Emeral started to stir as the clusters of buildings became more apparent. She had not been sleeping, not this time at least. She heard the page of Ket's book flip, one of the many hundreds in the novel that he had his eyes buried in. She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, aware that if she directly looked at him it might bring him out of that little world between the words.
She would rather he enjoyed himself.
It wasn't like he was ignoring her. He had offered plenty of times to do something to entertain her, but each time she declined. He would stare at her for just a moment, a bit of concern on his face. but then, he would reluctantly go back into whatever fantastic and enchanted land it was he was reading about.
She just wanted to think. For once in her life, she wanted her brain to think. Between the cat-naps she got, awakened by the occasional pit-stop or, more often, the melodramatic jostle as the car hit a turbulent stretch of road, she thought over everything that happened the last four days.
I think I understand what love is.
If he was lying, he was a darn good liar. But Ket wasn't like that. She knew he meant what he said. He wasn't pretending like he couldn't explain it to spite her. He had shown her, and just thinking about it made her fur stand on end.
She would almost say that was a dream. Just one of the many she had had over the months, even since Christmas. She even had a similar dream a long time ago. But the earlier morning, nearly ten hours hence, had happened.
And, for better or for worse, all the other stuff the past four days had too. Much as she loved to think about the sunrise—love, in the sense that she understood it—somewhere before then he had learned something she didn't know.
Granted, he knew a lot of things she didn't know. But love? She thought she knew what it was, too. Wasn't she the one who taught him in the first place? Wasn't he the quiet boy who had fled a half-eaten cup of Insta-Mac out of the very fear that he might be liked by a girl—by her?
Though he was, he had come to a point where he understood something so abstract to her that while he helped pack her things away of his own volition, somewhere in the way he moved and talked and acted he was sending a message that she could perceive—but couldn't translate.
Like the hieroglyphs within a Pharaoh's tomb, she would have to study the events of their vacation in the hopes that she too would discover what he had discovered.
Because she couldn't handle being the one falling behind?
No. Because she wanted to kiss him the way he had kissed her—make him feel the way she had felt.
* * *
"Everyone awake back there?"
"Yes." Ket said, as if that was his Out-Of-Office reply.
The Arkethius you have dialed is in the middle of chapter thirty-seven. Please call back and try again later.
"I'm awake," Emeral mumbled, half so.
"There's the library," Momma B. pointed out as she came to the red light. "Just a few minutes and you'll be home-sweet-home, Ket."
"Lucky you," Emeral teased with half her muzzle squished into her palm.
His response was only to flip the page of his book, and then place the bookmark in the seam before closing it with one hand. It would have probably been more of a dramatic gesture if it wasn't a paper-back.
The light changed, and the car moved on. As glad as she was to be just a small stop from her own home, she couldn't help but have a coil of sadness winding up in the pit of her stomach. It felt like an adventure had just ended, far too soon for her. Just as it was getting exciting, it was over. Like one of those annoying two-part movies.
They turned off of Almond Field onto Raspberry Line. Emeral sat upright for what felt like the first time that entire ride home. She was absolutely a mess, her cheek-fur mussed and clumped together with drool, and her hair all frizzy, and she probably needed to take a bath—or a shower, now that she was accustomed to those.
But she also desperately wanted to hug Ket goodbye, for it might be just a while before they see each other again. At least a whole day, maybe more.
His house approached. As Emeral watched its presence come more into her view through the windshield across the car, she couldn't help but feel the house was so unfamiliar. Maybe it was because she had spent what felt like forever away from town, but something about the house didn't ring true. Something about the color... it was like the sun was making it look a bit... splotchy.
"Oh... Oh my god..."
Emeral's nape puffed up at the tone of their mothers' voices. She looked at Ket. He was staring at his home with a mouth that was slowly opening up like a goldfish.
"What the hell is going on," Momma R. swore as she hit the buckle to unlatch the seatbelt. Even as it whipped back into its natural place she was out of the car and shutting the door. Emeral felt the air blow into the car as Ket, too, departed in the same manner.
She was last, her mom having gotten out just a bit before her. She went around the back of the car, following Ket. Now that she wasn't on the far side, she could clearly see what had gotten everyone's attention.
The splotchy patches that looked so unfamiliar to her, were in fact congealed egg yolk. She could tell it was that because the shells were still littered about the yard just up by the house proper. The yellow that the yolk had turned to was not natural; it had a sickening, orange tint. Much of it had dripped, collecting in the wide gaps between the wood that made up the face of the house.
Worse, the egg was baked in. There was no telling exactly how long it had been there, but it had been long enough to do damage. There would be no way to remove any of it without having to scrape it away and repaint the entire surface.
"Look, Micah, the window."
The window to the left of the door, where the kitchen table resided just behind the wall, was bashed in entirely. It had been almost completely cleared of the glass, some of it even glinted from the grass as Emeral walked closer to the house.
All four then looked to the door.
Momma R. went up to it, and jiggled the knob. It was locked.
"Hang on, I'll get the key."
"I've got mine," Ket said, reaching into his back pocket. He pulled it out, and went up to the door before anyone could stop him. It crunched as he slid it into the lock, and when he turned it the bolt settled the other way.
”Stand back kid," his mom ordered.
Reluctantly he did, and she opened the door.
Just from where they stood, they could see wreckage. Food had been dumped all over: cereal, snacks, liquids, vegetables, and whatever else used to be edible. It was all on the floor, mixed together, and smelled of something not yet fierce, but definitely not pleasing.
Momma R. stepped inside. The glass by the window was covered by two thick, blue towels, presumably to protect whomever was going to climb in. She stepped carefully, and before she got to the entrance of the kitchen, shouted as threateningly as she could, "Hey! Anybody here? Come out now!"
"Micah!" Momma B. hissed. "I'm calling the police." She pulled out her phone.
Emeral peered into the door with Ket. She could see the mess in the kitchen, along with some puddles of the nasty gook going toward the stairs.
Fast as wind, the boy bolted through the doorway and made the bend to go up the stairs.
She followed him, rounding the corner just as fast, if not faster. She had seen the trail just as he had. Even as she turned at the loft she could see dribbles of gunk on the carpeted steps. She took in the upstairs den at a glance.
It was a disaster. She had to curve around his desk, which had been toppled to the center. The TV lay on its face beside the wall, and the cushions of the couch were torn off and all about the floor—literally. Tutty's guts were mixed in there somewhere, the Sphinx lying dead on his side in front of Ket's bedroom door.
But all of this was ignored for the moment. She was headed to where he already was. She knew, even before she knew, why there was such an urgency. When she stepped over the slain Sphinx, he was already sitting with the wooden box before him.
She saw the pink silken bag, and from within emerged the dark chocolate block.
"Thank goodness!" She exclaimed, letting go of a breath she didn't even realize she was holding. She stepped into the room proper, making her way carefully to sit upon the bed, and then laid eyes upon the horror.
There was not an inch of the floor that she could see. His dresser drawers had been pulled out, their contents strewn about. Shirts, shorts, socks, and especially underwear, were among just the surface of the stuff that caked the ground of his haven.
He had maybe six or seven puzzles, each with hundreds of pieces. She saw just about every piece before her. One here, another there, a few dozen by the window, a couple hundred everywhere else.
He had dozens of novels. Here was a page, there was a page; perhaps the books were underneath the pile of socks and underwear at the foot of the bed. And all of the Egyptian paraphernalia had always looked just a little too neat and tidy before. That was fixed, as now every figurine and pyramid block was somewhere hidden among everything else.
Not to mention the two wonderfully kept posters on the wall, especially the one of Tutankhamen's crypt. Those had been torn in half, and those halves in half, and those halves in half, and those halves in half. Some of the pieces were even still on the wall, left in by the tacks.
The force of the impact was finally felt. Even though it wasn't her house, she identified enough with it to feel the dread and despair and violation that her friend must be feeling.
"What do you think you guys are doing!?" An angry Momma B. shouted as she surmounted the stairs; "There could have been somebody still in here!"
"Mom it's okay," Emeral said loudly so she could hear as her mother approached the room, "We're fine. We were just making sure the Udjat was safe."
Momma B. stopped in her tracks. Of all the mess she had seen, the tiny room at the back of the upstairs was the worst, by far. "Emmy, c'mon hun," her mom started to come into the room; "Let's head back down—"
"Mom don't step there!" Her daughter scolded, diving from the bed toward where her mother's foot was about to land. The distance was twice her height, and yet she covered it in time to retrieve the figurine that was almost crushed beneath her mom's shoe. "You almost stepped on Isis!"
Garne balked, then asked, "Who?"
"Isis," Emeral said. "See the throne on her head?" She held up the figurine, holding it with two hands. "It's one of Ket's statues; you almost stepped on it. Don't come in here," she insisted, pushing her mom's calf, "There's lots of delicate things in here."
"...The upstairs is worse," Momma R. said into Momma B.'s cellphone. "There's lots of damage. The furniture is torn apart. ...I think we have some insurance."
Momma B. reluctantly left the room as her daughter took the figurine she was so protective of and placed it upon the dresser top.
"Okay," Momma R. said after a bit of a pause. "Thank you. I'll keep an ear out for him." She clicked the end call. "They sent officers out. She said I should take pictures, can I borrow your camera?"
"Of course," Garne said sympathetically. "Whatever you need Micah. Take a look in that room—is it Ket's?—It's pretty bad. But don't go in. I almost stepped on Isis, and Emmy gave me a bit of lip."
"Oh don't do that," Micah replied. "You'll flood the Nile."
"... Huh?" Garne finally said.
Momma R. laughed. "Nothing, just a joke," she said as she peered into her son's room, acknowledging the two tigers that glanced back at her.
"Honestly Micah, how can you be joking at a time like this? This is crazy!"
"I don't know..." She said, leaning into the door-frame. "I guess... it just hasn't sunk in yet..." She noticed the box on the bed. "They didn't find that at least," she said with a smile to her son. "There are going to be officers here in a little bit, kids. I'm going to be taking some pictures... think you guys can occupy yourselves for a bit? I'm sorry, Emmy, you were almost home, too."
"That's okay," Emeral said with a smile. She leaned down and picked up a shirt off the floor. "We can start picking up around here," she suggested, as she folded it as neatly as she could.
"No," Ket said softly. "That's... that's okay Emmy. I can clean it up myself."
"But I want to help," she insisted.
"That's really nice, Emmy," Momma R. said, "But I still have to take pictures of the damages. We'll take care of it later, okay?"
The tigress's posture sulked.
"Is your camera in the car?" Micah asked to Garne, her voice now a little shaken.
"Yeah, let's go get it." She turned to the kids. "You guys just gonna stay in here?"
They both nodded quietly.
"Okay. Holler if you see anything."
They both nodded quietly.
The mothers left the children upstairs. Emeral went back to the figurine of Isis and took it from the dresser. "I don't remember where this was on the floor," she said, sitting back on the bed. Ket extended his hand, requesting to hold the figurine. She gave it to him.
"I don't think it matters," he said, looking the goddess over. She was a little scratched and rough, but nothing major.
"When they're done taking pictures, I'll start picking things up in here," she stated.
He shook his head. "No, it's okay, really. You should go home; we haven't eaten since noon."
Her face flattened. "If we came home to my house, and my room was trashed like this, wouldn't you stay and help clean mine?"
He continued to look at the figurine in his hands, gazing into her eyes. "I didn't know you knew who Isis was."
Emeral relaxed after a second. "I guess I just picked it up somehow." She said.
"Do you know the myth that she's most known for?" He asked.
"Hmm-m," she said, shaking her head, but in a way that showed she was genuinely interested to hear. "How does it go?"
He told it with the story-teller tone that she enjoyed listening to.
"Isis and Osiris were in love. In fact, Horus was their son. Another god, Set, was very jealous that Isis loved Osiris and not him. So, he set about making a box—a very beautiful box, but a very small box. He brought the box to Osiris, and Osiris wanted to have the box. So Set told him he could have it if he could fit inside. Osiris accepted, and got into the box.
"Then, Set shut and sealed the box, so Osiris couldn't get out. He threw the box into the Nile to be swept away, but eventually it was recovered. In anger, Set tore Osiris's remains into a hundred pieces and scattered them all around the world. This was bad, because Osiris had to be buried whole in order to go to the afterlife.
"But Isis was determined, and after she grieved she set about finding every last piece of Osiris, using her magic to put him back together. She found every piece but one, so she...sort of faked it, and then buried Osiris so that he could rule over the dead, and be the judge for those who passed into the afterlife."
Emeral smiled. "That's kind of a silly myth," she commented lightly. "What part couldn't Isis find?"
Both tigers looked to the male voice that they heard at the door. "Hello there," said the bear in an officer's uniform. "I don't mean to interrupt, but would it be okay if I came in and looked around just a bit?—I'm officer McDonald, and my partner is downstairs talking with your moms right now."
"All right," Ket said.
"Just be careful, please," Emeral insisted. "There's some delicate stuff on the floor. My mom almost stepped on it."
"I promise I'll be careful," the officer replied with a smile, practically having to squeeze through the door-frame to pass into the room. He was indeed careful, always looking before he took a step. He had in his hands a clipboard and a pen, and he was jotting things down. "Your moms said you guys came rushing up here right away," he commented.
"I had to make sure... nothing was taken," the boy replied, looking at a box that sat beside him.
"Is there anything missing off the top of your head?" Asked Officer McDonald.
"Not that I know of," the tiger replied, placing a palm-sized silk bag into the box, and closing the lid.
The officer chuckled to himself. "I guess it would be hard to tell, huh?"
There was a quiet scrape as the officer watched the boy slide the box into his headboard.
"That's a nice hiding place." He said. "Your mom will have our numbers, so if you find something is missing you tell her to call us right away, okay?"
"I'm really sorry this happened, kids." The officer spoke sympathetically, folding his arms to address them. "We're going to do all we can to figure out who might've done this. It looks like it was just your house, but we'll talk to the neighbors and see why no one's said anything."
"That house," Ket said, pointing out his door, "is empty most of the time. Someone uses it but they don't stay more than a few weeks at a time. And that house," he pointed out his window, "an old couple lives there. They usually don't notice anything that goes on. I think one of their neighbors actually does their grocery shopping and stuff for them."
"Hmm," Officer McDonald looked out the window, past the curtains that had been pulled down on one side. "Well, we still want to make sure. Do you have an idea of someone who would do this?"
The girl looked at the boy. The boy shook his head. "No one's ever bothered us before."
"Okay." He took in a breath. "I'm done up here. I just took some notes. I wish I could help clean this up for you, but I'm afraid I've gotta go out and catch some bad guys." He winked.
"It's all right," the girl said. "He has my help."
"Well okay then," he squeezed back out the door. "Don't forget to use your magic."
Emeral donned surprise on her muzzle, and then her cheeks blushed just a bit. As they heard the officer's feet thump down the stairs, she slid off the bed, and went for another article of clothing. "I don't care if your mom hasn't taken any pictures yet. If we don't start now it'll never get done."
He made to get up, but she stepped over to him with one of his shirts in her right hand, and pressed her left against his chest, pushing him back down. "You stay. I can handle it."
"It's my room," he retorted.
"Yeah, so, you just relax," she rested on the mattress with one knee. "Besides," she crossed her arms, holding the shirt against an elbow, "I need something to do to keep... from crying."
Ket stood up right away as she looked aside, hiding the face that began to wiggle with emotion. He tore the shirt from her loose grasp and tossed it aside, and then embraced her.
She took several deep breaths, fighting off the urge to let it go and start bawling. She wasn't afraid to cry because of last night; he was giving her every opportunity to go ahead if she wanted to. He rested her head against his shoulder, began stroking her back, and even gently kissed her forehead.
It wasn't like him to have such initiative like this, but she wasn't going to start complaining.
She broke the embrace after her emotions were herded back in, and retrieved the same shirt for the second time. She folded it, more pristinely than she had ever folded a shirt before, and went over to his dresser. She put the shirt into the drawer where other half-folded shirts resided.
Ket helped her lift the drawer, and place it back into the frame.
As they cleaned, their mothers came upstairs again, and unobtrusively took as many pictures as they could. Garne, who felt bad for making it seem like she didn't want to help out, offered to help clean the downstairs, especially since her daughter was almost showing her up.
By the time Emeral left, the sky was just beginning to turn twilight. There was still a lot of work for the Rachauns to do, but she and her mom drove home to a clean house with less guilty hearts. The kitchen had been cleaned and mopped of all the spoiled food, and Ket at least had a walk-able path in his room, and most of the Egyptian artifacts were found, thankfully in better condition than they could have been.
Emeral felt like a robot as she washed her hair in the bathtub, able to do nothing but wonder if she had shown true love by helping him pick up those pieces of his room and putting them back where they belonged.
And then as she lied down on her own comfortable bed, satisfied that Ket was probably doing the same, she realized; he never answered her question.