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Ebooks   ➡  Fiction  ➡  Young adult or teen  ➡  Gay & Lesbian  ➡  Paranormal

Tiffany and Tiger's Eye

Tiffany and Tiger’s Eye

© February 2017 by Foxglove Lee

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, organizations, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

Cover design © 2017 by Foxglove Lee

 

First Edition 2013 by Prizm Books

Second Edition 2017 by Foxglove Lee

 

Tiffany and Tiger’s Eye / by Foxglove Lee.–2nd ed.

 

Summary: There’s nothing more dangerous than a jealous doll who knows all your secrets! In the summer of 1986, after her father’s disappearance, Rebecca is sent to stay at the cottage, where she meets Tiffany: a water-skiing blonde who dresses like Madonna, makes her own jewellery, and claims to see auras. Strange things happen when Rebecca spends time with Tiffany. Her aunt and uncle think she’s acting out, but Rebecca’s convinced the culprit is a creepy antique doll!

 

[1. LGBT—Juvenile Fiction. 2. Fantasy & Magic—Juvenile Fiction. 3. Canada—Historical—Juvenile Fiction.]

 

 

Tiffany and Tiger’s Eye

 

A Paranormal Young Adult Lesbian Romance

 

By Foxglove Lee

Prologue

 

We called it “the cottage,” but it was more like a storage unit with bedrooms.

In the seventies, when my grandparents were still alive, they’d painted the main space a deep Pumpkin Orange. That went over well, so they did the bedroom doors China Red, and the kitchen cupboards Harvest Gold. As a finishing touch, they pasted hippie daisy stickers all over everything—doors, walls, chairs. Obviously, they were trying to disguise the dinginess of the place. Funny enough, they turned the cottage into such an eyesore that you didn’t notice how run-down it was. So, in a way, their plan was a roaring success.

That is, until you stepped into the bathroom.

I guess it couldn’t technically be called a bathroom, since it didn’t have a bathtub. Or a shower. It was more like a powder room, though it sure didn’t smell like powder.

The plumbing at the cottage wasn’t as reliable as what we had at home. Even though the bathroom was technically indoors and it had some of the fixtures you’d expect, the taps weren’t plumbed at all. Every morning, Aunt Libby filled a shallow metal bowl from the cold-water pump in the kitchen. She set the dish in the bathroom sink so we could wash our hands.

The toilet was the worst thing about the cottage. Uncle Flip was convinced that if we flushed too often, the rudimentary septic system would be overwhelmed. The rule passed down from my grandparents was that the toilet could be flushed only once per day. It was Uncle Flip’s duty to push that lever. No matter how many people used the toilet, there’d be hell to pay if we flushed it ourselves.

I learned the hard way three years ago, when I was thirteen.

Uncle Flip had brought my brother and me up for the weekend while my mom and Aunt Libby drove my dad to some rehab place up north. Mikey and I never went on those trips. I only knew what was going on because I overheard Mom telling my aunt about it over the phone.

Ever since I was little, I’ve been a pro at picking up the receiver in the family room, hiding behind my dad’s big stereo speakers, and listening in on other people’s conversations. I heard way more than I wanted to that way. Some of it I didn’t understand at the time, and some of it I’m still not sure I understand now.

Anyway, that particular weekend when I was thirteen, it was just me and Mikey and Uncle Flip at the cottage. In the car on the way up, I had a suspicion that I was getting my period—and that suspicion turned out to be right. It wasn’t my first period or anything, but still, perfect timing, right? Girl stuff embarrassed me so much that I’d never told my mother, even though I’d started more than a year before. There was something about my body and its functions that made me deeply ashamed, and I didn’t want to talk about it with anyone. Not even my mom.

And especially not with Uncle Flip or my little brother! At that age, Mikey probably didn’t know what a period was, but that didn’t matter in my thirteen-year-old mind. Half my life was devoted to preventing embarrassment back then. It still is now, for that matter.

That’s why I flushed the toilet.

“What the hell are you doing?” Uncle Flip howled. In no time, he was right outside the door. “Becca? Rebecca! Answer me.”

I’d never heard my uncle raging like that, and it scared me because he’d always been so nice.

“Please, no,” I whispered as I stared into the toilet bowl. It refilled with its typical browny-yellow water while Uncle Flip banged on the door.

I wanted to cry.

The bathroom door burst open, which wasn’t unusual. The cottage leaned to the left enough that none of the doors closed firmly. But usually when someone walked in on you, it was an accident.

This was no accident.

Uncle Flip stood in the doorway with Mikey right behind him, reflecting my wide eyes back at me. I’d already pulled up my pants and tucked in my shirt. It’s not like he’d walked in on me naked or anything, but in that moment it didn’t matter. I felt so humiliated that I burst into tears.

My uncle’s expression changed as I cried. The red drained out of his face and his eyes took on a pitiful, puzzled look. “Becca? Rebecca, what’s wrong, honey?”

I shook my head, heaving with sobs. It wasn’t like me to cry, and he knew it. He sent Mikey to play outside while he pulled me out of the tiny bathroom and tried to explain what atrocities might befall us if we flushed too often. I was too upset to really listen. I threw my arms around him so hard we both fell on the couch. He shut up and let me bawl.

I never did this. Never. We weren’t a touchy-feely family. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d hugged my mother, let alone my dad. And there I was with my face pressed to my uncle’s T-shirt, simply because he was in the right place at the right time. Or the wrong place at the wrong time.

When I’d calmed down a bit, he asked me gently if I understood the rule about the toilet. “I know it’s different than at home, but you’ve been coming here long enough that you know how the cottage works. Did you forget this time?”

I don’t know what came over me, but I blurted out, “I got my period!”

Uncle Flip’s eyes shot wide open like I’d just punched him in the stomach. A blush came over him, starting with his ears and devouring his face. He squirmed so much I actually felt sorry for him. I sat up straight on the couch and bit my lip, wishing I could take the words back.

“Is it the first… the first…time?” my uncle stammered.

I looked away and lied. “Yes.”

“Oh.” He swallowed hard. “So, you don’t have any…any…” He lowered his voice and said, “Supplies?”

I shook my head. I couldn’t look at him. When I needed pads at home, I took them from the cupboard in my mother’s bathroom and hoped she wouldn’t notice. Any time I was babysitting, I’d sneak off to the bathroom and take just a few. It was easy to hide things down the front of my overalls. Overalls concealed all sins.

Uncle Flip rose stiffly from the couch, disappearing into the bedroom he shared with Aunt Libby. He was in there so long that I got up to check on him. I felt like I was floating as I stuck my head beyond the door. Me and Mikey never went into Aunt Libby and Uncle Flip’s bedroom.

The curtains were closed and the light was off. Even in the relative darkness, I could see how cramped it was. They had a double bed in the middle, flanked by long dressers pushed up against the walls.

But the furniture had nothing on the décor. Somebody had installed shelves along all the walls, and they were packed to the gills with…dolls!

My heart thundered as I stepped inside. I felt like I shouldn’t be there, like I was walking on hallowed ground. Aunt Libby wouldn’t like it. I could feel her presence like a ghost just over my shoulder. There were porcelain babies, girls in ostentatious dresses, and little women with sun umbrellas. I’d never been a doll person, but they were obviously antiques. They must have been worth a fortune.

“Your grandmother collected those,” Uncle Flip told me. He was standing in the corner, holding a box of maxi pads. The packaging was cardboard, not plastic, and it looked almost as old as me. “Your aunt…” He bowed his head and the box rattled in his hands. “God, I wish Libby was here…”

“It’s okay,” I said, wanting to comfort him.

“Do you know how to use these things?”

“Yeah.” There was very little floor space in the cottage bedrooms, but I wedged myself inside and took the box from him, clutching it to my chest. “Don’t worry. I’ll figure it out.”

Uncle Flip nodded and shot me a brief smile. “You’re a smart girl.”

I wanted to run away, but the dolls had a hold on me. I could feel their eyes burning into the bare flesh beyond my T-shirt. My armpits poured out sweat, despite the deodorant I’d only just started using. I’d shaved the week before, even though my mother insisted I should wait until I turned sixteen. The re-growth pricked me terribly.

“Why don’t you take one of these guys?” my uncle asked, reaching up and grabbing a doll. His big hand made her body look so small.

“Take one? Why?”

“Well, I thought…doesn’t a girl usually get a present when she has…has her first…”

“Yeah, and a party.” I felt bad for laughing, but I couldn’t help it. “And a pony!”

Uncle Flip’s ears glowed red, but he laughed too.

My uncle and I both looked at the doll he’d chosen for me. She wasn’t a baby doll or a little girl, but she didn’t look like an adult woman either. Somewhere in between, just like me. Uncle Flip brushed a stray orange ringlet from her porcelain forehead. I was no doll expert, but just by looking around the room I could tell redheaded dolls weren’t all that common. He was giving me something special, and I think he knew that.

“Won’t Aunt Libby be mad?”

“Nah.” Uncle Flip ran the back of his hand down the front of his moustache. “These dolls scare the hell out of your aunt… oh, sorry, scare the heck out of her.”

I smiled at how careful my family was about swearing. We rarely said bad words out loud, not even the minor ones like hell and damn.

“If they scare her, why does she keep them?”

“Because they belonged to her mother,” my uncle said, and I understood well enough that I didn’t ask any follow-up questions. “I’m going to check on your brother, see what that little monster’s up to. You sure you’re okay?”

When he left the cottage, I lingered in my aunt and uncle’s bedroom. It still felt out of bounds. I looked up at the shelves of blonde dolls with parasols or teddy bears sewn under their arms. Their prettiness overwhelmed me, and I cast my gaze down over the one doll that was mine.

With her pouting crimson lips, huge green eyes and thick black lashes, she was beautiful in a way that enchanted and perplexed me. I put my box of maxi pads down on the bed and held my doll with both hands. Her dress had a country flavour, tiny rust-coloured flowers on a cream background, rosettes up the front of her chest and lace around her neck. Over the dress, she had on a half-apron in less-than-pristine white.

She looked at me so inquisitively I was convinced she had a mind beyond those deep, dark eyes.

“What should I call you, dollface?”

Like a flash, the name Yvette streaked through me. I could have sworn that I heard it, with a hint of an accent, like the doll had spoken to me.

Of course, I was being silly. My mother always said I let my imagination get the better of me. She was right.

Even so, I lifted the doll to my face and rubbed her cool porcelain nose against mine. Closing my eyes, I kissed her little lips.

Chapter 1

 

On the last day of the 1985-1986 school year, my mom told Mikey and me to pack our bags—we were spending the entire summer with Aunt Libby and Uncle Flip. Luckily, we were used to the cottage’s quirks. Even though I was sixteen years old and probably should have been super-concerned about hygiene, it didn’t bother me that there was no shower. The lake was only a five-minute walk down the gravel road, and we swam every day, rain or shine.

Anyway, it would just be the four of us. Who did I need to impress?

Mikey wasn’t as pleased about getting away from the suburbs as I was. He wanted to spend his summer playing with friends, not hanging out with his dorky older sister. What else was new? Nobody seemed all that interested in spending time with me.

My brother was different. He had a lot of friends. They lived in those gigantic houses on the other side of the bridge. I only knew that because it was my job to pick up Mikey every day after school. Sometimes, while I waited by the playground with all the moms, I hear them whispering what a “responsible young lady” I was. That always bugged me, because I could hear the pity in their voices. They felt sorry for me, and that made me wonder if they knew what life was like at our house.

Maybe they did. Maybe that’s why Mikey’s friends’ moms invited us over for dinner so often.

Most days, I bashfully brushed off the invites. If dinner wasn’t ready when my father regained consciousness after a full day of drinking, there’d be hell to pay—and I’d have to pay it, since my mom worked her second job in the evenings. During the day, she cleaned people’s houses. At night, she cleaned office buildings. Even in my sleep, I could tell when she got home at three in the morning. When she walked through the door, the whole house filled with the sharp scent of lemon cleanser. It became a perfume, of sorts, a kind of class marker that never washed off.

But there were other times, like when my dad was in rehab or when he was off trying to be a rock star, that I took the moms up on their offers. In truth, I loved going to their houses. Mikey would play with his friends while the moms brought me milk and cookies, then told me to start my homework while they got dinner going.

There was one special mom, Mrs. Kaufman, who would make a pot of tea and sit with me at her big oak table. She’d ask me about school, which all the moms did, but she’d talk to me about her life too. Nothing weird, just stories from when she was sixteen. Or she’d tell me about celebrities she met when she worked as a stewardess. That was before she got married.

After our tea break, Mrs. Kaufman would get up, brush her hands together, and say, “Well, then, Miss Rebecca, what say we start dinner?”

I’d make salad and veggies, she’d do the entrée and starch. We were a team, preparing meals together for the kids. There was something so comforting about those evenings in Mrs. Kaufman’s kitchen. We were like parents together. I was her wife and she was mine—not that women could get married. That’s just how it felt, to me.

If I had a social life I’m sure the incessant child-minding would have bothered me, but I didn’t, so it didn’t. When I was Mikey’s age I’d had as many friends as he did, but by the end of Grade 10, the whole school thought I was a freak. It didn’t take much not to fit in. Just kiss another girl.

Generally, I wasn’t drawn to high school parties. I knew there would be drinking and, God forbid, drugs. Growing up the way I did, alcohol had absolutely no appeal. It was like an anchor weighing our family down to the bottom of the ocean, keeping my father in a stupor, except when he emerged struggling and screaming.

That’s not what I wanted out of life. I wanted to be better.

But when Chloe invited me, I couldn’t say no. Chloe was one of the prettiest girls in school. She had that same hold on me as Mrs. Kaufman, except I felt free with her, like there was a chance something real might happen.

When we got to the party, I didn’t drink… but Chloe sure did. She got all giggly and wild, jumping around the basement to the Eurythmics. Chloe knew the words to every song on the radio, and her elation got inside of me, making me giddy. She’d worn white denim jeans and jacket over a fluorescent pink top. Her crimped hair was up in a high ponytail. Plastic beads bounced against her chest as she danced.

I wasn’t fancy, but I’d let my mother braid a few strands of embroidery thread into my hair just for fun. I wore my black stirrup pants and a white button-down shirt that was big enough to disguise my boobs and my butt. The outfit looked enough like Boy George to pass for fashionable, although a lot of the older kids thought I was a boy. I really only dressed that way because… well, ever since I’d started “developing,” as my mother called it, I’d felt super-self-conscious. Every night when I went to bed, I prayed that, when I woke up the next morning, my chest would be flat.

Dancing in the Street came on the radio, and the rowdy kids took the boom box outside to wake the neighbours. Everybody left the basement… except for Chloe and me. We fell into an old beanbag chair, laughing as the strobe lights flashed off the disco ball. I could barely see. So much flash and glam! But I could certainly feel Chloe’s warm body next to mine.

The basement was quiet now. The party had moved outside, where everyone was screaming along with Mick Jagger and David Bowie. I was breathing so fast I thought my lungs would explode.

Chloe’s eyes gleamed greenish-grey. Her lips were so close I felt her breath in my mouth. So close. We were so close. All I had to do was lean forward and press my lips against hers.

My brain short-circuited when we kissed. It wasn’t just me, wasn’t just my teeth parting or my tongue wrestling hers. Her hand found my thigh and she dug her fluorescent green fingernails into my flesh. It hurt, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to kiss her, kiss her forever…

The older kids crashed into the basement, laughing that the neighbours had threatened to call the cops. The tornado in me wanted to kiss Chloe again, but my sensible side won out. Cops scared me half to death, and the last thing I wanted was to be thrown in jail. My dad had told me about being beaten, strip-searched and locked up on bogus charges after protests. To me, those were scarier than ghost stories.

I got up and left the party without even saying goodbye. Not to Chloe, not to anyone.

After the weekend, everyone at school started calling me “Martina.”

They didn’t have to explain. It was just a more sophisticated way of calling me a lezzy, like the tennis star Martina Navratalova. She was one of the most famous athletes in the whole world. She was also the only out lesbian I knew of. Real-life lesbian, I mean. After that kiss with Chloe, I knew there were lesbians in my midst, and I was one of them.

No one sat next to me at lunch, or talked to me before class. Mr. Burlish had to assign me a lab partner because nobody wanted to come near me.

And Chloe was nowhere to be found. That’s what hurt the most.

By the time summer rolled around, the idea of escape was beyond bliss. Too many memories. Too much loneliness and desperation. Too much holding on by a thread. It would be nice to spend two whole months with my aunt and uncle.

Aunt Libby’s station wagon was olive green with wood panelling along the sides. It was by far the ugliest car I’d ever seen, but my heart beat faster every time it pulled into our driveway. As Uncle Flip helped Mikey and me toss our luggage in the back, my mother and my aunt stood on our crunchy brown grass and whispered.

Sometimes I felt jealous of my mother. It must be nice to have a sister.

My mom had tears in her eyes as she said goodbye. She hugged me hard, but I squirmed away. It made me uncomfortable, feeling her sharp, hard breasts pressing into my chest. Mikey was short, even for his age, and his head didn’t reach that high. Mom bent and kissed the top of his head, making her skunk-streak of grey hair all the more blatant. Why did she keep dyeing it? My mother would look pretty all grey, though I never got up the nerve to tell her so.

I didn’t look at my mother as we pulled out of the driveway. I could feel her standing there in her yellow summer knit with the big white buttons down the front. Waving goodbye.

Mikey unbuckled his belt and swung around, waving vigorously out the back window. Once we were out of range, I turned as well, because I wanted an image of her to keep in my mind. By then, it was too late.

Fishing around in my bag, I found my needlework and tightened the wooden frame. Then I dropped it in my lap and stared ahead as my vision blurred with tears.

“Dad’s gone,” Mikey said. He must have been talking to my aunt and uncle, because I obviously knew my dad hadn’t been around lately.

I blinked fast, wiping stray tears from my cheeks. We didn’t usually talk about what went on behind closed doors, but I guess with family it was okay. Aunt Libby probably knew everything anyway. She probably knew more than me.

But if she did, she didn’t let on.

“Buckle up,” she told Mikey, gazing at him in the rear-view mirror. She didn’t say anything about my dad, and neither did Uncle Flip.

“Where did he go?” Mikey asked. “My mom won’t tell me.”

I punched my brother in the arm. “Shut up, stupid.”

Uncle Flip seemed shocked by my behaviour. “Rebecca! Help your brother with his seat belt.”

Leaning across the middle seat, I grabbed the buckle and pushed the metal tongue into the little slot. I was close enough for Mikey to lean in and whisper, “Where did Dad go?”

I pulled away and sorted my embroidery floss. My current pattern was a Holly Hobbie with two old-timey girls riding an old-timey bicycle, the kind with one huge wheel at the front and two little wheels at the back. The text said Start Each Day in a Happy Way, and I couldn’t help wondering if the naughty subtext was intentional or if I just had a really dirty mind.

Mainly, I liked the pattern because it had two girls instead of a girl and a boy.

“Where did he go?” my brother asked.

I struggled not to jab his bare leg with my embroidery needle. That question irked me, not because I didn’t want to tell him, but because I didn’t know the answer.

I knotted my thread and started stitching. Part of me wanted to tell Mikey our dad was “getting better” again—my mother’s code for those rehab stints that never worked out—or I could say that his band had gone on tour, but I couldn’t speculate in front of my aunt and uncle. If they knew the truth, they’d realize I was just guessing. Then I’d feel like a stupid kid. I never liked feeling that way, even back when I was just a stupid kid.

Before long, the hum of the highway put Mikey to sleep, and I followed soon after.

Chapter 2

 

It was nearly afternoon when we pulled into the long gravel driveway leading up to the cottage. There was something magical about that spot, maybe just because it was an escape from the house. The cottage was my favourite place in the world.

And Canada Day was the best time to get there. Down by the public beach, there were games for the little kids, a horseshoe competition for the old people, and a barbeque for everyone. At night, there would be fireworks over the lake. That was for everyone, too. I’d never met a soul who didn’t like fireworks.

Mikey and me threw our luggage into the cottage, then took off down the road in our flip-flops. I’d worn my bathing suit instead of underwear because I knew we’d both want to swim as soon as we got within spitting distance of the lake.

Aunt Libby was never too concerned about where we were. The whole area had a community feel. We all looked out for each other, and that went double for Mikey and me. Even though I was the older one, I knew he wanted to keep me safe too. That’s what siblings were for.

I wasn’t friends with any of the kids at the lake. Most of them were Mikey’s age anyway, or else they were way older than me. Also, my unpopularity was like a perfume that warned other people to stay away. I was a loser. Don’t want to be seen with Rebecca—her uncoolness might rub off.

When we got to the beach, the Canada Day festivities were in full swing. Mikey joined up with the same kids he played alongside every summer. I sat in the sand with my needlework and watched the old folks play horseshoes. The sun warmed my legs and the back of my neck. For a while, I closed my eyes, and that was the happiest I’d felt all year.

I didn’t open my eyes until the hum of a motorboat jolted me from sun-drenched paradise. The glare off the water burned my retinas. I’d forgotten my sunglasses in the car. Still, I couldn’t look away. Somehow, I knew there was something worth seeing on the water.

When I caught sight of her, I knew for sure.

Her hair glistened like gold in the summer sun. She didn’t look any older than me, but she was out with the older kids, zipping around the lake on water skis. Her bathing suit was sort of like a two-piece, except the top and bottom were joined together at her sides. The design was bright blue with black tiger stripes, and it looked amazing against her porcelain skin.

I knew I was staring, but the girl in the bright blue bikini was too far away to see me, and nobody on the beach seemed to realize I existed. Which I didn’t mind. It was better to be invisible than to get picked on.

“Becca.” Mikey kicked sand at my legs. “Rebecca!”

“Jeeze, Mikey. What the heck?” I brushed the beach off my shorts, then stood up and shook like a wet dog. “Why’d you do that?”

“I called your name, like, a hundred times!”

All his friends were watching. They made me self-conscious, and even a little jealous.

“Can we go swimming now?”

I glanced at the boat in the distance, like it would give me an answer. The swimming area was nowhere near the government pier where the teens would dock to trade off skis, but I still didn’t want the girl in the blue bikini to see me in the water. I wasn’t sure why.

“Becca!” Mikey kicked more sand at my legs, and his grimy pals followed suit.

“Stop it, you little jerks!”

The old ladies looked up from their crochet and glared at me. I didn’t fit in, not even with them.

“These guys’ parents went somewhere, so you have to watch all of us.”

“Fine, just stop kicking sand at me.” I tore out of my shorts and left them on the beach with my cross-stitching. No one would ever see my one-piece bathing suit. I never took off my T-shirt to swim. Never.

The greenish water was always cold until you plunged your head right under. I tried to take it slow, but Mikey and his annoying little friends had other plans. I don’t know whose idea it was to climb me like a tree, but with three kids clinging to my top, I toppled over in the water, taking them all down with me.

“Get off me, you little brats! We’re all gonna drown.”

“Okay,” Mikey said.

That’s when the mud-throwing started.

Some scrawny kid with pigtails picked up a wad of wet sand and launched it at my back. It felt like baseball between my shoulder blades.

I turned around, but that was a terrible idea. The next mud ball slammed me in the face, knocking my head back so hard a bolt of pain shot down my spine. I stumbled back, tripping over one of the kids I was supposed to be minding. With my eyes full of sand, I didn’t know which of Mikey’s friends I’d landed on, but the brat yelled, “Get your big butt offa me, mud monster!”

I splashed lake water in my face, aiming for my eyes, trying to get those sharp little shards out. That’s when I heard Mikey say, “Call her Martina. Mud Monster Martina.”

“Mikey!” My heart dropped into my stomach. Mikey was supposed to be my comrade at the cottage. Instead, he was encouraging his pals to launch insults he shouldn’t even know. “Where did you hear that before?”

“From Kristin in my class,” he said. “Her sister goes to your school. She says everyone makes fun of you. They call you Martina.”

My brain buzzed. It felt prickly, like my whole head was full of bees. Just then, I looked up and saw the older teens’ motorboat crawling across the stretch of lake just outside the beach enclosure.

They were all looking at me. All of them. The tan boys in fluorescent shorts pointed at me and laughed. There I was, sixteen years old and covered in mud, with kids still pummelling my front and back with handfuls of wet sand. I didn’t have the strength to look at the girl in the tiger bikini. I could only imagine she was laughing too, but I didn’t want to know. This weird feeling came over me that if our eyes met in that moment, she’d hear the name my brother had called me, and she’d know far too much.

Mikey probably didn’t even know what “Martina” meant, but he must have seen in my face how much he’d hurt me. As I ran from the lake I heard him call out, “Sorry.”

My feet found my flip-flops, but I forgot about my needlework and my shorts. I ran all the way up the gravel hill. Sharp pieces of rock lodged themselves in my feet, but I didn’t stop. I just kept running, like I could outrace my humiliation.

When I got back to the cottage, my aunt and uncle were gone, and I was glad about that. I ran straight to my room, which I hadn’t even peeked in since we’d arrived. It looked the same as it always did, and there was something about the funny-coloured walls and the dark moons-and-stars duvet cover that made the space feel eerily sacred. I held my breath as I crossed the threshold, but once inside I fell face-first onto my bed.

I cried until all the sand should have rushed out of my eyes, but there was always more. Always more tears, always more pain. Stupid Mikey! Why wouldn’t he tell his friends to cut it out? Why would he call me Martina? Didn’t he know this place was my escape?

And then, though I was entirely alone in the cottage, a small voice said, “I’ve missed you…”

Chapter 3

 

I looked at the red-headed doll on my dresser. My eyes were still bleary when I whispered her name. “Yvette?”

I wasn’t crazy. I knew my doll couldn’t really speak, but ever since Uncle Flip gave her to me as a “period gift” when I was thirteen years old, I’d imagined conversations with her. There were some things I couldn’t tell my family, things I would have told friends if I had any. Yvette filled the void. I gave her a voice, even if that voice was just in my head. Whenever I visited the cottage, Yvette was my consolation.

“Yvette, I’ve missed you too.”

“You don’t understand,” Yvette said to me. “I’ve missed you. You haven’t visited me in almost a year.”

“That’s not true,” I said, sitting up on my bed. The duvet was gritty with sand. “We were up at Easter to open up the cottage. Remember?”

“Oh yeah,” she said, in that snarky voice I couldn’t stand. “I guess I blocked it out because the whole time you were here I begged you to take me home with you and you didn’t.”

Maybe I was lucky not to have friends. If Yvette was any indication, friends were more trouble than they were worth.

“I’m not having this conversation again.” I crossed my legs. Sand stuck to my wet skin and my T-shirt. The crotch of my bathing suit was full of the stuff. “I run in here crying, and all you can think about is yourself? Maybe you should have used all your time alone to become a more compassionate person. Or doll. Whatever.”

Yvette rolled her eyes. I pictured her doing this so often that I could actually see the glass beads circling in her porcelain head. “Maybe if you didn’t leave me alone so much, I wouldn’t get lonely.”

How could I argue with that reasoning? It did occur to me that I was getting agitated over an imagined conversation with a doll, but she’d become almost real to me over the past three years. In some ways, it was better to have a jealous porcelain friend than no friend at all.

“So tell me about the girl in the blue bikini,” Yvette said.

My heart clenched. “How could you possibly know about her?”

Stupid question. Yvette was in my head. Anything I knew, she knew.

In my mind, Yvette cocked her head and crossed her arms. “Would you rather talk about Mrs. Kaufman?”

“No,” I spat back. “I mean, what’s to tell?”

“You enjoy her company,” Yvette said. “That’s enough. Chloe’s another matter.”

My blood boiled at the mention of that name, and Yvette’s insistence that there was something going on with us. “I don’t even know where Chloe is. Stop being so jealous of every girl in the world. I’m allowed to talk to other people, you know.”

“You did more than talk!”

“So what? I don’t belong to you—you belong to me. You’re my doll, Yvette. I’m not yours.”

Yvette looked away. She must have known I was right. There was no point in acting so possessive.

Nobody came looking for me. Maybe Aunt Libby and Uncle Flip had seen me running up the hill in my wet T-shirt and flip-flops, or maybe Mikey had assumed I’d gone back. Either way, when night fell and that pop-gun sound exploded over the lake, the cottage was empty.

I’d never watched the fireworks alone before. It made me sad enough that I almost went back down to the lake. Almost. I just couldn’t stand the idea of being laughed at by a bunch of little kids. I’d had enough mud-slinging for one day.

In our long front yard, Uncle Flip had set up lawn chairs—the kind with aluminium frames and woven rubber tubing that your body sank into. After spending most of the afternoon reading on the prickly green couch, I made silent amends with Yvette. Without a word, I brought her out front and set her on the chair next to mine.

Fireworks exploded overhead. The display looked nicer over the lake, since every eruption echoed in the mirror of its black surface. From the cottage the explosions seemed disembodied, but anything was better than facing all the people who’d laughed at me earlier in the day. I got enough of that at school. Summer was supposed to be a vacation.

“Rebecca?” Yvette turned her fragile head in my direction. “Can I sit with you?”

My heart warmed as I repeated those words to myself again and again. Without a word, I scooped her up and sat her on my thigh. We craned our necks and watched the fireworks together. The arguments and jealousy were worth it for moments like these. When we were peaceful together, Yvette brought me more joy than any real person in the whole world.

I’m not sure how, exactly, because I know I didn’t make her do it, but as the fireworks boomed and dispersed like dandelion seeds overhead, Yvette snuck her way up my body and planted a sweet kiss on my lips. When I closed my eyes, that tiny porcelain mouth felt almost human.

When I went to bed that night, I brought her with me.

Chapter 4

 

The sizzle of bacon roused me from sleep, but I didn’t open my eyes until Aunt Libby knocked at the door. “Rise and shine,” she said in her chipper sing-song voice.

I didn’t know how anyone could be so pleasant first thing in the morning. My response was less a word than a grunt.

Opening my door, which never closed properly anyway, my aunt sang, “Wake up, wake up, you sleepy-head.” When she didn’t finish, I looked up and found her staring blankly at my floor.

Yvette’s tiny floral dress and apron were strewn across the ratty rug, and the sight confounded me. I hadn’t undressed my doll. I hadn’t, but how could her dress have come off in the night without my help, or someone else’s? Those were definitely Yvette’s clothes. I could feel her porcelain skin under my covers.

Aunt Libby’s brow furrowed. She wouldn’t look me in the eye, but I wished she would. I needed to communicate that I didn’t know how Yvette had become undressed. It wasn’t me. I was every bit as confused as she was.

Backing out of my room, Aunt Libby said quietly, “Breakfast’s on the table whenever you’re ready.”

When my door was closed, or at least as close to closed as it would go, I slipped out of bed and picked up Yvette’s outfit. Even her little leather shoes were on the floor, buried under her dress.

“What did you do?” I silently asked Yvette.

She answered without saying a word. “Nothing.”

“Well, you must have done something. How did your clothes end up on my floor?”

“Don’t ask me,” she said. “I’m an inanimate object, remember.”

I dressed quickly and then struggled to get Yvette’s little dress over her big head. There was absolutely no way I could have taken those doll clothes off in my sleep. I nearly broke her arms trying to fit them back into her sleeves. Dolls were not easy to dress and undress. I couldn’t figure out how those clothes had ended up on my floor.

And, of course, I couldn’t explain to my aunt what she’d seen in my room. Not that she asked. We weren’t that kind of family. We didn’t ask each other personal questions.

Breakfast was a hearty spread of bacon, sausage, eggs, tea, and toast. When I ducked out of my bedroom, Uncle Flip hovered over the stove, frying bread in bacon fat. It was special enough to eat any breakfast that wasn’t Pop Tarts, but three proteins and toast fried in fat? That was my favourite sort of decadence.

I sat beside Mikey without saying a word. He was too busy stuffing his face to even notice me.

“Thank your brother,” Aunt Libby said as she dished scrambled eggs onto my orange plastic plate. Her voice wasn’t as chipper as it had been.

“What for?”

“Mikey brought your needlework and your shorts up from the beach,” Uncle Flip said as he turned his bread in the sizzling fat.

“Oh.” Begrudgingly, I said, “Thanks.”

Mikey didn’t look up from his breakfast.

“You missed quite a show,” Uncle Flip went on. He seemed oblivious to the tension between Aunt Libby and me. “Best fireworks display in years.”

“I saw them,” I said. “We watched from the yard.”

Aunt Libby had just sat down at my side, but I saw her raise an eyebrow. “We?”

“I.” There was no way I was going to say ‘Yvette watched with me.’ Hard enough to admit to myself that I thought of Yvette as a real person.

Uncle Flip brought a plate of pan-fried bread to the table. “So, what would everyone like to do today?”

“Swimming!” Mikey shouted through a mouthful of eggs.

I hadn’t even taken a bite of mine yet.

“Becca?” my uncle asked. “What about you?”

I shrugged. “Whatever.”

My aunt glanced at me for just a second, and then concentrated on cutting her sausage into pieces. I was so embarrassed I wanted to cry. Anger burbled in my belly, but instead of letting it out I drowned it in toast and homemade raspberry jam. It wasn’t unusual for me to feel misunderstood, but just because I recognized the emotion didn’t make it any easier to stomach.

Suddenly, I missed my mom. And I wondered where the hell my father was. Why couldn’t I have a normal family like everyone else? Life wasn’t fair.

After breakfast, Mikey and I collected kindling for the fire pit, then played badminton in the front yard. He didn’t say anything about the mud-slinging, but I didn’t expect him to. He was only a kid.

When Aunt Libby and Uncle Flip finished up the breakfast dishes, we put on our bathing suits. All together, we took a long walk around the winding cottage roads, then veered down to the lake. My stomach tumbled with every step, but when there were no kids, no adults, nobody swimming at all, my nerves settled. I swam all the way out to “the patch,” which was an island left of the beach. It had started out as nothing, but now it had mossy groundcover, wildflowers, grasses, and even trees poking up in the middle.

“I wish you would take off your T-shirt to swim,” Aunt Libby said.

Weird. I couldn’t remember her ever commenting on my clothing before. I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything, just walked up the sand and grabbed my towel, which was small and threadbare, but bore the name “Rebecca” in red block letters. In the centre, there was a purple unicorn. My late grandmother had given it to me when I was Mikey’s age. She obviously didn’t know me very well.

I sat in the shade and watched Uncle Flip help Mikey build a sandcastle. Usually I’d have joined them, but there was a new irritability building up in me. All that wet sand and water lapping the shore should have been soothing. Instead, it made me angry.

Bolting toward the shoreline, I picked up a big wad of mud, swung it back side-hand, and launched it at my brother’s back.

Mikey fell forward, crushing the castle he and my uncle were building. Even before he howled, I heard my aunt’s voice behind me, howling, “Rebecca! What in God’s name do you think you’re doing?”

“Becca!” Uncle Flip called out, looking utterly perplexed. “Hey, what’s gotten into you?”

Mikey knew. That’s all I cared. I wasn’t going to explain myself to anyone else. All I said was, “At least I didn’t do it in front of the whole beach.”

I knew I wasn’t going to get any sympathy from my family, so I grabbed my shorts and my towel and took off down the cottage road. My stomach rumbled. It was past lunchtime and I’d only picked at my breakfast. This was supposed to be a getaway from everything I had to deal with at home, so why was everything the same? My family was mad at me, I had no friends, and my stomach was eating itself.

My aunt and uncle probably expected me to go back to the cottage like I’d done the night before, but I was feeling too antsy. I also needed something to eat, so I walked down the main road until I reached the store.

Aside from the marina, which served greasy fries and hot dogs, there was only one store in our lakeside community. It was the front room of a mint green cottage. The old couple who ran the place lived in the back. There was an upstairs too—it was a much bigger cottage than ours—but my aunt said the couple had trouble getting up and down the stairs nowadays.

I liked the mint green cottage store, because there was nothing like it in the city. They carried fresh bread and pastries, which were baked by a woman down the way. They also carried jams made by the mother of the skinny girl with pigtails who’d started the mud fight yesterday. All the store’s pickles were made by that girl’s father.

Other stuff, like the penny candies that cost a penny and the ones that cost a nickel, were brought in from town. I usually bought a green thumb, a red foot, hot lips, two gummy worms, and a shoelace. Every time, I ate them in a different order, or I’d eat a bite of one, then a bite of something else. But I wouldn’t be eating candy today. My relatively empty stomach couldn’t handle the sugar. I needed something plain and bready, like a scone or a cheese biscuit.

When I opened the door, the bells above it jingled to alert the owners a customer had entered. They lived and worked in the same place, so they didn’t always stay in the store.

“Shuuuut uuuuup!” somebody moaned from the back room. It didn’t sound like old Mrs. Jones, who ran the store. Even less like her husband. The voice sounded young like mine, and a hundred times more annoying.

I froze, because for a second I thought maybe she was talking to me. But I hadn’t said anything, so maybe she was arguing with somebody back there. When I didn’t hear any other voices, I thought maybe she was on the phone. The cottage’s silence suffocated me quickly, and my breath was slow to return. Maybe whoever was back there had been yelling at the bells on the door. So, in a way, she was yelling at me.

My stomach dropped at the thought of being hated even by people who had never laid eyes on me.

Maybe it would have been smart to leave, but I didn’t want to move in case the floorboards creaked and the mystery girl howled again. For a while, I flipped through the Archie comics that lived on a white wire rack near the entrance. They were all used copies, for sale at four for a dollar, but the kids around the community more often exercised their option to trade. They brought in an old Archie and switched it for one they hadn’t read yet. That way, every book on the rack circulated to every cottage on the lake. I didn’t spot a single one I hadn’t checked out at some point in my life. That thought made me feel strangely old.

“Hello?” I called out. It’s not that I felt particularly bold—more that I was hungry. Also, it occurred to me that something bad might have happened to Mr. and Mrs. Jones. They’d usually have come out by now. “Anybody home?”

Again, that voice moaned, “Shuuuuuut uuuuup!” The words extended out and ran one into the next.

I crept toward the glass case by the cash register, since that’s where Mrs. Jones kept the baked goods. As I approached, I heard something crashing to the floor in the next room and then a whispered, “Shit!”

“Are you okay?” I called out, even though I didn’t know who “you” was.

Another moan, and then the mystery girl stumbled from the back room. “Whaddya want?”

When she leaned against the doorframe that divided the store from the Jones’s private space, my breath caught in my lungs. The girl in the blue bikini! Even though I’d only seen her from a distance, I knew right away this was the same person. Her blonde hair was a golden mess around her face. My mother would have called it a “rat’s nest” but I thought she looked pretty. She had about the longest legs I’d ever seen, and porcelain white, not carelessly tanned like my own skin.

“Well?” she snapped.

I couldn’t speak. I knew I was staring, and I knew it was rude, but I couldn’t help myself. It was after noon, and she still had on pyjamas: a white eyelet babydoll top with short ruffled undies. I wasn’t used to seeing anyone, even family, in that state of undress. The fabric was so thin I was sure I could have seen her chest right through it, if her long hair hadn’t been in the way.

“If you don’t tell me what you want, I’m going back to bed.”

“You live here?” I asked. It’s not what I wanted to ask, but my brain wasn’t firing on all cylinders. “I mean, where are the Joneses? Are they okay?”

“Town,” she muttered.

“Huh?”

“They went to town!” she shouted, over-enunciating every syllable.

“Oh.” I tried to think of something interesting to say. I wanted to engage her, show her I was smart and funny, even though I was neither of those things. I ended up asking, “Who are you?”

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

“Tiffany.”

“Oh.” I’d never met anyone called Tiffany before. “You work here?”

She started to nod, then grimaced and held her hand to her temple. I knew what that meant. “Remind me never to drink ever again.”

“Okay.”

She still hadn’t answered most of my questions. Then again, I was staring at her chest, so I guess I was in no position to call her rude.

“They’re my grandparents,” Tiffany said. “The Joneses, who run the store.”

“Oh.”

“Do you want something, or did you just stop by to make my life a living hell?”

“Sorry.”

Tiffany had both hands on her head now, one on each temple, pressing them together like a vice. When I still didn’t tell her what I wanted, she slouched off the doorframe and said, “Okay, bye then.”

“Oh, wait.” I made a quick decision. “Can I get a tea biscuit?”

“I don’t care,” she said, disappearing into the back room. “Take what you want.”

Even though I couldn’t see her, I asked, “Aren’t you worried people are going to steal things?”

Her disembodied voice said, “Do I look like I care?”

“Guess not.”

If I hadn’t been so hungry, I’d have probably just left. Instead, I snuck around to the wrong side of the Jones’s sales counter and opened the glass case. I left a quarter beside the register—enough for one tea biscuit—but I took two.

Even before I’d left the store, I felt consumed by guilt.

Chapter 5

 

“Hi, thief.” Yvette had fallen from my shelf to my bed, and when I picked her up, she said, “You stole a tea biscuit.”

“Shut up. No I didn’t.”

“You can’t lie to me,” Yvette said in Aunt Libby’s sing-song voice. She tsked her teeth, shook her head in a mocking sort of disappointment. “Bad girl, stealing from the Joneses. And from Tiffany.”

“She didn’t care,” I said out loud. Sometimes I forgot to talk to Yvette just in my head. “She said it didn’t matter if people stole from the store.”

“Are you five years old? Don’t give me excuses. You know right from wrong.”

“Yeah, I do,” I said, forming the words silently with my lips. “Doesn’t mean I always do what’s right.”

Aunt Libby and Uncle Flip were getting dinner together in the kitchen. I could hear them shuffling pots and pans out of the oven, chopping vegetables, all those sounds of a meal in progress. It was nice not to be the one cooking, though I knew I’d probably leave my room in a couple minutes and offer my help. Mikey ought to lend a hand too, but I could hear him outside my window, repairing our tepee. Every summer we gave it a new carpet of ferns and a new coat of pine boughs.

“Yvette, how did your clothes get on the floor this morning?” I knew it was a stupid question to ask a doll, and in fact asking it made me feel a little scared.

She didn’t offer any explanation, and I was glad. Even so, I lay on my bed, waiting. The sun caught up with me, and I fell into a soft sleep as I listened to my aunt and uncle speaking in hushed tones and Mikey chattering alone outside. Maybe he had imaginary friends, too, though it seemed unlikely since he had so many real ones.

A light breeze wafted through my open window, disrupting Yvette’s curls and shifting the white curtains. They were eyelet and thin, just like Tiffany’s pyjamas.

Once my mind had landed on Tiffany, she was all I could think about. It bothered me that she’d been hung over, that she’d obviously spent last night drinking with those older guys who’d taken her water skiing. I wondered what else she’d done with them, and that thought enraged me. Tiffany wasn’t even nice to me. I shouldn’t think about her like that. Anyway, the last thing I needed in my life was another drinker.

“That’s right,” Yvette said. “And don’t you forget it.”

I felt embarrassed that she could read my thoughts. Sometimes Yvette seemed like a real person, not just a doll on a shelf that I had pretend conversations with. She really seemed to have a mind of her own.

“Are you mad at me?” I asked.

Yvette didn’t answer right away, and that was answer enough. Then she said, “I’m not mad.”

“You seem mad.”

“Nope.”

I wasn’t going to argue with her. At least, I didn’t plan on arguing, but it bothered me that she wasn’t telling the truth.

“You’re mad about Tiffany.”

“What about her? She doesn’t even like you.”

Yvette sure knew how to knife me in the heart when she wanted to.

“But I like her,” I said, actually pronouncing the words, whispering them across the room.

“Why?” The word was vicious, hate-filled. “She’s a dumb blonde beach bunny. And she drinks!”

“Maybe not all the time,” I said, though I really knew nothing about her except that she’d water-skied yesterday, drank too much last night, and snapped at me this afternoon.

Uncle Flip called me to set the table. Two tea biscuits sat like bricks in my stomach, but at least dinner saved me from a conversation I didn’t want to have with Yvette. I wondered if things were getting out of control with her, if I couldn’t shut down the part of my brain that made her talk. She used to be silent and supportive, back when my uncle first gave her to me. I could tell her things about school, about my family, my dad. She’d listen and, if she said anything, it was kind and reassuring.

Yvette called to me as I left my bedroom, but I closed the door to shut her out. My aunt and uncle hadn’t talked to me since I got my revenge on my little brother, so I figured I was off the hook. In my family, we didn’t hold grudges with each other the way we did with friends and enemies.

“Your uncle and I would like a word with you while Mikey’s out back.” My aunt was adding canned fruit to a half-set bowl of Jello.

I grabbed four plates out of the cupboard, but I didn’t say anything. I wanted to be invisible.

When Uncle Flip started talking, my brain felt like it was full of bumblebees. I grabbed knives and forks out of the top drawer and set them beside our plates, forks on the left and knives on the right. I couldn’t remember if that was the proper way, but I wasn’t going to interrupt my uncle’s soft-spoken concern to ask.

“Acting out.” That’s about all I heard through the buzzing. He said something about me being angry with my dad and taking it out on people who didn’t deserve it, and that Mikey and I needed to look out for each other just now.

Maybe I heard more than I thought.

Aunt Libby asked if there was anything I needed to talk about, “just us girls.” She told me we could have a special day in town if that’s what I wanted.

Just us girls. Those three words curdled my blood, because I never felt like I had anything in common with other girls. I was in another category—not quite boy, not quite girl. I didn’t have a name for it. The Martina category, maybe.

I stood beside the table, tracing the rose pattern on the handle of my fork with my fingernail. The cottage cutlery wasn’t a full set, but rather a combination of sets. My grandparents had accumulated them over the years. All the forks and knives and spoons were different—some tinny, thin and dull with black age spots, others clunky and weighted but plain. The fork I’d chosen for myself was fine, almost dainty in design, but with a good heft to it. I guess everybody had preferences, even when it came to cutlery.

“Can I bring a friend?” I asked Aunt Libby.

The question came out of nowhere. My aunt was checking on our meal, but she closed the oven door and turned fully to look at me. I knew exactly what she was thinking: You have a friend?

But that’s not what she asked. She asked, “Bring a friend where, Bec?”

“To town,” I said. “If we go, like you said, for a girls’ thing.”

The perplexed creases in Aunt Libby’s brow relaxed as she processed my response. I guess she felt left out or downgraded, and I did feel badly about that.

“Sure,” she said. “Of course you can bring a friend.”

I smiled inwardly, but I didn’t want my aunt to see how happy that made me. The last thing I needed was for her to get all suspicious on me. I couldn’t remember ever feeling so at odds with my aunt. Maybe Uncle Flip was right. Maybe I was angry with my father and taking it out on everyone else.

Another question burbled up inside me, and I’d asked it even before I could process the repercussions: “Where did my dad go?”

Chapter 6

 

They knew. I could see it in their faces, in their agitated motions, in the way they wouldn’t look me in the eye. But they didn’t say anything. Not a word.

“Mom would tell us if he was just ‘getting better’ again.” I couldn’t say the word rehab out loud. “What happened to him?”

Uncle Flip stole the steaming pot of potatoes from the stove and drained the boiling water into the sink. Every time I watched someone else doing that, I held my breath because I was so afraid they’d burn their fingers. That’s what always happened to me when I drained potatoes.

Aunt Libby bent halfway into the oven to bring out her heavy red casserole dish. She’d made chicken thighs in mushroom soup, a staple in my family, but the meal overheated the cottage. I was sweating through my T-shirt, and only part of that was nerves.

“Is he dead?” I asked quickly, before my throat could close completely. Tears welled in my eyes. My whole head blazed. My face itched. I didn’t want to think about any of this. I didn’t even want to know the answer.

I was in Aunt Libby’s arms before I even saw her move, and it wasn’t until I opened my eyes that I realized I’d gone to her. We stood beside the hot stove, door open, warm air blasting our sides. My chest heaved against hers. I was sobbing uncontrollably into her neck, and she held me so tightly it just about compressed my sadness right out of my body.

“No, no, no,” Aunt Libby assured me. Her morning sing-song voice was back, and instead of annoying me this time it made me feel safe. “No way, dollface. Nothing like that.” Holding me at arms’ length, she looked me plain in the eye. “Don’t you worry about a thing, you hear me? Your father is very much alive.”

I cried even harder when she told me that, and I’d never felt so guilty in my whole life. What kind of daughter wanted her father dead?

“Shh, it’s okay, kiddo.” Uncle Flip placed one hand on my shoulder as my aunt consoled me. “There are some things that aren’t our place to tell you, Bec. You’re old enough to understand that, right?”

“Yeah,” I said through hiccupped sobs. “But can’t you tell me anyway?”

I could hear my aunt and uncle smiling sadly at one another.

“We made a promise to your mother,” Uncle Flip said. “She’ll tell you when she thinks you’re ready.”

“But I’m ready now!”

“Bec…” Aunt Libby kissed my hair and hugged me tighter, but I struggled out of her grip. “I’m sorry, honey.”

“Can I call her, then?” We weren’t supposed to use the cottage phone unless there was some kind of emergency.

“Becca…” Uncle Flip put his hand on my shoulder, but I shrugged it off. I wanted to hit him hard, but I kept the feeling inside. “No, Bec.”

I tried to swallow the anger, but it stuck in my throat, anxious to spew all over the family that betrayed me at every turn.

“I just want to talk to my mother!” My words were fierce but stilted. “Why can’t I just talk to my own goddamn mother?”

“Bec…”

Rage surged through my legs, driving me out of the cottage. I’d left my flip-flops on the front lawn, and as I kicked my feet into them I spotted my brother. He was busy snapping heads off the bulrushes that grew in the ditch beside our gravel road. For a moment, I stood in the yard and stared at him, wondering why on earth he was killing things.

After a dazed few seconds, Mikey looked up at me. His eyes went wide, like he was astonished to find another person inside his private world. That’s when I realized he wasn’t tossing the bulrushes aside, but holding their tough stems in one hand like a bouquet of flowers. He must have been picking them for Aunt Libby or for the dinner table, or maybe to decorate our tepee out back.

I wanted to smile, but my lips wouldn’t move. I stared at my brother for another few seconds, then took off down the gravel road.

Chapter 7

 

I didn’t stop running until my right foot pushed through my flip-flop, yanking the rubber thong out of its spongy base. My toes slid into gravel and pain streaked through me like I’d landed on sandpaper. I knew without looking that my foot was cut and bleeding.

“Damn it!” I yelled, then quickly checked if there was anyone around to scold me for swearing. I was right outside a white cottage with black shutters and shingles. It was bigger than my parents’ house in the city. The Hamiltons lived there year-round, not just in the summer. Mrs. Hamilton kept a blooming vegetable garden out front, but she wasn’t there at the moment.

Picking up my broken flip-flop, I hopped to the ditch and dunked my foot in the water. My toes weren’t actually bleeding, just a little red, but I sat on the slope anyway, watching green leaves and bits of plants float down the little river that always formed along this stretch. The land was hilly, so the stream ran quick and clear.

When I was a kid, back when my grandparents were still alive, I would spend hours floating little bits of things down the ditch every spring thaw. Now, I was tempted to float my flip-flops down the river, and I probably would have if I hadn’t been too lazy to go chasing after them.

I fixed my broken flip-flop while my blazing foot waded, then picked the only ripe raspberries on Hamiltons’ prickly bushes. This wasn’t stealing, I decided, because the raspberries were on the outside of their property. It would only be stealing if they were on the inside. That’s what I told myself.

Crickets chirped all around me, but I couldn’t spot a single one. Crickets were tricky like that—ever-present but impossible to see. I wished I could be more like that, but maybe I already was.

We’d barely been at the cottage twenty-four hours and I’d run away from my family three times already. I felt like a stupid kid, unpredictable and irresponsible. That wasn’t me, not even close. Even so, when I put my flip-flop back on, I didn’t walk toward the cottage. I meandered toward the mint green store.

Since the Jones’s cottage was compressed by the store in the front room, they always ate dinner on the covered veranda out back. When I approached, I heard cutlery on plates, the clinking of water glasses, and voices. I couldn’t make out what they were saying, or even whether they were young or old. My heart thumped hard at the thought of seeing Tiffany again. She’d probably gotten dressed by now. I doubted very much Mr. and Mrs. Jones would let her wear pyjamas at dinner. Not that it mattered what she was wearing, as long as she was there.

The store was closed, or course—it was no 7-11, though the Joneses were always happy to sell you the basic necessities, even if it was ten o’clock at night. Anyway, it wasn’t the store I’d come for. It wasn’t even Tiffany. It was the Bell payphone out front.

I pulled all my change out of the front pocket of my shorts, but I didn’t know how much it cost to call the city. Aunt Libby and Uncle Flip always said it was expensive, which is why we weren’t allowed to make calls frivolously. But what did “expensive” mean, exactly? Fifty cents? One dollar? Two? I only had six quarters in my pocket, and a few dimes and nickels. There were instructions on the phone box about how to place a call, but it didn’t say how much you had to pay.

“Oh. It’s you.”

I nearly jumped out of my flip-flops as I spun to meet Tiffany’s gaze. She didn’t seem particularly happy to see me, but she didn’t seem irritated either. Maybe she was still too hung over to feel emotions over the pain. At least she recognized me.

My mind instructed me to say hi, but instead I handed her a quarter. “I left the wrong change before.”

She looked down at the money I’d placed in her palm. “Oh.”

I could feel her eyes on my clothes, so I looked down at what I was wearing. My shorts were denim cut-offs, but long ones, almost down to my knees, and they were much darker than the jeans that were fashionable. And they were dirty. My legs were dirty too, and I hadn’t shaved in ages, so they were also stubbly. The T-shirt I had on was a men’s small which masked my chest and my butt. It was heather grey and thick cotton, with a Toronto Maples Leafs logo silkscreened across the front. The families my mother cleaned for gave her lots of old clothes, which we all resented but wore anyway.

Tiffany had on a dress that reminded me of the pyjamas she’d been wearing earlier—white and flowing in the slight summer breeze. Her belt was thick and elastic, but it shone like gold. The buckle was shaped like a flower and full of rhinestones. Around her neck, she wore thick chains and beads all twisted together, which culminated in a big fancy cross with some kind of gemstone stuck into it. It rested between her breasts. Every time she breathed, it shifted slightly.

Before I knew it, I was reaching out to touch the cross. When I tugged gently, it pulled her closer. She moved like the waves at the beach: toward me, then away. Still, I held tight to that cross, running my thumb over the smooth stone, which shone in streaks of copper and gold.

“Is this real?” I asked.

“Is what real?”

I pressed my thumb against the gem, which was almost an oval, but not quite. “Is this real or fake?”

“It’s tiger’s eye,” she said, which didn’t answer my question.

“Oh.” I held the cross in the fading light of dusk, and it shimmered between us. “It’s a gem?”

“Of course it’s a gem. Don’t you know anything?” She yanked the cross out of my hand and held it so that only she could see the face. “Tiger’s eye. It’s, like, a rock and it’s shiny. Haven’t you ever seen one?”

“Maybe,” I said. “It’s the eye of the tiger, it’s the duh-duh-duh-duh, rising up to the challenge of our eyeballs.”

I pumped my fist in the air as I sang, thinking she’d be impressed with my Rocky impression. At first, when Tiffany laughed, I figured she thought I was clever and funny. Then she said, “You don’t even know the right words.”

My heart fell into the pit of my stomach when I realized she was laughing at me, not with me. My hands dropped to my sides.

“It’s rivals, not eyeballs,” she said. “It’s the eye of the tiger, it’s the thrill of the fight, rising up to the challenge of our rivals.”

“Oh.” I felt like an idiot, but I laughed despite myself. “Yeah, I guess that makes more sense.”

Tiffany turned her necklace so the tiger’s eye faced me. “How can you rise to the challenge of your eyeballs?”

“I don’t know.” Laughter effervesced in my belly, and I suddenly heard myself giggling. “I guess, like, if you see something and you want to defeat it. Like at Christmas when you pile your plate up with turkey and potatoes and stuffing and cranberry sauce, and you think ‘I’m going to eat all this food if it’s the last thing I do.’”

My stomach rumbled at the thought of food, but Tiffany was laughing too hard to hear it. Her greeny-blue eyes shimmered like the sea and her pink lips strained so tight that creases carved themselves across her cheeks. ‘Laugh lines,’ my mother called them. So I knew Tiffany wasn’t just humouring me. She actually did think I was funny.

When her laughter tapered out and she stared down at my top, I didn’t know what to say. Suddenly, I felt nervous as well as hungry.

“Do you…?”

“Is that…?”

We both started talking at once, then right away stopped.

“Sorry, you first,” I said.

“No, you.”

“No, it’s stupid.”

“So’s mine.” Tiffany fiddled with her necklace. When I didn’t ask my question, she pointed to my T-shirt. “I was just going to ask if you’re a Maple Leafs fan.”

“Oh.” I rolled my eyes. “Not really. I mean, they’re okay, but I usually root for the Oilers.”

“Edmonton!” Tiffany’s eyes lit up. “That’s where I was born.”

“Oh. What’s it like?”

“Don’t remember. We moved when I was two, down to Texas. I don’t remember much from there either. We moved again when I was five.”

“Neat.” I tried to think of something to say about either of those places, but hockey was my only frame of reference. “Gretzky’s pretty spiffy, huh?”

“Yeah, sure. I mean, I’m not really into sports or anything, but Wayne Gretzky’s bigger than Jesus.”

I giggled, even though giggling made me feel like a total moron. I couldn’t help it.

Tiffany looked out across the lawn, and I followed her gaze. It landed on a chipmunk eating sunflower seeds on one of the boulders by the front walk. After a silence, Tiffany said, “Yeah, Gretzky’s a total studmuffin.”

My stomach twisted at the mention of Wayne Gretzky’s looks. Sure I could appreciate that he was an attractive man, and that other girls might be drawn to him, but I didn’t want Tiffany to be one of those girls. If she liked him that way, chances were she wouldn’t like me that way. And, God, I wanted her to like me that way.

“So, I guess you don’t wear this for religious reasons, huh?” I took hold of Tiffany’s cross and ran my thumb across the tiger’s eye again.

She cackled, like the idea was absolutely preposterous. “It’s just flash. Madonna’s my fricken’ hero. My parents hate her.”

“My dad likes her,” I said.

Tiffany raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, I think all dads like her.”

“Not that way.” I shuddered to think of anything sexual related to my parents. “My dad’s a musician.”

“Shut up! For real?” Both eyebrows went up this time, but they fell just as fast. “Wait, you mean like he plays the tuba, or he’s a real musician?”

“Real,” I said. “He plays in a band.”

“Omigad! Like, a rock band?” Tiffany jumped up and down in her bare feet, and her necklace jangled against her breasts. “Which one?”

I don’t know why, but I didn’t want to tell her. Twisting my fingers up in the hem of my T-shirt, I said, “They’re not popular or anything. You’ve probably never heard of them.”

“Shyeah right! I bet your dad’s, like… Sting.”

I rolled my eyes, but I had to laugh. “My dad’s not Sting.”

Tiffany stopped jumping around and cocked her head so her long blonde hair fell to one side. “Fine, so who is he, then?”

There was something in her pose that made me instantly angry. “Quit grilling me, okay? He’s not famous!”

I didn’t mean to raise my voice so much, and I could tell Tiffany was taken aback because she actually physically took a step away from me. “Whatever, spaz. Take a chill pill.”

The chipmunk on the rock made a high-pitched clicking noise, and we both glanced over at it, then accidentally met each other’s gazes. For a long moment, I couldn’t breathe.

My stomach rumbled, and this time Tiffany definitely heard it, but she looked away quickly. “I need to finish my grub, then help with the dishes.” She flicked her hair. Just when I thought she might invite me to share whatever the Joneses were having for dinner, Tiffany turned and said, “Later.”

The garden gate clicked and she disappeared behind the cottage.

I didn’t forget about the Bell payphone. I didn’t forget about my mother or my father, or the strange way my aunt and uncle had reacted when I asked about him. For the moment, I was walking on sunshine.

Chapter 8

 

“Do I look like I’m laughing?”

Aunt Libby stood beside the open door to my bedroom with her arms folded across her chest. Her lips were pinched so tight they’d gone white.

“Answer me, young lady.”

“I didn’t do that!” I said.

My room was a mess, everything everywhere. Clothes were hanging out the open drawers of my dresser, the dusty oil painting of foggy mountains hanging askew. My bedding was clumped in a big ball on the floor, even my curtains had fallen to the ground. The only thing in the entire room that hadn’t been touched was… Yvette.

“I suppose you’re going to blame the fairies,” my aunt said. The lingering trace of a Cape Breton accent always came out when she was angry. It exploded into an unmistakeable brogue just now.

“Maybe it was Mikey,” I said, almost apologetically.

“Your brother played outside until dinner—which you missed, thank you very much, young lady—and after that he didn’t leave our sights.”

“Libby,” Uncle Flip whispered, coming in beside my aunt. “Ease up on the girl. There must be some explanation.”

I knew in my gut my brother would never have gone in my bedroom without permission. But somebody obviously had.

“Hey!” I flashed with anger. “What gives you the right to go poking around my personal property? I never said you could you could look through my room.”

“We only opened the door because we heard the curtain rod fall.” Uncle Flip’s tone of voice was significantly softer than my aunt’s. I could see in his face that he felt sorry for me, or confused, thinking I’d become a destructive little monster overnight. “That’s understandable, right Bec? We just wanted to see what the noise was all about.”

I stood mute before them. I couldn’t think of a single thing to say.

“Where were you all this time, anyway?” Aunt Libby asked. She didn’t shout, but she certainly scowled. “It isn’t safe to go running over hill and yonder after dark. You should know that, growing up in the city.”

“Yeah, I know.” I didn’t tell them I’d been talking to Tiffany almost until the sun went down.

After Tiffany had gone back in the Jones’s cottage, I still hadn’t wanted to come back, so walked down to the water to skip rocks. When I got close to the beach, I spotted a fire roaring in the pit. I knew who it was. There was no mistaking the raucous howl of teenaged boys. At least I could be sure that Tiffany wasn’t with them. I got a little closer to see if there were any girls among their ranks, but it was just dark enough that I couldn’t tell.

“Hey, kid! Kid, look over here a sec.”

I froze as one of the older guys shone a flashlight in my face. When my muscles finally let me move, I shielded my eyes against the blazing light. I couldn’t see anyone, but I could certainly hear their dog-like sneers, smell their vomitus beer breath. My feet were like iron, or I’d have run a mile.

The flashlight snapped off and all I could see were bright spots and fire.

“You’re free to go,” the guy with the flashlight said. “Just wanted to see if you were as fugly at night as you are during the day.”

“Get bent!” I hollered, pushing my voice down so it would sound as low and threatening as theirs. It didn’t work, of course. It never worked, but that didn’t stop me trying.

Everybody laughed, and all I could think—literally the one and only thought in my head—was how glad I was that Tiffany hadn’t been there to hear it. Guys like that weren’t worth the time it took to kick them in the balls, but there was always a part of me that raged when they made fun of me. Every time, every single time, they took a little piece of my sanity. They stole something that was mine, and I’d never get it back.

A bright, fiery flash soared through the air, and I realized one of the idiots had thrown a lit cigarette at me. My throat made a weird noise, like if a whimper mated with a groan. Actually, it sounded a bit like Curly from the Three Stooges. They must have heard because they laughed even harder as my feet carried me away.

Even then, I didn’t come straight home. I probably should have, but I didn’t. The shoreline was as familiar to me as my mother’s face, and in that moment I needed something safe and soothing.

Beyond the beach, there was a stretch of rocky shoreline. It had been left to its own devices so long that small trees started growing there, almost in the water. After that, it was the docks and the marina, which was closed at that hour, and then the government pier Mikey and me fished from, because Aunt Libby and Uncle Flip didn’t have a boat. After that, the gravel road rumbled along the shoreline so close to the water that you felt like you were on a raft whenever you drove that way. There wasn’t much out there, except a few giant cottages—the kind millionaires commissioned as summer homes. The kind that could be on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

I walked all the way to the Richie Rich cottages before turning around. Part of me wanted to sneak up to the windows and look inside, see what the fancy people were eating for dinner, but when I got there all the lights were off at the first one. The second one, too. They were both completely dark.

My stomach churned, not only because I was starving, but because it made me so angry that there were huge, gorgeous houses out here and nobody lived in them. My aunt and uncle and brother and I were staying in a cabin where you could only flush the toilet once a day, and those giant cottages probably had thirteen bathrooms and an indoor pool. It didn’t seem fair.

I very rarely imagined what it would be like if I were rich, because every time I did my stomach tied itself in knots. If I were rich, I think I’d hate myself.

“Becca?” Uncle Flip looked at me with such concern my heart pretty much ripped in half. “Your aunt asked you a question. Where have you been all evening?”

I could have just said, “I was out walking around.” I could have apologized for running off, for missing dinner. Hell, I could even have apologized for messing up my room. But I didn’t.

“I’m so sick of everyone interfering in my life!” I cried. “In two years I’ll be eighteen, and then I’ll never have to tell anyone where I’ve been. I can stay out all night if I want and you can’t do a thing!”

Aunt Libby smacked her hand on the Formica table top. “Well, you’re not eighteen yet, young lady. If you ask me, you’re scarcely acting like a girl of eight.”

“Libby,” Uncle Flip whispered, but she wasn’t paying attention to him.

“You’re not too old to be grounded, Rebecca Jane Warren!”

I don’t know what got into me, but I screamed, “You bet your ass I am!”

Aunt Libby’s eyes shot wide open. She picked up a teaspoon from the table and pointed it like a weapon. “You just lost your chance at dinner. I had a plate in the oven for you, but if that’s the kind of language you care to use, you can just forget about it.”

My stomach rumbled, and I screamed, “Fine!” just to cover up the noise. Ducking into my room, I slammed the door, but it squealed and then croaked and remained open a good half-inch. No matter what I did, I could never have any privacy in this cottage. Never.

I fell onto my mattress and gazed up at the ceiling. The cottage wiring was all very makeshift, so we had lamps in every room instead of overhead lighting. My lamp was tall and looked like it had been painted gold at one point, but had faded to bronze since. It usually had a lampshade on its head, but now the bulb burned bare and the light blazed against my eyeballs.

Sitting up on my naked mattress, I looked around the room. Even if Mikey had been super-mad at me, there’s no way he would have caused such a disaster. He wasn’t the type to get back at me behind my back, and, anyway, I was pretty sure we were even for the mud-slinging.

Who could have done this?

In the next room, I heard the radio click into my aunt’s country and western station. She was probably working on her crochet, and that made me wonder where my needlepoint had gone to. If I knew Uncle Flip, he was reading a book. He liked mysteries and intrigue, or anything with mobsters, secret agents, that sort of thing. The picture I had in my head made me want to go out there and be with them, to sit quietly and craft the hours away like when I was younger, before I started picking fights I was bound to lose.

“So tell them you’re sorry,” Yvette said.

When I looked up at her, she was smiling, but there was a weird look in her eyes. She seemed different in a way I couldn’t quite pinpoint.

“Sorry for what? I didn’t do anything.”

“Just tell them you did.”

“But I didn’t!”

“They’ll give you dinner if you apologize.”

My stomach devoured itself. Mushroom chicken wasn’t the most exciting dish in the world, but I was hungry enough to settle for just the potatoes at that point.

“No they won’t,” I said. “My aunt’s really mad.”

“She’s not the only one,” Yvette muttered. Her voice had gone rough as gravel, and it made my skin prick.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Her voice was light and airy again when she said, “Nothing.”

“Yeah, I know what nothing means,” I told Yvette. “It means you’ll pretend to be fine for five minutes, then explode at me the second I turn my back.”

Yvette chuckled. “You know me too well.”

“You’re pretty predictable.”

“And you’re not?” she shot back.

I wasn’t sure exactly how or why we’d ended up in an argument, but after the day I’d just had, I couldn’t take any more. “I’m not going to fight with you, Yvette.”

“I’m not going to fight with you either.”

“Good.”

“Great.”

I dropped down on my bed, expecting to land on a pillow. A bolt like lightning shot down my neck as my head struck my mattress, which predated spring coils and rested not on top of a box spring, but on top of a long wooden box. There were drawers in the box for storage, but I never used them because the whole unit reminded me of a coffin.

After a terse moment, Yvette asked, “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“I hate that word—fine.” Yvette clicked her teeth. “You only use it when you’re mad.”

“No,” I said, crossing my arms over my chest. “I also say it when I’m fine.”

We were quiet again. As I stared at the panel ceiling, my mind swelled with thoughts of Tiffany. I wanted to close my eyes and fantasize about her teeny-weeny blue bikini, but I pushed all that aside. If Yvette really could read my mind, she’d be angry as hell.

So, instead, I focused on my encounter by the beach. I used to be able to tell Yvette anything. Now I could only tell her certain things, and I felt like I was drowning, suffocating, and even if I pulled myself up to the surface and got a big gulp of air, I could never be sure that she wouldn’t grab my head and dunk me right back under. I was always in danger.

“Some guys at the beach said I was ugly.”

“I wouldn’t say ugly.” Yvette chuckled in that uniquely cruel way of hers. “You just need a little mascara, some lipstick, blush, that’s all. Well, and also a good foundation and extra concealer to cover up that acne. I mean, my God, Rebecca, do you bathe in grease? Then some powder, and you’re done.”

“Thanks,” I groaned.

“Oh, I forgot about eye shadow. And liner. You know, just the basics.”

I sat up and looked in the antique mirror above my low dresser. It was rusted and blotchy, which didn’t help any to block out the red pimple patches on my chin and my forehead. I hadn’t had a haircut since March. My bangs had grown out so much I had to use a hairband to push them out of my eyes, but they stuck up everywhere and I looked like a messy little kid.

“I don’t like wearing makeup. It feels weird.”

“Suit yourself,” Yvette clucked. “Your choice, if you want to look like a child for the rest of your life.”

“It isn’t a matter of looking like a kid or an adult, it’s a matter of feeling comfortable in my skin.” I took off my headband, since it was pinching behind my ears anyway, and my grown-out bangs tumbled over my face. Maybe I looked better that way—like a shaggy dog.

Yvette laughed, and this time she sounded amused instead of mean. “I dare you to wear your hair like that all day tomorrow.”

“Woolly Bully!” I flicked my hair all around. “Watch it, now, watch it, watch it, watch it!

A glittering stream of giggles soared from Yvette’s mouth, and I felt so pleased that I’d healed the rift between us.

“That was my favourite song when I was a kid,” I said.

“Woolly Bully? Why?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. It reminded me of this one guy in my dad’s band. Doug. He had a long beard and dressed like a biker. I don’t know if he actually was a biker, but he looked that way.”

My muscles went limp, and I lay down flat on my bed. Doug had died a couple years ago, of what my mother called “a hard life.” The same life my father led.

“Yvette,” I asked. “Do you think my dad’s dead?”

“No,” she scoffed without so much as a pause. “You really think your mom would hide that from you?”

I rolled onto my side, folding both hands in the warm crook of my neck. “They’re hiding something from me. Aunt Libby and Uncle Flip know what it is, but they won’t tell me.”

“They will,” she said. “Give them time.”

When I gazed up at Yvette, my heart filled with tenderness. For a moment, I couldn’t remember why I was always getting so frustrated with her. And then I glanced around my room. If I didn’t create this mess, and Mikey didn’t do it, who did? Obviously not my aunt and uncle.

I stared at Yvette, challenging her to answer the big question: who destroyed my room?

There wasn’t much of a breeze coming through the window, but suddenly Yvette’s hair started rustling. Her little orange ringlets waved at the sides of her head, like they were floating, and the sight gave me an all-over chill. Something inside of me was saying I should confront Yvette, just ask her flat-out if she’d messed up my room, but I couldn’t do it. I knew if I asked, she’d say yes, and then I’d have to ponder how a doll could possibly move physical objects.

I kept telling myself Yvette wasn’t real, that her words came from me, just like an imaginary friend. She wasn’t real. Yvette was not real

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, her head turned. It shifted to the side, and then down, until her chin very nearly touched her shoulder. This time, when she spoke, it wasn’t just words in my head. I heard every syllable for real, heard a voice that was outside of myself. Her sweet puckered lips moved slowly and surely to form the words, “Who’s to say what’s real?”

I forgot all about Aunt Libby’s anger and Uncle Flip’s confusion. I was so scared I couldn’t even scream. All I wanted was my family.

Scrambling off my bed, I burst through my door and raced to aunt’s wide lap.

Chapter 9

 

“What’s gotten into you, girl?” Aunt Libby shifted her crochet out of the way. “Oh look, you’ve gone and tangled up my yarn.”

“Sorry,” I said, clutching Aunt Libby’s neck.

Uncle Flip set his book down on the table as he sauntered toward my room. “Very nice job, Becca. Now that’s what I like to see.”

I pulled my face from the lilac comfort of my aunt’s neck, but I couldn’t see what Uncle Flip was talking about. He was standing outside my bedroom with the door propped open. He looked gratified and impressed, but I couldn’t fathom why. When I slipped from my aunt’s lap, she heaved herself up from the couch and followed me to the doorway.

“What do you say, Libby? Does this deserve a late dinner, or what?”

Aunt Libby and I poked our heads into my room at exactly the same time, but her elation had nothing on my shock.

“Nice job, Rebecca Jane.” Aunt Libby patted me on the back so hard she almost sent me flying into the bedroom. “Your uncle’s right—that does deserve a plate of chicken.”

My room was beyond clean. The bed was made, hospital corners and everything, the pictures were righted on the walls, my clothes returned to my drawers, the curtains reinstated, and everything in its place. As before, the only that hadn’t budged was Yvette.

A chill travelled the length of my spine—I couldn’t say up or down. It seemed to be everywhere at once. My whole body went cold, despite the warmth in the un-air-conditioned cottage. I pulled the door shut and stood by the oven.

“The chicken’s bound to be dry,” Aunt Libby said, and I could see on her face a mixture of concern and reticence. “What made you change your mind?”

“She’s a good kid,” my uncle said. “But, Becca, I need to know what made you destroy that room in the first place. Are you mad at your aunt and me?”

“I’m sorry,” I moaned. I couldn’t pry myself away from the oven. The chill was inside me, so deep I wondered if I would ever shake it. “It won’t happen again, okay?”

“Well, I really want to get to the bottom of this,” Uncle Flip went on.

A little growl grizzled up in my throat. There was no way in hell I was going to tell them what really happened. They’d think I was nuts!

“I was just mad,” I said. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what got into me.”

“You’re a teenager,” my aunt said, twisting my hair in her hand. “Being angry for no reason is par for the course.”

It bugged me that my family thought I was just another hormonal sixteen-year-old, but it was easier to let them believe that than to convince them my room had been messed up by a porcelain doll.

My aunt brought my dinner out of the oven at eleven o’clock on the dot. I was just grabbing a trivet for her to set the plate on when the news came on the radio.

“Clarence!” my aunt shouted. “Switch the station!”

Her urgency made me jump, and my heart skittered into my throat. Aunt Libby only called Uncle Flip by his real name when she was really upset.

Uncle Flip lunged for the dial and turned it until the radio spewed out static.

Normally I would have teased my aunt and uncle for acting so weird, but I’d already been in hot water. I just said, “It’s okay. You can leave it on your station.”

“No, no.” Aunt Libby set my dinner on the trivet and then kissed the top of my head. “We’ve ragged on you enough for one day. You deserve to listen to your kind of music while you eat dinner.”

“Yeah.” Uncle Flip chuckled the way people do when they’re hiding something. “I know how much you hate your aunt’s country and western.”

He surfed the airwaves until he landed on a station playing the Eurythmics, and I perked up at their synthetic sound. Even though my aunt and uncle had always derided my musical tastes, they were both smiling now. It was pretty weird, but I was too hungry to ask.

As I shovelled potatoes into my mouth, it occurred to me that Mikey hadn’t come out of his room to see what the commotion was all about. I did ask about that.

“Oh, he’s sleeping in the tepee tonight,” Uncle Flip said. “We can all do a camp-out one night, if you want.”

He and my aunt were both sitting on the couch, watching me eat. It weirded me out, but I didn’t say anything. Maybe this whole day had been a dream. Reality wasn’t usually so alarming.

After my aunt and uncle said their goodnights, they left me alone to wash my dishes. I could hear them talking about me very clearly, since their door didn’t close any better than mine did. I tried not to listen, but of course I did. How can you not listen when people are talking about you?

I left my plate, fork, knife, and cup to dry on a tea towel beside the sink, and I crept closer to their room.

“I’m really worried about that girl,” my aunt said.

“She’s been through a lot, Lib. And think how much she helps out at home. Don’t come down so hard on her. The kid deserves a break. It’s not like things are going to get any easier once Robert…”

Robert. My father. Once Robert what? Keep talking, damn it!

“True,” Aunt Libby said when Uncle Flip didn’t finish his sentence. “I just think she needs boundaries as much as any kid her age. You never know what she might run off and do.”

I’m not a kid!

“She’s not a kid,” my uncle said.

Score one for the Flipster!

“Well, that’s exactly my point. She could come home tomorrow with a bun in the oven.”

Yeah, right!

“I don’t think so, hon.” Uncle Flip paused, and that made all the food in my stomach turn in circles. Did he know? Could he tell? If he did, all he said was, “I don’t think we need to worry about that sort of thing with our Bec.”

That’s for sure.

After that, they started talking about mortgage payments and credit card bills. I hovered close to their door a while longer, thinking they might come back to the topic of me or my father, or anything at all interesting. When they didn’t, I sat on the couch and looked at my bedroom door. Everything about it seemed weird, like the door itself was hazy and warped. Had it changed colours in the past half hour? Maybe my eyes were playing tricks on me.

I picked up my cross-stitching, which was sitting on the coffee table, and concentrated on pushing the needle through the right hole, pulling the embroidery floss up the canvas, then poking it into the hole on the diagonal. There was something soothing about following guidelines, matching a number to a colour, and stitching the right floss in the right place. This Holly Hobbie pattern was really coming together. I wished I’d brought another one. Maybe if Aunt Libby still wanted to take me into town, we could stop by the craft shop.

Did Tiffany like crafting? God, probably not. She was too cool for old-lady time-wasters like needlework or knitting. If she came along when we went to town and I mentioned the craft shop, she’d probably laugh and dub me Queen of the Nerds.

I was getting ahead of myself assuming that she’d come at all. I’d watched plenty of girls like Tiffany—watched them from afar—and they most definitely did not hang out with dweebs like me.

But a girl could dream…

Chapter 10

 

“Becca!” Mikey woke me up by jumping on stomach and dropping a newspaper on my face. “Your movie’s at the movies!”

“What the…?” I clawed my way out of paper prison while Mikey jumped onto the coffee table.

“Hey, get down from there,” my uncle scolded him. “It isn’t safe.”

“Rebecca, no more sleeping on the couch,” my aunt said from the kitchen. “You have a perfectly good bed in your room.”

“Well, I wouldn’t say perfectly good,” Uncle Flip reasoned. “Acceptable, maybe. Particularly if you were a logger in the depression era.”

Two days had gone by since I’d set foot in my bedroom, and despite our daily swims in the lake, I was starting to stink enough to put me off myself. In fact, I could almost smell my armpits stronger than the bacon Aunt Libby was frying up.

“Have you ever seen the mattresses their bunks were made of?” my uncle went on.

“Whose bunks?” my aunt asked disinterestedly.

Mikey turned up the radio—Devo was whipping it real good. He started jumping on the couch everywhere my body wasn’t, and sometimes even where it was.

“Ouch! Mikey, get off me!”

“Michael, stop bothering your sister,” Aunt Libby said by rote.

“They were made out of hay, just jammed in a big sack. That’s what you had to sleep on if you were a logger in those days.”

I rolled over on the couch, groaning as I covered my head with the mustard-yellow accent cushion. Too much noise! Too much family!

“How many eggs, Rebecca?”

Five more minutes!

“Make her two,” Uncle Flip said. “She always eats two.”

Ten more minutes!

“Rebecca, would you like a cup of coffee?”

My head perked off the couch, like in cartoons where the blissful creature floats off the floor. “I’m allowed?”

“I don’t think your mother would mind,” Aunt Libby shouted over the music. “Mikey, turn that down. Rebecca, you’ve been such a help these past two days. I’d say you’re more than mature enough for a few sips.”

If my aunt thought I’d earned a reward, heck, I’d claim it. I wasn’t about to tell her I’d only been “such a help” because tidying the cottage kept me away from Yvette. Every time I walked by my room, I was sure I heard noises in there: babbling, singing, spooky sounds like that. Other times, I heard creaking and squeaking, which my mom would have called “the house settling” if we were at home. Maybe it was nothing.

While Uncle Flip fiddled with the French Press, Mikey ran around the room playing He-Man and She-Ra, a game in which he performed the roles of all characters.

“Jeeze,” I said. “Did you give this kid a coffee before I woke up?”

My uncle laughed. “No, that’s the folly of youth you’re seeing right there.”

“Where’s your youthful folly, Rebecca?” My aunt slid crispy bacon on to a paper towel. “Sixteen years old! You should be full of life.”

“Not before ten in the morning,” I grumbled. Rolling off the couch, I made my way to the bathroom. There was a sign on the door, which said “What Am I Doin’?” and had been there for as long as I could remember. It had a dial on it, which you could spin to settle on any of the following items:

-Powderin’ my nose

-Clippin’ my toenails

-Stinkin’ up the joint

-Washin’ my feet

-None of yer business

Nobody ever changed the position of the dial—it was eternally set at “Washin’ my feet”—but I read the sign every time I went in. Maybe that’s because it always took a while to work up the courage to cross that threshold. It wasn’t the prettiest-smelling room in the house at the best of times.

When I came out of the bathroom, Uncle Flip had poured hot water into the coffee press and was pushing slowly down on the knob. My family wasn’t big on coffee, so we didn’t have a home brewer. It did seem a little odd that they were making coffee for someone who, technically, wasn’t even allowed to drink it, but I wasn’t going to question my treat.

On my way to the table, I stepped on the paper I’d thrown off my face earlier. When I bent to pick it up, Mikey howled, “Ewww! You smell like Grandma Warren.”

A rush of heat spread across my cheeks, and I instinctively looked up at my aunt and uncle.

“You have been wearing that top for a few days now,” my aunt agreed.

My uncle shook his head and teased me. “She says she’s no Leafs fan, but she won’t take off their T-shirt, even in the off-season.”

“Sorry,” I said, looking down at my legs. They were getting stupendously hairy. “I’ll change.”

“No, no.” Aunt Libby started slapping fried eggs down on orange plates. “Eat your breakfast, honey. We’re just teasing.”

I plopped down into my seat at the table, and got a vigorous whiff of myself. “Maybe I should change now.”

“We’ll take some soap down to the lake after breakfast,” Aunt Libby said as Uncle Flip tossed buttered toast on our plates.

When I grabbed for my fork, I realized I still had the paper in hand. “Hey, where did this come from?” The cottage country paper was only published once a week, and in our alcove of the lake, you could only get it from the box outside the Jones’s store. “Did you go to the store without me?”

“It wasn’t open,” Mikey said.

Uncle Flip poured out three cups of coffee. “We didn’t want to wake you, and Mikey was a little nutty this morning.”

When my uncle sat my coffee down in front of me, I took a big sip before he’d even had a chance to pour me some milk. “Mmm! That hit the spot.”

Smashing his toast points into the yolks of his two eggs sunny side up, Mikey asked, “Did you see your movie?”

“Oh, that’s right.” Aunt Libby sat down, and now everyone was at the table. “The Breakfast Club—it’s playing at the theatre in town this weekend. I thought you might like to go.”

My heart fluttered for such a long time I wondered if I was having a heart attack. We were going to town? To the movies? I could ask Tiffany. Did she like The Breakfast Club as much as I did? Oh, of course she did. Everyone loved that movie.

“So, you want to go?” Aunt Libby asked.

“Can I invite someone?” I barked back, way louder than I’d intended.

My aunt laughed. “I told you before that you could. Or has that one sip of coffee destroyed your memory centre?”

I did feel a little weird, but I couldn’t tell if it was the coffee or the thought of spending a day with Tiffany. Maybe it was a combination of the two. After one and a half cups of coffee, I was so nuts I didn’t think twice about hopping into my bedroom and grabbing a change of underwear to put on after swimming. I even laid out all the clothes I’d brought on my perfectly made bed, and picked out the ideal one for asking Tiffany to the movies.

We bathed in our swimsuits, and me in my T-shirt as well. That probably wasn’t the best way to get clean, but no one in my family was getting naked in public. Anyway, it was probably against the law. In the cool lake water, I scrubbed my skin with Ivory soap and then washed my hair with Pert Plus. When I’d rinsed, I started all over again.

“That’s not good for the environment, you know.”

I squinted at the familiar voice, but shampoo suds stung my eyes. Oh no… it couldn’t be…

“Pardon me?” I heard my aunt say.

I dunked my head underwater and came up just in time to hear Tiffany saying, “You’re not supposed to wash in the lake. Those detergents are bad for the ecosystem.”

“I’m sure it’s not as bad as they say.” My aunt was sitting close to shore, razing my sopping Leafs T-shirt against my grandmother’s old washboard. She stopped for a moment, held it up to her nose, then sprinkled my shirt with more Tide crystals. “Those environmentalists go a bit too far, if you ask me.”

“They don’t go far enough!” Tiffany stood on a rock near the shoreline. She had on a denim jacket over a short white dress and leggings. “My biology teacher taught us about phosphates in detergents, and how they totally warp freshwater lakes like this one.”

“It’s only a little soap.” My aunt wasn’t even looking at Tiffany. She just shook her head, like she was talking to a child. “A little soap never hurt anybody.”

I realized that Tiffany hadn’t noticed me. Maybe I could swim away and hide in the next alcove, pretend I’d never think of washing my hair in the lake. But I wouldn’t be able to hide that I was my aunt’s niece for long—especially if the three of us went in to town together on Saturday.

Popping out of the water, which came just past my waist where I was standing, I called out, “Hi, Tiffany!”

Caffeine pumped through my veins. When our eyes met, she looked at me for a long moment, almost like she was trying to place me. God, did she not remember who I was? Talk about humiliating!

“You shouldn’t wash in the lake,” Tiffany said, though her voice sounded softer and more delicate than when she’d lectured my aunt. “It’s bad for the environment.”

“But we don’t have a bath!” Mikey hollered before diving off my uncle’s shoulders.

I felt my cheeks glowing red, and I splashed them with cool water. The water wouldn’t qualify as warm until mid-August, and I could feel my nipples straining with the cold. It embarrassed me, even though it happened to everyone, and I crossed my arms over my chest.

Tiffany looked straight at me. “You don’t have a bathtub?”

I shook my head. “Or a shower.”

“If we didn’t bathe in the lake,” my aunt said, “we wouldn’t bathe at all.”

“I guess you don’t have a washing machine, either,” Tiffany said, pointing the toe of her canvas shoe at the top my aunt was washing.

“This is the way it was done long before you came into being,” my aunt said. She’d been dismissive before. Now she was notably huffy.

“Yeah,” Tiffany said. “That’s why the planet’s in such rough shape now. Nobody’s been taking care of it.”

This was not pretty. I had to put a stop to the impending knockdown.

“Do you want to go to the movies on Saturday?”

A smile bloomed across Tiffany’s lips while my aunt’s eyes blazed. “This is the girl you wanted to bring?”

“We’re going to town,” I said, ignoring my aunt. “My aunt said I could bring a friend, and…”

I wasn’t quite sure how to finish that sentence, so I didn’t. All the coffee I’d drunk at breakfast zipped through my colon. I clenched my butt cheeks as I waited for her answer. Please say yes! Please say yes!

“And who, pray tell, is this young lady?” my aunt asked, furrowing her brow.

I wasn’t totally sure if Aunt Libby was talking to me or to her, so I said, “Tiffany is the Jones’s granddaughter. She’s helping them run the store.”

“Well, then, I’m sure your grandparents will be needing you on Saturday,” my aunt said. “Wouldn’t want to steal you away, love.”

“It should be fine,” Tiffany said. She wasn’t looking at my aunt. She was looking at me. “I’ll have to ask, but I’m sure it’s okay.”

“Awesome.”

Kicking off her canvas shoes and hiking up her skirt, Tiffany waded into the lake. Her leggings sucked up water like a sponge as she walked past my aunt. Detergent bubbles clung to the fabric, but she didn’t say anything about it. When she got close to me, she asked, “What’s playing at the movies?

“The Breakfast Club,” I blurted. I’d meant to act a little more suave, but I was just so excited that she wanted to come. “Have you seen it already? I have, but it’s one of my favourites.”

Tiffany shrugged. “It’s okay.” She turned slightly and watched my brother crawl up Uncle Flip’s back and then dive off his shoulders. “I used to do that with my dad when we lived in Saudi. It’s the only thing I remember about that entire year.”

“Saudi… Arabia?” I asked.

With a nod, she said, “That was after Texas, but before… oh, what was next? Actually, I think we moved back to Texas after Saudi, but just for a couple months.”

“Wow.” I tried to imagine blonde-haired, blue-eyed Tiffany in the desert. “Did you have to wear a veil? What was it like?”

She shrugged again, like it wasn’t really worth thinking about. “I don’t know. We lived on a compound. I just remember swimming all the time, with my dad.”

“In the desert?” my aunt butted in, her eyes squinted meanly.

“No.” Tiffany laughed. “In a pool.”

Mikey giggle gleefully and splashed Uncle Flip with water. My uncle chased him around, though the motion was strained because the lake bottom was muddy and it held you in place.

“I’d better get back to the store,” Tiffany said to me. “I’ll let you know about Saturday.”

She held her skirt above the waist at the back, and when she turned I couldn’t help staring at the bright pink panties glowing through her wet white leggings. Her butt clenched as she fought her way through the hefty hands of the lake. It was a sight to see.

Maybe my aunt caught me staring, because Tiffany was barely out of earshot when she said, “The nerve of that girl.”

Ripped from my fantasy world, I looked at my aunt like she’d just thrown ninja stars at my head. “What do you mean?”

“Telling us not to wash in the lake. Obviously nobody ever taught her to respect her elders.”

“But you didn’t know it was bad for the environment,” I reasoned. “It’s not rude if she’s teaching you something new.”

“Hogwash.” My aunt shook her head. “Seems strange. The Joneses are lovely people. You’d think the apple wouldn’t fall far from the tree.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond to my aunt, so I hopped out deeper, until my feet didn’t touch the lake floor. As I treaded water, I watched Mikey and a couple of his friends diving off my uncle’s shoulders. It struck me that I’d totally missed the point of what Tiffany had been trying to tell me. She was telling me about her father, about swimming with her father. I’d dwelled on the where rather than the who.

Swimming closer to my aunt, I said, “Tiffany was born in Edmonton.”

My aunt was obviously no fan of Tiffany’s, but I had no one else to talk to, and I desperately wanted to tell someone everything I knew about her. “She told me when I was talking about the Oilers. Then she moved to Texas, then Saudi Arabia. She’s lived a lot of places, huh?”

My aunt raised an eyebrow. “If you can believe a single word out of that girl’s mouth.”

Another ninja star, another stab in the eye. I could feel the pain of it this time. It was real. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“People who claim these extraordinary lives are usually stretching the truth.”

My stomach knotted—a lovely complement to the stabbing pain in my eye. I think what bothered me the most was the possibility that my aunt could be right.

Crawling like a lizard in the shallow water, I envisioned myself storming away yet again. My skin pricked with caffeine, sunlight, and rage. But what would my aunt and uncle say behind my back if I took off? Something about hormones or typical teenaged girls? I wasn’t hormonal and I definitely wasn’t a typical teenager, so I let my anger propel me through the water.

“Don’t swim out too far!” my aunt called after me, but with the amount of caffeine and excitement coursing through my veins, she couldn’t have stopped me if she’d tried.

Chapter 11

 

Every time I opened the door to my bedroom, I was sure I’d find the place in disarray, but nothing was ever askew in the slightest. Not one single item.

As I fell asleep each night, I even went so far as to tell Yvette about Tiffany. Maybe I was secretly trying to get Yvette riled up. Maybe I figured if she became furious enough, she’d do something really fierce. But no. Nothing.

Friday night, as we all roasted marshmallows around fire pit out back, I gazed at the outline of Yvette’s curly hair in my bedroom window. She was just a doll, just painted porcelain and a dress. Realistically, there wasn’t much difference between Yvette and a teapot, or a dinner plate. She was just a thing. There was nothing unusual about her, nothing evil. How easily I’d led myself to believe she was more than what she was, though maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised. I’d spoken to her like a person for the past three years because I didn’t have anyone else to talk to, not because she was a sentient being.

Maybe Uncle Flip had been right all along. Maybe he was more right than I was willing to accept. Obviously a doll hadn’t messed up my room. I mean, seriously! Yvette couldn’t have done it. If nobody else in my family had torn my room apart—and, honestly, why would they?—then it had to have been me.

And if it was me… why didn’t I remember doing it? Or undoing it, for that matter? Was it possible that I’d blacked out? That was the only explanation.

After our fire, Mikey opted to sleep in the tepee. When I’d gone back to my room, I stood at my dresser and watched him beyond Yvette’s puff of red hair. Now that I’d decided she had no special powers, her presence didn’t bother me—that’s what I told myself, at least. In reality, I was ignoring her, pretending she didn’t exist even though she was right there in front of me.

Saturday morning, I woke up before my aunt and uncle. Mikey was awake. I spotted him drawing on rocks with shards of burnt wood from the fire as I began the painstaking process of choosing an outfit.

Usually, I didn’t care what I wore, especially up at the cottage. This was different. I had a date with Tiffany, even if she didn’t know it was a date. Even if my aunt was coming with us. By the time I’d settled on overalls and a ribbed tank top, everyone was up and at ‘em.

“That’s what you’re wearing out?” my aunt asked.

Uncle Flip whispered, “Libby…”

“Well, I thought we’d go to the tearoom for lunch.” She poured boiling water into the teapot while my uncle defended himself against a sprightly spray of bacon grease. “It’s not a criticism, Flip. It’s just not the sort of place you wear denim.”

“But what if Tiffany’s wearing jeans?” I cut in. “I never told her we were going to any tearoom. She might feel out of place if I’m wearing something fancy and she’s not.”

Tiffany didn’t show up in jeans, of course. When she arrived at our door at ten on the dot, she had on yet another white dress. She must have owned forty of them, all nearly the same. This one had crinolines sewn into the skirt, but not underneath it. The crinolines ran in vertical strips, and you could see right through to her legs. You could even see the sides of her panties, which were white with a lace trim.

“My, Tiffany, that is a creative outfit,” my aunt said.

“I picked it up in Paris over March Break.” Tiffany stepped into our cottage and looked around slowly. “Wow. Smells like bacon in here.”

My aunt stood a little straighter. “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”

“Yeah, but bacon?” Tiffany lightly touched the base of a table lamp, then brushed the heap of dust between her fingers and thumb. “Don’t you care about your cholesterol? So bad for your arteries.”

Nobody said anything.

“Don’t get me wrong, my grandparents eat the same thing for breakfast.” Tiffany bit her lip and picked up one of the old throw pillows from our couch. “I wish they’d switch to yogurt and fresh fruit like me, but they’re old. Old people get set in their ways. I’m trying to get them to change one meal a week, just to get them started.”

My aunt’s lips pursed, but Uncle Flip smoothed things over by saying, “Well, that’s not a bad idea, is it, Libby?”

Tiffany’s eyes lit up. She turned to my aunt, her golden hair whipping around her back. “Wow, your name is Libby? Snazzy. Sounds like liberation, liberated, liberal.”

“Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I never introduced you!” I said, feeling startled and uncomfortable. “I’m so rude. This is my Aunt Libby, and that’s my Uncle Flip. My brother Mikey is around here somewhere.”

“He’s out back,” my uncle said as Tiffany turned her attention to him.

“That can’t possibly be a real name,” Tiffany said, in a tone that made my aunt growl a bit. “There’s got to be a story, there. Why do they call you Flip?”

My uncle opened his mouth to speak, but I cut in. “Because when he was a kid, he knew how to do a front flip. Everyone in my family has called him Flip ever since.”

“Can you still do a flip?” Tiffany teased.

“Well, sure,” my uncle said. “I don’t see why not.”

“Don’t even think about it, Mister.” My aunt was growling again, but that was understandable—Tiffany came off as a bit of a flirt. “You’ll break your neck.”

“I’ll be fine,” my uncle scoffed, pushing open the screen door.

We followed him out front, my aunt clucking all the while about how my uncle was doomed to injure himself. Mikey must have heard the commotion, because he raced around the cottage like Roadrunner to find out what we were so excited about.

“Oh, your uncle’s acting a fool,” Aunt Libby groaned.

“He’s gonna do a flip!” I said. Hell, I was excited!

Mikey stopped on a dime and stared at Tiffany, like he was immediately smitten.

“That’s my brother,” I told her.

“Hey, Mikey.” Tiffany pointed at his Spiderman runners. “Neat shoes. Wish I had a pair like that.”

Mikey’s ears glowed red, and he laughed like a little idiot.

“Are you ready, ladies?” My uncle had backed all the way up to the car to get a good running start. “Feast your eyes, because I’m about to make history.”

My aunt let out an explosive “HA!” which made my stomach clench. What if he didn’t make it? What if he really did break his neck? I could kiss my Saturday with Tiffany a sweet goodbye!

“Wait,” I called as my uncle started his sprint across the yard. “Maybe you shouldn’t…”

Uncle Flip extended both hands and lunged forward. His palm landed in the untended grass pretty much simultaneously, and his feet left the ground without pause. They went up, up, up, but his heavy work boots slowed him down. By the time he’d launched himself into a straight line up and down, I was sure he’d lose his balance.

But I guess he’d built up enough momentum after all, because his feet kept going forward. The only problem was that his hands didn’t leave the ground. He ended up in a backbend, his body a bridge.

I froze, waiting for some indication that he was just in an awkward position and not in pain.

My aunt trudged over to him, grumbling, “Oh, get up, you idiot.”

Mikey pointed and laughed, which put me at ease for some reason. When I looked over at Tiffany, she was standing serenely against the station wagon with a lofty smirk painted across her lips.

Aunt Libby hoisted Uncle Flip up by the armpits while Mikey tugged at his hand.

“I did it,” my uncle said, defensively. “Close enough. Pretty good, for an old-timer.”

My aunt cracked a smile, which quickly turned into a laugh. “Don’t call yourself old. Makes me feel old, too.”

When Aunt Libby had gotten my uncle to his feet, they grinned at each other long enough to make me feel weird for staring at them. For the first time I could remember, I actually felt jealous. They had something I wanted. They had each other. Forever.

I was choking back a shock of tears when Aunt Libby turned around and clapped her hands. “Okay, girls. Let’s get a move on!”

In the car, my aunt flipped the station from hers to mine, and made some lovingly disparaging comment about “the music you young people like.” A shiver ran through me when I realized the topic might lead back to the one Tiffany and I had started and never finished: my dad and his band. Tiffany had taken the front seat, and I was sitting in the middle, in the back, so I couldn’t hear what they were saying very well. All I could hope was that Tiffany wouldn’t ask about my dad, and Aunt Libby wouldn’t give too much away. But of course she wouldn’t. She didn’t like Tiffany, but she did respect my shame.

When we got to town, Aunt Libby parked at the bottom of the main street. It looked like every other small-town main street: little specialty shops with antiques in the window, or nightgowns for old ladies, a candy store that sold Kawartha Dairies ice cream, a Home Hardware with barbecues and Muskoka chairs out front, and a drug store that carried everything from calamine lotion to inflatable water wings for little kids.

“Can we go to Lucy’s before lunch?” Tiffany asked, hopping toward the arts and crafts store.

My aunt turned to Tiffany and smiled for probably the first time since they’d met. “Well, well, Tiffany, you never struck me as the crafting sort. Don’t tell me you’re keen on needlework, like our Rebecca here.”

I felt a blush come on. Popular kids weren’t known to spend their summers enraptured by stitch samplers, but a girl could hope.

“Needlework?” Tiffany asked as she yanked opened the shop door. She shrugged, but she didn’t make the disparaging face I was expecting. “No, I’m not good with needles. I stab myself too much.”

“Ah.” My aunt followed Tiffany inside the little craft store, and I trailed along behind her. “Tell me, then, what are you looking for?”

Tiffany ran down the narrow front aisle to the wall that held probably a hundred jars of beads. “These!”

Aunt Libby joined Tiffany in the beading alcove. “Oh, you make jewellery!”

“Yeah. I made these.” Tiffany held out here wrist so my aunt could admire her bracelets. Some were made of crystal clear glass beads, and others of rose-coloured stones. “I string them on fishing line so they’re really strong.”

“Well, Tiffany, they’re just lovely.” My aunt traced her fingers up Tiffany’s forearms, playing with beads that gleamed over her pale skin. “This one is just extraordinary. People would pay good money for a bracelet like that.”

“Here, have it,” Tiffany said, rolling it off her wrist. “I have lots.”

My aunt burbled that she couldn’t accept the gift, it was too pretty, blah, blah, blah. Sure I felt relieved that they were getting along, but why was Tiffany giving presents to my aunt? Why not me? Maybe she didn’t like me at all. Maybe she just flirted with everyone and didn’t care if they thought she was serious.

When my aunt had finally given in and accepted the bracelet, Tiffany looked at me and said, “Come here, Rebecca.”

Aunt Libby went off to talk to Lucy, the shop owner we’d rudely raced by when we first came in, and I moved into the beading nook. Maybe I stood a little closer to Tiffany than I should have, but I wanted to… I don’t know… show her she was mine, or something. Block her in, away from my aunt. Away from everyone.

She didn’t seem to notice. Holding a spice jar up to the light, she said, “Look at these.”

Small bits of rock gleamed bronze in the light. “What are they?”

“Don’t you remember?” Tiffany cocked her head and set one hand on her hip. She rolled her eyes when I shrugged. “They’re tiger’s eye, like the gem you were looking at on my necklace that one time. These are the same thing.”

“Oh yeah.”

“Want me to make you a bracelet with them?” She seemed eager to do it.

“I don’t really wear jewellery.” I wasn’t being very nice to her. My voice was gruff and irritable, but she didn’t seem to notice. “You can if you want. Whatever.”

Tiffany caught up with my tetchiness and her expression fell. “I just wanted to do something nice for you. What’s your problem?”

I shrugged. “You want to do nice things for a lot of people.”

Before she could say anything else, I walked away, all the way to the far aisle where Lucy kept the embroidery kits. Usually, I’d have looked at the intermediate designs, the ones with cartoon characters—Snoopy, Holly Hobbie, Raggedy Ann, and the little naked babies from the Love Is comic strip—but I wanted Tiffany to see that I could take on advanced projects. I picked up a winter scene with a deer and a rabbit gazing up at a star in the sky. I liked it. Not too Christmassy, not too blatantly religious. It cost seventeen dollars, but it came with all the embroidery floss and the canvas, and even some extra needles, not that I needed any more.

“We should pick up a paint-by-numbers for Mikey,” my aunt said from across the store. She must have thought I was still with Tiffany, because after a moment, I heard her say, “Oh. Where’s Rebecca gone?”

I didn’t hear any answer from Tiffany, and my heart dropped when it occurred to me that she might have left the shop. Maybe she got so mad she was going to hitchhike home from town.

Why did I have to be so mean to her?

“I’m over here, Aunt Libby.” With my cross-stitching kit in hand, I emerged from the narrow aisle. Once I was out in the open, I could see the back of Tiffany’s head. She was at the cash, paying for her beads, which Lucy put in a little Ziploc bag. I couldn’t believe how relieved I was that she hadn’t left.

“What did you find?” Aunt Libby asked, grabbing the needlework kit from my hands. “Oh, very nice. You’ll be working all summer on this one.”

“I’ll pay for it out of my own money,” I said before she could comment on the price.

Aunt Libby gave me a funny look and said, “My treat, silly girl. Now pick out a paint-by-numbers for your brother.”

I didn’t move until Tiffany turned to meet my gaze, and then I quickly looked away. She followed me to the paint kits, and stood behind me like a lily while I flipped through them. They all seemed to be either for little-little kids or for adults.

“Aren’t you going to ask me what I got?” Tiffany whispered in my ear.

A warm shot rang through me and I straightened up in front of her. “What did you get?”

She laughed. “That’s for me to know and you to find out.”

“You’re such a tease,” I said softly, so my aunt wouldn’t hear.

“You know it, babe.”

I bit my lip to keep from smiling too widely.

“How about this one?” Tiffany reached around me to grab a kit with golden retrievers on the front. “Does Mikey like dogs?”

“Yeah.” Her scent and the heat of her arm were on my skin. She was so close I could die. “Yeah, that one’s good.”

“It says ages twelve and up, but if it’s too hard you can help him, you good big sister, you.”

I wondered who Tiffany had been talking to that she knew how devoted I was to caring for my little brother. Or maybe she didn’t know, and it was just a meaningless joke.

“All settled, girls?” my aunt called to us. “Let’s pay for this and get a move on. I’d like to eat lunch before dinner time.”

It suddenly struck me that my aunt hadn’t paid for Tiffany’s beads—Tiffany had paid for those herself—and it seemed rude. But I guess Aunt Libby would be paying for lunch and the movie later on, so maybe I shouldn’t feel bad.

“What did you get?” Tiffany asked as we trailed behind my aunt en route to the teahouse.

“That’s for me to know and you to find out,” I said.

Tiffany rolled her eyes, but smiled. “So funny I forgot to laugh.”

I showed her my cross-stitch pattern, since I was carrying the bag. I still wasn’t sure if she thought I was a huge geek for doing needlepoint, but maybe she could think I was a huge geek and like me anyway.

“Wow, this looks hard.” She stopped walking and leaned against the drugstore window. “I could never do this. Numbers make me cross-eyed.” She handed me back my kit, and asked, “Have you ever had acupuncture?”

“What?” She obviously didn’t realize how poor I was. “No, Tiffany, no I’ve never had acupuncture.”

“That’s Chinese medicine with needles,” she said as she strode down the sidewalk, catching up to my aunt. “They poke them into you in different centres that correspond to, like, energy points and stuff. Really thin needles, not sewing needles.”

Aunt Libby turned her head and gave us a weird look. “What on earth are you girls talking about?”

“Acupuncture,” Tiffany said with an endearing smile. “I’ve never tried it, either, but my friend Brittany told me about it. She had it for migraines and it worked, she said.”

“Here’s the tearoom.” My aunt held the door for us. “Have you been here before, Tiffany?”

“I’ve been to other tearooms, but not this one.” She looked around at the whimsical willows painted on the walls, and the strings of silk flowers hanging from the ceiling. “It’s kind of small.”

My aunt scowled at the condescension in Tiffany’s voice. I was just glad she said it before the host came to seat us, and when there were no other patrons within earshot.

“Well, you’ve got to remember, you’re in a small town,” my aunt whispered. Her voice sounded thin and irritable. “In a small town things are smaller than they are in… Texas.”

“Table for three?”

I looked up and screamed. Actually screamed. My aunt and Tiffany laughed because they obviously thought the waitress had taken me by surprise. That was only half the story. It wasn’t just that she came out of nowhere to show us to our table. She looked dreadfully familiar: curly orange hair, skin like porcelain, eyes as green as summer.

She looked exactly like Yvette.

“Sorry,” I said, meeting the girl’s elusive gaze for just a moment.

“No worries, dollface.” She turned to guide us to our table, and my stomach plunged into my canvas sneakers. Dollface? That was one of those terms you only heard in black and white gangster movies. What a weird thing to call me, especially when my acne-prone skin looked nothing like porcelain.

I couldn’t get over the girl’s striking resemblance to my doll, even after we’d sat down and another waitress came to take our orders. My mind buzzed so loudly I hadn’t even looked at the tea list. I just ordered the same thing Tiffany was getting: Lady Grey.

The tea came with scones and jams and cream, as well as teeny tiny sandwiches and a whole bunch of little desserts. I sipped my tea, wishing I were hungry. That girl put me on edge. The strangest bit was that I kept watching the entrance to the kitchen, where she’d gone after seating us. She never came back out. Never.

“See?” my aunt was saying. “Now don’t you wish you’d taken my advice?”

I looked at her blankly. “Huh?”

“Well, look what you’re wearing, then look at what all the other customers have on. Is anyone else in denim overalls?”

“No.” I slunk a little lower in my chair. My aunt was right. I felt self-conscious in overalls and a tank top.

“I think it’s important for people to wear clothes they like,” Tiffany chimed in, making me feel vindicated against my aunt and the elderly tearoom patrons. “Clothes represent your personality. If you wear frilly pink dresses just because your mom wants you to, you’re telling the world something that isn’t true. You’re being inauthentic. I hate people who are inauthentic.”

“What if you dress like a pop tart?” my aunt asked Tiffany, evil-eyeing her Madonna outfit. “Then what are you telling the world?”

Tiffany sat up a little straighter, and I did too. “That you’re a liberated woman and you’re not concerned about what other people think of you.”

“Hmm.” My aunt nibbled at a sandwich and chuckled when egg salad spurted out the back. “Oopsie.”

“What about me?” I asked Tiffany, like she was some kind of clotheshorse fortune teller. “What does it say if you wear overalls and tank tops?”

“It says you’re a lesbian,” Tiffany replied without looking up from her scone.

Aunt Libby choked on her tea. When she’d recovered she chastised, “Tiffany!”

Tiffany didn’t say anything, and neither did I. My throat burned the way it always did when I was about to cry. I couldn’t look at her, and not because it wasn’t true. Because she’d said it in front of my aunt, like it was nothing, like it didn’t matter.

None of us said a word the entire rest of lunch. I couldn’t figure out whether I resented Tiffany for saying that about me, or whether I was grateful. All I knew was that if I tried to talk, I was going to cry.

The red-headed girl never set foot in the dining room again the entire time we were there. When new patrons came in, our waitress seated them. It made me wonder. It made me question my eyes and my ears. I hadn’t remembered messing up my room the other day, or cleaning it afterwards. Now I was obsessing over a restaurant hostess who didn’t seem to exist? What was happening to me?

My aunt paid the bill silently, and we followed her out of the tearoom. When her feet hit the sidewalk, she turned toward the car.

That was not the way to the movie theatre.

Chapter 12

 

“Where are you going, Auntie Libby?”

She turned to me and smiled. It didn’t look like one of her real smiles, but I was glad to see it regardless. “The used bookstore. Your uncle asked me to find him a few choice paperbacks.”

“Oh,” I said, thinking ‘Thank God!’ I didn’t want to go back to the cottage in silent shame.

“Tiffany,” my aunt asked as we crossed the road. “Do you like to read?”

“Depends on the book,” Tiffany replied. “I don’t like books that are boring.”

Aunt Libby laughed, and it sounded fake, but I didn’t care and I don’t think Tiffany even noticed. “Well, everyone’s idea of what’s interested and what’s boring is different.”

“Different strokes for different folks,” I said, and a sudden ache came over me. I hadn’t realized how much I missed TV.

When we stepped into the bookstore, the old man who owned the place was sitting at the front desk, listening to the incoherent droning of CBC Radio. “Bags at the front,” he said, pointing to a sign that said PLEASE LEAVE ALL SHOPPING BAGS WITH THE OWNER.

I was holding the bag from Lucy’s Craft Store, and for some reason I felt really ashamed when he took it from me, like I’d been caught stealing or something. I’d never stolen anything in my life. Well, not from a store. I thought about the dozens, maybe even hundreds of maxi pads I’d stolen from other people’s houses, and my cheeks blazed. I guess I’d stolen a tea biscuit from the Joneses too, but I paid Tiffany for that eventually. So not really stealing.

There were no other customers in the store, and I could see why. The place smelled like dust and mould, just like a library. It made me want to sneeze.

“Can we not stay here too long?” I whispered to my aunt.

The old man at the desk glared at me from behind his bifocals. He had the kind of nose that looked like a raven’s beak, and I was half afraid he’d peck me to death with it.

“Come on,” Tiffany said, taking me by the hand while Aunt Libby perused the paperbacks at the front of the store. Her skin was soft like an angel. “You know where you have to look, right?”

I didn’t know what she meant. I only read when I had a book report due.

Tiffany quietly moved a step stool from one of the aisles and set it against the back wall. Climbing up, she ran her fingers across the books on the top shelf.

“What are you looking for?” I asked.

She glared down at me, a silent shhh! Pulling out a few books, she looked behind them and seemed disappointed. I didn’t understand what she was doing, or I’d have helped.

“No use,” she muttered, stepping down from the stool. And then her gaze landed on something on the bottom shelf, and her countenance brightened. “Oh my God, I can’t believe it!”

“Believe what?” I fell to my knees beside her as she pawed through a bunch of paperbacks with the covers ripped off. “What are they?”

“You’ve never read one before?”

“Read one what?”

“They’re pulp fiction,” Tiffany said, flipping through the pages until she found the ripped-off cover jammed in the middle like a bookmark. It was a painted image of two scantily-clad women under the title The Evil Friendship.

“Pulp fiction?”

Tiffany nodded. “Lesbian pulp fiction.”

I’d never heard of it, but those words sounded as racy as the cover.

My throat closed up, and I got that feeling like I was going to cry, but I also got goosebumps all down my bare arms. The content was pretty clear from the covers. These were naughty books.

“I’ve never read one,” I said. “I’ve never even heard of them before.”

“Oh, Becca.” Tiffany’s expression darkened, but not in an evil way. In a way that made her seem like she was on fire. “Becca, they’re goooood. You should read one.”

We flipped through more books and found covers stashed in all of them. Titles like, The Fear and the Guilt, Prison Girls, Sisters in Sin, and images that made my cheeks blaze. “How old are these?”

“From the thirties, some of them.” Tiffany fingered the pages like feathers. “Thirties, forties, fifties.”

“I didn’t know there were things like this, back then. Or people like… this.” I wanted to say people like us, but it wouldn’t come out. I was making an assumption. I knew in my heart it was right, but it was still just an assumption.

Tiffany glanced all around like she was up to something, then tried to slip one of the books down the front of my overalls. “Here, shove them down your pants.”

“What are you doing?” I asked. I was laughing. I thought it was a joke.

“Shh!” Tiffany picked up another one and came close enough that I could feel her breath on my cheek. “My purse is too small and my dress is too see-through. You’ve got lots of space under those overalls. The elastic of your underwear will keep them in place, trust me.”

“You want me to steal?” I asked, loud enough that she cupped her hand over my mouth.

“You got a better idea?”

“Yeah,” I said, but my voice was muffled by her hand. “How about we pay for them?”

“Right. Sure. ‘Here, Mister Bookseller-man. We’d like to buy these raunchy lesbian pornos, please. Have a nice day!’ How do you think that’s gonna go down?”

I sat back on my heels and Tiffany let go of my mouth. She was right. And even if the shop owner did let us buy the books, my aunt would be standing right there. I doubt if she’d have allowed me to bring home filth. And lesbian filth, better still.

“Fine,” I said.

I should have felt defeated, but instead a terrified sort of excitement raced through me. Tiffany handed me a coverless book and I shoved it down the side of my overalls, fitting it just under the waistband of my cotton panties.

“Stand up.” Tiffany grinned like a demon. “See if it stays.”

When I rose to my feet and wiggled my hips, the book stayed right in place.

“Here, put in another one.” Tiffany stuck her hand inside my overalls, and the heat of her wrist against my belly made me shudder. I couldn’t look her in the eye, but I took over for her, wedging the paperback inside my underwear just enough for it to stay in place.

“How am I gonna get these out without my aunt noticing?” I whispered. “I can’t walk around all day with books down my pants.”

“In the bathroom at the theatre,” Tiffany said, like she had it all planned out. “Just bring the craft store bag into the stall and put them in there, then take them back out before you get home. Now, is there room for one more? Maybe against your butt?”

Tiffany whirled me around, and giggles bubbled up inside me. I’d almost let them out when I realized I was staring straight into the face of the old man who owned the bookstore.

“Shoplifters,” he said in a low, dark growl, “will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

My head buzzed. There was a weird ringing in my years, and it took a few seconds before I realized it was coming from inside of me. I didn’t even try to speak because I had no idea what I should say. This wasn’t me. It was Tiffany, Tiffany’s idea. Not mine. Not mine at all.

“What are you talking about?” Tiffany asked, hopping up and cutting in front of me. “We’re just looking at some books. We didn’t steal anything.”

“I think this young lady’s unmentionables have other ideas,” the shopkeeper shot back.

Tiffany folded her arms in front of her chest, lying through her teeth. “What are you gonna do, strip search her? I think you’re the one who’d end up in jail, old man.”

“Tiffany!” Aunt Libby appeared in the back aisle, clutching paperbacks for my uncle. “Rebecca, honey, what’s going on? Is this man giving you trouble?”

“Am I giving them trouble?” he cackled. “That’s rich! Why don’t you ask what your daughter’s got shoved down her shorts, eh? And then you tell me who’s giving whom trouble.”

Aunt Libby’s face strained with confusion, like she thought the man had committed some indecent act against me. She took me by the arm and held on tight. “Becca, what happened? It’s okay, you can tell me. Whatever it is, I won’t be upset.”

I could feel Tiffany staring at my arms like she could lock them at my sides with just her eyes. She couldn’t, of course. I couldn’t lie. I pulled the books out of my overalls, one after another, and handed them to Tiffany.

What happened next was like a tornado of words. The bookseller said we should be ashamed, and I was ashamed. Tiffany shouted back at him that we had hadn’t stolen anything.

“We’re still in the store, aren’t we?” That was Tiffany’s reasoning. “You can’t accuse us of stealing anything until we walk out.”

The worst of it was my aunt’s reaction, because it wasn’t at all what I expected. She was calm, way too calm, and she kept saying, “They’re just young girls. They’re curious about their bodies, about sex.”

We never talked about sex in my family. We never even said the word sex.

I was mortified, but my aunt said, “You can’t blame them.”

“I can blame,” the shop owner said. “And I do. And I blame the parents too. Well-bred children know the difference between right and wrong.”

Despite the man’s false assumption, Aunt Libby didn’t say anything about not being my mother. Maybe that should have bothered me, since I had a mother back home, but I needed a saviour and my aunt was it.

“Let me pay for the books,” Aunt Libby said. “No harm, no foul. Are you hiding anything else in there, Rebecca?”

I whispered no so quietly I was surprised that she heard me.

“Oh, you’ll pay, right enough.” The old man grabbed the pulp fiction from Tiffany and the paperbacks from Aunt Libby and stormed to the front of the store. As we followed him to the register, he said, “You’ll pay, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be putting up with any more malarkey. I don’t want to see any of you in my shop again. Where are you lot from, anyway? That trailer park down the road, I imagine. No good, the lot of you.”

My aunt didn’t answer him. She stood tall like Queen of the Nile. In a voice that matched her posture, she asked, “How much do I owe you for the books?”

“Call it an even twenty,” he said, though there was no way eight old books cost so much. Our pulp fictions were priced at fifty cents. “Cash only.”

Aunt Libby slid a wrinkled old twenty across the wooden desktop, and picked up all eight books. “Come on, girls. Someone grab the door for me. Thank you.”

The man behind the counter grumbled something as I grabbed our bags, but I didn’t make out what it was.

“Did he call us trash?” Tiffany asked, lagging behind as my aunt stormed down the sidewalk.

It wouldn’t have surprised me, but Tiffany obviously wasn’t the sort of girl who got called things like trash. I bet she got called a princess a lot, or a snob, or a mall rat, or even a bitch. But not trash. People like me and my mom got called trash. Because we were useless. Because we were always in the way. We were holding others back from what they really wanted in life, weighing them down like anchors.

I thought about my father, about the names he called us when he was drunk, and my throat burned. I was crying before I realized it, and I wiped my eyes with the palms of my hands, hoping nobody would notice how red they’d gone.

Tiffany kept talking to me as we sped after my aunt. I didn’t know what she was saying. Her voice sounded angry, but the words blurred somewhere between my ears and my brain.

I stopped walking and my aunt kept going, and Tiffany kept going too, but just for a few steps. When she spun around, I asked, “Were you trying to get me in trouble?”

“No,” she said, and the expression on her face seemed genuine enough that I believed her. “Is your aunt really mad, do you think? Is she still going to take us to the movies?”

“I don’t know.” By that point, Aunt Libby was almost back at the station wagon. “Let’s not follow her. She can’t take us back if we’re not in the car.”

We ducked into the candy shop to pick up supplies for the movies, and by the time we came out, my aunt was storming up the path. “Where did you two disappear to?”

“Bought some candy for the movie,” Tiffany said with a green licorice shoelace sticking out of her mouth. She sat in one of the Muskoka chairs outside the Home Hardware. “We picked you up some Bridge Mix. Bec said that’s your favourite. I think it’s gross.”

My aunt surprised me with a smile. “So does Rebecca.” She put a scowl back on, but her eyes never stopped sparkling. “But I have news for you girls. We will not be going to the movies.”

Tiffany groaned, but I just listened.

You will be going to the movies.” The smile came back. “You don’t need your old aunt tagging along, do you? You’ll have more fun just the two of you.”

With a squeal, Tiffany grabbed my hand. “Wow, thank you! I thought you were going to be so mad at us.”

“I’m not mad,” Aunt Libby said. “But the next time you’re after sleazy reading materials, kindly ask me for money rather than shoving books down your pants.”

I looked away, staring at a little girl on a bicycle with blue tires and rainbow streamers. Maybe Tiffany and my aunt could laugh about what had happened, but I was still mortified. I probably would be for the rest of my life.

But at least Tiffany and I were still seeing The Breakfast Club. My aunt had never seen it, and I felt guilty that she’d opted to sit in the tearoom with one of Uncle Flip’s new books for two hours while Tiffany and I were at the theatre. It didn’t occur to me that she was giving us time alone—not until I’d settled into a threadbare velvet seat with a bucket of popcorn in my lap.

“Where is everybody?” Tiffany asked. “This place is, like, dead-o-rama.”

We’d taken seats in the last row of the tiny theatre. There were only eight other people in the audience, and they were all clumped in the middle. “Do you think my aunt was mad?”

Tiffany grabbed a handful of popcorn. “We didn’t steal anything.”

“You know what I mean.” I stared at her thigh, where her skin showed through the crinoline layer of her skirt. “Not just the books, but… like, what you said in the tearoom too.”

She turned in her seat so she was facing me. “You think your family doesn’t know already? I mean, it’s pretty obvious.”

I slunk down in my seat, hugging the big bucket of popcorn like a teddy bear. Thank goodness the lights went down just then, because I didn’t want to talk about what my family knew about me and what they didn’t know. We just didn’t talk about anything personal. We weren’t like that. Anyway, we had bigger fish to fry.

Tiffany’s white dress glowed blue in the darkness of the Coming Attractions. I felt so self-conscious beside her, like she’d be judging me by every chuckle or sigh. When our elbows touched on the armrest, I flinched but I didn’t move, and neither did she. Our elbows stayed like that, touching gently, until the movie started.

“Want some candy?” she whispered over the opening scene in the school parking lot, when Molly Ringwald was dropped off at school by her dad and Emilio Estevez by his.

“Hot lips,” I said. A rush of heat shot through my cheeks.

“Fish lips,” she said, and sucked her cheeks in, kissing the air. When I giggled, she shoved our paper bag of gummy candies down the front of my overalls. “Go fish.”

Every bite I took, I wondered if Tiffany was listening to me chew. I wondered if I was annoying her, the way Mikey annoyed me when he slurped the milk from the bottom of his cereal bowl. Or did she like my mouth enough to cherish every sound it made?

It was hard to pay attention to the movie when all I could think about was the girl beside me. She budged her legs a touch and her knee bumped mine. She left it there, and I was sure I could feel her heat through my overalls. I could barely swallow. The scent of lilies lingered all around us. I could only hope I didn’t smell bad, considering I hadn’t taken a proper shower since the end of June. Did I smell like the lake, or was the Pert Plus doing an okay job of covering it up?

While Judd Nelson provoked Emilio Estevez on screen, Tiffany’s head landed like a blonde cloud on my shoulder. My whole body went stiff. What was she expecting me to do? Should I put my arm around her? All the popcorn in my stomach seemed like it was bouncing around in there, trying to jump back into my throat. I picked a gummy thumb out of the bag wedged in my overalls and sucked its minty greenness until the popcorn settled down.

When I didn’t make a move, Tiffany lifted her head from my shoulder and grabbed a handful of popcorn. I could feel her looking at me. Her gaze made me want to scratch myself all over. I stared at the screen so hard my eyes unfocused. Everything was a blur until her hand found the opening at the side of my overalls.

I jerked up straight in my velvet seat. The springs squeaked so loudly a girl with a high ponytail turned around with eyes wide as saucers. Tiffany’s hand didn’t budge. It rested on my thigh, her hot palm on my bare skin, and just sat there for ages. She kept on grabbing for popcorn with her other hand, completely ignoring the one inside my pants.

After a while, her fingers started moving across the fine hair on my thigh. I didn’t shave there. Her hand was so warm, so soft against my skin that my body went crazy on the inside. I felt a storm inside of me—lightning in my head and thunder everywhere else. My heart thumped so loudly it was all I could hear.

I don’t know what made me turn to her in that moment. I could only describe it as a magnetic pull. My lips met hers and my soul left my body.

Did I kiss her or did she kiss me? I couldn’t say, even though I was watching the whole time, floating above the scene while our tongues writhed slowly, one against the other. The entire time we kissed, I clung to my popcorn bucket like it could protect me from some unknown threat. I didn’t feel silly about it, though I probably should have.

We kissed forever. My whole body was a heartbeat, just a thick pulse raging under my skin. She was slow about it. No rush, no hurry. No concern that anyone might see. Her hand stayed on my thigh, her fingers brushing my skin. How was she so good at this? Maybe I didn’t want to know.

When we finally came out of our lip-lock, Molly Ringwald was giving Ally Sheedy a makeover in the school bathroom. The movie was almost over. I binged on popcorn and bigfoot gummies.

“I never liked that part at the end,” Tiffany said as the credits rolled and the lights came up. “The part where Molly Ringwald makes Allison all Pretty in Pink or whatever, makes her into something she’s not. Allison’s my favourite because she’s unique, and Molly Ringwald has to go making her into one more beauty queen clone so Emilio Estevez will go out with her. Barf-o-rama, right?”

“Totally,” I said. “That’s the only thing I hate about this movie. It’s, like, saying there’s this one right way to be if you want to be happy.”

“Yeah, just like how we’re constantly being fed this message that if you want to be full and fulfilled as a woman, you have to fall in love with some dude and get married and have a bunch of babies and whatever. Like, gag me with a spoon!”

“I know!” It was like Tiffany was inside my brain, speaking all the truths I thought but never said. “Like how every Disney movie ends with the pretty-pretty princess marrying her Prince Charming and living happily ever after. It’s so stupid. Even when I was, like, four years old I already knew that’s not how the world worked.”

A slow smile bled across Tiffany’s swollen lips. They were still swollen from kissing. “I think we have a lot in common, you and me.”

“I think so too.”

Even though the lights had gone up, I leaned in to kiss Tiffany. Everyone else had left the theatre anyway, so it’s not like we would get caught. At least, that’s what I thought.

Just as my lips brushed Tiffany’s, a voice with a tinge of a French accent said, “Get out.”

Tiffany jerked away, glaring at the woman behind me. “Say what?”

“I need to clean the theatre. You need to leave now.”

The voice made me cringe, and I knew exactly why: it was Yvette’s, the voice I heard in my head whenever my doll spoke to me. A flash crossed the planes of my mind, and I saw the girl from the tearoom, the one who’d seated us and then disappeared.

Every muscle in my body strained against it, but I forced myself to turn and look at the woman who’d spoken with Yvette’s accent.

“Oh,” I said, pulling the bag of candy out of my overalls. I stood, still clutching the bucket of popcorn. “I’m sorry. We’re on our way. Sorry. Thanks.”

The woman looked nothing like Yvette. She was old, for starters, and her hair was ratty brown with haphazard streaks of grey. Her body was large and she panted just standing still. There was a big wart on the end of her nose, like a Halloween costume of a witch. Tiffany and I slipped out the other side of the aisle, because there was no way we could squeeze by her in that little tiny row.

My heart was racing when Aunt Libby waved us over. She’d been waiting for us in the lobby, and I wondered for how long. Had she been spying on us? No, my aunt would never do a thing like that. Would she?

“How was the show?” Aunt Libby asked, plunging her hand into the popcorn bucket.

“Good,” Tiffany said, and looked at me with a smile that gave everything away. “Great.”

“Would I have liked it?”

Tiffany glanced at me. “It’s not really a movie for old people.”

Aunt Libby’s eyes shot wide open, and I groaned. Maybe Tiffany didn’t realize how mean she sounded at times. She probably didn’t intend to insult people. I could tell that she had a good heart, even if she didn’t know how to express it.

On the drive home, Tiffany and I both sat in the back seat, she on one side, me on the other, our shopping bags between us. My aunt was quiet, but she played her own radio station, at least until the news came on. Then she switched channels.

“I like your aunt,” Tiffany said, loud enough that Aunt Libby could hear. “She’s cool.”

“I like her, too.”

And that’s all any of us said until we pulled up to cottage to find the whole place on fire.

Chapter 13

 

“Becca! Becca!” Mikey ran up to the station wagon and banged on the window with the flat of his hand. “Your room burned down!”

I rubbed my face before looking past him. It must have been a trick of the eye, because the cottage wasn’t on fire. I was sure I’d seen flames as we were driving up.

Rolling down her window, Aunt Libby asked, “What are you talking about, Mikey?”

“Becca’s room was on fire,” he said, straight-faced. Mikey wouldn’t have played a trick like that, not on us. “We were roasting marshmallows and we looked through Becca’s window and it was like big flames.”

“God in Heaven!” Aunt Libby threw open the car door and raced to Uncle Flip, who was running across the front lawn. “Are you all right?”

I rolled down my window and watched them like a movie. Nothing felt real.

“I put it out, don’t worry.” Uncle Flip’s white undershirt was streaked black. Same with his skin. “It was the damnedest thing, Lib. At first I thought it was just the reflection of our campfire in the window, but then I realized her window was open and we were seeing right inside.”

“Goodness gracious.” Aunt Libby hugged my uncle around his neck, a damsel in distress. It wasn’t at all like her to cling to him that way. “Clarence, you must have been scared out of your skull!”

“I didn’t have time to be scared,” Uncle Flip said, a little proudly. “I grabbed the water pail beside the fire pit and I tossed it at her window. The screen caught most of it, so I raced around the side door…”

“And I did too!” Mikey cried. He was pulling at the hem of my aunt’s shirt, jumping up and down.

“Yeah, sorry,” Uncle Flip said to my aunt. “I didn’t realize he was behind me.”

“Dangerous, Mikey.”

“But I helped!” my brother whined.

Tiffany leaned across our shopping bags and took hold of my hand. Her touch nearly gave me a heart attack. I’d forgotten she was still in the car.

“Yeah, so we filled the water pail and everything else we could find, and tossed the water into Becca’s room. It was the damnedest thing, Lib—only the furniture was on fire… and all the furniture was on fire: the low dresser, the high dresser, the headboard, the mattress. And the second we threw water on it, poof, it went out.”

“And it was only Rebecca’s room that burned,” Mikey added. “Mine didn’t burn at all.”

“Yeah, it’s really weird.” My uncle took my aunt’s hand while I pulled mine from Tiffany’s. “Come on. You’ve got to see this.”

I opened the car door in a daze and stumbled across the front lawn with Tiffany hot on my heels. I wasn’t sure why, but I wanted her to go away. I felt ashamed of something, but I didn’t know what. Something private or personal, something that was just mine.

Uncle Flip led us into the cottage. Everything looked cheery as usual, but it reeked like burning hair. I covered my nose and breathed through my mouth, but I could taste the smell.

“I started moving the charred furniture out back,” my uncle said. “No telling if there was any fire left inside that wood. But look at this, Lib. Look at the floor.”

I stood at the door to my bedroom, feeling like I was in another world as my aunt and uncle assessed the damage. My bed was black from head to foot, and so was the low dresser where I’d unpacked all my clothes. The high dresser, the one where Yvette had sat since I was thirteen years old, was no longer standing upright by the window.

“The dresser was burned to a crisp,” my uncle said. “But look: not a trace on the floor. The curtains are gone, but look at the paint on the walls. No black, no bubbling, nothing. What do you make of that?”

Aunt Libby shook her head. Her jaw swung open, but she didn’t say a word.

“What about the doll that was there?” I asked. Tiffany placed both hands on my shoulders, but I pulled away. When I stepped inside my bedroom, a strange feeling came over me. I was itchy inside my skin, but nowhere that I could scratch. My head was spinning. It was like being in the Twilight Zone.

My uncle glanced in my direction. “What’s that, Bec?”

“There was a doll on my dresser, the doll you gave me when I was thirteen. Remember?”

Uncle Flip looked at my aunt, and then back at me. “Was it sitting there, Bec? I didn’t see it.”

She, not it,” Yvette’s voice said, and so close I heard it right inside my ear.

I spun around, and Tiffany jumped back with a perplexed fear in her eyes. “What? What’d I do?”

“Did you say something just now?” I asked, even though I knew she hadn’t.

She shook her head. “I didn’t even breathe.”

“Good.” Yvette’s voice rang like a gong inside my skull. “Stupid girl. I hope you stop breathing altogether.”

I swallowed hard, pushing past Tiffany as my aunt and uncle started moving my low dresser. I turned around just in time to see the wood come apart. It was black as coal, and when my Aunt pulled on the bronze hardware, it came off in her hands.

“I wonder if her clothes burned too,” my aunt said as she pawed at the top drawer, where I kept my socks and underwear.

“It must have done,” my uncle said. “Just look at the state of this wood.”

I grabbed Tiffany by the wrist, straining to look over her shoulder as the front of my drawer came right off and hissed against the floor. Everything inside was black. When my aunt scooped it up in her hands, it looked like nothing, nothing but burnt blackness.

“My clothes are gone?”

Aunt Libby gazed balefully across the room. “I’m so sorry, honey.”

I never thought I was attached to my clothes until they were gone. All I had left was a pair of overalls and a tank top. And one pair of underwear! “My bathing suit…”

“It’s on the line,” Uncle Flip said, like that was some consolation.

A streak of rage shot through me, and out of nowhere I was screaming at them, tears rolling down my cheeks. “Woop-dee-fricken-doo! I have a bathing suit. I have nothing to wear to bed, but that’s okay because I have nowhere to sleep anyway. My fricken bed burnt down, but at least I can go to the lake. Why don’t I just go sleep with the fishes? Nobody would miss me anyway.”

Everybody looked at me, stunned by my outburst. They couldn’t possibly have been more surprised than I was. The concern in their eyes was so humiliating I ran out of the cottage and raced around back until I just about smashed right into my dresser. The tall one.

Twigs snapped behind me, and I knew who it would be before turning.

“I would miss you,” Tiffany said. Her white dress shone like silver against the summer moon. “If you want, I can lend you some clothes.”

“Thanks.”

Tiffany and I didn’t exactly have the same taste in fashion, but I didn’t want to be rude.

“And I’m sure my grandparents would be okay with it if you wanted to stay with us for a while. I have the whole upstairs to myself, you know.”

Her voice sounded far away. I knew what she was saying and I knew I should be pleased, but all I really wanted was open the dresser drawers. And, for some reason, I couldn’t do that with Tiffany watching.

“I should stay with my family,” I said. When her expression fell, I wavered. “Just for tonight. Ask your grandparents if it’s okay that I come, and then tell me tomorrow, okay?”

She bit her lip and nodded.

“You should probably go home now,” I told her. “Your grandma and grandpa will get worried.”

“Oh, they’re probably asleep already.” Tiffany’s voice sounded eager, almost to the point of desperation. “Early to bed, early to rise. You know what old people are like.”

I wanted her to stay with me, right by my side, but instead of telling her that, I said, “What if they’re waiting up to make sure you get in safely? You should go. My aunt can drive you, if you want.”

For a long moment, Tiffany didn’t move. She didn’t even blink. After a while, her shoulders fell and I knew I’d hurt her, right to the core, but I couldn’t do anything about it.

“It’s okay,” she said. “I can walk back. See you tomorrow?”

“Yeah.” I traced the front of the dresser with just my fingertips. “See ya.”

She didn’t walk away. Staring at me, she asked, “Where are you gonna sleep? I’ve seen your bed.”

I nodded toward the tepee, which was just visible in the waning moonlight. “My brother and I used to sleep there all the time. Sometimes we all do, all together.”

Tiffany wrinkled up her nose. “That’s weird.”

“No it isn’t,” I said, suppressing a new streak of anger. “It isn’t weird. It’s nice. We all have our sleeping bags and we go to bed when the fire’s down to its embers. It’s like being a kid, being cared for.”

She stood staring at me for what felt like forever. I wanted her to leave, but I couldn’t bring myself to say anything. It wasn’t until my family emerged from the cottage that she said a quick, “K, bye,” and slipped into the night.

“There’s our girl!” Uncle Flip called out, excessively cheery, like he thought he could change my mood just by talking that way.

“Where did Tiffany go?” my aunt asked.

“Home.”

“Alone?” Aunt Libby tsked and hugged a sleeping bag to her chest. “Oh, that’s dangerous. Next time I’ll drive her.”

“We thought it would be a good night to camp out.” Uncle Flip had my sleeping bag as well as his own. “The cottage seems in good shape, but we’re not going to take any chances.”

Mikey and I set up for the night, which was hot but not too hot, while Uncle Flip and Aunt Libby pulled the crumbling, blackened furniture from my room. My brother and I wanted to help, but they wouldn’t let us. They said it was too dangerous, and it was their job to keep us safe.

I stared into the embers in the fire pit while Aunt Libby picked out a nightgown for me to sleep in. It was miles too big, and I wished with all my heart that I’d gone with Tiffany. But every time I thought about sharing her clothes or sleeping at the Jones’s cottage, my stomach tied in knots.

Yvette’s voice lived at the back of my mind now, and it kept repeating the ice-cold phrase, “Don’t… you… dare.”

I shivered when I heard it, because it wasn’t just an echo in my head. It was a real thing, a living thing. Everything else in my room had been burned by fire, but not Yvette. She was around here somewhere. I could feel it in my bones.

When all the furniture had been moved out of my room, Aunt Libby and Uncle Flip washed the charcoal from their hands in the kitchen sink. My footboard and headboard had crumbled to bits while they’d carried them out. I wondered how my uncle had carried the tall dresser alone without breaking it.

“Is there gonna be another fire?” Mikey asked when we’d all settled in together.

“Oh no, no, no.” My aunt reached over me to grab my brother’s shoulder. We slept with Uncle Flip on the very inside and Aunt Libby next to him, then me, then Mikey right by the entryway. We took up all the space there was in the tepee, and it bugged me that Tiffany thought this was weird, because it wasn’t.

“Don’t you worry, buddy.” My uncle’s voice was cool comfort from the back of the tepee. “There won’t be any more fires. Your aunt figures it was a floating ember from our fire that started it, and I’d say she’s probably right.”

“It makes sense,” Aunt Libby said, as though she could intuit my incredulity. “Rebecca, your room is closest to the fire pit, and your window was open. A crackling ember must have floated through the screen and started a slow burn on the curtains or the dresser.”

“I still think it’s strange that nothing else caught fire,” my uncle said. “How could the curtains burn and not the wall? It’s really weird.”

I knew why. I knew why, and nobody else would ever believe it.

“God only knows what was in that paint mom and dad used,” Aunt Libby reasoned. “It’s probably half lead, half asbestos.”

“What’s an ass-pesto?” Mikey asked, and laughed, but my aunt and uncle weren’t paying him any attention.

I turned in my sleeping bag to look at my uncle, but I couldn’t see him over my aunt’s poufy hair. “Uncle Flip, why didn’t you call 9-1-1?”

He laughed. “Hey, city slicker, there is no 9-1-1 up here. There’s a fire department in town, but Mikey and I could have doused those flames ten times over by the time they got all the way out here.”

“Plus,” my aunt said, lowering her voice. “This cottage isn’t exactly up to code. The minute a fire inspector walked through that door, he’d probably order the place demolished. And then where would you spend your summer, eh, kids?”

“Somewhere nice!” Mikey hollered, and my uncle laughed along with him.

“Yeah, this place isn’t exactly the Ritz,” Uncle Flip said. “But, remember, your grandparents built it from the ground up. It might not be as nice as other people’s cottages, but it’s special because it’s ours.”

“Oh, Clarence, you’re so sappy,” my aunt said, and I heard her kiss his cheek.

“Eww, you guys, get a room!” Mikey teased.

I smiled, staring up at the top of the tepee where all the big branches met in the middle. After a while, the night didn’t seem too dark. Even when the fire’s embers burned deep red and then extinguished altogether, the moon gave off enough light to see by.

When my brother and my aunt and my uncle were all breathing deep and steady, I inched my way out of my sleeping bag. I had to go slow, because if I leaned too far to my left, I’d jab Mikey with my elbow. Same with my aunt on the other side. Thank goodness nobody in my family was a particularly light sleeper. Mikey didn’t even wake up when I stepped over him, casting a dark shadow across his face.

I had no shoes on, so I had to step delicately across the pine needles and underbrush that made up the backyard of our cottage. The fire pit was easy enough to avoid, but there were big rocks here and there that unexpectedly jabbed my toes. My aunt’s long white nightgown covered over my fingers and toes, and it made me feel like a ghost in the night, one of those diaphanous ladies that haunted castles in Europe.

Though the tall dresser was black, I could see every inch of it clearly. The dull bronze knobs glinted like gold, and the whole thing seemed to be moving, or breathing, like a big charcoal dog. I couldn’t tell just yet whether it was gearing up to lick me or bite me.

“Yvette?” I said in my mind. “I know you’re in there.”

I waited, but she made no response.

“Give me a clue,” I asked. “Which drawer are you in?”

Nothing. Not a word.

The top. Had to the top drawer. I rolled up the sleeves of Aunt Libby’s white gown and took hold of the knobs, but they slid right out of the wood almost before I’d pulled on them. My heart was getting louder by the moment, hammering in my chest. I scraped at the top of the drawer. My nails weren’t long enough to make a dent. All I could think to do was stick my little fingers in the holes where the handle pulls used to be.

My whole body felt funny, like my skin was bee-stung and buzzing. My knees were like custard, and yet I stood up straight, like some unseen force held me in place. With my fingers lodged in the sockets, I pulled back and the drawer came with me. The noise it made was like chalk on chalk, a subdued sort of screech that made my bones rattle. I was sure it must have woken my family, but I was too scared to look. I just stared down at the drawer, down into blackness.

Yvette wasn’t there.

I closed my eyes and tried to remember her face. It was pale, I knew that much. Pale skin with a peachy blush and brilliant lips. Hair like the devil—red and curly, big and bold. Her dress and her apron I could remember better than her features. Those blurred, faded, and then returned as Tiffany’s ski-jump nose, Tiffany’s barely-there eyebrows, her high cheekbones and pointed chin.

“Nooo!” Yvette cried, like a howl in the night. The top drawer pulled closed while the bottom one swung open. It whacked me in the shins so hard I fell to the ground, landing on a hard stretch of rock. I had to bite my tongue to keep from whimpering.

My brain just about exploded. I could see little bursts of light behind my eyes. My hands were all pins and needles. I shook my head to rid myself of the pain, but it swirled in me like a tornado.

“Don’t be such a baby,” Yvette said. “It was only a little bump. You’re not hurt.”

I crawled toward the charred dresser and braced myself before looking inside. Nothing in the bottom drawer was burnt, not even a little bit. Extra sheets had been stored in there, simple cotton ones with dainty blue flowers. Sheets. Just sheets!

My head pounded. Everything in that top drawer had been incinerated. The bottom drawer looked equally charred, so why were its contents pristine? It didn’t make any sense.

“Don’t be stupid,” the voice called out. Her voice. Yvette’s. “You know why.”

Of course I did, but I couldn’t bring myself to admit it. I didn’t want to be there. My heart pumped so hard I could hear every thud like a jackhammer. I wanted to be back in my sleeping bag, surrounded by my family. Safe.

Or maybe at the Jones’s cottage, staying up all night with Tiffany.

“Noooo!”

The sheets unfolded before my eyes. I swear I didn’t lay a finger on them. They came apart all on their own, opening to reveal the secret inside.

I gasped, even though I knew in my heart she was there. “Yvette!”

Her face was different now, her porcelain brow furrowed in anger. I fully expected her little lips to move. In my head, I heard the words, “You don’t love me anymore.”

“After you burned down my cottage? I guess not!” I bit my lip to keep myself from saying the words out loud.

“Don’t exaggerate,” she said. “The cottage is in perfect shape.”

“My things!” I cried. The voice in my head was so loud it made my skull buzz. She knew what I meant. “You destroyed everything that was mine!”

“Not everything,” Yvette shot back. Her creamy skin turned crimson. “I’m yours and I’m still here.”

“Forget it, Yvette. I don’t want you anymore.”

“But you need me.” Her voice was changing, now. Somewhere between anger and desperation, like she was trying to convince me.

“What do I need a little pyromaniac for? I’ve already got Mikey.”

“To talk to!” Her brow seemed to have changed again, up in the middle like a pleading puppy dog. “You need somebody to love, to be with, someone who will listen.”

I knew how to deal a knock-out blow, and I said the words stiffly. “I have Tiffany for that.”

Picking her up by her little leather boots, I pulled Yvette from the drawer and carried her upside-down across the lawn. The night was dark, but I was guided by moonlight. I knew just what to do.

I could feel her kicking and heaving her little body at my legs as I walked, but I didn’t look down. I wouldn’t acknowledge her anger, because it didn’t matter. She could be as angry as she pleased and she was still going down.

The septic tank gave off a stink like nothing else in this world. It was deep like a well, and when I lifted the lid I couldn’t see the bottom. Not that I spent much time looking. The reek that came off our fermenting toilet sludge made my eyes water.

“No,” Yvette begged. She was flailing in my hand, tossing about so hard I could barely keep a hold on her. “No, you can’t do this, Becca. Remember all our good years, when you were so alone, no one but me for company? It could be like that again. Give me one more chance. I’ll show you. You don’t need anyone but me!”

If I’d listened any longer, her pleas might have swayed me.

But I didn’t.

I held her over the deep, dark sewage tank and let go. She barely made a plunk when she hit the bottom.

Chapter 14

 

“It’s funny the way people think girls won’t be bad together.”

Tiffany looked up from the tattered copy of Sisters in Sin that got us banned from the used bookstore in town. I could feel her staring at me, waiting for a response, but I pretended to be engrossed in Prison Girls. It was written like a Tennessee Williams play. Titillating, but I couldn’t see much of myself in those downtrodden girls who only slept with each other because there were no men around.

“Did you hear me, Bec?” Tiffany set down her book and grabbed another egg salad sandwich. For a skinny girl, she ate like a mutant. “Like, if we were a boy and a girl, my grandparents would never let us sleep in the same house, much less the same room. But us? I bet they wouldn’t even care if we slept in the same bed. We’re just two nice, innocent, sweet little girls, right?”

“Right.” I chuckled half-heartedly.

Tiffany crunched all-dressed chips. One of the best things about living above a store was that snack food was only a few steps away, and we didn’t have to pay for anything.

“Hey, what’s wrong with you?” Tiffany asked. “Sick of being my roomie already? We’ve only spent three nights together.”

“I’m always cranky when I have my period.” I didn’t look up from my book. It still wasn’t easy for me to talk about personal things, especially “girl stuff,” as Aunt Libby called it.

“It’s more than that,” Tiffany said. “I can tell. I’m really attuned to other people’s emotions when I want to be. Sometimes I can see auras.”

I rolled my eyes. “No you can’t.”

She inhaled sharply, and when I still didn’t look up she wolfed down handful after handful of potato chips.

“Sorry,” I said, and finally put my stupid book down. “I’m just in a bad mood. It’s not you.”

Her eyes had filled with tears, and the sight of her so distraught tore my heart in two. “Well, I’m trying to cheer you up. I’ve tried everything. What else can I do?”

“Nothing. All my stuff is gone. Wouldn’t you be upset?”

“I gave you clothes.” Tiffany wrapped her hand around the turquoise slouch socks I was wearing over her lime green spandex leggings.

“But they’re not my clothes,” I said, meaning they weren’t my style. I’d rather have worn one of her grandfather’s plaid shirts than her super-expensive T-shirts, though there was an Australian top with a koala on that I found kind of cute. I was biding my time before asking if I could wear it.

“This obviously isn’t about clothes.” Tiffany stuffed her face with egg salad, which was just as well. The sulphur stench turned my stomach. “You don’t care about clothes. I may not have known you long, but I do know that for sure. There’s something else. Why won’t you tell me?”

“Why won’t you leave me alone?” I climbed from the floor onto one of the twin beds, the one that was mine. Their cottage was at the top of a hill, and through the window you could see all the way to the lake. “I told you, I’m just cranky.”

For a while, she didn’t say anything. I looked at the ticking alarm clock on the table between our two beds. Our “lunch hour” was almost up. Because the Joneses had been kind enough to take me in, I was helping out in the shop. Mainly, it was to be near Tiffany. Also, I had nothing better to do.

“Well, don’t you worry,” Tiffany snapped. “The community swap meet’s on Saturday, and I’m sure there’ll be furniture galore to fill your room. You’ll be back at your aunt and uncle’s crappy little shower-less cottage in no time.”

“I don’t want to go back there,” I said, even though a part of me really missed it. “I want to stay here with you, Tiffany. Why can’t you just accept that I’m in a bad mood and leave me alone?”

“Because I want to know why!”

“You want to know why?” Something burbled up inside me, like a hot pot overflowing. It wasn’t pretty. “Maybe I’m in a bad mood because I miss my mom, okay? Maybe I’m in a bad mood because everyone at school calls me Martina, and the closest thing I had to a friend before meeting you was my little brother, and even he started calling me Martina. Maybe it’s because I haven’t watched TV in I don’t know how long, or because my uncle seems to think I’m some kind of mental patient. Or maybe it’s because I have no idea where my father is and everybody’s acting weird about it. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because my bedroom was burned down by a doll that was jealous of you and now I have to wear my aunt’s underwear, which is like a zillion sizes too big!”

Tiffany stared at me, dumbfounded, holding a forgotten potato chip an inch away from her mouth.

I glanced at the clock, then slid off the bed. “Come on, it’s time to get back to work.”

“Wait a sec.” Tiffany dropped her chip on the floor without seeming to notice. “Did you say your room was burned by a doll?”

A strange chill flooded my veins. “Shut up. I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Hold up, hold up.” She launched herself up from the blanket she’d been curled up on and grabbed me by the arm. I barely felt it. “What do you mean a doll? You mean, like, another girl? Like, an ex?”

I said no, but it came out sounding like a grumble.

“Do you know who set the fire, Becca? Why don’t you tell your aunt and uncle? She can pay to replace all the stuff she destroyed, and if she doesn’t I’ll punch her in the neck.” Tiffany tightened her grip on me. “I’ll probably punch her anyway. Who is she?”

“Don’t worry about it.” I opened the bedroom door, but didn’t step outside. “I handled it, okay?”

“How did you handle it? Who is she?”

“She’s not a…” How on earth was I going to explain what had happened? “She wasn’t a real person, okay? My uncle gave me a doll when I was thirteen, and she was my only friend for a long time, and I guess… I don’t know, I guess all the attention made her real or something, because she started doing stuff, like she’d mess up my room when I wasn’t in it. I know she set that fire.”

“A doll?” Tiffany released her hold on my arm and stared at me blank in the face. “Like, a doll doll?”

“A porcelain doll, yeah.” I knew it was crazy, but I also knew it was true. “She was jealous of you, so I threw her in the sewage pit.”

“Oh, Rebecca.” Tiffany looked all around me. “Oh, Bec, you should see your aura right now. It’s not pretty.”

She placed a hand on my shoulder, but I slid away from her and started down the stairs. “I don’t care about my stupid aura, okay?”

“It’s not stupid,” she called after me. “I’m really concerned about you, Bec. Maybe you should talk to someone. I had a few sessions with a Zurich-trained Jungian analyst, and they did me a world of good.”

“Like hell you did,” I muttered as I got to the bottom of the stairs.

I was starting to think my aunt was right—maybe Tiffany did stretch the truth sometimes.

“There’s my granddaughter-in-training!” Mrs. Jones called as I trudged into the shop. Tiffany was never rude in front of her grandparents, so I was safe. “How did you enjoy your lunch?”

“It was great,” I said, even though I hadn’t eaten anything but chips. “Thank you so much. I can’t believe how nice you’ve been. I really don’t deserve it.”

“Oh, don’t think that, my girl.” Mrs Jones, in her old-lady housedress, wrapped me in her arms and pulled me to her pillowy chest. She seemed weirdly emotional, always hugging and kissing me. It was strange, because she wasn’t like that with any of the other cottage kids, or even with Tiffany.

“You can’t pay attention to what the others say—sins of the father, and all that. You are your own person, dear, and you’re a good girl. You’re a very good girl, and you deserve nothing but the best, you and that brother of yours. And your mother, God bless her! She deserves a medal.”

“Yeah, my mom’s a real saint.” I squirmed away, because her old-lady ramblings were making me uncomfortable.

“Bless your heart!” Mrs. Jones kissed my forehead before I could get far enough away, and I had to force myself not to shudder. There was nothing grosser than being kissed by an old lady.

“Nana,” Tiffany called from the stairs. “I brought our dishes down. Do you want me to wash them, or…”

“No, no.” Mrs. Jones took the tray while Tiffany met my gaze from the stairs. “I’ll wash up. Your grandfather’s just having a nap. Could you two stock the shelves? We’re low on matches, mosquito coils, and canned fruit.”

I was happy to have something to do, since I didn’t feel like talking to Tiffany, and I went right at the canned goods while she rearranged the penny candy. It wasn’t until Mrs. Jones had left the store that I realized she’d left the radio on her AM talk station. I was about to asked Tiffany to flip it over to FM when a familiar name caught my ear.

“We’re taking your calls about the verdict that came in this morning in the Crown versus Robert Warren—a case that’s been very much in the news the past few weeks, especially in light of Bill C-19, which cracks down on those charged with impaired driving.”

“Boring,” Tiffany groaned, reaching for the radio.

“Don’t touch it!” I shrieked, making her jump. She started to say something, but I shouted, “Zip it!” and she stared at me, flabbergasted.

“As you probably heard during the news at noon, Robert Warren—convicted in the impaired driving death of six-year-old Natalie Spanner—has been sentenced to fourteen years in prison.”

My heart clenched. I couldn’t breathe.

“This is the maximum sentence that can be handed down under Bill C-19, and here’s my question to you: fourteen years—too much or too little? Did the judge in this case use Robert Warren as a martyr to MADD women everywhere, trying to make a point that drinking and driving is no longer socially acceptable? Or does a third-strike drunk deserve a longer sentence? I’m taking your calls at—”

“I need to use the phone,” I shouted to Tiffany, scrambling behind the counter.

“What, you’re calling in to the show?” Tiffany brought the olive-coloured rotary dialler out from under the cash register. “What’s gotten into you?”

“My mom,” I said. My hands were shaking. “I need to talk to my mom.”

I started dialling, but forgot the area code and had to hang up and start all over again. The stupid dial wouldn’t turn fast enough and it made me want to scream.

“I tell you, Gord,” a woman was saying to the radio host. “They should toss that Robert Warren in the slammer and throw away the key. Let him rot. An eye for an eye. He killed that poor little Natalie, crippled the girl’s mother, and all because of the drink. I say if you set foot in a car drunk, it’s murder, plain and simple. A man like that shouldn’t see the light of day, not ever again.”

The phone was ringing against my ear, but it sounded far away, like I was calling another planet.

“Thanks for your call,” the radio host said. “Now to our next caller. You’re on the air with Gord. What do you make of today’s sentence in the Robert Warren case?”

I gazed at the radio expectantly, and when nobody said anything, I realized someone had picked up the phone cradled in my hands. “Mom?”

My voice on the radio asked, “Mom?” I sounded like a child, no more than Mikey’s age. Oh God! My fingers had dialled the radio station instead of my mother. My whole body went numb.

“Sounds like someone’s playing with the phone,” the host said. I heard him in my ear, and then on the radio seconds later. “Is your mommy or daddy home?”

“No,” I said. My voice sounded not at all like me, like I was talking from outside myself. “Robert Warren…” My throat constricted so tightly I could hardly breathe. “Robert Warren… he’s my father.”

I slammed the phone down, and my words echoed on the radio: “He’s my father… my father… my father…”

“Sounds like we’ve got a little prankster on our hands,” the radio host said, and went on to the next caller. “You’re on the radio with Gord…”

I turned slowly. My head felt like a fifty-pound weight, but it also felt like it was floating away. My body was not my own. I’d never felt so ashamed in all my life.

Tiffany was looking right at me, of course. Where else would she look? I thought about all the ways I could have found out my father was in jail. This was not my number one choice, not by a long shot. I didn’t want Tiffany to know. I don’t think I wanted to know, myself.

“That’s your dad?” Tiffany asked. “Your dad is Robert Warren? He killed a little girl. I saw it on the news.”

She knew more than I did. Oh God, everybody knew. Everyone but Mikey and me.

“You said your dad was a rock star.” Tiffany wasn’t scowling, but she wasn’t smiling either. I couldn’t read her expression. It seemed utterly lost. “You lied to me.”

“I never said he was a rock star. He’s a musician. That’s true. I didn’t lie. He’s away from home a lot, on tour. He travels with his band. I didn’t know…”

She probably didn’t understand a word I said. Everything came out in a blubbering whimper. I could barely understand myself. What’s worse, I didn’t know what I wanted. I felt locked in place, bolted to the floor, and horrendously claustrophobic.

A part of me still wanted to call my mother, to scream at her, to ask why she hadn’t told me about this huge thing that was going on in my family’s life. But I knew myself too well. The second I heard her voice I would crumble and cry. I’d want to be there for my mom and take care of her, and I wasn’t ready for that. Not just yet. I wanted to hold on to my anger a little while longer.

And what about Aunt Libby and Uncle Flip? Obviously they knew all along. Now I understood why they changed the radio station every time the news came on. Now I understood why my mother hadn’t let me and Mikey watch TV in ages. This was big news, this stuff with my father. He killed someone. A little girl. He was a murderer.

My father was a murderer.

“Rebecca?” Tiffany asked. “Bec, are you okay? You’re shaking.”

Was I? I couldn’t feel my body.

My feet must have started moving, because before I knew it, the door was slamming behind me. I’d left the store and was flying down the hill, not knowing where my feet were taking me. Part of me wanted to run straight to my aunt and uncle’s cottage. Part of me wanted to scream at them for colluding with my mother to keep this life-altering secret from me. I heard it all in my head, every word I would say to them.

And then I pictured Mikey standing just inside his bedroom door, gazing out at me with tears welling in his big brown eyes. He had the same lush black lashes as my mother, the same face, just smaller. I could see him so clearly in my mind’s eye. Mikey obviously knew something was up just as much as I did, but I couldn’t be the one to tell him the truth. He was only a kid. I would be an adult in two years, and the news had nearly given me a mental breakdown.

I ran past the horseshoe pit where old men tossed languidly in the summer heat. They didn’t seem to see me, but they never did. I was nothing to them. There were young children playing at the beach, and the girl who’d thrown mud at me glanced up as I whipped by them. Her eyes went wide, and I saw everything in her expression: contempt and pity and fear and absolute disdain.

All at once, I knew how every human being on the planet was going to treat me for the rest of my life. I was the daughter of a killer. From now on, that’s all anyone would ever see.

When I got to the government pier, I slowed down and looked across the water. Nobody was out on the lake—too late in the day for fishers, and most of the people with motorboats and water-skis only came up on weekends. I sat on the concrete ledge and hung my arms over the heavy chain that served as a barrier.

The water was deep, just a drop-off, and when you looked down, depending on where the sun rested in the sky, the lake was either black or sublimely bright. Right now, it was black.

My ponytail hung over my shoulder as I stared at my reflection. I pulled Tiffany’s scrunchie from my hair, letting it hang loose across my face. I looked better this way, like Cousin It from The Addams Family, with my pimples all concealed behind the thick curtain. I tried to think, but my brain put a stop to that. My mind went blank.

I sat in perfect silence until the sun blazed so hot against my scalp I couldn’t bear it. Flipping my hair back, I tied it up with Tiffany’s scrunchie. When I stood, blood gushed between my legs. I needed a new pad, but I didn’t have one with me. I didn’t have anything but the clothes on my back. I could have returned to the Jones’s cottage, or to my family’s for that matter, but my feet wouldn’t let me. They guided me in exactly the opposite direction.

I could have walked forever. I really believe that. I could have walked until I reached the ocean, and I probably wouldn’t have stopped there. Probably, I would have walked out into it until the water consumed me, and that would be the end.

My feet weren’t tired when I got out to the rich people’s cottages. They were much farther apart than ours in the community. The first was built up on the hill, overlooking the lake but across the gravel road from it. The next was built so that half of it was on stilts over the water, but you could only see that one if you peeked through the treeline fence.

The third was my favourite, because it was huge. It was a mansion, really, bigger than any house you see in the city. There was a three-car garage, and the driveway was like a landing strip for a UFO. I don’t remember it being there when I was a kid, so it must have been built just in the last few years. It sort of popped up one day, and there it was. The people in our cottage community called it a monstrosity, but I found it majestic. Without really thinking, I walked up to it.

There were windows in all three of the garage ports, and I jumped up to peek through them. Two were empty, and the third had a car that was covered up in a huge silver blanket.

I heard the gritty rumble of a car tearing down the gravel road, and my heart locked. Luckily, my feet were thinking, and they led me behind the garage and into a gazebo, where I almost fell on the covered Jacuzzi. This really was a mansion.

The car that had frightened me drove right by the cottage, and my heart settled down. There was a nice garden behind the gazebo, but a lot of the flowers looked pretty dead, which must mean the owners weren’t around to water them. I looked in the huge back windows, and everything looked like a magazine. The kitchen was so clean and so perfect, not a dish in the sink or newspaper on the breakfast table. Nobody had been inside for a while.

If I hadn’t been so sure, I wouldn’t have broken in.

Chapter 15

 

I’d never considered breaking into a house before. It wasn’t something I planned. The screen just lifted out so easily, and the kitchen window opened right up. That mansion cottage was built to be burgled.

The kitchen… Wow! I’d never seen anything like it. The fridge had an icemaker and two doors that opened up in the middle. But it didn’t have any food inside, except fancy condiments and jams. There was nothing in the freezer but ice and gourmet coffee beans.

Their dishes were beautiful, with little flowers painted around the sides and gold all along the edges. Not much in the cupboards except some crackers and olives, odds and ends like that, but I took the lack of food as a sign that nobody was likely to come barrelling through the front door any time soon.

This probably sounds really juvenile, but I guess I was playing house, pretending the cottage was mine. I owned it and everything inside—all the modern chrome furniture, the glass-top table, the white leather sofa. Everything.

In the foyer, there was a circular staircase that led to a multitude of bedrooms and studies. They were all so fancy, each room grander than the last, more stuffy and formal than the modern rooms downstairs. The only exception was the master bedroom, which was gigantic. It kind of combined old and new. The bed had a headboard made from chrome and a white sort of Plexiglas, but the trunk at the foot of the bed looked as old as the hills.

There was no door to the en suite bathroom. It was separated from the master bedroom only by a wall of glass blocks. When I walked inside, I felt like I was entering some kind of mythic ice palace.

The bathroom was almost as big as the bedroom, and almost everything was made of frosted glass. Well, not the toilet, and not the tub. The shower stall was completely separate from the bath, which was an in fact an indoor Jacuzzi. I turned on the faucet and it sputtered a few times, choking out copper-coloured liquid. After a little while, the water ran clear, and I flipped the switch to plug it.

When I stripped out of my sweat-soaked clothes, I realized my period had been even heavier than I’d thought. Blood had soaked through the edges of my aunt’s giant underwear and into the lime green spandex Tiffany had loaned me. My head buzzed. I was so embarrassed that I tossed them in the frosted glass sink and filled it with hot water. I could only hope a woman visited this cottage and left some pads.

Falling to my knees, I yanked open the cupboard doors beneath the sink. Heaven! Yes, there were pads, and they were name brands—the “super-absorbent” thin ones with wings. They were so much more expensive than the lumpy kind my mom bought. I never thought I wanted to be rich, but imagine being able to buy the best of everything? It was unfathomable.

When the huge tub was nearly full, I slipped into the warm water and turned on the jets. If I thought a cupboard full of name brand maxi pads was heaven, this was heaven times a thousand! In the few days I’d stayed with Tiffany, I’d taken quick showers in the Jones’s grungy bathroom, but there was black mould creeping up the walls, so I only stayed in long enough to wash my hair and shave.

This was relaxation: alone in a mansion, floating on a cloud of warm water, Jacuzzi jets pummelling my muscles. What could be better?

Tiffany.

Strange, but I missed her already. I wanted to talk to her so badly, and ask what she thought of all this stuff with my dad. She seemed really judgemental after the radio show, but I hadn’t really given her a chance to explain. On the other hand, when I told her about Yvette, she’d acted just like my uncle, treating me like I belonged in a straightjacket. I had a feeling I knew what she’d think if she knew more about my family: that I was losing my grip on reality. My life was so full of domestic trauma that I was manufacturing friends, manufacturing memories.

Not that I had to worry about Yvette anymore. She was gone for good, drowned in sewer sludge. Now, I had nothing to worry about… except how I was supposed to live out the rest of my life as the daughter of Robert Warren.

It was weird. I suddenly felt like a different person. I’d just broken into someone’s house! I would never have done that before. Now I felt like it didn’t matter. Everybody knew my father was a criminal. They’d known before I had. So what difference did it make if I did bad things?

And at the same time, there was a part of me—a big part of me, and a part I’d prefer to keep under wraps—that was happy. Fourteen years without my father. Any good child would be distraught. But me? I felt relieved. For fourteen years, he couldn’t hurt my mom. He couldn’t yell at Mikey. He couldn’t call me names or treat me like some kind of underage servant. After all this time, we were free.

My skin felt dirty, even underwater, and I scratched my fingers down my neck, peeling away layers of dead skin, dirt and oil, dust from the gravel road. When I looked under my short fingernails, the dirt that came off me was black. I couldn’t believe how gross I was. I did it again, scraping more black gunk from my neck, and then extending the search across my chest and my arms. When I looked down, my skin was a mess of red lines. The tub bubbled with black bits.

I had to get clean. I’d never felt so disgusting, and all the worse for not realizing it. How long had I been covered in grime? Had Tiffany noticed? The thought made my stomach quake. I scratched my flesh so hard it hurt. The jets turned off, but I kept going. This was about more than just being presentable. I needed to get clean.

By the time the tub ran cold, my fingers and toes were like prunes. I released the catch without moving, and when the tepid water drained out of the tub, it felt weird—like cling film tightening all over my skin. The air was warm, but not stuffy. I could have stayed there forever.

The towels were white, and I worried about getting blood on them. Today everything in this cottage was mine, and I didn’t want to ruin my luxurious linens. I kneeled before the cupboard under the sink and stared at a box of tampons.

I’d never used one before. When I was just a kid, before Mikey was born, I overheard my mother telling my aunt she was sure tampons were the reason it took her so long to conceive a second time. That always lingered at the back of my mind, but thinking about it with my teenaged brain, I realized my mother was probably wrong.

It was a brand new box, but I opened it and read the instructions. We’d been over this in health class, but I wanted to be extra-sure. I pulled off the wrapper and held the cardboard applicator in position, just like in the diagram. When I pushed, it hurt. It hurt a lot, actually. I’d never really tried to shove anything in there. I couldn’t imagine how anyone could stand to have sex. It would kill!

Took me forever to get it in, and I kept thinking ‘this isn’t worth the pain,’ but once I’d inserted the tampon I couldn’t feel it anymore. I towelled off. Tiffany’s green spandex floated in the sink, and I scrubbed it with a bar of white soap until the stain came out. Same thing with my aunt’s underwear. I hung them both over the towel rack, and then explored the bedroom for something to wear.

Even though I was mad at Tiffany, I imagined this was our home. I opened the top drawer of a shiny black dresser and, sure enough, it was packed with underwear. Everything was satin and lace—panties and nighties and bras, all sorts of things. Black, white, red. Fishnet stockings. Sexy stuff. I picked out a black satin set and put it on over my aching red skin. It felt nice. It looked like the sort of thing you’d see on the covers of those pulp fiction books. Tiffany would have liked it.

There was a TV in the bedroom—the height of decadence—and when I turned it on a severe groan resonated from outside. It sounded like an angry troll, and my heart nearly stopped before I realized it was just the satellite dish kicking into gear.

A satellite dish!

I raided the cupboards as the dish warmed up, and then settled into the giant master bed. It had been ages since I’d watched TV. I binged on daytime talk shows about teenaged crack addicts and men who impregnated their wives’ sisters. Everything was sordid and delicious. I snacked on mixed nuts and fancy black olives, all the decadent foods I could get my hands on. I even tried to make coffee, but it turned out way too dark and full of grounds.

When the news came on, I half expected my aunt to change the channel. It clicked in that I was alone. There was no one to defend my innocence anymore. And when my father’s image flashed on screen, I froze. He looked… I don’t know… He looked bad, but no worse than usual. His hair was longer, and greasy, and his cheeks seemed sallow. They showed footage in slow-motion of him leaving the court, my dad with two lawyers in long black robes. There were lots of reporters in the background, but I was looking for my mom. I couldn’t see her anywhere.

There was a phone beside the bed and I picked it up. This time when I dialled, I didn’t call a radio station. I called my house. It beeped at me. Beep-beep-beep. The line was busy, but I didn’t hang up. I just listened to the beep-beep-beep-beep so I wouldn’t have to hear the TV reporters talking about my dad.

They showed a picture of the little girl who died. She had on a birthday hat and a mint green dress. She was holding a stuffed animal—a dinosaur. A bright pink brontosaurus. She was adorable.

I hung up the phone. At least I knew my mom was home, talking to someone. Maybe to my dad? Or his lawyers? If I tried again later, I might get a hold of her. But when I did, what would I say? I wasn’t even sure if I was still mad that she hadn’t told me about my dad getting arrested.

The news story about my dad ended, and the reporters started talking about Chernobyl, where there had been a big explosion at a nuclear plant. We’d discussed that a lot at school. People died when the initial explosion happened in April, and there were still more dying slowly of radiation poisoning. Little kids with their hair falling out. It was too sad for words, so I changed the channel and watched a rerun of Three’s Company. I didn’t want to think anymore.

I must have fallen asleep in a TV-induced stupor, because next thing I knew it was dark outside. A chill ran through me, even though the air was warm. Something smelled funky. The bathroom looked spic and span, but I wondered if maybe the toilet was venting fumes or something. The scent was really gross.

After drying my hands, I touched Tiffany’s spandex pants. They were getting there, but not quite dry. The TV still chattered in the bedroom, but all the lights were off. Blue pulses painted the walls. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to watch a movie or go back to sleep. I felt kind of dazed… until I heard something rustling down the hall.

Every chicken bone in my body told me to hide my head under the covers, but my legs didn’t listen. My feet found the carpet and I crept across the bedroom, standing inside the open door.

The entire house was dark. Nobody was milling around downstairs. I could tell that just from looking out into the hallway. Houses creaked sometimes. It was “settling”—that’s what my mom called it.

My mom! I hadn’t tried calling again.

Hopping back into the big bed, I lowered the volume on the TV and picked up the phone. I called my own number, but got another busy signal. What time was it? Late at night. My mom worked nights, and even if she took some time off, it seemed weird that she’d be on the phone after eleven.

Another shuffle.

I heard it for sure this time, and hung up the phone, racing to the door. The volume on the TV was way down, so I could hear better now. I could hear the brush of clothing, the clack of tiny footsteps. A mouse? No, mice didn’t wear clothes. But the steps didn’t sound hard enough to be human. Maybe this cottage was haunted! Maybe that’s why nobody ever stayed there. Oh God, maybe the owners had been murdered and their bodies hadn’t even been found yet and their ghosts were making noises now so I would find their rotting corpses!

No, that was stupid. Although… come to think of it, I could smell that funky odour again. It did smell sort of rotten.

My muscles locked as I imagined what I might find if I started poking around. And then I realized how paranoid I was acting. When I broke into this place, the first thing I did was poke my head in every room. If there’d been any dead bodies, I’m sure I would have noticed them.

I didn’t turn on the hall light when I left the bedroom. The glow of the moon reflected in the lake. This cottage had a great view. No wonder the owners had built it on this incline. The moon on the water lit up the entire place with a shimmering silver gleam.

The scent of filth got worse with every step I took. It wasn’t me, was it? I looked at my feet, like I could have stepped in something on the way here. But I’d bathed since then. No, it couldn’t be me. What could it be?

I’d closed every door after peeking inside, but not every door was closed now. There was one, just one, open a smidge. When I approached it, the bad smell got worse. No question where it was coming from, but what was it? I didn’t want to know, but I couldn’t stop myself from opening the door.

“Fancy meeting you here,” a familiar voice called from the fluffy Victorian guest room.

The odour gagged me. My eyes watered.

“I missed you, Rebecca.”

“No,” I choked out. “It can’t be you. I threw you in the septic tank.”

“I noticed.” Yvette’s voice was crushingly casual. “No amount of washing will get the stink out. Maybe you could give me a nice, long bath in that big Jacuzzi tub, hmm?”

“This is crazy.” I shook my head, blinking fast, but every time I opened my eyes she was standing on the shelf, with a vase to one side and teacup to the other. “I threw you in a pit. You can’t be here.”

“Right, sure,” Yvette said. “But here’s the trouble, Rebecca: I am here.”

A chill ran through me, and I hugged myself tight. I couldn’t stop shivering.

“You look awfully nice in silk.” Yvette’s beady little eyes gleamed, like she was about to devour me. “Does the lady of the house have anything like that in my size? Should we take a look?”

“What are you talking about?” I asked, even though speaking to a doll out loud made me feel insane. “You’re not real. I threw you in a hole. You’re gone. You’re not here.”

Yvette winked. I saw it. She winked at me. “Whatever you say, Rebecca. If you say I’m not here, maybe I’m not here. But if I’m not, what does that say about you?”

Oh God, she was right. I must be crazy. Or… maybe not.

“I’m dreaming.” That explained it. “This is a nightmare, that’s all.”

I started pinching my arms, and it hurt, but it didn’t wake me up. So I smacked myself. I smacked one cheek, then the other one, but it didn’t work. Yvette was still up there on that shelf, smiling like a demon.

“So, you’re dreaming?” she asked.

I tried to swallow, but my throat closed up. I choked on my saliva. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t breathe. What was happening to me? Maybe I really was going crazy. Maybe Uncle Flip was right. Maybe he was the only one who saw what was really happening: I was losing my mind.

When I looked up at the glass shelf, Yvette was gone. The vase was there and so was the teacup, but no doll.

My heart clenched like a block of ice in my chest. For a second, my entire body felt frozen. When I came out of shock, I looked around the room, but I couldn’t see her anywhere. The stench was gone too. I sniffed the air, but I couldn’t smell it anymore.

What just happened? Oh God, was I going insane?

Closing the guest room door, I raced back to the master suite and closed that door too. The bedroom had an overhead light, and I flicked it on. It was really bright, but that was good. That’s what I needed. Light. Lots of light, everywhere. I turned up the volume on the TV, and then buried myself under the covers. It was hard to breathe under the fancy white duvet, and I felt like a stupid little kid hiding from the monsters in my mind, but what was I supposed to do? I’d never been so scared in all my life.

I wasn’t trying to sleep. I didn’t want to sleep. But I must have been exhausted, because next thing I knew, the warm duvet was ripped off of me as two police officers stared down at my nearly-naked body.

Chapter 16

 

“It’s just a kid,” one officer said to the other. When he turned, I saw a fancy-looking man and woman cowering in the doorway.

“Is that…” The tall lady in designer clothes pointed at me, stammering, “Is she wearing my silk?”

I scrambled to my knees and huddled behind a pillow. No words. What could I possibly say? I’d never been so embarrassed in my entire life.

One of the police officers was huge, all muscle. Just the sight of him scared the living daylights out of me. But before saying anything else, he kneeled beside the bed. “Are you okay, sweetheart? Did somebody bring you here? Did somebody hurt you?”

My frazzled brain couldn’t figure out what he was implying. “I… I’m sorry.” Tears streamed down my cheeks before I even felt them welling in my eyes. I was like a six-year-old kid. I couldn’t help it. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”

“It’s okay,” the big cop said, extending a hand to me. I didn’t take it. “Tell me why you’re sorry, honey. What happened?”

What happened? Why had I come here? I couldn’t even remember anymore.

And then I could.

“My dad,” I said.

It all came streaming back, and I said everything that popped into my head, though I doubt very much the police officers could understand me.

“I heard it on the radio, about my dad. My dad’s in jail and nobody told me! My mom, my aunt, my uncle, nobody said a word. Everybody knew except me, and yesterday he was sentenced to fourteen years in prison. When were they going to tell me? Didn’t they think I’d notice my dad was gone?”

The big officer glanced at the other one, who looked like he was my age. That guy was scribbling madly on a notepad. Me? I was sobbing. No way they understood.

“What’s your name?” the tall officer asked. He had a different uniform than the police in the city. I felt like I was in another dimension.

“Rebecca,” I sobbed.

The big officer grabbed some tissues from the box on the glass night table and handed them to me in a big wad. “Do you live around here, Rebecca?”

I blotted my eyes first, and then blew my nose. “Not me, but my aunt and uncle have a cottage down the road.”

I was still heaving a bit, but at least they could understand me now.

“Did someone bring you here?” the big officer asked. He had such kind eyes.

I shook my head.

“You came on your own?”

I couldn’t look at him anymore. I looked down at the rumpled sheets and nodded. Tears came back, but I choked them down. No more crying. My eyes were already burning.

The officers looked one at the other, and the tall guy asked, “Could you please state your full name for me?”

His voice had never been gentle, but it was even less gentle now. He made me feel like a criminal, and I thought about my father. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. We were both bad. It didn’t matter anymore. My father was a murderer. I had no future.

“Rebecca Warren,” I said. “My name is Rebecca Jane Warren.”

I’d expected them to look at each other and say, “Oh, I know that name. She’s Robert Warren’s daughter.” But no. Nothing seemed to register. Warren was a common name, after all. Maybe I was silly to worry.

“And your age?” The tall guy didn’t even look up from his notepad to ask.

“Fifteen.” I didn’t mean to lie, but how would they know the difference?

“Rebecca, can you tell me how you got in here?” the nicer officer asked.

“The kitchen window,” I said. “The screen popped right out and it was really easy to open. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done it, I know, but I just… I don’t know why I broke in. It just seemed really nice in here, and there was nobody home.”

I glanced quickly to the couple hovering in the door like I was a vampire bat gearing up to attack them. They seemed to be trembling in each other’s arms. Why were they so afraid of me?

“Do you have a change of clothes with you?” the big guy asked.

I felt humiliated all over again for being caught in a stranger’s lingerie. “Sorry. Yeah, they’re in the bathroom.”

“Why don’t you go change?” The officer happened to smile just as I looked into his face, and his compassion brought fresh tears to my eyes. “We’ll all wait outside, and when you’re done we’ll take you back to your family.”

I didn’t move until they’d all left the room, and even after they were gone I could feel their eyes on me. I shivered as I put on my aunt’s underwear and Tiffany’s clothes. I wished to God I’d worn my overalls instead of fluorescent spandex, but it was too late now.

When I’d changed, I stood at the bedroom door. I could hear the woman’s voice on the other side, saying, “That’s it? You’re not even going to charge her? The little hooligan broke in to our cottage!”

“We’ll have a sit-down with the family,” the nice officer was saying when I opened the door and emerged in Tiffany’s clothes.

“I’m sorry,” I said to the couple, without looking at them. “I really am. I didn’t mean to scare you or anything, it’s just such a nice place you’ve got here. I wasn’t going to steal anything, I swear.”

They didn’t respond. I could feel their hot stares on my face, but they were silent as the nice officer led me out the front door. The other one lagged behind.

“Do I have to go in there?” It was a real police car, just like you see on TV. “I can walk back. It’s not too far.”

“My partner and I will escort you home this time. This time.” His gaze was generous but concerned, like a parent’s. “Next time it’ll be straight to the station, behind bars, and you can call home from there. Do understand what I’m saying?”

A chill ran down my spine, like someone had dumped ice water in the back of my T-shirt. “It’ll never happen again. I swear. I’m not a bad person, I’m really not.”

“I know you’re not, Rebecca.”

I don’t know what came over me in that moment, but I launched myself at the officer. He backed away, but not fast enough. I wrapped my arms around him and squeezed. My face mashed into his chest so hard one of his shirt buttons pressed into my cheek. He smelled like toothpaste and aftershave, but not too strong.

“I’m sorry,” I said, and pulled away. I knew you weren’t supposed to hug police officers. I wasn’t sure what came over me.

They made me sit in the back seat, behind a kind Plexiglas divider. I’d never felt so much like a criminal.

When we pulled into the driveway, my aunt and uncle raced out of our humiliating little cottage. They must have heard the tires on the gravel road and looked out the front window. Their faces were so drawn I could hardly stand to look, but what surprised me most was that Tiffany came running out of the cottage behind them.

“Whoa! Becca’s in trouble!”

I’d never felt so relieved to hear Mikey’s squawking little voice. I don’t know why, but it was him I went to first. He was getting heavy, but I picked him up and kissed his cheek.

“Eww! Girl germs!” He wiped off my cooties when I put him down on the ground, but he didn’t go far.

Aunt Libby, Uncle Flip, and Tiffany all hugged me at once. It was suffocating, but sincere.

“What on earth happened to you?” my aunt said in a tone that was berating but also relieved. “Your uncle and I were worried sick.”

“So was I,” Tiffany whispered in my ear, and I shivered.

“Your niece was found this morning by the owners of a cottage down the road,” said the tall cop, interrupting our little reunion.

“Found?” My uncle seemed really worried. He grabbed my arm tight. “Found where?”

“Found sleeping in their bed,” the officer answered. “Watching their television, eating their food. She’d gained entry through a kitchen window.”

“Rebecca Jane Warren!” my aunt scolded. “What on earth were you playing at?”

“I’m sorry.”

There was a whirlwind of questioning, and all I could do was apologize. I didn’t know why I’d done it. It was stupid, and it would never happen again.

“Tiffany,” my aunt said. “Would you kindly watch Mikey while we have a discussion with the officers?”

They all started toward our run-down little cottage, and I could tell they expected me to come too, but I had a huge fear inside me. Grabbing Tiffany with one hand and Mikey with the other, I whispered, “Let’s go!” and pulled them down the driveway.

“Ow, ow, ow!” Tiffany cried, kicking rocks out of her jelly shoes. “Where are we going?”

“I don’t know, just run!”

My heart pumped like crazy as we streamed down the hill and onto the next street, out of sight. My feet had never moved so quickly. Mikey and Tiffany were both heaving, out of breath by the time we reached the water.

“What happened to you?” Tiffany asked through staggered breaths.

Mikey looked up at me, pleadingly. “Are you going to jail like Daddy?”

My pulse slowed. Everything stopped. For a moment, even the cicadas quit their humming. “What did you say?”

It was Tiffany who answered. “When you didn’t come back, I went to your aunt and uncle’s cottage to say sorry for… well, everything, you know. We were so worried about you, Bec. You have no idea.”

What did that have to do with anything? “Mikey, who told you…?”

“Uncle Flip did.”

“When?”

“Just now,” Tiffany said. “Just before you came. I told your aunt and uncle how you found out, and they didn’t want Mikey going through it the same way. It’s better coming from people you love, when it’s bad news like that. Bec, we didn’t know where you were. We were so scared.”

This was too much. Way too much. My pulse worked its way back into overdrive, and I looked over my shoulder, fully expecting to find those two police officers chasing after me.

“We need to get out of here,” I said. “Where can we go?”

Tiffany glanced around and her fine hair fluttered like gold. “To the patch?”

“Without a boat?”

“My grandparents have one,” Tiffany said, and led us down to the private dock. We passed the Marina chip shop and my stomach gurgled. I was getting used to hearty breakfasts and I hadn’t eaten anything today.

The Jones’s motorboat looked old and rusty, but I could hardly complain. After all, I was the one on the run from the law.

“Do you know how to drive one of these things?” I asked as Tiffany peeled off the key taped under the seat.

“Yeah, kinda.”

“Don’t you need a license to drive a boat?”

“Pfft!” Tiffany grabbed a life jacket from the back and plonked herself down in front of the wheel. “Anyone can do it.”

Mikey nearly jumped out of his flip-flops. “Can I do it?”

“No.” I held his hand and we stepped into the rocking motorboat together. “Come on, get into a lifejacket so Tiffany can start the boat.”

I sat in the passenger seat with Mikey in the middle. Tiffany turned the key and the engine sputtered. The marina blocked my view of the street that led to our cottage, but I was sure beyond sure the police were on their way.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. “Is it out of gas?”

“I don’t think so.” Tiffany turned the key again and the engine roared. The whole boat started to vibrate and a giddy thrill ran through me. We were on the move!

Tiffany glanced behind us. The coast was clear. The only boats out were far away. I grabbed Mikey by the wrist. We were moving back, moving. We’d very nearly cleared the docks when suddenly we jerked forward so hard we almost bashed our skulls on the dash.

My stomach plunged. “Mikey, are you okay?”

He nodded, but he looked dazed.

“Oh crap!” Tiffany left the engine running while she hopped out of the boat.

“What are you doing?” Maybe I was just having a bad day, but I really started to panic. “Tiff, what happened?”

She kneeled on the dock while the man from the marina poked his head out back. “What are you kids up to?”

“Nothing!” Tiffany untied a rope from the moor and tossed it into the boat. “Just missed a step. Everything’s fine.”

“Lousy kids,” the man grumbled as Tiffany hopped back in her seat.

“Off we go!” Tiffany pulled away from the dock so fast my heart jumped into my throat.

We sped along the lake, catching the spray in our faces and kicking up water. The stretch before us was dark and calm, but behind us white waves coasted. It was scary and exciting, and a big part of me resented Mikey for literally coming between Tiffany and me. I remembered being upset with her, but now all I wanted was to be alone together and tell her all about my stupid adventure.

And then I remembered Yvette, like a half-forgotten dream. She’d been there in that cottage. Or she hadn’t. Maybe it really was a dream. I wished I could be sure one way or the other.

The ride got bumpy as we approached the little island, but Tiffany slowed just in time to hop off at the makeshift dock. “Well?” she asked. “How’s my driving?”

“I almost peed my pants,” I said, mostly to make Mikey laugh.

My pants,” Tiffany reminded me. “On loan. No peeing allowed.”

We all tossed our lifejackets over the pole where Tiffany had moored the boat, and Mikey went off exploring. The island was nothing more than a patch of dirt with a few trees growing on it, so I wasn’t worried about him getting lost. At the very centre, there were raspberry bushes growing, and my hungry belly gravitated toward them.

“Mikey seems to have taken the news a lot better than you,” Tiffany said as I picked plump berries from the thorny patch. “He’s singing We are the Champions. Can you hear him?”

“Yeah, he does that a lot.” I didn’t want to talk about serious things. I’d had enough serious. All I wanted now were raspberries. Still, I looked up when Tiffany was silent. She’d stepped away from me, and was looking out across the lake. The skirt of her jersey dress danced on the slight breeze. “You look nice today.”

She looked at me over her shoulder and smiled, then gazed back out across the water.

“You look nice every day,” I went on. “I don’t think you could not look nice, even if you tried.”

She sat on a log that had washed up on the island. There was just enough room for me to join her, so I did. I took off my shoes and socks and let my toes dig down in the cool sand. The sun wasn’t too bad today, and it wasn’t too humid either.

“Sorry about your dad.”

All at once, I realized that sentiment would be thrown at me a lot over the next fourteen years. And I had no idea how to answer it. “Thanks, I guess. I mean, he obviously deserves it for what he did. I just wish… I wish…”

“That someone had told you?”

“Yeah.”

Tiffany took my hand and I glanced around quickly to make sure Mikey was out of sight. “Well, I’m sorry no one did.”

“Did they not trust me?” I asked her, watching the sun sparkle on the lake. It was so beautiful I could have cried. “Like, my mom, right? She’s been letting me take care of Mikey almost since he was born. I do so much. You have no idea. I do so much for this family, then something huge happens and nobody says a word? Did they think I couldn’t handle it?”

“Your aunt and uncle told me they didn’t want to hurt you. That’s what it was.” Tiffany tightened her grip on my hand, and I squeezed back. It felt good to sit beside her. “Your family obviously trusts you. They obviously depend on you. I think they also just didn’t know how to break the news.”

I knew she was right. This was so complicated, and it totally changed the way I saw myself. Two days ago I was borderline normal. Now I was practically a felon.

“Oh, I almost forgot!” Tiffany tossed her hair to one side. “I made you a present. It’s just—”

“Can I go swimming?”

When I turned around, Mikey had already stripped to his Scooby-Doo underwear. Tiffany laughed, and I hoped she wouldn’t notice when I stole my hand from hers.

“There’s a drop-off,” I said. I could feel how irritated I was that Mikey had ruined the moment, but I tried not to take it out on him. “Take one of the lifejackets and use it as a flutter-board, okay? And don’t go too far out.”

“And stay where I can see you,” Tiffany added. I knew she was kind of making fun of me, but there was nothing wrong with being a little overprotective.

When Mikey was in the water and splashing around, Tiffany held out her wrist and said, “I wanted to say sorry for teasing of you. I made this myself. What do you think?”

I hadn’t noticed before, but Tiffany was wearing a bracelet made from the little bits of tiger’s eye she’d shown me at the craft store. Usually jewellery didn’t appeal to me, but this bracelet did. I liked it a lot.

“Thanks,” I said as she slipped the bracelet off her wrist and put it on mine. It fit just right, and when I flipped it around, it gleamed like bronze in the sunshine. “Nobody’s ever given me a gift like this before.”

“Like a girlfriend gift?” she asked.

That’s not what I’d meant, and the idea made me weak and giddy. I didn’t know how to respond, so I just said, “I really like it a lot.”

“Different gemstones have different energies. Did you know that?” Tiffany padded her fingers across the trail of stones. “Tiger’s eye is for good luck, clear thinking, and protection from the evil eye.”

I swallowed hard. “You think I need that?”

“If everything you said is true, then yeah.” Tiffany lowered her voice and shifted closer to me. “Evil energies can possess objects the same way they possess people. Last night, when you weren’t in the next bed, you were all I could think about. I figured you’d gone back to your aunt and uncle’s place. I would have worried like crazy if I’d known you were out God-knows-where. Be sure to wear your tiger’s eye so I know you’re safe.”

I felt a blush coming on. “You sound like my mom. Well, not my mom, but somebody’s mom.”

Tiffany nudged me with her elbow. “Well, I care about you.”

“I was fine. I broke into one of the rich people cottages. It was kind of… fun.” I decided it was better not to tell her about seeing, and smelling, Yvette. I’d probably dreamed that anyway.

“I missed you.”

My cheeks must have been scarlet. “I missed you too.”

Her lips were incredibly close to mine, just a feather’s touch away. I could feel her soft breath on my skin, sweet like berries. She was so close, so close…

“Aaaaahhh!” A blood-curdling scream from the water.

I shot up, racing to the shoreline. My feet were wet before I knew it. “Mikey, what’s wrong? I’m here!”

“Seaweed!” he screamed, peeling green slime from his shoulder and launching it at me. It landed smack in the middle of my top.

Tiffany howled when I turned around.

“What are you laughing at?” I asked. “It’s your T-shirt.”

She shrugged. “Plenty more where that came from.”

“My aunt thinks you’re a liar,” I said before the filter kicked in. “Sorry. Just because you’ve been so many places and you act like you’re rich even though your grandparents aren’t. But whatever. She’s just jealous.”

Tiffany’s expression fell, and I knew I’d hurt her badly. “Are you jealous too?”

“Of course,” I said, trying to laugh it off. “I got a taste of the good life at those rich people’s cottage. I could get used to that.”

“My parents have a place like those ones,” Tiffany said, acting haughty now.

I wasn’t sure how to react. Maybe she was lying. “So why aren’t you there?”

Tiffany sat up very straight, her lips pursed tight.

“Becca, where’s my towel?” Mikey dragged himself out of the water, his wet undies clinging to his skin.

“You didn’t bring a towel, remember? You’ll just have to air-dry.”

When I looked at Tiffany, her haughty shoulders had fallen and she was biting her bottom lip.

“Sorry,” I said, and I meant it.

“My parents are sick of me.”

I wasn’t expecting that, not for one second. “What do you mean?”

Mikey wandered barefoot toward the raspberry thatch, and I hollered at him to put on his flip-flops.

“My parents are sick of me,” Tiffany repeated, like it was simple and I should understand. “They’ve been sick of me since the moment I was born. My dad’s always working—he works in oil, which is where the money comes from—and my mom… I don’t know. She’d just rather not have me around.”

“So they sent you to stay with your grandparents because they’re sick of you?”

“Not just because of that.” She toyed with the cross around her neck—the one with the tiger’s eye in the middle. “There was… well, I got into some trouble or whatever. It’s stupid. They said I needed to learn the value of an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, which is so stupid, because what do they know? My dad gets cash thrown at him for doing next to nothing, and my mom’s never worked a day in her life! But whatever, right? Parents!”

I laughed, though I didn’t mean to. We came from such different worlds, and somehow we both got sloughed off onto other family members. But if our parents hadn’t bundled us both away to the same cottage community this summer, we’d never have met. So it was kind of like… kismet.

Before I could explain any of that to Tiffany, I heard another scream. This time, I rolled my eyes as I turned toward Mikey, who was racing across the island shore. “What now, booger-breath?”

Tiffany stood at my side as my little brother held up what he’d found in the water. “Didn’t this used to be yours?”

Seaweed clung to her sopping wet apron and pine needles stuck out of her frazzled red hair. One of her fingers had broken off. But it was Yvette. I’d know her jealous stare anywhere.

The last thing I heard was Mikey asking “Becca?” as I dropped like a stone into Tiffany’s arms.

Chapter 17

 

“Rebecca Jane Warren, don’t you ever scare me like that again!”

My aunt’s arms wrapped tight around me. Her big breasts pressed against my front. I squirmed uncomfortably, but I couldn’t escape.

“Ouch, my neck! Aunt Libby, let go!”

Tiffany and Uncle Flip stood beside my bed in the Jones’s cottage. At first, I wasn’t sure why they were looking at me so pathetically. Then it all came streaming back. I sat up too fast and my head started spinning. I fought the confusion, and looked around the room for police presence.

“Where did they go?”

“Where did who go?” my uncle asked.

Tiffany moved closer, kneeling beside the bed. “Are you okay?” She fingered the tiger’s eye bracelet she’d made, and I could see in her sad eyes that she felt like she’d failed me. “I was so worried about you, Bec.”

Everything inside me wanted to pull Tiffany into my arms and kiss her like a sailor on leave, but not in front of my aunt and uncle. “Did the police come after me? Am I going to jail?”

My aunt looked at my uncle, and they both smiled the way people smile at children who’ve just said something ridiculous. “No, sweetheart. You’re not going to jail.”

Uncle Flip gazed at Tiffany, who didn’t seem to notice. “We’ll talk about that a little later, just the three of us.”

“No,” I said, feeling like a petulant child. “I want to know now. It’s my life. What did they say?”

Aunt Libby took my hand, but I slipped it away from her, folding myself up as small as I could go. It was my uncle who said, “We told them everything you’d been through—with your dad, finding out about the charges and the sentence, all that. It affected you very deeply. They understood that you’re a good girl who just acted out because of this trauma in the family.”

I wanted to yell at him, to say, “I’m not a child and I’m not crazy person! Stop talking to me like that!” But my throat closed up and I couldn’t say a word.

“We also mentioned this whole affair with the doll,” my aunt said. “The officers agreed that you could benefit from a few sessions with…” She cleared her throat. She wasn’t looking at me anymore. “Well, you know, just talking with someone.”

The doll?

The doll!?

My heart slowed until it felt like a block of ice in my chest. I’d never told them about Yvette. Never. The only person I’d told was… Tiffany…

She bit her lip. I didn’t have to say a word.

“I’m sorry,” she said in a whisper. “I thought they should know. I was worried, and if you really think that doll started a fire… I mean, wouldn’t you have done the same thing if our roles were reversed?”

“No!” I snapped. “If you told me a secret, I’d keep it. I wouldn’t go spreading it all around town.”

“Not town,” my aunt said, defending Tiffany. “Just us. Just family.”

“And you never said it was a secret,” Tiffany piped in.

Uncle Flip overlapped with them. “Becca, honey, you know a doll didn’t burn down your room. You know that’s impossible.”

“But it happened!” I didn’t know why I was arguing. I should have just shut my mouth and let them think I was a normal person. “You said yourselves how weird it was that only my furniture burned and nothing else caught fire. And how come I found her in the dresser drawer and she wasn’t burnt at all? How did she even get there? Yvette is real! I don’t know how, but she can move and talk and do stuff. She’s evil!”

“A doll can’t be evil,” Uncle Flip said, gesturing toward the bedroom window.

I turned around fast, scared to death that Yvette would be sitting there on the sill. Thank God she wasn’t. But he’d pointed that way for a reason, and when I looked out the window I caught sight of my brother on the Jones’s front lawn. He had Yvette stretched out in front of him, swinging her around in his arms.

Every bit of pain in my body dissipated as I launched myself off the end of the bed. I didn’t even feel my feet moving under me, carrying me down the stairs and out through the store.

“Put her down!” I screamed, falling to my knees beside my brother.

I hit Yvette out of Mikey’s hands, but he chased her battered body across the lawn. “Hey, don’t hit Yvette! She’s cool!”

“She’s not cool, she’s the devil. She’ll kill you, Mikey.” A chill ran down my spine, and I sat back on my heels as my brother hugged my doll. “Wait, what did you call her?”

He looked up at me like that was a stupid question. “Yvette.”

“How did you know her name?”

“She told me,” Mikey said with a shrug. “She talks.”

My stomach tied itself in a mass of knots. The pain was so intense I had to hug myself tight. My body didn’t feel like my own. My brain hurt, like a headache but way worse. She talks. Yvette talks.

“What did she say to you?” I grabbed Mikey’s arm, trying to get him to let go of evil Yvette. “Tell me what she said.”

Suddenly, there were hands on my shoulders, pulling me off my little brother.

“Rebecca!” my aunt hollered.

“Bec, cut it out.” Uncle Flip heaved me to my feet and right away I started shaking in his arms. “Becca? You okay?”

No. Not even a little bit.

I heard Tiffany scream, but my field of vision was so blurry all I saw was a blonde halo around a white dress. Her hand found mine and squeezed. Something inside of me was fading. Everything was getting hazy again, and I was scaring myself.

And then my belly rumbled and my butt clenched.

“Bathroom,” I said, wriggling out of my uncle’s grip. “I have to go.”

My feet took off beneath me and I raced into the Jones’s cottage and up the stairs. Tiffany’s grandmother shouted after me, “Rebecca! Up and at ‘em, I see,” but I didn’t stop to chat. I made it to the bathroom just in time, and that’s when I realized I’d never changed the tampon I’d stolen from the rich people the day before.

“Oh no…” I closed my eyes and tried to remember what I’d learned in health class. If you left a tampon in too long, you could get toxic shock: fever, chills, nausea, delusions. What were the other symptoms? Oh yeah. Diarrhea…

It was starting to seem like my embarrassments would never end. Why couldn’t I just have a normal life like a normal person? Why did a jealous doll have to be obsessed with me? Why did my dad have to be an irresponsible drunken murderer and ruin my life? And why couldn’t I have a period without nearly killing myself?

“I’ll be fine.” I washed my hands and looked at myself in the mirror. “Listen up, Rebecca. You’ll never be normal, but you will be fine.” My knees buckled and I pressed my weight against the sink. “Okay, so maybe I need a nap. And then I’ll be fine.”

There was a knock at the bathroom door, and I prayed it wasn’t Tiffany. I didn’t want her smelling the foul odour I’d created.

“Rebecca, honey?” My aunt’s voice had never sounded so sweet. “How are you feeling?”

“Bad.” I was too embarrassed to tell her I’d possibly poisoned my blood by leaving a tampon in too long. When I opened the door, she was right there, wearing the worried smile parents all seemed to know.

“I need to lie down for a bit.”

“Your uncle thinks guilt is eating away at you.” Aunt Libby helped me to bed. “But I think something isn’t sitting well. What did you have for dinner last night?”

I don’t know if my aunt was trying to make me laugh, but it worked. “Let’s see… black olives, sardines, mixed nuts, dried figs…”

“That’ll do it every time,” my aunt said with a chuckle. Her expression of concern faded when I settled into the spare bed in Tiffany’s room. I felt a lot better just getting off my feet.

Aunt Libby sat quietly beside me for so long I started feeling anxious. She was going to say something, wasn’t she? Something that would make me uncomfortable. That’s what followed awkward silences, in my family: words you didn’t want to hear, and then the itchiest discomfort imaginable.

“Where’s Tiffany?” I asked, and immediately regretted it.

Aunt Libby’s expression turned balmy and she reached for my hand. “You really like this girl, don’t you Rebecca?”

My brain started buzzing, and I would have kicked myself if my feet didn’t feel like cement blocks under crisp white sheets.

“It’s okay.” My aunt squeezed my hand. “There’s nothing wrong with that. Don’t ever let anybody tell you there is.”

“I know. I won’t.” Tears welled in my eyes, but I didn’t want to cry. I’d shown enough emotion for one day. Time to change the subject. “I tried to call my mom last night. I tried a few times, but the line was busy.”

Aunt Libby nodded. “She’s had to take the phone off the hook just for now.”

“Why?” I asked, and as soon as the question left my mouth I realized how stupid I was. Why hadn’t I thought of it last night? I’d seen this sort of thing in enough movies and TV shows, back when I was allowed to watch TV. “People are calling the house, aren’t they? Like those people on the radio who say my dad’s a murderer? Are they threatening my mom? Is she okay?”

If I’d been a few years younger, my aunt would have told me everything was fine. But everything wasn’t fine, and I knew it. No more pretending.

With a heavy sigh, my aunt said, “Your mom is coping. Things aren’t easy for her just now.”

“I should be home. I should be helping.”

“That’s very thoughtful of you.” My aunt kissed my forehead. “Your Aunt Margo’s at the house with her, keeping an eye on things. They’ve got the number for a nice police officer who wants to keep your family safe, kiddo. Everything’s under control.”

An image flashed across my mind, of the officer with the moustache who’d been so nice to me. Hard to believe how much had happened in just one day.

Curling up, I wrapped my arms around my aunt. It reminded me of hugging my uncle three years ago, when he got so mad at me for flushing the finicky cottage toilet. That was the day he’d pulled Yvette off the shelf and given her to me as a “period gift.”

A grim smile spread across my lips, but tears came as soon as I uttered the words, “I don’t want to go to jail.”

“Oh, Rebecca Jane.” Aunt Libby rubbed my back, like she knew nothing she said could possibly console me. “Sweetheart, you’re not going to jail—not if you quit breaking into houses. That, and stealing books in town! What, are you training to be a cat burglar?”

I knew my aunt was trying to cheer me up, and I tried to resist. There was a big part of me that still wanted to be mad at her, but I was just too tired. “Why didn’t you tell me about my dad?”

Aunt Libby held me, rocked me side to side. “You know why, kiddo.”

“But tell me again.”

She sighed, and before she could answer I saw Tiffany standing in the doorway. I straightened up. I felt like such a baby, and I didn’t want Tiffany to see me that way, even though I was sure she’d understand.

Aunt Libby turned too, and when she caught sight of Tiffany, she asked, “Everything all right?”

“How’s the patient feeling?” She smiled sweetly at me. “You okay?”

“Yeah.” I lied. I was sweating and freezing, both at once.

“Grandma made you soup. It’s chicken noodle.”

I hadn’t even noticed the tray in Tiffany’s hands. “Thanks. Smells good.”

She shrugged. “It’s from a can.”

“That’s okay.” I glanced swiftly from my aunt to Tiffany. “I don’t think I’ve ever had chicken noodle soup that wasn’t from a can.”

Tiffany didn’t move. She seemed to be waiting for my aunt to leave, but Aunt Libby wasn’t taking the hint.

“Is it okay if I stay here a few more days?” I asked.

Aunt Libby looked confused, because it was a question she’d answered ages ago. “Yes, of course.” After a long stretch of time, she finally stood up. “I think I’ll go downstairs and thank Mr. and Mrs. Jones. It really is kind of them to take you in until we get you some new furniture. And, Rebecca, do come home for dinner if you’re feeling up to it. We’ve got quite a lot to discuss as a family.”

I slumped back in bed, under the weight of everything my aunt and uncle thought about me: I was crazy, I was a criminal, I needed therapy, I needed help.

When Aunt Libby was gone, Tiffany came to my bedside and set the lunch tray on the table. “Want me to feed you?”

I laughed. “I’m not a baby. I can hold a spoon by myself.”

She wrapped the steaming bowl of soup in a tea towel and held it in my lap. My brain felt so muddled, but once I sipped a spoonful of soup I started feeling a bit more myself.

“You scared me,” she said.

“I’m sorry.”

She shrugged, making the soup surge in the bowl. “It’s not your fault.”

For a while, I didn’t say anything. I just slurped my soup and watched Tiffany’s sad blue eyes follow the motion of my spoon from the bowl to my lips.

“I don’t like the police either,” Tiffany said.

I wasn’t sure what she meant. “They were actually pretty nice to me.”

“Not to me,” she said, gazing into my soup. “Not even when I was little. I think they figured I was a rich brat. Maybe I was. Maybe I am.”

When she didn’t say anything more, I asked, “What are you talking about?”

She glanced at the open door. “There’s a reason my parents sent me here.”

“Because they didn’t want you around, you said.”

Tiffany nodded. “Yeah, because I was always getting in trouble.”

“You were?” I took the soup bowl from her and held it against my chest. “What kind of trouble?”

“Stealing stuff.” Tiffany stood from my bed and sat on her own. “Shoplifting.”

“But I thought you had lots of money,” I said without thinking. “What were you stealing?”

“Stupid stuff. Anything. Makeup and jewellery, at first, but I never got caught for that, so I started stealing clothes and big things. It’s not that I couldn’t afford it. I didn’t even want most of it, I just…”

I slurped soup noodles, waiting for more.

“Dr. Woodman says I wanted to get caught. She says I was shoplifting to get my parents’ attention, because I felt like they didn’t care about me. Which is true. I’ve felt that way all my life. It’s like I was born and then they forgot I existed.”

“Who’s Dr. Woodman?”

“My shrink.” Tiffany took a soda cracker from my lunch tray and crushed it in her palm. Little cracker flakes fell into the pile of dirty clothes beside her bed. “She’s written, like, fourteen books. She’s really famous, actually.”

“Isn’t it weird, lying on a couch, telling some stranger your innermost thoughts?” The idea of being analysed by anyone, famous or not, put me on edge.

“When I tried to steal an eight-thousand dollar engagement ring, the police wanted to send me to, like, some juvenile detention centre or whatever. They were such jerks about it. My parents hired a good lawyer, though. He argued that I was a kleptomaniac and all I needed was a good therapist.”

“What did you want an engagement ring for?” Again, not the point of what she was saying. I don’t know why, but that’s all I wanted to know.

When Tiffany didn’t answer, I thought maybe she hadn’t heard me. “Why did you steal an engagement ring?”

“I didn’t get away with it,” she snapped. “I got caught, so who cares? Maybe I just steal because I’m bad.”

A chill shivered my bones, and I shook hard enough that chicken noodle soup splashed across my T-shirt.

“Oh, shoot.” Tiffany took the bowl from my hands. “Here, let me get you something else to wear.”

“Do you have pyjamas or something? I don’t know why, but I’m super-super-tired.”

Tiffany pulled a long sleep shirt from the dresser. It was bright blue with tropical fish silkscreened across the front. “Is this okay?”

“Sure.”

Since I’d come to stay with the Joneses, I’d always changed in the bathroom. I never felt comfortable taking off my clothes in front of other people—especially other girls. Even for gym class, I always changed with my back to them.

“Take your top off,” Tiffany said. Her tone was casual, but I saw the gleam in her eye and I wished so much that I didn’t feel sick.

The soup had soaked through Tiffany’s T-shirt and my bra, so I took them both off. I did it fast, before I could second-guess myself, and then I sat in bed with the covers down at my waist.

Tiffany stood there, just staring at me, and I sat there, just letting her. In front of anyone else, I’d have felt ashamed of my body. With Tiffany, I felt proud. I wanted her to touch me, but when I leaned forward a chill danced across my skin.

“Sorry,” Tiffany said, and slipped the sleep top over my head. I pushed off my spandex pants but kept on my socks and underwear as I pulled the covers all the way up to my neck. “Look, I haven’t helped my grandparents all day.”

“Go,” I said, though I was still shivering. “I’m fine. Really.”

“I’ll be right downstairs. Holler if you need anything, and if you’re feeling really crappy I’ll run and get your aunt. Sound good?”

I nodded, trying to look as convincing as possible.

When she’d gone downstairs, I felt a weird warmth around my wrist. It took a second before I remembered the tiger’s eye bracelet Tiffany had made for me. It was supposed to offer me protection.

The image of Mikey playing with Yvette flashed across my mind, and I heard those words: “She talks.”

Another shiver ran through me, but this chill wasn’t from fever or shock. Yvette had come back. I thought I’d gotten rid of her, but she’d found her way home.

I was going to need all the protection I could get.

Chapter 18

 

“Oh.” My aunt’s smile fell. “You brought her.”

Tiffany stood outside our cottage even after I’d walked through the door. “Am I not invited?”

“Of course you are,” my uncle said. He and Mikey were setting the table. “We’re happy to have you, Tiffany. The more the merrier.”

“Well…” My aunt turned to look at Uncle Flip and they had one of those married couple psychic conversations I couldn’t understand. Finally, Aunt Libby gave in and said, “It’s nothing fancy, tonight. Just fish.”

“I like fish,” Tiffany said. “As long as it’s not too fishy.”

Aunt Libby stared at my uncle, like she was chastising him for letting Tiffany stay, and that made me uncomfortable. I could smell dinner on the air, and it did seem pretty fishy.

“So, how’s the patient?” Uncle Flip asked, ignoring my aunt’s glare.

“A lot better,” Tiffany said, answering for me as I plopped down on the couch. “A couple days of bed rest was all she needed. She even felt good enough to work in the store with me this afternoon.”

“Glad to hear you’re on the mend,” my aunt said without looking at me.

“Your brother sure missed having you around,” Uncle Flip said.

Mikey didn’t waste a moment before answering back. “No I didn’t. I have a new sister now.”

I hadn’t noticed before that moment, but he was holding a doll in one hand while he set the table with the other.

He was holding Yvette.

My heart fluttered fast and then stopped all at once. Her hair was a mess but her eyes were blank. There was a crack across one cheek, and she was now missing a shoe in addition to a finger. Her clothes were stained from more than just the lake. I could smell her. She was rancid.

“Eww, Mikey.” I held my nose, and not just for effect. “How can you stand the stink of that thing?”

“You’re just jealous because she likes me now and she doesn’t like you.”

“Don’t you smell it?” I asked my uncle.

He shrugged. “Just let your brother—”

“What do you mean she doesn’t like Rebecca?” Tiffany asked. She sat in Uncle Flip’s chair in the living room and beckoned Mikey to her side. “Has the doll been talking to you?”

“Yeah,” he said. “She talks all the time. She talks so much she wakes me up sometimes.”

Aunt Libby and Uncle Flip didn’t seem to be listening, or they didn’t seem to care. Like this was a children’s game and it was cute. Why couldn’t they see that it wasn’t make-believe? Yvette was real, and she was dangerous.

“What does she say to you?” Tiffany asked.

Mikey looked at me like he didn’t want to answer. “She says she doesn’t like you. Both of you. She says she wishes you were dead.”

“Mikey!” my aunt hollered from the kitchen. “That’s a terrible thing to say. Play nice, will you?”

“It’s not me,” he told my aunt. “It’s Yvette. Get mad at her.”

But my aunt and uncle weren’t paying attention anymore. They were too busy stirring pots and flipping fish.

“What else does she say?” Tiffany probed, and I knew by her calm intensity that she was starting to believe everything I’d told her. “Did she tell you how she started the fire in Rebecca’s room?”

For a split second, Yvette’s beady eyes blazed. I jumped on the couch, and my throat made a gasping sound. Tiffany and Mikey both looked at me weird, but in that flash of a moment Yvette’s eyes returned to their normal glossy state.

Mikey called me a spaz, but Tiffany asked, “What’s wrong, Bec? You’re white as a sheet.”

“Nothing.” I shook my head. I didn’t want to say.

“Wash up, kids.” My aunt started heaping our plates with mashed potatoes. “Dinner’s ready. Mikey, leave your doll in the living room, please.”

Tiffany got up from her chair, leaving her white leather purse on the seat. When she stood up, Mikey set Yvette in her place, and I was glad I wouldn’t be able to see her from the dinner table.

“That doll totally gives me the creeps,” Tiffany said as we washed our hands.

Mikey only dunked his hands in the basin, and then sprinted out of the room.

I tried not to be embarrassed that the water was slick with soap. “And she stinks, right? Can you smell her?”

“I don’t know, Bec. Your whole cottage smells pretty grody, to me. Like a sewer.”

A deep shame knotted my stomach. I could tell that Tiffany thought she was just stating the obvious, but she was right and there was no denying it. What kind of people only flushed their toilet once a day? We were disgusting, living like this. My family was trash. There was no hiding it.

“And this water’s probably full of bacteria,” Tiffany said. “And when was the last time this towel got washed? Look, it’s brown on one side.”

“Shut up!”

Anger burned in my belly. I lunged at her right there in our smelly, dirty bathroom and kissed her hard enough the she whimpered. She started to pull away, but she had nowhere to go. The counter was behind her and I was in front of her, trapping her there, holding her in my kiss.

She gave up fighting when I pressed my chest to hers. I’d worn my overalls, but I could feel the sweet softness of her breasts even through the hard denim. I wanted to strip her. I wanted her naked. I wanted her.

“Girls!” my aunt called. “Dinner’s getting cold.”

Tiffany pulled away from me, giggling impishly. “We’d better go.”

I nipped at her bottom lip, but she pushed me away, smiling. Her lips were red and raw. No question my aunt and uncle would know we’d been kissing.

The bathroom door wasn’t fully closed, of course, but when I pushed it all the way open I was surprised to find the living room littered with stuff.

“Aunt Libby, look what Mikey did! He dumped out Tiffany’s purse all over the floor!”

“No I didn’t.” My little brother stood beside the coffee table, holding Tiffany’s white leather purse in both hands, unzipped and empty. “Wasn’t me.”

Tiffany fell to her knees, picking up the tampons first. I was glad I wasn’t the only girl in the world who felt ashamed about her period. Grabbing the purse from Mikey, I got down on the carpet and filled the leather satchel with loose change while Tiffany picked up her Sony Walkman. The headphones were unplugged and the unit was open with her favourite Madonna cassette hanging out. The shiny black tape was pulled from the casing in streams across the living room. Tiffany wore a noticeable scowl, but she didn’t say anything—not to Mikey or to me.

“He’ll buy you a new one,” I said, glaring at my brother. “With his own money.”

“But I didn’t do it!”

“Mikey!” my aunt hollered, stomping to the living room. “You never touch a girl’s purse without permission. That’s private. You understand me?”

“I didn’t do it,” he said. “It was Yvette. She was mad because Rebecca kissed Tiffany in the bathroom.”

My heart clenched as I looked my aunt straight in the face. She must have read me like a book. My eyes were always way more honest than I wanted them to be. I couldn’t help it. Plus, my lips still felt plump from kissing, and they tasted like Tiffany’s strawberry lip gloss.

Thankfully, my aunt blinked away what she’d seen and pretended like she hadn’t heard what Mikey said. “Help the girls pick up this mess, and you apologize to Tiffany for ruining her tape.”

“It wasn’t me!” Mikey cried, and his voice had such a pleading quality that I actually believed him. “Yvette did it! She’s mad at Rebecca for liking Tiffany, and for throwing her in the septic tank!”

Yvette stood stiffly on my uncle’s chair, smirking, and my stomach plunged. Mikey had no way of knowing I’d thrown my doll in the tank. I hadn’t told anyone about that, except Tiffany, and when would she have confided in my little brother?

“Think about what you’re saying.” My aunt went back to serving out dinner. “How on earth would a doll tear apart a girl’s purse?”

“Or a girl’s room?” I muttered. “Or set her furniture on fire, or escape from sewage, or haunt the rich people’s cottage?”

Tiffany looked up at me, and she seemed scared. For the first time since Yvette had washed up on the island, Mikey looked scared too.

“She’s evil,” I told them, loud enough for my aunt to hear. Aunt Libby turned around and looked at me, and her concerned gaze lingered against mine. “I’m not crazy. It really happened. All of it.”

Aunt Libby’s expression softened until I thought maybe, finally, she might believe me.

“Thanks,” Tiffany mumbled, taking her purse from my hands and placing it gently on the couch.

“It wasn’t me,” Mikey defended himself.

Tiffany offered him half a smile as we sat at the table. “I know.”

It felt good to eat real food, even if it was fish. We picked at our meal in silence, until my uncle tried to make conversation. “So, Bec, did you start your new needlework project? Your aunt showed me the kit. It looks pretty challenging.”

“Yeah, I got a lot done.”

“I guess a few sick days aren’t the end of the world,” my aunt said.

My uncle followed that up quickly, saying, “Not that we weren’t worried about you.”

As silence overcame us, the phone rang in the living room. It made me jump because I knew in my gut who it was going to be. Mikey looked at me while Aunt Libby got up to answer, and I could see in his eyes that he knew, too.

Aunt Libby glanced quickly at us before picking up the phone. “Hello? Hey, how’s it going?” She breathed in sharply, and that worried me. I couldn’t hear the voice on the line, but I knew who it was. “Oh, well, Rebecca was sick for a few days. No, she’s fit as a fiddle now. We’re just eating supper.”

I wondered suddenly if anyone had told my mother about my furniture burning down. Worse yet, had the police contacted her after my little breaking-and-entering ordeal? Oh God, I didn’t want her to know about that. She had enough on her mind.

“Mikey?” Aunt Libby clasped her hand over the receiver. “It’s your mother.”

Usually, Mikey would be clawing at the phone. This time, he didn’t even look up.

“Mikey,” my uncle said. “Your aunt’s speaking to you.”

My brother stared at his plate, and I understood how he was feeling better than he’d ever know.

“Rebecca?” My aunt tried me next. “You’ve got a fair deal to discuss, you and your mum.”

I could tell the she was holding the phone out in my direction, but I didn’t turn around. There were so many emotions flitting around inside of me. The second I heard my mother’s voice, I knew I’d have a meltdown. I wasn’t entirely sure if I would scream or cry, but it would be something and it would be messy. I didn’t want to lose it in front of my family, and I definitely didn’t want to lose it in front of Tiffany. Also, if my mother knew about my close encounter with the police, I wasn’t in the mood for the lecture.

“Becca?” my uncle said softly. “You don’t want to talk to your mother?”

I shook my head without looking at him.

“You were trying to call her before, your aunt said.” Uncle Flip’s soft concern made me want to cry. “Here’s your chance, Bec.”

Picking a thin strand of bone from my fish, I shook my head more committedly.

“You’re sure?” Aunt Libby asked.

I nodded, feeling Tiffany’s cool hand on my arm. I didn’t push it away. When she set her head on my shoulder, I didn’t push that away either.

“Fine,” my aunt clucked, then picked up the entire phone and carried it out the front door. I could hear the timbre of her voice through the screen, but I wasn’t sure what she was saying. All I hoped was that she wouldn’t talk about me.

“You okay?” Tiffany asked, petting my arm.

I couldn’t nod with her head on my shoulder, so I just whispered, “Yeah.”

My throat burned. I wanted to shove food down it, but I knew it would just get stuck and I’d end up hacking fish across the table. Maybe water? Cool water would help my poor swollen throat.

I reached across my plate slowly because I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. As soon as my fingers met my glass something weird happened. It cracked where my thumb touched it, and again where my four fingers met the surface. I pulled my hand away just in time. The glass shattered, sending broken shards across the table. My uncle looked up when a piece of glass landed on his plate. I hadn’t seen his eyes blaze like that since the time I flushed the toilet without permission.

“Rebecca!” He sounded more shocked than angry. “What happened?”

“I don’t know,” I said, hoping to High Heaven he’d believe me. “My glass… I went to pick it up… it just… I don’t know!”

“It just broke on its own,” my brother chimed in. “I saw it.”

“Me too,” Tiffany said. She looked more spooked than any of us. “That was so weird. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.”

My uncle gazed slowly between the three of us. My aunt was still outside the door, speaking in hushed tones.

“Let’s clean this up before your aunt gets a load of the mess we’ve made, huh?” Uncle Flip made an attempt to sound chipper. It came out fake, but I couldn’t blame him for trying. “These glasses were your grandmother’s. They’re from the fifties. Can’t get stuff like this anymore.”

“That’s because they’re ugly,” Mikey said, wobbling his glass.

“Yeah, buddy.” Uncle Flip laughed, sounding a little more at ease now. “You can say that again—but not around your aunt.”

The set was decorated with silver and blue rectangles, the kind with rounded edges. They were long out of fashion.

“I still don’t know how it broke,” I said. “I only touched it.”

“You’re a klutz,” my brother teased. “A clumsy klutzy Martina!”

“Shut up!” I smacked the back of my brother’s head while Uncle Flip ushered glass shards to the garbage.

“Don’t hit your brother!” my uncle hollered half-heartedly. “And, Mikey, what did your aunt tell you about toys at the table?”

We all looked to where Uncle Flip was pointing, and when we saw what had taken Aunt Libby’s spot, Tiffany shrieked like a blonde in a horror movie. She flew out of her seat, which was next to my aunt’s, and jumped into my lap. I don’t know how I managed to catch her through my shock. All my muscles locked when I caught sight of Yvette sitting in my aunt’s chair.

“I didn’t put her there,” Mikey stammered. “I didn’t, Uncle Flip. I didn’t bring her to the table.”

“He didn’t,” I said. “He put her in the living room. I saw him do it.”

My uncle looked between Mikey, Tiffany, and me. At first, I saw my own fear reflected in his face. But that only lasted a few seconds. Then he shook it off and said, “A doll isn’t going to move on its own, now, is it?”

Tiffany shook in my arms. “But she did!”

“Do you believe me now?” I barked at my brother. “You shouldn’t have pulled her out of that lake. She’s evil.”

For a second, I thought Mikey would agree with me. Then, just like Uncle Flip, he shook his head and said, “No she’s not. She just wants to be at the table with the rest of us. She doesn’t want to be left out. Yvette hates being left out. She told me that before.”

“Left out how?” Tiffany asked, and I was pretty sure I knew what she was getting at.

“Like when people who are her friends do things without her,” my brother said.

Tiffany straightened up a little, and nearly fell off my lap when she did. “You mean like when her friend goes on a trip to town with a different friend, and they don’t bring her along?”

“She didn’t even want to come,” Mikey said, standing up. His voice sounded weird, not like him at all. “Yvette hates you, Tiffany. She doesn’t want to be your friend. She doesn’t even want to be Rebecca’s friend anymore. Only mine. That’s what she said.”

“Enough of this.” Uncle Flip picked up Yvette, and we all gasped, like we thought something really bad was about to happen. “If you kids can’t share, then nobody gets the doll. She’s going back on the shelf.”

He was talking to us like we were all Mikey’s age, and that made me feel itchy inside my chest. But I sure was glad he’d taken Yvette away.

The door hinges squealed, and Aunt Libby stepped inside the cottage. Her eyes went immediately to Tiffany sitting in my lap, clinging to my neck. “Girls! What’s going on?”

Everybody spoke at once. I don’t even know what I was saying—something about Yvette, and how my glass broke and she’d moved from the living room, but Uncle Flip didn’t believe she was evil.

When we finally finished babbling at her, all she said was, “Tiffany, sit on your own chair, please.”

Uncle Flip returned to the table, and we all went quiet again. I didn’t even realize the question was on my mind until I heard myself asking, “Is my mom okay?”

Aunt Libby considered me with sad eyes. “She’s coping, I’d say. It would have been nice to hear her children’s voices.”

I didn’t hear anything after that. My whole head buzzed, and guilt gnawed at the knots in my stomach. I couldn’t seem to decide if I was mad at my mother or if I wanted to console her. With my father, it was easy. I hated him, plain and simple. But my mom? She’d lied to me… but she’d lied because she didn’t want to hurt me. Maybe, if I were in her shoes, I’d have done the same thing.

When dinner was over, Tiffany and I washed and dried the dishes. She talked at me some, but I only half listened. The next thing I remembered hearing was my aunt’s voice as we put on our shoes to leave.

“Rebecca,” My aunt said, casting a knowing glare in my direction. “I think it would be best if you stayed here now that you’re feeling better.”

My heart dropped into my high-tops. “But… I don’t even have a bed here.”

“You can sleep on the couch for one night,” Aunt Libby said. “Tomorrow we’ll find you a bed at the swap meet.”

“But—”

My uncle cut me off. “Listen to your aunt, Bec.”

I knew what they were thinking, but I didn’t know how to tell them not to worry. “Please?”

“Don’t spaz,” Tiffany whispered. “I’ll see you tomorrow at the swap meet, okay?”

My aunt picked up her crocheting and Uncle Flip went back to his book. They seemed to think that if they gave me that little bit of leeway to say goodbye, I’d reward them by obeying their commands.

Nope.

Grabbing Tiffany’s hand, I pulled her out the door. It was only seven-thirty, still brilliantly bright outside. We had the whole night ahead of us.

Chapter 19

 

“Why didn’t you talk to your mom?” Tiffany asked as she unclasped my overalls.

“I don’t want to think about it.” When I saw the hurt in her eyes, I said, “Sorry. Just, not right now, okay?”

She smiled, and then kissed my lips softly. “What do you want right now? Hmm?”

My heart raced, and I glanced toward the closed bedroom door. Aunt Libby had called the Joneses right after we walked inside. She didn’t ask to speak with me, and I’m not exactly sure what she said to Tiffany’s grandma, but Mrs. Jones didn’t tell me to leave.

Even so, I had this weird fear that my aunt would come bursting through the door the moment I took off my clothes.

“You believe me, don’t you?”

Tiffany held my wrist, denting my skin with the tiger’s eye bracelet. “Believe what, Bec?”

“About Yvette. About the doll.” I looked right into Tiffany’s eyes, and I knew she understood. “She’s evil.”

“I don’t think anyone is purely evil.” Tiffany brushed her fingers over mine, making me shiver. “Anyone or anything. From what you’ve told me, she never acted this way before we met. Maybe she’s just jealous.”

Just jealous? My uncle would think we were both crazy, talking like this. And maybe we were.

“I needed her,” I told Tiffany. “Back when my uncle first gave me Yvette, I didn’t have any friends. I had my family, but I never talk to them about personal stuff. She was there. I guess she was, like, my only friend.”

“And now you have someone else in your life,” Tiffany said. “Someone you care about, and she feels threatened. She feels like you don’t need her anymore.”

Maybe I was channelling Uncle Flip, but I asked, “Do you know how nuts this all sounds? How can she feel anything? She’s not real.” I fell across Tiffany’s bed. “God, what is she?”

“I don’t know.” Tiffany curled in behind me and wrapped one arm around my front. “Maybe the doll is possessed by some kind of ghost or spirit or whatever. Maybe there was an energy floating homeless around the woods exactly when you needed someone to talk to. Maybe she needed to be needed, and she was drawn in by your emotions. Whatever’s so obsessed with you, it’s using the doll as a container, like a body.”

A chill ran through me. “How do I get rid of it?”

Tiffany kissed my neck. Her lips were hot, and her breath warm in my ear when she said, “I really don’t know.”

I slept in Tiffany’s bed that night. It was the first time, for me. I didn’t ask if it was hers, because I had a sinking feeling I’d be disappointed. The last thing I wanted was to become jealous. I’d seen what jealousy had done to Yvette.

My dream had something to do with Tiffany stealing an engagement ring. Maybe I was a little bit awake, because I started wondering why that, why a ring? Who was it for? It seemed unlikely that Tiffany would steal an engagement ring for herself. Some people our age got engaged, even if our parents and our friends told us we were too young. That ring must have been for another girl.

In my half-sleep, I felt something flutter across my cheek and I smiled because I thought it must be Tiffany kissing me sweetly. When I felt it again, I realized it was fabric, maybe the edge of the sheet, on my face. I tried to open my eyes, but I was too tired. And then a strange sensation warmed my wrist. Everywhere my bracelet touched, my skin tingled. I got pins and needles, but only in the places where the tiger’s eye met my flesh.

I felt a strange pressure on my hair, on the back of my head, and I told my eyes to open but they wouldn’t. I told my body to roll over, but it couldn’t. Sleep had me locked in place, stuck there.

Twin beds weren’t easy to share. I was on my side and there was hardly room to turn around, but I gave it my all. My heart was racing, though I didn’t know why. The tiger’s eye sent little blasts of electricity all down my arm. What on earth was happening to me?

I heard a muffled gasp, and I roused enough to whip my head around. Through the misty daze of sleep, I saw something so atrocious I knew I must be dreaming. At the same time, I knew I was most definitely wide awake.

Yvette!

I tried to say her name, but I didn’t make a sound. My voice was trapped somewhere inside me, along with my ability to move. Nevertheless, I knew she heard me. I knew she heard my mind talking to hers when I thought, “Get the hell off my girlfriend!”

Yvette snapped her head around. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it happen. Tiffany slept on her back and Yvette stood—one shoe on, one shoe off—on her collarbone. A pillow covered Tiffany’s face, her whole head buried beneath it. Yvette bent at the hips, arms outstretched, holding that fluffy white pillow down. Suffocating the girl I loved.

“Stop it!” I cried, still in my head. I struggled to move, but my limbs were anchored to the mattress. “Stop it, Yvette. You’re going to kill her.”

With a wink, she said, “That’s the plan.”

My heart cried out, but my lips said nothing. There was a new kind of cruelty about Yvette now. I’d been scared of her before, but this was the first time I actually feared for my life. She was a threat, this doll. Whatever my uncle said, she was real.

Tiffany wasn’t moving. In the dark, I couldn’t tell whether her chest rose or fell. I couldn’t tell if she was breathing. Maybe I’d woken up too late. Maybe Tiffany was already…

“No!” I summoned all my strength, but it wasn’t enough. “Get off!”

All I managed to do was lift my arm a little bit off the bed. It flopped back down uselessly, and I let out a growl. It must have roused something in Tiffany, because suddenly her limbs were flailing. She kicked the covers, whacking me in the back, like she couldn’t control her actions.

Tiffany screamed, and the wretched sound of that cry tore my heart in half. I thought about the bracelet she’d made for me, and what she’d said about the tiger’s eye. It hadn’t done much to protect me, had it? My father was in jail and my doll was trying to commit murder. But maybe that was my fault. Maybe I hadn’t believed enough in its power.

Yvette’s hands made deep imprints in Tiffany’s pillow. How could a doll do this? My uncle was right—it was impossible. But maybe Tiffany was right, too. Maybe Yvette possessed a strength that came from somewhere else, from some unknown entity. I couldn’t explain it, but I also couldn’t fathom how a piece of rock would carry any power. Maybe they could work against each other. I had to try something.

Tiffany’s desperate screeches were muffled by the pillow, but she’d gained some foothold in battle. Her hands were now wrapped around Yvette’s little waist. Tiffany kicked her feet against the mattress, fighting the doll so wildly she knocked me out of bed.

I fell to the floor with a thud, but the tumble clearly knocked some sense into me. My muscles came to life and I grabbed Yvette’s face, pulling back on her. Her body was like a stuck lever. No amount of force could get her to budge. She was only porcelain. How could a doll possess such strength?

The tiger’s eye was my only hope. I struggled with the clasp while Tiffany whimpered under the pillow. “It’s all right,” I told her, though my voice was barely a whisper. “It’s okay, Tiff. I know what to do.”

I wrapped my tiger’s eye bracelet around Yvette’s tiny neck. This was going to take every ounce of my strength.

Planting my feet firmly on the ground, I yanked the bracelet as hard as I could. I expected to meet resistance. I was sure I’d need to give it another go. What I didn’t expect was for Yvette to fly over my shoulder and land with a soft thwap against the carpet.

“Oh my God, Tiff, are you okay?” I tore the pillow from her face and she gasped for air, over and over, like she couldn’t get enough. Rolling onto her side, she coughed so much I was sure her grandmother would come running. Maybe I should put some pyjamas on. Our first night sleeping in the same bed, and Tiffany and I were both buck naked.

“Are you okay?” I asked again, kneeling beside her on the bed. I kept glancing over my shoulder, making sure the demon doll hadn’t come back to life. Yvette was still as could be, lying on her back with her arms and leg in the air, like she expected someone to pick her up and give her a hug.

“What happened?” Tiffany wheezed. She had both hands on her neck. “My throat’s full of feathers.”

“It was Yvette,” I said when it suddenly dawned on me that Tiffany might have thought I was the one trying to suffocate her. “Yvette was on top of you. She had the pillow on your face. I couldn’t move. It was… I thought it was a dream. I couldn’t move my muscles until you kicked me out of bed.”

Tiffany started to laugh, but that made her hack even more. “Water?”

“I’ll get you some.”

When I got back from the bathroom, Yvette hadn’t budged, but Tiffany was sitting up in bed, the covers down to her waist. She drank the water down and then pulled up the sheet. “I was dreaming, dreaming I was drowning.”

I remembered my dream, then—about Tiffany stealing an engagement ring, about wondering who it was for. But I didn’t ask. This was hardly the time.

“It was your tiger’s eye that saved the day,” I told her. “You said that it offered protection, so I wrapped it around her neck and that worked. She was too strong until then.”

Tiffany looked up at me. Her eyes glinted in the moonlight. “Wow. Thank God. I mean… thank you.”

I felt a blush coming on. “Do you think the tiger’s eye drove out the spirit, or whatever it was? I mean, look at her now.”

We both gazed at the floor, watching Yvette’s still body in fearful silence. I was sure she would spring to life again. Any minute now…

“What should we do with her?” I asked.

“How should I know?” Tiffany set her water glass on the bedside table. “In gangster movies, they roll dead bodies up in a carpet, then throw them in the lake.”

“You think that works with possessed dolls?”

“What am I, your friendly neighbourhood toy exorcist?” Tiffany slipped out of bed and into a pair of white jeans. She didn’t even put on underwear first. “Do you have any better ideas?”

“No,” I muttered, feeling like a petulant child. “You don’t have to be so mean to me.”

“Whatever!” She tugged on a neon slouch sweater that left one shoulder utterly bare. “I almost died because of your stupid doll, and you’re telling me not to be mean? Get a life, Rebecca.”

My heart sank as Tiffany stared at me with her hands on her hips. A big part of me wanted to cry, but I knew if I curled up against the wall and bit my lip just long enough, the tears would go away.

Tiffany let out an angry roar and stomped out of the room, narrowly missing Yvette. The idea of being alone with my doll made me short of breath, and I hopped off the bed, hissing, “Where are you going?”

“Just get dressed!” Tiffany whispered before disappearing downstairs.

There were clothes all over the floor, but I didn’t want to turn my back on Yvette. I picked up one of Tiffany’s skirts, but I just couldn’t put it on. Even under the direst of circumstances, I couldn’t wear a skirt anymore. So I pulled on a pair of leggings and a mint green T-shirt that went almost all the way down to my knees.

Tiffany crept back up the stairs, quiet as a mouse. She handed me a can of beans and a length of twine. “Here.”

“What’s this for?”

“Tie the tin to her back so she sinks.”

“I thought we were rolling her in a carpet.”

“We’ll do both.” Tiffany forced the tin and twine into my hands. “It’s like… cement shoes.”

“Why can’t you do it?” I tried to hand the stuff back to her, but she wouldn’t take it.

“No way, Jose! I’m not touching that bitch.”

“But I don’t want to.”

“She’s your doll.” Tiffany’s whispers were getting louder and louder. “And she tried to kill me, remember? Just do it!”

I took a deep breath and relented. “Okay, fine.”

Tiffany stood behind me as I knelt beside Yvette. Her eyes had no life in them. None at all. She was just a doll, just pieces of porcelain stitched to a core. She couldn’t hurt me.

Even so, I used a Popsicle stick from Tiffany’s night table to flip her onto her front. “Hold the beans while I tie the knot, okay?”

Tiffany second-guessed herself. “Beans don’t float, do they?”

“Not a can of them!” I just wanted to get this over with. “Hold it while I tie the twine. I’d not rocket science.”

“Fine, I’m doing it.” Tiffany knelt beside me, and her heat was all over my skin.

When Tiffany held the tin end to end and I looped the twine around Yvette’s middle, our arms ended up all twisted. I turned my head once I’d tied about twelve knots. Her lips hovered so close to mine that I couldn’t resist. I kissed her, and she gave in to it completely, pressing her braless breasts against mine so hard I ached.

“What was that?” Tiffany jumped to her feet and tripped over her clothes, falling back on my bed.

“What?” I asked.

“The doll. She moved. I felt her move.”

I looked down at Yvette, but her position hadn’t changed in the least. “You’re crazy, lady.”

“You’re one to talk!” Tiffany kicked a pile of clothes off the rag rug beside her bed. “Here, roll the thing up in this.”

“Don’t call Yvette a thing,” I said, though I wasn’t sure where those words had come from. “Sorry. Okay.”

I tossed the small rug over Yvette’s back and rolled her up fast, trying not to feel her limbs through the fabric. My mind must have been playing tricks on me, because I could have sworn I felt flesh and bones as I bundled up Yvette. I had to steel myself against the unnatural sensation of swaddling a baby with a can of beans.

“Come on.” Tiffany gazed into the darkness. “Let’s get out of here. That doll gives me the creeps.”

As we descended the staircase, I held Yvette in my arms like a baby. Words echoed in the back of my head: no, please, don’t. I tried my damnedest to ignore them, but they only got louder as my heart beat wildly in my ears.

“Shut up,” I hissed as Tiffany opened the squeaky front door. The bells jingled overhead.

“I’m trying,” Tiffany whispered back. “You think you could do any better?”

Of course, I hadn’t been talking to Tiffany. I’d been talking to the voices in my head, but I wasn’t about to tell her that.

When we snuck into the night, the payphone caught my eye. I thought about the evening I’d come here to call my mom, back before I knew what was going on with my dad. That felt like ages ago.

So much had happened since we’d come the cottage: I’d met Tiffany and fallen for her. Yvette had become jealous and destructive. I’d nearly been arrested. My aunt realized I was a lesbian. I’d found out my dad had done this horrendous thing and he would spend the next fourteen years in jail. And, to top it off, my uncle thought I was insane. This life would have been overwhelming even for an adult, and somehow I was coping. I don’t think anyone would have blamed me if I’d had a complete mental breakdown.

“I don’t want to hold her anymore.” I tried handing Yvette to Tiffany.

She ran ahead. “No way I’m touching that thing.”

I ran behind her, all the way down the hill, wishing I’d taken the time to put on my high-tops instead of slipping on a pair of Tiffany’s flip-flops. When we got down to the water, I saw fire burning in the pit. All I could make out were huddled masses, but I knew they were the boys who’d called me ugly before.

“Hey, it’s the lezzies!” a voice called out.

“Ignore them, Bec.” Tiffany grabbed my arm and pulled me toward the marina.

Icy fear streamed through my veins. I was scared of the boys to begin with, but the night felt that much darker when one of them hollered, “Come here, Tiffy. I got your cure right here. But I gotta warn you, it’s a big pill to swallow.”

Their laughter cut me like a knife, but Tiffany yelled, “As if your drunken dick could get it up!”

We didn’t stick around to debate the issue. Tiffany must have been as scared as I was, because she pulled me around the back of the marina.

“Do you think they’ll follow us?” I asked.

“I don’t know.” She looked flustered as she untied a paddleboat from its mooring. “What are you waiting for? Get the hell in!”

“Whose is it?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Does it matter? We need it.”

True enough. There was an unspoken rule in the cottage community that you didn’t run noisy things after dark, when the older people and younger children were likely to be sleeping. That meant we couldn’t ride out in the Jones’s craft.

I stepped into the paddleboat and Tiffany stepped across the front, rocking us wildly as she jumped into the seat. We paddled backwards to get out of the mooring, then charted the moon’s path through black water. It was just like riding a bicycle.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“To the island, I was thinking. That’s where Mikey found Yvette. That’s where we should leave her.”

“No.” I looked at the bundle in my lap and shivered. “No, I want to drown her where the water’s deep. I never want to see this doll again.”

Bitch!

The word screamed through my mind, hot like a brand. I could see the fear in Tiffany’s eyes, but I asked anyway. “Did you hear that?”

She nodded her head. “Bitch.”

I wanted to cry. “What is this thing? Why is she doing this to me? Everyone thinks I’m crazy, and sometimes even I’m not sure. Maybe I am crazy.”

“No.” Tiffany set her hand on my thigh and rubbed it gently. “You’re not. Trust me, you’re not.”

I bit my lip as we paddled across the dark lake. The fire pit boys hadn’t followed us, thank goodness. I’d need more than just tiger’s eye to protect myself from that lot. Then it occurred to me: my bracelet was still wrapped around Yvette’s neck. That was no good. It was the only thing Tiffany had ever given me, and I didn’t want to dump it to the bottom of the lake. At the same time, I was too scared to unroll the rag rug. I had this crazy fear that Yvette had turned into something gross, like a giant cockroach that would spew green slime at me the second I unwrapped it.

Holding my doll by her wrapped-up legs, I turned her upside-down and started shaking. When I stopped paddling, Tiffany glanced over and gave me a weird look. “What are you doing?”

“The bracelet you gave me is in here.”

“Forget it,” she said. “I’ll make you a new one.”

I didn’t want to argue with Tiffany, but I also couldn’t bring myself to let something she’d made sink in the lake. I kept shaking Yvette until the bracelet fell to the bottom of the boat. “There. Got it.”

Tiffany stopped paddling. “This is a good spot. Throw her in.”

The lake gleamed like a black mirror. It didn’t look like water at all. It looked like if you dropped something down, it would just sit there on the surface.

“What are you waiting for?” Tiffany asked. “That thing tried to kill me!”

She was right. This was no time to get sentimental. If I didn’t toss Yvette overboard, no telling what the doll might do.

“I’m sorry,” I said, forming the words with my lips, not producing any sound. “Bye-bye, Yvette.”

The bundle jostled and jerked, like a cat trying to escape a child’s grip. Tiffany must have seen it, because she screamed even before I did.

Chapter 20

 

“Throw her overboard!” Tiffany hollered.

By the time those words had left her lips I was already tossing Yvette from the boat. If only I’d played baseball in school maybe I’d have managed a better throw. The bundle met the water with a comical plop. I would have laughed if I hadn’t been scared out of my skin.

We sat in silence, staring at the spot on the lake where Yvette had gone down. It didn’t feel real that she was gone. I kept looking at my lap, expecting the bundle to be there. But it wasn’t. Yvette had sunk to the bottom of the lake, just like any other household item would have. She was no better than a bathtub or an old boot. And she was gone.

“What now?” Tiffany asked.

“Search me.”

“Should be go back to the cottage?” She didn’t wink, or even smile. “Back to bed?”

In truth, I was scared. Not so much of sleeping, or being with Tiffany, or anything like that. It was a combination of fears: I was scared of the boys back on land, and I was scared that Yvette would return.

“Can we go to the patch?” I said, like a kid asking her mom for ice cream.

I expected Tiffany to ask why, but she didn’t. She just set a course for the island, and we paddled in silence. There was grief on the air, and guilt. I’m sure we both felt it. Even if Tiffany didn’t, I sure felt guilty. I felt like I’d murdered someone, just like my father.

We moored the paddleboat to a pole someone had jammed in the sand. When we stepped over the sides, we both got our feet and the bottoms of our pants wet, but neither of us reacted. Some things just didn’t matter right now.

Tiffany sat on the same log where we’d been when Mikey pulled Yvette from the water. I had a moment of déjà vu as I watched her fold her knees against her chest and hug her legs tight.

“You gonna sit?” she asked.

I shook my head.

“Why not?”

I shrugged. “Dunno.”

She gazed across the lake, and I gazed at her. I felt unreasonably sad, and Tiffany looked like she felt the same way. We should have been happy. We’d just destroyed our foe. We were like a pair of knights slaying the dragon.

“Why’d you steal an engagement ring?”

Tiffany looked up at me, eyes wide. She seemed stunned, or confused. Something. Then she scowled. “What are you talking about?”

“You said that’s when you really got in trouble—when you stole an engagement ring.”

She set her chin on her knees and stared across the lake, where the boys’ pit fire burned bright.

“Why’d you do it?” I asked.

“Why do you want to know?”

That question was hard to answer. It seemed important, but I couldn’t articulate why. I stared at her white jeans, which were darker where they’d gotten wet.

“Were you gonna give it to someone?” I asked.

“No.” She really barked that word at me.

I kicked the sand and it got between my bare toes. “I thought maybe you had a girlfriend and you wanted to get engaged or something.”

“Don’t be an idiot. Women can’t marry each other.”

“Yeah, but I’ve heard of gay people having, like, commitment ceremonies or whatever. And wearing rings. It’s just to show the world that you love someone and you’re faithful to them.”

“I didn’t steal it for a girl, okay?” Tiffany bit her lip, like she was trying not to cry. “Well, I guess I did. I stole it for me.”

I wasn’t sure if I believed her, and I definitely didn’t know what to say. “That’s weird.”

Tiffany’s head fell to her knees, and I could hear her crying but I didn’t know how to react. I was no good with crying people. They made me uncomfortable.

But this wasn’t “people,” this was Tiffany, and it hurt my heart that she was so sad and I didn’t know why. I sat beside her on the stone bed and put my arm around her shoulder. “What’s wrong, Tiff? What did I say?”

“Nothing.” When she raised her head, her eyes were puffy and red. “It’s not you. I’m just so stupid. I mean, I am super-duper, one hundred percent Grade A stupid.”

“No you’re not. Why would you think that?”

She let out a whimper, and then groaned. “Because of Mark.”

Something inside of me froze, just like the time she’d said Wayne Gretzky was hot. My stomach felt weird, like it was full of worms and snakes and other slithery things. I took my arm back and hugged myself just like she was doing.

“Who is Mark?” I asked.

“A guy.”

“Yeah, I figured.” I sounded so mean, and I couldn’t control it. “What guy? Was he your boyfriend?”

I felt like I was going to throw up, saying those words. My nausea just got worse when she didn’t answer.

“Was he?”

“No,” she said, like a sob. “I wanted him to be, okay? I wanted to marry him, but he wouldn’t… he would even talk about it. I mean, there was totally something between us. The way he looked at me, right? He wanted me. Of course he did. But…”

I didn’t understand any of this. “If he wanted you, don’t you think he would have, like, done something about it?”

“He couldn’t,” Tiffany snapped. “He couldn’t. He was my dad’s lawyer, okay? And he was married.”

“What?” I almost laughed, except I knew Tiffany would kill me if I did. “Tiffany, how old was this guy?”

“Shut up. You sound just like my mom.” Her eyes blazed, but I couldn’t look away. I didn’t look away. And, after a tense few seconds, the veneer broke and she laughed. “Oh my God, shut up Bec!”

I smiled with relief, though I wasn’t perfectly at ease with this conversation. “Why? How old was he?”

“Like, fifty.” Tiffany laughed despite the tears rolling down her cheeks. “His daughters were older than me. Seriously! Right?”

When I pictured some wrinkled old man on top of my beautiful Tiffany, I nearly retched. “Please tell me you never… you know…”

“Are you my mom in Rebecca’s body?” Tiffany took a deep breath. She didn’t seem angry anymore. “No, we didn’t. I mean, I totally would have…”

“Because you’re insane.”

“Shut up!” She bumped my shoulder with hers. “No, he seriously wouldn’t discuss it. I’d come on to him, and he’d be all like, ‘Tiffany, behave,’ like I was a kid or something.”

“Well, how old were you?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. Fourteen, fifteen? Whatever.”

“Oh my God, and he was your family’s lawyer?” I suddenly connected the dots. “Is that why you kept stealing stuff? So he’d have to defend you and you’d get to see him again?”

“Now you sound like Dr. Woodman. That’s one of her theories.”

“I think she’s right.”

“No shit, Sherlock. I mean, I wasn’t thinking all that at the time. I guess it was more unconscious, right? All I was thinking when I stole that ring was that I’d wear it all the time. I’d show Mark and be like, ‘This represents my commitment to you.’ I really just wanted to show Mark I was his.”

“Even though he was married and never said he liked you?”

Tiffany took a deep breath, then said, “I was stupid, okay? Haven’t you ever done anything dumb like that? I mean, aside from falling in love with a doll.”

“I was never in love with Yvette!”

The idea made me really uncomfortable, so I pushed it aside. I told Tiffany about Chloe, about how I’d kissed her and then the whole school started calling me Martina. I thought about Mrs. Kaufman, the mom of Mikey’s friend, and how I used to pretend we were married while I helped with dinner. But I didn’t tell Tiffany about that, because it was way too embarrassing… and it sounded too much like her thing with Mark.

Stupid Mark. Stupid men. The more Tiffany talked about him, the more I hated his guts. Well, not so much the man himself because it sounded like he had no interest in Tiffany. It was her interest in him that made me so mad. Why did she have to like boys? Not even boys, but men!

“Are you in love with this guy?” I asked. My words were like shrapnel.

“I thought I was.”

“But now?”

Tiffany breathed out hard. That was enough of an answer, and it made me so angry my whole head buzzed. Not that I thought she was “in love” with me or anything. I mean, we’d only known each other a few weeks. Just because I knew from the moment I saw her that one day she’d be my girlfriend didn’t mean Tiffany would necessarily reciprocate. But she knew my secret life. Nobody else in the world knew me like she did. And all that time she’d been mooning over some old dude?

“Fine,” I said, stomping to the paddleboat. “If that’s how you feel, let’s go back.”

Tiffany dragged her feet to our stolen boat. When she got close, she tried to kiss me, but I pulled away. She didn’t ask why. She just got into the boat and steered us back to land.

“Where are you going?” she asked when I took a left instead of a right.

“To my aunt’s cottage.”

“You don’t have a bed there.”

“I’ll sleep on the couch.”

Tiffany took hold of my arm, but I pulled away. “Why are you being such a spaz? Just come back to my place, okay?”

“No.” I wasn’t going to explain why. Tiffany knew.

“Whatever.” She flicked her long hair over her shoulder. “Maybe I’ll just hang out with those cool guys at the fire pit. They don’t seem as uptight as some people I know.”

“Fine,” I said, even though that wasn’t fine at all. “Do what you want. It’s a free country.”

The sun wasn’t up yet, but the early morning sky was bright enough that I could see streaks down her cheeks, like her tears had painted her skin red. She stared me down, but I stood my ground. Even as old men began to emerge from their cottages with fishing rods in hand, nothing could distract me. I was like a cat.

Tiffany turned on a dime and strutted up the hill.

Even in flip-flops and wet jeans, she walked like a runway model. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I watched her walk away until she was just a dot on the gravel road. Then she turned beyond the treeline, and she was gone.

Chapter 21

 

When I woke up on the couch, I thought I was still dreaming.

My aunt and uncle prepared breakfast as usual, but Mikey sat solemnly at the table. He was dressed in knee-high striped socks, curly slippers with bells on the ends, and lederhosen like the kids in The Sound of Music. In addition to that, he had on a wig made entirely of tinsel.

“Whaaaat?” I sat up, rubbing my eyes to drive out the grogginess. I was so tired I felt like I was going to throw up. “Mikey?”

I couldn’t believe that was my brother. I’d never seen him sit still before.

“It’s Christmas in July,” Aunt Libby said, bringing me a plate of pancakes with a side of bacon. She set it on the coffee table, which was super-weird. Our family ate every meal at the kitchen table. Food wasn’t allowed on the couch, even in this crap shack cottage. “Do you like your brother’s costume? He’s an elf.”

My aunt was being nice to me? Had I woken up in a different dimension or something?

“I’m glad you decided to come home.” My aunt kissed the top of my head, and then joined my uncle at the table. “What time did you get in? I didn’t hear the door.”

“I don’t know.” I picked up my plate and went to them. “Wait, why is Mikey dressed like an elf?”

“Christmas in July,” Uncle Flip said, like that should make sense to me. “It’s the theme for the kids’ costume parade.”

Every year, to keep the kids entertained while their parents were wheeling and dealing, the cottage community held a dress-up parade for the young ones. Mikey was at the upper edge of the age limit, which is probably why he looked so grim, but there were prizes if your costume was really good.

“Did you want to dress up?” my aunt asked, like that was a serious consideration. “You could scoop up some pine boughs from out back and have the children hang ornaments on you.”

“You’d make a perfect Christmas tree,” my uncle joined in.

“But it’s for kids—I mean, the prizes and all that.”

Aunt Libby seemed more jovial than she’d been in ages. “So what? I brought up Santa hats for your uncle and me to wear. He’s being a good sport about it.”

“Your aunt brought decorations from home.”

I looked into Aunt Libby’s hopeful eyes, and felt bad for all the trouble I’d caused. How many kids break into other people’s cottages and get brought home in a police car? Aunt Libby and Uncle Flip had given up their entire summer to spend with Mikey and me. In part, they were doing it as a favour to my mother, but I could tell by the optimistic gleams in their eyes that they were also doing it because they loved my brother and they loved me.

“Okay,” I said, pasting on a smile. “Sounds like fun.”

As we ate breakfast, it occurred to me that a few days earlier I would have fought tooth and nail. I’d have been so embarrassed if Tiffany saw me dressed up like an idiot. After last night’s pissy little argument, I didn’t care what she thought. I could dress up like a Christmas tree if I wanted to dress up like a Christmas tree. So what?

My brother and I went out to the wooded area behind the cottage, looking for pine boughs that had fallen in the spring storms. While I poked my head under one big tree, I heard the bells on my brother’s elf costume jingling wildly.

Yvette!

I turned in Mikey’s direction, but Yvette wasn’t there. Only my little brother, ripping all the soft green boughs from a baby pine.

“What are you doing?” I pushed him away from the tree. “You’re killing it, you stupid idiot. It’s only little. Now it’s going to die.”

I expected Mikey’s lip to quiver, but nope. Nothing. Just a blank stare.

One of the first tenets of wandering the woods was “take nothing, leave nothing behind.” We’d been raised not to destroy plants. He knew better.

“What’s the difference?” Mikey challenged me. “We pick ferns for the tepee. What’s the big deal?”

“Because we use the tepee,” I said, though my reasoning seemed a little weak. “You sleep there all the time. It’s shelter.”

Mikey threw the pine boughs on the ground. He just stood by the stripped-down tree, staring through me.

“Why didn’t you talk to mom on the phone?” I asked.

His eyes flickered, but his expression turned hard. “Why didn’t you?”

I shrugged. “Didn’t wanna. So what?”

So what, poo-brain?”

“You should have talked to her.”

You should have talked to her,” Mikey said.

I knew he was just imitating me, but I also knew he was right.

We stood in the forest, arms crossed, staring each other down. For a big sister, I wasn’t setting a very good example. But I’d been setting a good example for as long as I could remember. What was the point?

“Is Dad really gonna be in jail for fourteen years?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe he’ll get parole and come home sooner.”

Mikey said, “I hope not,” and swept down to pick up the pine boughs he’d ripped from that poor little tree.

“I know,” I told him. “I hope not, too.”

If anyone had been listening to our conversation, they would have thought we were terrible kids. There was some comfort in knowing one person in the world would always understand how I felt, even if he was my bratty little brother.

Mikey watched a chipmunk scamper across the forest floor. He wasn’t looking at me when he asked, “Did you know before? Did mom tell you and you didn’t tell me?”

“As if!” I’d never wanted to hug him so much as I did in that moment, but I didn’t do it because I knew it would make me cry. “Seriously, Mikey, I never knew anything. Nobody said a word.”

He looked up at me, so confused and saddened that I almost broke. “Why didn’t they tell us?”

I could have said something angry, but that wouldn’t have been fair. “They didn’t want to hurt us, Mikey. That’s all.”

He nodded, then asked, “Can you call me Mike now?”

“Why? Everybody calls you Mikey.”

My brother shrugged. “I just wanna be Mike now, okay?”

“Okay.” I couldn’t argue with that logic.

We made our way back to the cottage so my aunt and uncle could strap the pine boughs around my waist and my arms. Aunt Libby made a necklace of them that hung around my front and my back. They pricked a little, but the fresh forest scent made me feel saner than before.

Dressed up like a tree with a silly silver bow in my hair, I finally felt like things were settling down. My aunt, my uncle, and my little brother attached the first three decorations to my boughs with little bits of wire: one wreath, one silver bell, and a little ceramic duck.

When we left the cottage and took to the gravel road, we were all talking about what kind of furniture we might get for my bedroom. I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach, like the haze of a half-remembered dream, but I told myself I was just hungry or something.

No big deal.

Chapter 22

 

The moment we arrived at the swap meet, I realized I was looking for Tiffany. Every strand of blonde hair gleaming in the sun was her. Every white dress, too. And, considering the number of kids dressed as angels for the Christmas in July costume contest, I saw Tiffany every time I turned around.

And then I saw her for real.

“If you’re looking for a bed, I’ve got this camp cot,” Mr. Macintyre told my aunt and uncle. “It’s not big, but Rebecca’s not a big girl. She’ll fit A-OK.”

“I don’t know.” Uncle Flip’s voice was like static, background noise. “There’s an awful lot of rust along this side. Where have you been storing it?”

I’d spotted Tiffany, but she hadn’t seen me. Not yet. I wondered if she was angry. This whole situation felt like a movie: me surrounded by little kids in pageant costumes, plucking Christmas ornaments from the basket my aunt had given me and stringing them all over my boughs. It didn’t feel like real life at all.

“It’s pretty squeaky,” my aunt told Mr. Macintyre. “All she’s got to do is roll over and she’ll wake the whole family.”

The man didn’t seem put off by my aunt and uncle’s nit-picking. In fact, he offered a great suggestion. “If it’s a proper bed you’re after, you might ask the old Jones couple that runs the shop. They’ve got a spare one, I believe.”

“Yes, we know,” my aunt said. “That’s where Rebecca’s been staying since the fire.”

The adults proceeded to discuss the night my room burst into flames. To them, it was nothing more than an idle mystery. My stomach knotted. It was the same feeling I got every time I remembered that I’d forgotten something.

Tiffany’s eyes met mine across the field, which was usually nothing but wild grasses. For one day only, it transformed into a current of cottagers coursing around tables of books and used clothes, handicrafts and preserves. And furniture, of course. Everyone had come out. And “everyone” included Tiffany wearing a tight red dress and a necklace made of cotton balls, like a sexy Mrs. Claus.

“Want to try it out Rebecca? Take ‘er for a test drive?”

Mr. Macintosh was talking to me, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the blonde who made my legs wobble. I knew I’d been mad at her, but I couldn’t remember why.

“Becca?” Uncle Flip asked. “Have a lie-down on this cot, eh? See how it feels.”

“No,” I said, offhandedly. Before anyone could make me lie down on that dirty old cot, I took off down the aisle, trailing clouds of angels and elves and even three wise men. I didn’t stop running until I’d nearly stepped on Tiffany’s toes.

“You’re here,” I said.

“Yeah.”

Kids buzzed around us like bees, hanging decorations on me. All at once, I realized Tiffany might have been looking for someone else. My heart plunged into my feet. But no, that was silly. She was smiling!

“My parents are moving to back to Texas,” she said.

My stomach was already in knots, but it tied into a hundred more. “And you’re happy about this?”

“Totally.” She was rubbing it in my face, wasn’t she? “The Dallas lifestyle, Bec. What’s not to like?”

“For sure.” I would have folded my arms if it hadn’t been for the pine boughs. “Rich boys and cowboys—what’s not to like?”

“What the H-E-double-hockey-sticks are you talking about?”

Last night’s rage emerged from the mist, but I didn’t want to say too much in front of all those kids. “Will your boyfriend be there?”

Her brow furrowed. “I don’t even like him anymore.”

“That’s not what you said last night.”

“I didn’t say anything last night!” Tiffany growled and stomped her foot in the dead grass. “Why are you being such a pest? I’m trying to tell you good news.”

“Good news?” My arms were heavy with Christmas ornaments. “You want me to be happy you’re leaving? Fine, then, I’m glad I’ll never see you again. There.”

“Shut up and listen for a sec!” Tiffany looked hurt, and I couldn’t understand why. “I’m not leaving. My parents are.”

“You’re not going to live with your parents?”

“I’m not living with them now. Hey, neither are you. You live with your aunt and uncle.”

“Just for the summer,” I said, though I guess she was kind of right. I’d never thought of it that way. “You’re not going to stay up in cottage country all through the school year, are you? Is there even a high school near here?”

Tiffany’s expression fell a little. “I don’t know. I’m sure gram and gramps will let me move to the city for school, as long as I stay with someone they know.” Her smile came back when she asked, “Where’s your house?”

“Uhh…” I didn’t want to tell her. Tiffany was used to nice things, and I did not live in a nice area.

“Oh, and you know what else? I’m sure I can talk my dad into paying rent for a room if I swear I’ll be good and not get into trouble.”

The haze of last night was starting to clear, and the more I remembered, the more my stomach tied in knots. Bad stuff had happened. Really bad stuff. How could I have forgotten so easily?

And then an old fisherman’s voice broke my concentration. “Hey Dory, take a look what I pulled out of the lake. Snagged right on my line. You want to sell it at your table?”

Tiffany and I both turned like slow motion in a movie as Dory replied, “Criminy, that doll’s all wet, and it stinks to High Heaven! Look, it’s missing a finger… and a boot… and an eye! And the face is cracked. Who the heck would want a thing like that?”

All the little angels and elves turned, too. When they set their sights on Yvette they shrieked and scattered like flies, except for two little girls in candy cane stripes. They clung to Tiffany’s skirt, burying their faces against her belly.

It took a moment to realize me and Tiffany were screaming, too.

Everything came flooding back: not just memories, but my heart-pounding, throat-drying, knee-shaking fear of that creature. I relived the night before, of waking up unable to move while Yvette tried to suffocate my best girl. In light of that living nightmare, every irritation I’d felt toward Tiffany melted away. Why did I care so much that she wasn’t exactly like me? All I should care was that she’d lived through the night.

With Yvette around, there was no telling who might wake up dead.

“How did she get out of the rug?” Tiffany whispered.

“And the tin can.”

“Mr. Genova!” Tiffany called to the old man. The twins hid their faces in the small of her back as she approached Dory’s table. “When you hooked that doll on your line, was she wrapped in anything?”

“What’s that?” the old man asked, cupping his hand behind his ear. “Speak up, there, girlie.”

“Was that doll wrapped in anything?” Tiffany shouted.

“What are you on about?” Dory asked. She was probably my aunt’s age, and she kept shooting me dirty looks. “Is this your doll, Tiffy?”

“She belongs to Rebecca, but we think she’s gonna kill somebody.”

“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” Dory whispered to Mr. Genova—loudly enough that I could hear but the old man couldn’t.

“What’s that?” he asked. “You girls stop your mumbling.”

“I said…” Dory shot me a rueful glare, then shook her head. “Oh, never mind. Tiffy, dear, tell me what you’re after.”

“We drowned her in the lake last night,” Tiffany said frantically. “She tried to murder me, I swear. She, like, had the pillow over my face and I couldn’t move, so we strapped her to a can of beans and rolled her in my bedroom rug and threw her in the water.”

Tiffany barely breathed as she told the story, and I wasn’t sure if Dory and the old man understood.

“Well, if that’s the case, I sure as hell don’t want the thing.” Dory handed Yvette to Tiffany, still ignoring me. The candy cane twins had been poking their little heads around her sides, but as soon as the doll came at them, they ran away screaming.

“Didn’t you hear me?” Tiffany shrieked. “That doll is evil!”

“I thought you didn’t believe in evil,” I said, but nobody was paying attention to me.

“If it’s your doll, then it’s up to you to deal with the evil.” Dory shoved Yvette in a plastic bag and tied it at the top.

I expected Tiffany to argue and say it wasn’t her doll, it was my problem to deal with. Instead, she grabbed the bag from Dory and held it away from herself like a stinky bag of dog doo. When Tiffany rolled her eyes, Dory said, “Well, what do you expect me to do with it? That thing give me the heebie-jeebies, one eye missing and cracked along the cheek. If I were you, I’d smash it to smithereens.”

“Rebecca! What’s wrong? The little ones were screaming bloody murder.”

I turned to find my aunt running up the aisle behind me. “It’s a long story, Aunt Libby.”

“Evil doll, did they say?” Mr. Genova was late to the conversation, but his old wavering voice sent a shiver down my spine. “I know what you gotta do about that.”

“What?” Tiffany asked. “We’ll do anything!”

My aunt looked between us. “What’s going on, here?”

Mr. Genova pointed down the aisle. “Go ask what’s-his-name over there. He’s got a truckload of old books. Maybe there’s one that’ll solve your problem, eh?”

“Thanks,” Tiffany said flatly, trudging in that direction.

I followed her, and my aunt followed me. “Rebecca, the kids were scared out of their wits. What on earth is the matter?”

“It’s nothing.” I tried to downplay everything, even though I was so scared I could feel my heart under my tongue. “We just spazzed a little last night and tossed Yvette in the lake. She ended up on Mr. Genova’s fishing line, and the little kids freaked out because her eye was missing.”

“Rebecca!” Aunt Libby grabbed my arm, holding me back. “That doll belonged to your grandmother. Where do you get off tossing it in the lake?”

Tiffany snapped around. “Excuse me? After that crazy thing tried to kill me?” When my aunt’s mouth flapped open, goldfish style, Tiffany straightened up. “Oh my God. Rebecca didn’t tell you what happened, did she?”

“What happened when?” Deep lines of concern drew across my aunt’s face. “Spill it, girls.”

“You’re not going to believe it,” I said.

We’d landed in front of a pair of busybodies selling toilet paper dolls with gaudy crocheted gowns. They were listening intently and pretending not to, so I tugged my aunt closer to the man selling wooden puzzles. He leaned back in his chair with his hat over his head, snoring like a bison.

Tiffany told my aunt everything that had happened the night before. Well, not everything. Just the stuff about Yvette’s unexpected attack.

“That’s impossible,” my aunt said. “The doll was here when you left. Are you saying it walked itself over to your grandparents’ cottage and…”

“I don’t know!” Tiffany cried. “I don’t know how any of this happened.”

And then a weird thought occurred to me, and I asked my aunt, “Do you?”

“Do I what?”

“Do you know why bad stuff keeps happening?” I shrugged, trying to seem not at all accusatory. “I mean, it was your doll before it was mine. Were you mad that Uncle Flip gave it to me?”

Aunt Libby seemed awfully flustered. “That was years ago.”

“Only three.” I acted casual even though my heart was trembling in my chest. “Were you mad he gave it to me?”

“No!” my aunt said, with a lady-doth-protest-too-much fierceness. “Those dolls aren’t even mine, Rebecca. They belonged to your grandmother. I can’t stand all those beady little eyes staring at me every night. Gives me the creeps.”

“Then why do you keep them?” Tiffany asked.

Seemed like a simple question, but it really upset my aunt. “They belonged to my mother, Tiffany. They were hers. I can’t just throw them in the lake like some people. If I could do that, don’t you think I would?”

I didn’t really understand what my aunt meant. “Did Yvette ever do stuff before she was mine?”

“No,” my aunt snapped. “Dolls don’t have to do anything to put a fright in you. It’s the eyes, those beady little eyes—and the potential. At any moment they could…” Aunt Libby shivered. She never did finish that thought, and it made me wonder what, in her mind, they might do.

“They could smother you with a pillow,” Tiffany said. “They could paralyze you while you’re inhaling little down feathers instead of air. I know you don’t believe us, but this doll is real. She tried to kill me.”

Aunt Libby’s expression was so grave it sent chills down my spine. “I do believe you, kids. Every word.”

My aunt was on our side, and I almost wished she wasn’t. I needed my uncle to comfort me with rational thoughts, tell me Yvette wasn’t real. Yvette was only a doll.

“Where’s Uncle Flip?” I asked.

“Seeing if he can do better than a camp cot for you. Nobody seems to be selling bedroom sets this year. Everyone’s saying to ask the Joneses for their spare.”

“Guess I’ll have to stay with Tiffany all summer.” I tried not to smile too widely.

“Excuse me!” Tiffany cut in, and for a heart-breaking moment I thought she was going to say she didn’t want to share a room anymore. “In case you’ve forgotten, I have an evil doll in a plastic bag. Attempted murderer, right here! So can we see the book guy please?”

She whined loudly enough to wake the sleeping wood guy, who jumped out of his chair like he’d forgotten where he was. He looked at us like he might find the answer, but my aunt only said “Nice wood” before we took off down the aisle.

Chapter 23

 

The man from the used bookstore squinted through his round lenses, shielding his eyes from the afternoon sun. “You again!”

You’re the book guy?” Tiffany asked—way too harshly, considering we needed his help and he already didn’t like us. “Figures.”

My aunt put her arms around Tiffany and me. “I apologize again for the misunderstanding at your shop.”

“Oh, it was no misunderstanding,” said the bald book guy. “I understand perfectly well what happened: your girls tried to steal from me and I caught them red-handed.”

Tiffany wouldn’t back down. “Look, we’re sorry, okay? We really need your help.”

“Well, that’s a shame, because, as I recall, I banned you three from my store.”

“Ha!” Tiffany said. “This isn’t your store, it’s a swap meet, so your books are all fair game.”

“For light fingers, is it?”

My aunt gave Tiffany’s ankle a swift kick. “The girls are very sorry and they swear they won’t do it again. I’m Libby, by the way. I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced.”

He reluctantly gave her his hand. “Leonard.”

“We really are desperate for your expertise, Leonard, if you might spare a moment.”

“My expertise?” he cackled. “What, they need help with their summer school homework?”

“Is there really a school around here?” I asked, though nobody was paying attention to me.

“We’re looking for a book,” Aunt Libby said. She waited, probably for some snide comment, but the man only folded his arms. “Actually, we’re looking for information. Do you have any books on, perhaps, the occult or the metaphysical?”

Leonard’s eyebrows went up, but before he could say a word, Tiffany cried, “We’ve got an evil doll. She tried to kill me last night!”

The book man cocked his head. “Is this some kind of trick?”

“No,” I said. “It really happened. I was there. And she burned down my bedroom.”

“Who did?” Leonard pointed at Tiffany.

“No, the doll!” I told him. “She can do things on her own. Bad things! Do you have any books on how we can stop it?”

“Let me think… do I have any books about evil dolls…?”

I couldn’t tell if he was taunting us or being serious. “Do you?”

“No, I don’t have any books about evil dolls. What do you think this is? Satan’s reading room?”

One of the crochet ladies had just approached Leonard’s stall, but the enthusiasm with which he made that last comment drove her back to her own table.

“We’re desperate,” my aunt pleaded.

“So call the police, or hire a priest, or get hold of a shaman, because I can’t help you.”

My shoulders fell in time with Tiffany’s and my aunt’s. We must have looked pathetic, the three of us. I glanced down at the bag swinging next to Tiffany’s leg. The outline of Yvette’s hand through the plastic made me shudder. Aunt Libby gripped my shoulder tight and asked, “You okay, Bec?”

I didn’t mean to look at Leonard, but something compelled me. When our eyes met, he must have seen my fear, because he relented. “Fine, you three. I might have something in the back.”

Considering we weren’t at his store, I wasn’t sure what back he was talking about. Turned out he meant the back of his truck, which was lined with boxes of books. He jumped up and we followed him, crawling over paperback romances and hardcovers that must have been a hundred years old.

“Oh…” Leonard turned to look at us. “Will one of you keep an eye on my stall while I’m back here?”

My aunt looked between Tiffany and me, but we didn’t say a word. “I guess I will.”

“Try not to steal anything,” he said, and my aunt rolled her eyes. I’d never seen her do that before.

“Is that the doll there in the bag?” Leonard asked.

Tiffany handed it over. “She’s all yours if you know how to destroy her.”

Leonard sat on a box of books, but when we did the same he said, “Hey, careful,” so we stood. He meticulously untied the knot Dory had made, and took a deep breath before looking inside.

“Holy Smokes!” He cringed visibly. “This gal’s seen better days, hasn’t she?”

“We threw her in the lake,” Tiffany said. “Mr. Genova fished her up.”

“I tossed her in the septic tank before that,” I added. “After she burned all my furniture.”

“You kids better not be yanking my chain.” Leonard picked Yvette up and held her to the sun. “If I find out—”

Suddenly, Leonard started screaming the way Mikey did every time he saw a spider. Leonard leapt up, tossing Yvette across the bed of books. I didn’t mean to look there but I couldn’t help noticing… had the book man wet his pants? Now Tiffany was screaming along, and even though I had no idea what had scared them so severely, after a moment I realized I was screaming too.

My aunt came running. “Girls? What’s wrong? What—” Her gaze fixed on the crotch of Leonard’s khakis, and she bit her lip. “What’s going on back here?”

Leonard looked down and noticed the splotch. “Oh, for goodness’ sake! This is not what it looks like.”

“Why are you all screaming?”

That was an excellent question. Leonard explained, “I tilted the doll forward and a gush of water came out of her eye socket. That’s what this is.”

I shuddered at those words. There was something unspeakably scary about a doll missing an eye.

“And that fell out.” Tiffany pointed to the truck bed. In a little puddle of lake water, something slippery flopped about.

“Are you kidding me?” I picked up the poor little thing. “It’s just a baby fish. That’s what we were screaming about?”

“It nearly fell in my mouth,” Leonard said, and Tiffany shuddered.

The fish gleamed like silver against my palm. It felt good wrestling my skin. I’d have kept it in my hand all day, except the poor guy was flaring his gills in a desperate attempt to breathe. Sad how easily I could identify with a fish out of water.

“I need to throw him back,” I told my aunt, jumping down from the truck bed—which was very hard to do with one hand cupped over the other. “Keep looking for the book. I’ll be right back.”

After I’d thrown that desperate little fish back in the lake, I turned around and realized, from that particular embankment, I could just see the rich people’s cottage that I’d broken into. Maybe I should have apologized to the couple who owned it. If it was me, coming home to find some strange person wearing my clothes and sleeping in my bed, I’d have flipped out. I must have really scared them.

One day I’d go back. Maybe I’d bake them cookies or something, as a peace offering. That would be a nice thing to do.

I took my time wandering back to the book man’s truck. In the pit of my stomach, there was an ever-tightening knot and I knew it related to Yvette. That damaged face kept flashing across my mind, giving me chills. The only thing scarier than a doll was a broken doll.

Once I’d gazed longingly at the baked goods tables, I tried to make myself go back. I ended up stopping at a stall selling used clothing instead. My aunt had picked me up some new underwear at the gas station, but aside from that nobody seemed to remember that I didn’t have clothes of my own. As much as I appreciated the intimacy of wearing Tiffany’s outfits, they weren’t my style. With the money Uncle Flip had slipped into my hand earlier, I bought a few men’s work shirts and a pair of pants that might fit if I wore a belt.

After that, I told myself to check in on Leonard and Tiffany, see if they’d found a book that might help, but I got distracted by the squeals of children showing off their costumes. When I got to the makeshift baseball diamond where they always held the contest, all the little kids were lined up. The judges interviewed every contestant, including my little brother, as they presented their outfits to the crowd.

“What ya got there?” my uncle asked, sidling up next to me.

I was strangely elated to see him. “Just some clothes. Did you find me a bed?”

He shook his head. “Looks like we’re plum out of luck. I saw a dresser I might go back for, if you like it, but no quality beds. I think we might have to order new from the city.”

“It’s okay. I can stay with the Joneses.” My heart pounded like it was worried he might take away from me something I held dear. “They don’t mind having me. Mrs. Jones treats me just like another granddaughter—puts me to work in the shop and everything. I like it there.”

“We’ll see what your aunt has to say.” My uncle was looking at me, but I didn’t acknowledge his fixed gaze. “Hey, why don’t you get up there with the kids?”

“I’m too old. Isn’t it thirteen and under?”

“Just for fun.” My uncle shook my arm and it jingled with bells. “You’re never too old to have a little fun.”

I couldn’t understand why, but a surge of anger shot through me. I pulled my arm away so violently my uncle looked shocked. “Maybe I don’t want to have fun all the time, okay?”

Uncle Flip looked at me with nothing but concern. He seemed so confused, and I didn’t know how to tell him that I was confused too. I wanted to apologize but I didn’t even know why I’d snapped.

We didn’t say much else while we watched the humble pageantry of the children’s costume contest. The kids were super-cute, but their costumes were all so makeshift that they looked a little dopey. I was surprised I hadn’t noticed when they were following me around and sticking ornaments all over me.

My mind wandered to Tiffany, and my feet did too. I left my uncle’s side without a word.

“Did you find anything?” I asked when I got to the book man’s truck.

Tiffany and Leonard were seated on a pair of boxes, with a large volume spread across both their knees. They looked just like a father and daughter when they gazed up at me.

“Come see this,” Tiffany said. She wasn’t smiling.

I tossed my new old clothes on the truck bed and crawled up. The book they were looking at seemed really old, with large yellow pages and ancient illustrations.

“What is it?” I asked.

The afternoon seemed to darken even though the sun was still beating against my back.

“It’s about a lot of weird stuff.”

“Ceremonial magic,” Leonard clarified. “Tiffany says the doll was your grandmother’s. Do you happen to know if she dabbled in the black arts?”

“What?” I didn’t know how to answer that question. “Are you asking if she was a witch?”

“Not a witch, no…”

“She wasn’t a witch.” I glanced at Tiffany, who looked at me with eyes wide as saucers. “At least, I don’t think she was. She was a normal grandma, just like yours.”

“But you never know what she was like when she was younger. Leonard says séances and stuff were really popular back when your grandma would have been young.”

“It’s possible that she or someone else opened a metaphysical door,” Leonard added. “Maybe some spirit or force became attached to the doll.”

“But then why didn’t my aunt ever notice anything weird about it?”

Leonard answered. “Some spirits, if they’re crafty, will lie in wait until the right sort of person comes along.”

“The right sort of person?” I looked down at my Christmas tree costume. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Somebody who’s a little lonely, a little different?”

When Leonard said that, I knew he could tell about Tiffany and me. Although, the fact that we’d tried to steal lesbian pulp fiction from his shop probably gave us away more than anything.

“It’s just like bullies,” Leonard said. “They know who to pick on. They have a sixth sense about it.”

A shiver took my spine, and I glanced around to see if Yvette was looking at me. She wasn’t. They’d put her back in the plastic bag and tied it up tight.

“It never gets easier, being different.” There were tears in my eyes, and I struggled to keep them from falling, but Tiffany looked at me so tenderly that I couldn’t stop it. She took my hand and squeezed it, and I sat down next to her. “Maybe Yvette wouldn’t have been jealous if I was paying all this attention to some stupid boy instead of a girl. It’s like everything I do gets me in trouble. No matter what, someone’s gonna hate me or tease me or be a jerk. I should just do the opposite of everything I want.”

“No, no, no,” Leonard said urgently. “You have to be yourself, even if it’s not easy.” He looked over his shoulder, then asked, “Do you think it’s easy for a gay man to live in a small town?”

Leonard looked at us expectantly, and it finally dawned on me that he was talking about himself.

“No,” I said. “I guess it wouldn’t be.”

“But you can’t change who you are,” he told us. “And, in spite of everything, I wouldn’t want to. Would you?”

“No,” I said. I didn’t even have to think about it.

Tiffany took a breath, digging her nails into my palm. “What now?”

Leonard read from the text and translated the convoluted language. “To cleanse a cursed object, burn it, drown it, or bury it in sea salt and sage.”

“I’ve already tried drowning Yvette—twice, actually. And I don’t know if she would burn. She survived the fire in my room.”

“We’ll have to bury her,” Tiffany said. “Does your aunt have salt at the cottage? And sage?”

I nodded. “There’s sage in the herb garden, but we only have table salt, like in a shaker.”

“My grandparents have coarse salt at the store.” Tiffany stood, closing the big book on Leonard’s fingers. She picked up the plastic bag containing my cursed doll. “Come on, let’s go. I was supposed to be back, like, an hour ago anyway. My grandma’s gonna kill me.”

“Wait!” Leonard stood too, holding the book like an offering. I thought maybe he was going to give it to us until he said, “I might be of assistance. That is to say, I could help if you’d only wait until after the sale.”

I was about to ask why he’d want to help us, but Tiffany must have seen some reason, or at least felt guilty after we’d tried stealing from him, because she said, “It’s okay. We’ll wait.”

He flashed a heartfelt smile, and then nodded, clearing his throat. “Come back around five. You can help load the truck, then we’ll see about this doll business.”

I heard a whisper in that moment. It was Yvette’s voice saying, “We’ll see…”

Maybe it was the whistle of the wind, but there wasn’t any breeze that day.

There wasn’t any breeze at all.

Chapter 24

 

Loading up Leonard’s truck turned into a lot more work than we’d expected.

After I’d changed into my new old-man clothes, Tiffany and I worked in her grandparents’ store. Maybe “worked” was an overstatement. Everybody in the community was still at the swap meet, so there was nothing to do. I had my needlework, Tiffany had her pulp fiction, and we sat together in preoccupied silence.

I couldn’t stop thinking about what we planned to do to Yvette. I had a feeling she knew, too. As much as I told myself she wasn’t real, I could practically feel her inside my head, digging for information.

Tiffany might have been more afraid than I was. As soon as we’d stepped into the store, she walked straight to the sea salt. She set Yvette on the shelf below the register and put four boxes of salt on top of her. Tiffany wasn’t taking any chances.

We got back to Leonard’s truck just after five, stopping off at my cottage first to leave Yvette in the care of my aunt.

“Leonard told me about your little plan,” Aunt Libby said as my uncle fixed dinner. “I’m curious what that old man wants with you girls.”

“Nothing gross,” I assured her.

“I get hit on by dirty old men all the time,” Tiffany added. “Trust me, I can smell a letch a mile away. Leonard’s cool.”

“Well… use your heads.” My aunt turned to my uncle. “Flip, you got anything to add?”

He looked up from the frying pan. “Are you two staying for dinner?”

“No time,” Tiffany said. “But thanks.”

Just as we turned to leave, my brother burst out of his room. It was still light out and he’d already put on his pyjamas. “Becca, I won!”

“Won what?”

“The costume contest!”

My stomach knotted. “Good for you.”

“Hey, that’s rad, little man. Gimme some skin.” Tiffany gave him a high-five and he beamed.

I couldn’t believe I was jealous of my little brother.

“Tell your sister what you won,” my uncle said from the kitchen.

Mikey ran back into his room and then jumped out with an envelope. When he handed it to me, I asked, “Can I open it?”

“You can have it. It’s a stupid prize.”

“True enough,” my aunt said. “I mean, what kind of judge thinks an eight-year-old wants a gift certificate for a tea room? Still, Mikey, that’s a lovely gesture, giving your prize to your sister.”

“I told you: call me Mike.”

When I opened the envelope, I felt giddy. “Holy Cow, this is enough for all of us to go.”

“I don’t wanna,” my brother said, flopping down at the table.

“Are you sure?” Tiffany asked in that flirty voice I wished she wouldn’t share with any one besides me. “They’ve got all kinds of cakes and pastries, Mike. Really yummy stuff.”

“Come on, Tiff.” I slid the gift certificate inside the envelope and handed it to my aunt. “We need to go.”

“Where shall I put the doll?” my aunt asked.

“In my room,” I called over my shoulder. “Nothing in there anyway. Just make sure to keep the salt on top of her.”

I think my aunt was saying something as we left the cottage, but I sped across the gravel as fast as my high-tops would carry me.

“Hey, wait up!” Tiffany called. “I wore my jelly shoes.”

“That was stupid.”

She stopped on the gravel and put her hands on her hips. “Bag your face, Becca!”

I didn’t want to stop, so I turned around and walked backwards. “What now?”

“You called me stupid!”

I breathed in sharply. “I didn’t say you were stupid, I just meant it was stupid to wear those dumb shoes when you knew you’d be moving boxes.”

“Whatever.” She folded her arms in front of her chest. “Saying what I do is stupid is the same as calling me stupid.”

“Fine. I’m sorry, okay? You’re not stupid.”

“I’m really not,” she said. “Just because I’m blonde or whatever people think I’m dumb, but I’m not.”

“I know you’re not.”

She stared at me in a way where I couldn’t tell if she was angry or upset, and it finally clicked that it wasn’t me she was mad at. “Who thinks you’re dumb, Tiff?”

“I don’t know. Just, like, everyone?”

“Everyone like your mom and dad?”

“Especially them.”

“But not your grandparents.”

Tiffany kicked the gravel, then jogged to catch up with me. “I guess not. They wouldn’t trust me to do so much at the store if they thought I was a total airhead.”

“Exactly.” We walked along the side of the road, in the dry ditch, and I held her hand because no one was around. “I don’t think you’re stupid.”

She smiled. “I know.” After a while, she said, “When Leonard and I were looking for that book, I told him about all the trouble I’d been in. I don’t know why. He just seemed like a good person to talk to, for some reason. If he’d called the police on us, I would have been in super-big trouble. I’ve already had my three strikes. The judge is just itching to lock me up—I can tell.”

My head started buzzing so loudly that I couldn’t hear whatever she was saying after that. At first I thought it was Yvette getting inside my head, but the image that kept flashing through my mind had nothing to do with her. It was my dad. My dad in jail. Behind bars. With that toilet like you see in the movies, where everyone can watch you go. Then I saw Tiffany in the next cell, wearing a striped jumpsuit, her eyes expressing unadulterated misery.

“Beckers?” Tiffany stopped walking and turned to face me. “Earth to Rebecca! You okay?”

I shook my head. “Huh? Yeah, I just… I don’t want you to go to jail, that’s all.”

“I know.”

When we approached Leonard’s truck, he scowled. “You’re late, you two.”

“Sorry,” we both said.

“Well, get a move on. Help me with the last of these boxes.” He looked down at Tiffany’s jelly sandals, and said, “Nice shoes.”

If we’d only loaded up boxes, it wouldn’t have taken more than ten minutes, but once we were done that Leonard said he wanted to drop off the cash he’d earned that day at the bank because there was quite a sum.

“Where’s the bank?” I asked.

He jumped into the driver’s seat. “In town.”

“What?” I squealed, sounding like a little kid. “But I thought we were burying Yvette now.”

Those words made me feel weird, like I wanted to cry.

“I’ll be quick as I can,” Leonard said, and as an afterthought added, “You can come along if you like.”

Normally I’d never have gotten in a vehicle with a strange man. Actually, I probably wouldn’t even have gotten in a vehicle with a man I knew. Aside from my uncle, I didn’t like men very much. I felt like when they looked at me they saw a person I wasn’t, and I had no way of explaining who I was.

But I felt comfortable around Leonard, probably because he was gay. Tiffany seemed excited by the prospect of a road trip, so I thought what the heck? And it was kind of nice. Leonard told us about going to school in the city and finally meeting other people like himself. “Things are so much easier for kids these days. When I was your age, nobody talked about being gay—not here in town, certainly. Growing up, I thought I was the only person in the world with this accursed affliction. It was considered a mental defect, you know. That’s how I saw myself back then. The city really opened my eyes.”

It was really interesting, listening to his stories and imagining what it would have been like living as a lesbian in the days of Tiffany’s pulp fiction paperbacks.

Town didn’t seem so far the way Leonard drove, and once he’d dropped off his cash at the night deposit box, Tiffany offered to help him unload the unsold books into his shop.

“Are you kidding me?” I whispered. “It’ll be dark soon. You want to bury an evil doll by moonlight? Why don’t we just invite a vampire and a werewolf to tea while we’re at it?”

“I don’t think you realize what I owe Leonard,” Tiffany said while he unlocked his shop. “Imagine if the people who owned that cottage you broke into pushed for charges. Those police officers really should have arrested you. You got off lucky, Bec. You have no idea.”

She was right, and I knew it.

My arms were pretty strong, but they still ached after carrying loads of books from the truck to the shop. We worked pretty fast, but it was almost an hour before we were back on the road. Leonard bought us burgers from the one fast food place that was still open, and we ate our messy meals in the car like old friends. Anyone watching us would have thought we were weird, weird, weird—a nerdy old man, a messy girl in men’s work clothes, and a meticulous blonde wearing a Santa dress. But I’d never not been weird, so what did it matter?

Dusk had fallen hard by the time Leonard pulled into my driveway. My aunt and uncle and my brother in his pyjamas were all sitting out front in lawn chairs, waiting anxiously.

“Where in heaven’s name have you been?” Aunt Libby asked. The way she raced over reminded me of the day I’d come home in a police car. Déjà vu. Spooky.

Tiffany answered. “We helped Leonard take the books back to town, then we got burgers.”

“And you couldn’t have picked up the telephone?”

“Sorry,” I said, plotting my lie. “I couldn’t remember the cottage number.”

“I’ll stitch it into your skin if that’s what it takes.” My aunt half-laughed as she mockingly wrung my neck. “Well, I’m glad you’re okay. Say goodnight, girls.”

“Leonard’s going to help us,” Tiffany said.

My brother appeared at my side. “Help with what?”

Maybe Aunt Libby hadn’t told him.

“Yvette,” I said. “We need to do a ritual, to get rid of her.”

He seemed sort of heartbroken. “Why?”

“Because…” I didn’t want to say the doll was evil, but I couldn’t find the right words. “We think maybe she’s haunted. We’re afraid something bad might happen.”

I hoped Tiffany wouldn’t add anything, and I was relieved that she didn’t.

“Where is the doll now?” Leonard asked.

My aunt seemed reluctant to invite him inside, but she finally relented. “The girls said to leave it in Rebecca’s room.”

Aunt Libby led the way, and when we’d all crowded around my door, my muscles started to seize. I felt like I hadn’t entered that room in forever. There was a weird energy about it, like the place was cursed.

I put my hand on the door and told myself to push, but I couldn’t. What if Yvette was gone? What if she’d escaped her bag and my floor was strewn with salt? I was scared of everything, of every prospect.

It was Mikey who pushed my door open with one unrelenting heave. The plastic bag was lying there in the middle of my floor. Even piled up with boxes of coarse salt, it reminded me of body bags you see in the movies. A flash crossed my mind, of Yvette as a real person, skull cracked, missing an eye. A dead body in a bag. It was enough to make me want to cry.

I covered my face with both hands, pressing my palms into my eyes so hard I saw stars. It hurt, but I didn’t care. When I pressed even harder, those stars turned into flashing lights—red, white, blue. Police lights against a dark sky, bouncing off cold asphalt and the body of a young girl. A child called Natalie Spanner. The girl my father had killed.

I gasped, and right away Tiffany’s hand found my shoulder. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” How could I possibly tell her that thought? The shame gnawed at my insides. “Come on, let’s do this.”

“Wait,” my uncle said. “Bec, did you notice something new?”

I hadn’t until he asked. Despite my terror and guilt, a smile crossed my lips. “You got me a dresser?”

“Picked it up at the swap meet.” He seemed so proud. “And look inside.”

Look inside? I didn’t even want to step in that room, with Yvette lying there like a corpse. “Can someone pick up Yvette?”

“Sure.” Tiffany to the rescue. My aunt handed her a plastic tray, and she set the bag down first, the salt on top. “We’re all set.”

If my uncle hadn’t been smiling so widely, I wouldn’t have set foot in that bedroom. I opened the dainty white dresser, and the top drawer was full of shirts. T-shirts! Not only T-shirts, but work shirts. They had patches with names on them.

“There are pants in the next drawer. Hope you like them. They seemed like your style.”

They were. They were exactly the kinds of clothes I liked, and the fact that my uncle had picked them out for me instead of buying frilly pink girl things made me almost want to cry.

“Thank you,” I said, staring at my new clothes. Sometimes I forgot how lucky I was, but when I turned and saw so many people crowded around my room, ready to take on unknown evil, I knew how much they cared. It was right there on their faces. “Okay, let’s get digging.”

There were only two shovels, and I definitely needed one. My uncle took the other, and we started a hole behind the cottage. The clearing wasn’t big, and most of it was taken up by the tepee and the fire pit, but there was a spot near the forest path that seemed like a suitable burial site.

With his back to the forest, Leonard watched us dig. Tiffany stood across from him, holding Yvette like a sacrificial lamb while my brother and my aunt picked sage from the herb garden.

The night hadn’t felt hot before I started digging. Now sweat rolled down my spine, soaking my T-shirt. I mopped my brow with the back of my arm. Everything felt sticky.

“How deep should we make it?” I asked my uncle.

“I can’t see the bottom.” He stopped digging. “Maybe it’s deep enough?”

“But not wide enough,” Tiffany said, laying the tray beside the hole. “See? We’d have to bury her standing up.”

I kept seeing a person. Every time I looked at that plastic bag, I saw the corpse of a young girl. It made me want to throw up, but I steeled myself against the sick feeling and dug the hole wider.

“Are there any magic words in that book?” Tiffany asked Leonard.

He shook his head.

“I feel like we should say something when we bury her.”

“How about that whole ‘ashes to ashes’ bit?” my uncle asked, and for the first time ever I felt like he believed all this was real. It wasn’t an overactive imagination, and I wasn’t crazy. This doll really was haunted.

Tiffany jerked the tray, and I thought maybe she’d slipped. Then I caught the look on her face. She’d seen a ghost.

“Hurry up,” she said. “We need to get this thing in the ground before it tries to kill me again.”

“The hole should be wide enough now,” my uncle said, standing back.

I turned to see if my brother and my aunt had collected enough sage. Their hands were full of the stuff. “Come on, guys.”

“Should we take her out of the bag?” Tiffany asked.

“I think so.” A chill ran down my spine. “But I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to see her.”

We were all quiet. The moon flickered above us like a fluorescent light on the blink. The trees reached around us like skeletal hands across the sky. Where had the stars gone? There were none.

“I’ll do it,” Uncle Flip offered. He propped his shovel against a tree and started unloading salt boxes from on top of Yvette’s young corpse. Tiffany’s arms were shaking, and the tray rattled as my uncle ripped open the plastic bag.

I tried not to look, but I couldn’t help it. Her face seemed bloated and broken, as though she’d truly drowned in the lake. The only thing worse than the sight of her was the stench. It was so bad we uttered a collected “Ohh!” and turned our heads.

Uncle Flip picked her up with his bare hands. Her dress was waterlogged and stained. Her fire-red hair had lost its curl. I pictured how she’d looked before, and bit my lip. It was so sad. She’d been so beautiful.

“Say something,” I told Leonard. “Anything.”

“Uhh… yes, right…” He cleared his throat. “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust…”

Uncle Flip got down on his knees and set Yvette in the pit.

“More,” I said. “Say the rest of it.”

“I’m not sure I know it, to be truthful.”

“You’re a book guy,” Tiffany shot back. “You must know it. Something about… ‘We are gathered here today…’”

“No, that’s for weddings,” my aunt said. “For funerals, they say, ‘Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil because…”

“The Lord is my shepherd!” Uncle Flip joined in. “I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He… oh, what’s the rest of it?”

Their silence made me anxious. “Throw the sage on, guys.”

My brother tore the leaves, releasing its fresh aroma to cover Yvette’s stench.

“Oh, I remembered it,” Leonard said, perking up. “Unto Almighty God we commend the soul of our sister departed. We commit her body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in sure hope of the resurrection unto eternal life.”

“No, don’t say that!” I shrieked as my aunt threw sage leaves into the hole. “She’s already come back from the dead twice. This time she needs to stay put.”

“Sorry,” Leonard replied. “That’s how it goes. I didn’t write it.”

Nobody was saying anything, and my aunt was out of sage. I grabbed a box of salt from Tiffany’s tray, setting it off-balance so it fell to the side. My heart started palpitating. This was such a disaster!

While my uncle picked up boxes of salt, I begged, “Please someone, just keep this funeral going.”

I tried to open a box of salt, but the glue stuck firm. Everything was going wrong.

And then Tiffany spoke up. “It’s the eye of the tiger…” Her breath rattled in her chest, so loud I could hear it. She tripped over her words, stammered and slurred, but she took a chance and recited as many song lyrics as she could remember. “And he’s watching us all with the eye… of the tiger!”

“Well, that doesn’t make me feel any better,” my aunt said, gazing out into the forest. “Gives me the creeps, as a matter of fact.”

I finally got the salt open and I was about to pour it when Leonard shouted, “Stop!”

“What? Why?”

He had the book open in his arms. “We’re doing this all wrong. Hold off for a second.”

I must have really trusted him, because I held the box of salt against my chest.

“Make a circle with the salt around the outside of the hole. Do that now.”

My hands were shaking, but I managed to walk all the way around the pit without catching a glimpse of Yvette. It sure was dark down there.

With one eye on the book, Leonard said, “Negative energy shall not stay. We release it now and send it away. Negative energy, we banish thee. As I speak these words, so shall it be.”

A shiver passed through me and my eyes filled with tears.

“Spirit,” Leonard went on. “Yvette, whoever you are, you are not welcome here. You must move on, move away. In thirty seconds, we will close this pit with salt. You have thirty seconds to leave.”

Leonard started the countdown and we all joined in, raising our voices in unison. It was the longest thirty seconds of my life, and I spent it clinging to my half-full box of salt while Tiffany, my aunt, and my uncle opened the other boxes.

“Five,” we said.

The wind started to pick up.

“Four.”

It was more than just a breeze.

“Three.”

Tiffany’s hair rustled against her shoulders.

“Two.”

A distinct something. I couldn’t see it or name the sensation, but I could certainly feel it strongly.

“One.”

The wind tussled pine needles and leaves around our feet, circling up, and then dying down.

And then nothing.

“Was that it?” I asked. I wanted to see something with my eyes. I wanted some sort of explanation.

“Pour the salt,” Leonard instructed.

Everybody held off so I could to go first, but I didn’t want to.

“What are you waiting for?” Tiffany asked. “You want to see if she’ll kill me for real next time?”

“No.” I couldn’t explain it. “I just… I’m not sure if she’s… gone?”

“I’m not waiting around to find out.” Tiffany dumped her salt over Yvette’s grave. The white crystals made a whooshing sound as they left the box and scattered over that little porcelain frame.

My heart hurt. Physically hurt. The pain was so real I grabbed my chest, but nobody seemed to notice. Uncle Flip and Aunt Libby poured their salt over the grave. The sound should have soothed me, like waves on a beach, but instead it made me inexplicably angry.

“Your turn,” Tiffany said. “Pour it.”

I didn’t want to. Something didn’t feel right.

“Go ahead, Rebecca.” My aunt smiled kindly. “Let’s end this for good.”

I could feel my head nodding, even though I didn’t agree. My hand raised the box and poured salt into the pit. It didn’t smell so bad anymore. Smelled like ocean air and sage, and that was nice… but something was wrong. I knew it.

“Well, Mike.” My aunt took my brother’s hand. “Time for bed, I’d say. You’ve had a long day.”

“Thanks for the gift certificate,” I said as my aunt led him back to the cottage. “And thanks for…”

How do you word it when you’re thanking someone for participating in a ritual to destroy an evil doll? Particularly when you’re 99% certain that ritual didn’t work?

When my aunt and my brother were gone, Leonard closed the book and we all stood in silence. The forest was usually full of sounds at night, but everything went quiet. No stars, no sounds. This was not a normal night.

I wanted to say something, but I didn’t know what. Everyone stared into the pit.

“Should we toss all this dirt on top?” my uncle suggested.

“No, not yet.” Leonard opened the book again, flipping to the page he’d lost. “You’ll have to leave it uncovered for twenty-four hours.”

“What if she climbs out?” I asked. My voice sounded small.

“Bec, that’s not going to happen.” My uncle smiled the same way he had when he’d talked about me seeing a therapist. “Yvette is in the ground. We performed the ritual, we buried her in salt. She’s gone now, and she’ll never hurt anybody ever again.”

Uncle Flip’s voice was so warm and reassuring I almost believed him.

And then I heard another voice, familiar and unmistakeable. It said, “We’ll see about that…”

Chapter 25

 

I didn’t know where to look: up in the air, down at the ground? “She’s here! It didn’t work. She’s still here.”

Uncle Flip’s brows arched like a sad dog. “Bec? Are you feeling okay?”

“Don’t look at me like that! I’m not crazy. Yvette is real, and she’s here. Somewhere.”

“Where?” Tiffany didn’t think I was crazy. She knew better. She was scared. Biting her lip, she said, “God, she’s gonna kill me!”

“We won’t let that happen.” Leonard flipped through the magic book. “There’s got to be something in here that can help.”

But we’d already tried that. We’d gone by the book, and the book didn’t work.

Tiffany shook so hard her dress quivered around her thighs. She backed away from Yvette’s burial site like her feet were moving on their own. The fear in her eyes sent rage through my body. I grabbed my shovel. “Enough!”

“Becca,” my uncle said. “Shh! Not so loud, okay?”

Tiffany backed up all the way to the tepee and watched from a distance as I shouted, “We don’t want you here, so just go away! Hear me, Yvette? Go away!”

“Make me!” her voice screamed through the sky like thunder.

“Oh my God, I’m gonna die!” Tiffany sobbed while the rest of us looked up into the blank night. We’d all heard it.

“I hate you!” I cried, raising my shovel like a sword. When I drove it into the hole, the pointed end met salt. I wasn’t sure if I’d made contact with the doll.

“I hate your guts!” I told her. Then I pulled the shovel out of the salt bed and thrust it in again. This time, my shovel made contact with porcelain. I heard a crack, and it was loud. Then, just as loud, a scream like a whistle on the wind. I speared the salt and the wind howled so fiercely my ears ached. But that didn’t stop me.

“You’re evil! You’re bad!” I pounded my shovel into the hole, and this time I cracked her skull. I could feel it. The porcelain shattered in that bed of salt, and Yvette’s putrid odour joined the scent of sage on the air. “I don’t know why I ever liked you. I must have been crazy! There’s nothing good about you. Nothing!”

“Rebecca!” my uncle called. “This isn’t helping.”

“It’s helping me.” I whacked the salt bed with all my might. My muscles screamed and my fingers were full of splinters, but I didn’t care.

I had to protect Tiffany.

I had to kill Yvette.

The wind screeched like a thousand owls, blowing the trees so hard that branches started cracking overhead. I looked in Tiffany’s direction, but I couldn’t see her face. The wind whipped her hair around her head like a golden cocoon. Her red dress lashed her legs, blowing away the cotton balls she’d glued around the hem. I wondered if some of the screams were hers, but I couldn’t see her mouth.

What had I done?

I looked across Yvette’s grave, hoping Leonard would have the answer, but the wind blew so hard the pages of his book started tearing out, carried into the treetops by unseen hands.

“Make it stop!” I screamed.

Leonard shook his head. “I don’t know how.”

The day had been warm, but this swirling windstorm pierced my eardrums like icicles. I had no choice. I had to drop my shovel and cover my ears with both hands. Even the cold couldn’t dispel the hot rage burning inside of me.

“Goddamn it, Yvette! What are you gonna do, kill us? Fine! Go ahead! Destroy us all. Destroy everything, because all that matters is you, right? Who cares about anyone else? It’s all about you, what you want. You don’t care about anyone but you!”

A gust of wind swirled so brutally it knocked me to one side. I struggled to maintain my footing, but I couldn’t fight the force. The same thing happened to my uncle, then to Leonard, and then Tiffany. We all met the ground with a smack.

Tiffany struggled to her feet. “Shut up!” Her palms and knees were filthy with dirt and pine needles. Her hair whipped around her face, into her mouth, and she spit it out to scream at me. “Stop encouraging her, Bec! You’re gonna get us killed.”

I could taste her fear. I shared it, truly, but my anger took over. “Do it! Kill us all! Makes you feel big and strong, doesn’t it, pushing us around like that? Well, you’re nothing but a jerk and a coward. You make me sick!”

I screamed so hard I could taste blood, and it wasn’t until I looked up at my uncle’s shocked expression that I realized I’d just said everything I’d always wanted to say to my father. I’d been screaming those things at him in my head since I was six years old.

For a moment, I stared at my uncle and he stared back at me, like we were communicating telepathically. He saw right through me, as usual, and my vulnerability echoed through the forest. The wind died down, and everything went quiet.

I didn’t move. Not a muscle.

No noises. Just quiet.

“It’s over,” Leonard said.

“Can’t be.”

Tiffany brushed her hands together, knocking pine needles to the ground. She took a few cocky steps toward the pit. Her smug grin hadn’t even finished bleeding across her lips when the wind picked up again. Tiffany screamed as the force knocked what was left of Leonard’s book out of his hands.

The other gusts had been wicked, sure, but this one was unrelenting. Leaves, dirt, and pine needles picked up in a swell, racing in circles around Yvette’s shallow grave. I grabbed hold of my shovel, digging it farther into the ground so I could cling to something stable.

“It’s a tornado!” my uncle hollered.

“Can’t be.” Leonard clung to a tree trunk at the forest’s edge. Nowhere was safe. Branches were coming down in the wind, and they were big. In all my life, I’d never been so afraid. We were all going to die. And it was all my fault.

A resounding crack rang through the dark of night. A tree was coming down on us—had to be—but the air was too full of swirling debris to see anything clearly.

When I heard Tiffany’s screams, I realized it wasn’t a tree. Our tepee was coming down.

“Tiffany!” my uncle cried.

I shielded my eyes, and looked over just in time to see the red of her dress disappearing beneath those thick branches. My impulse was to save her, and I would have, but the top of the tepee came straight at me. I backed away, but a moment too late. The massive cluster of branches caught my shovel, knocking the handle straight into my face. I fell back. The pain was so intense I couldn’t steady myself.

Everything went black.

My head started to buzz, and I tasted blood. It was in my throat and on my lips. My nose felt like fire, throbbing, but all I cared about was the girl beneath the tepee.

I choked on blood. Was I crying? I hadn’t realized it until that moment. “Tiff, are you okay?”

I couldn’t hear anything besides my heartbeat and the wind. Where was my uncle? Where was Leonard? I couldn’t see a thing, but I felt my way across the pine needles until my hands met the top of the tepee, still intact. “Tiffany?”

No answer. Nothing.

Blood dripped onto my hands as the turbulent wind picked up again. This time I didn’t expect it and I wasn’t holding on to anything firmly enough. The wind grabbed me like two metaphysical talons, like a ghost eagle picking me up and lifting me clear off the ground.

I willed myself down, convinced I was dreaming. That shovel must have knocked me out. None of this was really happening. But that didn’t stop me screaming, “Help! Uncle Flip! Help me!”

“Nobody’s going to help you,” the voice cried out. The voice of Yvette. “Without me, you’re nothing. I’m all you have in the world, Rebecca.”

“No!” I kicked my feet. They weren’t touching anything. I must have been a foot off the ground, and the force of Yvette was pulling me upward. “I’m not coming with you, Yvette. I hate you. You’re hurting me! You’re hurting everyone!”

The harder I resisted, the more pain streaked through me. I felt stretched like spaghetti. My middle ached. My bones were going to break any second. I could feel my vertebrae trying to pop apart. I wriggled, but it didn’t do any good.

And then I heard my uncle’s voice, like he was speaking to me from another dimension. “Your anger isn’t helping you, Becca. Show some compassion. Tell her you care.”

That was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard. “But I don’t! I don’t care about her! Only Tiffany. Where’s Tiffany?”

The pull intensified. My legs felt like they were ten feet long. I couldn’t struggle against the force. I couldn’t do anything.

“Tell Yvette you understand,” my uncle called out. “Tell her you forgive her.”

“But I don’t!” Why was he being so weird? “I don’t forgive her. She’s hurt me too much. She’s hurt everyone!”

“I know, but you can choose compassion, Bec. Choose to be loving. Show her you care. You have such a big heart, Bec, the way you take care of your brother and hold the family together. You have it in you to show anyone you care—even if they’ve hurt you.”

Tears stung my eyes. I clung to my anger, but I was desperate. I would do anything. Anything to stop this pain.

“Yvette,” I cried through the tears and the blood. “You were there for me when I needed you.”

That was true, and when I said the words I felt something on my ankle. Fingers. A hand. Somebody holding me close to earth.

It was working.

“Yvette,” I went on, picturing her peaches-and-cream complexion, her red ringlets as they once were. “I had no one else to talk to when I was younger. I had no friends, but you were there. You were my only friend for three years.”

The grip around my ankle tightened, and the pull from above weakened slightly.

“But, Yvette, I’m moving on now, okay? I met Tiffany and I really like her. If that’s more than you can handle, maybe it’s time for you to move on too. Okay, Yvette?”

The force of God-knows-what held me in limbo, both feet off the ground. My skin prickled. Blood ran down my chin, dripping onto my shirt. And a hand gripped tighter around my ankle.

The tornado howled. As the universe screeched, I felt the strangest sensation, like a huge flock of birds flying past me. I could practically feel the kiss of feathers against my skin.

All at once, the hold let up. I landed so hard on my back that lightning shot along my spine. At first I couldn’t move. I was sure I’d been paralyzed. And then I looked up into the sky.

The stars had come home.

My body started to warm, and something carried me until I was sitting up, looking down. Tiffany’s fingers were wrapped around my ankle, but her eyes were half-closed and fluttering.

“Tiffany!” My throat needled. Blood everywhere. “Tiff, look at me!”

My uncle scrambled to us, but he wavered and held his head. He must have gotten slammed against a tree or something. “Tiffany? Becca? Talk to me, girls. Tell me you’re okay.”

Her body was buried under the fallen tepee. Somehow, she’d wormed her way close enough to save my life. How she’d done that half-conscious and buried under branches, I’d never know. She mumbled something, but I couldn’t make out the words.

“What are you saying, Tiff? Are you okay?”

“Your bracelet.” Her eyes were closed but at least she was speaking. “Salt and sage weren’t enough. Throw the tiger’s eye on top.”

As far as protection went, the tiger’s eye hadn’t done me much good, but the bracelet meant something. “I can’t just throw it away. You made it for me.”

“I’ll make you another one,” she said. “Bec, do you trust me?”

“Of course I do.” I trusted her with my life.

“Then throw the tiger’s eye in the grave.”

When I looked beyond Tiffany, I saw Leonard sitting woozily against a tree. His head was bleeding, and my uncle tore strips off his own shirt to stem the flow.

“Are you sure you don’t mind?” I asked Tiffany.

Her fingers found my skin, tracing my calf underneath my pants. The sensation made me tingle. “I’ll make you a new one. Every year I’ll make you a new one. When we’re in our eighties I’ll still be making you bracelets. You can wear them up and down your arms and legs.”

My heart felt huge, and I hoped to God Tiffany would remember what she’d offered when morning came.

“Throw it in,” she said.

I kept wondering how badly her legs were being crushed under the tepee. Could she even feel them? I could have tried lifting the branches, but my muscles ached so badly I could hardly manage to slide across the dirt to look inside Yvette’s grave.

There she was.

Shards of broken porcelain mixed with salt and sage. Her decapitated head sat on top of the salt, one-eyed, split in two. The sight should have been scary, but for some reason it wasn’t. That porcelain was not Yvette. It wasn’t a dead body. It was just a broken doll.

I wasn’t dainty about taking off my bracelet. I ripped it from my wrist. Bits of tiger’s eye freefell into the grave, landing among the rocks of salt. And that was that.

“She’s gone,” I said to Tiffany. “You’re safe now. It’s just us.”

A sleepy smile spread across Tiffany’s lips. “I know.”

Her smile faded and her eyes fluttered. When she set her head down on my leg, I was sure in my heart that she’d died.

Chapter 26

 

Even with one arm in a sling, Tiffany didn’t act like your typical damsel in distress. She let me help her with some things, but not stringing tiger’s eye onto fishing line. That, she did on her own. I couldn’t very well make my own replacement bracelet.

“Wow, you’re almost done,” she said, with a nod to my needlework. “You should frame that and give it to your mom for Christmas.”

“That was the plan, originally.” I sat beside her, behind the counter of her grandparents’ shop, gazing at the peaceful winter scene I’d created. “But now I’m thinking maybe I’ll give it to my dad.”

Tiffany’s eyes went wide. “Wow, really?”

I shrugged, pretending it was no big deal. “Yeah, well he probably doesn’t have any decorations in his cell, right? So maybe he’ll like it.”

“He’ll love it, Rebecca.” Tiffany slid my new tiger’s eye bracelet around my wrist. It couldn’t have fit more perfectly. “He has to love it, because you made it with your own two hands. Every time he looks at it, he’ll think of you.”

Tears welled in my eyes, and I struggled not to let them fall. “Thanks, Tiff.”

“Do you think you’ll visit him in jail?” Her voice was very soft.

“No way. It’s too scary, the idea of walking into a prison. And… I’m really mad at him, Tiff. It’s hard to explain. Like, I want him to be okay, but I don’t want to have to deal with the whole thing. You must think I’m the world’s worst daughter.”

“I don’t think that.” She leaned in close. “And you know what? I bet he doesn’t think that either.”

The thought made my heart itchy, but Tiffany’s warm smile was the perfect salve. Just as I leaned in to kiss her, the bells jingled and the door flew open. My heart clenched, because I thought it must be my aunt and uncle telling us it was time to leave for town. My mom and Aunt Margo were driving all the way up to meet us, then spend the weekend at the cottage. It would be the first time I’d spoken to my mother since I found out Dad was in jail, and I don’t think I’d ever been so nervous about anything in my life.

But when I looked up, I realized it wasn’t my family that had entered the store. Nope. It was a bunch of the boys who were always hanging around the fire pit.

“Hi dykes,” one of them said.

My cheeks blazed. I was so mad I couldn’t speak.

But Tiffany could. “Hi jerks.”

“Oooh,” another guy said. “Ouch.”

“We’re going out in the boat, Blondie.” The tallest guy, who was also blond, dug through the Popsicle cooler and pulled out five Freezies. The rest of them stared at Tiffany like a pack of wolves. “You feel like waterskiing?”

“How the heck am I supposed to waterski with my arm in a sling?” Tiffany rolled her eyes. “You really are a bunch of idiots, you know that?”

“That’ll be a dollar for the Freezies,” I said, stepping behind the cash register. I just wanted to get rid of them.

“Aww, come on.” The tall blond ignored me, leaning against the counter close to Tiffany. “At least come out in the boat. I’ll let you touch my…”

Out of nowhere, Tiffany’s grandmother started whacking the boys with a broom, and shouting, “You quit giving my girls a hard time, or I’ll shove them Freezies where the sun don’t shine!”

I started laughing. I couldn’t help it.

“Okay, okay!” The tall guy slammed a dollar on the counter just as Mrs. Jones’s broom whacked him between the shoulder blades. “Ouch! Okay, we’re leaving! Don’t have a heart attack.”

Tiffany’s grandmother smiled smugly as the boys fled the store. “Good riddance to bad rubbish.”

But Tiffany didn’t seem so amused. “Grandma, you can’t go around hitting people with brooms. They could have you arrested for assault.”

“Let’em lock me up,” Mrs. Jones said with a shrug. “Can’t stop me from protecting my family.”

Tiffany shook her head, but smiled, and the bells over the door rang out again.

“There’s my girl!” Aunt Libby cried, hugging me across the counter. Uncle Flip and my brother hung back around the Archie comics. “Long time no see.”

That was a joke, of course. Ever since we’d buried Yvette, I’d been back to the cottage every evening for dinner. I still spent my nights sharing Tiffany’s room, but time with my family was more important than ever.

“Tiffany, that’s a lovely dress,” Aunt Libby said as she looked between us. “Is that what you’re wearing to the teahouse, Rebecca?”

I rolled my eye before catching her smirk. “Very funny.”

“Mrs. Jones,” my aunt said. “Are you sure you can’t come with us? We’d love to have you along.”

“Someone’s got to mind the shop,” she said, though she didn’t seem happy about it.

“Close it up for the afternoon,” Tiffany suggested. “Come on, Grandma, the teahouse! You and Grandpa have to come!”

“Please come as our guests,” Aunt Libby said. “It’s the least we can do after you’ve taken such good care of Rebecca.”

I felt a little like a kid they were babysitting, but I was happy when Mrs. Jones said, “Oh, why not? I’ll get Arthur ready and we’ll be right out.”

When Mrs. Jones left the shop, broom in hand, Tiffany asked my aunt, “When you talked to Becca’s mom, did you ask her about me moving in for the school year?”

My brother dropped his Jughead Double Digest. “Tiffany’s gonna live with us?”

“No, I didn’t mention it,” my aunt replied. “I told you girls I’d leave it up to you. You ask your mother and sort out the details. Nothing to do with me.”

I tapped my toes on the floor. “I hope my mom says yes.”

Mikey jumped around the store, knocking over canned goods. “Me too!”

“It’s the perfect solution,” I told my aunt, because we really needed her on our side. “We have all that space in the basement where dad’s band buddies used to crash. Tiffany’s parents are willing to pay rent, which means mom can work less and be home with us at night.”

“Certainly sounds like a plan.” My uncle picked up all the items my brother knocked over. “Mike, cut it out. You’re making a mess.”

“Did Leonard ever get back to you?” Tiffany asked.

My aunt nodded. “He’s meeting us at the teahouse.”

An image flashed across my mind, of Leonard against a tree, his head bleeding, my uncle ripping apart his shirt to bandage the wounds. It seemed like a movie, not like real life at all. Except, if it had been a movie, my family would have talked about it endlessly. It must have been real life, because we didn’t talk about it at all.

August had only just begun, and already I’d lived the most momentous summer of my life. Thank goodness we didn’t have to write those corny “What I did this summer” essays in high school, because I definitely would have failed if I’d written about my vacation. The teacher would say, “You fell for a blonde and she liked you back? Yeah right! Your father went to jail and nobody told you? Double yeah right! Then a doll came to life, set fire to your room, tried to kill your girlfriend, and almost tore you apart like a strand of spaghetti? Triple yeah right!”

It wasn’t very believable.

But it happened.

Now that it was over, I could hardly believe it myself.

“How’s Leonard feeling?” I asked my aunt.

“He said he was woozy for a few days, but he’s very much on the mend and looking forward to seeing us all.”

Tiffany looked to me and I smiled. “I’m looking forward to seeing him too.”

“And seeing Mom,” my brother added.

My uncle helped him stack the big bags of marshmallows he’d toppled over. “You’re looking forward to seeing your mom, Mike?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I think maybe she needs us.”

My uncle clutched his shoulder, smiling proudly. “Sure she does, buddy.”

Tiffany’s grandparents emerged from the back room, and the quiet store burst with energy. I felt giddy, like we were going to a party—which we sort of were. When my nerves got the best of me, Tiffany seemed to know, because she grasped my hand. My new bracelet caught my eye, and I smiled at the glints of chestnut and bronze. The stones were beautiful, just like Tiffany, and when I looked at them I got the same warm feeling I got when I looked at her.

“Ready?” she asked.

I squeezed her hand harder. “For anything.”

 

The End

Also by Foxglove Lee

 

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For Younger Readers:

The Secret of Dreamland

Ghost Turkey and the Pioneer Graveyard

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For Young Adult Readers:

Sylvie and the Christmas Ghost

You Can Never Go Home Again

Rainbow Crush

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For New Adult Readers:

Truth and Other Lies

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Also:

Embarrassing Period Stories

Want More Retro LGBT fiction?

 

Check out Sylvie and the Christmas Ghost:

 

 

Every family has its ghosts…

 

It’s December 1994 and Sylvie’s spending Christmas in a small town while her father renovates the creepy old house he grew up in. According to local lore, the house is haunted. The whole town is so obsessed with spotting a spirit they camp out on the front lawn eating hot dogs, snacking on popcorn, and waiting for something ghostly to happen.

 

Sylvie’s father doesn’t believe in ghosts, but maybe there really is an entity hiding in the walls. Is it someone familiar? A relative, perhaps?

 

When Sylvie meets Celeste, an unusual girl who’s pretty as a Victorian Christmas card, they get off to a rocky start. Celeste claims she can communicate with spirits. Could that be true? If they pool their energies, maybe they’ll unearth a family secret… before it’s too late!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

 

Foxglove Lee is a former aspiring Broadway Baby who now writes fiction for young adults. She tries not to be too theatrical, but her characters often take over. Like Rebecca from her debut novel Tiffany and Tiger’s Eye, who’s convinced an evil doll is trying to ruin the summer of 1986. Or Sylvie from Sylvie and the Christmas Ghost, who’s spending the holidays of 1994 in a haunted house!

 

Foxglove’s fiction has been called

SPECTACULAR by Rainbow Reviews

&

UNFORGETTABLE by USA Today!


Tiffany and Tiger's Eye

How many secrets can one family keep? If there’s one thing Rebecca knows, it’s how to keep her problems under wraps. It’s easy to keep your mouth shut when you’ve got no friends, but with a rock-and-roll dad who drinks too much and a mom who works day and night, Rebecca needs a sympathetic ear. That’s why she tells her troubles to Yvette, an antique doll that once belonged to her grandmother. In the summer of 1986, after her father’s strange disappearance, Rebecca and her little brother are sent to stay at the cottage, where she meets Tiffany: a water-skiing blonde who dresses like Madonna, makes her own jewellery, and claims to see auras. But strange things happen when Rebecca spends time with Tiffany. Her aunt and uncle are convinced she’s acting out—and she’d have good reason to, considering they won’t tell her where her father is—but she can’t seem to convince them she isn’t the one trashing her bedroom and setting fires. Unlikely as it seems, Yvette must be the culprit. There’s nothing more dangerous than a jealous doll who knows all your secrets… A paranormal 80s nostalgia lesbian romance for teens!

  • Author: Rainbow Crush
  • Published: 2017-02-15 04:05:19
  • Words: 67658
Tiffany and Tiger's Eye Tiffany and Tiger's Eye