Hello everyone, let’s give this thing a try the good ol’ fashioned-way. In a year where we all can use a bit of pick-me-up, I will make Ninety Days available for free here on this website, chapter by chapter. I’m rusty, achy, hurty, and older–so bear with me. I hope you enjoy it. If it goes as planned, it will be an emotional ride. But hopefully worth your wait. – xo, Ani
Every airplane hurtling across the sky carries goodbyes. Some for days, some for life. Then there is mine—the unknown kind.
I stare out of the Plexiglas window into dense darkness. It’s midnight back in Portland. Did Reagan make it home safe after seeing me off? Is she curled up on my old bed, still crying? And Javier—does he even have a bed in his jail cell? Or is he slumped on the floor, staring at darkness just like me? I leave the hardest person for last . . . him . . . Aiden Hale, my heart forms his name even though my mind resists. Does he know I’ve left for England? Is he awake at his cabin with the other Marines? Or finally asleep, relieved to have me out of his life?
A burning pain—part rage, part agony—flares like a livid wound between my lungs, and I close the window shade. The businessman next to me is snoring softly. I avoid looking at his charcoal suit, so similar to Aiden’s when it hung closely with my dresses. The wound throbs again, and I glance at the crumpled note still in my hand. Aiden’s right-hand man, Benson, must have scribbled it on a torn piece of paper and tucked it in my rucksack while Reagan was packing my clothes out of Aiden’s home.
I am breaking Mr. Hale’s rules by giving you his letters in hopes that they will lead you to the man you know, not the one you heard today.
Don’t make a mistake you will both regret for life.
I have the words memorized, but they still seem scrambled. Alone they make sense, but together they mean nothing. What does Benson know about my mistakes? About our regrets? What rules is he breaking? Why? And what’s the difference between the man I know and the one I heard today?
I know the answer to that last one. Aiden Hale—the man I thought I knew, the man I loved—would have never reported Javier to the immigration police just to save my future. He would have never ruined my little family. He would have never hurt someone I love. But the man he truly is—the man I saw today with finally clear eyes—did all of that, and admitted it three times.
The burning ache rages up my throat, constricting it until I can’t breathe. I loosen my scarf, searching for air. It blows in a steady gust from the airplane vent. Straight into the center of my forehead. Where Aiden’s lips rested last. Where my father’s lips rested always.
I lift my face toward the vent and draw a huge gulp of pressurized air. In, out. Hydrogen, atomic weight 1.008, helium, 4.002, lithium, 6.94—
“Miss? May I get you anything?” A hushed feminine voice murmurs next to me.
I turn to the flight attendant, trying not to look at her Union Jack scarf that reminds me of Reagan and her obsession with all things British. “Some coffee, please,” I whisper.
Her eyes widen—coffee is not the drink of choice at this hour—but she pads back to the galley for the pot.
I know this is a mistake. I know I should try to sleep. It would be easier to shut down, drift to a different place, a different time. Perhaps I would be back in Portland again. On the sofa with Reagan, listening to Lana Del Rey. Or in Javier’s studio, looking at his paintings. Or perhaps at the Portland Rose Garden, tangled under the blooms with the Aiden I loved, not the one I discovered today.
Yes, it would be easier to sleep, but I cannot. Because if I sleep, this day will be over. If I sleep, this will be the last day in my home, the last time I saw my family, the last time I held my best friend, the last time I was in love. And when I wake up, everything I have will be yesterday. It will be the past.
“Miss? Your coffee?” The flight attendant is back, holding a steaming Styrofoam cup with a frown. How long has been standing there, waiting?
“Thank you,” I mumble, gripping the cup with both hands. She nods and cruises up the aisle, checking on the only other overhead light that is still on. I gulp the coffee, hoping it will burn. It does, and that’s good. Because this kind of burning pain I can understand. When the flight attendant strolls down the aisle again, I refuse the pillow and blanket but take more coffee until that last light is off, and I am the only passenger awake.
Alone now—as though this should matter—I take the stack of Aiden’s war envelopes from my rucksack, running my fingers over the coarse commissary paper. Forty-eight of them—one for each of his last days in Iraq. They’re not marked or organized in any way, only yellowed by time. The only open one is the one I read in his closet after I triggered his startle reflex with devastating consequences. The rest are sealed. I feel each one for thickness. About the same—one page, two at most. This would be a good time to open them. They would keep me awake. They would let me escape in a love story that was almost mine. But perversely I do not. At first, I don’t understand my reaction. This afternoon I would have ripped them open, drinking in each word, each syllable. But as the plane charges through the night, the reasons for my resistance become clear.
One, there is nothing in these letters written twelve years ago to an imaginary woman that can explain or justify what happened today.
Two, they will only break me further.
Three, I cannot survive any more breaking.
I tuck the envelopes back in my rucksack, along with Benson’s note and Aiden’s dog tags. Then I raise my face to the vent again, turn off the light, and shut my eyes.
I am not asleep. My senses are heightened, as though my body is in survival mode. I hear the snore of my suited neighbor, the rustle of a blanket as someone tosses and turns, the whoosh of compressed air, and, above all, the rumble of the jet as the thousands of miles race by. Toward ghosts.
The black iconic cab comes to a full stop on the side of the gravelly road. For a moment, the sight outside the window stuns me. Not because I didn’t expect it—I’ve been conjuring up this image over and over since I stumbled off the plane at Heathrow—but because nothing about it has changed. Not the low hill rising straight ahead, or the single trail meandering to its peak, or River Windrush flowing behind the blackthorn shrubs. Even the skylarks sing invisible in the air the same mosaic. Everything is exactly the same as I remember it. Time does not touch places like England. It only withers those who try to leave it behind.
“Sure this is the place, duckie?” The cabbie’s voice startles me, as though I’ve been yanked back through a space portal. He glances at the deserted road, then back at Burford’s spires and rooftops about a mile away. “No soul ‘round ‘ere.”
“Yes, this is it.” I will never forget a blade of grass from this hill, or the tiny meadow at the top. And yes, there are souls here.
For some reason, the cabbie frowns but then shakes his head. “Right. Tha’ ull be nine’y quid, then.”
Ninety pounds, 129.73 dollars. British prices have become even more shameless over the last four years. I dig inside my rucksack for the new, crisp notes I just exchanged at the airport. They look too flashy, too colorful compared to my stoic American dollars. I hand the cabbie two fuchsia fifties and a mauve twenty, and stumble out.
It takes a while for that first step, but it’s the only step I’m sure about. Behind me, the cabbie is still watching. I start treading up the dirt road toward the hill, listening to the crunch of gravel under my old, worn sneakers. It’s warm—a typical June day for Burford—but my hands are chilled, even my toes. I know why. Chills are a symptom of grief. It will be months, even years before I no longer feel cold. I walk faster, fixing my eyes on the sunny hilltop.
As though it senses my gaze, the peak summons my body, jolting it forward. A buzzing energy spikes in my muscles. Abruptly, I start running. Clouds of dust burst around my feet as I sprint down the road. The gravel is ending now, turning to grass, and I charge up the windy trail. The crest is straight above, beckoning me upward. My thighs burn, my breath comes in loud, sharp huffs, but I keep running. The rucksack rattles on my back, slowing me down. I push my legs harder. The hilltop is closer now; the wind whips my sweaty face, flinging my hair everywhere, whooshing in my ears. Another summit, higher and craggier than this—Aiden’s Alone Place—flits in my vision, and I stumble. I shove the memory aside and hurtle toward the peak. Streaking past shrubs and trees, tripping, falling, and getting up again. Three more strides now, two, one. I leap into the tiny crest meadow, gasping for air.
The dazzling sunlight blinds me, but I don’t blink. I don’t move a millimeter, even though every band of muscle is quivering. Because there, across the swaying grass, the white marble tombstone glimmers under the solitary cypress tree. The same as then, the same as it will always be.
Grief slashes through me, and my knees give out. I sink here at the edge of the meadow, wrapping my arms around my ribcage to keep it from imploding. Hydrogen, I think desperately. Hydrogen, hydrogen, hydrogen . . . But there is no trick for this kind of pain. The only way to survive this is to feel it.
A golden ray of sun shatters over the marble into a thousand sparkles, and I wish I believed it was a smile. They have waited four years, four months, and twenty-nine days for me. And I abandoned them. I wrench myself up, unwilling to make them wait a single minute longer. But even though I dash across the meadow, it seems to take too long to reach them.
I am there at last. Mum and Dad rest together under the same marble cover. The tombstone stands sentinel above their heads, glistening with a million rainbow crystals.
Peter Andrew Snow & Clare Emilia Snow
10 October 1962 – 4 January 2011; 16 December 1967 – 4 January 2011
Amor Vincit Omnia
The miniature climbing roses I planted have grown. Their white buds are about to bloom around the epitaph. Abruptly, I wish I had brought them something—something other than my grief. I rummage through my rucksack, pawing through my clothes, pushing aside the envelopes, until I find what I want all way in the bottom, swathed inside a sock. The crystal vial with the dried rose from Mum’s garden. It has followed me from the day I left here, all way across the ocean, and back again. I rest it gently under the epitaph and kneel, running my icy hand over the marble.
To my surprise, it is not cold. It’s warm, almost hot from the sun. My fingertips thaw slightly, and I spread both hands on the marble, pressing them against it. The stone doesn’t budge, but the wind gentles and blows my hair away from my face. Like a caress.
How long have I thought about the words I would say to them and now, I can’t get them out. Instead of words, or even letters, my body breaks into violent sobs. My entire frame is shaking, vibrating until my teeth start to chatter. The tombstone tilts and blurs. A strange, strangled sound rips through my teeth, drowning the gentle hum of the wind. Under my knees the earth is rocking with a cradle-like movement. I know it’s not the earth; it’s me. I grip the marble edge and rest my cheek on the slab. Exactly where Mum’s chest would be.
I keep my eyes only on the epitaph I chose. Love conquers all. What a beautiful lie to tell. As though to prove the truth, the last four years burst through all my walls and fill my vision with every love I’ve lost. Dad’s Oxford thinker lines, Mum’s rosy cheeks, Maria’s spotted hands, Antonio’s rumbly voice, the little girls’ giggles, Javier’s sunny smile, and Aiden’s sapphire eyes brightening to turquoise in peace as he looks at me. Agony tears through me, knocking me breathless, blinding me with its force. My body convulses as wave after wave of pain swells over me, fighting over which lost beloved face will rip me into pieces. I grip the marble tighter—my only anchor in the squall—and shut my eyes.
“Hydrogen,” I rasp. “Oxygen, phosphorus, carbon, nitrogen . . .” In the deluge, I can’t recall the atomic weights of the elements or their order, but I choke out their names over and over and over. The marble radiates warmth through my chest, and the sun heats my back as though they’re battling the storm with me. I try to focus only on the world outside my head—the woody scent of cypress, the larks’ warble, the dewy grass under my knees—until the sobs recede and the shivers slow down. I don’t know how long it takes. Time no longer has meaning. But when the shudders finally stop, I don’t move. I just lie there, gulping the hilltop air. It’s fine, I tell myself, it’s fine; you survived it. It can’t get worse than that.
At first, I think it’s the wind. Brushing through my tangled locks gently, sweeping them away from my face. But the caress feels too substantial, fingers instead of air. Combing through my strands, grazing my cheek softly.
“Elisa?” A low, husky voice murmurs next to me. Its rich timbre is so beautiful that my heart twitches with ache.
“Elisa? Baby?” The voice croons again, this time closer. A gust of warm breath tickles my cheek, and the fiery aroma of cinnamon wafts with the grass-scented air. I inhale deeply, for some reason surprised that my lungs are working.
“Elisa, can you hear me?” The voice pleads with heartbreaking softness. I open my mouth to answer but something silky, like petals, touches my lips.
“Open your eyes, love.” That word, that last word—so small, so big when the voice says it. My eyelids flutter to obey, but deep in my chest, something starts to thrash and claw as though in warning. It doesn’t want me to listen to the voice.
“Please, Elisa!” The voice begs now, breaking with anxiety. I ignore the thrashing thing—nothing is worth the anguish in this voice—and fling my eyes open.
I am glad I did.
Because the moment I see the seraphic face, twisted with tension, a sense of well-being washes over me. Rightness, the word resounds in my head, and strangely I remember the laughter of four little girls around a dinner table eating mashed potatoes.
“Aiden?” I sigh.
The deep sapphire eyes gazing back at me start brightening, like always. Marine, cerulean, azure, and finally a light, peaceful turquoise. The rest of his face glows, effervescent with beauty. I raise my hand to touch his cheek, but his eyes lock.
“Once I love, I love forever,” he says, and disappears.
My hand clutches around freezing, pitch-black void.
A guttural cry pierces the silence, and I jolt up, blinking and panting. The first thing that comes into focus is the tombstone, rose-gold now, no longer warm. The meadow is empty, grass swaying with wind, not with someone’s passage. The sky is a swirl of vermilion and sapphire. The color sends my insides throbbing. A lark rockets out of the cypress high into the air, its dusk song replacing my cry. I shudder where I am, frozen solid to the marble. Gulping the crisp air, I sit there a while longer, trying to shake off the nightmare.
No, not a nightmare. It was a lovely dream. And not just a dream, but a memory. A composite of beautiful moments I have truly lived. The rose petals on my lips from our first embargo morning; my epiphany of wanting my own children as Aiden and I babysat Javier’s little sisters; Aiden’s gentle caress every time he woke me up; his words, his promises—all of that happened, they really happened.
With a feeling of dread, I realize that things can get a lot worse. Where traumatic memories didn’t kill me, the beautiful ones will do the job.
I scramble up—my body screaming with its own agony. A razor-sharp ache wrings my shoulders and neck. My muscles burn from the sprint up the hill. My ears, nose, fingers, and toes are numb from the hilltop wind, and my throat is raw as though I’ve scrubbed it with sand paper. The soles of my feet are throbbing with blisters. Everywhere I touch, it hurts. And I deserve it.
Suddenly, I’m furious with myself. For everything. For falling asleep on a grave, for drinking so much bloody coffee that I couldn’t sleep until my body collapsed in exhaustion, for drifting into memories when I should focus on the present and, above all, for still feeling the way I do about him.
These are faults serious enough to earn me my own padded room at the Burford Hospital, but fury is pouring freely now for all my decisions, all my mistakes. Inflicting him on the Solises, falling for him against all sense and reason, getting on that bloody plane to America in the first place, running away like a coward, abandoning everything the two people under this headstone tried to give me. Rage pulses through me, hot like the gushing blood of a wounded animal. It claws against my chest, and I finally recognize the thing that was clawing inside me in the dream. Even asleep, I make mistakes. My hands ball up in fists, and a scream tears through my lips. The force of my anger scorches my throat, stretching my vocal chords until I run out of oxygen.
It feels good. It feels good to scream by choice, and not for him. He will not have any more pieces of me.
I straighten up, breathing hard and brushing grass from my jeans. But as I look down at myself—standing here by a grave with stained clothes, frozen limbs, no food in my stomach, no water, only aches and shivers—I know the problem is deeper than him. The problem is me.
Shame takes the place of rage and settles deep. It roots me here for a while as all the mistakes of my last four years merge into one thing: I keep letting myself get hurt over and over again. I keep chasing dreams. Well, no more. This is my third chance at the life I was meant to live. Science, roses, tea . . . quiet. Perhaps with time it will not feel like another death or a betrayal. Perhaps when I’m gray and old, I might even say I healed.
I stumble up to the tombstone and rest my hand on it. The words I’ve wanted to tell my parents finally come.
“I’m sorry,” I croak. “For everything.”
The leaves of the miniature roses flutter in the wind like a nod. Strange how human beings will find signs to confirm what we want to hear.
I reach in my rucksack one more time and fish out the dog tags. They jingle with a joyful sound at odds with their macabre purpose of identifying soldiers for burial. My fingers tremble over the letters carved in the steel surface.
Blood type zero;
Social Security Number;
Of its own volition, my hand clutches around the tags so tight that the metal edges dig into my skin. How can a man with the blood type that saves everyone destroy so many lives? I force my hand open and pick up the rose vial from the tombstone. I lift its hermetic cap and drop the tags inside, next to the dried rose. Then I reseal the cap and set the vial back on the grave.
“Goodbye,” I tell him.
A gust of wind blows through the hilltop, hugging me once, and then it’s gone.
Instinctively, I look at my dad’s Seiko watch, forever on my wrist. Ten-fifteen in the morning, Portland time. With trembling fingers, I turn the dial until the hands zip eight hours ahead to Burford time. The burning pain in my chest erupts, but I know this is right. This is the only time that matters.
They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but that has never been true for me. In fact, as I trudge back down the hill toward Burford, I feel more fragile than ever, as though the flap of a butterfly’s wings will shatter me. But my senses are sharper, ranging out in hyper-vigilance for any potential trigger of pain. So perhaps what doesn’t kill you doesn’t make you stronger. Perhaps it only makes you wiser. I cannot endure more hurt, but I know my rules for survival.
Rule Number One: I will not think about him.
Rule Number Two: I will not think about the past.
Rule Number Three: I will not dream about future.
I will think only about the present—here and now. Practicalities really. Things like, will the Internet be reactivated at the cottage by the time I get there if I called the utility company from Heathrow eight hours ago? Will the food I bought at the airport last me a few days before I have to face town? What will I say to Mr. Plemmons who has taken care of the cottage these last four years when it should have been me? Should I email Oxford to look for a job in Dad’s chemistry department? If I do email, how will I explain my sudden reappearance? What will I say to my father’s colleagues?
I spend the rest of the trek down the hill, rehearsing my lines in my head.
My name is Elisa Snow. My father was Peter Snow; he was the Chair of the Science Department—you may remember him. I am a chemist, too. I just graduated from Reed College in the United States. Yes, a very long way away. I have invented only one nutrient component, which I do not own any more, but I am a fast learner. I will dedicate every hour of my day, and every day of my life, to your department’s research. To continue my father’s work. Please give me a job. I have nothing else to do. No one else left to save.
It’s impossible to ignore the swipe of déjà vu, rehearsing a very similar speech for ICE thirty days ago. But that breaches Rule Number Two so I force all my senses on the path ahead. At the end of the trail, a welcome sign boasts, “Cotswolds. Area of outstanding natural beauty.” Even in my state, I cannot deny its truth. Soft hills roll endlessly around me in every shade of green imaginable. Mint, moss, shamrock, jade. Their crowns are gilded orange from the setting sun, and River Windrush glistens between them like a silk ribbon. Beyond the welcome sign, the ancient road stretches for about a mile, framed by Burford’s medieval cottages, tucked closely together like fairytale books on a shelf. The native nightingales are just starting their mating night song. And a sultry breeze swirls in the air, laced with the perfume of freshly mowed grass and sweet clover. I inhale deeply and blink, as though emerging from underwater. And what felt forced a few seconds ago now feels like hunger. I cannot widen my eyes enough to trace every thatched rooftop and swaying tree. With a tight grip in my throat, I realize a very simple truth: I have missed this place. Despite all my efforts to banish it into oblivion, it has lived in my blood.
Abruptly, I feel late, very late—impatient to see my cottage while there is still daylight. Worried that it has changed. That it is no longer the perfect nest of my childhood. No longer mine. I throw my scarf over my head and scurry the opposite direction of the sign, taking a shortcut across the clover field under the protective tunnel of the primordial yews and oaks. The blisters rub against the canvass of my sneakers, slowing me down. I slip them off, and traipse along the grass. The cool, dewy blades soak my socks and soothe the soles of my feet, like the moist air does with my chapped lips. Now and then, a leaf or branch brushes softly against my hair or cheek, and I can’t help but imagine that England is welcoming me back. Like the prodigal, even though I don’t deserve it. The sun is dipping lower in the horizon now, and I walk faster, wincing at the ache of my muscles. But I don’t want the first sight of my cottage to be in the dark.
Finally the town hill ends, sloping into a tiny valley like a child’s cupped hand. I pause at the edge, my throat tightening at the sight. This is the valley of my childhood. From the moment I could walk, I was lurking in this grass so constantly that Dad named it Elysium.
My eyes skate over its meadow urgently, fixing on the grove of weeping willows at the far end, right on the riverbank. At the sight of their swaying garlands, my knees unlock and I start running toward them, rolling like a pebble down Elysium’s bowl, not caring about the blisters in my feet or the spasms in my legs.
The willows have grown. Their branches drip down like a thick curtain, the tips brushing over the grass. I can’t see anything through the leaves, except a glimmer of river here and there, but the air is heavy, redolent with the smell of roses and I know my cottage is right behind the leafy drapes. My heart—so silent until now—starts galloping. I pause and listen, cupping my ear, like I used to do when I was a child.
Shhhhhhhh, the river babbles behind the branches. Shhhhhhhhh, whisper the willows. I try to find words in their murmur. Shhhhh…sssss….hhhh… I repeat the sound until it rings in English. She’s here. She’s here. I sweep aside the branches and step between the thick trunks into the most magical place I have ever seen.
More beautiful than my memories, more beautiful than Portland, more beautiful than any fairytale or dream.
My Rose Cottage.
It stands there, gleaming silver under the twilight sky, swaddled between the river and the two ancient beech trees with my swing still hanging on the lowest branch. A third beech tree that Dad planted the day I was born has grown close to the huge trunks—healthy and strong, so very unlike me. But despite their vast heights, the trees seem dwarfed, overshadowed by the thousands or maybe millions of roses blooming underneath. Miniature pink blossoms have taken over the whitewashed stone walls, lacing around the shuttered, mullioned windows, covering every centimeter of the peaked rooftop with their vines. Bigger, fuller blooms shoot up from grassy beds, so many that the tiny handkerchief yard is blanketed with a petal-woven veil, hiding the grass and path underneath. Over the arched front door, a garland of magenta blooms has climbed like a crown. And the small reading bench by the river is braided with garden roses the color of ballet slippers. The rose fragrance infuses everything—there is no trace of river, grass, willow, or dirt in the air. Only roses as though the whole earth is soaked in their oil. It’s surreal—as though Mum never passed, as though her soul gives magic to the blooms.
I don’t realize I’m crying until the cottage blurs in my vision. I wipe off the tears, resisting even a blink. Isn’t a blink too much to miss for something you suddenly realize you’ve missed for a long time?
I pad in a trance down the cobblestoned path covered in petals—it is soft, comforting under my socked feet, as though it knew I’d come back with blisters. Trembling, I reach the ivory blooms below my bedroom window. TheElisa hybrid that Mum cultivated for me. I caress one of them, teardrops falling over the petals like dew. Brutally, the memory of showing him a similar rose in the Portland Rose Garden on our first night together intrudes on this perfect moment. “No!” I shout, shaking my head forcefully to dispel the image. But another memory—him waking me up with that same rose the next morning—breaks through with its force. “No!” I yell again, pressing the tip of my thumb intentionally against an Elisa thorn. It works. A small bead of blood drips on an ivory petal, and I become absorbed with wiping it away, not wanting to taint any part of my cottage with my past or with him. Then with shaking hands, I dig up my old key, slide it in the lock, and hold my breath as I turn the rose-shaped brass knob and open the door. I am home.
It’s pitch-dark inside the cottage. The air is stale with the scent of books and aged wood. Mr. Plemmons—in his eighties by now—must only come here every few days. I will have to thank him tomorrow morning for caring for my home so well. I fumble for the light switch on the wall, relieved when the overhead chandelier lights up, bathing the small foyer in a soft glow. At least electricity went as planned.
On the oak console is the crystal vase of the last roses Mum ever cut, now dried and shriveled. Pictures of the three of us on our world travels line the foyer walls. And on the coatrack still hang Dad’s tweed scarf and Mum’s ladybug-red parka, now faded to pink. Gently, I caress Mum’s sleeve. The fabric is stiffened with time, cracking under my hand like a roll of parchment.
“Hello,” I whisper. “It’s me.”
I reach in the pocket, afraid of finding it empty, but she doesn’t let me down. Inside, there is a grocery list and a Baci quote—of course.
“If you can forget, forgive. If you can’t forgive, forget.”
I stare at the words, trying to convince myself that they are just a coincidence. That Mum could not have predicted I might need them some day. Then again, maybe she could. I blink away tears and tuck the note back in her pocket, shoving away memories of reading Baci quotes with him. Some things even Mum would not forgive.
I dump the rucksack and sneakers on the floor and slip off my dirty socks, clenching my teeth when the skin peels off in some spots. But the cool floorboards feel balmy against my soles as I start roaming the cottage, turning on every light.
White sheets are draped over the furniture like ghosts. I can’t stand looking at them and smelling the lifeless dust. I start ripping them off, grey clouds puffing up everywhere. Sneezing, I open every single window until the rosy breeze floods every nook and cranny. It blows through the cottage with me as I dash through every room, checking to make sure everything is as it should be. It seems so—the picture frames, pillows, the last book Dad was reading on his nightstand—yet I cannot shake this sense of panic that someone else has been here, has touched them, has moved them an imperceptible inch. Rationally, I know it isn’t true; I know it’s only this guilt, this grip of possessiveness that I now feel over every speckle of dust here. How could I have left it unprotected?
I save my favorite room for last. Dad’s library. Bookshelves line the green-paneled walls floor to ceiling. The plaid, squashy armchair still has a dent on the seat, as if Dad just got up to go to the kitchen. This is where my love for science first started, where I memorized the periodic table that spans the entire back wall. And where my most precious treasure is—one that I could not take to America. The unfinished chess game that Dad and I started the morning before the accident.
It rests under another sheet on the corner table, inside the glass flower case Mr. Plemmons gave me after the funeral. The sheet is askew, and I panic again. What if a piece has been touched or knocked over? Hands trembling, I peel away the sheet and air flows freely again. Every piece is exactly as we last played it. I was white. Dad was black. Six moves to checkmate for each of us. I run my fingers over the glass case, knowing I’ll never finish this game, and pad to Dad’s desk, shutting down the memory of another chessboard in another library in his home in Portland.
Dad’s desk is messier than I remember it; he must have been running late that last day. But everything seems to be here—the solved Rubik’s cube, the After Eight peppermint wraps, the yellow notepads with his scribbles. I caress the indentations of his precise script, missing him so much in this moment that I wish I was there with him, under marble.
Unable to stand myself, or the silence, I fire up our Oxford Bodleian desktop, or Bod as we used to call it. I am prepared for it to take ages to turn on and update, but the loyal machine hums back to life with ease and the Internet is connected. I need to call Reagan—she must be besides herself with worry. Sure enough, Skype’s first ring is barely finished before she picks up.
“ISA!” Her American accent booms around the library, and her face and wild red ringlets fill my screen. For an instant, my chest clenches with joy, not pain. But then I see her red-shot eyes and tear-streaked cheeks, and the 8,000 miles between us stun me into silence. They must stun her too because for a moment we just stare at each other across the pixels. She is sitting on my old bed, in my old room, wrapped in my old blanket, wearing her purple fascinator.
“Oh sweetie!” She finds words first. “I’ve been so worried. You were supposed to get there hours ago! Are you okay? What happened?”
A whole life. A whole death. “I… I’m so sorry, Reg. It’s been—” I stop because I can’t tell her about falling asleep on graves. Only one of us should have nightmares.
“Hell,” she finishes for me. “It’s been hell, I can see it.”
I swallow hard—even my best friend is not safe from my mistakes. “It had to happen . . . I had to face it.”
“Yeah, but not like this. Not alone . . . Hey, have you heard from Aiden?”
It’s the first time his name is said out loud since Portland, since before the end. It rings like a shotgun, echoing off the walls of the library, reverberating throughout the cottage, until it pierces through my lungs. The wound flares, as though my ribcage is being ripped open. My arms wrap instinctively around my torso.
“Don’t say his name!” I spit out. My tone is sharper, harsher than I intended, and Reagan leans back, her eyes widening. I take a deep breath, staring at the periodic table on the wall. “Sorry, Reg, I just can’t handle hearing his name. But, no, I haven’t heard from him and I don’t expect I ever will.” This is what he wanted after all. To put distance between us. He’ll never let our lives collide again. And that is a good thing.
“No, no, Isa, you don’t understand!” Reagan presses. “I saw him at the airport! Right after your plane took off. He missed you by five minutes, ten maybe. That’s why I thought he must have called or come over there.”
Everything inside me goes silent at this announcement. “What?” I manage after a moment.
Reagan is off then—fast and animated, like she has been bursting to speak for hours. “Oh, Isa, I didn’t know what to do. One minute I was watching you take off, the next I was sitting there on the airport floor, looking at the pictures in your camera. The one you gave me before you left, remember? And I was crying so much. Just seeing all your pictures, everything you loved, and then bam! There he was! Towering over me with Benson and these two big guys I’d never seen before. Do you know who they are?”
I’m so lost it takes me a second to realize she is asking me. “Umm, no—no idea.” Maybe his Marine friends? Hendrix or Jazzman or Callahan?
“Oh! Well, they looked pretty intense. Anyway, the minute Aid—I mean he saw me, he dropped to his knees—more like fell actually. ‘Is she gone?’ he said. I was so shocked to see him, I couldn’t answer right away so he grabbed my shoulder and kept asking ‘is she gone? Is she gone?’
“So then—well, you know me and my big mouth—I flipped out. I told him it was all his fault and he ruined your life. And a bunch of other horrible things. But he just sat there on his knees, frozen. Except his shoulders were convulsing, kind of like he was getting electrocuted. It was weird. Benson and the two guys were hovering over him like he was dying—honestly, I think he might have been. But he wouldn’t talk to them. He just kept staring at the camera, at your picture on the screen.
“Then Benson said something really fast to the two guys and they ran off somewhere. And security came because I was yelling. Aid—he didn’t even look at them! He was just locked on your picture. And his eyes—holy shit, Isa, I’ve never seen eyes like that. It was scary. Like he was burning or something.
“Anyway, I didn’t want to get in trouble so I stood up to leave but then he sort of came to and asked if he could have your camera. Can you believe it? I was like, “fuck no!” I thought he’d get mad, you know, like he does, but he just said, ‘Please. I’m begging.’ I said “no way” and ran out of there. I only looked back when I got to the exit doors and he was still kneeling there on the floor, Benson with him.”
Reagan stops talking abruptly. A ringing silence follows her story—punctuated only by her harsh breathing as though she had said all this without drawing breath. But inside me there is clamoring chaos. The questions are deafening—hammering against my skull like a stampede so that for once the throbbing in my temples is worse than the one in my chest. How could he have been surprised that I left? Why would he chase me to the airport after doing everything in his power to push me away? And why would the man with eidetic memory ask for my camera?
Yet louder than all of these questions is a faint whisper, so deep inside I almost miss it. It doesn’t care about the how’s or the why’s. It has only one worry, just one: is he all right? And because of that, I hate it. I hate it with vengeance. Because I know that whisper—it is the cheater part of me that likes his delusions, the traitor that listened to him in my sleep on the hilltop, perhaps that conjured the dream-nightmare in the first place. Mutiny against the self when I’m barely surviving, when I’m trying to move on.
“Isa?” Reagan brings me back.
“So what do you think? About Aid—him at the airport, I mean.”
I try to crystallize what matters and what doesn’t. “I think he was there out of guilt. Benson obviously told him I was leaving and he came there to try to contain the fallout of his actions. His last words to me were ‘go live your American dream.’ I think he was hoping I’d just take the green card and move on. He never expected me to leave—” My voice chokes off. How little he knew me. How little he knows about love.
“I don’t know, Isa…he seemed pretty broken up. I’ve been thinking. What if we have this all wrong?”
“How could we have it wrong when he admitted it, Reg? I don’t care how broken and guilty he feels now. He turned Javier in. He ruined my family!” I snarl through my teeth, the force of my anger chaffing against my raw throat.
“But Isa, what if he didn’t?”
“Stop it, Reagan!”
“No, hear me out! There’s something else. He moved the Solises!” Reagan’s voice becomes pleading.
“What? What do you mean he moved them?”
My stunned question must encourage her because she is off again. “He moved them last night to a different home so ICE can’t find them now that Javier is caught. Maria told me when I called to check in. She said Aid—damn it, I mean he had called her and explained and sent movers to set them up. Apparently, it was all done within hours. He has moved them in with his parents . . . ”
Reagan is still talking but the stampede inside my head becomes so loud, it drowns out her voice. My Solises—my souls—have been uprooted, but I can’t deny that it is safer, that I should have thought of it. And they’re staying with his parents, probably because it’s the last place where ICE would ever look. And the last place where Solises would see him because he never visits his parents. Of course, it was all done immediately, with trusted movers, so he could not be anywhere near the girls. Despite my hatred of him now, I can’t help admire the military precision of his execution.
“Isa? Did you hear me?”
“No, sorry. What did you say?”
“I said why would he go through all that trouble if he didn’t care about the Solises?”
I don’t have many answers but I have that one. “Because it’s the least he could do, Reg, after tearing them apart. Don’t you see? He turned in Javier to save me, but there is nothing to be gained from deporting the whole family. He doesn’t want to think of himself as a monster. So he’ll try to save them to feel better about what he did.”
Reagan’s raised eyebrow tells me she is not convinced. “But why, Isa? Why would he do this horrible thing in the first place? I mean, he obviously loves you. I don’t understand.”
Of course she doesn’t. But it’s not her fault because she is missing information. Information like the fact that he suffers from PTSD and has a violent startle reflex that will cause him to attack anyone who sneaks up behind him. Like he attacked his mother. And then banished himself from her life. Like he attacked me. And then stopped at nothing to force me to leave him after that, including reporting Javier. No price was too high as long as I was safe from him. That is how he operates. Safety at any cost.
These are things I cannot tell Reagan; they’re his secrets that even now, somehow, I feel bound to protect. But I also cannot lie to her—not when she is the only thing still right in my world. “Some day I’ll tell you the whole truth, Reg. But right now, I just need you to trust me that there is a major reason why he did all this. Can you do that for me?”
She looks at me with knitted eyebrows for a moment, but then nods. “I trust you.”
“Thank you,” I whisper, staring at the keyboard trying to find letters for my next words. They are hard words, but necessary to my survival. “And I need you to promise me something…”
“Anything, sweetie. What do you need?”
“I need you to never mention him again. I need you to promise me that this is the last time we will ever speak of him. No matter what.”
It’s Reagan’s turn for a long pause now. I watch her resistance in every flutter of her curls, in every twitch of her eyebrows. After a few moments, she simply nods.
“I need your help to forget him, Reg, I can’t do it alone.” I plead, my voice breaking even as I reach deep for my anger. But it galvanizes her into the sister she has always been to me.
“I’m here, Isa. What can I do?”
My heart stutters. As though it thinks its beats are numbered. As though it knows a part of it is about to be flayed alive. The cheater part—the part that lets him in. But the cheater and I cannot both survive. One must die and—for my parents, for their hopes for me, for Reagan, for the Solises—it cannot be me. “I need you to log into my Gmail account and delete everything from him, then block his address.” I know it’s an empty action—he will never write—but the cheater cannot have access to his old words, the old him. She would only nurse him back to life while draining me.
“Isa, are you sure?” Reagan’s voice trembles.
“Yes, my password is “i-s-a-i-d-e-n-May7,” I say, embarrassed and broken for the girl I was a month ago, putting all her dreams and hopes in foolish passwords like this. “Change it after you delete everything, and tell me what the new one is.”
She only nods this time.
“Tell Maria not to mention him to me either, please. Don’t tell her why; just tell her it hurts. Tell her I need space from it all.”
“Okay. If she will listen…”
“For me, she will. Besides, I won’t be able to call her while they’re living with his parents.” I realize now I will miss the Solises even more. Anger burns my throat again. “And, last, never give him any information about me.” Something stabs at my insides, as though the cheater is trying to fight back. “I don’t think he’ll ever ask but, if he did, I don’t want any part of my life to be shared with him. Promise?”
She closes her eyes, and her shoulders rise in a deep breath. “I promise.”
With a loud thud from my heart, the cheater part is gasping her last breaths. Soon now, she will be gone. “Thank you, Reg.” I whisper, tightening my arm around my torso.
“And one day you will tell me why?”
“I will,” I promise her back.
Another silence falls between us then. It’s dark out here but daylight still in Portland. How will I wake up tomorrow without Reagan, without the Solises, without Portland’s rain? How will I fall asleep tonight?
As though she is wondering the same things, Reagan says, “I’ll be there soon. Right after Javier’s trial on the fifteenth. You just do your best until then. One way or another, I’m bringing you back home.”
Home. Why are these four-letter words so heavy? Home, hate, love, oath, rage, hurt, hope, live, life. But I amhome. Whatever I hate, that part I love. But I don’t say this to Reagan. I don’t tell her about the oath I took on my parents’ grave, the rage against the self. I can’t hurt her. Right now she needs hope that someday I will return. So she can live her life.
“Do you want to see something?” she says, her voice suddenly lighter.
“Hang on!” She fumbles out of my bed with her laptop, and I see my old walls and closet in the background as she pads to my old window and opens it. Then the little rhododendron yard in front of our apartment fills my screen. The pink and cyclamen blooms are exactly as I left them. A heavy rain beats down on their petals mercilessly, yet they stand upright—their rugged, Oregonian stems not flinching an inch under the torrent.
“Can you see it?” asks Reagan.
“Yes,” I breathe.
“It started pouring right after you left. Three inches already. It’s a record. Even the sky is crying for you.”
“It’s not crying, it’s singing.”
“How does it look over there?”
I turn Bod around so she can see the library. “Oh!” I hear her gasp. “Show me everything!” I give her a little tour—my reading nook, the chess game, the periodic table, the books.
“It’s precious,” she says in a wistful tone. “It’s so… you.” Her voice breaks, and I wonder if she is realizing that I might be gone forever. I cannot stand her pain.
“You’ll see it for yourself soon. And when it’s light tomorrow, I’ll show you the rose garden. You’ll die when you see it! Very British. Can you hear the river?”
We stay like this together for a while, me listening to Portland’s rain, Reagan listening to River Windrush and the whispering willows. She’s here, she’s here. “I can stay on while you fall sleep, if you want?” she offers.
I want to say yes; I want to curl up here, with her on the line, and if I am lucky enough, I will not wake up. But that would violate Rule Number Two: that would keep me in the past. “No, don’t worry, I’m jetlagged. There won’t be much sleep, until you’re here with all your hats.”
She giggles. “I’ve already started packing. See?” She points at the fascinator fluttering on her head. “Purple. For your eyes,” she chokes up again. “Okay, I’ll let you be. I’ll go do those…things…you asked and send you a fresh password. Then I’ll go see Maria. Try to get some sleep and make sure you set up your cell phone for England, okay?”
I nod, trying not to think about the fact that Reagan will meet his parents and I never did. “I love you,” I tell her.
“Love you, too.” She blows me a kiss, and then she is gone.
The silence she leaves behind is unbearable so I turn on BBC. The commentator is discussing protests to legalize undocumented immigrants in the United States. If only protests could save Javier; if only they could reach inside his cell doors.
I pad back to the foyer, pick up my rucksack, and make my way back to the library, my goal now the secret safe in the wall behind the Encyclopedia of Elements. The cheater starts clawing at my insides as she realizes what I am about to do. I dig up his envelopes from my rucksack with fast, jerky movements, wishing Benson had never given them to me. I cannot burn or shred them, and if I were to mail them, they could get lost. I’ll send them back with Reagan when she comes to visit. Until then, they will stay locked up. I punch in the code, and the safe clicks open, revealing the miniscule universe of our important documents within. A copy of the deed to the cottage, my parents’ diplomas, Dad’s formulas every time he invented something. I shove the envelopes in the far back, and lock the safe shut. They seem to call and rattle from their prison inside the wall. Skype dings from the Bod, and Reagan’s message pops up on the screen: “All done. New password: ReaganIsComingJune16. Xo.”
Is there a better friend in this world? I log quickly into my sanitized account. Reagan has been thorough—in my inbox it’s as if he never existed. The cheater thrashes again, so I start composing an email to Professor Edison, my Dad’s colleague and friend at Oxford. Perhaps he will have a job or internship for me. I type slowly at first, trying to explain my sudden return and interest in Oxford when I rejected it four years ago. But every letter, every word feels a step further away from America, from my past, from him. And another nail in the cheater’s coffin. My fingers move faster over the keyboard.
I hit “send” trying not to think of Professor Edison’s reaction when he sees this. He worked closely with my Dad—the two of them would lock themselves in the lab for hours as they were developing a formula or a new chemical. He reached out to me a few times over the years but, as with everything British, I never reached back. Who knows if he will even want to help me.
Abruptly, the weight of the last four years, thirty days, and thirty-six hours seems to free-fall over me, and my whole frame starts trembling. A deep chill seeps through my skin, all way to my bones. I trudge up the creaky stairs to the bathroom. It’s time to wash the past off, no matter how much the cheater fights against it.
I run the faucet for a while until the water is hot and clear on the tiny copper tub. During the first shower I took here all by myself, Mum sat on the toilet, telling me I should always raise my face to the water. It rinses off bad thoughts, she said. I step under the scalding stream now, wondering whether England has enough reserve to rinse off my thoughts. To wash off an entire continent, an entire life, an entire dream.
The water scorches my skin but I welcome it, rubbing it methodically with one of Mum’s rose soaps. My fingers skate over the yellowing bruises he left on my skin. The contours of his fingers look like rust where he gripped me on my arm and shoulder. Four welts, the length of his fingers and the L-shaped imprint of his thumb on my bicep. It resembles the scar above his eye. I shut down the memory by scrubbing my skin harder. With each sud and bubble, the last molecules of America dissolve in reverse order. Portland’s carpeted airport, Reagan’s tears, Maria’s last kiss, Benson’s hug, Javier’s shackles, and finally, finally, his body, his kisses, his scent—all down the drain. Exactly as they did when I washed him off after our embargo night. He forced my hand then too.
When he is gone from my pores, and all America with him, I sit under the stream of water, wondering how long it will take to expunge them from my insides. It could be one of those wars you wage until your last breath. But if war keeps you alive, wouldn’t you fight it?
The last bubbles pop and disappear down the drain, and just like that, America is gone. I tense for the cheater to stab inside me again, but there is nothing. Shutting him out and washing him off in every day finally removed her only reason for living. Mentally, I lay her corpse on the hilltop grave.
Feeling freer, I dry off, put on pajamas, and wrap myself tightly with Mum’s soft robe. Her perpetual scent of roses lingers here too, and I inhale deeply, imagining it’s her hair, her shoulder, her skin. But it’s not enough. Somehow, although I’m not running away anymore, although I’m closer, I have never missed my parents more. I make my way downstairs to the living room, my mission now the small TV set in the corner. I slide one of our old home movies in the ancient VCR, and turn on the TV. It takes a moment, but then the small screen lights up. Entranced, I curl up on the sofa, eyes fixed on the screen.
It’s spring sixteen years ago, out front in this same garden. The roses on the screen are blooming like they are now, just fewer. Mum is wearing her polka dot dress, crouched with her arms wide open, smiling at a chubby little toddler in a matching polka dot jumper, stumbling a few feet away. Me.
“Keep going, love,” she croons, and I hear my Dad’s deep laughter from behind the camera he is holding. The film gets blurry from the tears I did not know had started to fall. I wipe them away with Mum’s sleeve, unwilling to miss a second.
We are by the beech trees, my baby tree is only as tiny as me. The grass is thick with petals—safe enough for a toddler to fall.
“Keep going, Elisa,” Mum sings again, and Dad and the camera zoom closer. The toddler’s fists seem clenched around something—petals, I think—and she is giggling with a joy that only my parents ever brought on.
“Yes, that’s it. That’s it.” Little me takes another step, stretching out her fist full of petals at Mum. Mum looks at my Dad. “Are you getting this?”
“Every second,” he answers, and she blows him a kiss. “I love you,” I hear him mumble, probably to himself. Or maybe for her to hear someday. The screen gets blurry again from the tears.
“Keep going, darling,” Mum tells little me again. I watch her face transfixed as Dad steps closer. But he zooms the camera on little me, pointing at him and babbling, “Dada.”
“That’s right, my love. That’s your Dada. He loves you so much. Keep going, sweetheart.”
The light of the TV swaths the dark living room in a soft blue. I watch the little, happy family over and over again, even though my sleeve is soaked and my eyes sting with hot tears. Keep going. Keep going.
“Elisa? Love?” Dad’s voice sounds different now, almost worried, but Mum is still laughing. “Can you hear me?” the voice asks, and I realize it’s not Dad. This voice is huskier, deeper, closer.
“Love, listen to me.” The voice pleads now, more musical even than Mum’s laugh. I wait for the man with the piano voice to join the little family on the screen, but there is no one else.
“Elisa?” It sounds like a beautiful lament, like a mournful nightingale song. Then three quick taps, like a knock, and the voice begs again. “Come to the window, love. Let me in.”
My head whips away from the screen toward the still-open window, and I squint through the pale blue glimmer of the TV. My heart is pounding a healthy, robust beat—invincible and strong. I know there should be a wound festering in my chest, but there is nothing—only free, clear air.
“Aiden?” I breathe, dashing to the window, squinting to see out in the dark garden. I can’t see his face, but his tall frame and unmistakable tense shoulders are silhouetted against the moonlight. A wave of wellness washes over me, even as I know I am supposed to fight it. “Aiden, what on earth are you doing here?”
“Come, let me show you,” he says, and strangely I think of Reed College. “Bring a jacket, it’s cold out here,” he adds. I laugh—the motion feels strange, unfamiliar. Sprinting to the foyer, I throw on Mum’s parka and wrench open the door. He is standing by the Elisa blooms, framed against the moonlight, his back to me. But he must hear me, because he turns. I still can’t see his face from here, but I sense he smiles. “Come, you have to see.” He sounds eager, urgent even.
“See what? Aiden, wait! When did you get here?” But he has started to walk across the garden toward the river already in that quick way of his. I follow in a trance, reveling in the feeling of safety that cocoons me. Deep in my belly, I remember I should be angry but, with the moonlight like a halo above him, I can’t remember why. He stops by the reading bench, almost on the riverbank, beckoning me forward. I reach him finally, impatient to see his face.
He turns then, his seraphic face stunning me with its beauty. In the light of the full moon, I can now see his eyes morphing as always into calm pools as he gazes at me. His skin glimmers with happiness, as though the moon’s very blood is flowing underneath. “Look,” he whispers, pointing across the river to the field ahead.
I resent having to look away from his face but I follow his finger, straining to see in the dark. “What, Aiden? What am I looking for?”
He smiles, but it’s a small, wistful smile—sadness lingering at the corners of his mouth, like a kiss. “Answers,” he says, and the ache in his voice throbs inside my chest. I would give everything to erase that sadness.
“What answers?” I ask, stepping closer, inches from him now, inhaling his cinnamon breath. I raise my hand to caress his lips, to wipe away the sadness, but his eyes—so calm and clear—lock frozen.
“Once I love, I love forever,” he says, and disappears.
My fingers flutter over an icy black void.
A piercing cry rends the air, still echoing into the night, even as I jolt awake, disoriented, looking around me, searching in panic. What I see only terrifies me more. I truly am out in the garden by the riverbank, the cottage right behind me, the front door open. I am barefoot, wearing Mum’s red parka over her robe, just like in the dream.
And I am alone. There is no one else here. My knees give out and I plop down on the reading bench, heart pounding still, throat burning from my scream, the rest of me shaking. But worse of all are my insides. Gone is the wellness, the joy; the only things left are pain and dread. Dread that something has broken deep inside me. Something beyond my heart. Something in my brain. What else could explain this? Am I sleepwalking? What kind of dreams are these? Neither asleep, nor awake, just vivid composites of memories, thrown together in a senseless mash by a crazed mind. Is it a crazed mind? Why did it bring me here to this spot? What is it searching for? Answers, he said, and I look at the field across the river uselessly, as if they will be spelled there.
But stronger than any other fear is the terror of realizing that the cheater was never dead. She was only biding her time, waiting to let him in when my defenses are down. Fueling these dreams, these memories, destroying by night everything I build by day. What hope do I have to survive this when a part of my own self does not want me to? How can I fight an enemy I cannot see? Briefly, I consider going to a doctor, but my mind rejects the option. I test reality—I can pinch myself, a rose thorn makes me bleed, my coat drops if I let it, the date in my head matches the date on my Dad’s watch, I remember exactly how I got here—so insanity must not be the cause. I ponder other options for a while, sitting here on this bench, pressing my thumb gently against the rose thorns, feeling the reassuring prick that tells me I am real, this is real, and I am awake.
In the end, I decide it must be grief. True, I never had these kinds of dreams when my parents died but grief changes, I know. And this was a different shock; a betrayal, not an accident. Of course my brain is still processing what happened, trying to catch up with my body here in Burford when so much of it is stuck in Portland. Yes, that must be it. It’s the only thing that makes sense. I resolve to give it a few days for the jetlag and the shock to wear off. And double my efforts during the day to block him out and silence the cheater once and for all.
Calmer now, I pad back inside and lock the door. I gulp some water straight from the faucet and trudge up the stairs to my parents’ bedroom. I curl up on Mum’s side, focusing only the whispering willows. She’s here, she’s here—a sibilant lullaby soothes me into a dreamless sleep.
Days go by. Even in England. The sun sets and rises, the date changes on the calendar. But time does not pass. Everything seems suspended in the same, eternal moment. Case in point: here I am, on my fourth dawn in England, still waking up screaming on the riverbank; still shivering in the cold air of his absence; still staring at the empty field across the river. His parting words still ring in my ears, reverberating all around my rose garden: “Once I love, I love forever.”
Yet change happens. Almost imperceptible, but it happens. For one, each night, he is leading me further along the riverbank, away from the cottage; and each night, I follow more willingly. Awake, I’m fully aware of the potential for disaster, for real danger here. What if I sleepwalk right through town onto the motorway? Or slip and crack my skull against a rock? And yet, in my sleep, I trust him wholly, blindly, never to lead me into any harm. Because—change number two—the desire for him, the curiosity for what he is trying to show me is growing stronger, not weaker. I love him more in my dreams, the less I love him when I’m awake. And exponentially, the pain in my chest is getting worse, not better. As though each dream is chipping away at what little progress I manage to make during the day. Like Prometheus, tied to the rock, growing his liver only for Zeus’s eagle to eat it again in the morning.
But, unlike Prometheus, I’m adapting or at least learning. For example, I go to bed fully dressed now, even my sneakers. I don’t lock the door until after the dream because it doesn’t keep me inside. I agree categorically that this is pathological behavior. The first thing I should do when I get back inside is not prepare for my meeting with Professor Edison this afternoon, but book an appointment with a well-respected psychiatrist. Yet I can’t bring myself to do so. It’s not hard to understand why, as the sky starts to lighten but I still stand in the exact spot where he left me: because then these dreams might stop and I’ll never learn where he is leading me so urgently. But I must know if I am to overcome him, if I am to keep the oath I made on my parents’ grave. So I have a plan: tonight, I’ll find out once and for all.
I walk back to the cottage, gazing at the field across the river one more time, wishing I could solve this riddle now. But I can’t because my meeting with professor Edison is in nine hours, and I’ll need every minute between now and then to get ready. It’s not my scientific knowledge I worry about—I’ve been studying nonstop for this meeting since he emailed me back three days ago, not to mention the last four years. But I have no idea what to do about the face in the mirror that has transformed. Pale, gaunt, with deep shadows under the eyes that initially will remind Edison of my mum until he looks closer. Because worse that the drawn cheeks and the sallow skin are the lifeless eyes: dull, more plum than violet, and blood-shot. I wish I had Reagan here to transform me into Liz Taylor as she once did. As it is, I spend the next three hours with teabags over my eyes and rose oil over my cheeks, trying to force a semblance of color on my skin. While home remedies attempt the work of magic wands, I revise again every scribble of Dad’s notes about his projects with Edison and every one of Edison’s own eighty-seven published articles. I know I’m overdoing it for just one meeting. I’m very careful not to hope Edison will give me a job—that would violate Rule Number Three—but I do need to be able to hide the mess I am enough to make Dad proud. The entire Chemistry Department will be talking about me: Peter Snow’s tragic daughter come home at last.
There may come a time in my life—perhaps when I’m Mr. Plemmons’s age—when I might be able to sit with Reagan and tell her about the bus ride from Burford to Oxford today. About how it felt to sit on the seats that carried Mum and Dad to and from work twice a day, every work day except the day they died. About how the handrail felt exactly like their hands holding mine until this very last stop. But that day will not come for a long time.
I teeter off the bus, clutching Dad’s leather briefcase. Then, slowly, I lift my eyes to see Oxford’s medieval skyline for the first time since before the accident. The gothic spires, towers, and cupolas of the ancient colleges spike like heartbeats on an EKG line. Domed rooftops stretch out like knobbly protective arms. Every facet glows like limestone skin under the molten sunlight of the afternoon sky. And through it all, like emerald lifeblood, run the colleges’ lush parks, forests, gardens, and meadows.
Four years ago, I rejected this dream for another, thinking it would break me to face my parents’ second home. It never occurred to me that Oxford would have the power to do the opposite: heal. But as I stand here on its threshold, two hours early, braced for the lance of grief, that’s exactly what happens. I stop shaking, the nausea of the bus ride recedes, and I only feel a sense of shelter. It releases my locked knees and pulls me, like gravity, inside the university circle. I stroll the worn lanes with ease, feeling as though Mum and Dad are gliding on either side of me, as in our home movies, blissful that I have returned to the place they loved so deeply. The landmarks of their life feel like hugs, not bruises: Mum’s tiny office at the Ashmolean, the King’s Arms pub where Dad and Edison would drink cask ale after work, the Bodleian Library where they taught me how to check out Ashmole’s manuscripts using the old tube system. By the time I make it to the Science Area quad and steel a peek at my reflection on the windows of the chemistry lab, there is some color on my cheeks.
But the moment I enter the reception lobby of the Chemistry Building, that small rush of blood drains from my face. Because there, steps from me, carved in bronze, is my father’s bust.
He looks at me. His eyes, seeming too sentient for a statue, are crinkled at the corners as they were in life when he would smile. His jaw is sharper, more sculpted, the way it would look when he was chewing at the end of a pen. His lips are parted a fraction as though he is saying, “ah!” And right below his bust, an engraved plaque says:
“I am in my element.”
Peter Andrew Snow
Oxford Chemistry Department, 1993-2011
I don’t realize I have walked to him until my hand molds to his bronzed cheek. The metal is cool yet it warms my suddenly icy fingers.
A gentle cough startles me. Professor Edison is standing a few steps away, watching me with a small smile and wistful eyes—an improvement on Mr. and Mrs. Plemmons who looked positively frightened by my face that first day I dropped by. Edison looks exactly as he did four years ago, except thinner and his forehead is more lined.
“I’m sorry to startle you, Elisa. But oh, how welcome you are!” he says with feeling, stepping closer and handing me a handkerchief, as I realize I must be crying. So much for not appearing tragic. I dab my eyes quickly.
“Hello, Professor Edison. It’s good to see you. I’m sorry, I wasn’t expecting…” I hand him back the handkerchief. It’s initialed NFE.
“Nigel, please. I’ve known you since you were in nappies.” He rests his hand on my shoulder gently—as physical as British men get for such a reunion. “And don’t apologize, this is my fault. I should have mentioned Peter’s sculpture, but I suppose it’s such a natural part of my day, it didn’t occur to me.”
The casual reference to my dad’s name derails me for a moment so I force a smile.
“Are you well? Do you need something to drink or a spot of lunch?” Edison asks quickly. My smile must not look like a smile.
“No, no, I’m fine; just a bit jetlagged.” True enough, even if not at all relevant to this moment.
“Of course,” he says quickly. “Right then, let’s go in. Do you still remember your way around this place?”
I nod, and he breaks into a full smile, leading me down the long hall to the research lab where his office and my dad’s used to be. The entire trek there—perhaps relieved that I’m no longer crying—he is talking. “I must tell you, I was gobsmacked to see your email. Just absolutely astonished. I’d given up all hope you would ever return. It would be completely understandable, of course, with everything you lived through. But, here you are, looking right like your mum—dear, beautiful Clare! What a day!”
He shakes his head as if in wonder or perhaps to give me a moment to respond. “What a day,” I say back, for entirely different reasons.
“So what brought you back, hm? I must give thanks to whatever it was.”
I’m ready for this one; I have rehearsed the answer down to each inflection so that it doesn’t sound like the lie that it is. “Well, my student visa ended after I graduated Reed, but I was missing England even before then. I suppose home is home. It always calls you back.” As I say the words, however, I notice they don’t sound like a lie, as they did a few days ago or even this morning. Did Oxford make them true?
We reach the end of the hall now, and my attention closes in on the last door to the left. Dad’s office. If Edison says anything, I can’t hear it over the pounding of my heart. When he opens the door, at first I think he’s trying to give me a moment, but then I register that this is now his office. A rush of heat rises creeps over my neck.
“Ah, my fault again!” Edison sounds alarmed that he might have triggered more tears. “I should have said. See, I moved in here after Peter—well, you know. I didn’t want to at first, but it felt … better. Closer to… to him.” Edison closes his eyes briefly, as I grasp that I’m not the only one who was left behind grieving. Of course Edison would have missed his friend. And of course Oxford would not have left a professor’s office vacant for years. Yet, I can’t help feeling angry, offended somehow, without any right to the feeling whatsoever.
“Here,” Edison says, beckoning me inside. “You can look. I didn’t change much. I still have his computer, his books, his files.” He waives his hand around the small office and my anger disappears as quickly as it came. Because he is right—not much has changed. Even the potted miniature roses that Mum gave Dad on their last spring are there on the windowsill. There is only one yellow bloom, but it’s enough to feel like a smile. Edison is still looking like he is sitting on its thorns.
“It’s fine, Professor—I mean, Nigel. I’m the one who should apologize. Of course you would have missed Dad. How can I blame you for that?”
He takes a deep breath, then smiles again. “Bumpy start, I know. For both of us. To be expected, I suppose. How else do you start after all that’s happened? Well, let’s try it again.” He chuckles and sits on my dad’s chair, gesturing for me to sit across from him. The conversation feels more natural then. He only asks about my projects, what I’ve been working on, and if any of it has to do with Dad’s previous work. The world-leading professor comes out: singular in his focus, consumed by his curiosity, his relentless search for knowledge. Beyond work or passion, chemistry is his life.
“So what are your plans?” he says, eyes still sparking with the fervor of describing his last publication. “Are you back for good?”
I don’t trust myself to verbalize yes so I simply nod.
“Well, do you want to test things here for a bit? Maybe intern for the summer?” Edison cuts straight to the point. I watch him stunned. I hadn’t even dared to ask.
“Do you mean as a research assistant? Here? In your lab?”
“Of course!” He shrugs as though this is the most natural thing to be offering me. “We have hundreds of research projects going, and look at your credentials. I’d offer you a position even if you weren’t Peter’s daughter. But you are his daughter, and that is everything.” He says this with finality, leaving no room for argument. And why would I argue? This is exactly what I need.
“Wow,” I say.
“Is that a yes?”
“Yes, absolutely, yes, but—”
He frowns. “But what?”
“But is this right? Shouldn’t I apply first?”
He smiles then. “My dear girl, do you know who you are? You’re the only child of the finest chemist this institution has ever seen. His talent lives in you; it’s quite obvious. You’ve had your name down for Oxford since you were born! I’ve already spoken to the rest of the faculty—they’re quite agreed.”
I swallow hard. I don’t know what to say to any of that. Can I do this in this state? Can I be who Edison thinks I am?
“Don’t you want this opportunity?” Edison sounds perplexed.
That question, so elemental, does it. “I can’t hope for anything more,” I answer truthfully because I can’t. That would violate Rule Number Three.
Edison’s smile becomes as bright as the yellow rose. “Well then, you can start whenever you want.”
He grins again. “I don’t believe we’re quite as desperate as to have you start on a Saturday, but Monday would be brilliant.”
For the first time since landing on Heathrow Airport, I have something other than dread to expect in the morning.
Edison stands then, and I gather my Dad’s briefcase to leave. But Edison’s eyes are trained on it, unblinking, with something like hunger. “His briefcase!” he whispers, as though seeing it for the first time.
“Yes, I took this with me to America. Can’t imagine going anywhere without it.”
“No doubt. No doubt,” he mumbles, still staring at it as he follows me out. I turn to shake his hand, but he reaches behind the office door. “Here,” he says, bringing out a white lab coat. For a moment, I’m confused—why would he give me his lab coat?—until I see the initials embroidered on the front pocket: PAS.
“I think you should have it for Monday,” Edison says awkwardly without meeting my eyes, and throws the coat over my shoulders.
The bus ride back to Burford is easier with Dad’s lab coat wrapped around me. It’s even more imperative now that I stop the dreams this weekend. So that I can take this last chance at life. So that I can be my father’s daughter.
Later that evening, I sit on the wrought iron reading bench, watching the last sliver of sun dip behind the horizon of the field across the river. The field turns lavender gray from the evening shadows. Its grass sways, like wavelets with no shore. Beyond it, in the distance, the town’s first nightlights are twinkling like fireflies.
“See you soon,” I say, standing up, tightening Mum’s pashmina around me. I could wait here for sleep, but not yet because—change number three—routines form, like slender reeds growing on a marshy path: not enough to support you, but enough to show you the way. My reeds are: wake up in the morning, force down porridge, study, research lucid dreams, tend the roses, Skype with Reagan, put on sneakers and the parka, go to bed, sleepwalk, scream, stumble back home, sleep, repeat. And now, Reagan is calling. She keeps it short tonight, like the last few nights, giving me barely any detail at all. If I didn’t have a plan to implement, I’d worry that distance is stealing her away from me. But she’s juggling a lot—visiting Javier, the Solises, her own life—for me to demand any more of her time.
“Say hello to Javier,” I say. “But remember, don’t tell him I’m gone until—”
“I know, I know.” Reagan’s voice is brisk. “I’m sick of all the secrets.”
“But you still love me?”
“Like a pest,” she says, but her soft, teary eyes say “I love you to England and back.”
After she’s gone, I get started for tonight. A strange energy builds in my muscles, like excitement or thrill. I know this is because soon I’ll have the answers. But deep down, I’m terrified that there is another reason for my excitement: that the buzz is the cheater, feverish to see him tonight. No matter. Soon, she’ll be gone too.
Dad’s cupboard of chemical ingredients has not been restocked in over four years but it still has the basics I need: galantamine, mugwort, valerian root, choline bitartrate, a few others. From my research, these substances, or oneirogens, may induce lucid dreams and keep the dreamer asleep longer and deeper, allowing them to redirect their dreaming. Although mine are not lucid dreams—quite the opposite actually; I’m not awake, I’m fast asleep—the same side effects theoretically should apply. Theoretically.
I grind the substances and measure each dose carefully on Dad’s digital lab scale, trying not to think how apoplectic he would have been if he ever saw me doing this when he was alive. How do you know what side effects it will have on you, he would have spluttered. What lab testing have you done? What control group? What safeguards?
“I’m sorry, Dad,” I mumble as I mix the substances together in simmering water, and spin the mixture in his centrifuge. “But I don’t have time. If I don’t do this now, the dreams might kill me. And that would be worse than any side effects, wouldn’t it?”
No, he would have spit out through his teeth. Think like a scientist! They could be equally deadly!
“Unlikely in these doses.”
Unlikely does not equal impossible. Go to a doctor! Now!
“I can’t. I have to know. I’ll be all right, I promise.” I let the sickly green liquid seep in the vial for fifteen minutes. Then with a final swirl, I swallow it in three gulps. Its bitter, resin taste stings my tongue.
For a few moments, terror locks me here. What have I done? What if I’m wrong? But worse than all the questions is the loudest one: what if this doesn’t work? What if it doesn’t give me the answers? I would keep trying until either the cheater or I wind up dead. And that cannot happen. I promised my parents I will live.
I clean up the mess of my experiment and get ready. Sneakers on? Check. T-shirt, jeans, and parka? Check. I unlock the front door, turn off the lights, open the window, and curl up on the sofa under my quilt. No need to go upstairs tonight. I close my eyes, taking a few deep breaths, and focus only on the whoosh of the river and the willows’ lullaby. She’s here. She’s here, they sing still. An owl hoots into the night, as the breeze carries the scent of roses inside me. I follow the rose scent in my mind, as it rides the river breeze through the window into my nose, blowing gently on the open wound by my heart, then flowing out with my breath into the garden. She’s here. She’s here. Flying back again with more perfume, floating inside me, and then drifting back out to the willows. He’s here. He’s here.
I fling my eyes open, holding my breath, but the room is dark and silent. There is no voice calling my name, not a sound. Then the willows rustle again, he’s here; he’s here. I bolt up and flit to the window. And there he is, a silhouette by the Elisa blooms, gazing at me.
“You were waiting for me this time.” His voice is as soft as the rose breeze, a murmur blending with the willows. “I’m here.”
A sense of impatience, a high surges through me and I sprint to the door. In a blink, I’m next to him, looking up at his face, darker tonight as the moon is waning. But his eyes light up in peace as always, two safety beams in the blackest hour.
“You’re eager tonight,” he chuckles in that old waterfall way I remember, and the sound fills me with longing. “Maybe you’ll finally see. Come, let me show you.”
He turns from me, always a step ahead, striding to the riverbank. I follow him without question, without doubt, an electric energy gathering inside me, raising goosebumps on my skin like static.
We reach the riverbank almost at the same time, and he traipses along it, toward Elysium. I know this path; we’ve been here before.
“No questions tonight?” he asks after a while.
“Would you answer them?”
He chuckles again, but it has lost the waterfall sound. “That’s why I’m here.” The familiar note of sadness enters his voice. He walks faster now, leaving Elysium behind, but always along the river. “It’s there!” he says with hope, almost pleading, pointing at the field across. “Right there! We’re getting closer.”
“There’s nothing there, Aiden. Nothing but grass.”
He stops abruptly and turns to me, eyes burning. “You’re wrong!” His voice breaks, the last word like a sob, and his hands fist in his hair. “You’re not looking far enough, Elisa. Please!” His shoulders convulse once and his angelic face contorts in pain, so sharp, so staggering that it counterpoints straight into my own heart. “Aiden, it’s ok, I’ll keep looking, I’ll—” The words die in my mouth. Because in his beautiful face, glimmering under the starlight is a tear. It trickles down from his closed eyes over the sculpted cheek. “Please, my love!” he begs. “Look closer!”
A few things happen all at once. The electrical energy that was building in my tissues radiates through me like a force field, as if the sound of his pain, so raw and primal, lit up a fuse. And then I’m running. Streaking past him down the riverbank to the point where the river bends and narrows into a chute.
“Elisa, wait! Not that way!” he calls behind me, but I’m almost there. I can see the opposite bank, closer and closer. “Stop!” his voice rings out, filled with dread. But with one jump off the balls of my feet, I leap hard off the bank, aiming for the boulder peaking in the middle of the chute to trampoline me to the other side. The last thing I hear is his terrorized “No!” and then I plunge through black, rapid water.
Every cell screams awake, as the cold river fills my mouth, my nose, my ears. It’s much deeper than I thought. The current sucks me under and flings me around, dragging me downstream, no matter how hard I kick my legs and arms to fight it. I try to grab anything—boulders, branches—but there’s nothing. My lungs are out of air and stars burst in my eyes. I push harder, trying to orient myself toward the surface for air, but the rapids roll me like a log and a wave of dizziness disorients me. Mum, Dad, I think. My promise. I try to kick harder, but my legs feel like lead, pulling me under. I can’t find my arms. I wish I had heard him say, “Once I love, I love forever” one more time. The current jolts me again, and then a thick branch must twist around my torso like a band, yanking me hard. I brace for my skull to hit the bottom but suddenly I slice through clear, cold air.
For a while, there is only chaos. I’m coughing and spitting out water, heaving for breath as the band constricts my torso again. Some more water gushes out of my mouth and finally air flows freely. I draw huge gulps of it, gasping, trying to right myself up and find the ground. And that’s when I become aware that I’m still being carried somehow. I thrash away, afraid the river is coming for me again.
“Fuck!” I hear a harsh oath right next to me, almost in my ear. My body stops flailing as I realize I’m not alone. And the bands around me are not branches, they’re someone’s arms. I don’t know the voice, yet it sounds familiar. An American accent.
My savior sets me gently on the riverbank on the side of Elysium, breathing hard. I try to make out my savior’s face but it’s still dark and my eyes are blurry. The body is obviously male, tall, bulky, as he crouches in front of me.
“Are you all right?” the man says anxiously. His accent gives me an instant feeling of safety, as I had in the dream. Oh no, the dream! I blink, clearing more water from my eyes, as I try to make out where I am and exactly how far the river dragged me.
“Hello?” the man calls more loudly now, sounding panicked. “Can you hear me? Are you hurt? Do you know where you are?”
“Who are you?” I croak, and instantly regret it. How about thank you first?
I think I hear a sigh of relief. “James, Ma’am. At your service.”
I can’t understand the disappointment that grips me even in current state. I knew it was not him—even if he was my last thought under water—but who else was I expecting? Maybe a Jazzman or Callahan or Hendrix or Benson: one of his many Marines? I’ll deal with myself later.
“Thank you,” I rasp again. “Thank you for saving me.”
“You’re welcome,” he sighs and sinks on the ground next to me. A few brain cells register that I’m alone with a stranger in the middle of the night, but I can’t feel the right kind of fear. All I feel is the fear for what happened in the dream. For what I’ve done. And for what’s still ahead.
“Quite a time for a swim,” James says casually but kindly, I think. I don’t answer. What would I say? That I intentionally mixed several substances to make my sleepwalking dreams longer so I could redirect them to find the answers that my ex-boyfriend wants me to see so badly, only so that I can finally forget him? So I can kill my love for him before it kills me? These are not reasonable things to tell a stranger.
“Well, thanks again,” I mutter, rising from the ground, legs shaking.
“Hey, hey, take it easy!” James sounds alarmed, standing with me. “No rush! You were down for almost two minutes.”
That’s all? It felt like a whole life. Like a whole death. It almost was. Abruptly, I feel exhausted, tired to the bone. “Good night, James,” I tell him, and start stumbling in the general direction of the cottage.
“Wait! Hey, wait!” James is next to me in one stride. “Where are you going?”
“I’ll walk with you. I promise I won’t hurt you,” he says, raising up his arms, as though in surrender. “I’ve got three sisters. I’d want someone to walk ‘em home. You’re safe with me.” Three sisters. An American Javier. For some reason, I believe him. Besides, why would he hurt me if he just pulled me out of the river? I manage a nod and start plodding—crawling would be more a more appropriate description, if I weren’t upright. The American Javier matches his pace with mine. I register now how tall he is, but his height triggers memories of another tall man I was chasing in the dream. The terror returns so strong that I start shivering. Or maybe it’s because my clothes are drenched, even Mum’s parka. My breath hitches into a dry sob.
“Here,” James says, handing me a light bomber jacket. It’s dry, unlike the rest of him that is soaked; he must have had enough presence of mind to take it off before rescuing me. I huddle under his jacket, inhaling the faint scent of tobacco to clear the fog in my brain. Where do I go from here? How do I safely stop the dreams and also find the answers? Because if I know one thing, know it instinctively, is that the two are related: if I solve the puzzle, the dreams will stop, and I will survive. If I don’t solve it, the cheater will continue the dreams until there is no American Javier to save me. Either way, a part of me dies. It just has to be the right part, his part. So the rest of me can heal.
“You came out pretty far for a dip,” James brings me back, probably wondering how much further he has to walk with the strange, silent woman. The contours of the cottage loom ahead, as I realize I ran well past Elysium trying to shortcut straight across the river and onto the field. A throbbing headache hammers at my temples.
“Hey, are you feeling ok?” James asks. “Is there something I can get you?”
I shake my head—it’s a true answer to both questions. We’re crossing Elysium now, and memories of playing hide and seek here with Mum and Dad flash like a reel. They loved me so much. And look at the mess I’ve made of all their hopes and dreams.
“You know,” James says, perhaps trying to help, perhaps bored of the one-sided conversation with the mute stranger. “If you were trying to get across the river, you could have just taken the bridge.”
The bridge! Yes, that’s where he would have taken me if I had let him, if the drug hadn’t made me reckless. “Not that way” he had called behind me in terror. He would have kept me safe. If only I had let him.
“I should have,” I breathe to James. We’re at the cottage now, the rose garden silver as the sky starts to lighten.
I turn to James, and am able to make out his face for the first time. Or what can be seen of it. He has a full beard, maybe auburn, and wild curly hair that adds to the impression of his vast height. His beard reminds me of Javier again, the last time I saw him, being dragged back to his cell.
“This is me,” I say, handing him back his jacket. “Thank you again…for everything.”
“No problem,” he says, looking past me at the cottage and scanning the rose garden. Something about that action reminds me so forcefully of him, of the vigilance that would emanate from him when he entered public spaces.
“You were out for a late stroll yourself,” I say. Maybe James has his own demons.
He shrugs. “Not really. I’m camping. Was in my tent when I heard you scream.” Camping! My loud gasp makes us both jump. That’s the solution! He has been trying to get me safely onto the field. If I camp out there, I’ll be already where he wants me to be, and he can lead me to whatever he needs me to see so desperately. It would be safe even for me. Flat grassy surface, no river to cross, no one around, no roads, no riverbanks. Yes! That’s it!
“You ok?” asks James, clearly wondering if I’m mentally competent at this point.
I nod, adding a silent thank you. He may have just saved my life again. We will see.
“Well, night then,” he bows his head gently. “If you need anything, I’ll be camping around here for a while. Just turn on a flashlight or something in that top window. Better than whatever it is you were doing tonight.”
He waits at the edge of the garden as I plod inside, my sneakers squishing, my clothes still dripping, Mum’s coat heavy with river water on my shoulders. All her last molecules, her scent spoiled and washed off. Another sob breaks through me. I lock the front door this time, despite friendly American saviors. That was what drew me most to that land, but thinking about that violates Rule Number Two. I take off my sodden clothes and leave them in a pile by the door but hang Mum’s coat. Maybe I can salvage it this weekend. Drained, I climb upstairs to my parents’ bed and curl into a ball, shivering under the covers. Images of the black river water and its earthy taste make me shiver harder. But I draw warmth from one fact. One way or another, it will be over tomorrow. I’ll camp on the field and finally I will know. I thank James again in my mind, realizing I didn’t even ask where in America he was from, how long he has been backpacking through England, or tell him my name. Yet I’ll always owe him. As I drift off, I think about how, despite the terror of this day, there was also hope. I faced Oxford, I got a summer job, a stranger saved my life and gave me a hint. Perhaps—change number four—luck happens. Even to me.
Chapter 8 coming soon…
©2020 Ani Keating