"First," I said, "drive me home."
Roy steered the car to the right and onto the main road, and glanced at me. "What?"
"Drive me home."
He muttered something under his breath but veered the car into a rough U-turn, heading back to where we'd come from. "Want to tell me where you live?"
"Not far from here," I said. I was surprised that he didn't even ask why, didn't even need to get an explanation from me. Whereas Thomas would have questioned me right away, Roy, although palpably impatient, seemed patient enough to accept my request. Once again I wondered if it was because I was now technically his master. "Take the next turn."
The car slid roughly past the curb, nearly bumping into a stop sign which Roy promptly ignored.
But despite my quiet consideration of Roy I still sat there with my hands quivering, my breathing coming out in controlled gasps. If Roy heard me though, he didn't show it. He kept his dark eyes trained in front of him and spun the steering wheel almost recklessly when I pointed to the left.
"You're not very good at this, are you?" I said, trying to find some light in the situation. And to do that I had to do some teasing. Which was basically all I knew how to do with boys. That and flat out insulting them.
He glanced at me. "At what?"
"Driving," I said, and it was working. The small talk was actually slowing down my heart beat.
"Right," he muttered. "I bet I've had my license longer than you."
"Puppets actually get licensed then?"
He rolled his eyes. "Obviously, or I wouldn't be driving right now, would I? the last thing we need is to get stopped by the police."
"Well you better slow down then," I said. "Because you're doing a pretty good job trying to get stopped."
His eyebrows shot up but he didn't look at me. "Oh, God," he said. "How does Caelen expect me to work with you?"
"It's the other way around, isn't it?" I pointed out, and for the oddest of reason I was also beginning to smile. Giddiness threatened to implode in my chest. I suddenly felt numb and absolutely invincible. "I control you? I work with you?"
"We work together," Roy snapped. "Now tell me where I supposed to go at that intersection."
I bit my bottom lip as I stared down my neighborhood, my heart gradually beating faster once again. "Just keep on going straight," I said quietly. "It's the fourth house down."
When we pulled up to the little blue house, with its black shutters and modest blue bricks, I could feel my pulse jumping sporadically. Roy gave me a strange look as if he could tell exactly what I was feeling—and maybe he could. It wouldn't surprise me.
"Do you need me to come in with you?"
I pressed my lips together, trying to hide my emotions, both the surprise and dread. But something told me that Roy was able to feel the two regardless. "No," I said. "I'll be fine."
Then without another word, I slid out of the car.
Inside, my house was ridiculously clean.
My parents were obsessive compulsives who never really cared to get therapy and help. They were so OCDed—as I called it—they had once been on the verge of redesigning the entire house itself to fit their views and beliefs, despite our limited amount of money at the time. The fact that they even considered it, then, was ridiculous. I had never really cared much of their behavior though, besides the occasional frustration and bitter resentment, but now as I crept to the kitchen, I wished they were normal. Maybe then I wouldn't be stepping on the exact kitchen tiles they would want me to step on for minimal creakage—which seemed to bother both of them so much. Maybe then I wouldn't be ducking to my right to avoid the string from a dimly lit lamp, which would start swinging if I'd bumped it of course—thus driving my mother crazy.
And as I emerged from the threshold, I realized one thing that rendered my efforts a waste of time.
They weren't home.
The TV, which my dad constantly occupied, was turned off. The armchair that my mom always sat in with a newspaper clutched in her hands was empty as well. There were two pristine coffee mugs set almost perfectly in the center of the coffee table (which was also placed perfectly in the center of the room), still smoking, which made me realize that they had been there not long ago.
So where were they now?
I swallowed and sucked in a deep breath, getting ready to raise my voice—an action that my parents detested, which was really just too bad, I realized absently, if they still wanted Thomas in the house.
I clamped my mouth shut almost immediately, my entire body tense, the muscles in my arms stretched taunt by instinct. Part of me was already telling myself that I shouldn't have done that; I shouldn't have made so much noise. But the other part, the stronger part, told me to do it again. Because no one had replied.
I moved out of the kitchen and into the hallway once again, my pulse racing. "Dad? Are you guys home?"
Again, no answer. Suddenly the house felt too big and too small at the same time, its walls closing in on me, and it was like there were eyes—eyes, everywhere. On the walls, the ceiling, the floor. Staring at me. Watching me. As if waiting for the moment where they could take me to where they had taken my parents.
My fingers pressed themselves against my palms, digging in and drawing blood. The pain that erupted help clear my mind somewhat, but the darkness that clouded my vision was still there. And the eyes. The—
I screamed, but the sound was immediately muffled by a pair of hands, instantly positioning themselves over my mouth. Almost by instinct I twisted, my heel digging into the shin of my attacker, but whoever it was, he was much stronger than me; my arms were rendered useless, folded up behind me, and now I could tell that his legs were a good distance away from my feet.
"Nell," the same voice said, this time only inches away from my ear. "Nell, snap out of it. We don't have time for this."
And that was when I realized that whoever it was couldn't possibly be an attacker. He wasn't there to take me away.
He was Roy.
Ah, part of me thought faintly. Of course.
"Nell?" he said again. Anxious, now. Which I found strangely amusing and perplexing.
"Sorry," I muttered, willing my body to relax. "I didn't think it'd be you."
"Who else would it be?"
Slowly, I turned around. "I don't know," I said quietly. "That man again?"
He frowned, and I could feel the shock and incredulity rolling off of him. My heart sunk. Here was another person who was going to think I'm crazy.
But then his feeling of surprise disappeared, replaced by a much warmer sensation, an emotion I couldn't quite place. Yet when he spoke, his voice was more impatient than ever.
"Let's go upstairs."
I swallowed. "Right."
We started up the steps, the pale carpet seeming even whiter than usual, its color reminding me that I still had my shoes on and I was definitely trailing dirt and grime all over my mother's clean work. But I didn't care anymore. Not at that time.
At the top I turned to my left, heading robotically to my room and pushing open the dark mahogany door without really seeing it. Roy flicked on the light and suddenly I felt colder, despite the bright rays that had erupted from the ceiling. A feeling of dread slowly curled through me and I closed my eyes, breathing deeply through my nose.
"Stop that," Roy snapped.
My eyes flashed open. "What?"
"At least try to calm down," he said, moving to my closet and throwing open the doors. "I think I've felt almost twenty emotions in the last five seconds. Can't you control them at least a little?"
I stared at him, watching as he began throwing clothes on my bed, picking out the darkest and thinnest ones from multiple shelves. It was awhile before I could speak again.
"They're not home," I said.
He glanced at me, one hand threaded through the sleeve of my black cross country jacket. "I know that."
"So you can probably understand why, then," I said slowly, "why you've felt so many emotions in just a few seconds."
"I dunno Nell," he said, tossing the jacket onto the bed as well. "I don't think standing there and feeling thousands of emotions would really do them any good. Especially when you don't even know where they are, or what happened to them."
"That's exactly why I feel that way!" I said through gritted teeth. "What if that man—Jareth—what if he'd been here?"
"There's no 'what if', Nell," he said, grabbing the small pile of clothes he'd made and gathering them into his arms. "He was here. That's a fact."
My blood ran cold. "How do you know?"
"I can sense him. The presence he's left behind. Listen," he said, walking over to me. "Take these clothes and find a bag. It won't do your parents any good standing there and worrying, or doing whatever it is that you do. It sure as hell won't do me any good."
"But my parents," I said, enunciating each word slowly. "I need to find them—and my brother. Oh, God. What about Thomas? What if he finds Thomas too?"
To my surprise, Roy rolled his eyes. "Are you serious? Your brother's fine. He's at a club, right? Jareth would never go there—way too many people. And besides, I don't see why you're so worried. In case you haven't noticed, he doesn't treat you very well."
I faltered then, letting him pile the clothes on top of my arms as I searched for whatever else to say. Perhaps Roy did have a compassionate side to him after all.
"And if Jareth comes back?"
"Well," said Roy, "we can't do anything about that either."
"But you're a puppet! You have abilities, you can help me. We could find him, capture him—"
Roy snorted. "Listen to yourself. Do you honestly think we'd be able to do anything? I know I'm a puppet, but a puppet can't use his abilities without a puppeteer, and you're hardly a puppeteer. You don't even know what you're doing, let alone why you're here with me, or where you're even going. You're still human."
And maybe it was the way he said the last few words that really got to me, making me stuff my clothes into a tote bag and swing it over my shoulder. They were words of disdain, of scorn and disgust. Towards being human.
"We're heading over to headquarters," Roy said curtly as we made our way down the steps. He stopped by the front door to look at me, his dark eyes unfathomable under the dim light of my house. "Don't try going after Jareth until you can control me. And don't try controlling me until you've learned to control yourself. I mean it, Nell," he said, pushing open the door. "Your emotions are getting on my nerves."