The lake house, when they finally arrived after the drive from New York that took almost twice as long as the computer had promised, looked nothing like what Matt had been imagining all summer. Instead of a little wooden cottage with creaking floors and a porch on the water, they pulled up in front of a three-story stone mansion. A dozen windows quivered with the shadows of the huge trees that rose above the gabled roof. Beyond the house was an enormous yard, and Matt could see, if he leaned out the window, the view across the water to the mountains, patterning blue into the distance. [End Page 10]
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[End Page 11]
"Well, here we are. Just your run-of-the-mill cottage," Matt said. "You can always count on Grandpa to be discreet. Wouldn't want to go overboard or anything."
Sarah, whose parents had rented this place and invited them to come up for the week, flashed him a look of warning. Her parents were arriving tomorrow, so Matt had one day of freedom with just his family, maybe even some quiet.
"Out, out, out!" Cyrus screamed from the backseat, and Lily joined him, bucking in her booster seat like a caged animal.
The dark, low-ceilinged rooms through which the kids raced howling were crammed with worn furniture. Crumbling mass-market thrillers leaned against each other on dusty shelves. Mediocre paintings of covered bridges and lake views cluttered the downstairs walls, and faded photographs lined the upstairs hallway: the kids in one photo looked like the parents in others. From what Matt could tell, the family had a lot of redheads and the smug self-congratulation of old money. The photos were old, the colors faded to sepia hues, as if, like the books and furniture, they hadn't been updated since the '80s.
Though it wasn't Matt's style, he had to admit the house was nice, or would've been if not for the construction site next door. On the tip of the point, a new house was being built. Pickups bristling with ladders raced down the gravel road, and the air was filled with buzzing saws, thudding nail guns, slamming doors. Matt wasn't paying for the house but still felt they'd been taken advantage of, even lied to. You shouldn't go on vacation and end up in a work zone.
But what the hell. He hadn't come all that way to get annoyed. There'd been enough to worry about in New York. At the last meeting in June, the principal had announced that there was to be an internal investigation over the summer to resolve, once and for all, the conflicts that were undermining the children's education. Everyone knew what that meant: they were looking for a way around his tenure to fire him. Matt was on indefinite leave, but Angela, the other eleventh grade English teacher, had filled him on the gossip.
Two hours of soccer, climbing the old trees and swimming in the cold water wore the kids out, and at 3:30 Lily fell asleep in her bunk bed. She was six, hadn't napped for years and would be up half the night, but it was worth the break. Cyrus, who was nine and too old to nap, agreed to stay in the room as long as he got to play his PSP. [End Page 12]
Behind the mirror in the bathroom he found a tube of antibiotic cream. He'd cut his hand while carrying their suitcases and Lily's booster seat, and in the rush of leaving the house, he hadn't cleaned it properly. A few hours later, and already it was throbbing. The cut was between his knuckles, and a Band-Aid didn't fit, so he just smeared on cream and went into the hall. That was when he noticed the attic door.
He assumed it was a closet, but when he turned the knob he was faced with stairs going almost straight up. The top step was lined...