Authors: Kiersten White
“FIA, CAN’T YOU REMEMBER TO PUT YOUR SHOES
away?” Aunt Ellen says.
I sigh and lean against the headboard, my bed squeaking beneath me. I almost wish Aunt Ellen would yell. She sounds so . . .
when she talks to us. Fia mutters in reply and then stomps to our room, throwing something with a loud thump against the wall. My guess? The shoes.
“I hate weekends,” she says, bouncing the mattress as she climbs on next to me. “At least when she’s gone she doesn’t ignore us.”
“I just heard her talking to you.”
“Oh, right, nagging. Yes, that counts. I feel so loved! Best aunt ever.”
Light bursts around me and I’m falling, everything around me dizzy with motion and images. I feel sick watching them but I can’t close my eyes.
Oh no, not again, not again!
I wait to hear my parents’ voices, but everything is different. I’m inside—a house? I don’t know whose. I don’t know how I got here, or if I’m even really here at all. I can’t feel myself. All I can do is watch, the same as before.
A girl—maybe my age?—with hair so light it’s almost colorless, backs into the hallway, something on her face so immediate and overwhelming I instantly recognize it as terror.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers over and over, her eyes glued to the dirty-looking carpet beneath her feet.
“Sorry? You’re sorry? I’ll show you sorry,” a man growls. He looms over everything; I can’t see anything else, and I know why she’s scared because I’m terrified. I want out of here, there’s too much to see, my brain is going to explode, and then—
He raises his arm and slaps her across the face. She barely cringes, stumbling a bit but not doing anything to defend herself.
I want to scream.
Then he hits her again and she loses her balance, trying and failing to grab for a railing at the top of a flight of stairs. She falls.
“Annie? Annie! What’s wrong? Annie!”
I roll over the side of the bed and throw up onto the floor, my head still spinning and my eyes aching with the memory of sight.
“You were having a seizure or something. I’m going to call nine-one-one.” Fia moves but I reach out and grab her arm, squeezing it.
“I know his voice. How do I know his voice?”
“You’re not making any sense!”
It hits me with another wave of nausea. I know his voice because I’ve been in that house. I’ve ridden in a car with him.
“What color is Bella’s hair?” I ask.
“Tell me what’s going on! You’re hurting my arm!”
“Just answer me!”
“Blond! Really light blond.”
“White?” I whisper.
“I saw her. Like I saw Mom and Dad. I saw her, Fia! She’s in trouble! We have to go help her. Her dad . . .”
“No,” Fia says, all hesitation gone from her voice.
“You don’t understand, I saw—”
“No! I told you it was a bad idea to be her friend, and this is an even worse idea. Don’t you remember the newspaper story?”
I cringe. Heather had been so freaked out by my hysterics, she told the local newspaper that I’d predicted my parents’ death. But the thing is, if I hadn’t seen it, if they hadn’t been coming home early for me because of the panicked phone call . . .
Everything would be different.
“What if he kills her?” I’m trembling, disconnected from my own body and feeling worse than I have since that night.
“Trust me, Annie. This is bad. We do nothing. Nothing. Okay? You don’t know what you saw, or why, or if any of it was real. You don’t say a word to anyone.”
I nod, let her pull me close and stroke my hair. But I can’t get the expression on Bella’s face out of my head.
I HAD NO IDEA BOYS WERE THIS EASY
what to do, what to say, when to touch their arms, when to laugh. The only part that is a struggle is not beating them down the slopes. That aspect of flirting I am not a fan of. Turns out, I’m a natural at skiing.
Eden, much less so. Though she manages to make her constant falling into an excuse to hold hands with the older brother, Ty, as often as possible. Which leaves me with Ryan, whose face is so open even Annie could read him. I fall on purpose a couple of times and let him help dig me out of the deep powder.
“Come on, guys,” Ty says, posed aggressively next to the sign for a double black diamond trail. “Let’s do this one.”
Eden laughs. “Yeah, I’d prefer making it to the bottom in one piece, thanks.”
I can tell how nervous Ryan is, how much he wants to be the brave one, how much he doesn’t want to go down that trail.
I look at him and bite my lip. “I’d rather not.”
Relief washes over his face and he stands taller. “I’ll go with the girls. We’ll meet you at the lifts.”
“Pansy!” Ty calls as he turns and rockets down the mountain.
Eden goes ahead of us gratefully, and I smile at Ryan. “Older siblings, right?”
He fakes a laugh.
“My sister is good at everything,” I say. “Sometimes I don’t even want to try things she does because I know I won’t be as good at them. She never says anything, but I know she notices. I wish I could just do something first for once.”
“I swear Ty gets away with murder, too. If I pulled half the crap he does, I’d be grounded for life.”
“Yes! You get pushed into the ‘good child’ role, and if you ever dare do anything outside of it, it’s all ‘You know better. We’re so disappointed in you. Blah blah blah.’ One of these days I’m going to do something totally crazy, and no one is going to be able to believe it.”
He smiles, but there’s a determined set to his eyes. “Me, too.”
This is all such a lie. I know I wouldn’t be the good child. I never was. My parents depended on me, but I was in trouble more often than not. And Annie couldn’t be a more supportive older sibling.
But this foundation, this bonding? I’m going to need it later. I don’t know why, I just know I will. It’s both scary and oddly thrilling, rushing headlong into this con without knowing where it’s going.
A bit like skiing a new trail, actually.
But Ryan is so sweet, so earnest, whatever I’m going to do makes me sad.
Not sad! Not with Eden nearby. Not sad at all.
As the sun sets and dinner with the rest of the schoolgirls approaches, Eden and I hold on to the day by agreeing to let the boys buy us hot chocolate at the outdoor café. Eden is flushed and practically glowing as we wait for them.
“This is my favorite day ever.”
I remember to feel happy, too. I am happy! Feel how happy I am, Eden. “It’s been pretty awesome. How are the boys feeling about it?” I nudge her slyly. “Come on. We both know I know what you can do.”
She looks around cautiously, like maybe someone will figure out what we are talking about by the expressions on our faces. “Okay, fine. You got me. I had forgotten how amazing it is to be around a boy I like who likes me back. I can feel what he feels and what I feel, and then all the feelings compound and build on each other until it is like the
high. Forget drugs—just give me cute boys.”
I laugh. “Okay, now I might actually envy you your freaky feelings thing.”
“We need to get the heck out of that all-girls’ school.”
“Or you need to start liking girls.”
“I so would if I could, just to feel like this more often. I’m already dreading the withdrawal. I don’t want today to end.”
I link my arm through hers, because Eden is a very touchy person and it’s the right thing to do to get her completely on my side. I know she’s still wary of me—I’ve never been nice to her—but I need her, because I need both Ty and Ryan tonight. “I think I know how to make that high last at least a few hours longer. It involves some serious rule breaking, though. You in?”
Her dark brown eyes crinkle up at the edges and she leans against me, lips pursed to smother her devious smile. “Oh, I’m in.”
I spot the boys walking gingerly back to us across the packed snow. “Follow my lead.”
I take my hot chocolate with a grateful smile, looking up through my eyelashes at Ryan. “I wish they had night skiing.”
“Me, too!” He leans forward, then shuffles his feet, unsure of how close he should stand to me. I shift my hips so I’m closer to him.
“Isn’t there anything to do in the evenings?” I ask.
Ty shrugs. “Nah, not really. You can go into town, but . . .” “But we’re here with chaperones,” Eden finishes.
I twist my ski boot, letting the hard shell dig into the ice beneath. “I heard there was a Jacuzzi.”
“It closes at nine,” Ty says. “And you need an executive room key card to even get in.”
My smile turns challenging as I look at him. “And who do we know with one of those?”
“We have to be in our rooms by nine,” Eden says. “And a bikini wasn’t exactly on the packing list.”
I shrug. “Because that’s so much different than a bra and underwear? Pretty sure we brought those.”
Ty’s mouth drops open, but he’s not the one I have to win over. He’ll do it in a heartbeat. It’s Ryan I have to convince.
“We could get in trouble,” Ryan says, his mouth a worried line.
I reach out, glad I already took my gloves off, and touch his cheek. “Yeah, we could. Good kids wouldn’t do this.”
“Three a.m.,” he blurts out.
“What?” Ty asks, shocked.
“Let’s meet at the Jacuzzi at three a.m. Dad will be asleep. No one has to know. Besides, what else are we going to be doing then?”
Ty laughs. “Umm, sleeping?”
I gaze admiringly at Ryan, then raise a mocking eyebrow at Ty. “Boring much?”
“Fine,” he says, squaring his shoulders. “Three a.m. We’ll prop the door open for you.”
Eden giggles, hiding her face behind her hot chocolate. “Good thing I’m better at sitting in a steamy room than I am at skiing. I love today.”
I lean even closer to Ryan, anchoring him so he doesn’t change his mind. When no one is looking, I slip my hand into his and squeeze.
It’s a lie, but it’s the lie he needs.
I’m going to hell.
I STAND, CLUTCHING MY BACKPACK STRAPS, TRYING
not to bounce up and down with nerves. Bella meets me here after fourth period so we can go to lunch together. It’s always the first time I’m around her during the day.
Please, please don’t be dead, Bella. I had Fia check the news all weekend to see if Bella’s dad was arrested, but there was no mention of anything. Fia finally snapped at me and refused to look anymore, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.
“Hey,” Bella says, breathless.
“I’m so glad you’re here!” I beam, stupid with relief. It didn’t happen. I’m not crazy. I don’t see things that are real. Or maybe I am crazy, but again: it didn’t happen. Which means maybe I didn’t really see my parents, either!
Bella does her snort laugh. “Yeah, super glad to be here, too.” She shifts and there’s an odd creaking sound. I turn toward the lunchroom and then I hear a clicking noise between her footsteps. Footstep—only one foot.
“Crutches. Broke my leg. I was wondering if you’d notice. I feel like such a freak, everyone staring. You must feel like this all the time.”
My stomach sinks and before I can stop myself I blurt out, “Is your dad in jail, then?”
There’s a long pause, and Bella’s voice is totally flat when she answers. “What do you mean?”
“I just—your dad. And the stairs.” I scramble for some way to explain what I’m saying. “How you hurt your leg.”
There’s a click of the crutches, and Bella’s voice moves farther away. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I tripped. I’m clumsy. Everyone knows I’m clumsy. Why are you talking about my dad?”
I reach out a hand, desperate. “I saw—I thought I saw—I mean, I just thought maybe your dad . . .”
“You saw? Last time I checked, you’re blind.” Her tone is one I’ve never heard before—not directed at me, anyway, only at other girls when she gossiped.
I’m so scared for her. She’s here, but she’s hurt, and I know what happened. I have to help her. “I know about your dad,” I whisper. “Bella, you can’t let him hurt you like that. You have to talk to someone.”
My hand hangs in the air, begging her to take it.
Now she sounds the way she looked when I saw her—terrified. She tries to laugh but it comes out strangled. “You are such a freak. I don’t even know what you’re talking about. Is this what you do for fun? Make up sick stories about people’s families? You really are insane, you know that? Stay away from me.”
That afternoon as I sit on the steps alone, waiting for Fia, I hear muffled laughter and sharp whispers. But Bella doesn’t bother to keep her voice down. “I Googled her. Did you know she actually claimed to see her parents die before it happened? Someone needs to remind her what being
“Let me carry your backpack for you,” another girl says, and I flinch as something metal clips my shoulder.
“Oh, sorry,” Bella says, syrupy sweet. “These crutches are so confusing, and I didn’t
“Touch her again and I’ll break your other leg,” Fia snaps, and I want to sink into the earth and disappear.
I’d never noticed before how mean Bella’s laugh is. “Oh my gosh, Freak and Baby Freak!”
The crutches click like exclamation marks as Bella and her new entourage leave, still cackling.
Fia sits next to me and takes my hand in hers. “Oh, Annie,” she says with a sigh. “I told you not to say anything.”
“I should have listened.” I lean my head on her shoulder, miserable.
“You should always listen to me.”