The Victorian castle with high ceilings and chandeliers was the consolation prize for a lonely summer. We’d moved in a month ago, and I got the bedroom in the turret, a two-story tower on the west side of the house. It was charming, tasteful and the last thing it needed was someone with a hammer.
The pounding echoed down the hall from my brother Dominic’s room, a relentless beat.
I went his bedroom and pushed opened the door. Tall and lean, Dominic hammered on the nails with wide swings. He wore a gray t-shirt, and khaki shorts, his skin tan from outings in the Zephyr, our daysailor. He had dark hair and green eyes like me. He wasn’t good-looking in the movie actor sense, his face too long and thin and his nose too prominent, in my opinion, but he had an intensity that made him the center of attention when he walked into a room. When he spoke, people listened, even people who were older.
I was his shadow, the little sister left to grow like a wild weed while he excelled at everything. I took piano lessons but it was too easy to memorize the songs so I lost interest. Dance lessons made me feel self-conscious and clumsy, my gangly limbs moving like sticks. The only thing I seem to like was running, my long legs eating up the miles and there was only one rule, to reach the finish line.
The nails he hammered were big and ugly, biting into the wood at odd angles, some of them bent over and smashed.
“What are you doing?” I asked, standing on the threshold of his room.
He turned, and without a word walked over and closed the door in my face.
This should have surprised me, but it didn’t. I pushed the door open again, unfazed. Nails stuck out from the frame of the closet door. He finished the last one on his knees, hitting the nail in as he bent over it and then stood up, breathing hard.
“That looks terrible,” I said.
He placed the hammer on his dresser. “Nina, I asked you not to come in my room.”
“If I hammered my closet shut wouldn’t you be curious?” Especially if they’d done such a poor job, hitting at the nails like he was on some kind of deadline. Even if he didn’t like his closet he could just keep the doors closed, there was no need for all this carpentry drama.
“Are you going to stay out of my room?”
I stepped back, both feet safely in the hallway, technically not in his room. If I violated the rules for his room he might do the same to me, and I didn’t want that. That was the problem with siblings—there was always mutually assured destruction.
“Okay, fine,” I said, resigned to not getting an answer.
He closed the door on me again. I was almost used to his new brooding persona, but not quite. He’d changed since we’d moved, from having a lot of friends and going out all the time to hibernating in his room. I didn’t know why. We’d told Dad that we were okay with moving, and I thought he’d meant it. Now suddenly he wasn’t.
“You could have used the passcode,” I said, stepping aside.
“Not with my elbow. And I knew you were home.” Dominic shut the door with his foot.
“So what’s in the box?”
He shook the water out of his dark hair, the wet cardboard sagging on his hip. The box barely held its shape, the flaps leaning against each other as if they were too tired to close, and the bottom bulged out, as if it, too, were about to surrender and drop its contents. “Books and stuff I picked up from a bookshop.”
“It’s just some little place on the corner in town.” He closed the flaps as if he were defending the contents.
“I ordered pizza if you want some.”
He grabbed a slice, heading up the stairs. “Thanks.”
I watched him leave then sat down with my phone and ate another piece of pizza, thinking about Alton as the rain drummed against the roof. He hadn’t told me very much about himself. I was determined to unravel the puzzle of Alton tomorrow if he was working.
Behind the Doors