Chapter 1 • HER
THE GIRL IS BENT INTO odd angles when she wakes. It doesn’t seem possible that she could have been sleeping here, alone on a dirt path, surrounded by leaves and grass and clouds. She feels like she might have fallen from the sky.
She sits up, dusty and disoriented. Behind her, a narrow trail turns and disappears, crowded with trees flaming garishly with fall colors. In front of her is a lake. It is calm and blue, its surface rippling only at the edges where shallow water meets rock. On instinct, she crawls to it and peers in, feeling a tug of instinctive pity for the confused girl staring back at her.
Only when she stands does she see the hulking buildings looming at the perimeter of the park. Made of gray stone, they stand tall over the tips of fiery red trees, staring down at where she’s landed. The buildings strike her as both
welcoming and threatening, as if she’s at that in-between stage of awake and asleep when it’s possible for dreams and reality to coexist.
Instead of being afraid, she feels a surge of excitement tear through her. Excitement, like the sound of a gunshot to a sprinter.
She slips down the trail and across the dirt road to where the sidewalk abruptly begins. She doesn’t remember putting on the silk dress she’s wearing, printed with a delicate floral calico and falling in wispy folds to her knees. She stares at her unfamiliar feet, wrapped in stiff new sandals. Although she isn’t cold, uniformed students walk past, wrapped in thick wool, navy and gray. Personality lies in the small additions: boots, earrings, the flash of a red scarf. But few bother to notice the wisp of a girl shuffling and hunched over, fighting against the weight of the wind.
The smell of damp earth is familiar, as is the way the stone buildings capture the echoes of the quad and hold them tight, making time slow down and conversations last longer. From the way the wind whips all around her, and from her precious new memory of the trees in the woods, she also knows that it’s autumn.
But nothing looks like it did yesterday. And yesterday, it was spring.
• • •
An archway looms ahead, adorned with tarnished green-blue copper letters that seem to be written from the same ink as the sky.
SAINT OSANNA’S PREPARATORY SCHOOL FOR GIRLS AND BOYS
Beneath it, a broad iron sign lurches in the wind:
And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.
The campus is larger than she expects, but somehow she knows where to look—right, not left—to find the grouping of smaller brick buildings and, in the distance, a wood cabin. She moves forward with a different kind of excitement now, like walking into a warm house knowing what’s for dinner. The familiar kind. Except she has no idea where she is.
Of the four main buildings, she chooses the one on the left, bordering the wilderness. The steps are crowded with
students, but even so, no one helps her with the door, which seems intent on pushing her back outside with its own weight. The handle is leaden and dull in her grip, and beside it, her skin seems to shimmer.
“Close the door,” someone calls. “It’s freezing!”
The girl ducks into the entryway, breaking her attention from her own stardust skin. The air inside is warm and carries the familiar smell of bacon and coffee beans. She hovers near the door, but nobody looks up. It’s as if she’s any other student walking into a crowd; life keeps moving in the roaring dining hall, and in a blurred frenzy, she stands perfectly still. She’s not invisible—she can see her reflection in the window to her right—but she might as well be.
Finally, she makes her way through a maze of tables and chairs to an old woman with a clipboard who stands at the doorway to the kitchen. She’s ticking items off a list, her pen pressing and flicking in perfect, practiced check marks. A single question perches on the girl’s tongue and sticks there, unmoving, while she waits for the old woman to notice her.
The girl is afraid to speak. She doesn’t even know herself, let alone how to ask the one question she needs answered. Glancing down, she sees that her skin glows faintly under the honeyed light fixture, and for the first time it occurs to her to worry that she doesn’t look entirely . . . normal. What if she
opens her mouth and dissolves into a flock of ravens? What if she’s lost her words along with her past?
Get it together.
“Excuse me,” she says once, and then louder.
The woman looks up, clearly surprised to find a stranger standing so close. She seems a mixture of confused and, eventually, uneasy as she takes in the dusty dress, the hair tangled with leaves. Her eyes scan the girl’s face, searching as if a name perches near the back of her mind. “Are you . . . ? Can I help you?”
The girl wants to ask, Do you know me? Instead, she says, “What day is it?”
The woman’s eyebrows move closer together as she looks the girl over. It wasn’t the right question somehow, but she answers anyway: “It’s Tuesday.”
“But which Tuesday?”
Pointing to a calendar behind her, the woman says, “Tuesday, October fourth.”
Only now does the girl realize that knowing the date doesn’t help much, because although those numbers feel unfamiliar and wrong, she doesn’t know what year it should be. The girl steps back, mumbling her thanks, and reclaims her place against the wall. She feels glued to this building, as if it’s where she’ll be found.
“It’s you,” someone will say. “You’re back. You’re back.”
• • •
But no one says that. The dining hall clears out over the next hour until only a group of giggling teenage girls remains seated at a round table in the corner. Now the girl is positive something is wrong: Not once do they look her way. Even in her moth-eaten memories she knows how quickly teenage eyes seek out anyone different.
From the kitchen, a boy emerges, pulling a red apron over his neck and tying it as he walks. Wild, dark curls fall into his eyes, and he flips them away with an unconscious shake of his head.
In that moment, her silent heart twists beneath the empty walls of her chest. And she realizes, in the absence of hunger or thirst, discomfort or cold, this is the first physical sensation she’s had since waking under a sky full of falling leaves.
Her eyes move over every part of him, her lungs greedy for breath she doesn’t remember needing before now. He’s tall and lanky, managing somehow to look broad. His teeth are white but the slightest bit crooked. A small silver ring curves around the center of his full bottom lip, and her fingers burn with the need to reach out and touch it. His nose has been broken at least once. But he’s perfect. And something about the light in his eyes when he looks up makes her ache to share herself with him. But share what? Her mind? Her
body? How can she share things she doesn’t know?
When he approaches the other table, the schoolgirls stop talking and watch him, eyes full of anticipation.
“Hey.” He greets them with a wave. “Grabbing a late breakfast?”
A blond girl with a strip of garish pink in her hair leans forward and slowly tugs his apron string loose. “Just came by to have something sweet.”
The boy grins, but it’s a patient grin—flexed jaw, smile climbing only partway up his face—and he steps out of her grip, motioning to the buffet against the far wall. “Go grab whatever you want. I need to start clearing it out soon.”
“Jay said you guys did some pretty crazy stunts in the quarry yesterday,” she says.
“Yeah.” He nods in a slow, easy movement and pushes a handful of wavy hair off his forehead. “We set up some jumps. It was pretty sick.” A short pause and then: “You guys might want to grab some food real quick. Kitchen closed five minutes ago.”
Out of instinct, the girl glances to the kitchen and sees the old woman standing in the doorway and watching the boy. The woman blinks over to her then, studying with eyes both wary and unblinking; the girl is the first to look away.
“Can’t you sit and hang out for a few?” Pink-Haired Girl asks, her voice and lips heavy with a pout.
“Sorry, Amanda, I have calc over in Henley. Just helping Dot finish up in the kitchen.”
He’s fascinating to watch: his unhurried smile, the solid curve of his shoulders and the comfortable way he slips his hands in his pockets and rocks on the balls of his feet. It’s easy to tell why the schoolgirls want him to stay.
But then he turns, blinking away from the table of his peers to the girl sitting alone, watching him. She can actually see the pulse in his neck begin to pound, and it seems to echo inside her own throat.
And he sees her, bare legs and arms, wearing a spring dress in October.
“You here for breakfast?” he asks. His voice vibrates through her. “Last call . . .”
Her mouth opens again, and what spills forward isn’t what she expects; nor does she dissolve into a flock of ravens. “I think I’m here for you.”