The Mystery of Dogwood Cross
I closed my eyes tightly and tried to channel my inner Nancy Drew. I worked very hard at this for like, a whole two minutes. When that failed, I switched to Veronica Mars.
What would Veronica do?
She’d ask questions.
She wouldn’t take no for an answer.
She’d look for clues.
She’d be smart and snarky in equal measure.
I could do SOME of those things.
I opened my eyes and looked at the bookcase on the wall across from me. “I need to ask you some questions,” I told it, and tried hard to look formidable and unrelenting, and leaned in, elbows on my knees. I was pretty sure I looked TOUGH. Even with my damp clothes and bare feet. I narrowed my eyes. “Why is there no Internet here? Why can’t I use my phone for more than Candy Crash and Fearless Fowl? Is anyone else on this island?”
I waited for answers.
The bookcase blinked at me.
Seriously, it blinked!
Well, the clock on it flashed 12:00, at least.
Okay, I hadn’t intimidated the bookcase at all, but the brief power outage had messed with it. I was sort of terrible at Nancy Drewing, but I was quite proficient in setting digital clocks. Within a minute, that clock was correct.
I stepped back and looked at the framed photos squeezed in between books. Rhys was in many. There weren’t any other kids, though. He must’ve been the only grandchild. Some of the pictures were of a young Rhys. It was clearly him, with the features that were simultaneously strong and soft, even as a kid. In those, he was with both of his parents. Well, one would presume the man and woman were his parents.
The backdrops varied: the young Fontaine family on a rocky coast that looked like Ireland; them in Times Square; them with Mickey and Tigger on Disney’s Main Street. Even in those of Rhys at his youngest, his intelligent eyes and strong jaw were prevalent.
But in the older photographs, his mother disappeared.
Rhys’s eyes still carried intelligence, but something else had been added to them. Grief, maybe. What happened to his mom?
And now, his dad was gone, too.
I bet Nancy Drew never hurt for the people she helped the way I hurt now. I bet Veronica Mars never felt this ache in her chest for people she didn’t even know.
I stepped away from the shelf and took another look around the room.
One piece of art stole my full attention.
It was three in one, really. On the top, a fairly recent, artistic photo of the pavilion, as it was before the renovation. On the bottom, the post-renovation photograph. But in the middle, an artist’s rendering of the renovation pulled the two together.
I recognized the artistic style.
Rhys had done the architectural rendering—his vision of what the pavilion would look like after it had been restored.
Oh, wow.
I stepped in to compare the rendering with the recent photo. A few things were changed, a few details had been left out, and a few had been added. Otherwise, Rhys had drawn the pavilion as it stood today. Or, rather, someone had done all the work on the pavilion to reflect Rhys’s drawing.
If I kept thinking about the talent that had been lost, I’d cry. And I am NOT a pretty crier. I shoved it into a drawer in my mind, and, after a moment’s hesitation, I ventured down the hall. The dryer hummed from somewhere nearby. Super slowly, I pushed open the first door I came to.
The sound of light snoring greeted me.
And then a stale smell followed it.
It wasn’t like, a horrible stench, but it was unpleasant enough to make me breathe through my mouth.
I leaned toward the crack in the doorway, widening it a bit more. Not only were the lights off, the drapes were drawn over blackout window shades, hiding the darkness outside. Even when lightning flashed, it barely brightened the room. After my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I was able to make out the bed. On it laid Charles Thibault Winfield Fontaine. He slept on, undisturbed by my presence.
I stepped back, and returned to the hallway.
The bathroom was next, and in it I found another digital clock in need of my assistance, and after I righted its wrongness, I explored more. Next, I came across folding doors. The tumble and rumble that sounded behind them told me that the washer and dryer lived there.
Another crash of thunder gave me pause. With it, the lights flickered. This time, they stayed on. Two final doors, both closed, waited for me. I reached for the doorknob of the first and turned it. I glanced over my shoulder, but the hall was vacant, so I pushed the door open.
An office spread out in front of me. A floor lamp the farthest corner shed light on the scene. I stepped in, and—
Wait, no. This wasn’t an office.
But once it had been.
Hardwood cabinets and shelves hung from the walls. The open spaces housed books and notebooks, ledgers and sloppy piles of paper. Old VHS tapes and audiocassettes had been shoved into one section of shelves like Tetris blocks. An expensive office desk stood, proud and disapproving, under the wall of windows, which gave a great view of the back yard’s magnolia trees. Or, rather, it would have, if the huge plastic tubs stacked on the desk didn’t block them.
The shorter wall faced the path I’d taken up from the beach days before, and, beyond the path, the thin line of trees that separated the cottages. Under that window, a business credenza, short and stout, looked even more put out than the desk. The office equipment—large monitor, the secondary monitor and its computer, fancy printer/scanner/copier combo and the desk lamps, were shoved into corners and against walls, with more papers and books and pieces of mail lining just about every surface.
A TV and a DVD player sat atop a narrow chest of drawers that had been shoved awkwardly against the wall. Nearby, a big digital clock blinked 12:00. And in the middle of all the neglected office stuff was a bed.
This was Rhys’s new room.
Absolutely none of the teenage guy stuff that marked his room in the gatehouse was here. The drawers or plastic tubs must hold his clothes, I guessed. Aside from a few pairs of shoes, I couldn’t see much else of his.
I walked in to change the clock for Rhys, since he probably wouldn’t be able to do it himself. I held the hour button, even as I heard footsteps in the hall. I focused on my task, preparing my defense: Mom had said that he was already expecting her to arrive at 9:30, and that was a good sign. Maisie might not know that he was able to tell time now, or she might not think to change the clock herself.
Even though my back was turned to the doorway, I heard the person stop there. It wasn’t Mom. I could just tell.
I looked back.
Rhys stood, staring at me.
“Hi,” I said. “I’m fixing your clock.”
He scowled with the one side of his face he could control.
I frowned back, but not because I was mad. I just wanted to help him. “I’ll get out of your room in a minute. Promise.”
The toilet in the hall flushed. Mom must have taken a bathroom break, which explained why Rhys had wandered off without notice. When I finished setting the clock, Rhys was still watching me.
“Listen,” I said. “Would you like for me to bring some of your stuff from the gatehouse? I know that’s where you used to live. If there’s anything you want...”
I wasn’t really expecting an answer, don’t worry. I did want him to see me as a friend and not some foreign object, though. “Anyway. If there’s anything you want, let me know?” I hesitated, but then added, “Nadia says hi.”
He furrowed his brows, one further than the other, and blinked a few times.
His mouth opened.
“Rhys?” Mom called for him from down the hall. “There you are.”
He shut his mouth again, the scowl returning.
Inwardly, I whined about her timing. He was going to say something! I was sure of it!
She appeared behind him, and was only a little surprised to find me. Her eyes traveled to the clock beside me, then she grinned. “Your OCD once again gets the best of you.”
I made a face at her. “I was trying to be helpful!”
“You can’t stand a blinking clock any more than I can stand unpopped packing bubbles.”
Okay, fine, that was totally true. I put up my hands in surrender. She laughed and called Rhys back to work. I took another glance around the sad excuse for a bedroom before I followed them out.
The storm passed by quickly, compared to most of the other ones we’d weathered since our arrival. By the time noon rolled around, the wind had died down, and the rain had begun to lessen.
“I don’t want to go out in that,” Mom said as she packed up her manipulatives. “The space between the house and the car is a swamp.”
“I know,” I said, and pulled on my dry socks. They were going to get gross again, and fast. I wasn’t looking forward to that. “Can we try to wait it out?”
Mom sighed. “I don’t really want to be here when Maisie comes to make lunch,” she said. “I know, I’m a wuss, but she’s kind of...pushy...sometimes.”
This was the first I’d heard Mom say anything untoward about Maisie, so I looked up at her. And I tried hard to keep my eyebrows from going up into my hairline. “Pushy?”
Mom shrugged. “She keeps asking about Rhys’s progress. And he IS making progress. It’s just never enough for her. I can never give her the answer she wants.”
“What answer does she want?”
Mom clasped the case and set it in a corner by the table, then looked at me, sort of helplessly. “I don’t know. That’s part of the problem. I know my objective: to guide him through therapy and make an assessment once I am able to determine how capable he is. I need to call Paulo about it all.” Paulo was Mom’s manager at the Institute, so he likely had more information and instructions about the Institute’s contract regarding Rhys.
I pulled on my damp boots and tied them. “So...if you need to call Paulo, that means you need to go to town?” Yes, I was hopeful. I missed civilization.
“Yeah,” she said. “Tomorrow. I’m really tired.”
I was really tired, too, and my head had begun to pound within the last ten minutes. I stood up and grabbed my protein bar wrapper. “Where’s the trash?”
Mom pointed to the corner of the kitchen. “In the pantry.”
I found it, and I found a lot more.
The six pantry shelves were stocked thusly:
First shelf - angel hair pasta
Second shelf - canned tuna and saltine crackers
Third shelf - microwave popcorn
Fourth shelf - cups of Ramen noodles
Fifth shelf - canned soup
Sixth shelf - granola bars, the cheap kind
Mom ducked into the living room to tell Rhys goodbye. Curious, I took the opportunity to look into the fridge. Those contents weren’t much different. Baby carrots, applesauce, yogurt, cheese sticks, and random condiments that had probably been there since CTW was active.
The freezer was filled with personal pizzas and burritos.
This is what Rhys and CTW ate.
Every day, it looked like.
I’m hardly a health nut, but even I knew the selection was seriously lacking any good food.
I couldn’t fix much for Rhys, but I could fix this.
And I would.

Keep Reading

Chapter 11

Desserting and Spelunking

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