Di couldn’t decide whether to tiptoe away or start running. Being paralyzed with fear made it difficult to do either.
There’s someone in my house! The realization slammed into her again as she stared at the miniature, wooden hourglass on the bookshelf. She had to admit it didn’t look that scary, standing on a lace doily next to a bowl of potpourri, but those things had been there when she walked past a minute ago.
The hourglass hadn’t.
Coby? She grasped at a desperate hope as the silvery grains of sand tumbled through the rough, glass shell. No. Her oblivious twin brother was upstairs, no doubt texting the girls he would see at school if he bothered to get ready in time, while Di was alone with a potential robber, axe murderer or raving lunatic for company.
Or even a living army of home-invading knock-knacks, she chided herself, searching for a better explanation. Her parents must have left the hourglass on their way to work and her passing footsteps probably shook out a blockage of sand, allowing it to pour freely and catch her eye. The fact that she’d panicked said more about her ability to overreact at the slightest provocation than about the dubious motives of a stalking time piece.
Anxious to get back on schedule Di checked her watch – and the sight woke her faster than being drenched in a bucket of ice water. How could it be that late already? Ironing Coby’s shirt had stuffed up her routine a bit, but by this much? The bus would be there any minute.
She rushed upstairs to the apocalyptic mess Coby called his room. His scruffy brown hair, stained uniform and grubby shoes were like camouflage amidst the chaos.
“Who lost my schoolbag?” he said through his sixth bit of toast, contributing to the search by kicking piles of dirty laundry and untouched textbooks around the floor.
“No-one. But can you hurry up? Please?”
Coby muttered something, probably rude, but at least he wasn’t playing living-room obstacle football or complaining about matching socks and packed lunches and anything else fifteen-year-old boys say are a waste of time. If he tried that again, Di might just disown him altogether.
Or not. She sighed. Despite Coby’s unflinching belief that she was adopted, their identical brown eyes and jointly embarrassing full names – Diamond and Cobalt – said they were as close as family could get. So to their mutual annoyance, she felt compelled to fuss.
“Fine,” Di said. “I’ll find the bag. You get ready.”
“Right.” Coby finger-combed his hair as he dashed out, but he still looked like he’d been mugged. By a cyclone.
You’re welcome! Di grabbed her own bag from her room and hurried back downstairs, silently composing the lecture she’d never have the heart to deliver. As she reached the landing she looked up at the bookshelf and froze.
The hourglass was gone.
Di stumbled sideways off the last step and pressed herself against the hallway wall to cover her back, throwing wild glances up the hall in both directions. If she went back upstairs to warn her brother, she’d cut off any means of escape. But if she tried searching for the intruder, she couldn’t move anywhere without leaving the rest of the house open for them to sneak around.
Di locked her eyes on the hallway phone. And something crashed to the floor above her.
Coby! She dived back around the corner, without considering who she’d meet or how she might defend herself. Coby appeared on the top step, raising his hands in surrender.
“Before you go mental,” he said as a cricket ball rolled out behind him, “that vase was ugly anyway.”
“I’ll fix it later.” Di waved his words away. “Did you see an hourglass here? There was a little antique one, like, a second ago.”
“Oookay.” Coby raised his eyebrows. “Forget the vase, you’re mental already.”
Di went to protest but decided it was pointless. Coby would have been able to see the bookshelf from his room the whole time she was up there. No one moved the hourglass, because it never existed.
Coby twirled a finger at his ear, officially declaring her insane, then kicked the tennis ball back into his room and disappeared after it. Di ignored him. Sure he’d caught her creeping through the house with a butcher’s knife two weeks ago, looking for what turned out to be just a mouse in the pantry, but that didn’t make her crazy and neither did this. No it was a trick of the light, made worse by tired eyes after last nights’ study cut into her scheduled seven and a quarter hours’ sleep.
Yeah, right, Di thought, until an involuntary yawn set her eyes watering enough to blur out everything around her. She blinked it away and found herself staring at the grandfather clock beside the bookshelf.
From the glass case, two solemn figures were staring back.
Di spun around, searching for the source of the reflection, but the stairs were empty. Gripping the banister in case her legs gave way, she started to turn back again. Her neck creaked with every incremental movement but she didn’t have the courage to go any faster. Eventually her gaze reached the base of the clock. She raised her head.
“Found it!” Coby thundered downstairs, slinging his backpack over his shoulder while Di tried not to faint at the sight of him.
“It was under my bed. The ball rolled right next to it,” he said, pushing past Di to the front door. She looked back at the clock. The gaunt faced man and the woman with the imploring blue eyes had gone.
Tired. Plain, sane and tired, Di told herself, unable to believe it but refusing to consider anything else. She brushed the creases from her uniform, ran a hand over her ponytail to ensure there wasn’t a hair out of place, and followed Coby outside.
The bus passed their stop just as Di locked the front door. Coby couldn’t resist a race as the bus dragged itself up the hill and Di chased after him, dying of embarrassment; with her overstuffed schoolbag bouncing on her back, she felt like a giant, uncoordinated turtle.
At least it won’t make me any less cool, she reasoned as she caught up and climbed on board. Coby headed straight for the back seat, leaving Di, with her rank on the social ladder of about five rungs underground, to that most fiercely coveted of spots: smack-bang behind the driver. Waiting for her as always was her slightly freckly, slightly lanky, best-friend-ever, Josh.
“Since when do you have to run to get here on time?” He gaped at her as she joined him. “What happened, did every watch in the world stop working?”
“Yeah… I mean no… Coby was taking forever.” Di shook her head.
“You okay though? You seem stressed.”
“I’m just tired.”
“Were you up all night reading again?”
“Maybe,” Di admitted. Josh feigned disappointment.
“You need a life,” he teased. He was joking, but the honesty in his hazel eyes hit a painful nerve.
Di turned away, fiddling with her neatly trimmed nails to avoid his gaze. Josh was right; her life was about as exciting as leftover Brussels sprouts.
“Maybe you… you could… come out sometime,” he said quietly. Di jerked her head up and saw, to her astonishment, a hint of colour creeping up from his cheeks to the roots of his dusty blonde hair.