I looked at her, so thin and angular and sad, so surprised at herself every time that she laughed, and I wondered what it would have actually been like to grow up in the Holmes household. Long velvet curtains, I thought, and libraries filled with rare books. A hushed fight always happening the next room over. Charlotte and her brother made to wander around the house in blindfolds, listening at doors for practice, scolded for any emotional attachments except to each other. It sounded like a movie, but it must’ve been hell to live it.
“Eat,” I said, pushing her plate at her. To appease me, she took a single bite of bacon. “Did you even want to be a detective?”
“That was never the question. I’ve been solving crimes ever since I was a child. I do it well. I take pride in how well I do it, do you understand?” I nodded quickly. There was a fire in her eyes. “But I was the second child. Milo has always done everything they’ve ever wanted him to. I can’t say it hasn’t paid off—he’s one of the most powerful men in the world, and he’s twenty-four years old. But I . . .” She smiled a secret, pleased sort of smile. “I’m not interested in doing anything I don’t want to do.”
“And so they sent you to America to cool your heels.”
Holmes shrugged. “The Mail had a field day with all that. Will you look it up?”
“No,” I said, and it was true. I’d always been afraid to shatter my fantasies of her by researching the real thing. “Unless—do you want me to?”
“There’s no point. Milo had every word of the scandal scrubbed from the web. And I don’t want you to know all about it. Not yet.” Her smile faded. “Anyway, it was awful. They printed my middle name.”
She was trying to change the subject, so I let her. “Regina? Mildred? Hulga?”
“None of the above. And to answer your original question, I’ve got to solve this mess myself. I’m sure that if I rang my family up and said, Look, I’m about to be chucked in jail, will you help, they would. Because they don’t believe I can do it without them, anymore.”
“I believe you can,” I said. “Though that might just be a necessary delusion. Otherwise, I’m forced to believe that this Sunday, Detective Shepard will say that after a thorough investigation, it’s clear that we are the guiltiest guilty murderers in the world.”
“That’s not what he’s going to say.” She took another bite. “How did you know I wanted bacon? Did you deduce that as well?”
“I guessed,” I said, and watched the smile come back to her face. “Try the pancakes. They’re good. My father used to bring me here when I was in grade school.”
“I know,” she said. “You ordered without looking at your menu.”
We sat in companionable silence for a long time. I’d long since finished my own food, so I watched Holmes cut her pancakes into tiny slivers, dropping each one in a bath of maple syrup before putting it in her mouth. It was nice to linger somewhere. I hadn’t been comfortable anywhere at Sherringford outside of Holmes’s lab. Still, we were closing in on three in the morning by the time she’d finished eating.
“What’s our next move?” I asked. “If we’ve ruled out the new male students, that’s at least a start.”
“Exotic animal licenses,” she said. “Private owners first, then the zoos. You can begin digging in the morning to see who around here keeps deadly snakes. Surely one has to have been stolen. There’s no doubt the police have already looked, but then, I’m able to see things they can’t. And everyone’s falling over themselves to prepare for homecoming tomorrow, so we should be relatively free to move around.”
It was good to have a concrete plan. I felt myself relax a little bit further.
Holmes cleared her throat. “Watson,” she said in a funny voice, “you weren’t going to ask me to the dance, were you?”
“No,” I said, maybe a little too quickly. I tried to imagine Holmes under a disco ball, jumping around to some Top 40 song. It was easier to imagine a whale dancing, or Gandhi. Then I imagined some slow song, one that wasn’t complete shit, and the lights down low, and what it’d be like to have her in my arms, and I drank down my glass of water in one go. “Did you want me to? Because I had the impression you didn’t.”
“Watson,” she said again. I didn’t know if she meant it as a warning or an endearment. But then, I never knew, with her.
This was a subject I didn’t want to touch without full body armor and a ten-foot pole. She’d warned me away from it the first time we ever spoke.
“Right,” I said, picking up Lena’s keys, “we should go before your hall mother wakes from her thousand-year nap.”
I held the door open for her. The parking lot was almost empty. I squinted, waiting for my eyes to adjust, and just then, at the far end of the parking lot, a black sedan started up.
It kept its lights off as it peeled out of the parking lot.
“Holmes?” I said, frozen. “Did that just happen because he saw us?”
But she was already running for Lena’s car. “Come on,” she barked.
I fumbled to unlock the car, to back out of the space, to maneuver us out of the lot. Holmes was almost cross-eyed with impatience, but to my relief, she didn’t say anything. I hadn’t exactly done a lot of driving back in London. I mean, I’d driven my mum’s car through a parking lot. Once.