Sibuna did a lot of ridiculous things, both inside and outside of Anubis House, but traipsing through the windy nighttime air at eleven p.m. without jackets or gloves or anything warm bordered on insanity.
They’d reached a deadend earlier in the day, unsure where to look for the next clue when Victor was still swooping down on them like a hawk. The voices weren’t available to comment, apparently, and the latest clue wasn’t hieroglyphics, pushing Fabian out of his element. So, when the dollhouse lit up at ten thirty and led Nina and Amber outside, there really was no choice. (Patricia had grumbled when they snuck in to collect her, but she’d perked up quickly enough.)
Once everyone had been gathered up, they opted for the back door in the laundry room. The girls had gotten lucky sneaking downstairs as it was; Victor would definitely catch them if they even looked in the entrance hall’s direction.
The next clue—a key, of course—was hastily placed into a cutout of the exterior of the house, hidden by shrubbery and the detail put into making it unnoticeable. Eddie and Alfie yanked it out after several attempts, Amber replaced its hiding spot, and Nina and Fabian looked it over while Patricia was given the key for safekeeping. It was comically large (“What are we unlocking, the stairway to Heaven?” Alfie cracked, to which no one laughed), almost certainly a symbol to lead them in the right direction rather than an actual key.
By the time they snuck back in, it was well past eleven and the lesser-dressed of the group (the guys, predictably; Eddie’s shirt was practically see-through with how thin it was) were shivering. Amber’s hair resembled a poor blowout and Patricia’s lips were blue. Alfie made sure the door was completely shut, resting all his weight on it as he flicked the lock into place. Fabian was just putting a finger to his lips and gesturing toward the small noise coming from the kitchen, the faintest light shining through the crack, when it all went to shit.
Trudy had neglected to clean up the laundry room from earlier in the day, which hadn’t been a problem before because they had been watching for any obstacles. The realization that she had to be awake and in the kitchen, just within earshot, tripped their leader up a little. Literally. Nina’s foot caught on an exposed wire and within the span of a second, an entire shelf of cleaning supplies had toppled over, her arm shot out to latch onto Eddie’s, and the whole room went silent.
Patricia shut her eyes, clearly in frustration. Amber covered her mouth and leaned into Fabian, who looked much the same, as did Alfie. Nina risked a glance at Eddie, just able to see his eyes in the dark, wide and accusatory.
The clanging of dishes stopped. What Trudy was even doing washing dishes past eleven at night was as much of a mystery to them as the actual mystery, but that wasn’t important. What was important was she was right there, Patricia was holding the next clue with nowhere to hide it, and Nina couldn’t move.
Eddie made a noise in Patricia’s direction, to which she was confused for all of two seconds before taking the hint. She maneuvered around Amber, Alfie, and Fabian, tucking herself into the corner behind the washer. They followed immediately, compacting themselves as much as possible. Nina focused on evening out her breathing, too anxious to focus on anything but Trudy’s movements. Would it kill that woman to be a little louder for once?
Still keeping Nina up, Eddie pivoted and reached his free hand out to the back door. He flipped the lock and pulled. Nothing happened.
He glanced back at Nina, but she just motioned to it again, turning back to watch the door to the kitchen. Maybe it had been unlocked and he’d then locked it.
He got it quickly, switching it back and trying again. Same thing. Sighing, he turned to address the group, his hand coming up to hold onto Nina’s arm more. “The door’s stuck,” he mumbled quietly, sounding defeated.
Nina’s head dropped, holding in a sigh. That was even worse.
Amber and Patricia turned to send twin glares at Alfie. He grimaced, understanding almost immediately. “I might have shut it a little too forcefully,” he said, nearly inaudible in his sorrow.
Fabian rubbed his hands together, gooseflesh still adorning his uncovered arms. He shook his head, murmuring to himself. He was clearly about to lose it. If even Fabian didn’t know what to do, then what chance was there to get out without detection?
The kitchen light was still on, making it easy to follow Trudy’s footsteps when they got close to the door—which wasn’t often. She seemed to be working up the courage to check out what the noise came from, moving around the kitchen lightly. Her pacing only served to put Sibuna more on edge.
Finally, Alfie broke the shame-induced silence. He moved his arms around wildly. “Just—do something!” he whisper-yelled. “Anything!”
Nina motioned to her still-stuck foot. “Like what?”
“Anything! I can’t come up with everything! I’m so on the spot.” Patricia shoved his shoulder, effectively shutting him up.
A few moments of panic passed, Trudy’s muttering getting closer as she undoubtedly grabbed a pan or even a knife to defend herself, when Amber squeaked. Everyone turned to her, eyebrows raised and incredulous looks, but she ignored it.
“You guys need to…” She pursed her lips and touched the pads of her fingers together. When no one responded, she hissed more urgently, “Kiss!”
Nina’s grip on Eddie’s arm tightened. He managed to choke out, “What?”
“Oh come on, it’s the only way to get out of this!”
Nina didn’t dare gauge Fabian or Patricia’s reactions, but Alfie was nodding. “Yeah! The perfect distraction. Who wouldn’t believe two teens are making out in a closet after the pin drop?”
Nina shook her head a little, trying to wrap her thoughts around this idea. “I—I’m sure there’s something else that makes more sense.”
Patricia grunted in agreement, hugging the key to her chest. “There has to be.”
“Eddie can just hide.”
“No, no, you alone will cause suspicion, and then Trudy will turn on the lights in here,” Fabian muttered, staring at the floor as if it had personally offended him. Nina swallowed hard. That almost sounded like he was agreeing with Amber’s idea.
Eddie stilled beside her and then shook his head. “I just had a vision,” he got out, voice gruff. “It’s going to be really, really bad if we’re caught in here.”
She could tell he was looking at her, likely as shocked as she was, but she couldn’t turn to him. What else could they do to throw Trudy—and most definitely Victor, probably lurking around the corner waiting for them—off their scent?
Nothing. She was coming up with nothing.
The doorknob jiggled, and the rest of Sibuna sunk further into the shadows. Nina stared at the knob, silently counting like she figured Trudy was. Trudy was worried about the unknown, but Nina was worried about the known. The consequences. Every single problem that would arise if they were all caught. But what could they do?
And then she didn’t have time to think of anything else, because Eddie drew her to him as much as her stuck foot would allow, one arm snaking up her back to steady her as he kissed her.
Nina froze at the contact, unable to remember why this was suggested in the first place or by whom. Only when the pain in her leg begged for attention did she slip her arms up and around his shoulders, tugging him backwards just enough to lessen the ache.
She and Fabian had never really made out before. They’d kissed, and it’d been nice, but they had way too many problems to deal with right off the bat to work their way up to anything more. She’d been in America all summer long, him in London, and pretty quickly after coming back to school they’d broken up. Needless to say, she hadn’t had an extensive history with kissing.
But kissing Eddie came to her naturally. Maybe it was how the weight of his arms around her felt like a safety net, like he’d hold her up if she were about to be dragged down, or away, or anywhere. He had a good six inches on her, so her arms grasped him more securely, one of her hands moving to his neck on its own accord. If he shivered, she pretended she didn’t notice. Instead, he kept going, leaning down to her and slightly over, so she was completely grounded because of him. If he let go right now, she’d fall. If he let go right now, she wasn’t sure she’d want him to.
He’s a good kisser, she found herself thinking as his mouth opened against hers.
When the door was flung open and Trudy let out the tiniest scream ever, Nina and Eddie pulled apart. She didn’t even have to try to act embarrassed. Eddie took a small step away from her as soon as his eyes flicked over her, making sure she could stand.
Their housemother seemed at a loss for words, her robe open haphazardly and—as Nina had assumed—a scratched frying pan dangling from one hand.
Nina grimaced and held up the hand that was previously cupping Eddie’s face. “Hi, Trudy.”
Eddie cleared his throat and tugged at the bottom of his shirt. “We, uh… We knocked over some stuff. Sorry.”
Suddenly, Nina remembered that her foot was still tangled in some sort of cable or wire. She was sure her face was on fire, her body echoing the sentiment. How could she have forgotten in such a short timespan?
Trudy’s eyes bounced between the two of them, obviously trying to piece together the scene before her. Nina wondered if they should have created a backstory, something, anything to make it more believable that the two resident Americans would want to jump each other’s bones past curfew. Alfie had seemed insistent that their age would make an easy case, but when was anything easy for them?
Of course, Nina hadn’t expected to get caught up in kissing him as easily as she had. Her face flared again at the thought.
By the time Trudy seemed to regain her ability to speak, Eddie had inched closer to Nina, his hand hovering just above her hip. Not quite touching, but close enough to hold her up if she fell. It felt different to her, though, and the way Trudy eyed his hand mirrored that.
“Nina! Eddie!” Trudy fumbled, waving the pan around as she prepared her next sentence. “What on earth are you doing in the laundry room right now?” Her face was tinged pink, but Nina barely paid it any mind when her own body was this close to catching on fire.
Eddie coughed into his fist, averting his eyes. He played the part of disrupted boyfriend—hookup? Once again, a backstory would’ve been helpful—very well. Nina smiled awkwardly, hoping Trudy would spare them.
That she did. Their housemother dropped the question, instead choosing to usher them out of the room. That included Eddie tugging Nina’s foot free while she fought to keep her expression neutral, in the presence of not only Trudy but him and their friends still hiding. She suspected she was failing. His hand felt like it burned a hole through her sleep shirt as he nudged her out of the room.
When Trudy shut the door behind them, Eddie breathed a little more evenly but Nina couldn’t. Not until they were further away. Not until she knew the rest of Sibuna was safe.
Trudy was forcing some small talk and a few laughs, everything about her body language telling them she had absolutely no idea how to proceed. Maybe it would have made more sense if she’d found Fabian and Nina...but Fabian wouldn’t do that, at least not the goody two shoes Fabian Trudy knew. Nina’s gut twisted. Patricia and Eddie would have been the most believable. But Nina’s foot had gotten stuck, not hers. Osirian stuck with his Chosen One. Ironic.
Eddie glanced at Nina only once, when Trudy had made the same comment for the third time (“I know Alfie would do a lot to sneak some cookies, but hiding out is a new one”), just to make sure they were thinking the same thing: she was going to let them off scot-free. Maybe a warning or two, if she could work herself up to it before they were sent to bed. Sibuna might have to wait a solid half hour before leaving, but waiting was better than being caught.
But their good fortune lasted about two seconds.
Victor stepped in from the hallway, intercepting them while they were the most vulnerable. The look on his face was a cross between smugness and disgust.
Eddie’s sudden huff almost surely meant he’d swallowed a curse word.
“Well, what do we have here?” Victor taunted, eyeing the two of them suspiciously. “Nina Martin, sneaking around as always. And Eddie Miller—I wonder what your father would think?”
Nina’s gaze flitted over to Eddie’s to catch him clenching his jaw. She’d heard from Patricia that Mr. Sweet was still a touchy subject, but coming from Victor? Even touchier.
Trudy shook her head and hurried over to their caretaker, her small stature squaring up with his ungodly height. “Victor! Oh, they weren’t sneaking out, just… just sticking around here.”
Nina held her breath. The only thing worse than Victor finding them in the kitchen was him knowing they were actually in the laundry room. He’d rush in immediately, find the rest of Sibuna, confiscate the stupid fucking key from Patricia, and they’d all be punished in a way that would undoubtedly halt their snooping.
“Yes, because that is just so innocent of these brats,” Victor spat out. He looked absolutely furious (as always), glaring down at them like they were the scum of the earth.
“Trust me, Victor,” Trudy spoke again, somewhat uncomfortably. “Nothing to worry about here.”
He might as well have not heard her because he swooped in towards them, standing directly in front of Eddie. “You, boy. What were you doing out of your bedroom?”
Nina could only see out of the corner of her eye, but Eddie was definitely acting cool under pressure. He said simply, “Sneaking around, Vic. As everyone else does.”
And he was defiant. Something they had in common. She forced any more similarities out of her head.
Apparently that wasn’t good enough. Victor turned to her next, using his height to his advantage. Nina was considering cutting off the tirade he was about to unleash, but Trudy beat her to it.
“Deary,” she said quietly, and Nina glanced around Victor just to see Trudy awkwardly rubbing her hands together. “I think it might be best to tell the truth.” She offered a kind smile, one Nina was struck with how close it was to the memory of her mother’s.
The thought gave her strength. She turned her nose up, stared straight into Victor’s eyes and said, “We were making out.”
His eyebrows shot up into his receding hairline, reminding Nina yet again what their meddling was fighting against.
Eddie shifted his weight beside her, crossing his arms. “Yeah, there’s just no time for any privacy in this house, y’know? Us Americans gotta do what we gotta do.”
Nina nodded quickly. “I don’t know if you know this about us, but we can be quite insatiable.”
The dig was at their Sibuna-related activities, but as soon as it left her mouth she caught the double entendre. Eddie ducked his head, a snort very audible. Nina knew her face had gone another brilliant shade of red.
Trudy tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear, choosing to skip right over Nina’s comment. “Just two lovebirds, Victor. Can you blame them?”
Victor seemed to break out in a sweat, spurred on by Trudy still nodding along to their story. As crazy as it had seemed at first, Nina had to hand it to Amber and Alfie: teenagers making out after curfew had proven to be an incredibly believable story. Either that, or no one understood how she could possibly make such a risqué statement if it wasn’t the truth.
Eventually, he barked out gruffly, “Get back to bed. NOW.” Then he turned his gaze onto Eddie solely. “I will see you enter that room and properly close the door or your father will know about this by morning.”
Eddie gave him double finger guns and Nina had to hold in her surprised laughter.
Trudy cleared her throat and turned to Nina. “I’ll walk you upstairs!” As weird as it would be, Nina still knew Eddie got the short end of the stick. She let Trudy redirect her toward the living room exit, further separating what would likely become another house rumor come morning.
She could sense the grin Eddie tossed her way, even as Victor stood behind him like an evil shadow. She had to bite her lip to stop from grinning back, knowing it’d cause more trouble in the end. She also didn’t want to feel the blush she knew she’d get spreading up from her neck and to her cheeks if they locked eyes.
But right before she went up the stairs, she couldn’t help herself. She caught his eye. Victor motioned to his bedroom, Eddie glanced away to look at her for a second, and then she was gone, her insides burning as she led Trudy up the stairs.
They were silent until they hit the girls’ hallway, where Trudy apparently took the familiar territory as the go-ahead to start asking questions.
“So!” Trudy was still holding the pan. Her tone switched to that of girls gossiping. “How long have you been with Eddie? What happened to Fabian?” Then, as if she were talking to herself, “Oh, well, and Patricia, but she’d refuse to acknowledge it if I brought that up.”
Her housemother’s tinkling laugh did nothing to calm Nina’s nerves. “I...I don’t know.” This was going to be an ongoing thing, wasn’t it? Trudy thinking she knew what was happening, Nina slowly realizing she was just as in the dark. “I promise I’ll come to you if I need help,” she conceded.
“Oh, please do, Nina. Unless it's past ten.” They’d reached her door. Trudy laughed again. “I think it’d do us all some good if we steered clear of Victor’s wrath for a little while.”
Nina smiled stiffly. “Sure.”
Trudy paused before reaching out to hug her, the pan resting on her back for a moment, serving as another reminder of what they’d really avoided. Nina found herself holding her breath again as Trudy started down the hall, only remembering to open her bedroom door when she got a light look of chastisement back at her.
Her head had barely hit the pillow when her phone buzzed underneath it. Frowning, her pulse already skyrocketing, she blindly grabbed for it. The second it lit up, her anxiety turned to amusement. Of course he was texting her right after they’d been reprimanded.
was victor EVER 17? he never knows how to handle this shit, acts like it’s completely foreign
She couldn’t help but laugh. Amber wasn’t in the room yet; she could enjoy this.
excellent question. maybe we should do more digging into his history?
Only after it was sent did she realize that sounded flirtatious. Was she flirting with him now? Was that entirely subconscious?
Ever since the big Osirian reveal, things had been running pretty smoothly. Sure, Eddie didn’t know much more than they did despite his status, but his inclusion added something they hadn’t known they’d been missing. His rebellious streak brought in more fire, more excitement. And it was fun. Nina liked his involvement, even more so the dynamic they’d built in such a short timeframe. It wasn’t lost on her that the dynamic just shifted again, but maybe not as much as it should’ve needed to.
She was dragged out of her thoughts when he texted back:
i’m down if you’re down
No sooner had she read that than the door opened slowly. Nina panicked, instinctively turning her phone off and shoving it under her pillow, feigning sleep.
“It’s just me,” Amber’s soft voice floated over to her as the door clicked shut. “Neens?”
Nina didn’t respond. With the way her heart was freaking out, she didn’t trust herself to.
Amber’s bed made a noise as she climbed in, and then her shoes hit the floor. “Goodniiiight.”
Nina didn’t open her eyes, but she also didn’t fall asleep for a long time after that.
In the morning, she’d have to hear Amber analyze their kiss. She’d have to talk to Fabian, assess the fallout with Patricia, and definitely call a Sibuna meeting on sneaking tactics. She’d also have a text from Eddie, clarifying he was just joking around and not to freak out, but she didn’t have that now.
Right now, she fell asleep with the knowledge that he wasn’t, and she wasn’t, and something didn’t feel as off as it should.