Some nights, if Im sleeping on my own, I still dream about Whitethorn House. In the dream its always spring, cool fine light with a late-afternoon haze. I climb the worn stone steps and knock on the doorthat great brass knocker, going black with age and heavy enough to startle you every timeand an old woman with an apron and a deft, uncompromising face lets me in. Then she hangs the big rusted key back on her belt and walks away down the drive, under the falling cherry blossom, and I close the door behind her.
The house is always empty. The bedrooms are bare and bright, only my footsteps echoing off the floorboards, circling up through the sun and the dust motes to the high ceilings. Smell of wild hyacinths, drifting through the wideopen windows, and of beeswax polish. Chips of white paint flaking off the window sashes and a tendril of ivy swaying in over the sill. Wood doves, lazy somewhere outside.
In the sitting room the piano is open, wood glowing chestnut and almost too bright to look at in the bars of sun, the breeze stirring the yellowed sheet music like a finger. The table is laid ready for us, five settingsthe bonechina plates and the long-stemmed wineglasses, fresh-cut honeysuckle trailing from a crystal bowlbut the silverware has gone dim with tarnish and the heavy damask napkins are frilled with dust. Daniels cigarette case lies by his place at the head of the table, open and empty except for a burnt-down match. Somewhere in the house, faint as a fingernail-flick at the edge of my hearing, there are sounds: a scuffle, whispers. It almost stops my heart. The others arent gone, I got it all wrong somehow. Theyre only hiding; theyre still here, for ever and ever.
I follow the tiny noises through the house room by room, stopping at every step to listen, but Im never quick enough: they slide away like mirages, always just behind that door or up those stairs. The tip of a giggle, instantly muffled; a creak of wood. I leave wardrobe doors swinging open, I take the steps three at a time, I swing round the newel post at the top and catch a fl ash of movement in the corner of my eye: the spotted old mirror at the end of the corridor, my face reflected in it, laughing.
This is Lexie Madisons story, not mine. Id love to tell you one without getting into the other, but it doesnt work that way. I used to think I sewed us together at the edges with my own hands, pulled the stitches tight and I could unpick them any time I wanted. Now I think it always ran deeper than that and farther, underground; out of sight and way beyond my control.
This much is mine, though: everything I did. Frank puts it all down to the others, mainly to Daniel, while as far as I can tell Sam thinks that, in some obscure and slightly bizarro way, it was Lexies fault. When I say it wasnt like that, they give me careful sideways looks and change the subjectI get the feeling Frank thinks I have some creepy variant of Stockholm syndrome. That does happen to undercovers sometimes, but not this time. Im not trying to protect anyone; theres no one left to protect. Lexie and the others will never know theyre taking the blame and wouldnt care if they did. But give me more credit than that. Someone else may have dealt the hand, but I picked it up off the table, I played every card, and I had my reasons.
Excerpted from The Likeness by Tana French. Copyright © 2008 by Tana French. Excerpted by permission of Viking, a division of Penguin Group USA. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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