Hannah dropped some ice cubes into her tea and finished it off rather quickly.
She ruffled Jack’s hair before she went up the stairs.
“Don’t stay up too late, you two. And no funny stuff with the houseguest.”
“Tell that to her, it was her idea in the first place.”
“Jack has been a perfect gentleman,” Beth said.
“Well, just make sure he keeps ‘perfect gentleman-ing,’ and give him a kick if he stops,” Hannah said as she went up the stairs.
“I’m sorry about her,” Jack said.
Beth sipped at her tea. It had given her some color back, and her hands had stopped shaking.
“Think you can make it by yourself? Down here?”
Beth looked at the clock on the mantelpiece. It was almost two in the morning.
“The Witching hour is past. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to stay past it.”
“Well, you’re still here. All in one piece.”
She stared at her hand, wagging it back and forth at arm’s length. “For now.”
Jack stood up, took her mug. He rinsed it out, put it in the drainer by the sink.
Beth had settled on the sofa by the time he came back from the kitchen. She turned, staring up at him from the pillow over the sofa’s arm.
“Hey,” she said.
Jack paused at the stairs.
“Stop that. I didn’t do anything,” he said.
“Jack,” she said, when he turned to start up the stairs again.
He turned, went around to the side of the sofa. He grabbed the blanket, tucked it in around her tight.
“Stay there and get some sleep. We do have to go to school in the morning, you know.”
She dropped her head back to the pillow.
“Goodnight, Beth,” he said. “Sweet dreams. I better see you in the morning.”
“It’d serve you right if I just vanished again!” she said, wiggling back and forth against the blankets.
* * * * *
It felt to Jack that he’d just set his head down on his pillow, and then his alarm was blaring. He groped blindly for the snooze bar, blinking as he sat up. Frost edged the windows, and the morning sky was leaden with clouds.
“Shhh!” Hannah warned, from her seat closest to the stairs, as Jack made his way down. She pointed towards the sofa, clasped her hands together, laid her head along side them.
Jack slowed his descent, peeking around the corner. Beth hadn’t disappeared, as she’d threatened to. She’d managed to loosen the blankets, and was curled on her side, her breathing deep and even.
“Looks like you wore her out last night, Jack-O,” Hannah said, slugging him in the shoulder.
Charlotte’s eyes widened over her glass of orange juice, flicked from Jack, over to Beth, then back to her brother.
Jack scowled at both of them, going into the kitchen to find his mother putting the finishing touches on some plates of eggs.
“Jack, did you sleep all right last night?”
“Mostly. Why? What did Hannah tell you?”
“Just that you were a perfect gentleman.”
Was she smiling? Jack busied himself at the fridge, pouring a glass of orange juice.
“We haven’t been able to shake that girl out of dreamland. Go give it a try, Jack. You’ll miss the bus if she sleeps much later.”
Jack took a drink of orange juice, set his glass down at his seat at the table, then went around to the sofa.
He set his hand on Beth’s shoulder, giving it a gentle shake.
“Hey, time to wake up, sleepyhead.”
She murmured something under her breath, then snuggled down further in the blankets.
Jack looked over at his sisters. They shrugged.
Ellie clomped down the stairs. Beth didn’t budge.
The youngest Jacobs peeked over the arm of the sofa, then looked up at Jack.
“She’s still sleeping.”
“Yes,” Jack said. “We’d noticed. She doesn’t want to wake up. Not even with all the noise you make.”
“I don’t make a lot of noise!”
Jack and his sisters winced as Ellie did just the opposite.
Beth’s breathing didn’t even catch, staying slow and even.
“Okay, this is just getting weird,” Charlotte said. “Jack, why can’t you have nice, normal friends?”
“When the byoo-tee-ful princess won’t wake up, then Prince Charming has to give her a kiss,” Ellie said, matter of factly.
“I’m not going to kiss her!” Jack said.
“Nothing else seems to work,” Hannah said. “As strange as things are around that girl, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it actually worked.”
“I’m not— No!” Jack said, standing up from where he’d been kneeling by the sofa.
Jack’s mother set two plates on the table.
“What’s all the fuss now?” she asked. “Is she still not up yet? I don’t know that I have any adrenaline in my medical kit.”
“Mom, she hates needles.”
“Well, we seem to be running out of options.”
“I made an option!” Ellie said. “Prince Charming has to kiss Sleeping Byoo-tee!”
“Well, make it quick,” said Jack’s mother. “Breakfast is getting cold.”
“Mom! I can’t just—”
“Wait, let me go get my camera!” Hannah bolted for the stairs.
Jack took a deep breath.
“Okay, well, you don’t all have to watch.”
“Wait!” came Hannah’s cry from upstairs.
Jack knelt down again. Shook Beth’s shoulder. Deep breathing, a whispered word under her breath, but not so much as a flutter of an eyelid.
He brushed a lock of hair from her cheek.
He leaned over, heart hammering, kissed her forehead. It was cool, smooth under his lips.
Nothing. Not so much as a wiggle of her nose or a flicker of movement under her eyelids.
There was a bright flash and an electronic chirp from over his head.
“I’m just going to let her sleep here all day if you don’t all back off,” Jack growled.
“Hannah, dear, put the camera down and eat your breakfast.”
“Jack, you missed. You haveta kiss her on the mouth!”
“Lips,” corrected Hannah. “Mouth kissing is… something I’ll have to talk to you about when you’re older.”
“I think I’m going to be sick,” said Charlotte.