Hope supposed that was true, and even though Faith was her twin, she didn't understand what made her sister so prickly all the time. Just tonight she'd been sent straight to her room for sassing. Now the door was shut tight and there was no light under it. Hope imagined Faith was staring up at the ceiling with that sulky look on her face and her fists clenched tight as if she waited to box with the shadows.
Hope touched the doorknob. Most times she could coax Faith out of those black moods. She could huddle in bed with her in the dark and make up stories until Faith laughed and the spit in her eyes dried up again.
But tonight was for other things. Tonight was for adventures.
It was all planned, but Hope didn't let the excitement come until she was in her own room with the door shut. She left the light off, moving quietly in the dark that was silvered by moonlight. She changed her cotton gown for shorts and a T-shirt. Her heart drummed pleasantly in her chest as she arranged the pillows on the bed in a shape that to her naive and childish eyes resembled a sleeping form.
From under the bed, she took her adventure kit. The old dome-topped lunch box held a bottle of Coca-Cola gone warm, a bag of cookies sneaked carefully from the kitchen jar, a small, rusted penknife, matches, a compass, a water pistol-fully loaded-and a red plastic flashlight.
For a moment she sat on the floor. She could smell her crayons, and the talc that clung to her own skin from after her bath. She could hear, just barely hear, the music drifting out from her mother's sitting room.
When she slid her window open, quietly took out the screen, she was smiling.
Young, agile, and bright with anticipation, she swung her leg over the sill, found a toehold in the trellis mad with vining wisteria.
The air was like syrup, and the hot, sweet flavor of it filled her lungs as she climbed down. A splinter stabbed into her finger, causing her to hiss in a breath. But she kept moving, keeping her eyes on the lighted windows of the first floor. She was a shadow, she thought, and no one would see her.
She was Hope Lavelle, girl spy, and had a meeting with her contact and partner at precisely ten thirty-five.
She had to stifle a giggle, and was breathless from the laughter that wanted to bubble out as she hit the ground.
To add to her own excitement, she darted and dashed behind the thick trunks of the grand old trees that shaded the house, then peeked around them toward the faint blue light that pulsed against the window in the room where her brother watched TV, up to the clearer yellow glow where each of her parents spent their evening.
Discovery now would mean disaster for the mission, she thought, crouching as she raced through the gardens and the sweet scent of roses and night-blooming jasmine. She must avoid capture at all costs, as the fate of the world rested on her shoulders and those of her stalwart partner.
The woman inside the child screamed out. Go back, oh please, go back. But the child didn't hear.
She wheeled her pink bike out from behind the camellias, where she'd stashed it that afternoon, snuggled her kit into the white basket, then pushed it over the cushion of grass alongside the long gravel drive until the house, and the lights, were dim with distance.
When she rode, she rode like the wind, imagining the pretty little bike was a souped-up motorcycle, complete with nerve gas dispenser and oil slick shooter. The white plastic streamers danced from the ends of the handlebars and slapped each other gaily.
She flew through the thick air, and the chorus of peepers and cicadas became the panther roar of her speeding machine.
At the fork in the road, she bore left, then jumped nimbly off her bike to wheel it off the road, down into the narrow gully where it would be hidden by brush. Though the moon was bright enough, she took the flashlight out of her kit. The smiling Princess Leia on her watch told her she was fifteen minutes early. Without fear, without thought, she turned onto the narrow path into the marsh.
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