Chapter 18 sees some pretty significant developments. One of them comes right at the beginning, and you might almost have missed it.
‘It’s like he’s keeping his eye on you’
Riding over to the farmhouse on the truck, Xenia hears something interesting from Vanessa — apparently there was some kind of argument between Mr. Rogers and Charlie. Xenia apologizes to Vanessa for putting her in the middle of so much drama, but it turns out Vanessa had her own reasons for wanting to come.
Vanessa glanced behind them with a private smile. “… Photini said that the time she came with you, he was watching you all through that meeting.
“What? Watching me? She’s crazy. He wasn’t paying any attention to me at all.”
Vanessa’s smile didn’t falter, but she shrugged carelessly. “He only looked at you when you weren’t looking at him. That’s what Photini said.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Xenia huffed. And then, when Vanessa made no further comment, she added irritably, “Why in the world would Charlie be looking at me?”
Vanessa gave the same shrug, and her smile was more fixed than ever. But her eyes told a different story, and after a few seconds, Xenia shook her head in utter disbelief.
“Oh, come on,” she sputtered. “That is so not true. Boys don’t look at me like that. I mean, I’m not even pretty.” (page 302-303)
Which may or may not be true — as Vanessa points out, when it comes to things like that, boys can be pretty weird. But even considering things that way gives Xenia reason for pause. Not only is it a little upsetting, when she had been privately congratulating herself for her freedom from adolescent entanglements, but it’s also confusing. Quite naturally, it is flattering for any girl to think that she might be attractive to an older and not-completely-unacceptable boy. That’s enough to make her blush.
Really, though, her mind is at work on the problem of it. She was asking herself, back in chapter 10, about the strange way he acted around her.
If anything, she was mystified — puzzled by the raw emotion that came through constantly. It was almost as if he hated her.
But … no. She shook her head, idly putting a red four on a black five. It wasn’t that. Not hatred.
Almost as if he’s afraid.
Of me? (page 163)
So what is it? Is Charlie attracted to Xenia? Angry at her? Scared of her? Scared for her?
It has become obvious that from the very beginning, he has zeroed in on her in particular. But why?
Hold that thought. We’ll come back to it, but it may take a while.
The resting place of Betty Lou
J. S. Weeks turns out to be as much of a puzzle buff as Xenia. Or maybe he really was just that suspicious of his relatives, and wanted to keep his secrets secret. We’ll never know what they might have found, if they had been able to get the journals that were burned up on the night he died. But since those are long gone, all there is is the book that Xenia finds, hidden away in a metal box under the stove — under Betty Lou.
“It’s his stove?” said Vanessa. Xenia had told her enough of the Weeks Treasure story that she understood the significance, but for the mysterious name to apply to a pot-bellied stove seemed like a bizarre twist.
“Oh dear,” Mrs. Higg giggled. “It kind of reminds me of the end of Citizen Kane, where Rosebud turns out to be … But no, I better not. You young people might want to see it one day.” (page 309)
My little joke, I’m afraid, and it probably went right over the heads of any readers under the age of 40. But an author has to has her moments of whimsy.
I might almost say the same for the fact that the rest of the alcove is so decidedly empty. How many times do you see documentaries and reality television shows where someone is going to show us all buried treasures or solve some ancient mystery, and in the end, there’s nearly nothing to show for it. Apparently, for every King Tut’s tomb and cave full of Dead Sea Scrolls, there are a thousand places that have been picked clean by graverobbers and the elements.
In this case, though, it’s not quite such a disappointment. Xenia is able to apply her gifts to unearthing this ledger. Even if the contents are a perfect horror to Bobbi Weeks, it’s obvious that Jessam went to a great deal of trouble to keep it hidden. Just more of the sad legacy of the Civil War days in Missouri? Or is there more to it than that?
Hold that thought as well.
Mrs. Higg’s mystery, and the real mystery
We finally get to the end of these odd clues that Mrs. Higg had been leaving for Xenia to solve. What she called in her first email “just OUR secret.” When Xenia follows up on the one that takes her into Ms. Weeks’ garage, she gets the scare of her life. Instead of there being some kind of treasure inside the broken-down fridge, there’s a very over-heated little Yorkie — poor Bjark, who someone must’ve put in there.
Even before Xenia can bring the whole thing up, she must’ve realized that these mysteries really can’t have been Mrs. Higg’s doing — she would never resort to such a vile and inhumane trick. But who, then? It would be tempting to put the blame on CJ, which is what Vanessa had been suggesting to Xenia. But CJ hadn’t been there all afternoon. Mrs. Higg makes it completely clear that she knew nothing about these mysteries. So who did?
And the biggest question of all, of course, is the one that we’re left with at the end: Where is CJ?
Chapters 18 & 19: An important answer revealed, and an important clue solved
Chapter 20: A lot of answers at last — but be careful what you ask for