Prologue + Chapter One
The Kingdom on Prince Lake
FOR AS LONG as I can remember our two families were together on Prince Lake.
Summers and Spring breaks,
Christmases and weddings.
Our grandfathers, Jack Harper and William Drake, made their money on the lobster boats: worked too hard, as they often reminded us, and built a sizeable fortune in the little fishing town that was Prince, Maine.
So, each year we lived, during our breaks from real life, with our grandparents, in the two aging houses at the very end of Royal Cove.
We got drunk in the old beach hammocks, decorated Christmas trees, tanned our already sun-browned skin on the old wood dock, threw snowballs at each other on the sand.
I spent lazy days with my nose in books I’d like to understand, but didn’t.
Charlie drew beautiful pictures.
Kendall danced in wild, laughing circles.
Ethan made up beautiful, wonderful stories.
We built tunnels and people and angels out of snow.
We swam with our younger siblings in the clear water.
I read Grandmother’s old diaries and Grandfather’s yellowing love letters with Kendall.
We let Ethan and Charlie piggyback us to the parties down the hill.
The four of us smoked cigarettes under the bright moon at midnight.
We lived sunburnt and tipsy,
snowkissed and clever,
with rose on our cheeks,
lake water in our hair.
Prince was our kingdom.
Nothing about me has changed on the outside. There is nothing, looking into the mirror, that should make my reflection look like someone who hadn’t been there before.
I brush through the same honey colored hair as I had then, so long ago now, and yet...not so long ago all the same.
My eyes are still too light, like the darkest colors had already bled out of them by the time that they were mine.
My nose comes to a point; I have a dusting of brown freckles from one cheekbone to the other.
There is nothing different.
But there is.
Nearly nothing about me has changed on the outside. But inside...inside. Where it matters. Everything is different.
Everything has been broken and shaken and glued back together.
I am missing pieces. I am missing shards. I have been sliced open and sloppily stitched.
And somehow, I don’t recognize the face in my mirror anymore.
Like the outside is just a mask that reflects the colors you are on the inside, and my colors aren’t the same anymore.
My colors will never be the same again.
1 THE SUMMER BEFORE I’d even begun to walk, my mother decided she’d had enough of being my mother.
Or maybe she’d just had enough of being a Harper.
But either way, she’d packed her things and walked out the front door the day before we were set to leave for Prince; just sliced my father clean open with a red-manicured fingernail and walked through the pools of his blood in her heels.
Dad always tried to be better, to be the best, to make up for her somehow.
Because he thought it was his fault,
even though it wasn’t.
He gave me strawberry ice cream before dinner and told me she loved me
even though she didn’t.
Because he did.
Once, when I was about twelve, I asked my father why he’d loved my mother.
He told me every lovely thought he had about her,
and then, later, I heard him crying in the middle of the night. I came downstairs to find him sitting at the kitchen table with a glass of scotch and their wedding photo.
The next day I burned all the pictures of her I could find with a lighter in a bucket in the backyard.
Because he deserved better than a memory of the pretty girl he’d loved,
and so did I.
I spent the darkest parts of the night forgetting her existence on the porch swing
while Dad drank too much whiskey in the den.
In the morning we put our bags in the back of the truck, and drove in silence to the lake house for Christmas.
I tried to erase her, and he drank whiskey;
I told Kendall and the boys so that they could hate her with me,
but I never asked my father about my mother again.
The summer that I turned fourteen my mother came back, just as simply as she’d left she sauntered up the drive at Royal Cove one morning in late July with snipping scissors, out for Daddy’s purse strings. She had a toddling little boy at her heels, hair and nose that wasn’t hers, or mine, or Dad’s.
I wondered if it were possible for a child to hate her mother. If it was, I did.
The little boy didn’t speak. My father scribbled out a check, and then we both drank whiskey: he in the house after Grandfather went to bed, and me on the dock with Kendall, throwing skipping rocks with vengeance at the nothing that my mother left behind.
She hadn’t even said my name.
“Emelina. Emelina. Emelina.” I said it over and over again.
I screamed it.
I scratched it into the sand with a long stick.
I made it into a song. “Emelina. Emelina. Emelina.”
But she still hadn’t said it.
I considered that I’d like to cry, to ugly sob into the whiskey bottle, melt into puddles and wash away into the water.
But my mother did not deserve tears, so I had another drink; Daddy had another drink, and we spent the summer in a haze of faking peaceful conversation and lighthearted games of Rummy on the back deck.
“You know,” I told the others quietly one night that summer when we couldn’t see the edge between sky and water anymore, “I don’t think I love my mother.” Kendall looped her arm around my elbow and rested her head against my shoulder. “I don’t know that I hate her exactly, but I definitely don’t love her.”
“You love her,” Charlie argued, tossing the burning ember of his smoke into the water and lighting another. “You might not think you do...but she’s your mother.”
“Exactly, Charlie. She’s my mother.”
Your mother was perfect, I wanted to tell him.
Your mother was a goddamn masterpiece.
But his mother was dead, so I didn’t.
I wished I could see his face in the dark. But I couldn’t.
He was quiet for too long and then he said, “Yeah.”
Charlie’s mother was the most amazing human being I’d ever known. She used to lay amidst our pillow forts in the attic and read aloud from our favorite stories.
Charlie always begged for Huckleberry Finn;
Kenny and Ethan liked Treasure Island.
But I always thought Elizabeth liked when it was my turn best. Every time I got to choose, the battered, green covered copy of Peter and Wendy came down from the shelf.
Elizabeth Drake was the reason I learned to believe in magic.
The fall that Charlie turned ten his mother started losing her breath. Sometimes she would faint for no reason. When they came to Prince that Christmas, William told my father that Elizabeth had a cardiac arrhythmia. Her heart would beat on rhythms it wasn’t supposed to, and it made her slow and tired and sometimes she just passed out without any warning at all.
That had seemed so wrong to me, that Charlie’s mother could have a heart that wasn’t right. She had the best heart in the entire universe. There wasn’t something wrong with it. If her heart was different than everyone else’s it was because hers was the only heart that was doing something right.
By the time we’d all turned eleven Elizabeth had been gone for almost four months. The day that she died it rained in Prince. It should have rained in every corner of the world, but it probably didn’t.
I spent the entirety of eleven with the copy of Peter and Wendy from the Royal Cove house stuffed in my backpack or under my pillow. I read it over and over again. To this day I think I could recite it nearly word for word.
Sometimes (when they aren’t lucky enough to have mothers like Charlie’s) I think children need to believe they love their parents even when they don’t, like maybe they’re bad human beings if they hate the only reason for their existence.
But I didn’t need to believe that.
And even if I did need to...I didn’t.
“Can you really love someone who doesn’t love you back?”
The question hung between us and I considered all the people that I did love.
I loved Dad.
I loved Grandmother and Grandfather.
I loved Kenny and Ethan and Charlie.
I loved little, tiny Jayne with her sweet pink, sparkling dresses and the twins’ matching haircuts.
But even on a list in my own head, I couldn’t name my mother.
“I don’t think so,” I said.
“I think you can,” Charlie argued with me again.
I felt Kenny laugh against my shoulder. “Just because you think that you’re in love with Millie Barrett.”
“I am in love with Millie Barrett!” he defended.
We fell into silence, probably because none of us really knew if he was or not, or if you could love someone who didn’t love you or not. None of us really knew, so we would just pretend we did.
After five or six forevers Ethan said, “I love you guys.”
“Me too,” Kenny muttered.
I took Ethan’s hand.
Charlie nudged my ribs.