I regretted it the minute I said it. But you can’t unsay things, right? The words were out there, floating in the air between us.
“Let’s split up,” Pricey suggested. “I’ll head east. Thomas, west. Miles, split the difference.”
Thomas scowled. “Which way’s west?”
“Follow the moon, dummy.”
We split off. I had to follow Pricey to get around the pond.
Before we separated, he asked, “Do you think Aaron’s dead?”
I chewed my lip. “No.”
He stared me in the eyes for a second, reading me. “I really wish you brought the Dagger, Miles.” He veered away. I headed south towards the treeline.
I wasn’t wrong about the Dagger. It wasn’t a knife, but it sure as hell looked like one, especially up against someone’s throat. The rest of the guys could play off their objects as costume jewelry, but not me, not with the Dagger. In hindsight, I should’ve called it something more innocuous—the Tusk, or the Horn, maybe. But a name couldn’t change something. Not really.
I was the one that found Aaron that night. Pricey and Thomas let me keep that secret. As much as Thomas hated me, he went along with our round robin decision to fudge the specifics.
This next part is going to hurt.
Miles stares into his untouched coffee. He’d been quiet for awhile.
“The pavilion,” he finally says.
“What about it?” Julia asks.
He rotates his cup, staining a ring into the little brown napkin beneath it. “Why were we out there?”
Julia sighs. “It was the Fourth of July.”
He nods. “That’s right. The fireworks.”
“Can we stay focused?” she demands. “What was in the Box?”
“Four objects,” he says. “We each took one.”
Julia shrugs. “Okay. What were they?”
Miles shrugs. “I don’t know exactly. They were all metal and stone. I thought they might be part of a suit of armor. Like from a knight?”
“Okay,” Julia sighs, “but what were they? Coins? Tools?”
Miles shakes his head. “One was a thin little rock with a worried hole—Pricey called it the Monocle. Thomas wore his on his wrist—the Gauntlet. Mine was the Dagger—”
“Which one did Aaron take?”
“The Helmet.” His chin falls to his chest. “It was shaped like a bird.”
Julia takes a sip of coffee. “I’m just not getting it. What did they have to do with what happened?
Miles attempts a sentence three times before he speaks. “They…did stuff.”
Julia’s eyebrows knit together. “Stuff?”
“The Monocle could show you things—footprints, hidden passages—and the Gauntlet could make you invisible. The Helmet—”
“Hold on,” Julia says. “What do you mean make you invisible?”
“Invisible,” Miles says. “I—I don’t know how else to say it. Transparent?”
Blood rushes to her face. She struggles to hold her calm. “Are you saying you found a bracelet that makes people disappear?”
“Well, just the person wearing it,” Miles says. “And the Helmet made you fly–made Aaron fly.”
“Okay,” she says, and nods. And nods. “You’re right. This was a bad idea.”
He looks shocked. “What?”
Julia stands. “The thing I can’t figure out is if you actually believe this, or if you’re just trying to blow me off.”
Now Miles stands. “Look, I told you this was complicated—”
“You’re sick, you know that?” she says softly. “And not because you think some trinkets gave your friends magical powers, but because I came looking for an answer I deserve.”
“Julia,” he says, “it’s the truth. This is the truth, okay?”
Her lip trembles. “Miles, we—” She stops. “You could’ve helped me. You’re just throwing this back in my face.”
“I could’ve gone to the police,” she says. “But I came to you. And you’re lying to me.”
He looks hurt. Physically ill. “I’m not lying.”
“Goodbye, Miles,” she says.
She turns to leave.
Rubbing his temples, Miles sighs. “Just give me a minute.” He jerks a thumb towards the restroom.
Julia puts her hands on her hips. “Why? Did you bring the Invisible Bracelet to give me the slip?”
“One minute,” he said softly. “When I come back, I’ll tell you what happened.”
“The truth?” Julia says.
He gets up from the table. The barista points him to the restroom near the back exit. For a second, Julia thinks he might bolt. When the door shuts behind him, she sits back down at the little table, running her hand over all the nicks and whorls on its surface.
What are you doing, Julia?
While he’s gone, she thinks about the night at the pavilion and hates herself for it.
Inside the men’s room, Miles stares at his reflection in the mirror. The surface is scratched, marred. He practices his words through the scratches and nicks.
Miles takes his seat again. “Aaron didn’t fall out of the tree house.”
He looks down. “We dared him to climb the water tower. He made it to the top. But on the way back down—” His lower lip quivers. He looks at Julia.
She’s trembling, watching her coffee mug. She doesn’t blink for nearly a minute.
“I’m sorry, Julia.”
“Aren’t we all,” she replied, wiping beneath her eye with a shaky finger. She stood up. “I, uh—I have to go.”
Miles nodded. “Yeah.”
“Take care of yourself.”
The bells above the door clink as she leaves. Miles is alone again. Hidden in the city. And safe maybe.
When I was on the other side of town, on the old Southtown overpass, watching cars zipping under me in the fading daylight, the Dagger turning over and over in my hands, I just kept thinking. About the summer. About us. About what we found in the Box.
The Monocle could make things visible, and the Gauntlet just the opposite. The Helmet–Aaron’s Helmet–could make a person fly. It was the most coveted of the items in the Box, but it wasn’t the most powerful.
The Dagger could make someone tell the truth. And it had, several times, all summer long. First, it made Adam Dansel admit he had a crush on Ali Martin. Eventually, it made Bobby Simmons confess to stealing a rare old stamp collection from the library.
And then there was Mr. Battersby. We were just messing with him. We didn’t know he was going to tell us about the little girl. Or where he buried her.
After that we hardly used the objects. Thomas said he wanted to trade, but I think he really just wanted all of them to himself. He would try to talk Aaron out of the Helmet, and sometimes it was more than talk. Aaron started to get paranoid. He was running out of hiding places.
It was a sickness the Dagger gave us. My dagger. It poisoned us, like a serum that forced us to grow up too fast. We fought constantly, always at each other’s throats like a litter of jackals.
So when I dropped the Dagger onto the bed of a truck heading out of town, I thought that was the end. I guess it was, in a way.
Like I said, I found Aaron that night. He was crumpled on the ground, like a scarecrow after a bad rain. I thought he was already gone. Part of me wished he was.
He was still conscious. Barely. Dark liquid ran from his nose and mouth. The Helmet was still on. I knelt beside him, making a halfhearted attempt to remove it.
“Miles?” he rasped.
My vision blurred, burning with saltwater. “I know.”
His body tensed, racking with wet coughs. I wiped away at my face. “I’m gonna find Pricey. We’ll get you home—”
“No!” he cried, his eyes flying open. “Don’t go. Please don’t go, Miles. Please.”
“I’ll be right back—”
“Please don’t leave me.” His voice cracked. “I don’t want to be alone. Please, Miles.”
“Okay,” I sniffled. I didn’t know what to do. He was the toughest kid I ever met. Tough as nails. I’d never even seen him cry. “Aaron?”
I choked out, “I think it was me.”
“After our fight,” I whimpered. “I rode my bike to the edge of town, past the county line. I don’t know if I was running away or—I don’t know what I was doing. But I took the Dagger with me.”
More wet coughs. I held his hand.
“I think these things—they have a range on them,” I said. “I think they stop working if they get too far from each other.”
A long hiss of air escaped his lungs. “I shouldn’t…have yelled. I shouldn’t—” and then he was out of breath.
I gagged into my shoulder. “I lied, Aaron. I lied when I said the Dagger worked on me. All summer I’ve been lying.”
Beneath the skulllike features of the Helmet, behind the backswept wings and the snub beak, Aaron’s face pinched into a sob. Bloody tears pooled in the crevices. “I don’t want to die, Miles.”
I screamed for Pricey. Even Thomas. I screamed for anyone.
I’m not even sure any sound came out.