lot better shape myself. I remember thinking, Waterfall? When did I acquire a waterfall? and then realizing the thunderous roar I heard was my own bloodstream trying to squirt out my ears. I told my adrenal gland to knock it the hell off; neither fight nor flight was an option here.
No sense trying to push Zoey ahead of me like a shopping cart; she outweighed me. I stepped up beside her, took a deep breath, and—all gods be thanked—a pair of hands came around from behind my head and covered my mouth.
I did not jump a foot in the air, despite my hypercharged state, because I’d had a split second of subconscious warning—and more than a decade of conditioning. Materializing behind me without warning is a game my daughter invented the second day of her life, and has never tired of since—and whenever she does it, there’s almost always a faint but distinctive pop sound of displaced air as she winks into existence. This time was a little unusual, though: usually her hands go over my eyes rather than my mouth.
I thought it was a spectacularly bad idea to let Tony Donuts Junior see Erin teleporting around like this. But as I framed the thought she whispered urgently in my ear, “Remember, Daddy: you don’t know his name,” and was gone again. And I realized three things at once: first, Little Nuts hadn’t even noticed Zoey and me yet; second, even if he had, Erin would have been concealed behind us; and finally, if she had not done what she just did, I would unquestionably have used the deep breath still sequestered in my lungs to call out, “Hi there, Tony.” The Professor and Maureen had assured us that Tony’s IQ could not legally order a drink, being under twenty-one—but surely he possessed enough rat shrewdness to notice if someone addressed him by a name he was not giving out.
I learned to deal with the humiliation of being way dumber than my child about the same time she invented materializing behind me without warning. By now her mother and I are just thankful she still chooses us to make look like idiots. She almost never rubs it in unless she absolutely positively feels like it.
“Hi there,” I called across the compound, to the vast relief of my lungs, and Tony looked up. “I must have got it wrong: I thought our appointment wasn’t until tomorrow.”
“That’s right,” he said. He picked a longneck bottle of Rickard’s Red up off the bartop, snapped the neck off the bottle with his other hand, tossed the still-capped stub into the pool, and drank deep. “Fuck appointments.”
“Ah. Good point.”
A second gulp drained the bottle; he cocked his arm to toss it too into the pool. An attractive young woman down at the far end of the bar said, “Glass goes in the fireplace.”
He turned slowly around and stared at her.
“You can pee in the pool if you want,” she told him. “Everybody else does. But glass goes in the fireplace. See?”
She pointed, and automatically he looked, and sure enough, the big stone fireplace was full of broken glass. It pretty much always is. He looked back at her, frowned hard as if in thought…well, maybe not that hard…and emitted a belch that made bottles rattle behind the bar. She met his gaze without flinching.
Tony shrugged and flicked the empty bottle into the fireplace; it burst with a musical sound. She awarded him a Mona Lisa microsmile and said nothing.
I was confused. She spoke as if she were a regular, and indeed there was something oddly almost-familiar about her…but I was fairly sure I did not know her. She was too pretty to forget. Her long curly chestnut hair alone was too pretty to forget. She was tall, shapely, and very young, the youngest person in the compound besides Erin, whom I did not see anywhere. In fact, now that I looked closely with my professional bartender’s eyeball, I wasn’t even certain she was old enough to buy a drink in the