Authors: Kiersten White
THE AIR STINGS MY NOSE. I BREATHE IN AS DEEPLY AS
I can. It’s bitingly cold, but you can taste that it’s clean. And space! So much space! They hardly ever let us go outside in Chicago, and when we do it’s always supervised field trips in the city. There’s room here, room to think and to feel and to breathe. I could probably even get far enough away that I wouldn’t have to worry about Ms. Robertson listening in on me.
“What was that?” she asks, glaring suspiciously from where she is helping the shuttle driver unload our bags.
Oh crap, I hope she didn’t hear
, I think.
She didn’t. She has no idea what I’m planning. Don’t think about it, Fia, don’t think about it. She won’t know until it’s too late. I’ll wait until she’s sleeping. Don’t think about it.
Her glare deepens, and I smile innocently. I pick up my bag and Annie’s. Eden is already helping Annie across the heavily salted sidewalk to the lodge. When I walk into the rush of warm air, I let myself laugh. Pretending to be plotting is my new favorite Ms. Robertson game.
It’s not very hard to be creepy in my head.
There’s a room for us to congregate in while we wait for our keys, and it’s already set up with steaming hot chocolate. Everything smells like pine with a hint of dark, bitter coffee, and I’m not at the school, and there’s no training here so no one is going to hit me until I hit back, and maybe, just maybe, my head will be quiet.
Eden looks up at me with a puzzled expression, then raises her eyebrows in an I-told-you-so sort of look. I flip her off.
Eden snorts and shakes her head, mouthing, “Busted.”
With a sigh I turn around to find Clarice, Annie’s staff mentor and hero. Clarice is teaching Annie about the visions she sometimes sees, helping her with them. Clarice is the best thing that’s happened to Annie in years.
I hate Clarice.
It’s a secret, like most things, but I hate Clarice with a burning intensity that scares me sometimes. I don’t know why. It’s not the same way I hate Ms. Robertson. I can’t help it. It’s like the feeling I get just before something bad happens.
“Can I talk to you for a minute, Miss Rosen?”
“I don’t know, can you?”
An eyebrow rises, but she ignores my back talk. “In here.”
She leads me across the hall into a small room. There’s a fire in the fireplace, and soft leather couches, but the warmth and the potential of this place is gone now and I know with a sinking dread that the wrong from the school has followed me here.
“I have a project for you.”
“I thought this was a vacation.”
“For the other girls. But surely you know how expensive the instructor we hired for your sister is.”
“We didn’t ask for that. I can ski with her, or hang out with her here.” I step toward the door, desperate to get away from this conversation. “We’ll go back to Chicago. It’s fine.”
Her smile is colder than the air outside. “None of these things are free, Fia. The medical consultations? The private instruction? The specialized technology? Do you think your aunt is paying for any of it? Do you think she would be willing to if the scholarship dried up?”
Mention of Aunt Ellen makes the hollow space in my stomach gnaw at itself angrily. No. Clarice is right—she knows she’s right. No one else will do these things for Annie. No matter how I feel, no matter how awful the school is, Annie loves it and I love Annie.
I hate Clarice. I hate her so much it hurts. I wish she were like Ms. Robertson and could pick the thoughts out of my head, or, better yet, like Eden, so she could feel what I am feeling because I want to hurt her. I want her to feel how she makes me feel.
She sighs, stares distractedly out the window. “They say it’s easier to catch flies with honey than with vinegar. But sometimes flies refuse both, so you have to resort to smashing the life out of them.” Her gaze focuses back on me with a chilling intensity. “There’s a man staying here with two teenage sons. I’ll point them out to you tonight at dinner. What we need is simple. At some point in the next two days, you take this,” she holds up a small jump drive, “and upload the contents onto the man’s laptop.”
She hands me the drive and I think it should burn me but it’s lifeless plastic.
“You don’t need to know.”
“Well, why have me do it? Why can’t someone else?”
“Because I want to see what you come up with. Think of it as an exercise in practical problem solving. Extra credit. How do you manipulate one adult man and two teenage boys into giving you access to their rooms? More important, how do you do it all with nothing pointing back to you for blame?”
“And if something goes wrong?”
That smile. I want to punch holes in her perfect white teeth because they are wrong, they aren’t what she is really, she’s a monster.
“If I were you, I’d be very careful to make sure nothing goes wrong.”
“—DIDN’T ASK FOR ANY OF THIS. I FEEL LIKE MY ENTIRE FUTURE
has been stripped away, you know? I haven’t even finished my research grant applications, because what’s the point?”
I freeze in the hallway, certain that I am not supposed to be hearing Aunt Ellen’s phone conversation. Ice clinks in her glass, and then she sets it back on the coffee table with a resigned thud.
“No, he’s out of the picture now, too. Turns out neither of us wanted kids, but he had the option to get away. I know I shouldn’t blame my half sister for dying, but seriously, it was really selfish of her.” She laughs bitterly.
I back slowly toward the room I share with Fia, trailing my fingers against the wall even though I know this small apartment well enough by now. Fia stirs in her sleep, whimpering, and I climb up to the top bunk and squeeze in next to her. It’s not enough space for two people.
There’s not enough space for the two of us anywhere, I guess.
“You should totally grow your hair out,” Bella says, tugging on the ends that hit at my shoulders. “It’s super thick and pretty.”
I smile, trying not to blush. “Thanks.”
She sits down next to me as other students pass us on their way to buses or waiting cars. “What are you doing today?”
I shrug, the concrete steps in front of the middle school hard under my tailbone. “Nothing.” I hope I sound casual. Bella’s the first person to really be nice to me since we moved here. I know people are intimidated by my disability. They’re either falsely sweet or just avoid me. Bella is a little too interested in it—constantly asking me questions, being shocked when I can do basic things on my own, going out of her way to “help” me when we’re in crowds—but at least she’s a friend.
“You should come over to my house! It’s a short walk. I can help you figure out how to do your hair.”
I open my mouth to say yes, desperate for any piece of normal, no matter how small, but then my shoulders slump. “I have to wait for my sister to pick me up.”
“She can drive us there.”
“Oh, no, she’s eleven.”
There’s a slight exhalation of air, and I cringe. Bella’s laughing. “You have to wait for your
sister to pick you up?”
“I just mean, I have to wait for her to get out of school and walk here. Then we walk home together. My aunt gets home late.”
Bella hmms dismissively. “We’ll wait for her and tell her to walk home alone. She can, right? Like, she doesn’t need someone to take care of her?”
There’s a slight challenge in Bella’s tone, and I wonder if she’s asking if
need someone to take care of
. “Yeah, whatever. We’re on our own most of the time.”
A few minutes of Bella’s chatter later (who is wearing what awful outfit, which girls give up second base, which boys want you to), Fia walks up and grabs my hand. “Come on, I’m starving.”
“I’m going over to Bella’s?” I clear my throat, hating that it came out like a question, and scowl. “You can walk back on your own.”
There’s a long pause, and then Fia says, “How will you get home after?”
“My dad can drive us.” Bella grabs my hand and pulls me up, away from Fia.
“Wait!” Fia tugs on my backpack, nearly making me lose my balance.
“What?” I snap, embarrassed and angry. I don’t want Bella thinking I’m pathetic or that my only friend is my little sister. Even if it’s true.
Fia leans close to me, whispering fiercely. “You shouldn’t go. You shouldn’t be with her.”
Bella snorts her laugh again. “Jealous much? I’m so glad I don’t have a sister. Come on, Annie.”
“It’s fine,” I hiss. “Just go home.” I’m glad for once I can’t see the expression on Fia’s face, because if it’s anywhere near as terrible as I feel, it would kill me.
But I still go with Bella.
“I’VE NEVER SEEN YOU PUT ON MAKEUP BEFORE.”
Eden eyes me curiously from where she’s finishing the braid in Annie’s hair. Her room is next to ours, but she came over as soon as she woke up.
“I’ve never needed to.” I need to, today. The weight of this knowledge is like an itch under my shoulder blades, muscle deep and impossible to reach. Because what I am going to do today is wrong, but I have to ignore that. I have to make it right so I can do it.
It’s terrifying how easy it is to let the wrong wash over me so I know how to use it.
“Wear the dark purple thermal top,” I say, avoiding Eden’s eyes, trying not to feel anything.
“Because you look hot in it, and I saw some cute boys here yesterday.”
“Seriously?” Her voice catches between disbelief and an excited squeal. “How did you see cute boys that I missed? And since when are you so interested in boys?”
I shrug. “Not like we have a lot of opportunities at the Keane School of Endless Estrogen.”
I glare at my push-up bra. I wish I were wearing a sports bra. Then I tug my camisole down a bit, knowing I need Eden’s much-older-looking body for today to work.
I am using Eden for her
Okay, that part of the wrong is almost funny enough to laugh about. But not quite.
And now—I feel sick, so sick—I have to get rid of Annie, because Annie will ruin what I need to accomplish. I don’t know how or why, but I know she can’t be there. I want nothing more than to spend the day with her, but instead I will spend the day drowning in wrong so that I can protect this life Annie loves so much.
I step out into the hall and nearly run into Clarice. These are the instincts I have to ignore. The ones that say
hurt her, hurt her now, hurt her before it’s too late
I’m crazy, I know it, it’s wrong to feel this way.
to hurt her.
“I need you to take Annie,” I say instead of smashing my elbow into her stomach.
“Because I have work to do today and I can’t do it with her around,” I say instead of slamming my palm against her nose.
She smiles. “I see. What do you have planned?”
“I don’t know yet,” I say instead of slamming my foot into her knee and crippling her. “But Annie won’t work.”
“Fair enough.” She slips past me (if I had a knife, I could—
, I’m not evil) and knocks on the door before opening it. “Annie! There’s my girl.”
MY GIRL. NOT CLARICE’S.
“Come on, I want to get you all set up and introduce you to your instructor as soon as she gets here. Have breakfast with me in my room.”
Annie smiles, pleased as always to have so much of Clarice’s attention. Annie loves Clarice. Clarice helps Annie. It’s wrong to feel the way I do about Clarice. My fingers clench so tightly they ache.
“See you on the slopes!” Eden crows. I want to say something, anything cheerful, but it will be a lie and my throat closes on itself.
I walk in after Annie and Clarice leave and close the door behind me. If I can operate in the middle of this much wrong, if I can fake out my own instincts, I can fake my own emotions, too.
I am excited.
I smile slyly at Eden, give her what she needs to feel so I can rope her in. “How would you like to be sixteen for the day? Because there’s a pair of super hot brothers perfect for sharing long ski lift rides with.”
And a small, wicked part of me revels in the wrong, revels in knowing that even if I don’t know exactly how I am going to pull this all off, I