Naomi creeps out of the house too. But she has to endure holding her breath and the pounding of blood in her ears as she takes the stairs and through the kitchen to the back-door. She scales the wall easily and runs across the lawns, away from the cold house. She has come barefoot because it is warm. At the edge of the lake she waits full of anticipation. For a heartbeat she worries that he won’t appear. But it is a foolish idea. He loves her.
And the boy with brown eyes and caramel skin appears. She kisses him and hugs him. They hardly speak. She wants him more than anything she has ever wanted – she is sure of that. On the shore they lay down together beneath the pale half-moon.
After, she strokes his face: “Do you love me?” she asks.
He nods and kisses her nose. “Always.”
She wants to lay with her lover forever. She imagines swimming with him out into the lake and to the sea. Escaping the old house. They’d find a cottage with roses in the garden and live there, perfectly happy. But she knows that isn’t real, not yet. Joll is at university and he has promised a formal proposal once he qualifies next year. Then a very short engagement before they marry, or maybe they live together first. Naomi doesn’t mind waiting a little while, their meetings give her a resolve to be patient.
But she is scared of Nial.
Her brother seems normal but she knows he isn’t. There is an odd quality to the way he moves and looks at people, as if he can see more, further. Her parents tried to convince her that he was experiencing a temporary condition and treatment will ease it, maybe stop it. She nods, doesn’t ask questions. She has no interest as long as he stays away from her.
She dresses, kisses Joll and steadily heads back to the house. Years ago, she used to run around the lawns with Nial. They played catch and cricket and football and golf. But he changed. She remembers the shadow that chased her from the lake, shivers catch her. She pauses, rubbing her arms. Then she was a child, it was nothing more than a bird. With a deep breath she dares to look up. The moon is bright in the cloudless amber sky. Carefully she scans the vastness.
She had locked his door, as always. It began two years ago. Before her parents had realised he wasn’t like them, before they’d taken him to Dr Gray. Naomi knew. It was the curse. No! she shook her head, she didn’t believe that. But how else could she explain it?
Over the wall, her feet slapped lightly against the cooling yard stones. Through the kitchen, she tiptoed, pausing when she heard a noise above. Then she was stepping onto the stairs and creeping back up to her room. A creak startled her.
From behind, she turned slowly, almost crouching on the stairs, her heart thudded. The house door slid open spilling in moonlight. And he was there. Stood in the doorway. He looked yellow, bathed in moonlight, wide-eyed, naked. She blushed and turned, quickly racing up the stairs. She was sure he laughed.
In her room, she huddled beneath sheets, still dressed, afraid to sleep. She could hear his light steps steadily advancing, up the stairs. Her heart was still galloping. “He won’t hurt me, he won’t hurt me” –she said softly. She was certain he paused at her door. Did the doorknob move? Then silence fell, cold and hard.