Freddie Fortune would’ve been fourteen the day my brother and his friends burned down the Dairy Delight. Sam poured the turpentine and Noah dropped the match, but Mr. Martin started the fire the afternoon he smiled too long at Freddie over the ice cream counter. “A sweet treat for a sweet boy,” he’d said, handing him the cone with tender fingertips, as if stripping away rose thorns. Sweet boy, Noah snickered later, blowing Freddie kisses; sweet boy on the tennis court as they played vicious sets of doubles on the opening edge of autumn. It was funny for three days. On the fourth, the police found his body.
Since then, I’ve learned to hate a lot of things: Martin, sirens, the smell of anything burning. Wood ash cloaks the town, and my brother Knox has taken up smoking again, one crumpled cigarette after the other. Wears his hood up, too. Word got out that Martin favored blonds, and people won’t stop whispering that it could have been him.
“Should have been,” he says one night.
“Don’t say that.” I pluck his cigarette from between his lips and grind it out on the sole of my boot.
“You’re too young to be smoking.”
“I’m older than Freddie,” he says, drawing another from his pack. “We all are.”
He means himself, ringleader Noah Kingsley, Sam Kingsley, Hassan McMannas, and Michael “Daycare” Donahue. They’re beautiful, wicked boys. Everyone loves them or hates them or both, and that fuels their vanity, their cruelty and power and posturing. Knox smokes differently around me than he does them. He drags clumsy-deep and coughs, hand shaky as he taps ash into the gutter.
“Careful,” I say. “You’ll start another fire.”
“Didn’t start the first one,” he snaps, which is only true on a technicality: Noah started it, the way Noah starts everything between the five of them. But I know, the way a sister knows, that Knox was the first one to say, Let’s burn this bastard to the ground.
From our rooftop, we can see the blackened skeleton of the Dairy Delight. Freddie’s house lies just beyond it, ash clinging to its pale blue siding. Soot-speckled white lilies flood the porch. As we watch, a light in Freddie’s bedroom flickers on. His mother, maybe, or one of his three little brothers. It paints the day with fresh hurt, and Knox jams the cigarette back between his teeth, jaw set forward in the way he thinks makes him look older.
I draw him under my arm. He’s fourteen. His hair is still newborn-blond, and pure light—the same non-color of the flag my brother and his friends have raised in war.
Knox remembers our father. He was seven when he died, shot twice in the stomach during a sixteen-year-old’s first gas station robbery. Even back then, I think Knox understood murder. He knew it was a taking, an act below him and above him at the same time. On his first day at Comfort Elementary, he wore one of Dad’s paisley ties and a small, suspicious smile. He became friends with Noah and the others instantly. Anger feeds anger. Beauty recognizes beauty.
I know all of Knox’s friends in the sundry way of small towns: Hassan went deaf when he was struck by lightning, Daycare is missing a toe, and Noah and Sam, twins, can read each other’s minds when they’re both hungry. Freddie Fortune was Noah’s point man. They’re in the market for another, and they’re trying to recruit my fiancé, Deputy John Mullen, also a twin.
“I don’t partner with fourteen-year-old arsonists,” he says.
“Who says that was us?” asks Noah.
“Right.” He’s sitting at his barstool at the red countertop, and when I slide him a mug of coffee, he bumps my knuckles. “Thank you, honey.”
The Wallflower Diner is old-gorgeous, all aqua neon and cherry upholstery and sleek, cloudy chrome. I’m the only waitress on shift in the mornings, but Bert Baby’s on the line, flipping pancakes for the boys. I lean in behind them, topping off milks and coffees and orange juices as they confer.
“We don’t need anyone else,” says Daycare. “Six isn’t a magic number.”
“The dirty half-dozen,” says Sam, licking syrup off the back of his fork, and Hassan grins and signs something I don’t catch. The two of them push at each other, laughing. Noah stops them with a glare.
“We need another.”
Knox scoffs. “You just want someone else who’ll bloody his knuckles for you.”
“Freddie provided services—”
“Yeah, like banging your mother.”
Raucous boy laughter.
Hearing my brother use coarse language still makes something catch inside my chest. I sigh on my way back around the counter, where Bert Baby has just finished plating steamy toast and eggs and pan-fried tomatoes for the deputies. John’s twin brother, Rick Mullen, is still tussling with the jukebox in the corner. He knees it one more time before giving up, sitting down next to John with a huff.
They’re less identical up close, where I can see the troubled lines between Rick’s eyebrows, John’s imminent smile, his closer shave. They both nod their thanks to Bert and eat left-handed. Noah lets Rick finish a piece of toast before he speaks.
“We’re out a guy without Freddie,” he says.
Rick takes a long draft of coffee. “Yup.”
“We’re scared,” says Noah, sad and sweet. “We could really use a new friend right now.”
“Kid, I don’t know what you’re planning, but we’re ten years older than you, and we’re not going to turn a blind eye next time you burn down a building.”
Noah drops the pretense and smiles. “You think there’ll be a next time?”
“Better not be,” say Rick and John together, then John, alone: “Noah, our hearts go out to you boys. You know that. But we don’t want to see you in any serious trouble, and we certainly don’t want to be your accomplices.”
That quiets them. Noah inclines his chin, giving away nothing. Sam bites his lip, and Hassan extends his pointer finger and taps his hand against his heart. I don’t know what that means, but a snicker ripples through them. Knox fetches a roll of bills from his pocket and begins thumbing off ones, extricating enough to pay for the pancake breakfasts and a tip.
“Don’t tip me, Knox,” I say.
“Tip me by not getting yourself arrested.”
He slips an extra five under his plate.
When they leave, the diner misses them somehow, the silence buzzing without them. I begin collecting dishes. Rick and John have stopped eating, forks paused on chunks of tomato, watching the boys’ backs as they bike down the road toward the tennis courts.
“Do you have any idea what they’re planning, Olive?” asks Rick.
“I don’t know,” I say, “and even if I did, I don’t know if I could tell you.”
“It’d be that unspeakable?”
I meant out of loyalty, but that possibility makes my stomach tighten. Do I really know what my brother is capable of? He’s not the lepidopterist Hassan is, pinning quaking butterflies to his bedroom walls; he’s not His Majesty Noah, or Freddie Fortune of the proud, nasty uppercuts. I’ve never seen Knox jostle a new kid’s shoulder or strip the wings off a fly; all that means is that he’s not their executor. Maybe he has the ideas. Ones that say burn it all down.
“Olive, it’s going to be okay,” says John. “They’re just boys. They’re grieving.”
“They’re grieving with matches.”
“They already got the Dairy Delight,” says Rick, shrugging. “What else is there to torch?”
“It’s not the Dairy Delight they were after; it was Mr. Martin. They get mad enough, they’ll start burning everything the color of his eyes.” I’m getting angry, but it’s prophetic, directionless. I smack the plates down on the line, and wince when Bert Baby jumps. “Sorry, B.”
Bert ducks his head in acknowledgement. He’s a tall, fearful twenty-two-year-old, his lack of presence allowing him to overhear a bit of everything. He doesn’t speak often, ashamed of his soft, languid accent. That’s why I’m surprised when he says, “Knox’s still got you to lose.”
“Your respect. He won’t do nothing you won’t forgive him for.”
I know Bert well enough to realize he always means a lot he doesn’t say: that Knox reminds him of his own little brother, who drowned three years ago in Palos Lake; that the loss still rocks him. I used to drive Bert to the community college a town over for children’s cooking classes when he was eleven and I was seventeen. He was radiantly blond back then, like Freddie and Knox. Lonelier, though.
“I hope you’re right, Baby,” I say. I reach out to pat his hand, and he flushes, startling away when the jukebox kicks on suddenly with the first discordant notes of metal.
“That’s it!” Rick crows.
“We’ve got to go, Ricky.” John drains the last of his coffee, sweeps his hat back on, and leans across the counter to give me a kiss. “Goodbye, Missus John Mullen.”
“Bye, Mister Olive Visco.”
He raises his hand toward the line. “Bye, Baby.”
“Goodbye, deputies,” says Bert.
They’d barely beaten lunch rush. As they leave, Linda Schippers’ Bible study group parts around them at the door, giggling and blushing, and Starko Daley and his crowd are piling out of Jake Ulick’s dusty Mustang at the far edge of the dirt lot. Katie Carroll strolls in through the back, yawning and tying on her apron. “Afternoon,” she says, and shimmies a little to the music. “Death metal? There must be something in the water.”
“Not funny,” I say. Bert Baby startles us both by barking out a strange laugh, clipped and dark, like a eulogy.
Comfort is a sweet, sleepy town. Population of thirteen hundred, preceded by pasture on every side. After Freddie’s murder, we keep our porch lights on in remembrance, even when the soot from the Dairy Delight blots it all out. Those burnt evenings suit our anger, in some small way, but no one is angrier than Noah Kingsley and his crew.
They play neighborhood tennis games in the park on weekdays. With Freddie gone, Hassan is without a partner, so he signs obscenities from the sidelines. I sit next to him with an unopened book in my lap. Today is Monday, my day off, and I woke up with a terrible, tight feeling in my throat.
Knox’s annoyed that I’m here. “Why don’t you go hang out with your man or something?” he asks through the fence, fingers looped in the chain-links.
“He’s busy investigating a freak fire that burned down the Dairy Delight,” I say.
“I heard about that!” Noah exclaims. He’s a treasure in his tennis whites, Adonis on the asphalt. He gives his racket a smug twirl, bumping Sam’s shoulder on his way back behind the net.
The Kingsley twins dominate doubles: Noah serves straight down the line, aiming to concuss, and Sam’s a little more roundabout, bumping off twists and topspins, but he can punch back volleys in these gorgeous crippling lines. Reed Rosenberg and Lucas Campion-White don’t know what to do with them. They batter the ball around in abbreviated sets, embarrassed, all sweat and rage and ricochet.
“Hit it back this time, okay?” Noah calls. “Make it worth our while.”
“You ain’t worth shit,” says Reed.
Noah serves. Lucas thumps it back harder than necessary. Noah catches it with a vicious backhand that Reed misses. It’s easy, anticlimactic. Reed heaves his racket at the fence and paces the court with his hands on his hips, cussing.
“Thirty-love,” Knox says, and Hassan signs it back for emphasis, though he uses his middle finger for ‘thirty.’
“We know how to fucking keep score,” says Lucas.
“Oh, I wasn’t sure if you’d played this before, so—”
“Knox,” I say.
He growls in frustration. He has finally taken to wearing his hood down again, and it’s good to see his hair liberated, glinting feverishly blond in the afternoon sunlight.
Beside him, Daycare keeps clearing his throat, self-conscious. He’s the eldest of them, fifteen and looking it, shins dusted with dark hair. He has been in love with me ever since I made him a peanut butter sandwich on his ninth birthday, and I know little else about him, except that he wants to be a DJ and has a small, kind smile, like Sam Kingsley.
Sam and Noah are fraternal twins. Sam has longer hair and a wider face; dark, sturdy eyes that see right through you. Knox watches him a lot, whenever he thinks no one will notice, and I watch Knox watch him, knowing why: Noah shines brighter but falser, like a manmade landmark. Sam’s something soft in the sky. Sam doesn’t know he shines at all.
When Reed serves, Sam returns with reflexive elegance, high and sound. It sails toward the baseline and strikes Reed in the ear. Noah laughs, and Lucas is over the net in an instant, his sleeves drawn back.
“It was an accident,” begins Sam, but it makes no difference, because they were only waiting for an excuse.
Noah and Knox catch Lucas by the elbows before he reaches Sam and drive him to the pavement. They fight in formation. They batter Lucas with wide, simultaneous strikes, and when Reed tumbles into the brawl, swearing, Daycare tosses his cigarette and jumps in, too. Sam covers his eyes. Backcourt, Hassan is signing kill again and again, his K slashing across his open palm, sharp as scissors.
I drop my book and skid onto the court. I reach in for Knox but catch Noah instead, and that’s just as good; immediately the scrap begins to dissolve. Their soles have ground Lucas full of bruises at center mark and Reed’s face is a bright blur of blood.
“It doesn’t change anything!” Lucas screams. “We don’t feel sorry for you! Everyone still hates you!”
“I love it,” says Noah peaceably, beckoning with both hands. “Feed us.”
“You’re a psycho, Kingsley!”
“We’re going home. All of us,” I say, giving Knox a shove to get him walking. He thrashes away and walks six feet ahead of me, quaking with adrenaline, and the others follow me like ducklings. They’re so young, I think. And this was about Freddie. Lucas will tell his parents he fell down the stairs, but he’ll feel them in his tendons tomorrow. This is how they leave them: wearing their bruises like brands. They leave them knowing they won.
On our way home, Hassan sits down on the sidewalk and begins to sob. He fights for Freddie’s name in his rare voice, which has dropped two octaves since the last time I heard it. None of us know the words he signs. Hassan does this on purpose, his fingers a flurry, shutting us out of his world, which is even smaller than anyone else’s in Comfort.
To sweeten me away from telling Mom about what he did to Lucas and Reed, Knox offers to do the yardwork. “So a broken nose is worth a little raking to you,” I say, but he and the boys are here the next morning in their old grass-stained soccer uniforms, toting a wheelbarrow of supplies.
They mow the lawn. They sweep cobwebs from the sides of the house with brooms. I relent and teach them how to deadhead my roses, just to see if they’ll do it, and they set aside the whole afternoon for the chore, too tender to do it without frequent breaks. I watch them from my kitchen window, squeezing them fresh lemonade.
“You’re supposed to cut at an angle,” Noah says. He closes his hand over Sam’s on the shears, lowers it a half-inch on the rose’s stem.
“There. Forty-five degrees, she said.”
“That looks more like thirty-seven,” says Knox.
Noah whirls on him. “You want to fucking do it?”
“I don’t want to do shit,” says Knox loftily, and places the stem of a severed bud between his teeth. He pretends to smoke it, taps off all the petals with practiced fingers. “Spark up a sprig, gentleboys.”
“Chewing the root?” Noah says in a voice like poison.
“Flower power,” offers Sam, and means ‘peace.’
They never fought when Freddie was around. Whole, they formed an ocean in identical blue blazers. They occupied the full width of a corridor when they walked shoulder to shoulder at school, where even their teachers parted for them. Without Freddie, they have too much room between them. Noah’s temper bleeds into those spaces, Knox’s insolence, Hassan’s silence. They don’t separate to deadhead, even though it would be more efficient. It would be like telling someone they gave up.
“It’s cruel,” says Sam. He keeps rescuing the amputated blooms from the pavement, packing his pockets with petals. “Have you ever killed a baby? I’ve killed forty today.”
You chop off the rusting roses, I explained, to force the plant to send out new growth hormones. To make it believe it had failed to produce children. Every swipe of the shears as an abortion. Mass infanticide.
Sam’s fingers weep dead buds. “Who could do it? To a real kid, I mean. Someone like Freddie?”
You cut at the rose’s junctions because the joints are so tender. The boys have broken four arms between them, and their enemies seek out those old breaks whenever they fistfight, drawn to the softness of their elbows and wrists. You sever the bloom at its highest five-leaf set, because the number six is too powerful. Five is safer, they understand that summer. Six can be crushed.
With the Dairy Delight gone, the Wallflower Diner and the Hencoop are the only eateries in Comfort. The Coop serves fried catfish, po’ boys with spicy cornmeal batter, andouille gumbo. I come here every Tuesday with John, who is quiet today. I stir butter into my grits, waiting for him to be ready. His handsome face is tight with apprehension.
“Martin made bail,” he says at last.
I fumble my spoon. It clatters back into the dish; John shushes me.
“He can’t’ve,” I whisper. “For a child murder charge? How?”
“He has an extremely wealthy mother. She’s the one who funded his ice cream shops—four that we know of. We’re trying to prove complicity.”
“Four,” I repeat. I feel sick.
“And the truck.”
Chills course through me. The truck. That murdermobile with its red awnings, cruising the streets of Comfort. Martin frequented the schoolyard, the dirt road just past the tennis courts. Is that how he found his victims? How many times had he leaned out the window to pass my brother an Italian ice?
“The hair is the worst part for me,” says John. “How he kept it by his bed. Drawers full of blond hair.”
“Dehumanizing,” I say.
That’s where I can’t go. I stand up to pay, turning to slip my coat on—and feel my stomach dip.
Knox and Sam are sitting in the booth behind us, both of them on the same side, an untouched plate of fries between them. They’re wearing the blue hoodies of the debate team—white noise to us here in Comfort; all of the students take debate—and I understand suddenly that their anonymity was not to facilitate eavesdropping, but to hide the fact that they are on a date. Perhaps their first.
The funeral was closed-casket. They didn’t know about Freddie’s hair.
“Knox?” I say.
“Yeah,” says Knox—a simple affirmation that they’d heard everything. He draws his hood up over his hair and stands up, dragging Sam with him, and Sam ducks his head in apology as they scoot past us. I’ve never seen my brother move that way, so fast and nervous. Hunted. As if prey.
The air raid sirens wake me at two in the morning. I think the worst: I think night tornados, I think nuclear war. I run to Knox’s room to find his bed empty. Mom’s already there, standing in front of the open window, hands pressed against her chest. “Did you hear him leave?” she demands.
I shake my head. The sirens are winding down; Mom and I cling to each other as an announcement begins, prefaced by young, loud laughter:
“What’s chillin’, villains! This is Daycare Donahue, and this is to M-U-D-R, Funeral FM. All night, all nevermore, all under the age of fifteen! Hey, hey, let your hair down! Hey, mister ice cream man—”
“Let it down!” crows Noah Kingsley’s voice, and he and Daycare dissolve into giggles.
“They’re drunk,” says Mom. “I’ve never heard them drunk before.”
Neither have I. In all of their delinquency, they’ve always been clear-headed, calculating. This is warm and frightening and new. I release Mom and return to my room to throw on a pair of sneakers, opening my front door as my neighbors do the same, their brows creased with concern or irritation. I’m aflame with both. I get into my car and drive the mile to the town hall, where a crowd has gathered. John and Rick are in their deputy jackets and identical blue pajama sets. Rick’s got a megaphone.
“Time to come down now, boys,” he’s saying. “You’ve scared a lot of people tonight.”
“To death?” asks Noah, voice booming over the PA system. They’re hanging out the second story window with beers and cigarettes, passing the microphone between them.
“Do they have Knox?” I ask Rick.
“Noah, Michael. Who else is up there with you?”
“It’s just us,” says Daycare, pressing his lips to the mic. “Juuuust ussss.”
I break away to look for Knox. John follows me, shrugging off his jacket to drape around my shoulders. We bump into Lucas, who still has a black eye.
“Maybe they’ll finally get in trouble this time,” he says, without real hope.
“They’re mourning,” says John.
“They’re nightmares,” says Lucas.
I can’t argue with that tonight. Daycare’s singing now in his new, good tenor, and Noah is cracking another beer open right against the mic, so we can hear the sizzle of carbonation. I jog left down Main Street as Rick tries to coax them down.
As I pass Hattie’s flower shop, I spot them: Knox, Hassan, and Sam are just exiting the police station, all three in their debate hoodies, hands in their pockets. Hassan sees me first and begins to fingerspell my name, but I reach them before he finishes and take Knox by the shoulders. He’s as tall as me now. He stands steady as I shake him.
“What are you planning?” I demand.
He sweeps back his hood. His head is shaven clean; it glistens under the streetlamps. John catches up with me then, and reaches out to graze Knox’s smooth scalp. His touch is tender in the way only a man can be toward another man. His eyes know something mine don’t.
“Knox,” he says.
“Don’t do it,” I say.
“You can’t stop this,” says Knox.
There’s a screech of feedback as Rick finally liberates the microphone from Daycare and Noah. “Go back to sleep, Comfort,” Rick says. “The situation is under control. Go on now.”
The audience begins to disperse. Knox pushes between me and John, breaking our locked hands, and Hassan and Sam follow. Nothing scared about them now. They’re ready. Their last names glimmer on their backs, McMannas-Visco-Kingsley, and as I watch, Hassan turns and walks backward as he signs an address, tongue out. Then the lick motion of ‘ice cream’ turned neatly into ‘cocksucker.’ It’s Martin. They’ve found out where Martin is staying.
After the rage of the city, John Mullen’s attentions were quiet, baffling. He sent me homemade chocolates, stargazer lilies with flushed, attentive faces. Poems: You are a perfectly symmetrical diatom / Glossy ghostfilm of silica / Sprinkled with scintillations. For years, I was cold in my rejections. I dodged him in the grocery store; I drove away with his flowers still on the roof of my car. My father’s murder callused me. John only won me over when I was twenty, easing ten-year-olds Knox and Noah down from a grain silo on his first call as deputy. He has always had a soft spot for Knox. Everyone has a soft spot for Knox.
Knox’s youth throws people. I know that now. It’s a trick; a threat. Noah Kingsley’s boys are the reason John and I fell in love, and the reason we fight for the first time as fiancés: I shove his jacket back into his arms so I can follow Knox and the others home in my car, because I knew it. Because John didn’t do enough.
I tell him, “They’re going to kill him.”
I tell him, “I told you it would go this far.”
On Friday, Bert Baby calls in sick, so I camp the line at the Wallflower frying eggs and tomatoes for Starko Daley and his crew. They pass through town twice a week on their way to fish at Palos Lake. Six decent, vigorous men. They’re not perfects analogues of my brother and his friends—that would be too easy—but Starko is the closest they have to a Knox, direct and inward and sharp, and today he makes my heart ache.
They’re on desserts of shakes and cinnamon pie when Katie walks in, florid with propaganda. “Everyone’s there,” she says, excited. “John and Ricky, the stateys, your brother and his friends—”
“What?” I say. The burner hisses as I jam the coffee pot back onto the plate. “What happened?”
“In Whitford! What did they do this time?”
I don’t answer her. I fight off my apron and smack the spatula into her hands, reaching for my jacket beneath the counter.
“You’re leaving?” asks Katie.
“Gotta,” I say. “Can you watch the restaurant?”
I hit the back door so hard it strikes the aluminum siding. My heart thuds double-time to the sleepy music one of the guys put on the jukebox as I left, and I peel out of the back parking lot, trying to keep my breathing steady.
By the time I reach Vine Street in Whitford, it’s over.
A state trooper is running a ribbon of yellow tape across the peeling face of the postwar ranch. Police beacons wash the pavement with red and blue light; officers and EMTs crowd the front lawn. I see my old city in this, I see Dad, but I don’t see Knox.
I step out of my car. A woman wearing the three chevrons of a sergeant stands to stop me. I lean past her and see Noah, Hassan, and Daycare sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on the curb, sharing a cigarette. “Knox?” I demand, and Noah gives his chin a distracted jerk toward an ambulance across the street, smoke trickling from his nostrils. I’ve never seen Noah like this, hazy and strange and faraway, and it gets me to the ambulance in huge strides. I yank open the doors, arms shaking.
Knox is sitting on a gurney. There’s an orange shock blanket draped over his shoulders, and he’s glazed with blood from nose to navel.
My knees fail me. I crumple, but John materializes to steady me, drawing one of my arms around his neck and urging me back upright. “It’s not his,” he says. “We think he tried to give Martin CPR.”
I don’t understand that yet, and I don’t need to. I struggle into the ambulance, shoes slippery on the bumper, and Sam Kingsley stands up from beside Knox to offer me a hand. I accept it, hoist myself inside, and crouch before my brother. His eyes are huge and distant. It takes a long time for our gazes to catch, and when they do, he shudders in surprise.
“Olive,” he says.
“Knox! What happened? What did you do?”
“Nothing,” says Knox. “We were too late. We were too late!”
I urge him into the shelter of my arms. He shrinks into himself like an infant, his bare head raspy with stubble, and cries. Sam rubs circles on his back and speaks slow and vague:
“Maybe we never had dibs. Maybe it wasn’t about who got here first. How can we know what really started it? Freddie wasn’t his first. They’re thinking six now; we read the files. And if we had gotten here first—if I hadn’t slept so late or if Daycare actually knew how to drive a manual—who knows if we’d’ve been able to pull the trigger? It could be good we were second. I guess that’s the worst part, with Freddie and everything else. The, um, not-knowing.”
John clears us out a few minutes later. Knox stays with me. The other boys stand on the sidewalk as a pair of EMTs roll Martin’s bagged body into the ambulance, and Hassan signs ‘bye bye, bitch,’ but his hands shake.
When the ambulance pulls away from the curb, it bares the stretch of street where the sergeant’s squad car is parked, and I see that Bert Baby is handcuffed in the backseat. Noah whistles sharply, and Baby turns, smiling when the boys begin to stomp and cheer. The sergeant clips the applause with a stab of her siren. Short shriek that splits the afternoon, which already lays hot in our hair and clothes. Knox shivers anyway. The red, fusty smell of blood wears all wrong on him, in the same way the boys were somehow right in the perfume of my roses.
Bert Baby wouldn’t have been one of them, I think, even if they’d all been the same age at the same time. He was too timid, too eager to be absent.
Blond, though. And haunted.