“Yeah, so, I guess we’re kind of screwed,” I said. “Nice knowing you.”
The butler laughed. Laughed. “A little water never hurt anyone, Liss.”
“Penny. And this is kind of a shitload of water. Ever heard of, you know, drowning?”
“Language,” he scolded, in that very butler-y way. But he was still smiling. Maybe there was something in the water in Forgotten Hollow and they were all kind of brain-damaged over there. Between him, the wannabe comedian, and his really weird sister who said weird crap to me for no reason. Scary pale lady was right.
“Maybe we can, I dunno, break a window,” I said, pointing to the corner of the apartment that was part of Isla and Darius’s room.
I went on, “They’re glass–obviously–and I have a baseball bat. Then we can jump and not break all our bones if we’re lucky.” I nodded toward the bat lying against the wall. It was good for banging against the bathroom door if Darius was taking too long in the shower, but now we didn’t really have a bathroom door anymore. It seemed like more and more water was spraying all over the crappy apartment every second.
“Do you have health insurance, Lissette?”
“How the hell should I know?”
“If you’re planning to break any bones, it’s important to consider future medical expenses. And you should have health insurance at your age regardless.”
“I’m not planning to,” I said. “But when you jump out of flooding buildings, shit happens.”
His smile became strained. I didn’t usually curse this much since Isla hated it—even before the glitter-tongue incident—but it was kind of fun in front of him. “Let me attempt this on my own,” he said stiffly. “Stand back, Liss. Watch out for flying shards of glass and cover your eyes.”
“Which is it? Should I watch or cover my eyes?”
He sighed as he went to pick up the baseball bat. He weighed it in his hands then adjusted his grip, getting into position near the window like he was some pro player or something. Nerd. It was a window, not a curveball or whatever.
He lifted the bat—and then slammed it against the large glass panes. The whole apartment shook, like it was some kind of freaking earthquake tied up with a storm of buzzing static, but the glass didn’t even crack. I had to make a mad dash for the butler to stop him from falling on his face.
“Well,” he said hoarsely, “at least your apartment’s windows are probably bulletproof.”
“Yeah,” I said, guiding him to the tiny cot in my room. I didn’t want to put him on the twins’, even if it was bigger—it could be booby-trapped too. “San Myshuno is infamous for its aerial gunfights.” I tried not to pay attention to each new leak that seemed to spring from the weirdest places imaginable. Where was all this water coming from? I distracted myself by helping him sit up on the bed, though I tried to touch him as little as possible. “Take it easy, old man.”
“Old man?” He smiled slightly. “That’s certainly no way to talk to your elder brother.”
I snorted. “You sure put the elder in elder brother, all right. And if you’re not that old, why don’t you do something about all your gray hair?” I motioned toward his temples. “It looks weird. Like your face is kind of younger than your hair, I guess.”
“I did take the time to dye it, once,” he said thoughtfully. “Miss Bi—Blackwell prefers it like this.”
“Uh huh. I’m pretty sure it’s illegal for your employer to make you change your appearance or whatever. Unless it’s like, to make you wear pants or a hairnet or…I dunno.”
I really didn’t know what to talk about with him. Or how to talk. At least we were both going to die soon and the small talk couldn’t last forever. I didn’t know if he was my big brother or not, but it didn’t matter now, I guess. For all I knew, he was some perv butler who made up family connections so he could get away with all kinds of weird perv butler things.
“This might be an inconvenient time to ask,” he said, “but may I give you a hug, Lissette?” He weakly raised his arms toward me.
“I’m allergic,” I muttered. He just had to go and prove me right.
That only made him smile, but he still looked kind of sad. Tired. “Ah, an adult-onset allergy, is it? I’m sorry to hear that.” One corner of my mouth did something weird on its own.
Water crept closer and closer to our feet.
The lights flickered and went out.
“I’m not sure how to tell you this, Liss…but the plants on the wall behind us appear to be glowing.”
“What? Seriously?” Darius had given me those plants. Years ago, I think. I didn’t want anything to take care of—I told him I had a black thumb, or whatever the opposite of a green thumb was. But he promised me these would never die, even if I forgot to water them, and that I’d be glad I had them someday. He was right that they didn’t die, even if I almost never remembered to water them, but he was wrong about the second part: I really didn’t give a crap about them either way.
Like the crazy water wasn’t enough. Blue, naked Isla and Darius. Glitter-magic. Vampire birthday parties. The long-lost brother out of nowhere. The loss of the apartment’s one bathroom. Everything. This was all that wannabe comedian’s fault. If I hadn’t met him, my life wouldn’t have spiraled into this freaky mess. Everything was fine before.
“Um,” I said. “There’s something under your feet, butler guy.”
“Lysander,” he said. The glow changed color.
“Whatever,” I said, as the whole room brightened and the water went crazy and plants sprouted from the concrete floor out of nowhere.
“What the f—”
My room shimmered around me, and vanished. And then I was drowning. I coughed and sputtered, my fingers clawing desperately through the water. Had the apartment flooded that damn fast? Water went up my nose. My hat came off at some point—too bad. I kicked and kicked, until finally I reached the surface and made for land. Land?
I spat out the stubborn water still caught in my throat. Damn it, I thought as I finally made sense of my surroundings. Not this place again. I hadn’t even used a public restroom this time.
“Are you lost, little human?” came a voice out of nowhere.
I looked toward the pond I’d crawled out of. There hadn’t been anyone there a second ago, but now some guy with wings was hovering over it like a giant weirdo.
“I really can’t deal with this shit right now,” I said. “Sorry.”
“Are you sorry?” he asked in an odd singsong voice. “If so, what will you do about it?”
“I really, really don’t want to be here, so I’ll just leave, okay? I don’t see an exit sign, so if you just want to tell me how to get out of here, that’d be great, thanks.”
“If you had a choice,” he said, “which path would you choose?”
He looked to his right. Giant butterflies popped up out of nowhere, some realistic and some that looked more like toys. And then there was a snail for some reason.
“This one?” he said, looking at me intently.
“I dunno,” I said, feeling seriously creeped out. “Whatever gets me out of here the fastest.”
“Or this one?” This time he leaned to the left, where a giant pink dollhouse suddenly stood. Then there was some school crap and cooking pots. Weird combination.
“Um. Do I have a choice?”
“Haven’t you always had a choice?”
“Do you ever stop asking questions?”
“Have you ever begun?” His smile got bigger. “What are you looking for?”
“I lost my childhood,” I said in a small voice. “Somebody stealed it. Stole it.” I wasn’t stupid. I was really good at writing Simlish without crossing out stuff or erasing it. And reading. I liked reading a lot. My brother always got all excited over my report card, a long time ago when I had a brother, or maybe I just made him up.
“Did you lose it,” the butterfly-man said, “or did you give it away?”
“I wanna go home.”
“Where is home? Which way will you go, little human?”
The butterfly-man disappeared, and I was all alone again.
I didn’t want to be alone. I hated being all by myself all the time. But that was okay, because he would play with me. He was the big brother I always wanted.
“Butterfly,” I said.