal," said Luke, not entirely truthful, David noted. Luke had not mentioned Cousin Ronald at all.
"Oh," said Vicky, again. She seemed at a loss for words and David felt a little sorry for her, even though he thought Luke had tried to help her by saying what he had said.
"Maybe you should go with her," Luke went on. "You could go to the mall, after. No offense, but I noticed you don't have a lot of clothes, so I was thinking perhaps Astrid could help you pick out some new ones."
"Oh," said Vicky, but then she added: "I don't want to be a bother."
"Bother, schmother," said Astrid. "It will be great to have someone with me to hold my hand and make sure I don't turn chicken at the last minute. You'd be doing me a favor, honestly. Only, if you've already made other plans, by all means don't drop them for silly, old me." Astrid chuckled. "I'm babbling like an idiot, aren't I? Sorry."
"If it's really no bother," Vicky spoke slowly, "I should be honored to go with you."
"Brilliant!" said Astrid, beaming at her.
And they all lived happily for a while, and then another while, and then many more whiles until it almost felt like they had lived happy ever after.