THE DOORBELL RANG. That doesn’t sound exciting in and of itself, but let me assure you: it was the most heart-pounding thing to happen all week. It was my birthday, I was home alone, and because of the stupid witness protection business, I’d been stuck in the house all summer. I hadn’t even been allowed out to see friends, because we’d arrived in town at the end of last year with only three school weeks to go—so I didn’t have any friends.
Well. I had friends, but they were back in Melbourne, and I wasn’t allowed to contact them for fear someone would track down our new location. Lucky me.
Anyway, it was my birthday, I was alone because Mum and Dad had gone to do something regarding birthday surprises and Anna had inexplicably chosen to go with them, and the doorbell had just rung. I stared at the closed door, heart pounding, while our chocolate Labrador, Veve, tried to chew it down. Was I going to open it?
Of course I was going to open it. The chances of it being a mobster were slim to none; for starters, a mobster wouldn’t have rung the bell.
I opened it.
“Miss Tanning?” The deliveryman raised a questioning eyebrow and cocked a digital pen at me.
I nodded, heart flip-flopping, and scrawled a fair impersonation of my signature on the digital pad.
He handed over a small, brown-paper parcel with a handwritten address, and departed.
I closed the door behind him, throat dry, and stared down at Veve. On the one hand, yay birthday present. On the other, holy crap, someone had our address. That was not a good thing.
It became even less of a good thing when I noticed that the parcel was indeed addressed to a Miss Tanning: a Miss Anna Tanning, as in my sister, not me, Emma Tanning.
Anger bubbled up in my chest, hot and tight, and the parcel protested in my grip.
Veve whined softly.
“How could she do this?” I whispered to Veve.
I turned the parcel over. It was from Kade, Anna’s frogging ex-boyfriend. Who apparently wasn’t an ‘ex’ after all.
Urgh. I ground my teeth. “You know what?” I asked Veve.
She looked up at me with her liquid brown eyes, tongue lolling as she smiled.
“Screw it. If Anna can get interstate mail from people who aren’t even supposed to know we exist anymore, you and I can go for a walk on my birthday. What do you think?”
They say dogs don’t speak English, but Veve sure as heck knew the word ‘walk’—though I think in her vocabulary it was something closer to ‘Magical Trip To Disneyland’ and less like ‘Comparatively Bland Meander Through Trees’. She tucked her tail right under her butt and shot down the hall, whirling in frantic circles a few times at the end before pelting back as I retrieved her lead from the drawer in the front cabinet.
I rolled my eyes as I clipped her lead onto her collar. For my troubles, I got slimed right up the nostrils. “You’re disgusting, you know that?” I wiped off the worst of the dog slobber on the shoulder of my shirt. She just grinned.
Out on the street, she leapt and twisted madly. “Hair-brain,” I told her, snapping the lead to get her attention. “It’s just a walk.”
She just snorted—and stiffened. I followed her gaze to where a flock of corellas pecked their way through the dry grass at the end of the street.
My shout was in vain: the lead burned through my fingers and Veve shot down the road, a chocolate bullet howling death and destruction for all things feathered.
I cursed her to the lower circles of doggie hell. Which probably involved, I don’t know, a world devoid of birds, cats, people, sunshine, and walks, if Veve was anything to go by.
“Veve!” If the sight of the mad Lab-rat barrelling toward them hadn’t scared the birds off, my shouts would have. “Come back here now!”
Predictably, she ignored me, pounding down the slope, through the fringe of gum trees, and down the narrow stairs between giant granite boulders that led to the river.
“Stupid frogging brainless beast of a stupid frogging dog,” I muttered as I followed. “If Mum gets home before we do and freaks out, I swear, I’ll pluck your tail hairs out.”
Empty threats, obviously, but Mum’s freak-out wouldn’t be. Her thoughts would go straight to the day Anna nearly died—and I wouldn’t blame her. I should have left a note. Urgh.
The stairs ended and I found myself on a track broad enough for two twisting along a creek the colour of bitter tea. Tussock grass clustered in spikes—where the eucalypts would let it—and hot summer sunlight glinted from the leaves. Some-where to my right, downstream and in the opposite direction to the house, Veve barked. I exhaled like a whale coming up for air and set out after her.
Veve bounded out from the undergrowth in front of me, a dolphin leaping through water, tongue flapping with every bound. “Stupid mutt,” I told her under my breath.
She didn’t care what I thought (of course), and saved a leap for the last minute so she could plant muddy feet on my hips as I tried to catch her collar.
I straightened, about to insult her some more, and realised that she’d gone stiff again, ears pricked and mouth tight, listening down the path.
My neck prickled. Someone was coming. A second later, I heard footsteps in the gravel, and a low, male voice, humming, or maybe singing softly.
My chest constricted, and just as suddenly my hands were slick. Chances were it was just a stranger out for a midday stroll, but my stomach wound knots about my memories and I smelled the hot concrete and melting asphalt, old oil and stale urine of the Lilydale train station where the body had been hidden in a toilet stall, the body of the girl who’d looked like Anna.
I had to get off the path.
“Come on, Veve,” I said, pulling her close, white-knuckled as I stepped into the undergrowth. The tea tree scrub protested, but I shoved my way through anyway, glancing over my shoulder as the humming grew louder.
I kept going until I couldn’t hear footsteps any more, until the wind swallowed the hum that sounded too like the warning cry of a hive—danger, we’re working here, come close and get stung.
I didn’t want to get stung; visions of a blood-streaked face refused to be blinked away. Only Veve tugging brought me back to myself, and I realised firstly that I was holding the lead way too tight, cutting off Veve’s air supply, secondly that the reason my cheeks were suddenly cold was because I’d been crying, and thirdly that I’d found the creek again, looping back westward maybe fifty meters or so from the path.
Abruptly I dropped Veve’s lead and strode forward to kneel by the water. I dipped my hands in, felt a shiver slide through me at its chill, and scooped it up to wash my face.
Flinging the excess water away, I gulped at the air, deep, calming breaths all the way down into my belly, and visualised a river washing away the blood from my thoughts, just like the police psych had taught me.
Once the space behind my eyes was calm and black, I drew in one last forceful breath, and opened my eyes. Perched on a rock by the creek, I hugged my knees to my chest as cool water lapped at my toes. Veve was a little upstream, just before the creek bent back toward the path, doggy paddling in circles in a deep spot where the water broadened to maybe ten meters across. In front of me it was broad but shallow, only ankle deep, its path torn to white foam by the rocks.
And—I gasped. In the middle of the stream, glittering in the sun like a piece of fallen sky, was the hugest butterfly I’d ever seen. Which was pretty huge; besides the fact that I grew up visiting the Melbourne Zoo with its impressive butterfly house every Christmas since I could remember, Mum and Dad had taken us up to Brisbane for a family holiday two years ago, and we’d seen giant tropical butterflies bigger than my hand.
This one, bright blue with black edging like a Ulysses, was bigger than both my hands put together.
And then it turned around.
Okay. I’d grown up reading fairy tales as much as the next person, and although I’d had a horse-crazy stage instead of a fairy-crazy stage like Anna had, I’d seen all her paraphernalia. Still, none of it prepared me for finding something that looked exactly like a fairy, standing smack in the middle of a creek in boring, backwater Nowra. I’m pretty sure my eyes were only hanging in their sockets by a thread.
And then it talked.
Her face lit up like a cloud had just uncovered the sun as she spotted me. “Hi there!” she said, fluttering over.
I just stared, heart pounding against my ribcage as though it wanted to run away from the absurdity of it all. “No,” I said. “I’m hallucinating.”
The fairy frowned. “I don’t think so.”
I shook my head. “No. No, things like this do not happen. Things like this aren’t real.” I stood, backing up a step.
The fairy sighed. “I promise. I’m quite real.”
“You would say that, wouldn’t you,” I said, eyeing her. “Veve!” I waved at the dog and hopped from one foot to the other, trying to lure her in with the promise of play. “We’re going now!”
Veve, adorable beast that she was, landed a little upstream and shook vigorously before trotting toward me. I backed hurriedly away from the bank, dancing to keep Veve’s attention.
“Wait!” the fairy cried, wings snapping out and propelling her a couple of feet into the air. “You’re a Traveller! I need to talk to you!”
“Uh huh, sure,” I said as I wound the lead around my hand and set off back into the bushes. This was punishment for leaving the house, obviously. The universe was out to get me, reminding me forcefully that once you started disregarding some rules, who knew what other rules you’d end up flouting.
The rules of physics, for example.
I glanced back once, right before the bushes hid the stream altogether. Blue flashed, high up, but I ducked to get a better view and it was only the sky. I scowled. Stupid fairy. Stupid universe. Served me right for leaving the house in the first place. Urgh. “Come on, Veve,” I said, snapping the lead. “Even if the house is prison, at least it’s sane.”
I was stomping so furiously as I burst out onto the path that when a figure rose from a stoop only a couple of steps away, I squeaked in surprise, then scowled. People never surprised me; I always knew when someone was coming before they got close.
I glowered at the boy who lived to make my school life a misery. “What are you doing here?” I snapped. “Isn’t it bad enough that I have to deal with you on school days? Which, by the way, don’t start until tomorrow. You’re ruining my holidays.”
Okay, so maybe that was a little harsh, but come on. It was Scott. I’d arrived in town with three weeks left in the school year, and he’d spent every day of them humiliating me in front of his mates, and I didn’t care for a repeat this year.
Scott eyed me warily, which was a strange expression on him. Usually he strode around like he knew without a shadow of a doubt that he was too good for the world, and also—somewhere deeper, somewhere I’d only caught a glimpse of once or twice—that it had nothing left to throw at him that could hurt.
Occasionally, in my more generous moments, I wondered what had happened to make him look that way. Mostly, however, I just wondered why he was such a moron.
“What are you doing here?” he asked, voice dripping with accusation and suspicion.
My hands fisted of their own accord, and beside me Veve’s hackles rose as she chimed in with a low-pitched, rumbling growl. I flicked the free end of the lead at her nose. “Nothing,” I said, in a rousing blaze of wit. “What are you doing?”
He scowled. “You shouldn’t be here.”
For one heart-stopping instant I thought he meant out here generally, walking around, as if he knew what had happened and why I’d hidden away all summer. Then I realised he was nodding into the undergrowth. I rolled my eyes. “I might be a city slicker,” I bit off, “but I’m not stupid. I made enough noise to scare off a herd of elephants, let alone any snakes that might have been lying around.” The thought chilled me, though; I hadn’t been thinking about snakes when I’d hurried off the path. One badly-timed footstep and a brown snake bite later, and I could be a dead body too.
But Scott had moved on, stalking off down the path. He had nice shoulders, I’d give him that much. Pity he couldn’t derive his personality from them, instead of whatever dead weight it was he kept inside his head for brains.
Beside me, Veve growled again, louder this time, more urgent. I snapped the lead at her and stared after Scott’s retreating form, trying to think of something cutting.
It was only when Veve growled for the third time that I realised she wasn’t even facing Scott. Instead, she was looking back into the bushes—and something dark was flickering in there, deep in the shadows of the trees.
My chest squeezed in on itself and adrenalin shot through my body. Veve’s growling grew louder until it broke in a bark, something midway between slavering and terrified, and I realised my tongue was stuck to the roof of my mouth. Carefully I peeled it away, unable to tear my eyes from the shifting darkness in the bushes. There was no discernible form, just shadow, darker than it should have been this soon after midday, and a pervasive sense of dread clamping down on me like an on-coming storm.
Veve began backing away, hackles prickling, growl rising and falling like thunder. I glanced down at her, back to the shadows—and they were closer, much closer than they had been.
I turned and bolted.
THE BUS PULLED up at school and I wondered if anyone would notice if I didn’t get off. My roll call teacher, probably. Maybe. And then Mum when the school called later on to find out why I wasn’t there.
I sighed and schlepped off the bus amidst the horde of student clones. Yesterday hadn’t ended terribly; I’d been grounded for going out without permission, but as Anna had pointed out, grounding was hardly that much different to witness protection anyway. Plus, unlike Anna, I never broke rules, so Mum had pretty much forgiven me by dinner. We’d had cake and candles and curled up to watch a movie as a family, which was pretty cool. We hadn’t done that in… a while. A long while.
But I was still having trouble deciding whether school was better or worse than being cooped up in the house. On the one hand, yay, no house. On the other… I surveyed the unkempt masses between me and my locker and sighed again.
It wasn’t their fault. Not really. They had no idea that having travelled to Sydney ‘that one time, for Christmas, with my parents’ didn’t amount to worldly wisdom, or that there were more important things in life than who had dumped who for other-who—like the fact that both whos were still alive, for instance.
I rubbed my hands over my forehead, set my shoulders, and marched on in. I’d survived nearly a month of school here at the end of last year, so I could survive this year.
Semester. Term. Okay, I could definitely at least survive the week.
As I entered H block and headed toward my locker, I downgraded that to ‘day’: Scott lounged against the lockers like some sort of drug lord (cue involuntary shudder) and eyed me as I approached. He was back in usual form, black hipster-glasses perched precariously on his perfectly-sculpted nose, blond hair gel-spiked to bedhead precision, tie-knot strategically loosened. Greeeat. Here we went again.
“Well hello there, Emma.” Eyelash flutter that shouldn’t look that natural on a guy, quirk of the perfectly sculpted eyebrow, fold of the arms across the chest. I knew those plays off by heart, thanks to that month last year.
“Scott, you’re spreading your germs all over my locker. Move.”
His eyebrows jumped suggestively. “Or what?”
“Or I’ll go and get Mrs Johnson and have you explain to her why I couldn’t access my books.” Somehow he’d gotten it into his head that because I didn’t immediately bow down and fawn over him when I’d arrived last year, he was in love with me. I would actually rather date dirt, but he just wouldn’t take a hint. Or a clue-by-four to the head.
He leered some more. Seriously. It was like he wanted me to hit him. “Naw, you wouldn’t do that.”
I swung my bag off my shoulders and onto the floor at the foot of the lockers—and, somewhat coincidentally, the foot of Scott.
He winced. “Jeez woman, what are you carrying? Bricks?”
“Just for you.” I smiled sweetly. “Move.”
He looked like he was going to argue some more, but then an arm caught me around the shoulders and the fight went out of his eyes.
Gemma, now draped around my neck, beamed at Scott. “You were just leaving, were you?”
He scowled and disappeared.
I shrugged out of Gemma’s half-hug and dove at my locker. “Thanks,” I muttered.
Gemma was… Well, Gemma was also arrogant, but not like Scott. With Scott, you knew he thought you were beneath him. With Gemma, she just kind of forgot that other people had feelings that sometimes differed from her own. Her parents had money, and although I wouldn’t go so far as to call her spoiled, she did kind of assume the world would revolve around her, lacking any evidence to the contrary. Rules were optional, not because she was naughty, but because she forgot that other people’s rules weren’t identical to hers.
I didn’t like breaking the rules—any rules—because that kind of attitude got you killed. But hey. She was better than Scott, and I supposed she was also better than spending the next school year as a loner.
After stashing my bag and retrieving my books, I let Gemma shepherd me down the hall to roll call, and then when the bell rang ten minutes later, off to science.
“I checked your timetable this morning,” she bubbled at me as we wove through the crowd. “We have all our core classes together. Isn’t that awesome?”
“Of course we do,” I muttered, before correcting myself: “I mean, of course it is. Yay.” I managed some semi-enthusiastic jazz hands and a half-hearted smile.
We entered the science classroom and I hesitated for a moment. Gemma usually sat up the back somewhere; I was a front row kinda gal, and I wasn’t about to change that for anybody.
Oh well. Sitting by myself wouldn’t be so bad. I plunked into a front-and-centre seat and arranged my books at neat right angles along the front of my desk, placing a pen and perfectly-sharpened pencil atop them. Gemma pulled out the chair to my left and shot me a sunny smile. Tension I hadn’t known was there melted from my shoulders, and I dared a tiny smile in return.
The back of my neck prickled, erasing my half-hearted smile. Cold, vast emptiness niggled at my consciousness, and I knew without looking that Scott would be standing in the doorway, surveying his domain. I stiffened, fighting the urge to turn around. Instead, I pretended to drop my pen on the floor, sneaking a glance under my arm as I bent to pick it up.
Yup, Scott. Oy. As he swept into the room girls paused in their conversations, straightening to emphasise their curves, eyes wide through luxurious curtains of hair.
Okay, okay: the entire room didn’t stop just to watch him enter, but the way he walked you’d think the crowd would start offering him babies to kiss any moment now. And at least five of the girls up the back had major crushes on him, so they definitely did the stop-straighten-peer-through- hair thing.
Scott, of course, ignored them, heading straight for me. I wondered why for a brief moment as I replaced my pen on my neat stack of books, and then I realised: the only empty desk was right next to me. Oh for crying out loud, Universe. Seriously? I face-planted on the desk, wondering if thinking hard enough would let me melt straight through it and into oblivion.
“We meet again, Emma-my-love.”
“Scott,” I mumbled at the desk, “what have I ever done to deserve your unwavering attention?” He dropped into the desk to my left. “Please, tell me so I can stop.”
“Miss Tanning.” I snapped upright at the sound of Mrs Johnson’s voice. “If you’re quite ready.”
I blushed. “Sorry.”
Beside me, Scott snickered.
“Shut up,” I whispered furiously. “I hate you.”
“I’m wounded,” he said, putting a hand dramatically to his chest. “What do I have to do to get you to like me?”
“Drop dead?” I offered as chills ran up and down my spine. Something about him really gave me the creeps, and my ‘drop dead’ suggestion was only ninety percent joking.
“Couldn’t do that,” he chirped. “Then you’d have to live with my death on your conscience, and I know you could never cope with that. Far too high and mighty.”
“What?” I lowered my inappropriately loud volume mid-word and cut sharp eyes over to where Mrs Johnson was handing out worksheets on the other side of the classroom. “I am not high and mighty!” I muttered furiously at Scott. “How dare you judge me? You have no idea about my life!”
A worksheet slapped down on my desk, and I glanced up at Mrs Johnson’s disapproving face. “On task,” she said. “Now. If you think I’m not willing to hand out detentions in period one on the first day, you’re wrong.”
Frustration welled up as tears, and I blinked firmly. “Yes, Miss. I’m sorry, Miss.”
“Mm.” She pursed her lips before moving on.
Scott leaned over just long enough to whisper, “Maybe you shouldn’t be the one judging me.”
* * *
The rest of the day had passed with far less stress—turned out I only had to deal with Scott in science, maths and English—and no more disapproval from teachers, thank goodness.
After dinner I lay sprawled on my bed, in theory going through the snowdrift of paperwork I’d accumulated during the day, but actually just staring out my window. If my subconscious was going to magic something up to personify the anxiety I’d been having since the girl—Georgia, her name was Georgia, and the psych had told me that even though saying her name felt uncomfortable, it would help me process it faster—since Georgia had been murdered, then I could understand that. After all, it had thrown vivid nightmares at me every night for two months afterwards. It had been about a month since the nightmares had ceased, so probably I was due for some kind of relapse.
But why a fairy? That’s what was really getting to me. The shadows I could understand: a vague, dark menace that I couldn’t control, approaching from the shadows around me… That made sense. But a fairy? Seriously? I couldn’t even begin to imagine what that might mean.
Idly, I punched holes in the paperwork and slid it all into my tabbed and colour-coded folder. Shadows made sense. A fairy was just bizarre.
A tap on my door interrupted my thoughts. I shook them away. “Come in, Anna.”
She stuck her head into my room. “Hey, Edge,” she said, using the nickname we’d made out of my initials, E. J. “How was day one?”
I shrugged. “Fine. I’m filing,” I said, lifting papers as proof.
Anna rolled her eyes. “You are way too organised to be human, you know. It isn’t normal.”
I shrugged again. “Sure. How was your day?”
She grinned. “Oh, you know. The usual.”
I raised a sceptical eyebrow. “Seriously? Day one and you were in the principal’s office already? What did you do, strip naked in the quad?” It couldn’t have been that bad; I’d have heard something if the school’s newest year twelve student had done something really stupid on the first day back.
It was Anna’s turn to shrug as she stepped into my room and closed the door behind her. “Actually I just wanted to ask about changing out of art.”
“Really?” Both my eyebrows lifted this time. “But you know you it’s too late to change subjects.”
She scowled. “Thus have I been informed. It’s stupid. I had literally five minutes to choose my subjects when we arrived last year, and art’s ridiculous; Mr Ridely’s a joke. It’s a complete waste of time, and I’m awful at it, and I wish they’d just let me switch out and be done with it.” She slumped against the wall, arms folded tightly across her chest.
“Sorry,” I said, shifting uncomfortably on my bed. “That’s the system for you.”
“Yeah, well, this system sucks.”
“Yeah.” It did kind of suck that we couldn’t have at least stayed in the same state, but those were the rules we’d been given, and we had to stick to them.
Cogs turned. Fairies and rules, Anna and her stuff-the-rules attitude… I licked my lips. “Anna? Can I… Can I ask you something weird?”
She cocked her head at me. “Sure. Hit me.”
My mouth felt suddenly dry. I swallowed a couple of times, heart racing as I tried to figure out how to verbalise my thoughts. “I… I mean you…” I took a deep breath and told myself to stop being stupid. “Why don’t you care about the rules? Like, ever?”
Anger flashed in her eyes as she drew herself upright, and I hurried to forestall it.
“I’m not talk about the g—about Georgia. I mean generally. All the time. You never seem to care about what other people think or what you’re meant to be doing and I don’t get it. I’m just trying to understand, I promise, I’m not judging you. I just wondered…” How you live with yourself. Why you’re not the one seeing fairies. Are you seeing fairies? Anna, do you have hallucinations?
I shook my head. “I don’t even know what I’m asking. Sorry.” I went back to my hole punching.
Anna eyed me thoughtfully—I could feel the weight of her strawberries-and-cream gaze out of the corner of my eye, hear the tiny clack-clack-clack of spider feet that I’d learned to associate with her thinking—then abruptly sank to the floor. She rubbed at the back of her neck and seemed to be searching for words.
“I don’t know,” she said in the end. “I’m not like you, or Mum, or even Dad. You guys just… It’s easy, for you,” she continued. “I mean, look at you. It’s the first day of school and you’re already doing homework, organising your notes within an inch of their lives. I feel claustrophobic just looking at it. Don’t you ever just long for some space, for five minutes where you don’t have to worry about doing the right thing and saying the right words, where you can ask questions of the universe and demand answers?”
I flinched away from the conviction of her gaze.
“No,” she said more softly. “I guess you don’t, any more than I like your rules and plans and organisation.” She shrugged. “The universe is full of questions, Edge, and ‘just because’ is never a good enough answer.” She unwound to a stand, long-legged, lithe like a lioness who knew how to hunt what she needed to survive. “How else do you know you’re alive?”
Blood, crimson lines on porcelain-white tiles. I knew what she meant, a little. I’d never been so aware of life before I’d been confronted so violently by death.
I nodded. “Thanks.” My voice was dry and raspy, and I couldn’t bring myself to meet her eye.
She nodded back, though—“Welcome.”—and disappeared back to the hall.
* * *
Shadows drifted down the hallway toward me, filling the doorway of my room like smoke before billowing over the threshold and into my room. I backed up in my bed until I pressed against the cold glass of the window.
A fluttering sort of tap made me turn, and against the window a bright blue bird hopped and scratched, trying to get in. Beyond it, more shadows mounted, frothing forth from underneath the prickly bushes that marched along the fence.
Something cold touched my hand, and I jumped. The bird. The bird had gotten inside, blue like the sky, wings stretched as wide as my two hands together, covered not in feathers but in tiny, iridescent scales—butterfly wings, edged in black.
Shadows slid toward me from my doorway, through the window, and I clutched the fairy tightly. She cried out, and I opened my hand to see nothing but red, a double-handful of sticky, crimson blood on hands so pale they seemed white.
The shadows whispered toward me. Surrender. Surrender…
I WOKE IN the morning sick and exhausted, vague memories of bad dreams hanging over me. I knew from experience that wallowing around the house all day would only make things worse, so I got up, got ready for school, and headed off on the bus, pretending I didn’t twitch whenever I saw darkness in the corners of my vision.
The first two periods passed uneventfully enough—electives, so I had neither Gemma nor Scott to entertain or annoy me respectively—and after recess I had my first appointment with the school counsellor. It went about as well as I’d expected.
Back in the empty halls, I slammed my locker shut and leaned my head against it. The visits to the counsellor were compulsory for now, but I missed the awesome woman the police had assigned me back in Melbourne. I’d only spoken to her twice, but she’d been kind, and understanding, and gentle. The school counsellor was a little more confrontational than I’d have liked.
Okay, a lot more confrontational, and I’d left with a headache and anger bubbling away in my stomach.
“You need to let go, Emma,” I mimicked cruelly. She had no freaking idea what she was talking about. I wanted to let it go. It wasn’t like I enjoyed having nightmares and being twitchy and irritable.
I jumped, bashing my elbow against the sharp metal corner of the locker. “Go away, Scott,” I said, blinking furiously and hoping he wouldn’t see the glistening on my cheeks.
He hesitated and out of the corner of my eye I saw his jaw working. “Are you okay?”
I closed my eyes and slumped forward against the locker. “Brilliant.” A sudden sob forced its way through my throat.
Scott paused awkwardly, then put a hand on my shoulder. I tensed, cold seeping into my body. “Hey,” he said softly. “It’s okay.”
I shrugged his hand forcibly away from me and glared. “No, Scott, it’s not okay. Nothing is okay. I left my friends, my home, my life…” I trailed off as tears choked my words. I couldn’t even begin to describe the nightmares of blood and shadow—not that I was supposed to mention them. As far as everyone here knew, we’d moved for Mum and Dad’s work.
The bell rang.
Scott’s lips twitched and I thought for a split second that he might speak again, and that it might even be something nice—and then the crowds poured out of the classrooms and he stiffened.
“Ooo, Scott and Emma, sitting in a tree,” a boy taunted as he wandered past.
“Shut up, Mitch,” Scott muttered, shooting him a look.
Mitch just grinned. “Aw, you know you wish it was true.” He punched Scott’s arm and hurried off.
It took me a second to recognise the half-concealed expression on Scott’s face as embarrassment, and I softened a little.
Then he smirked, and my stomach dropped. “So Emma,” he said far too loudly. “Finished crying over your old school yet?”
The blood drained from my face. “I hate you,” I said tightly.
“I know you don’t.” Scott grinned, showing too much tooth. “Hey guys!” he called to the pack of derelicts he called friends. “Emma said she looooves me!”
His mates hollered and cheered.
I wanted to sink through the floor. Or smash him in the face. Or maybe both, in reverse order. Instead I spun away and tore my locker door open just for the satisfaction of hearing it clang. “I hate you, Scott Harden,” I said furiously, not caring whether he heard me or not. “Don’t ever come near me again.”
A hand on my shoulder made me whirl back again, ready to punch him in the face—but it was Gemma, wide-eyed with concern. “You okay?”
“Brilliant,” I snapped, tearing books from my locker like they’d personally offended me.
“Do you want to skip class and talk about it?”
I blinked. “Um, no?”
Gemma laughed, withdrawing her hand. “Wow, okay, it was just a suggestion. It’s not like we’d miss much you know, and I doubt we’d even get into trouble.”
I shook my head. “No. I’m fine.” I gathered up my books and shut the locker. “Class is good.” I tried for a smile that felt thin and brittle.
Gemma laughed again and tucked her arm through mine. “Fine. Well, I know something we can talk about to cheer you up.”
I quirked a sceptical eyebrow at her. “Mm?”
She grinned. “The fact that I’m going to call you Jeanette for the rest of your life unless you offer me an alternative.”
I stopped in my tracks, part playing along, part genuinely horrified. “You wouldn’t.” Jeanette, my middle name, had come from a great aunt who’d died not long before I’d been born. She’d probably been a lovely person and all, but I detested the name. How had Gemma found out my middle name? I shook my head and carried on walking. “What’s wrong with Emma anyway?”
Gemma leaned her head awkwardly on my shoulder. “Because, dearest BFF of mine, it’s far too close to Gemma. People will get us confused.”
I took a moment to absorb that. On the right, Gemma, dark-haired, brown-skinned, beautiful and sparkly and confident of her place in the world. On the left… Well, me. Mousy hair, averagely tanned skin, and nondescript, still carrying a little baby fat around my hips and face—easy to ignore, made more for blending into the background than standing out in a crowd.
I sighed at the thought of anyone ever getting us confused. “I highly doubt that, Gemma.”
“Gem,” she responded brightly.
“Gem! My nickname is Gem! Because you can’t make anything else out of Gemma but Ma, and Ma is stupid. But it still doesn’t resolve our problem, because Em is the obvious choice for Emma, and Gem and Em might as well be Gemma and Emma.” She drew my arm to her side. “So, you know, unless you offer something else, I’ll call you Jeanette.”
I could tell by the wicked edge to her grin that she knew exactly what kind of a threat that was. Man alive but I’d love to know where she got her information. I exhaled dramatically as we reached the classroom, secretly grateful for the distraction.
“Edge,” I pronounced solemnly, peering down my nose at her. “My name is Edge. It’s from my initials,” I explained in response to her obvious confusion.
“Ah!” She smiled and pulled my arm tight again, an odd sort of meld between a hug and a claim of ownership. “I like it,” she said. “Edge.”
* * *
I arrived home that afternoon to find Anna waiting for me, which was odd. Anna usually caught the last possible bus out of school so she go ride it looping through the suburbs—an excuse to spend longer with the friends she’d made within about three seconds of arriving last year, and to avoid the house as long as possible.
Today, though, I opened the front door and she bounded up from where she’d been sitting in the family room.
“Oh, you’re home, are you,” she said, sounding an awful lot like Mum.
I rubbed my forehead. “Anna, I’ve had a really long, sucky day, so if you have a problem, seriously, take a number.”
“One,” she said, clipping the word. She flourished a pearlescent envelope under my nose. “What I’d like to know,” she continued, “is why, having made such a big deal about me getting a parcel from Kade, you seem to have gone behind all our backs and given out your address to some freak whose name doesn’t even make sense!”
I caught Anna’s wrist and forced her to hold the envelope still so I could read it. Adrenalin shot through the pit of my stomach: the letter was addressed to me. I snatched it from her and pushed past down the hall. “I have no idea who this is from,” I snapped. “And I haven’t given our address to anyone.”
“Hypocrite,” Anna called as I slammed my door. “I’m telling Mum!”
Heart pounding as though I’d run the whole way home, I dumped my school bag, kicked off my shoes, and plonked onto the bed clutching the pearly envelope like death. The front bore my name in big, loopy handwriting—and there was no stamp.
My pulse calmed a little at that; it must have been hand delivered, which meant someone local, rather than a stalker. Unless it was a local stalker. Ha ha.
Hurriedly, I flipped it over and scanned the address. Hmm. I could see what Anna meant. The address read like the definition of obscure: Quoise, The Lodge, Sanctuary.
Sanctuary. Maybe they meant Sanctuary’s Point? That was a suburb a little way down the coast from here—too far to walk and a long trip on public transport, but it wasn’t entirely impossible that someone might have driven over to deliver the letter. It seemed like a lot of effort, though; surely the post would have been easier?
I bit my lip. Fingers trembling, I tore the envelope open and pulled out the most beautiful invitation I’d ever seen. Even my cousin Kelly’s wedding invitations hadn’t been this fancy.
Thick, pearly cardstock bore silver and gold embossed letters in stunning calligraphy. It took me a moment to remember I was supposed to read the invitation, not just stare at it in awe.
I read it, and stared some more. It had to be a hoax—but who on earth would know I’d hallucinated a fairy down by the creek? No one had been there, and I hadn’t said a word about it.
Well, Scott had been there, I remembered, frowning. But surely he hadn’t known anything about the fairy. Unless I’d been mumbling about it as Veve and I had reached the track? I didn’t think so; if I had been, Scott wouldn’t have passed up the opportunity to mock me there and then. And sending an invite like this wasn’t his style.
But who then?
I shook my head. It made no sense at all. I tucked the beautiful invitation back into its envelope and hid it between some books before grabbing my maths textbook out of my schoolbag.
But no matter how much I tried to remember what Gemma had explained about algebra, all I could think of was the invitation:
It is our great pleasure to inform you that you are a Traveller, able to cross between worlds to Sanctuary, home of the fairies. We would dearly love to introduce you as soon as possible. Please meet your appointed fairy at your nearest crossing on Wednesday at five in the evening.
On behalf of the Sanctuary fairies.