It was Jeffrey who had wanted to go to the bookstore after school. Jeffrey, Emily had discovered after he moved in with them, read constantly. He read in the morning while he ate his cereal. He read whenever he finished an assignment before everyone else in class, which was pretty much all the time. He read during recess, sitting on a shaded bench on the playground. He read after they got home from school, and he would have read during dinner if Emily’s mother had allowed such things. Emily didn’t read, not if she could help it. After all, who wanted to waste recess reading when you could be playing soccer?
“Are you sure it’s supposed to be here?” Emily asked for the third time. They were standing on a cramped street near downtown, the kind of narrow street that made her feel claustrophobic.
“Yes,” Jeffrey answered in his wheezy voice. He was breathing harder than usual, probably because of the hill a block back, and she thought he would pop out his inhaler soon. He squinted through his glasses, trying to read the sign on the corner. “The phonebook said it was on McPherson.”
“Well, this is McPherson.” Emily spread her arms out to indicate the whole street. “Where’s your store?”
As Jeffrey peered down the block, she had to work not to sigh. After all, she hadn’t wanted to walk four blocks out of their way to look for a bookstore that was proving to be pretty much non-existent. But her mom’s newest favorite sentence was “Be nice to Jeffrey,” something she muttered whenever Emily looked like she might not want to do things like watch PBS or let Jeffrey try to teach her to play chess. Also, he hadn’t told her dad that she was the one who had discovered the sparklers in the garage, and that it was under her orders that Jeffrey had been carrying them to the driveway last week. So she owed him.
“Let’s just go to the end of the block,” Jeffrey said pleadingly. “If it’s not there, we’ll go home.”
Emily did sigh then, and scuffed the toe of her sneaker against the sidewalk, but finally nodded.
They had only gone past two other shops–a hair salon and a junk store–when Jeffrey stopped. “Em, look at this,” he said, his voice even more breathless than usual. Shaking her head, Emily shouldered up beside him to peer through the dirty window.
A moment later she was at the door, pushing down on the tarnished brass handle, with Jeffrey right behind her.
All the way home, Emily could tell Jeffrey was thinking about the wings. He kept closing his eyes at the corners, like he was imagining them, so that she had to yank his arm when it was time to cross the streets.
The shop had been dark, the build-up on the windows not letting in much light, but otherwise clean and free of dust. A counter ran along the back wall and shelves of various sizes took up most of the floor space. Filling the shelves, and hung on all the walls, had been the wings.
They were wings without bodies, spread to their fullest extension and mounted in glass cases. On the walls hung massive wings in cases taller than Emily or Jeffrey. She had recognized a pair of snow-white swan wings, but those weren’t even the biggest. That honor had been reserved for the black and white wings with huge long feathers at their tips. Cases full of smaller wings stood on the shelves– butterfly wings, moth wings, bat wings, cardinal wings, dove wings, even tiny, glimmering dragonfly wings.
“That was so weird,” she said after a while. “But it was cool, don’t you think? I just . . . that guy sort of creeped me out.”
The man she meant was the wings’ owner. He was named Mr. Theodus, and he had almost kicked them out as soon as they were inside. “This isn’t a shop,” he had said. “It’s a collection. My collection. It isn’t for kids off the street to stare at.”
But then his eyes had flashed to Jeffrey, standing behind Emily. He had stared at him for so long that Jeffrey had said quietly, “We just want to look at them. They’re . . . they’re wonderful. I’ve never seen anything so beautiful.”
And for some reason, Mr. Theodus had said, “Fine. You can look.”
He had watched them from behind the counter, his blue eyes sharp as ice. An empty case lay on the counter in front of him, and Emily had wondered if he were going to put a new set of wings in it. But Mr. Theodus didn’t touch the case while they were there, and she didn’t ask him about it.
There had been so many, and they were all so beautiful, all locked in shiny glass cases with bronze latches. Emily wandered through the rows, going wherever she felt like at the moment, but Jeffrey had been purposeful in his investigation. He looked at each case for the same amount of time, as if he were scared that if he looked at one for too long, he might miss all the others. He looked, Emily thought, sort of sick, like he had eaten too much ice cream but still wanted more.
They had reached the next corner, and he was still doing that closed-eyes thing. “Hey! I’m talking to you,” she said. He was thinking about them. She knew it. So why wouldn’t he talk about them? “Do you want to go back? Do you think he’ll let us? Jeffrey, answer me!”
But Jeffrey only gazed at her, until she huffed and marched on ahead of him. Fine. If he could stand not to talk about them, so could she.
When they got home, Jeffrey headed right for the dining room table, where the day’s mail would be lying in a pile. Watching him, Emily scowled a little before trudging up the stairs to put her backpack up. You would think that, after what they’d seen, he would be able to skip checking the mail the instant he got home. She was heading back downstairs when she heard the second part of the daily ritual. “Aunt Eileen,” she heard him ask, “was there any other mail?”
“Not today,” Emily’s mother said. “Sorry, sweetheart.”
By that time, Emily had reached the bottom of the stairs, so she could see Jeffrey standing by the table, one hand still on the mail. His shoulders sagged, but not from the weight of the books in his bag. Emily’s mother, coming in from the kitchen, put an arm around him and, though he leaned his head against her, he didn’t hug back.
This was the reason that her mother was always saying, “Be nice to Jeffrey.” One Thursday night, Jeffrey’s mother, Aunt Holly, had shown up at their house with Jeffrey in tow. It had been exciting, that first night, because Emily couldn’t remember ever meeting her aunt before, and she had never talked to a grownup with such long hair or so many piercings. Aunt Holly had stayed for a day, and then asked if Emily’s parents could watch Jeffrey while she went on a weekend trip with her boyfriend. Then, a few days later, Aunt Holly called and asked if Jeffrey could stay another week. The week passed, but she didn’t come to pick him up, and there was no second phone call.
Jeffrey got two postcards– one three weeks after his arrival and the second only four days after the first postcard. One showed a beach in South Carolina and the other a hotel in Miami. Neither said much besides Missing you, XOXO, Mom. In return, Jeffrey wrote his mother a letter every other day and mailed them to their apartment in New Jersey, but the letters went unanswered. Emily’s parents had enrolled Jeffrey in her sixth grade class after the fourth week. That had been two months ago.
Jeffrey kept the postcards taped to the inside cover of his school notebook. She knew because she had caught him looking at them once during math class, though he had covered them up when he saw her watching. She didn’t think that anyone else knew.
Emily’s mother gave Jeffrey another squeeze and then went back into the kitchen. Jeffrey didn’t move. Emily watched him for a minute as he picked at a corner of an envelope. “Come on,” she finally said. “We can play checkers on the porch.”
He looked paler than usual when he lifted his head, but he smiled weakly at her. “Okay,” he said. And then, pulling a bluejay feather from his pocket, “Look. I found this in the yard. It’s just like the ones in the shop. Do you think he’ll let us go back?”
To Emily’s surprise, Mr. Theodus did let them back into the wing shop when they showed up a few days later. After that, they went to the wing shop two or three days a week after school, whenever Emily didn’t have soccer practice. Sometimes it was locked, but most of the time Mr. Theodus was there and they could look at the wings as much as they wanted.
Not that Mr. Theodus let them look for nothing. Half the time he greeted them with dusting rags and window cleaner, which they used on the hundreds of wing cases.
It was a little weird because, even though she was fascinated by them, Emily found the wings strange and sort of gruesome. They looked vaguely lonely, separated from the bodies that had once been theirs. And some of them were from animals that you weren’t supposed to kill. She could tell from the tiny plaques placed at the bottom of the cases, which gave the name of the animal the wings had come from.
“But aren’t bald eagles endangered?” she protested when she read that plaque. “I thought you couldn’t kill them.”
“I acquired those wings before the ban went into effect,” Mr. Theodus answered. He was oiling the hinges on the luna moth wing case, but he glanced up at her as he spoke, the gold rims of his glasses flashing as he moved his head.
His tone and look made her think that she might have offended him, but also that he might not be telling the truth. But before she could say anything, Jeffrey said, in his fact-quoting voice, “Yeah. He could have gotten them any time before 1940 and it would have been totally legal.” He scowled at her, something he rarely did, as if he were hurt by her suggestion.
Because no matter how fascinated she might be by the wings, Jeffrey’s attention made her look like she didn’t care at all. He lingered over polishing the cases, and asked Mr. Theodus dozens of questions about the wings. He checked out books about birds and insects from the library and brought them to compare to the wings in the cases. At night, he would sometimes sneak into her room to talk about them, and he would keep talking even after she rolled over and pretended to go to sleep.
He was, Emily decided, obsessed. But she didn’t worry about it–Jeffrey could get obsessed by a lot of things, like the time he begged her mother to throw out six unopened cans of tuna because they didn’t say “dolphin safe” on them.
At least, she didn’t worry about it until later, when the books started changing.
She first noticed them at the library one day, as she hovered impatiently over Jeffrey’s shoulder while he checked out another stack of books. The stack was mostly bird books, but there were also two books with odder titles. One had a pentagram on the cover and Fundamentals of Witchcraft written in thin red letters, while the other showed a lush forest background and the words The Natural Witch.
“What’s up with those books?” she asked as they left the library.
“What books?” Jeffrey’s voice was a little higher than normal. It was the same voice he used when Emily’s father asked who had snuck three cookies before dinner.
Emily glared at him. “The ones in your bag. The witchy ones.”
“I’m doing some research. For school.”
“We haven’t been talking about stuff like that at school. I’m not stupid, you know. I pay enough attention to know that.”
But Jeffrey just shrugged and said, “It’s a special project. For extra credit.” He jerked his backpack higher on his shoulders and walked faster.
Emily watched him, not sure if she should argue, then shook her head and jogged to catch up.
She kept an eye on his books after that, though. More on magic appeared, crowding out the bird books. Some were anthropological books, with a lot of words she didn’t know, but a lot of them were books that claimed to teach you how to do magic. He even brought home books on voodoo and card tricks, though he didn’t keep the card-trick books for more than a day. Once, he checked out three or four travel books about Florida and South Carolina.
It was the travel books that finally made Emily suspicious enough to bother him again. She waited until after dinner one night, then walked quietly down to Jeffrey’s room.
It had been her father’s study, though now his computer was stuffed in beside the sewing machine in Emily’s mother’s craft room. At first, Jeffrey had refused to accept anything other than a bed, desk, and dresser for the room because, as he put it, he wouldn’t be there long. Slowly, though, it had begun to look more like a sixth grade boy–or at least a neat-freak sixth-grade boy–lived there. He was sitting at the desk, a book in his lap, when Emily entered and shut the door.
“Okay,” she said. “You’re going to tell me what’s going on, or I’m going to tell Mom about all those weird books.”
His eyes narrowed. “She won’t mind. She likes it that I read.”
Emily folded her arms. “Fine. Then I’ll tell her about the wing shop.”
Jeffrey whitened, his already pale skin going ivory. “No.” The word was short and breathy. “Don’t– just don’t.”
“Then tell me.”
Jeffrey licked his lips. “I’m learning magic,” he said finally.
Emily’s heart thumped, but she tried to keep her face unchanged. “What, like card tricks?”
“No, like real magic.”
“There’s no such thing.”
“Yes, there is,” Jeffrey insisted. He kept his voice down, like he wanted to make sure no one out in the hall could hear them. “There was a woman in our apartment. She was from Mexico, and she could do magic. My mom used to leave me with her sometimes. I saw her tell a man’s fortune once. She told him that she saw death, and he was hit by a car right down the street the next week. She made amulets and charms and people would come buy them from her. She told me . . .she told me once that I might have been good at magic, if I had been born in Mexico. They know about magic there.”
That’s stupid, Emily wanted to say, but he looked so worked up that she didn’t. And Prove it seemed, well, somehow dangerous, with him glaring at her like that. So she only said, “Well, even if magic is real, even if you are such a freaking natural at it, what do you want to learn it for?”
Emily regretted the question almost as soon as it was out. After all, if magic were real, who wouldn’t want to learn it? She could think of a few of the seventh-grade boys– the ones who never wanted to let her join the recess baseball games– who could stand to spend some quality time as toads.
Jeffrey didn’t answer for a long time. When he did, he looked sad, a lot younger than he was. “I just have something I have to do,” he said.
Normally she would have grabbed his arm and insisted that he tell her more. But there was something in his voice, a sort of finality so strong that she only stared at him, unable to get the words out.
And then came the day that Mr. Theodus got the brown pelican wings.
He had them on the counter when Jeffrey and Emily got there, adjusting them inside the huge eight-foot glass case.
“What’re those?’ Emily asked immediately.
“I bet Jeffrey knows,” Mr. Theodus said.
Jeffrey didn’t say anything for a second. Then he croaked, “A brown pelican. Is that right?”
Mr. Theodus nodded. “From the Atlantic coast. Florida. What do you know about them?”
“Yellowish crown, white head, gray-brown wings with darker flight feathers,” Jeffrey said in the sing-song voice of memorization. “Long bills with a pouch for swooping down to catch fish. A ninety-inch wingspan.”
Emily sniffed, kicking her toes against the floor. “I like the swan wings better.” Then she pushed herself off the counter and went to wander one of the butterfly rows.
It was a little while before she realized that Jeffrey hadn’t moved away from the counter. He was still standing there, staring at the pelican wings. There was something strange in his face, something that made Emily think of longing and hurt and hope all at once. He reached his hand forward, but just before his fingers touched the feathers, Mr. Theodus cleared his throat.
Jeffrey jumped, his hand hovering an inch above the wing.
“I’m going to have to ask you not to touch my wings, Jeffrey,” Mr. Theodus said.
“Your wings,” Jeffrey echoed softly.
“Mine,” Mr. Theodus replied.
Jeffrey looked miserable, all sick and achy. He didn’t drop his hand though, not for a long minute. Emily could hear her heartbeat thudding in her ears. The air in the shop felt charged, so electric that she was sure that if she touched the metal clasps on the cases, she’d be shocked. She thought she felt something pushing, like an invisible force between Jeffrey and Mr. Theodus. Mr. Theodus was staring at Jeffrey and Jeffrey was staring at the wings.
The feeling was making her nauseous. Something was happening, something. . . but what?
Then Jeffrey let his hand fall and shrugged. “Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t know.” He turned away from the counter and ambled over towards a case of bat wings. He didn’t look at Emily, but even from across the room she could see that something had changed inside him. His face was closed, like she had never seen it before, as tightly shuttered as a house readying for a hurricane.
That night, Emily woke up slowly, because she kept trying to convince herself that she didn’t really have to go to the bathroom. She was debating with herself about whether or not she could hold it when she heard the sound of the front door shutting.
She waited, then jumped up and ran over to the window. When she looked down, she saw Jeffrey walking across the yard, a few pieces of paper in his hand. As she watched, one of the papers slipped down onto the grass without his noticing. He kept going, crossing the driveway and then making his way down the street.
Bladder forgotten, she grabbed a pair of jeans and shoved her feet into her sneakers without bothering with socks. Then she snuck into the hall, down the stairs, and out into the darkness.
It wasn’t windy, so the piece of paper still lay on the grass. She reached down and saw that it was an envelope. She squinted, holding it up so that she could use the porch light to read it.
She immediately recognized Jeffrey’s handwriting, so much neater than hers. It was one of the letters he wrote to his mother, she realized. Was he going to mail it, in the middle of the night? What a freak. She started to shake her head, but then noticed the yellow sticker running across the bottom of the envelope.
SCHOFIELD, HOLLY. FORWARDING ADDRESS UNKNOWN.
Emily stared at the envelope, confused for a minute. Then she jerked her head in the direction Jeffrey had gone. She couldn’t see him– he had already gone around the corner and disappeared.
It didn’t matter. She knew where he was going. Gripping the envelope in her hand, she started for the wing shop.
He must be going fast, faster than she had ever seen him move during gym class, and she was going slowly, because no matter how tough she acted, Emily had never liked the dark. She never caught up with him, and it wasn’t until she reached the end of the wing shop’s block, when she heard the sound of glass shattering, that she began to run.
She sprinted up the street, heart pounding with the exertion and fear, and found Jeffrey standing in front of the wing shop, a field of broken glass in front of him.
“What are you doing?” she cried as she skidded to a stop beside him.
It took a long time for him to look at her, so long that she grabbed his arm and shook it hard. “Jeffrey!”
Normally, he would have let her shake him, reserved and unresisting, but this time he yanked his arm away from her so violently she gasped. “Don’t, Em,” he said. “Please. I have to have the wings.”
“Which wings?” She wrapped her arms around herself. Someone must have heard the crash, must be calling the police right now.
“The pelican wings. They’re the only ones big enough, the only ones from where I need to go.”
“You’re going to– what? Steal them? You can’t. They’re not yours, it’s–”
Jeffrey’s chin jutted out and she thought she caught a note of strain in his voice, like he was trying to convince himself along with her. “I need them more than he does. He’ll be able to get others. I have to have them–they’re the only ones.”
Something finally clicked. “Are you still talking about that stupid– that magic?” Jeffrey jerked his head, nodding. “It’s not real. You know it’s not real. You can’t–”
“It is! I’m going to get those wings, and I’m going to fly and find my mom.” He was holding the two postcards, she realized, so tightly that they were bending under the force of his clenched fist.
“I’m going to scream,” Emily warned. “Right now, if you don’t come with me. I’m going to scream and someone will hear.” She drew in a breath, ready to scream louder than if she were cheering the soccer team to victory.
“You won’t,” Jeffrey said. And then he raised his hand at her, fingers spread, and said a word.
Without meaning to, Emily let the breath that she had taken out without a sound. She felt drained, so tired that she might have curled up on the sidewalk, if it weren’t for the glass. They stared at each other, and then Jeffrey said quietly, “I have to do it, Em. It’s the only way. I can’t find her on my own. I need the wings more than he does.”
Then he stepped gingerly across the glass and swung a careful leg through the busted window. Emily watched as he crunched across the glass that had fallen inside the building and then past the first row of shelves. A few of the cases had fallen down, and she noticed a brick lying on the floor beside one of the shelves. It was dark inside the wing shop, and the pelican wings would be on the counter or hung on the back wall, if Mr. Theodus had gotten around to hanging them, so Emily couldn’t see Jeffrey after a minute. She shifted from one foot to the other, her arms still tight around herself.
It seemed to take a long time, but Jeffrey finally came back through the window. “Help me,” he called, and though she didn’t want to, Emily hurried over and took one of the great pelican wings from him. It was huge, but light enough to carry. Once he was through the window, Jeffrey took the wing back. His eyes were bright, like they had been the first time she took him to the new downtown library.
“They won’t carry you,” Emily said. Her voice sounded small and defensive. “You weigh too much. And besides, they’re taxidermied–they aren’t really wings anymore. Just feathers stuck together to look like wings.”
Jeffrey tore his eyes away from the wing to shake his head at her. “It’s magic, Em. How much I weigh won’t matter. And these aren’t taxidermied. They’re real.”
Emily balled her hands into fists, feeling like she wanted to cry. But she never cried; she wasn’t that type of girl. “They aren’t. Jennifer’s father hunts and he told us about how they do it. It’s just the skin and feathers they keep.”
“These are real. All the wings in the shop are real. Mr. Theodus told me.”
He’s a liar, Emily wanted to shout, but she wasn’t sure if it was true, not now.
Jeffrey smiled, softly, as if he had heard her thoughts. “Maybe it’s magic, that he has real wings. He never told us how he got them. Or why he wants them.” He glanced down at the wings in his hands, and then back into the wing shop.
The look was pensive, a little guilty, and she thought that maybe he would listen, if she tried to stop him now. “Jeffrey–” she started, but just then she heard the rolling howl of a siren several streets over.
Jeffrey snapped around to stare in the direction of the sound, the look falling away. “I have to go, Em.”
No. You can stay with us. We like you. We love you more than she does. But the moment was gone. It was too late, and she couldn’t say it anyhow, so she only nodded.
“You should leave before they get here.”
She wanted to say something else, but she had never been any good at mushy stuff. So she just nodded again. “Bye, Jeffrey.”
They stared at each other, and then Emily turned and ran, her sneakers pounding across the glass and then the bare pavement. From the end of the block came the sound of tires squealing around the corner. So she ducked behind a dumpster in an alley beside the beauty parlor only two stores down from the wing shop.
Jeffrey was still standing there, the wings in his arms. His head was moving slightly, like he was chanting something, and then he was washed in the blue and red lights of a police car.
The lights were sharp, blinding her, as one of the police car doors slammed shut. “Don’t move, son.” One of the men shone a bright white light at Jeffrey, so bright that Emily had to crouch even lower behind the dumpster and shut her eyes against it. In her hiding place, with her eyes squeezed tight, she didn’t see him go. She only heard a triumphant, “Hah!” and then the sound of feet running over the glass.
“Where did he go?”
“That way, I think. You go look.”
Emily kept her eyes shut, and the sound of running feet moved off in the opposite direction. One of the policemen seemed to be talking on a radio. “Just vandalism, I think. There was a kid here, but he sort of . . .disappeared. Ran off, I mean. One minute he was here and then he wasn’t. Didn’t see anyone else. . . . No, no backup . . . .”
A long time later, so long that Emily’s foot had fallen asleep and her legs ached from being bent under her, she opened her eyes. It was still night, but the police car had gone. She stood up and almost fell over from stiffness. After a minute of stamping around to wake up her foot, she walked slowly over to the wing shop.
Some yellow tape with DO NOT CROSS printed on it was stretched across the window, but everything else was the same. There was no sign of Jeffrey. Closing her eyes, she tried to remember the moment the policeman’s light had flashed on him. There had been running right after that, but she didn’t know if the footsteps had been Jeffrey’s or just the policeman’s. She thought there had been a draft of wind, right before the sound of running, like something with big wings taking off, but maybe she had just imagined it. Just like maybe she had imagined the voice, so close and quiet it was like it was whispering in her ear, saying, “Stay put. They won’t see you.”
There was nothing to tell her what had happened, nothing except one long brown feather lying curled on the glass. The policemen hadn’t noticed it, or they hadn’t thought it was important. Emily looked at the feather for a long time before bending over and picking it up. She held it in her hands, wondering if she should put it back in the wing shop. Then she turned, the feather still in her hand, and started home.
Eventually, Emily’s parents started letting her go out by herself again. In the first days after Jeffrey’s disappearance, when they thought he might have been kidnapped or something, they hadn’t let her even walk to school alone or sit in the front yard.
That hadn’t been the worst of it, of course. There had been crying, and searching, and flyer making, and calls to everyone from the FBI down. They had tried to find Aunt Holly, but never could, which only made Emily’s mom cry harder. Emily had had to talk to the police three times. They asked things like had she noticed Jeffrey acting strange, or had she seen him talking to anyone weird. When they asked if she had heard him leave that night, she just said she’d been asleep. Everyone believed that, and then went back to trying to find Jeffrey.
But finally, after months passed and the police kept insisting that he must have just run away, things began to quiet down. And eventually her parents stopped driving her to school and relinquished the stranglehold they had on her bicycle.
But it wasn’t until she got the postcards that she decided to take the library books back, and to visit the wing shop again.
She had hidden the books– the ones about magic and voodoo and the flight of birds– when she got back to the house. She had gone right into his room, taken the books, and hidden them under her bed without knowing exactly why she was doing it. And they stayed there, gathering what she imagined must be gargantuan late fees.
She didn’t go to the wing shop, either. For a while, she was scared that Mr. Theodus might come looking for her, demanding to know where his pelican wings were. But he didn’t, and she didn’t go back, not until the postcards came.
The mail was still in the mailbox that day, so she was able to take the two postcards– one addressed to her and the other to Mr. Theodus, care of herself– without anyone else seeing them. Afterwards, she went upstairs, and hauled the books out from under the bed. They were gross, covered in dust, and she had to wipe them off with a dirty shirt before cramming them inside her largest tote bag.
At the library, she was charged $17.65 in late fees. She handed over the $5.53 she had on her and tried to ignore the librarian’s look of shock to see her with so many books. After promising to pay the rest when she had it, she left the library, but instead of turning south to go home, she turned north towards the wing shop.
It felt weird to be taking the route again, and even weirder to be doing it alone. She kept expecting to hear Jeffrey beside her, for him to start telling her about some story he had just read. During one of their walks to the wing shop, he had told her about Icarus, but she hadn’t thought anything of it then. Her palms were sweaty by the time she reached the wing shop’s block, and part of her wanted to turn around and go home. So she thought about what she would say to Mr. Theodus, whether she would apologize or not, and that distracted her a little.
But when she reached the shop, it was empty.
The window had been repaired, so she could see through it into the shop. But the walls were bare, and even the shelves with the small glass cases were gone. It looked dusty inside, and quiet, like the shop hadn’t been used in a long time.
Emily stood there, deflated, as if she had walked into a house expecting a surprise party and no one had jumped out at her. When had he gone? Had he waited around, hoping that Jeffrey might return them, or that she might come to explain? Where had he taken the wings?
She went over to the door and tapped on it, but lightly, not expecting anyone to answer, and after a minute she dropped her hand. She waited for a few minutes, wondering what to do, before she noticed the old-fashioned mail slot in the door. Slowly, she pulled out the postcard addressed to Mr. Theodus.
The picture side had Wild Florida written across it in curvy letters, and a photograph of a brown pelican soaring above an empty beach. There was only one line written on the other side in neat handwriting.
I’m sorry I had to take the wings. It wasn’t signed.
Emily looked at the sentence for a long time before reaching into her tote bag and pulling out her own postcard, a twin to the first. Except that on the back, where the one to Mr. Theodus had a sentence, hers was empty.
The sun was hot on her neck, but she didn’t move. She held the two postcards out, comparing them. There was nothing on hers except a dirty smudge, like someone had started to write something and then erased it. In the sunlight, though, she thought she could see the indention left by a pencil, something she hadn’t noticed inside her house.
Still looking. I just wanted to
It might have said that. Maybe.
She looked at the postcards for a long time, then slid the one with the writing on it through the mail slot. Part of her wanted to keep it, but she didn’t.
It was getting late, and her parents still didn’t like her to be out without telling them. She rubbed a finger over the smudge mark before putting her postcard back in her tote bag. She looked through the wing shop window one more time, then started home.
She had wanted, when she decided to go back to the shop, to show the postcards to someone else, to ask why Jeffrey hadn’t written anything on hers. But maybe there was no answer. Maybe it was just easier to say you were sorry than to try to explain stuff like wanting things, or love, or being left behind.